Bernard Montgomery and Erwin Rommel shared a gift for communication. This is how we remember them: boosting their troops’ morale in the dark days, inspiring their countrymen and befriending the world’s media when this was uncommon amongst professional soldiers; leaving a mark for posterity through photographs, film and the books they wrote. Both came from long lines of worthy, middle-class stock – communicators by trade: one was the son of a vicar, the other of a school teacher. Curiously, neither had any significant military tradition in their ancestry. Such solid lineage provided each with continuity and self-assurance, a firm bedrock on which to found any career. The two were born into empires now long gone, in an era of confidence and growth. In Britain and Germany, each then the centre of an imperial web, society was enjoying the fruits of hard-won wealth after the nation-building social upheavals of the early nineteenth century. Arthur Conan Doyle, Henry Rider Haggard, Robert Louis Stevenson and Thomas Hardy were at the height of their literary fame. Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Monet and Van Gogh were producing some of their finest canvases, whilst Brahms, Delius, Grieg and Verdi were delighting audiences with their music. Richard Wagner had just died and Edward Elgar was a decade away from finding fame.
Bernard Law Montgomery, the fourth child of an eventual nine (six boys and three girls), was born in the fiftieth year of Queen Victoria’s reign and would serve six monarchs. He arrived on 17 November 1887 in the middle of the long Victorian afternoon of imperial achievement. 1887 was a relatively quiet year; there were no major wars or upheavals. Indeed, the year epitomised stability and success. At the summer solstice, 21 June, Victoria celebrated fifty years on the imperial throne with a banquet to which fifty European kings and princes were invited; an impressive review of her Royal Navy at Spithead followed.* Western Europe and the United States were brimming with prosperity, represented in Germany (then a mere sixteen years old) by the unveiling of the first Daimler automobile and the patenting of the gramophone. This was an era when much of the world looked to Britain for leadership, guidance or moderation; a time which often conferred on the Empire’s sons a degree of confidence in their place in the world, and sometimes a touch of arrogance or xenophobia.
Copyright © 2011 by Peter Caddick-Adams.
Review by Dennis Showalter
British scholar Caddick-Adams is widely known and correspondingly respected as a battlefield guide, a defense analyst and a military historian. He brings his full spectrum of skills to Monty and Rommel. Caddick-Adams’ protagonists are excellent subjects for a comparative analysis. Bernard Law Montgomery and Erwin Rommel tested each other’s mettle across some of World War II’s decisive battlefields. They occupied similar positions in armies with significantly different ways of war that twice in a half-century grappled to a finish. The real test of this sort of book, however, is whether or not the central characters are compared, as opposed to being merely juxtaposed. And here Caddick-Adams succeeds admirably.
Both Rommel and Montgomery were difficult to know personally—a characteristic Caddick-Adams perceptively suggests may have reflected the loss of so many friends in the Great War. Both were difficult as superiors and subordinates. Both were naïve and aggressive in dealing with politicians. Hitler had Rommel killed in 1944; Churchill was on the brink of relieving Montgomery in 1945. Both sought to determine strategy from the front, Rommel in advocating a drive on the Middle Eastern oil fields in 1942; Montgomery in arguing for a single thrust in 1944.
Rommel and Montgomery were battle captains whose approaches were significantly different. Rommel pushed his opportunities; Montgomery calculated his risks. Montgomery was a master of military management; Rommel’s command style was inspirational. Montgomery was well versed in logistics; Rommel underplayed them. Rommel excelled at tactics; Montgomery’s milieu was operational art. Above all, both generals understood what made their soldiers fight and endure. They fostered and sustained morale partly by personal presence, but far more by projecting and demonstrating competence: knowing how to do their jobs without wasting lives.
The book’s quality owes much to its author’s understanding of the British and German armies. From doctrines to personnel polices, from institutional traditions to command dynamics, Caddick-Adams establishes the matrices within which his generals developed and functioned. One of his decisive points is his demonstration that these men might have been mavericks, but they were not outsiders. Neither was a team player, each understood the rules, written and unwritten, of his milieu. Both knew when to challenge them, when to break them, and when to “shut up and soldier.” As they rose from lieutenants to field marshals, Montgomery and Rommel learned from experience as well as insight the qualities and the limitations of their armies, and the systems supporting them. They influenced what they could and made the best of what they had. Montgomery’s “colossal cracks” in the Normandy campaign, Rommel’s rapier thrusts in North Africa, alike illustrate near-optimal use of available resources.
Caddick-Adams concludes by comparing Rommel to a modernist painter and Montgomery to a 17th-century minimalist. It is no less appropriate to describe Montgomery as a preferable bridge partner, and Rommel the man to back at the blackjack table. Well written, comprehensively researched, this study in similarities and opposites merits wide circulation.
Hardcover Book : 640 pages
Publisher: Overlook Press ( February 16, 2012 )
Item #: 13-464524
Product Dimensions: 6.0 x 9.0 x 1.6inches
Product Weight: 28.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)