Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery

A black and white image of a man standing in a tank holding binoculars
Montgomery in North Africa in 1942

U.S. Office of War Information Photograph

Quick Facts
Montgomery is one of the most celebrated generals of World War II and one of the greatest British Army generals of all time. He was a weekend guest at Eisenhower’s Gettysburg home on May 11-13, 1957, where he and Eisenhower reminisced about their association during WWII and toured the farm, the battlefield, and nearby Camp David.
Place of Birth:
London, England
Date of Birth:
November 17, 1887
Place of Death:
Alton, Hampshire, England
Date of Death:
March 24, 1976 (aged 88)
Place of Burial:
Binstead, Hampshire, England
Cemetery Name:
Holy Cross Churchyard

British Field Marshal Montgomery (1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein), affectionally known as ‘Monty’, was born on November 17, 1889, in London, England. He was one of the most renowned and successful Allied commanders of World War II (1939-1945).

The son of an Ulster clergyman, Montgomery was educated at St. Paul’s School, London, and the Royal Military Academy (Sandhurst) and commissioned into the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1908.

During World War I (1914-1918), in the First Battle of Ypres (October 1914), while leading his platoon in a gallant attack on the village of Meteren, Montgomery was shot in the back with a bullet going through his right lung. He lay on the battlefield all afternoon and received one more bullet in his left knee. His wounds were so severe that he was taken to a medical clearing station where a grave was prepared for him. Although he made a full recovery, his chest wound would leave him short of breath for the rest of his life and contribute to a passionate aversion to anyone smoking in his presence.

His later service as a staff officer during the Battles of the Somme (1916) and Passchendaele (1917) ingrained in him an attitude that in war, soldiers’ lives must not be wasted in ill-planned and sloppily executed operations. These experiences greatly influenced his development as a professional soldier and leader. Later when serving as a commanding general, he insisted on the complete readiness of both men and matériel before any attack, a policy that yielded steady successes and the considerable appreciation and loyalty of his troops.

Between the world wars he served in India, Egypt, and Palestine.

On August 28, 1939, Montgomery was given command of the British 3rd Division and four days later, Hitler invaded Poland. Britain declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939.  Soon after, the 3rd Division was deployed to France with the British Expeditionary Force. Predicting the operation would be a disaster, he trained for tactical retreat. This proved vital during the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940.

In 1942, Prime Minister Winston Churchill appointed Montgomery commander of the 8th Army in the Western African Desert. Montgomery quickly restored the army's poor morale. For nearly two months he trained and re-equipped his soldiers. He then led the Allies to their first major land victory of the war at the Second Battle of El Alamein. This was a turning point in the North African campaign and, arguably, the turning point of the war. Montgomery then pursued the German armies across North Africa to their final surrender in Tunisia in May 1943.

Montgomery next commanded the Eighth Army in the subsequent Allied campaigns in Sicily and on the Italian mainland. He was then recalled to the UK to take part in the planning of Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy. During this period of planning and training, Montgomery made a point of regularly visiting American forces staged in southern England for the Normandy invasion and was warmly greeted by them.

In June 1944, Montgomery commanded all the ground forces taking part in Operation Overlord (June 6, 1944). Despite setbacks in the initial stages of the campaign, his skillful planning and leadership led to the entrapment and defeat of the German forces at the Falaise Pocket.

Later, he convinced General Eisenhower to agree to Operation Market Garden (September 1944), a daring airborne operation to secure the Rhine River crossings and advance into northern Germany. It involved an invasion of the Netherlands and the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial heartland. Owing to the large number of German armored units, including elements of two SS Panzer divisions in the region, Montgomery’s plan failed and resulted in terrible losses. However, he redeemed himself with his excellent command during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.

After overseeing the meticulously planned Rhine crossings of March 1945, Montgomery’s troops advanced into Germany. He eventually accepted the surrender of all German forces in Denmark, northern Germany, and the Netherlands on May 4, 1945.

After the war, Montgomery was created a knight of the Garter and Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. He commanded the British Army of the Rhine and served as chief of the Imperial General Staff from 1946 to 1948. From 1948 to 1951, he was chairman of the permanent defense organization of the Western European Union. From 1951 to 1958, he served as Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Mongtomery and Eisenhower

Montgomery had a complex character, and many of his peers and superiors found him arrogant and egotistic with an overbearing personality. However, he was a great wartime field commander who gained the admiration, trust and confidence of the British, American, and other Allied soldiers who served under his command. Winston Churchill referred to him as “unbeatable and unbearable”.

General Eisenhower valued Montgomery’s opinions and analyses because he was highly perceptive, and his military insights and judgements were sound and well thought out. However, the two men did experience some difficulty in dealing with one another. There were certainly significant personality differences between them, but more importantly, there were more fundamental disagreements over military strategy and tactics during the campaigns of 1944-45.

Eisenhower’s military strategy was straightforward and aggressive – constant attack, all along the broad front lines. Conversely, Montgomery advocated a compact and concentrated attack on a narrow front and a swift dash on to the main objective. In many ways, their contrasting strategic perspectives reflected both American and British national military outlooks and traditions, as well as their own individual military training and experiences.

During the war, the relationship between the Allied armies was never perfect. Both military and political differences remained until the end of the conflict. In a broad sense, the relations between Eisenhower and Montgomery reflected much of these differences and required adjustment, adaptation, and compromise individually for Montgomery and Eisenhower as commanding generals, as it did for the Allied armies fighting collectively in an alliance.

In the end, Eisenhower, Montgomery, and the other Allied commanding generals overcame their personal and national rivalries, disagreements, and suspicions, and won the hard-fought battles that led to final victory over the Axis powers.


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Last updated: May 11, 2024