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Montgomery: Lessons in Leadership from the Soldier's General
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Montgomery: Lessons in Leadership from the Soldier's General

by Trevor Royle, Wesley K. Clark (Foreword by)

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Bernard Law Montgomery was a dedicated battlefield tactician, though a controversial one. In North Africa in 1942, he commanded the Eighth Army to a great triumph against Rommel at El Alamein, which Churchill hailed as the beginning of the end of the war. During the planning stages for the invasion of Sicily, Montgomery proved himself to be a splendid organizer and


Bernard Law Montgomery was a dedicated battlefield tactician, though a controversial one. In North Africa in 1942, he commanded the Eighth Army to a great triumph against Rommel at El Alamein, which Churchill hailed as the beginning of the end of the war. During the planning stages for the invasion of Sicily, Montgomery proved himself to be a splendid organizer and a great believer in simplicity. But he was also known as a complicated man whose legacy remains tainted by his insensitive and boastful nature and desire for personal glory—all of which can have dangerous consequences on the battlefield. In the end, though, it was only due to Montgomery's influence that the weight of the Allied attack at Normandy was increased, and the Allied success of D-Day owes much to his far-sightedness. In the field, especially during the planning stages, he was at his best. An inspirational commander whose self-confidence was legendary, Montgomery's military life has proved to be a great lesson for leaders in the years since.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Royle, an editor at The Sunday Herald, curiously chose Bernard Law Montgomery for Palgrave's World Generals series. Monty had two big successes: he took over a disheartened British Eighth army in North Africa, binged them up—one of Montgomery's favorite terms—and gave the Allies their first major victories over the Nazis at El Alamein, defeating Field Marshal Irwin Rommel. Montgomery also played a key role in defeating the Nazis in the Battle of the Bulge. But Montgomery was also a highly flawed military leader. Few American generals could stand his arrogance and egotism and it took all of Eisenhower's tact to keep him in line. In Sicily, Montgomery overrated the capacity of his own troops and underrated that of the Americans. Montgomery's tendency to over-plan also led to lost opportunities. Royle races through Montgomery's life and battles, often trying to excuse Montgomery's bad behavior or bad press. Other than Montgomery's fame for inspiring his own soldiers, Royle finds few leadership lessons (aside from, perhaps, what not to do). Montgomery was a more fascinating figure than this volume can capture. (Dec.)
From the Publisher

“Royle's polished and balanced analysis confirms Montgomery's place as Britain's greatest modern field commander and one of its great captains. Monty's mastery of the set-piece battle was matched only by his ability to sustain morale and inspire confidence in citizen-soldiers, sustaining Britain's war effort even as its resources diminished.” —Dennis Showalter, author of Patton and Rommel: Men of War

Montgomery provides a concise, objective assessment of the best known and most controversial British commander of World War II. Trevor Royle sets 'Monty' in context of his origins, career, and contemporaries, contrasting the general's strengths (training and organization) against his faults (stubborness and vanity). The analysis of Montgomery's often troubled relations with his American allies is especially worthwhile.” —Barrett Tillman, author of LeMay and Whirlwind: The Air War Against Japan

“No top commander of World War II cries out more urgently for a concise but comprehensive and balanced reassessment than Bernard Law Montgomery. Trevor Royle's compact biography provides precisely this--and does so with great intelligence, understanding, and elegance. Not a flaw or failing is winked at, but, in the end, we come to appreciate the justice of Churchill's postwar challenge to Monty's critical colleagues: 'I know why you all hate him. You are jealous: he is better than you are.'” —Alan Axelrod, author of Patton and Bradley

“In his illuminating biography, Trevor Royle casts British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery as the multi-faceted commander that he was--a skillful strategist and capable leader while being at times stubbornly nationalistic in coalition warfare. Royle reminds us that Montgomery's strengths in leadership often offset his weaknesses and that he deserves a lofty spot among World War II commanders.” —John Wukovits, author of Eisenhower

“Royle's polished and balanced analysis confirms Montgomery's place as Britain's greatest modern field commander and one of its great captains. Monty's mastery of the set-piece battle was matched only by his ability to sustain morale and inspire confidence in citizen-soldiers, sustaining Britain's war effort even as its resources diminished.” —Dennis Showalter, author of Patton and Rommel: Men of War

author of LeMay and Whirlwind: The Air War Aga Barrett Tillman

Montgomery provides a concise, objective assessment of the best known and most controversial British commander of World War II. Trevor Royle sets 'Monty' in context of his origins, career, and contemporaries, contrasting the general's strengths (training and organization) against his faults (stubborness and vanity). The analysis of Montgomery's often troubled relations with his American allies is especially worthwhile.
Library Journal
This is a short military biography of British Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, who first came to prominence in North Africa, earning a reputation as a brilliant general and leader despite a fractious and spiteful personality that set nearly every commander in Europe on edge. The much-published Royle gives a balanced account of him, not shrinking from the defects and giving full credit for the successes. Most useful to readers wishing to supplement their collection of more general histories; a good introductory biography.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
World Generals Series
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

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Lessons in Leadership from the Soldier's General

By Trevor Royle

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2010 Trevor Royle
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-230-61489-5


An Uncertain Education

Bernard Law Montgomery was born on November 17, 1887, IN Kennington, South London, the third son and fourth child of the Reverend Henry Hutchinson Montgomery and his wife, Maud Farrar. Both families were distinguished. On his father's side, the Montgomerys were landowners; solidly Protestant and Anglo-Irish, they were descended from the steady stream of English settlers who had moved to Ireland in the centuries after the Norman settlement of 1169. With their New Park estate at Moville, near Londonderry, in Northern Ireland, the Montgomerys were well established—the nearest British equivalent to the equally aristocratic landowning Prussian Junker class. And, just as the Junkers produced soldiers for the Prussian and German armies, so too did many nineteenth- and twentieth-century British generals come from Anglo-Irish origins. The Duke of Wellington was the son of an Irish peer, and, later in the century, Field Marshals Garnet Wolseley, Frederick Roberts, and Horatio Herbert Kitchener all enjoyed close links with Ireland. In Montgomery's own generation, fellow Field Marshals Harold Alexander and Alan Brooke were born into families with backgrounds in Northern Ireland.

Bernard's grandfather Sir Robert Montgomery did not serve as a soldier but he belonged to an equally exalted class, working as an imperial administrator with the Indian Civil Service, the so-called "heaven-born" who directed British rule in India. In time he became lieutenant governor of Punjab, one of the largest Indian states. His second son, Henry, the future field marshal's father, was educated at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge, and entered the Church of England to emerge as an ambitious, progressive, and energetic cleric. In 1887 he was the priest at St. Mary's Church, where he enjoyed the friendship and patronage of Canon Frederick William Farrar, the rector of St. Margaret's, the Westminster church traditionally associated with the House of Commons. Farrar was one of the better-known men of his day. He was not only a liberal reformer with a wide circle of literary and political friends, he was also the author of Eric, or Little by Little (1858), a sentimental and melodramatic novel set in an English private school that enjoyed a huge readership in its day. (Today it is little more than a literary curiosity.) Through the association with Farrar, the young curate was introduced to his family and became engaged to Maud, their third daughter, when she was only 14. Two years later, they married.

Both parents and the lives they led would have a profound effect on Bernard's upbringing. His father was reserved, single-minded, and hardworking and left the rearing of children to his wife. However, Maud Montgomery was by any standards a troubled woman. Not only was she very young, little more than a child herself, she found marriage to be a lonely and unsettling experience. Her husband was 18 years her senior, an ambitious and conscientious cleric with a busy parish of 14,000, and he concentrated on his work rather than his wife. Maud later admitted that she was often lonely and could remember "sitting in the drawing room and crying bitterly" when she was left alone in the house. Her only role was motherhood: a family was started immediately, and she eventually gave birth to three daughters and six sons.

In 1889, Montgomery senior was appointed Bishop of Tasmania, and the family traveled by steamship to Hobart, the capital of the colony, where they took up residence in the bishop's house overlooking the estuary on the Derwent River. From the outset of his appointment, Bishop Montgomery approached his work with missionary zeal. "A man must be a leader in the Colonies," he described his role. "The quiet harmless man will fail. It is all push." In addition to overseeing the completion of the new cathedral in Hobart, the bishop spent months at a time traveling to remote areas, including the west coast mining settlements and the Bass Strait region. He also visited New Guinea and Melanesia and envisaged the creation of an Anglican church in Australia that would embrace dioceses in the Pacific region. "It is because the work is all Missionary here that I love it so," he told Frederick Temple, archbishop of Canterbury, in 1901. "Great questions such as Education, Temperance, Social problems between classes, come to me as duties. Missionary questions come to me as joys." In that role, Bishop Montgomery believed that the church had to set high moral standards and bear witness to an uncorrupted life.

Laudable though those efforts were, they came at a cost to family harmony. While her husband was away, Maud was left to fend for herself and bring up her family alone. Money was often scarce, and the bishop took delight in the local assertion that his wife was considered the worst-dressed woman in Hobart. Left to her own devices, Maud instituted military-style discipline in the home. Her standards were not only strict but brooked no disagreement with her methods. One biographer states that in her case, "Rule was all. Sin had to be closely watched," and there is evidence to suggest that she could be tyrannical with her children. In his memoirs, Montgomery wrote that he experienced "an absence of affectionate understanding of the problems facing the young, certainly as far as the five elder children were concerned." He also claimed that he was in a constant state of confrontation with his mother, engaged in a battle of wills, which she inevitably won. These altercations were accompanied by regular canings, and Montgomery was not afraid to admit that as a boy he behaved badly. Education was left in the hands of tutors imported from England, and the schooling was run on strict disciplinary lines.

Later in life, Montgomery would take a great deal of interest in the childhoods of other great military commanders and claimed that a strict or harsh upbringing had been a determining factor in their careers. It is possible that he was attempting to find a common denominator that would link him to other great captains—he identified the Dukes of Wellington (rightly) and Marlborough (wrongly) as having endured lonely and harsh childhoods—but there is other evidence from British military history to support his contention. Field Marshal Lord Kitchener was regularly punished by his father by being spread-eagled with his ankles and wrists tied to tent pegs, and the memoirs of Victorian soldiers like T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) contain accounts of strict upbringings that may sound cruel or unnatural to modern readers. Victorian children were meant to be seen, not heard; there was a simple division between right and wrong, and any compromises were attributed to the devil. Sin was to be kept at bay through a mixture of prayer and chastisement, and disciplinary measures were a bulwark against moral waywardness.

It is, of course, possible to exaggerate or overdramatize miserable childhood experiences. In his own memoir, Montgomery's brother Brian rejected the suggestion that their childhood was unhappy or unnatural, claiming, "Bernard did not grow up in an atmosphere of fear—of mother—or develop any inward-looking, withdrawn characteristics because of her." But he also admitted that the domestic regime was strict, with Sunday being devoted to religious observance and an absence of any frivolity, and confirmed the regular imposition of beatings by their mother. On one occasion, young Montgomery was caught smoking—a heinous offense. After his father left the room to pray for his soul, his mother remained to administer a sound thrashing.

While this behavior might not have been any worse than that experienced in a comparable Victorian family, Montgomery's mother seems to have been a martinet who demanded love and obedience through the imposition of a strict moral code. Such an unyielding approach to motherhood was bound to influence her children's upbringing; in this case it left Montgomery with the impression that he had come to "know fear early in life, much too early."

The family's years in Tasmania came to an end in 1901, when Bishop Montgomery was appointed secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), a missionary society established in 1701 to send priests to the British colonies, both to keep the colonists within the Church of England and to convert locals. Bishop Montgomery believed the SPG should be considered as "a sort of Foreign Office" for the creation of international Anglicanism. The work took the family back to London, and, as he had done in Tasmania, the bishop threw himself into the task, believing that through his evangelical efforts he could transform the Church of England into an imperial church with a global reach.

At the age of 14, Montgomery was sent to St. Paul's School in London, a private educational establishment that had been founded in 1509 on a plot of land adjacent to the famous cathedral but had since moved to the suburb of Hammersmith. With its reputation for academic excellence, St. Paul's was one of the country's leading schools with a bias toward the classics, and among its former pupils, or Old Paulines, can be counted the poet John Milton, the Duke of Marlborough, and the diarist Samuel Pepys. Unlike similar schools, such as Cheltenham, Clifton, or Charterhouse, St. Paul's did not have a particularly strong tradition of sending boys into the British army, but after his first day Montgomery announced his intent to join the preparatory class for those wishing to enter either the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, or the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. Designated Class C, to denote its relatively low academic standing, its members were considered to be less intellectually gifted, and Montgomery's sudden decision to opt for the army side at St. Paul's caused consternation at home, as his parents had hoped that he would follow a religious vocation.

By then Montgomery was too old to be beaten into submission, and his parents were left to accept their wayward son's decision. They watched helplessly as he refused to participate in the school's academic life. Although he did enough work to pass examinations and showed that he had a retentive mind, he was generally idle and in his memoirs admitted that he did "practically no work" during his time at St. Paul's. As a consequence, punishment by caning on the buttocks was a regular occurrence. Instead of applying himself academically, Montgomery threw himself into athletic activities and emerged as a good player in team sports. He was not physically prepossessing—he stood five feet seven inches tall, with a wiry frame that earned him the nickname of "The Monkey"—but he possessed strength and determination and prospered as a result. In time he became captain of the rugby and cricket teams, and those achievements gave him a high reputation among his peers, who valued grit and sporting achievement. Toward the end of his time at St. Paul's, the school magazine reported that "The Monkey is vicious, of unflagging energy and much feared by the neighbouring animals ... to foreign fauna it shows no mercy, stamping on their heads and twisting their necks, and doing many other inconceivable atrocities with a view, no doubt, to proving its patriotism."

All this counted for a great deal in the world Montgomery inhabited. He might not have been a scholar, but he earned respect as a sportsman and a team leader. Without really trying he passed the competitive examinations that took him to Sandhurst in January 1907. His position was 72 out of 170 "gentleman cadets" (as they were termed at the time) admitted that year, but against that could be measured his sporting prowess and leadership abilities. Those attributes stood him in good stead in the early stages of training, and during his first term he was appointed cadet-lance-corporal, his first promotion. But no sooner had Montgomery ascended a few rungs than his career was thrown into doubt following a violent incident with another gentleman cadet. In December 1907, he led his company in an attack on another company's quarters. Matters got out of hand, and during the incident, Montgomery set fire to a fellow cadet's shirttails while he was dressing for dinner. Badly burned, the young man had to be sent to the hospital for medical treatment, and although he refused to name his assailant, the subsequent court of inquiry punished Montgomery, who was reduced to the rank of cadet and sent home in disgrace.

Although boisterous behavior was not discouraged at Sandhurst—there were regular incidents ranging from high spirits to all-out violence—Montgomery had gone beyond the pale by severely injuring a fellow cadet. He was disgraced, his hopes for a military career in ruins, but at that crucial juncture his mother intervened. She arranged to see the college commandant and pleaded her son's case. As a result, young Montgomery was reinstated and returned to Sandhurst in January 1908 to resume his career as a gentleman cadet. Coming from a relatively impecunious family, Montgomery's ambition was to gain a commission in the Indian army, where he would be able to live off his pay and see regular operational service. In an age when British army officers were expected to have private incomes, this was an important consideration.

During the era that Montgomery was being trained as an officer, there was an unofficial pecking order among the regiments of the British army. At the peak were the cavalry regiments and the foot guards, followed by the rifle regiments, the light infantry regiments, the Highland infantry regiments and, in no particular order, the various county regiments. Whatever the regiment, though, every officer needed additional private income, as the annual pay of a second lieutenant—the entry rank—was just over £95 a year ($10,400 today), insufficient to cover even uniform costs and mess bills, which amounted to roughly £10 a month. As late as 1914, the War Office recommended that the minimum needed to survive was £160 a year ($17,600 today), but even that amount meant an abstemious existence for a young officer. Some regiments were more costly than others: officers in cavalry or foot guard regiments had to purchase a variety of uniforms to meet all the variations in service and mess dress, and they were expected to live well in the mess, keeping at least two hunters and three polo ponies. In the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, it was not considered unusual for a smart cavalry regiment to require a young officer to have a private income of up to £1,000 a year ($108,800 today). Far from being a deterrent, the differences in social status implied by the costs were not only understood but accepted by the men involved.

Thus, the Indian army was an attractive option, and as a result only the top gentleman cadets from Sandhurst were considered for a commission. Montgomery was not among them: he passed out 36th in his class, and had to accept his second choice, the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, whose 1st Battalion was serving at Peshawar, near the Khyber Pass in India's North-West Frontier Province. It was not an unreasonable alternative: the Warwicks was a sound county regiment founded in 1675, and at the time it was engaged in operational service along the violent Afghan frontier between Chitral and Baluchistan, where the British sought to maintain control of the strategically important Khyber, Kurram, and Bolan mountain passes.

However, arriving in Peshawar, Montgomery was not impressed by what he found. He arrived during a period of relative quiet and was struck by the insistence on maintaining high social standards within the regiment. Although he continued to excel at sports, he disliked the imperialist social ambience, with its fixation on "good form," and wrote sardonically in his memoirs that "it soon appeared to me that a 'good mixer' was a man who had never been known to refuse a drink." Not only did this lead to a lifelong aversion to alcoholic excess, it left him with a poor opinion of the professionalism of the regiments of the Indian army.

At the end of 1912, Montgomery's battalion returned to England, where it formed part of the 10th Brigade in the 4th Division at Shorncliffe, in Kent. When war broke out against Germany in August 1914, the battalion crossed over to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), which had been deployed to support the French Fifth Army on the northern end of the defensive line along the Mons-Conde Canal. This move was part of a prearranged plan by which British forces would support the French flanks in the event of an attack by an enemy country. It was here, rather than in the colonies, that British soldiers' eyes were opened to the realities of modern warfare. The Warwicks first saw action during the confused retreat from Mons to Le Cateau as the BEF pulled back in the face of the German onslaught. The Great Retreat toward the Marne River, as it was known, took the German army to the outskirts of Paris, and the BEF suffered further casualties on August 26, when British II Corps faced the advancing Germans at Le Cateau, some 30 miles from Mons. It was the British army's biggest set-piece battle since Waterloo, in 1815, and its 55,000 soldiers faced Germans numbering 140,000. Lieutenant-General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien's three divisions, supported by the cavalry division, were able to hold the line by dint of their superior firepower, but by evening they were outnumbered, and only the Germans' failure to press their advantage allowed II Corps to resume their retreat. Even so, the British casualties were heavy—7,812 killed—and gave a stark indication of worse things to come.


Excerpted from Montgomery by Trevor Royle. Copyright © 2010 Trevor Royle. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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Meet the Author

Trevor Royle is a broadcaster and author specializing in the history of war and empire with a score of books to his credit. His previous books include Civil War: The Wars of Three Kingdoms, Crimea: The Great Crimean War 1854-1856, a New York Times Notable Book, and Lancaster Against York. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a regular commentator on defense matters and international affairs for the BBC and an Editor at The Sunday Herald. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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