MASTER OF THE BATTLEFIELD: Monty's War Years, 1942-1944 by Nigel Hamilton
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MASTER OF THE BATTLEFIELD: Monty's War Years, 1942-1944

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In the first volume of his official biography of Montgomery, ""second son"" Hamilton provided a memorable account of Montgomery's grotesque, toughening-and-crippling childhood and, sympathetically but not one-sidedly, traced his teacherly military career through El Alamein. Here, dealing with Montgomery's two signal years as a battlefield commander--in North Africa after Alamein, in Sicily, Italy, and Normandy--he assumes, for better and worse, the role of advocate. Hardly an engagement is without an extenuating explanation of Monty's alleged ""over-insurance against enemy riposte, his concern about minimizing casualties, and his set-piece attitude toward war."" On the other hand, Hamilton rightly notes that ""the circumstances of the time must not be forgotten."" He doesn't pretend that Montgomery made no mistakes; he acknowledges his military shortcomings and personal blemishes. All the more fascinating, then, what he filters through Montgomery's sensibility, from his private papers. There is the recurrent contrast between Monty's vindictiveness toward his family and his concern for the welfare of his troops. There is much awareness of his distastefulness to the upper-crust--by contrast to his popularity among ordinary folk, in and out of service. (That all these phenomena might be related, Hamilton doesn't quite see.) His legendary showmanship and megalomania are much in evidence--so Hamilton can weigh their effect on his performance. (An extraordinary, yes-and-no chapter is titled ""Monty's Vanity: 'Eighth Army's Dynamo.'"") Repeated comparison is made in this connection between Montgomery and Patton. (Naturally, the latter suffers.) The major military.theme, from the preparations for the Sicilian invasion through the punishing Italian campaign to the D-Day landings, is Monty's emphasis on a unified command and singleness of purpose. ""Though the historian may be right to decry Monty's insensibility to the likely political repercussions of his views and behavior,"" writes Hamilton (apropos of ""Husky""), ""he must nevertheless acknowledge the military logic which inspired such attitudes."" It's that kind of head-on partisanship, in conjunction with unequalled (if sometimes exhausting) first-hand detail, that gives the book distinction.

Pub Date: March 5th, 1984
Publisher: McGraw-Hill