Linked biography of three flamboyant World War II generals who often but not invariably deserved their fame.
British military historian Brighton (Hell Riders: The Truth about the Charge of the Light Brigade, 2004, etc.) has no trouble pointing out parallels. George S. Patton (1885–1945), Bernard Montgomery (1887–1976) and Erwin Rommel (1891–1944) all served in World War I, impressed superiors and received severe wounds. All suffered through two decades of peace, yearning for another war and continuing to impress those in command who could tolerate their egotism. Unlike many previous biographers, Brighton does not gloss over the men’s unpleasant personal qualities. All held unsympathetic, reactionary political opinions. Patton ordered vicious attacks on the Washington bonus marchers in 1932; Montgomery brutally suppressed rebellions in Ireland and Palestine; Rommel adored Hitler until late in the war. All became darlings of their nation’s media for frivolous but also important reasons. Rommel was a charismatic, aggressive commander who knew how to use tanks at a time when his opponents didn’t. However, the North African campaign was always a sideshow to the real action on the Eastern Front, where 50 times as many soldiers were fighting the Red Army; Rommel’s 1941–42 victories provided morale-boosting headlines to distract the German public from the impending debacle in Russia. Equally charismatic but rarely aggressive, Montgomery believed in meticulous planning, eschewing risky, Rommel-style battlefield improvisation. This overwhelmed Rommel at El Alamein, but slow, careful preparation did not work as well later, and Montgomery’s disdain for Americans made him widely unpopular. U.S. generals tended to be cautious, so Patton’s intense belligerence—and contempt for the English—provoked controversy throughout his career, but his was the proper strategy for a nation with an enormous material advantage over the enemy, and superiors knew his value.
Intelligent, insightful and perceptive.