Bernard Law Montgomery (Monty)

Bernard Montgomery, the most prominent British commander during the Allied invasion of Europe, was loved by his troops, but was less popular with senior officers and politicians, who considered him difficult and rude. During the invasion of France, Monty commanded all Allied ground forces until August when the command was reorganised, and then, after the breakthrough at the base of the Cherbourg peninsula, he took command of the Second Army Group, consisting of British and Canadian armies, which held the northern end of the Allied line crossing northern France into Belgium and The Netherlands.

He was born on Nov. 17, 1887, in London, England. Not long after his birth, his father, an Anglican bishop, was sent to Tasmania. Montgomery decided on a career in the military, returned to England, graduation from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in 1908. His family returned in 1910.

He served as an officer in France and Belgium during the First World War, was wounded twice, and was decorated by the governments of both Britain and France for his service. He was promoted to major-general, and in 1938-39, commanding a division in the Middle East, and was transferred to a command in France at the outbreak of World War II. In 1940 he evacuated his unit from Dunkirk, and was then given command of the 5th Corps.

His ascendancy really began in 1942, however, when he was given command of the 8th Army that had been driven back into Egypt by German forces under the command of Erwin Rommel – known as 'The Desert Fox'. Rommel had become an almost mythical figure, and the demoralised British troops needed a commander with a strong personality to give them some confidence – Monty was the ideal man for the job.

He prepared carefully, and on October 23 1942 he launched the El Alamein attack in northern Egypt. When enemy lines broke, Monty pursued them into Libya and beyond, becoming the first Allied commander to inflict a significant defeat on Rommel in the desert – although it must be said that Montgomery had a huge advantage in numbers.

On November 10 of 1942, he was knighted and promoted to full general.  Still commanding the 8th Army, he took part in the Allied landing in Sicily in July 1943 and led the troops invading Italy proper in August.

On September 1 1944, while leading the Second Army in Europe, he was made a field marshal, the highest rank in the British Army – shortly before he suffered his biggest defeat of the war, losing 6,000 airborne troops when his planned crossing of the Rhine at Arnhem was turned back. The responsibility for this defeat remains controversial, even today.

Montgomery accepted the surrender of the German troops in the Netherlands and northwest Germany on May 4, 1945 and 18 days later became chief of the British forces occupying Germany and a member of the Allied Control Commission.

In 1946 Monty became 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein in recognition of his service in Africa.  Serving as chairman of the permanent defence organisation of the Western European Union between 1948-1951 and as deputy supreme commander of NATO from 1951 until his retirement in 1958. He died in Alton, Hampshire, on March 24, 1976.

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