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No one was neutral about Montgomery. He had a gift for irritating other officers—not only those that did not like him, but also those that did—and was often rude and nearly always overbearing. Evidently personally insecure, he had a mania for always being right, a trait that led him after the war to construct arguments about his plans for the D-Day attack on Caen that have since stirred immense controversy and passionate books by his detractors and defenders alike.
Montgomery’s reputation as a brilliant battlefield commander stemmed from the western desert.
In fact, however, he was a mediocre commander in an Allied setting, little understanding the demands of coalition warfare, as his smugness and narrowness of view testified. His frankly unbelievable arrogance and chronic tactlessness in dealing with Eisenhower throughout the campaign in western Europe underscored that failure, and very nearly led to his dismissal from command. By the time of the fighting in Normandy, he was not performing at his best, though he still believed that only he knew how to fight a battle properly. His innate caution and predilection for detailed preparation before a battle slowed his momentum to a plod and caused him to miss fleeting opportunities the rapidly changing situation offered. To be fair, the Commonwealth armies had been essentially tapped out on manpower since 1942, and Churchill had stressed to Montgomery the need to hold casualties to a minimum. Such a crucial political consideration obviously affected Montgomery’s willingness to take risks in battle.
Infuriating as he frequently was, there was much to admire in Montgomery, and not least his tactical acumen and determination to stick to his own principles. His victories in North Africa had made him a hero to the British people and much of the British and Commonwealth armed forces, and soldiers admired him, trusted him, and were willing to fight for him, no small consideration. He was essential to the British Empire. Winston Churchill summed Montgomery up by saying of him: “In defeat, unthinkable; in victory, insufferable.” After World War II, Montgomery was showered with honors, including being made a Knight of the Garter and being granted a peerage as Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. From 1946 through 1948, he was Chief of the Imperial General Staff, following his mentor, Field Marshal Viscount Alanbrooke. As Carlo D’Este phrased it, the office went from arguably the best CIGS ever to a man who was equally arguably “the most undistinguished CIGS in memory.” Montgomery squabbled with the other service chiefs and did not get along with the politicians at Whitehall. He did better as Deputy Supreme Commander of NATO under Eisenhower, and retired in 1958. He wrote a number of books, including a fulsome memoir that justified his conduct of the Normandy campaign. Montgomery died in 1976 at the age of eighty-eight. (CK) _______________________________________________
Lieutenant General Sir Neil Ritchie Commanding General, XII Corps Born in 1897, Neil Ritchie attended Royal Military College and was commissioned into the Black Watch in December, 1914. In 1915, he was wounded at Loos and, upon recuperation, assigned to the 2nd Battalion, Black Watch, in the Middle East. There he won both the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross. He spent most of the 1920s and 1930s on various staffs, and commanded the 2nd Battalion, The King’s Own Royal Regiment, in 1938.
Neil Ritchie was in many ways the image of a general officer. Personally wealthy, he also had an impressive personal appearance—vigorous and thorough—and a strong personality.
Handsome and authoritative, he was good-humored in a slightly heavy-handed way. Correlli Barnett noted that there was “bovine strength about him,” but that he was bright, liked and trusted, absolutely honest, and straight-forward. None of these things made him an effective commander of Eighth Army in 1942, however.
Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck selected Ritchie in early 1942 to command Eighth Army. It was an unfortunate choice, for while Ritchie was a brilliant staff officer, he was almost totally lacking in command experience. As events transpired, he was completely unable to fight Eighth Army effectively against Rommel, and Auchinleck relieved him of command in April of 1942.
Ritchie was the exception to the rule that a failed commander never got another chance in the British Army. Unusually fortunate, Ritchie had a patron in Field Marshal Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, having served Brooke as Brigadier General Staff in II Corps of the British Expeditionary Force in Flanders in 1939-1940, and in the same post when Brooke was General Officer Commanding Southern Command in 1940. Brooke concluded that Ritchie’s failure had really been the fault of Auchinleck and gave him another chance. There was much to argue in favor of that decision. Ritchie had really been too junior for Army command in 1940—he was still a major in 1937. He had been in an impossible position, lacking the lavish supply that Montgomery later enjoyed in that post, and did his duty as best he could, never losing heart or self control, and never blaming others for his own failures. In fact, Auchinleck had written an enthusiastic efficiency report on Ritchie after his relief, though he recommended the man not be given independent command. Reduced in grade to major general, Ritchie commanded a division in training and was then promoted back to lieutenant general in 1944 and assigned to command XII Corps. For the balance of the war, Ritchie performed very successfully and was widely regarded as a very capable corps commander—as recognized by the conferral of the degree of Knight of the Order of the British Empire in 1944.
In 1945, he became General Officer Commanding, Scottish Command. In 1946, he was promoted to full General and the following year assigned as commander in chief, South East Asia Land Force, and awarded the degree of Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. In 1949, he served as Commander of the British Army Staff in Washington, D.C. He retired in 1951and was awarded the degree of Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire. In 1952 he moved to Canada to work for Mercantile and General Insurance Company of Canada. He died in Canada on 11th December 1983. (CK) _______________________________________________
Discussions of Brian Horrocks always include superlatives, with descriptive phrases such as “dynamic and able” being usual. He had the personal mannerisms of a country squire, but that did not conceal the fact that he was probably the most able British corps commander in the second half of World War II. He was a popular commander, not just with British commanders and the soldiers they led, but also among the Americans, who admired his style and calm professional skill in the costly Normandy battles. Horrocks served as XXX Corps commander until the end of the war and then commanded the British Army of the Rhine. He was medically retired in 1949 and became a well-known public figure. He wrote two books about his military career. Horrocks died in January of 1985. (CK) _______________________________________________
The Germ an Arm y’s better form ations in the Second W orld W ar had no superiors in the w orld
in tw o m ilitary skills particularly:
ex ploiting the offensive breakthrough, and holding ground tenaciously on the defense.
Russell F. Weigley, Eisenhow er’s Lieutenants, p129
GERMAN ORDER OF BATTLEOB-West (Commander-in-Chief, West) (von Rundstedt) Army Group B (Model)
2nd Panzer Division. Experienced; reorganized after heavy losses in Normandy; had more than 100 tanks and assault guns and many veterans still in its ranks.
9th Panzer Division. A veteran division that fought in Normandy. With attached Tiger tanks, the division had just over 100 tanks.
Panzer Lehr Division. Virtually destroyed in Normandy; rebuilding when committed to counterattack Third Army in the Saar region. No time to replace men and tanks before commitment in the Ardennes, but beefed up with attachments.
26th Volksgrenadier Division. Destroyed many times on the eastern front; rebuilt to a strength of 17,000 men.
Führer Begleit Brigade. Built around a cadre of troops from Hitler's headquarters guard.
Included a tank battalion from the Großdeutschland Panzer Division (still on the eastern front) and some infantry troops from that division. Strongly reinforced with assault guns, as well as both 88-mm and 105-mm artillery.
LXVI Korps (Lucht)
18th Volksgrenadier Division. Formed in September around a cadre from an air force field division, with fillers from air force and navy units. At full strength, and with two months of experience on the defensive.
62nd Volksgrenadier Division. Rebuilt almost from scratch from a division destroyed on the eastern front. Many Czech and Polish conscripts who spoke no German.
116th Panzer Division. A proud unit that suffered heavy losses in Normandy and the Huertgen Forest, but filled with good caliber replacements. Over 100 tanks and antitank and assault guns.
560th Volksgrenadier Division. Formed from occupation troops in Norway in summer 1944.
Poorly trained, but troops quickly gained battle experience and had fought effectively in France.
167th Volksgrenadier Division. Destroyed on the eastern front, re-formed from air force ground troops while stationed in Hungary.
This corps took over control of other units at the end of December.
1st SS Panzer Division ("Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler"). Among the most powerful German formations, it had 22,000 men. Division had a reputation for daring and ruthlessness.
3rd Parachute Division. Practically destroyed in Normandy, it was rebuilt in Holland from rear echelon air force ground troops. Both troops and commanders were inexperienced.
12th SS Panzer Division ("Hitler Jugend").. Rebuilt following heavy losses in Normandy and had around 22,000 men. Short of experienced junior officers.
12th Volksgrenadier Division. Suffered heavy losses in Russia in summer 1944. Rebuilt and fought well around Aachen.
277th Volksgrenadier Division. Only about 1000 veterans. A weak division.
150th Panzer Brigade. A makeshift formation quickly put together to meet the needs of the special missions Hitler assigned to Otto Skorzeny.
II SS Panzer Korps (Bittrich)
2nd SS Panzer Division ("Das Reich"). The division had been in heavy fighting in Russia and then in Normandy, but was rebuilt during the fall with better than average replacements. Had a reputation for brutality.
9th SS Panzer Division ("Hohenstaufen"). Rebuilt after heavy losses in Normandy and Holland.
Few veterans, but excellent soldiers. Badly short of transport.
3rd Panzergrenadier Division. Transferred from Italy in summer 1944. Lost heavily in fighting around Metz and Aachen. Refitted hurriedly, it lacked 20 percent of its troop strength and 40 percent of its equipment.
246th Volksgrenadier Division. Virtually destroyed on eastern front, the rebuilt division also lost heavily in fall fighting around Aachen.
272nd Volksgrenadier Division. Virtually destroyed in Normandy and hastily rebuilt.
326th Volksgrenadier Division. Rebuilt following withdrawal from France with generally inexperienced and poorly trained troops.
9th Volksgrenadier Division. Heavy losses in Romania in Fall of 1944, refitted and moved to Denmark for training.
15th Panzergrenadier Division. Transferred from Italy in late summer of 1944 and served as a "fire brigade" around Aachen and the Vosges. Not fully refitted for the Ardennes.
Führer Grenadier Brigade. Formed from troops used in the outer defenses of Hitler's headquarters, the brigade fought a brief, but costly, action in Russia before arriving in the Ardennes.
LXXX Korps (Beyer)
212th Volksgrenadier Division. Heavy losses on eastern front, but kept a large cadre of experienced officers and noncommissioned officers. Above average replacements. The best division in the Seventh Army.
276th Volksgrenadier Division. Formed from the shell of another division destroyed in Normandy. Had a number of hospital returnees, but not enough to make up for other poorly trained replacements and inexperienced leaders.
340th Volksgrenadier Division. Had more veterans than most, but considerably under strength after fighting around Aachen.
LXXXV Korps (Kniess)
5th Parachute Division. Virtually destroyed in Normandy, refitted over the fall, and had nearly 16,000 men. Both division commander and regimental commanders inexperienced in combat.
352nd Volksgrenadier Division. Rebuilt with air force and navy replacements to a strength of 13,000. Division poorly trained and lacked experienced officers.
79th Volksgrenadier Division. Totally destroyed in summer 1944 on the eastern front (one man survived). Rebuilt from men culled from rear area headquarters.
The German Army in 1944 had long since passed the peak of its power. Yet no American or British soldier who had fought in North Africa or Italy would be inclined to take any part of that army lightly, not even the static, or coastal defense, divisions that had manned the fortifications along the Norman coast. According to an old British military adage, "He who has not fought the Germans does not know war." American troops agreed. During the breakout from the Normandy beachhead, Major General Raymond O. Barton, commanding the 4th Infantry Division, visited one of his battalions, urging it on with assurances that the German formation in front of it was only second rate and not much of an opponent. A young S-2 lieutenant remarked: "General, I think you'd better put the Germans on the distribution list. They don't seem to realize that."