From: Manchester, UK
I've got three main questions on this:
1. Where do you see the role of Dempsey in all this? Normandy is often talked about in terms of 'Monty stuck in front of Caen, Bradley breaking through at St Lo' but since Monty was in charge of the whole show, not just 2nd Army, wasn't Dempsey the logical equivalent to Bradley?
Excellent point, Dempsey is often a bit player in what is written, yet he was Bradley's equivalent, at least until Aug 1st when 12th Army Group activated. Hasting's (although the remark is unreferenced) suggests he was said to have been treated more like A Corp Commander than an Army Commander by Monty, although he describes him as being a good judge of ground, and a reliable executor of Monty's wishes.
He was responsible for the adhoc shfting of 7th Armoured which resulted in the battle around villiers Bocage in early June (the infamous Wittman battle) and it was 2nd Army which wrote the Goodwood battle plan which Monty approved. However, certainly Epson (IIRC) was planned on the basis of an axis of advance provided by Montgomery and I get the feeling that Dempsey never had the slack that Bradley got. I think partly because Montgomery was wrestling with a whole series of issues regarding the British Army in Normandy, which he felt required his attention. This inevitably led him to take a greater interest in what happened to them. I think Dempsey was naturally going to find it hard to operate very independantly, he was working for the victor of Alamein after all. I thinkit's safe to say he didn't find the arrangement overly irritating, though.
2. Was there a significant difference in the way Monty dealt with his British subordinates in 2nd Army, compared to the way he largely allowed Bradley to formulate and carry out plans without interference? It seems logical that if he allowed one army to operate relatively free from interference, he would have done the same with the other, but the different nationalities and relationships concerned make this something that cannot be safely assumed without evidence. I haven't got any either way, unfortunately, but it seems like a pretty important and interesting issue.
Yes, I think there was. Bradley certainly thought so, writing after the war that Montgomery did not exercise command over the Americans that badly, suggesting he was tactful at all times. A meeting on 10th July perhaps illustrates this. Bradley was forced to admit that his latest attack south had failed. Monty says "Don't worry, Brad, take all the time you need." Then he merely suggests that if he were Brad, he would concentrate his forces a little more. No orders, no criticism, just a friendly suggestion. I think 2nd Army got all operations approved, and not a few of their plans "suggested". I think he treated them both quite differently.
3. What do you think of the argument of Neillands that GOODWOOD was never intended to be a breakthrough battle, and that had 1st Army been in position to launch COBRA as scheduled, GOODWOOD would never have become such a controversial issue?
Goodwood, Monty's low point, and a bad day for the British Army. Ultimately, I think the battle is all things to all people, and I think Momntgomery deliberately set it up that way. Neillands talks of Monty's staff Officer visiting Brooke in London to explain the plan to him, making it clear the objectives were as Neillands describes. Hastings, however, quotes from a letter written to Brooke which explains that Monty wants a major showdown on his flank, letting armour "loose" in the plain beyond Caen because he is worried casualties are reducing the quality of his formations and he wants to fight the big battle whilst he still has formations capable of doing it.
I think much of the debate is wide of the mark, and perhaps only controversial because of how things panned out.
Firstly, this is a typical Monty battle. He likes tidy battlefields, and the initial objectives are merely to seize the southern suburbs of Caen and secure the high ground around the Bourgebus ridges. However, I've never really understood what a battle of attrition actually is. To my mind, it's merely a normal battle that is initially stalemated, leading to both sides committing more and more forces to win it, banking the other side will run out of men and material first. These sorts of battles have normal objectives, however, as did Charnwood and Epsom. To commit half of Second Army to this operation, together with 750 - 800 tanks, and a massive heavy bomber raid backed by hundreds of guns and Naval gunfire off the coast suggests to me, that whatever the initial objectives, he was eyeing the entire plain south of Caen.
Imagine Goodwood's initial objectives are successful. Canadian infantry have secured the last suburbs of Caen behind him, he has Three Armoured divisions in the north of the plain, owns the high ground of the Bourgebus ridge, and the German divisions have only just received a massive aerial bombardment. It's a no brainer, he has to push on. I don't think it's possible to stop, and he must have realised this.
Leaving aside the operational mess that the battle began and continued as, I just don't see how he could launch this if his true objectives were so limited. You make a point about his flexibility, and you're right, Goodwood illustrates (IMHO) where the flexibility came from. Limited initial objectives, a steady advance, with plenty of operational "pauses" built in in order to re-assess. Once astride the Bourgebus Ridge, I'm sure Monty would have looked to get a feel for what was left of the Germans in front of him, but would have had to push on if he sensed (or his commanders reported) that the Germans were crumbling.
It's why I think the debate is so controversial. Writing down enemy armour can only be achieved by fighting a normal battle, with normal objectives. There is no special way to fight a battle of attrition. You don't say, go out and kill the enemy. You say, go out and capture that piece of ground. The attrition is essentially your attitude, not your strategy. Attritional battles are won like any other. In this, Neillands has it wrong, in that he claims Monty never intended to set out for Falaise. I think that was where he was eyeing when the guns started and the bombers started dropping high explosives over the German lines. Half his Army would not have been employed to capture four miles of ground and a few suburbs. This was an awfully big operation, and very bold as well, if he just wanted to tidy up. However, it was not his style to plan for Falaise, he would simply work out what to do next depending on what unfolded. Monty's style was not to paint a picture of the battle too far down the line, but to set a series of incremental objectives that gave him plenty of room to adjust if required. I think it's why everyone could come away claiming they were right (and citing evidence to prove it). Neillands points to the limited initial objectives, and everyone else points to the words he used to describe what was being attempted. I would point to how he fought his battles, together with the size of force employed. In a nutshell, he wrote orders for limited objectives, because that was his bottom line, and the way he liked to do things. However, I don't doubt what he wanted was a quick seizing of those objectives and the chance to push further down the plain. It is this enthusiasm he passed onto everyone else in his desire to improve his standing at SHAEF and in London.
The problem with Goodwood is that as the Tanks started brewing up, he never got either the sense the Germans were crumbling, nor the room (because of the constraints of the operational plan) to make adjustments. The plain just became a killing zone, and his influence zero.
I certainly agree with your assessment of Montgomery's ridiculous posturing about his planning abilities. This has done enormous damage to his reputation, not only because it's unattractive in and of itself, but because it has also obscured what I see as his flexibility and initiative in changing the plan when the situation required it - something he is often described as being incapable of.
I agree, as I've noted, I think Goodwood offers a perfect example of where the flexibility would come from. Alamein is the same, there's no real plan for a breakout, just a series of overpowering blows. I once saw it described as a classic bite and hold operation reminiscent of the first world war, and I think that's what Goodwood began as, but Monty was hoping for so much more, and it is this hope that Ike and everyone else picked up on. Either way, it was political suicide for him to allow everyone to think he was aiming for the breakthough if he wasn't.
I certainly think he was flexible, more so than he is credited for. He placed no great objectiions in Bradley's way as he marshalled the breakout, and in Sicily it was he (at a meeting in Palermo,) who suggested Patton drive along the northern coast to Messina.
< Message edited by IronDuke -- 7/28/2004 12:38:30 AM >