MONTY VERSUS IKE
A new report on the war’s most successful and turbulent military partnership
THE MEMOIRS OF VISCOUNT ALANBROOKE, CHIEF OF THE IMPERIAL GENERAL STAFF, AS EDITED BY ARTHUR BRYANT
This concludes Maclean’s condensation of the second volume of the diaries and reflections of the British Commonwealth’s senior soldier during the Second World War. In a memorable new book edited and annotated by Sir Arthur Bryant and published by Collins under the title Triumph in the West. Lord Alanbrooke reports
and looks back on historic events and historic men and some of the personal conflicts into which the men were led by their burdens of responsibility. This installment deals chiefly with the famous differences between the Alliance's two most famous commanders. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Bernard L. Montgomery.
Passages enclosed in quotation marks are excerpts from the diaries of Alanbrooke kept from day to day during the war. Passages in indented type and quotation marks are Alanbrooke’s amplifications and afterthoughts on his diaries. Words not enclosed in quotations are Sir Arthur Bryant's.
“July 26th. 1944: At 4 p.m. I was sent for by Winston.
Eisenhower had been lunching with him and had again run down Montgomery and described his stickiness and the reaction in the American papers. The old story again: ‘H.Q. was sparing British Forces at the expense of the Americans, who were having all the casualties.' In the end I was asked to dine tomorrow night to meet Eisenhower and Bedell Smith. "
"July 27th. Dinner with P.M., Ike and Bedell Smith did a lot of good. I have offered to go over with Ike if necessary to assist him in handling Monty.
"The strategy of the Normandy landing is quite straightforward. The British (on left) must hold and draw Germans on to themselves off the western flank whilst Americans swing up to open Brest peninsula. But now comes the trouble; the press chip in and we hear that the British are doing nothing and suffering no casualties whilst the Americans are bearing all the brunt of the war . . .
“There is no doubt that Ike is all out to do all he can to maintain the best relations between British and Americans. But it is equally clear that Ike knows nothing about strategy. Bedell Smith, on the other hand, has brains but no military education in its true sense. He is certainly one of the best American officers, but still falls far short when it comes to strategic outlook. With that Supreme Command set-up it is no wonder that Monty's real high ability is not always realized. Especially so when “national' spectacles pervert the perspective of the strategic landscape."
Next morning Brooke wrote to Montgomery about his talks with the Supreme Commander.
"This trouble ... is looming larger and wants watching very carefully.
Ike favored Civil War tactics
“Ike considers that Dempsey should be doing more than he does; it is equally clear that Ike has the very vaguest conception of war! I drew his attention to what your basic strategy had been. i.e. to hold with your left and draw Germans onto the flank whilst you pushed with your right. I told him that in view of the fact that the German density in Normandy was two and a half times that on the Russian front whilst our superiority in strength was only some twenty-five percent as compared to three hundred percent Russian superiority on the Eastern front. I did not consider that we were in a position to launch an all-out offensive along the whole front.
"Evidently he has some conception of attacking on the whole front, which must be an American doctrine judging by Mark Clark with Fifth Army in Italy! However, unfortunately, this same policy of attacking (or “engaging, the enemy') along the whole front is one that appeals to the P.M. Ike may, therefore, obtain some support in this direction.
“‘Now, as a result of all this talking and the actual situation on your front. I feel quite certain that Dempsey must attack at the earliest possible moment on a large scale. We must not allow German forces to move from his front to Bradley's front or we shall give more cause than ever for criticism. Do not neglect this point; it is an important one."
Montgomery replied that night: “Your letter received . . . Everything will be thrown in. Gave orders to Dempsey this morning that attack is to be pressed with utmost vigor and all caution thrown to the winds and any casualties accepted and that he must step on gas for Vire. Americans are going great guns, and with Second Army drive south from Caumont I think results may be good.”
It had always been understood that, as soon as the U. S. had two armies in action, a separate American army group, independent of the original 21 army group, should be formed under Omar Bradley, leaving Montgomery in command of a purely British and Canadian army group. This had been effected at the beginning of August, but throughout that month of victory the direction of the allied ground forces continued in Montgomery’s hands. But. for all his military genius, that officer was little loved by his immediate American subordinates, and the apparent ease of their break-out
and the rapidity of their advance compared with the slow, slogging pace of the British and Canadians in the bocage had filled them with self-confidence. It seemed essential to them now. not only that there should be an American Supreme Commander but that he should act and be recognized as Commander-in-Chief as well. And several senior British army and air force staf!' officers at SHAEF. who. like everyone else who worked closely under Eisenhower, loved and admired him, agreed with them.
Having used the Americans to break out on his right flank and sweep to Paris. Montgomery at that moment was preparing to launch the British on his left in a similar all-out drive towards Brussels and Antwerp. It was his belief that, by doing so and directing his own and Bradley s army group as a solid compact mass of forty divisions towards the Lower Rhine and Ruhr, he could strike Germany a blow from which in its present shaken state there could be no recovery. But Eisenhower, who was essentially a staff officer with little knowledge of the realities of the battlefield, did not share this belief. He was obsessed with the logistical problems—which were immense—of supplying his forces, now advancing far from their inadequate Channel bases, and of maintaining them throughout the winter as they moved into Germany, and felt that he could only do so if they went forward on a wide front, using as many roads as possible. And like nearly all senior American military commanders at the time, except the genius Mac Arthur, he was a believer in the classic Civil War doctrine of frontal assault, of "Everybody attacks all the time." He disapproved of Montgomery's plan for allocating all the available maintenance to the north to enable the Allied left to drive through the Low Countries into the heart of the Ruhr. He wished instead to divide his resources impartially between Montgomery’s British and Canadians in the north. Bradley's Americans in the centre— now spreading out and advancing on Nancy and Metz —and Dever's Americans and French moving up from the Rhone towards Alsace, and then, having got them neatly into position on a six-hundred-mile front, to assail Germany simultaneously with them all.
Brooke's diary for Monday. August 2Xth reflects this difference in strategic view.
“Difficult C.O.S. meeting where we considered Eisenhower's new plan to take command himself in northern France on Sept. 1st. This plan is likely to add another three to six months onto the war. He wants to split his force, sending an American contingent towards Nancy whilst the British army group moves along the coast. If the Germans were not as beat as they are this would be a fatal move.”
Monty’s mail arrived late
As a result of the Supreme Commander’s attempt to maintain from overstrained supply-lines the momentum of his advance along the entire western approaches to the Reich. Hitler and the German high command were given the time they needed to halt the northern drive towards the Ruhr—a target far more vulnerable and accessible than any comparable prize elsewhere and whose capture at that moment might have ended the war. On September 5th Eisenhower sent a signal to Montgomery and Bradley that, as the bulk of the German army had been destroyed, he proposed to exploit his success by simultaneously breaking the Siegfried Line, crossing the Rhine on a wide front and seizing both the Saar and the Ruhr. At the time of despatching this telegram—-part of which took four days to reach Montgomery owing to the lack of facilities for exercising operational command from Eisenhower's personal headquarters—the Supreme Commander was isolated, with a sprained knee in a remote Normandy village nearly four hundred miles from the battle-line with which he was out of both radio and telephonic touch.
While Montgomery and Bradley both pleaded for priority of supply—the one to strike through Holland across the Lower Rhine at the Ruhr and Hanover plain, the other to drive towards Frankfurt and Central Germany —Eisenhower, inclining first one way, then another, remained what Brooke had seen him to be, an arbiter bal-
ancing the requirements of competing allies and subordinates rather than a master of the field making the decisive choice. The opportunity for delivering the coup de grace by rushing the Ruhr, if it ever existed, lasted only tor those few days of early September. By the I Oth, when in response to Montgomery’s repeated entreaties Eisenhower flew from his sickbed to Brussels to give his approval to a plan for using the Allies' air borne forces to seize, ahead of the halted British Second Army, the canal and river crossings of the Maas. Waal and Rhine, the chance to drive through Holland to the Ruhr was already passing. Not till the 12th. in response to the Combined Chiefs of Staff’s Quebec directive recommending precedence for the northern thrust, did the Supreme Commander agree to allocate sufficient additional transport, and petrol to 21 Army Group to make even this belated project possible. And he still continued in private to stigmatize Montgomery's demand for complete priority of supply as "crazy" and failed to halt Patton in Lorraine.
Entry from Brooke’s diary:
“November 2nd. Lunch with P.M. to meet Bedell Smith. Found out that Ike's plan as usual entails attacking all along the front instead of selecting main strategic point. I fear that the November attack will consequently get no further than the Rhine at the most.
"P.M. not in his usual form and on the flat side. However, his fighting spirit the same as usual and he said that if he was a German he would get his small daughter to put a bomb under some British bed; he would instruct his wife to wait till some American was bending over his basin washing to strike him on the neck with a chopper, whilst he himself sniped at Americans and British indiscriminately!"
“November 20th. C.O.S. meet-
continued on page 50
continued trom page 19
“He has never commanded anything before in his whole career,” Monty said of Ike. “He doesn’t know how”
ing. A discussion as to the unsatisfactory state of affairs in France, where Eisenhower completely fails as Commander. Bedell Smith lives back in Paris quite out of touch; as a result the war is drifting in a rudderless condition. Had a long
and despondent letter about it from Montgomery.”
In the letter Brooke had received from Montgomery the latter reported that he had not seen nor spoken to Eisenhower on the telephone since October 18th, and
had only met him four times since the end of the Normandy campaign. ”He is at a forward headquarters at Rheims,” he wrote; “the directives he issues from there have no relation to the practical necessities of the battle. It is quite im-
possible for me to carry out my present orders . . . Eisenhower should himself take a proper control of operations or he should appoint someone else to do this. If we go drifting along as at present we are merely playing into the enemy’s hands and the war will go on indefinitely . . . He has never commanded anything before in his whole career; now, for the first time, he has elected to take direct command of very large-scale operations and he does not know how to do it.
“The Germans,” he continued, “are bound to bring divisions to the western front from Norway, from the Russian front and from elsewhere . . . Bradley tells me the American ammunition situation is going to be worse and his allotment is already being scaled down; the reason is that the Pacific theatre is now coming to the fore and ammunition has to be diverted there; the Americans have not enough ammunition to give adequate amounts to two theatres — both going at full blast. So the urgency to finish the German war quickly is very great.”
The only way, Montgomery thought, to achieve this was “to concentrate great strength at some selected place and hit the Germans a colossal crack, and have ready the fresh divisions to exploit the success gained.” The question was what was he himself to do? ‘‘I put the whole matter to Eisenhower early in October; he did not agree and I told him that so far as I was concerned the matter had ended — and he would hear no more from me on the subject. A month has passed since then and I am getting rather alarmed; I think we are drifting into dangerous waters ...”
The C.I.G.S. (Brooke) replied: "... Without any hesitation I would advise you: (a) not to approach Eisenhower for the present; (b) remain silent now. unless Eisenhower opens the subject.
“I feel pretty certain that the results of the current offensive will provide us with sufficiënt justification for requesting the American Chiefs of Staff to reconsider the present Command organization and the present strategy on the Western Front. We shall within the next week or fortnight have ample proof of the inefficiency of the present setup and this will justify our making the strongest representations to Washington.
"I feel certain that in view of the American preponderance in strength they will insist on any Land Commander appointed being American. I do not think that either politically or militarily we can resist this claim. This being so, do you consider that Bradley is fit for the job? Meanwhile don't open the matter with Ike again.”
Montgomery sent a further letter: “Within the American armies they seem to have a curious idea that every Army Commander must have an equal and fair share of the battle ... I do not believe we shall ever get a Land Commander. I have offered in writing to serve under Bradley but it is no use: Ike is determined to do it himself! . . .
“I suggest the answer is this:
"l. Ike seems determined to show that he is a great general in the field. Let him do so and let us all lend a hand to pull him through.
“2. The theatre divides itself naturally into two fronts—one north of the Ardennes and one south.
“3. I should command north of the Ardennes and Bradley south of the Ardennes.
"4. Ike should command the two fronts, from a suitable tactical headquarters.”
Brooke did not agree and replied: “Frankly I don't think much of your plan! You have always told me, and I have agreed with you. that Ike was no commander, that he had no strategic vision, was incapable of making a plan or of running operations when started.
“Now you state that, 'This solution would solve all problems. Ike would allot forces to each front as demanded by his plan.' How is he to do this if he can't make a plan? Further, ‘he must decide on nis strategic plan now, lay down objectives, allot resources, and so on.Is that not exactly what he has up to date proved himself incapable of doing? And again: ‘Bradley and myself then carry on, and Ike co-ordinates as necessary.’ Can you see Ike judging between the requirements of the two fronts, overriding American clamor for their Commander being in charge of the main thrusts, etc., etc.? 1 can’t!
"Furthermore, you are asking for the command of the northern group. You must remember that you have repeatedly affirmed that the northern line of advance is the one and only that has any chance of success.
"You are therefore proposing yourself for the one and only front that can play any major part in the Western oflensivc on Germany. Have you considered whether you are likely to be very acceptable in American eyes for this command? I have grave doubts.
"Now Weeks informs me of a new plot by which you are contemplating re-opening the matter with Ike by asking him whether he has any objections to your doing so! As I told you in my letter, 1 think you are wrong in doing so.
"I should now like a reply from you by return telling me exactly what you are doing and how you reconcile your new plan with everything you have said up to date.”
That night Alanbrooke wrote in his diary: “At the end of this morning's C.O.S. meeting I put before the committee my views on the very unsatisfactory state of affairs in France, with no one running the land battle. Eisenhower, though supposed to be doing so, is on the golf links at Rheims — entirely detached and taking practically no part in running of the war. Matters got so bad lately that a deputation of Whiteley, Bedell Smith and a few others went up to tell him that he must get dowm to it and RUN the war, which he said he would.
"We discussed the advisability of getting Marshall to come out to discuss the matter, but we are doubtful if he would appreciate the situation. Finally decided that I am to see the P.M. to discuss the situation with him.”
"November 28th. 1 went to see the P.M. 1 told him I was very worried. 1 said that this last offensive could only be classified as the first strategic reverse that we had suffered since landing in France. 1 said that in my mind two main factors were at fault, i.e., (a) American strategy; (b) American organization. As regards the strategy the American conception of always attacking all along the front, irrespective of strength available, was sheer madness. In the present offensive we had attacked on six Army fronts without any reserves anywhere. As regards organization, I said I did not consider that Eisenhower could command both as Supreme Commander and as Commander
of the Land Forces at the same time. Winston said that he also was worried about the Western Front, but was doubtful as to the necessity for a Land Forces Commander. I think I succeeded in pointing out that we must take control out of Eisenhower's hands, and the best plan was to repeat w'hat we did in Tunisia when we brought in Alex as a Deputy to Eisenhower to command the Land Forces for him. I told Winston that the only way of putting things right was to get Marshall to come over. We’ll wait a few more days before doing so."
The offensive which Eisenhower had ordered in October, which Patton had anticipated by his attacks south of the Ardennes and which Bradley, after waiting a fortnight for the weather to clear, had launched on a far too wide front in mid-November was now petering out. Except for the capture of the Metz forts, it had achieved nothing. After a fortnight's struggle in drenched fields and quagmires, the Siegfried Line remained unbreached. As Montgomery had warned Eisenhower when he refused to concentrate, the Western Allies were now in
a “strategic strait jacket.” They w'ere bogged down and reduced to the trench warfare it had always been their object to avoid. Until spring dried the ground, and reinforcements from America could again tip the scales in their favor, they were back where their predecessors had been in the days of Gamelin and the Maginot Line.
All this Montgomery proceeded to rub in when Eisenhower visited him on November 28th. That night he reported to Alanbrooke.
“Ike visited me today and we have had
a very long talk. I put following points to him.
"1st. That the plan contained in his last directive had failed and we had, in fact, suffered a strategic reverse. He agreed.
"2nd. That we must now prepare a new plan and in that plan we must get away from the doctrine of attacking all along front and must concentrate our resources on selected vital thrust. He agreed.
"3rd. That it seemed a pity he did not have Bradley as I and Force Commander to take off him the work of running the
operations on land. He did not, repeat not, agree.
"4th. That the theatre was divided naturally by Ardennes into two definite fronts.
"5th. That I should command north of the Ardennes and Bradley south. He considered there would be difficulties about this, as main objective lay in northern zone. But he said he would be quite prepared to put a strong army group under Bradley north of the Ardennes and to put Bradley under my operational command. thus putting me in operational
charge north of the Ardennes.”
"We talked for three hours in a most friendly way and I proved to him that we had definitely failed and must make new plan and next time we must quite definitely not (repeat not) fail. He admitted a grave mistake had been made and in my opinion is prepared to go almost any length to succeed next time. Hençe his own suggestions I should be in full operational command north of the Ardennes with Bradley under me and 6 Army Group in a holding role in south ...”
In a further telegram next morning Montgomery added: “Had a further talk with Ike this morning and there is no doubt our discussion last night has left him worried and ill at ease. He thought he and Bradley between them could do the business, and he now understands clearly that they made a very grave error and the net result is complete failure to do what was intended. When I suggested last night that Bradley would be suitable as Land Force Commander under him he definitely shied right off it. and it is my impression this morning that he thinks Bradley has failed him. There is no doubt he is now very anxious to go back to the old setup we had in Normandy and put Bradley under my operational command. In fact, he now definitely wants me to handle main business but wants Bradley to be in on it. and therefore, he will put him under me. In my opinion Ike will never agree to appointment of a Land Force Commander for whole front as he wants to do this himself. If he reverts to the system we had in Normandy it means that I shall in reality be in operational charge and be able to influence whole land battle by direct approach to Ike myself ...”
Montgomery on the 30th sent Eisenhower a letter which crossed the t's and dotted the i’s of what he supposed to be their agreement.
"My dear Ike:
“In order to clear my own mind I would like to confirm the main points that were agreed on during the conversations we had during your stay with me on Tuesday night.
"We have definitely failed to implement the plan contained in the SHAEF directive of 28 October. We have therefore failed: and we have suffered a strategic reverse. We require a new plan. And this time we must not fail.
"In the new plan we must get away from the doctrine of attacking in so many places that nowhere are we strong enough to get decisive results. We must concentrate such strength on the main selected thrust that success will be certain . . .
"The theatre divides itself naturally into two fronts: one north of the Ardennes and one south of the Ardennes. I did suggest that you might consider having a Land Force Commander to work under you and run the land battle for you. But you discarded this idea as being not suitable, and we did not discuss it any more. You suggested that a better solution would be to put 12 Army Group and 21 Army Group both north of the Ardennes, and to put Bradley under my operational command.
"I said that Bradley and I together are a good team. We worked together in Normandy under you. and we won a great victory. Things have not been so good since you separated us. I believe to be certain of success you want to bring us together again: and one of us should have the full operational control north of the Ardennes; and if you decide that I should do that work — that is O.K. by me . . .
B. L. Montgomery
Entry from Alanbrooke’s diary: “December 4th ... 1 went to Winston. He said he did not want anybody between Ike and the Army Groups, as Ike was a good fellow who was amenable and whom he could influence. Bradley, on the other hand might not listen to what he said! I replied that I could see little use in having an ‘amenable’ Commander if he was unfit to win the war for him.”
Meanwhile the conference with the Supreme Commander that Montgomery had proposed had taken place. It had been preceded by a further exchange of correspondence. The British commander’s letter had not only made the position crystal clear; it had made Eisenhower very angry. For all his good nature, the Supreme Commander was a tough “West Pointer" and could never have reached his position otherwise. However acquiescent he may have seemed when he was Montgomery’s guest, when confronted with his letter he indignantly rejected the description of the autumn campaign as a "strategic reverse.” "You have stated,” he replied, “your conception of the points that were agreed upon during our conversation, whereas there arc certain things in your letter in which I do not concur... I do not agree that things have gone badly since Normandy, merely because we have not gained all we hoped to gain ... I have no intention of stopping Devers's and Patton’s operations.
I beg of you not to continue to look upon the past performances of this great fighting force as a failure because we have not achieved all that we could have hoped.”
Genuinely fond of Eisenhower like everyone who served under him, Montgomery had been quick to assure him that he had never said or intended any such thing but had been referring only to the failure of the November offensive. Whereupon, with characteristic generosity, the Supreme Commander had replied:
"You have my prompt and abject apologies for misreading your letter . . . I do not want to put words or meanings into your mouth, or ever do anything that upsets our close relationship.”
Yet, despite their personal cordiality, Montgomery’s meeting with Eisenhower and his other principal subordinates, Bradley and Tedder, proved a failure. After receiving the Supreme Commander’s apology, he had optimistically telegraphed Brooke asking him to leave matters to him. But after the conference he wrote to him in despair. "Eisenhower has obviously been ‘got at’ by the American generals; he reversed his opinion on all major points on which he had agreed when he visited me on the 28th Nov . . .
1 personally regard the whole thing as quite dreadful. 1 can see no good coming out of this business. Eisenhower and Bradley have their eyes firmly fixed on Frankfurt. We shall split our resources and our strength, and we shall fail.”
As always, Montgomery had pleaded for concentration and the building up of powerful striking reserves at a single point for an early spring offensive, in the north against the Ruhr and the open Hanover plains beyond; "Once the war becomes mobile, that is the end of the Germans.” But though they had parted on the friendliest note, Eisenhower and his companions had remained unmoved by the British commander - in - chief’s pleas. Their contention was that the broad-front winter offensive was paying dividends, that, though costly and immediately unspectacular in results, it was wearing the enemy down and that, as the Allies’ only objective was to kill Germans, it did not matter where they
did it. Like the “Westerners” of First World War legend, they put their faith in attrition. "I played a lone hand against the three of them" Montgomery concluded: "they all arrived today and went away together. It is therefore fairly clear that any points I made which caused Eisenhower to wobble will have been put right by Bradley and Tedder on the three-hour drive back to Luxembourg . .. I can do no more myself... If we want the war to end within any reasonable period you have to get Eisenhower’s hand taken off the land battle. I regret to say
that in my opinion he just doesn’t know what he is doing. And you will have to see that Bradley’s influence is curbed.” Yet though the Western Allies had temporarily lost the initiative, the stalemate was about to be broken by a greater optimist than Eisenhower. By his fanatic refusal to yield ground Hitler had already allowed the Western Allies to destroy two great German armies — one in Tunisia in 1943 and the other in Normandy in 1944 — as he had enabled the Russians to destroy another at Stalingrad and blockade another in the Baltic prov-
inces. Ever since his reprieve in September. he had been husbanding the new army of young fanatics he had raised by his drastic autumn call-up, not to create the central defensive reserve which, with her foes closing in from east and west, was Germany’s supreme need, but to form the wherewithal for a second blitzkrieg which should do against the Americans and British what its predecessor had done against the French and British in 1940.
The Fuehrer had decided to stake everything on a single throw, "to win or lose
it all.” And because he despised the Americans and believed them to be more likely to break under such a blow than the Russians, he had resolved to leave the Eastern front to look after itself and make his desperate bid for victory in the West.
Hitler's object was to drive a wedge between the two main halves of the Anglo-American forces on either side of the Ardennes and, by striking from there at the point of maximum potential confusion, where the Americans and British forces joined, to reach Brussels and Antwerp in the latter’s rear, encircle and, this time, destroy them. Once the Western Allies had been driven from the Continent, his new submarines, jet fighters and rockets would force their discredited statesmen to sue for peace. With Russia left to face the uninterrupted might of a revived Reich, the end of the Coalition would follow.
In view of Germany’s unbroken defeats of the past two years and the enormous Allied preponderance in the air and in war material, it all seemed the wildest fantasy. Yet with less than seventy American and British divisions on the Continent and with their forces — exhausted by their non-stop offensives and deployed for yet another double thrust— so strung out as to be without reserves at all. a repetition of 1940 was just conceivable.
Montgomery’s telegram which Brooke received that morning had begun — from one who was the reverse of an alarmist — with the ominous words, “The situation in American area is not-not-good.” After naming the points to which the enemy had penetrated, it went on: "In the First Army north of line Udenbreth to Durbuy there is great confusion. There is a definite lack of grip and control and no one has a clear picture as to situation . . . There is an atmosphere of great pessimism in First and Ninth Armies due, I think, to the fact that everyone knows something has gone wrong and no one knows what or why. Bradley is still at Luxembourg but I understand he is moving. as his headquarters are in danger. I have no information as to where he is moving. I presume Ike is at Rheims but I have heard nothing from him or Bradley ... I have myself had no orders or
requests of any sort. My own opinion is that. . . the American forces have been cut clean in half and the Germans can reach the Meuse at Namur without any opposition. The Command setup has always been very faulty and now is quite futile, with Bradley at Luxembourg and the front cut in two. I have told Whiteley that Ike ought to place me in operational command of all troops on the northern half of the front. I consider he should be given a direct order by someone to do so. This situation needs to be handled very firmly and with a tight grip.”
By this time, however, on the advice of Bedell Smith and despite Bradley's protests, Eisenhower had already acted as Montgomery wished. Following a brief message on the previous day to the Combined Chiefs of Staff, whose purport Alanbrooke had communicated in his telegram, he contacted the British commander on the morning of the 20th by telephone. "He was very excited,” Montgomery reported, "and it was difficult to understand what he was talking about; he roared into the telephone, speaking very fast. The only point I really grasped was that 'it seems to me we have now tw’o fronts’ and that I w;as to assume command of the northern front. This was all I wanted to know. He then went on talking wildly about other things; I could not hear and said so; at last the line cut out before he finished.” Later in the day Eisenhower also gave the news by telephone to the Prime Minister at Downing Street.
Montgomery wasted no time in assuming control of the cut-off American forces. In a telegram to Brooke that night he described how, within two hours of his talk with Eisenhower, he visited the commanders of the First and Ninth Armies; a British officer who was present said that he strode into Hodge’s H.Q. "like Christ come to cleanse the temple.” “Neither Army Commander,” he reported to Brooke, "had seen Bradley or any of his staff since the battle began . . . There were no reserves anywhere behind front. Morale was very low. They seemed delighted to have someone give them firm orders.” These took the form of an immediate reorganization of the front in order to form a reserve of three divisions. "All bridges over the Meuse,” Mont-
gomery added, “from south-east of Liege to north-east of Givet are now held by British garrisons ... I have every hope the situation can be put right now. It will take a day or two to get Americans front reorganized and in better shape and we may have a few more shocks before that is completed . . . But it is necessary to realize that there was literally no control or grip of any sort of the situation and we shall never do any good so long as that goes on.”
“The American armies in the north,” Montgomery wrote subsequently, “were in a complete muddle; Bradley had not visited either army since the attack began; the army commanders did what they thought best.”
Calamity acted on Eisenhower like a restorative and brought out all the greatness in his character. It was he who, as soon as the news of defeat reached him, overruled Bradley, halted the offensive south of the Moselle and ordered Patton to march north against the Germans' flank; who threw in the two air-borne divisions — his sole reserve — to hold Bastogne and the Meuse crossings; who opened a conference of his senior commanders with the words, "I want only cheerful faces,” and declared that the situation should be regarded as one not of disaster, but opportunity.
On December 23rd, the blanket of cloud and fog over the confused battlefield lifted and the allied air forces went into the attack. While Montgomery, restraining the impatience of his American subordinates, waited until he had built up an adequate striking force and steadily edged the German columns away from the Meuse crossings south-westward where they could do no harm, thousands of bombers and fighters harried Rundstedt's armour and communications and made his supply position, always precarious, impossible. Thanks to the American fighting-man’s tenacity and the British Commander-in-chiefs prescience the Panzers never reached the Allied petrol dumps where they were to have refueled for the final drive across the Belgian plain and, for lack of oil, ground slowly to a standstill in the snow-clad foothills to the south and east of the Meuse. By the 26th, though in sight of the river, their advance was at an end. Hitler’s eleventh-hour throw for victory had failed.
Entry from Brooke’s diary:
“January 8th. Monty’s offensive seems to be progressing very favourably.
“Had to go round to P.M. at 10.30 p.m. He was in bed when I arrived, sipping coffee, drinking brandy and smoking a cigar. We discussed all the evils of Monty’s press interview, which resulted in a call to Eisenhower.”
Whatever the repercussions in America of this press conference of Montgomery s, its effect on the American generals was anything but happy. On January 6th, the Field Marshal had sent a private telegram to the Prime Minister telling him that he was proposing next day to explain to British and American correspondents how, during the Battle of the Ardennes, the whole Allied team, throwing national considerations overboard, had rallied to the call and how Allied solidarity had saved the situation. “I shall stress,” he wrote, “the great friendship between myself and Ike and tell them that I myself have an American identity card and am identified in the Army of the United States, my fingerprints being registered in the War Department at Washington.” To which, w-ith characteristic enthusiasm, Churchill replied that he thought that what the Field Marshal proposed would be invaluable.
Yet when next day Montgomery, in his usual categorical manner, did as he proposed, the impression his words made on the by now hypersensitive American commanders was that he had singlehandedly rescued a shattered American Army from the consequences of their inexperience and folly. His account — followed though it was by praise of the Supreme Commander and the American fighting man — of how he had tidied up the battlefield in "one of the most interesting and tricky” operations he had ever handled, infuriated Bradley and Eisenhower's staff. As Montgomery himself admitted afterwards, it was probably a mistake “to have held the conference at all.”
On January 20th, all was in the melting pot again. On that day an alarmed Montgomery reported to Alanbrooke that Bradley was once more “going off on his own line" and that, "instead of one firm, clear and decisive plan, there was great indecision and patchwork.”
“Both Ike and Bradley are emphatic that we should not cross the Rhine in
strength anywhere until we are lined up along its entire length from Nijmegen to Switzerland. If we work on this plan we shall take a long time to get anywhere.
Montgomery wired the C.I.G.S. on the 22nd: “I fear that the old snags of indecision and vacillation and refusal to consider the military problem fairly and squarely are coming to the front again . . . The real trouble is that there is no control and the three army groups are each intent on their own affairs. Patton today issued a stirring order to Third Army, saying the next step would be Cologne . . . One has to preserve a sense of humor these days, otherwise one would go mad.”
Entry from Alanbrooke’s diary: “February 2nd. Malta.
“After the meeting Winston asked me to stop on to discuss with him and the President and Marshall the proposal for Alexander to replace Tedder. The President and Marshall considered that politically such a move might have repercussions in America if carried out just now. It might be considered that Alex was being put to support Ike after the Ardennes failure. They were, however, quite pre-
lighted at having his formidable lieutenant’s backing, Eisenhower had written to the Prime Minister that, if Alexander was appointed in Tedder’s place, he could only allow him to handle such routine matters as administration in the rear areas.”
“March 5th. Rheims. Ike’s A.D.C. drove me up to Ike’s H.Q. There l found Ike with Bradley and had a long talk with him about the war in general. Bradley remained for lunch, and P.M. turned up shortly before lunch. I got Ike alone for a bit and told him that, if he had strong feelings about Alex not coming as his deputy, he should let the P.M. know. Apparently he is afraid that the introduction of Alexander would upset the outfit. Monty had also expressed the same opinion.
“March 6th. Back to London. Breakfast with Ike and another long talk with him. There is no doubt that he is a most attractive personality and, at the same time, a very, very limited brain from a strategic point of view. This comes out the whole time in all conversations with him. His relations with Monty are quite insoluble; he only sees the worst side of Monty and cannot appreciate the better side. Things are running smoothly for
pared to accept this change in about six weeks' time after further offensive operations will have been started and the Ardennes operation more forgotten.”
“Feb. 20. I had to go to Winston, at 2.45 to discuss Eisenhower's last letter in which he proposes to employ Alex in the back areas if he comes to him as a Deputy!”
In Montgomery’s view this rendered unnecessary the change in the Command setup and the appointment of an overall Ground Commander for which he had pleaded so urgently before Christmas. The expedient of calling in Alexander as Deputy Supreme Commander in Tedder's place, which Churchill and Brooke had discussed with Roosevelt and Marshall at Malta, no longer appealed to him. For the rumor of it had distressed his friend, Eisenhower, and made the latter suspect he was intriguing against him. ‘T am sorry this was said at Malta,” Montgomery wrote in his diary that night. “It got back to Ike very quickly and was, no doubt, attributed to me; he is such an awfully decent chap and I hate to see him upset.” He had therefore assured him that he regarded the present command setup as wholly satisfactory and did not want it changed. Whereupon, de-
the present, but this cannot last, and I foresee trouble ahead before long. For all that, to insert Alex now is only likely to lead to immediate trouble for all, I gather! The war may not last long now, and possibly matters may run smoothly till the end. Therefore, I feel that it is best to leave Alex where he is. I think that Winston is now of the same opinion.”
Brooke’s advice to drop the project for changing the Deputy Supreme Commander was taken. Three days after his return to England Churchill wrote to Alexander to tell him that, as Montgomery had now declared himself in perfect accord with SHAEF, it seemed better to leave him in the Mediterranean where the Greek situation, the delicate relations with Tito and the Yugoslav partisans and the possibility of a new offensive in Italy all made his presence as Supreme Commander essential. T know,” he wrote, "that you will . . . adhere to your becoming attitude of serving wherever you are ordered and discharging whatever duties are assigned to you.” To which Alexander replied, "You already know that my only wish is to serve where I am most useful and, feeling that way, I am well content." -fr