Wellington and Montgomery: General swapping?

The Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterl...

Mont... sorry, the Duke of Wellington (Image via Wikipedia)

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the Battle of Normandy recently for my forthcoming book. And I have always been a big fan of Wellington.

Which got me thinking – what if Wellington had fought the battle of Waterloo in the style of Monty? And what if Wellington had been in command in the summer of 1944?

Montgomery after Waterloo:

Montgomery: ‘the battle went exactly as I planned. I fully intended to draw the French reserves onto my front, thus allowing the Prussians to arrive unhindered. Hougoumont was not important as long as I pretended to hold it. At all times I was in complete control of the situation. We will no crack-about south of Caen’.

At which point Blucher is mortally offended, and Prussian historians spend hundreds of years belittling his every move. Meanwhile, German film-makers all but obliterate Montgomery and the British from Waterloo, apart from oblique and stereotypical references.

Almost one hundred and 30 years later, at the St Pauls School Conference in May 1944…

Wellington, to the assembled crowd of Allied senior officers, politicians and King George VI: ‘what I intend to do depends on what Rommel intends to do, and as the Desert Fox has not informed me of his plans, then I cannot inform you of mine’

At Southwick House, 5 June 1944…

Eisenhower: ‘so Wellington, what are your plans?’
Wellington: ‘to beat the Germans’

Actually, were Wellington and Montgomery really that different? The only difference to me seems to be that American historians have had no reason to villify Wellington. Even so, during his lifetime Wellington was ridiculed and lambasted for both his adulterous affairs and his politics. Time, however, tends to see petty criticisms fall away and victories stand the test of time.

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4 Comments

Filed under Army, d-day, Napoleonic War, World War Two

4 responses to “Wellington and Montgomery: General swapping?

  1. John Erickson

    I will say this – we Americans may not belittle Wellington (because we weren’t competing for his resources ;) ), but we sure do ignore the Prussians. I’ve seen a couple of shows both on History Channel and Military Channel, and one of them barely mentioned the Prussians; at least two others didn’t touch on the Prussians until around 45 minutes into the one hour show. We do vary on Montgomery as well. We do try to be polite (a RARE thing to hear about Americans!), but we do tend to dismiss Monty as overly cautious – though one program I saw (I forget where) did actually support Monty as holding the “crack” panzer units so Bradley could “hook” around from the west to take the Germans in the flank. (To be perfectly honest, I don’t have a membership card for the “Monty Rules” fan club, sorry! :D )

    • James Daly

      The problem a lot of you guys seem to forget about Monty is that by 1944 Britain had literally NO manpower left in reserve – we had to break up 2 divisions in NW Europe just to keep the others up to establishment. And we simply couldn’t afford to keep throwing men at any problem, like Bradley did in the Hurtgen forest. Not only that, but after such massive losses in WW1 the troops would not fight for a ‘blood-and-guts’ character who had no concept for the worth of his mens lives.

      John, the programme you saw describes what is pretty much the orthodoxy about Normandy, that is in the rest of the world apart from the US! Sadly I think the views of people like Carlo D’Este have become common currency stateside. Have you read his biography of Patton? its one of the most fawning, biased excuses of a biography ive ever come across.

      I’m certainly not a Monty apologist – he must have been hell to work with and to command, but you’ll never hear any of his men criticise him. If only he hadn’t let his ego get carried away from 1944 onwards – he made enemies with people like Tedder and Conningham in the RAF, and of course his American contemporaries. Even Churchill was hardly a fan.

      Wellington, on the other hand, is in my opinion the consumate general. Always fought outnumbered but always managed to outwit his opponent.

      • x

        Wellington in India. Now that is politico-soldiering. Then again much the same could have be said about Clive.

        • James Daly

          Wellington certainly learnt his trade in India. Admittedly he was greatly aided by his brother being the Governor-General, but thats how things were back then I guess.

          Wellington’s only real failure was at Seringapatam, when he tried to capture the Tope but was repulsed.

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