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Why Did The British Army Have So Many "characters"?


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Why, oh Why, can we not have good things made today like The World At War? A treasured part of my DVD collection.

+1. Would also include Victory at Sea.

 

The whole thing: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLMOJ05TrdIZA7pNQa5YjrHuPIDPdHPIod

 

 

I could understand why the general narrative being put forward in the first 5 minutes of both in the context of the early 1950s when these documentaries were made. But from today's context and point of view, those first 5 minutes that frame the content of the rest of the documentaries in both make my head spin.

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Mark Clark built up a real reservoir of distrust and dislike. I dont think it was by all means justified, some of it undoubtedly was. But It kind of reminds me of Montgomery, whom was a similar kind of guy in many ways. He was vain, arrogant, publicity seeking. And there has been a generation of American historians that have built up the myth that he was incompetent, and hold similar criticisms against Montgomery about missed opportunities that have been held against Mark Clark, ie missing an ideal opportunity and prolonging the war.

 

Such is the fate of all self publicists I guess.

 

Clark was a publicity-obsessed POS who got a lot of people killed ,and had nothing like Monty's talents and a lot of the same flaws. We had plenty of eccentrics in WW2 as well. :)

 

 

MacArthur in the context of the PNG campaign also comes to mind.

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I'll be a bit surprised if King Sargent doesn't return from the great beyond to offer a refutation of an value that Mark Clark had as a general.

 

I suppose I can safely say that General Patton had no use for Clark at all. Simpson or Devers would have been far better than Clark.

 

What did he make of him? I really cant remember.

 

Patton has the reputation of being competent, and of the Generals the Germans were genuinely scared of. OTOH, Im told he had a higher casualty rate than any other Army Commander. I suppose you get into the realms of discussing whether his higher casualties meant everyone else got lower casualties. There would be something in that I guess.

 

 

 

 

Mark Clark built up a real reservoir of distrust and dislike. I dont think it was by all means justified, some of it undoubtedly was. But It kind of reminds me of Montgomery, whom was a similar kind of guy in many ways. He was vain, arrogant, publicity seeking. And there has been a generation of American historians that have built up the myth that he was incompetent, and hold similar criticisms against Montgomery about missed opportunities that have been held against Mark Clark, ie missing an ideal opportunity and prolonging the war.

 

Such is the fate of all self publicists I guess.

 

Clark was a publicity-obsessed POS who got a lot of people killed ,and had nothing like Monty's talents and a lot of the same flaws. We had plenty of eccentrics in WW2 as well. :)

 

 

MacArthur in the context of the PNG campaign also comes to mind.

 

MacArthur can also take some of the blame for the Korean war taking about 2 years longer than it needed to as well. In fact, if he had known when to stop, the DMZ would be appreciably higher than it is now.

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+1

He is likely Britain's greatest soldier.

From the memory of an ex-sailor, but wasn't it a "strategy" for the British Army to be; for want of a better phrase, methodical and careful, due to little or no manpower available for casualty replacements? Did the losses of WW1 have a role in the thinking of British generals in WW2?

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I would think so, many would have been young soldiers in that fight or served with many veterans. Plus it would weigh heavily on the minds of politicians.

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+1

He is likely Britain's greatest soldier.

From the memory of an ex-sailor, but wasn't it a "strategy" for the British Army to be; for want of a better phrase, methodical and careful, due to little or no manpower available for casualty replacements? Did the losses of WW1 have a role in the thinking of British generals in WW2?

 

 

I think that is somewhat exaggerated about the WW1 experience. People like Ambrose claim that Monty was careful in the advance in Normandy, because he didn't want to repeat the faults of Haig. Ambrose completely overlooks that it was next to impossible to advance rapidly where we were in Normandy, and he was capable of launching costly offensives such as Goodwood if it was necessary. Im sure he didnt want to lose lives unnecessarily, partly for moral reasons, partly because we didnt have that much manpower left to spare. In 1944/45 we in Britain were rapidly running out of manpower. In fact i seem to recall in Italy in 1945 we actually had to disband 2 divisions because there wasn't enough soldiers to go around.

 

Besides,Montgomery was capable of taking action that would result in heavy casualties, if it caused a rapid advance. The best example of that is Market Garden. What he didn't go in for was attritional warfare, and quite right too. We simply couldn't afford it.

 

Yeah, ive some respect for Monty. He was venal, politically minded, played favorites, and was obsessed with being a self publicist. OTOH, on top of all that, he was very a competent General. The faults ensure historians (often American ones) rarely see him in an honest light. I think the works of Ambrose and others have damaged his reputation, to the point where I was shocked to read an article in Armor magazine of all things, that was little more than a hatchet job. Similar really to what we Brits may have been doing to Clark I guess.

Edited by Stuart Galbraith
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Besides,Montgomery was capable of taking action that would result in heavy casualties, if it caused a rapid advance.

Because he know that will reduce casualties in the long run.

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Besides,Montgomery was capable of taking action that would result in heavy casualties, if it caused a rapid advance.

Because he know that will reduce casualties in the long run.

 

Yes exactly.

 

This is why I don't share in some of the criticism of Patton for having a heavy casualty rate. We dont really know what the casualties in Europe would have been like if he wasnt operating the way he was operating. Its also why Market Garden was worth a punt, even though it turned into a failure. The chance was too good to waste. A war that might have ended 5 months earlier? Well worth a try, for the cost of a division.

 

 

 

+1

He is likely Britain's greatest soldier.

 

From the 20th century perhaps, but does he stand comparison with Wellington or Marlborough?

 

Well he didnt get a nice house or a pair of boots named after him. :)

 

I dont know, it was different circumstances. In those circumstances both Wellington and Marlborough were taking lead of alliances. Montgomery, whilst in theory a deputy, was after DDay very much an order taker. Its difficult to way up a battlefield commander when their circumstances were so totally different.

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Commanding 21st Army Group and communicating frequently with the CIGS [FM Alan Brooke] and thereby the government, does not mark him as a mere order taker. He was the most experienced commander in the most experienced army of the Western Allies at that time. He planned the Normandy landing as ground commander and remained in charge ashore of the invasion until 1st Army Group was activated.

 

Commissioned in 1908, he served with distinction in combat during World War I, emerging as a captain. In the postwar army, he served throughout the empire and gained a reputation as a tough minded officer. His first service as a general was in Palestine in 1938. He commanded the 3rd Infantry Division in France in 1939-40, and after the Dunkirk evacuation, he took command of the Southeastern Command as Britain prepared to defend against German invasion. On 13 August 1942, “Monty” was appointed commander of the 8th Army in Egypt then facing the Axis armies at El Alamein. In his first and greatest military victory, the Second Battle of Alamein, he demonstrated the penchant for detailed planning and patient accumulation of superior forces that would distinguish his command style. Montgomery was one of the few British Army officers who realized the perpetual weakness of its officer corps in terms of intellectual acuity, self-discipline, and thorough attention to detail and supervision. As a result, he rode his officers particularly hard, tolerated few excuses and frequently relieved them of command when they failed to deliver expected results. Although rather taciturn in personality, he adopted an outgoing persona with the troops and imbued them with a sense of winning and necessary sacrifice that proved a remarkable turnabout from the grim days of 1940-41. Under his leadership, the British Army grew in stature and became a seasoned and capable force in World War II, despite crippling manpower problems.

 

Montgomery finished the war already a knight (1942) and a field marshal (1944), to which he added many postwar honors, including his peerage of 1946 as Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (and Hindhead). He continued his distinguished military career in command of the British Army of the Rhine (1946), as Chief of the Imperial General Staff (1946-48), chaired the short lived military alliance of Britain, France and the Benelux nations (1948) and served as deputy Supreme Commander, Allied Powers Europe (1951-58) until retirement. He wrote several books, but tarnished them and himself by his excessive, but not entirely undue, self-promotion and acerbic critiques of most other allied generals.

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Commanding 21st Army Group and communicating frequently with the CIGS [FM Alan Brooke] and thereby the government, does not mark him as a mere order taker. He was the most experienced commander in the most experienced army of the Western Allies at that time. He planned the Normandy landing as ground commander and remained in charge ashore of the invasion until 1st Army Group was activated.

 

Commissioned in 1908, he served with distinction in combat during World War I, emerging as a captain. In the postwar army, he served throughout the empire and gained a reputation as a tough minded officer. His first service as a general was in Palestine in 1938. He commanded the 3rd Infantry Division in France in 1939-40, and after the Dunkirk evacuation, he took command of the Southeastern Command as Britain prepared to defend against German invasion. On 13 August 1942, “Monty” was appointed commander of the 8th Army in Egypt then facing the Axis armies at El Alamein. In his first and greatest military victory, the Second Battle of Alamein, he demonstrated the penchant for detailed planning and patient accumulation of superior forces that would distinguish his command style. Montgomery was one of the few British Army officers who realized the perpetual weakness of its officer corps in terms of intellectual acuity, self-discipline, and thorough attention to detail and supervision. As a result, he rode his officers particularly hard, tolerated few excuses and frequently relieved them of command when they failed to deliver expected results. Although rather taciturn in personality, he adopted an outgoing persona with the troops and imbued them with a sense of winning and necessary sacrifice that proved a remarkable turnabout from the grim days of 1940-41. Under his leadership, the British Army grew in stature and became a seasoned and capable force in World War II, despite crippling manpower problems.

 

Montgomery finished the war already a knight (1942) and a field marshal (1944), to which he added many postwar honors, including his peerage of 1946 as Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (and Hindhead). He continued his distinguished military career in command of the British Army of the Rhine (1946), as Chief of the Imperial General Staff (1946-48), chaired the short lived military alliance of Britain, France and the Benelux nations (1948) and served as deputy Supreme Commander, Allied Powers Europe (1951-58) until retirement. He wrote several books, but tarnished them and himself by his excessive, but not entirely undue, self-promotion and acerbic critiques of most other allied generals.

 

I was referring to the fact that he didnt have his own ability to make strategic decisions. OK, so perhaps he did in the Western Desert to a degree, but that was until he came under under Alexander. In 1944 I gather before Market Garden he pushed a single bold strike by 21st Army Group across the Rhine to Eisenhower, and was overruled. Market Garden was a remnant of that, but Eisenhower was more interested in a broad front strategy. Something Montgomery, probably rightly, said the Allied Expeditionary Force didnt have the resources to undertake.

 

Do I think he was right? Yes. Although Im not sure 21st Army Group could have been able to undertake it without substantial reinforcement from the American's. The point is, we cant know, because Montgomery was a junior commander, and the decisions was not his to make, unlike Wellington or Marlborough whom were alliance leaders.

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Neither Wellington nor Marlborough were in a better position than Monty. Particularly Wellington had to agree whatever he did with the Spaniards (who many times had their own ideas and liasion was loose to call it something. See Talavera). I know British history "forgets" the part of the Peninsula war not fought by Wellington but there was a lot going on beyond his command.

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Ike had the historical example of WWI and Foch as supreme commander also advocating the broad front advance against a German opponent not entirely beaten. There was no objective for Ike worthy of a rapid advance into Germany, except to occupy launching sites of the V weapons bombarding the UK. There was no rush to be first into Berlin, as the Russian occupation zone had already been agreed upon.

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Neither Wellington nor Marlborough were in a better position than Monty. Particularly Wellington had to agree whatever he did with the Spaniards (who many times had their own ideas and liasion was loose to call it something. See Talavera). I know British history "forgets" the part of the Peninsula war not fought by Wellington but there was a lot going on beyond his command.

 

Nonetheless, unless ive been badly informed, he was the overall alliance commander in Spain was he not? He even had a Spanish Aide de camp (whom had actually fought at Trafalgar interestingly) to help him in that effort.

 

 

Montgomery only had that authority when he was planning and undertaking D Day. After the break out, he was just one more commander among many. His arguments with Eisenhower, where he came damn near to being relieved, are just one indication that after D Day, he was not his own man. Im not aware that Wellington or Marlborough had to deal with problems like that. Yes, im sure Wellington had issues with the Spanish, and I know for a fact Marlborough had problems on the home front. They were still their own men on the battlefield. Montgomery was not.

Edited by Stuart Galbraith
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Monty had both Alan Brooke and Churchill at his back, so Ike's ability to relieve him must be considered limited. Marshall was also leaning heavily on keeping the British happy. Had Monty made serious errors, that might have been an exception.

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