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BOOKS TWO


CHRISTOPHER ALLMAND


SOLDIERS, ONE WAR


Monty and Rommel: parallel lives Peter Caddick-Adams PREFACE PUBLISHING, 614PP, £20 ■Tablet bookshop price £18


Forgotten Voices: desert victory Julian Thompson


EBURY PRESS/IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, 384PP, £16.99 ■Tablet bookshop price £15.30 Tel 01420 592974


Tel 01420 592974


Field Marshal Montgomery (left), with George VI (standing): ‘Montgomery made a lasting impression on his men, who saw him as one of them’


T


he Second World War gave the world some notable soldiers. From the ranks of the commanders a number of names stand out,


among them those of Montgomery and Rommel, whose backgrounds, personalities, training and careers are described and con- sidered in a new study by Peter Caddick-Adams. Very much of an age, their early military


experience was gained in the First World War, in which Montgomery learned the value of coordination and anticipation, and Rommel demonstrated his outstanding talent for pro- active leadership in the field. By 1940, each man had developed the characteristics of his own style. In the case of Montgomery, this was based on the emphasis he gave to the preparation required before a campaign could be undertaken with any confidence of success.


OUR REVIEWERS


Christopher Allmand is a former professor of medieval history at the University of Liverpool.


Adrian Brewer contributes to The Timesand The Daily Telegraph and farms in Sussex.


Suzi Feay is a writer and broadcaster who was literary editor of The Independent on Sunday for 11 years.


Nicholas Tucker is the author of A Rough Guide to Children’s Books.


Robert Carver studied in Rome in 1976 and was a teacher of English as a foreign language.


Timothy Brittain-Catlin teaches at the Kent School of Architecture, University of Kent.


Soldiers had to be trained, while commanders should be given time and opportunity to think and plan their campaigns (Montgomery did this alone in his trademark caravan to which he retired at the end of the day). The instruc- tion of future leaders was provided by the staff colleges, where the importance and prac- tices of military organisation, command structures and, most important, logistics and supply were emphasised. When it came to the crunch, in North Africa in 1942, Montgomery was able to apply many ideas he had developed and taught over a period of years. As a result, the army he was given to lead was well prepared, organised down to the smallest detail. His skills in training were complemented by an ability to relate to those under his command, reflecting his desire to break with the aloofness traditionally shown by senior officers towards “other ranks”. Happily, there was a strong streak of the show- man in Montgomery which enabled him to relate easily to those other ranks, although he often found it difficult to establish the same rapport and share the honours with his fellow generals. No wonder, however, that he made a lasting impression upon his men, who saw him as one of them, with their interests at heart, and who loved him for it. Such winning characteristics may have proved more telling than the tactics he employed against the enemy. High morale contributed significantly to victory. Rommel was a rather different man. His


varied First World War experience had included leading troops (from the front, of course) into actions which brought him both reputation and medals. For better or worse, it was an inner driving force which made Rommel into the kind of commander he would become. Courageous and inventive; able to sum up rapidly a military situation and its potential advantages, and so act accord-


ingly; impatient with those who issued orders from afar but who knew little about what was happening on the ground, he could sometimes move too fast (as at Longarone, in Italy, in 1917, or in northern France in 1940) for those whom he was leading. His instinct, that of a man who lacked staff


training, was to be where the action led him, and to devote less attention to those aspects of leadership which made Montgomery, whom Rommel regarded as altogether too cautious, into so successful a commander. So whereas his active and daring leadership inspired those on his side (while causing alarm among many of his opponents), his reluctance to engage with some of the fundamental principles of military organisation, notably how to pro- vide for a large army fighting on the border between Libya and Egypt with supplies which had come ashore in Tripoli, many hundreds of miles away, would contribute significantly to his undoing. Although, in the short term, his style of leadership might (and did) bring success, it could be asked whether it would continue to do so in a longer-term campaign, fought in difficult physical conditions. Julian Thompson’s book tells the story of that same desert campaign using the recorded oral testimony, transcribed into book form, of men who took part in it. As such, it recalls the reactions of those who fought in North Africa in 1942: how they faced the realities and difficulties of active service, fearing the worst, lacking water, witnessing the agonies suffered by the wounded, and “how you got used to the sight of the dead”. Usefully, there is ample evidence here to support the pictures of Montgomery and Rommel presented in Caddick-Adams’ book. “We underestimated Rommel’s drive and energy,” recorded one general, who appears not to have heard of the German’s exploits in France two years earlier. As for Montgomery, “he went round, he saw everybody, and they saw him,” the same man reported later. “He came round and gave us a pep talk. We had confidence in him; he was bit of a bullshitter, but that was part of his act; he had to publicise himself in competition with Rommel,” another would record. While Forgotten Voices: desert victory use-


fully presents evidence in the form of a large number of verbal snapshots (as in all such collections, some are more telling than others), Monty and Rommel: parallel lives, which can be criticised for its undue length and the exces- sive detail it contains about people and matters not strictly relevant to the drift of the story, succeeds in contextualising these two com- manders and in analysing the contributions each made to the art of military leadership. The use of the comparative method enables us to see not only how different these two men were, but also how difficult it remains to define what successful military leadership is all about: inspiration or perspiration?


18 June 2011 | THE TABLET | 21


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