Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Review: Masters of Battle - Monty, Patton and Rommel at War, by Terry Brighton

Growing up, I was taught about the two World War II Generals most respected by my father, General Bernard "Monty" Montgomery and The Desert Fox, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. As someone who had served in the Australian Army and who has taken an interest in military history, he was someone to whom I listened about such things. Dad knew about this stuff. When I was 15 I became friends with an Aussie Digger who had fought at Tobruk and at El Alamein in the North African campaign alongside other Commonwealth forces. He took orders from Monty to try and defeat the Fox. The ANZACs achieved one of their greatest victories in North Africa against one of their greatest opponents, so I was raised with an appreciation for the exploits of the two combating leaders. Dad never told me much about General George S. Patton though. What I picked up was mainly from my favourite TV show, Red Dwarf; which was chiefly that because the insufferable Arnold Rimmer worshipped him, Patton was likely to be an arrogant, warmongering prat. It's strange how you pick up stuff as a sixteen year-old.

In his excellent book Masters of Battle: Monty, Patton and Rommel at War, British historian Terry Brighton counterpoints the period's most famous generals, one each from England, the US and Germany. He does so in such a way that each man's abilities and failures are obvious and connected in so strongly that it's apparent their individual achievements - good or bad - were not so much a product of the system, but of their own strength of personality. The case for comparison - or contrast - is easier with this trio as all were born within five years of one another and had different paths to their exalted ranks. They all were heavily involved in armoured warfare (ie. tanks) and each had, though starting from the same tactical basis, evolved their own theories about how best war was to be fought in the four battlefields they shared. Each was a soldier first, but all were very proud, egotistical leaders who enjoyed major victories and suffered dispiriting losses as a result of their shortcomings.

That's not to suggest Brighton focuses mainly on the trio's negative aspects. He elegantly suggests that the strengths which generated each man's success were also weaknesses when unchecked and therefore key contributors in any failures. Patton's ability to inspire his men came from the same seeds that led him to be short-tempered and occasionally impulsive. Monty, as a self-styled master tactician, planned battles immaculately but found victories harder to marshal when the other side didn't proceed according to his forward planning. Rommel, so long the favourite of the Fuhrer, found skirmishes increasingly harder to win as his reputation grew to the point where his superiors thought his mere presence guaranteed victory, no matter how few resources he received. Each man's ability to lead Armoured divisions is analysed and compared - to each other and to the tactics from which their methods derived. That Patton and Montgomery had to mesh together their vastly differing methods for the sake of victory - and simply keeping the peace - adds another wrinkle which Brighton also explores in depth.

More than a comparison but an insight into how connected the trio were, Masters of Battle describes major conflicts in a very easy-to-read manner and deftly captures the personality traits of three men in a way which has you respecting one marshal at the expense of the others; then only to describe further actions which tips the balance another way.

Masters of Battle: Monty, Patton and Rommel at war scores basketballs - a first class read.

Image courtesy:

No comments:

Post a Comment