KSP Review of “Patton, Montgomery and Rommel” in Dallas Morning News

by admin on December 8, 2009

How Monty, Patton outfoxed the Desert Fox

12:00 AM CST on Sunday, November 29, 2009

By KASEY S. PIPES / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News
Kasey S. Pipes is the author of Ike’s Final Battle and is the Norris Research Fellow at the Eisenhower Institute and a senior fellow at the Center for Building Community.

 

Bernard Montgomery, George S. Patton and Erwin Rommel fought epic battles in North Africa and Europe in World War II. Entire libraries of books have been written about each commander. But now, these leaders are presented in a book the way they fought in the war: against each other.

Author Terry Brighton, curator of the Queen’s Royal Lancers Museum, follows the familiar terrain of scholarship on each man. He also digs deeper to show how the men thought and fought.

He invokes Clausewitz’s principle that battles are won by the ration of “means” and “will to fight.” Thus, though the Allies had an advantage in number of troops and weapons, the Germans won battles early in the war due to willpower. Hitler factored this in as part of his strategy: “It would not be the first time in history that willpower has triumphed over the stronger battalions.”

This Nietzschen on view was personified by Rommel. The Desert Fox used willpower and strategy to overcome the Allies’ numerical advantages. Brighton quotes English scholar and soldier Liddell Hart as saying of Rommel: “His successes were achieved with inferiority of resources and without any command of the air. No other generals on either side won battles under these handicaps.”

Indeed, Hitler’s strategy may have succeeded had it not been for the arrival of Monty and Patton.

The turning point of the North African campaign – and perhaps the entire war – was the Battle of El Alamein. There, on the Egyptian coast, Montgomery’s superior numbers faced Rommel’s willpower. But unlike his predecessors, Monty was ready to go the distance with the Desert Fox. “Montgomery’s superior will to fight – and it was his alone, all of his commanders being willing to pull back – brought the British a victory that otherwise (despite their numerical and supply superiority) might not have been won.”

And then there is Patton, relentless and ruthless. After Monty helped plan the D-Day invasion, the Englishman watched in horror as Patton’s Third Army swept across Europe ahead of him.

Only with these two leaders, Brighton argues, were the Allies able to defeat Hitler. Montgomery proved more capable of managing resources and more possessing of the perseverance needed in a battle of willpowers. Patton proved more capable of conducting a blitzkrieg campaign and more possessing of the audaciousness needed in a warrior’s will to fight. This combination of perseverance and audaciousness finally destroyed the Nazis.

The book also details the demise of each man. Brighton poignantly re-creates the moment when Hitler’s henchmen came to offer Rommel the choice of a trial or a suicide. Patton, marginalized at war’s end by his remarks about confronting the Soviets, was paralyzed in a freak car accident and died not long after.

Only Monty survived. The postwar years were not kind. The field marshal was enraged by Eisenhower’s memoirs (and perhaps by Eisenhower’s fame) and struck back with his own book, which Ike called “a waste of time to read.” In promoting his book, Monty appeared on American television and suggested President Eisenhower was not well: “Your president has had a heart attack and a stroke.” These episodes only served to diminish Monty.

Still, for a few years in the early 1940s, Patton, Montgomery and Rommel made history together. Terry Brighton’s book provides a brisk, compelling account of that history.

Kasey S. Pipes is the author of Ike’s Final Battle and is the Norris Research Fellow at the Eisenhower Institute and a senior fellow at the Center for Building Community.

books@dallasnews.com

Monty, Patton and Rommel at War

Masters of War

Terry Brighton

(Crown, $24)


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