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Bardia to Enfidaville



There is now available in many publications (including his own Memoirs) enough material to cover all the facets of Montgomery's personality, but we are concerned here only with his capacity as a general as known after the victory at Alamein. His army was most impressed by his characteristic soundness—which was also, in Lord Wavell's opinion, the chief virtue of Wellington. In Montgomery's case it meant that he prepared for his offensives on a rigidly firm foundation of administration, waited for the right moment to attack, and refused to be hurried, even by Churchill; he adhered to his basic plan even though there might appear fleeting chances of a more spectacular—but more speculative—victory; he handled his manpower in truly economical fashion, never took risks where failure might lead to disaster, and did not persist with failure; he disposed his forces in depth so that his page 16 army could not be overrun if the enemy attacked unexpectedly; he disregarded criticism, especially if it was directed at his apparent slowness; he always planned on the assumption of success (his own words about himself), fought no battle unless he was certain that he could win it (Rommel's words about him), and always planned two battles ahead. Montgomery—and Wellington—were both accused of caution, and Rommel considered that Montgomery was excessively cautious, but Rommel touched on the vital point when he went on to say that Montgomery could afford to be cautious because material superiority, and thus time, were definitely on his side.

In an address to the officers of 2 NZ Division on 4 January 1943 Montgomery said: ‘In the various battles we have fought out here you may have noticed that we have intervals where we sit still and do nothing, and you may wonder why. The reason is that part of my military teaching is that I am not going to have out here in North Africa any failures….I definitely refuse to do anything until we are absolutely ready administratively, until we have built up sufficient strength to be certain there will be no failures….’

It was Montgomery's way to issue personal messages to the troops as an aid to morale, and in the early stages of his command something of this nature was sadly needed. They caused comment among the troops, even if this was sometimes cynical and amused. Probably to British troops they held some appeal until the end, even though it may later have diminished, and the same applies to his talks to troops, which were given before any battle. There is evidence to show that Montgomery was aware that his methods of personal approach were regarded differently by New Zealanders and he endeavoured to vary his talks when speaking to them.

In November 1942 the Army knew beyond doubt that they had a commander who could win battles, and on whom they could rely unquestionably.