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Bardia to Enfidaville

Demonstrations and Discussions

Demonstrations and Discussions

Eighth Army made use of the lull and of the minor concentration in the area by holding a series of demonstrations and discussions on the technique of modern battle. Syndicates from the three divisions forming 30 Corps were to demonstrate the solution of problems in which they were experienced: 7 Armoured Division, in a ‘telephone page 124 battle’, showed how an armoured division attacked; 51 (H) Division how to make a night attack through minefields, and 2 NZ Division how to move and deploy in the desert.

General Montgomery was present on 8 and 9 February, when the demonstrations were first given to an audience of formation and unit commanders from the Corps. The New Zealand Division syndicate spoke first. The GSO I (Colonel Queree) described the ground, the forces, and the plan; the GOC described the organisation and characteristics of a mobile division, and examined the three stages of planning, approach march and deployment. The CRA (Brigadier C. E. Weir) then explained the drill for putting out a ‘gun line’ when the whole Division was deployed, and the commander of 6 Brigade (Brigadier Gentry) spoke about desert formations. No comment was made on this demonstration, perhaps on account of its convincing nature, but probably because General Freyberg had such an awe-inspiring reputation.

Montgomery spoke to all officers and some senior NCOs stationed in and around Tripoli who gathered in a local theatre. He began by saying, ‘You may cough for one minute, then there will be no more coughing’—but he did pause each fifteen minutes to let his audience relax and cough. In his address he outlined the position on the Russian and North African fronts, and gave an indication of future events, when Eighth Army would combine its operations with the Allied troops in Tunisia.

About a week later a ‘repeat performance’ of the demonstrations was attended by brigadiers and above from local troops, and by many distinguished visitors from farther afield, including Generals Alexander, Paget and Dempsey of the British Army, and Generals Patton and Bedell Smith of the United States Army. This second series coincided with the Casablanca Conference between President Roosevelt, Mr Churchill, and the Allied Chiefs of Staff, at which decisions were taken affecting the future fighting in North Africa, among them the appointment of General Alexander to command an Army Group made up of First and Eighth Armies.1

At the demonstrations General Montgomery and Air Marshal Coningham reviewed recent campaigns and future operations; and the three divisional demonstrations were repeated, without any comment from the visitors. It was after this exercise that General Patton made his famous remark which has been variously reported, but which implied that it had taught him nothing, at least about methods of command.2

1 See p. 127.

2 Operation Victory, p. 234: ‘The story is told of his reply when asked what he thought of Montgomery's address on “How to make war”. His reply came slowly with a lovely Southern accent: “I may be old, I may be slow, I may be stoopid, and I know I'm deaf, but it just don't mean a thing to me!”’