17th November 1887. Monty.
Bernard Law Montgomery was born today in 1887, later famed for being the victor of El Alamein and like Wellington before him, relied heavily on military intelligence for success.(1)
However it was fate that determined Monty’s claim to fame as he only took control of the 8th Army in North Africa in August 1942, when the first choice, General Gott died flying to Cairo from the battle area to take command.
After the threat of invasion of Britain had retreated in 1940, the focus had moved to the defence of the Middle East and Mediterranean to protect our oil and route to India.
This was especially vital as the Italians attacked Egypt in September 1940 which C-I-C General Wavell was to repulse in December under ‘Operation Compass’.
By the following February the western desert force under General O’Connor had advanced 500 miles and routed ten Italian Divisions, but instead of consolidating our position Churchill diverted forces to the disastrous engagements in Greece and Crete.
Now Axis forces moved into the vacuum from April to December 1941 and Tobruk came under siege; Wavell was replaced by Claude Auchinleck (The Auk) in July 1941.
Rommel’s Panzers in support the Italians attacked Egypt and Churchill was ‘very ill-content’ with The ‘Auk’ who was urged in May 1942 to take the offensive earlier than was deemed prudent. There was also the threat to withdraw 15 air squadrons to help the Russians.
Then Tobruk fell on 21st June 1942, which for Churchill was, ‘one of the heaviest blows I can recall during the war’.
Churchill took action and by 4th August was in Cairo, to appraise morale and vigour of the generals. Three day’s later Auchinleck was replaced as CIC by Harold Alexander, poached from Eisenhower’s Operation Torch team.
General Ritchie was to be replaced by Gott to take charge of the 8th Army, but as recorded above, it never happened, as it was Monty who took over on 13 August 1942.
Victory at Alamein by 11th November ensured that the name of Montgomery would join Wellington and Waterloo, in the annals of war.(2)
By 3rd November 1400 allied vessels were sailing through the Atlantic bound for an invasion of North Africa.
The success of Alamein, particularly after the fall of Tobruk and other defeats in the Far East, was to secure Churchill’s political future, especially as he had come in for so much criticism from such as Aneurin Bevan who had demanded a Second Front in Europe.
(1) Later Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery.
(2) General Ritchie commanded 8th Army in 1941. He lost Tobruk in 1942 and was sacked by Auchinlech in 1942.
dailymail.co.uk. Guy Walters. 24.10.2012/Pics.
wikipedia.org/Montgomery and Alamein.