In life success largely depends on ‘LADY LUCK’ and the ability to take advantage of HER. At times a swaggering and conceited personality helps, none more so than with the later Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery of Alamein.
On 13th August 1942 ‘Monty’ had taken command of the 8th Army, after the death of General ‘Strafer’ Gott, in a transport aircraft crash, whilst ‘hitching’ a lift from Libya to Cairo. He was en-route to take command of the 8th Army, but fate decided otherwise as his plane was attacked on take-off.(1)
See Addendum for what lies behind this terse account-this foot-note of warfare.
Churchill was in Cairo on 4th August 1942, in the last days of his visit to units to appraise ‘morale and vigour’ of the Generals and by the evening of the 7th he decided to replace Ritchie by Gott to take charge of the 8th Army also. He replaced Commander-in-Chief, Auchinleck with Alexander, who had been poached from Eisenhower’s Torch team. At the time however we were winning the First Battle of Alamein under Auchinleck, which history tends to ignore; halos were reserved for Montgomery’s later victory.
Montgomery was lucky to have Enigma Intelligence as to the enemy’s movements; to have the brilliant camouflage expertise of Geoffrey Barkas, and the brains of Edgar Trevor Williams, whose death Today in 1995 reminds us of one of the unsung heroes of El Alamein, for it was Edgar ‘Bill’ Trevor Williams who masterminded Montgomery’s Intelligence system in the 21 Army Group.
Monty later recalled :’I discovered there a major in the Intelligence Brigade in the King’s Dragoon Guards by name Williams, an Oxford Don with a brilliant brain which after a conversation gave me an idea which played a large part in winning the Battle of El Alamein’.
Williams had noted that Rommel deployed his infantry and paratroops between and sometimes behind the Italians, tactics known as ‘corseting’. Williams’ idea was to separate the two as we could smash the Italian front without difficulty-a strategy known as ‘crumbling’, thus luring the Germans out of their original positions.
Churchill was a great arm-chair strategist, much to the annoyance of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), Alanbrooke, and despite saying he left commanders a free reign, dispatched a note to The ‘Auk’, that he would withdraw 15 Air Squadrons to help the Russians, unless he went on the offensive, which in the event was left to Monty and victory at Alamein.
The brilliance of film-maker, Geoffrey Barkas as Camouflage Director, of British Middle-East Command, was notable in Operation Bertram which contributed to ultimate success in the desert. Churchill described the contribution of camouflage in Bertram: ‘I must say a word…surprise and strategy by a marvellous system of camouflage… was achieved in the desert’.(2)
(1) Lt-General William Henry Ewart Gott 13.8.1897-7.8.1942.
(2) Report 11.11.1942.
Gott died after the plane had been shot down whilst taking off for Cairo and the remarkable bravery of the Sgt. Pilot ‘Hugh ‘Jimmy’ James, the sole survivor, whose valiant attempt to save the plane whilst seriously injured himself lies in the ‘Annals of the Brave’ for all time. James was 19 years old; REPEAT 19 YEARS OF AGE. We live in an age when Sainsburys have a notice requiring proof of age to buy alcohol: are you 25? It’s what we fought for!!
Ref: Barkas and his wife wrote Camouflage Story (From Aintree to Alamein).
Pic: wikipedia of Monty.
Ref: David Fraser: Alanbrooke, Bloomsbury Pub. 2011 e-book.
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