Tuesday, October 25, 2005

British commanders in WWII

Much of the British theater commanders and army commanders in WWII were flawed in some way. The best seems to have been General O'Connor and he was not tested against the Germans in North Africa. General Wavell seems to have been the best of the old school, being stolid and relatively solid, but he did not seem to grasp the new mode of warfare. If he had, he would have stood up for O'Connor and unleashed him to finish off the Italians before the Germans could effectively intervene. General Auchinleck was a brilliant field commander, but the problem was that he was the theater commander. He was also generally a poor judge of men. That seems harsh, but how else can we explain Alan Cunningam and Neal Ritchie as 8th Army commanders. Auchinleck's sometime assistant, the brilliant and erratic Eric Dorman-Smith, was doomed to failure for being an iconoclast and partly for his brilliance in the face of the mediocrity of most. The mammoth figure in the British army was Bernard Law Montgomery. To be successful, he needed overwhelming material superiority. His main positive feature was that given enough time, he would find a way to succeed. He was extremely cautious and slow to move. He allowed Rommel to withdraw to Tunisia when he should have been caught near El Alamein. Unlike his predecessors, he would not squander overwhelming superiority, as happened in the Crusader Battles and at Gazala. Harold Alexander, as a theater commander, is harder to judge. He commanded during a period of strength, and it is difficult to know how he would have handled real adversity. If you can educate me on the subject, I would welcome it.

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