Sunday, May 13, 2007
Thinking about Dan Pienaar and the South African government's concerns about the course of the Crusader Battle in late 1941 had me thinking again about my assessment of British generals. I now think that Claude Auchinleck was not a particularly effective theater commander, but he was a good army commander. He won two battles: the Operation Crusader and the First Battle of El Alamein. His appointments, as theater commander were almost uniformly disastrous. The strange thing was that his appointments were generally solid men, who were successful in other contexts. They just seemed to become incompetent when placed in command in the desert, with mechanized forces. The best general to command for the British in North Africa was Richard O'Connor, who vanguished the Italians, prior to the arrival of Rommel in early 1941. His health failed by early 1941, so even if he had not been captured, he would have been less effective as army commander. The second best army commander for the British was Bernard Law Montgomery. As much as I dislike him, he was able to not lose battles at a time when the British needed desperately to win. He was too conservative and lacked a tactical flair, but it didn't matter.