Christopher Sandford’s laudatory biographical article on Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery (“The Soldier’s Soldier,” Biography, October) concentrated mainly on Montgomery’s victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein.  It does not mention that Britain’s Eighth Army outnumbered the Axis forces almost two to one, 220,000 versus 115,000 troops, and 1,100 to 559 tanks.  In addition, the Eighth Army had overwhelming air superiority and much shorter supply lines.  Even with all those advantages, it took 11 days to break through the Axis defenses, and then the British did not exploit this victory sufficiently.

Unfortunately, Mr. Sanford does not include any of Montgomery’s less successful operations in his article.  The objective of Montgomery’s forces for the first day of the Normandy invasion was Caen.  It was not captured for another 47 days.  However, Montgomery’s worst mistake was Operation Market Garden, which, in his words, was supposed to “end the war in Europe by Christmas.”  This was a massive airborne operation to secure all the bridges in Holland leading to the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem, allowing the British XXX Corp to enter northern Germany.  It was an ill-conceived and poorly executed operation that resulted in excessive casualties and did nothing to shorten the war.  Afterward, however, Montgomery proclaimed at a press conference that “the operation was 90% successful.”

Field Marshal Montgomery was hardly the unalloyed genius that some would have you believe.  As Churchill said, “in defeat he was indomitable and in victory insufferable.”

—Roger P. Scott

Roanoke, VA

Mr. Sandford Replies:

Mr. Scott rightly remarks that my profile of Field Marshal Montgomery concentrated largely on the second, and conclusive, battle of El Alamein.  It did so largely in deference to the 70th anniversary of the battle, which fell in the month of the article’s publication.  I entirely respect Mr. Scott’s views on Monty, but I feel sure that a closer reading of my piece would have satisfied him in many of the points he makes.  For example, I rather clearly refer to the respective numbers of Allied and Axis troops at El Alamein when I say, “In [Rommel’s] absence, his deputy Gen. Georg Stumme commanded some 49,000 German and 55,000 Italian troops, compared with Montgomery’s 196,000 forces—a nearly two-to-one Allied numerical advantage.”

Similarly, the matter of air superiority is alluded to when I write, “Overhead, British Wellington and Halifax bombers circled, unimpeded.”  Mr. Scott is entirely correct to say that the two separate Allied actions known collectively as Operation Market Garden were, at best, a partial tactical success, and, again, I specifically refer to this fact in my piece.

Bernard Montgomery was certainly no martyr to false modesty, and even if he didn’t, in a pre-battle briefing, utter the words “Our Lord said—and in my view rightly,” as sometimes claimed, it would have been no more than people expected of him.  I can only add that to much or most of my generation of Englishmen, he remains an intriguing, egotistical, exasperating, often comically self-regarding character, who nonetheless provided the Allies with a tangible military success when they most needed one.