Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton
Today, British General Bernard Montgomery might be classified as ADD, or what one might call a highly functioning person with Asperger’s Syndrome. I have myself quipped that I have never seen anything worth a shit that wasn’t attached to a healthy ego. However his difficulties in developing collaborative relationships were famously arduous and precisely because he could consider no ideas contrary to his own. Perhaps he won enough to bolster his authority, having been the first commander to best Adolph Hitler’s General Showpiece Du Jour Erwin Rommel. That said, it’s important to realize that all the difficult personalities you see in the corporate world, all the machinations, all the calumny, all the duplicity in those theatres of operation, all the people that just chap each others’ asses in Game of Thrones or Empire, all those problems exist in the world of combat command.
Same circus. Different clowns.
Or perhaps, it should be stated better same circus, except the clowns have armies.
The British were the darlings of the civilized world, having suffered so dearly and having resisted and fought so bravely against insurmountable odds. Of course they were a global empire much larger than anyone at the time the war began, and their primacy was not really in question over the long run. Still the Queen wanted Britain to be key players in returning the beasts of the Third Reich to their cages and in seeking revenge for the fires burning effulgent in British cities.
No matter which decision Eisenhower made regarding command, whomever was left behind would be in high dudgeon and he and Roosevelt would be eviscerated in someone’s press.
Anthony Beevor notes in his magnificent book Ardennes 1944, “With regrettable timing on the very eve of the German onslaught, Montgomery stated that the shortages of “German manpower, equipment and resources precluded any offensive action on their part”. This prediction was made in the face of reports that villagers had heard tank engines, seen German operatives shut out people’s lights at night, and people in towns around the Ardennes had seen long troop formations. It’s not like Monty would march into Eisenhower’s office and say “Sorry for the bad advice.” Like all dysfunctional managers, Monty saw no point in dwelling on his shortcomings when there was so much fighting to do. Monty made lots of mistakes, as it turns out, but he was the face, and the ego, if you will of British command.
Like many generals, he rushed his army into battle he should not have been so eager to join. One of the assignments Ike had tasked he and the 21st Army into doing was securing the Scheldt Estuary so the port of Antwerp could be used to reinforce Allied power. Of course he wanted to move his tank brigades past the estuary and into the Ruhr valley. He left the estuary to the Canadians to secure it.
It was blood.
It took weeks. This was the kind of disastrous decision that he often made and the obloquoy he never received.
It is the very drive for personal greatness that pushes commanders to drive troopers further and faster than an enemy expects. It is the drive for personal greatness that lead to the creation of every empire in history. Eisenhower understood that while Monty might not be the best dinner companion, he won battles.
After the Ardennes Offensive began, during a lull in fighting to get over the Rhine, Monty lectured Eisenhower for two hours why there should have been one ground commander, not two.
The he wrote a note and sent it to associates that portended a change in command. He obviously thought he had made his case. Eisenhower had to reassure every commander in the theatre that they were not in danger of being replaced.
“Remind him that Ike is running this show,” Eisenhower said to his press secretary.
After the Anzio breakout, General Mark Clark rushed his troops to Rome, primarily, some suggest, to be filmed in a victory parade. Instead of trying to pursue the German 10th Army, he went for the glory.
While he was patting himself on the back, the 10th Army reconstituted itself and inflicted heavy casualties on Americans who had to finish the task.
Eisenhower had a matrix of interlocking problems to solve. He had an ego, although it was kept in check. Perhaps the strength in Eisenhower is that he understood people with egos. He understood and forgave the bumptious Monty. Why shouldn’t he? Eisenhower’s strength was that he could manage people. He saw no value in crushing anyone’s spirit. He knew he had to move an enormous army across Europe and each of his generals had to win. Each of his generals had to feel the appreciation of their own stations accomplishments. He saw Patton stumble slapping a man who broke. That misstep wasn’t big enough an offense to warrant losing a war to lesser, better-behaved general. He endured the awkward lectures from Montgomery, but saw the genius of his plans. He knew that Patton and Bradley both despised Monty but he didn’t really care of everyone was happy so long as his armies were advancing.
We forget that all of combat command is not maneuver. Some of it is management.
Bernard Montgomery, British Field Marshall. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS