Monty’s Functional Doctrine in North West Europe by Charles Forrester

The author, Charles Forrester PhD

The author, Charles Forrester PhD

In Monty’s Functional Doctrine, my debut as an author and my first book for Helion, I have attempted to paint a big picture. The book presents a reinterpretation of how British 21st Army Group produced a successful combined arms doctrine by late 1944 and implemented this in the remainder of the war against Germany. Into this picture I have woven in the human story – investigating how a group of ‘effervescent’ commanders interrelated, and what the impact of those inter-relationships was.

Monty’s Functional Doctrine: Combined Arms Doctrine in British 21st Army Group in Northwest Europe, 1944–45 is based on my PhD at the University of Leeds. Having immersed myself in the historical literature on the subject of 21st Army Group, 1944-45, I realized that there was a significant unresolved question about Montgomery’s command style and its consequences. My original contribution to this debate was in examining and analysing the factors that produced a functional doctrine for combining armour and infantry, allowing 21st Army Group to forge an effective weapon capable of meeting changing circumstances as they crossed North West Europe.

A German Army Hetzer of the sort 21st Army Group had to contend with in Normandy. Photo:  ©  C. Forrester

A German Army Hetzer of the sort 21st Army Group had to contend with in Normandy. Photo: © C. Forrester

The strengths and weaknesses of how corps and divisions responded to Montgomery’s command system – and in particular the commonality of doctrinal practice – has become an important issue of debate. David French and Timothy Harrison Place exemplify arguments within this debate, and have been described by Professor John Buckley of Wolverhampton University as ‘the key works on how the British put together an army capable of winning in Normandy’. But I knew that I was well placed and well prepared to make a helpful contribution to that debate. Addressing this question is an important follow-on from my MA, which dealt with Montgomery and General Sir Richard O’Connor earlier in the war. Then, these two had generals developed their responses to the lack of a large modern British armoured force. This book deals with their thoughts and actions later in the war when such a force did exist.

By tracking how 21st Army Group moved from anarchy to problem-solving under Montgomery’s direction, my approach involved taking the operational level but looking at it in a more segmented way than is usual. I was interested in how these segments fitted together. My argument is that the understanding provided by such a study has a great explanatory power. It works by selecting a group of individuals who occupy different levels of command; not only the operational or corps commander-level, but also those who were being promoted upwards by Montgomery. New insights were generated about them in the context of this process: what they were actually doing, and how they did it. Far from being authoritarian or anarchic, I found that Montgomery’s final command system actually encouraged commanders to use their initiative, but within the goals set out by Montgomery in late 1944 in a series of pamphlets.

A typical Normandy farmhouse of the sort that frequently hid dug in German armour. This needed close armour and infantry co-operation to overcome. The crops in June and July were high and could easily hide defending forces or even the low profile Hetzer. Photo: © L. Kilgallon.

A typical Normandy farmhouse of the sort that frequently hid dug in German armour. This needed close armour and infantry co-operation to overcome. The crops in June and July were high and could easily hide defending forces or even the low profile Hetzer. Photo: © L. Kilgallon.

Further, while not denying that the price of a uniform doctrine was a certain inflexibility, I found that Montgomery was more open to the interactive creation of doctrine than many have previously contended. He wanted to constrain choices, yet he also allowed armoured commanders enough freedom of action to respond to challenges. Under Montgomery’s direction, 21st Army Group eventually conducted itself in action according to a common doctrine; I show why it was that workable doctrine, and what the origins of that doctrine were.

Furthermore, there is now general agreement that the performance of 21st Army Group has been much underrated. This book makes an original contribution to the debate on Montgomery’s command style by tracking down and disentangling the roots of his ideas, and his role in the creation of doctrine for the British Army’s final push against Germany. In particular, I believe I have able to do something that has defeated previous authors: to explain how doctrine was evolved and, especially, who was responsible for providing the crucial first drafts, and the role Montgomery played in revising, codifying and disseminating it.

As well as historians and those interested in military history, this book will interest professional military personnel. It contributes to the radical reappraisal of Great Britain’s fighting forces in the last years of the Second World War, with an exploration of the reasons why 21st Army Group was able in 1944–45 to successfully integrate the operations of its armour and infantry.

This entry was posted in Author interviews, Books. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *