LONDON, Wednesday, March 24, 1976 — Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery, the most famous British soldier of modern times, died early today, the Ministry of Defense announced. He was 88 years old.
Lord Montgomery died in his sleep at his country home in the south of England where he had been bedridden for several years. A military funeral will be held at Windsor.
General Montgomery's victory over the Germans and Italians at El Alamein in Northern Egypt in November 1942 was a major and decisive battle in history, for before it, the Germans had not lost a major battle In World War II.
But the controversial, cantankerous, and stubborn general bore a major responsibilty for one of the war's most tragically executed blunders. It was an operation code‐named “Market‐Garden,” of which he was the major architect, designed to seize from the Germans, in 1944, five major Dutch bridges and cross the Rhine into German territory.
But the bridge at Arnhem the last in the battle, the one later dubbed by the historian Cornelius Ryan as “A Bridge Too Far,” could not be taken, and the result was a major setback with all its consequences, including horrendous casualties, The Allies did not, in fact, cross the Rhine until March 1945.
Although General Montgomery frankly, in his memoirs, abandoned his usual reluctance to admit error and conceded “I take the blame for this mistake” of not getting sufficient paratrooper forces close enough to the bridge in time, and said “I must admit … I underestimated the difficulties,” he laid most of the blame for the rout to American generals led by Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The matter of blame‐taking and finger‐pointing, regarding the controversial Battle of Arnheim, has been the subject of continuous debate by the generals involved, military and political historians, and armchair strategists ever since the war.
But it is pretty well agreed that General Montgomery's essential point was that General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, did not give him suffcient support in the part of his “Market‐Garden” strategy that called for going straight for, and in the end controlling Germany's Ruhr Valley, over Europe's northern rim.
In his “Memoirs,” published in 1958, General Montgomery indicated that he felt General Eisenhower had mistakenly put too much trust in two of his generals, Omar N. Bradley and George S. Patton Jr., for helping to carry out the Montgomery‐inspired Ruhr strategry.
The British general wanted to go at the industrially essential Ruhr with 40 divisions, operating on a relatively narrow front, with himself, presumably, in command.
The enormous self‐assurance of General Montgomery — he later became a field marshal and a viscount—communicated itself to his countrymen at a time when that was exactly what they needed. This self‐confidence permeated his extensive, pogtwar memoirs and journalistic writings and irritated many of his wartime colleagues, some of whom he criticized With almost insulting offhandedness.
Some of those so criticized pointed out that his victory at El Alamein, as well as certain other successes, was won over foes greatly inferior in manplower and materiel.
Nevertheless, Field Marshal Montgomery was one of Britain's genuine heroes in World War II. Then in his fifties, he was a slightly built, wiry man with what has been described as a “rigid, almost fanatical, set of the head.” He had high cheekbones, a needle nose and pale blue eyes that had a way intensely irritating to some, of Iooking through and past the person with whom he was conversing. He was dour and somewhat eccentric. He neither smoked nor drank and had a mania for physical fitness.
‘Monty’ to His Men
At the time of the desert fighting in Africa the men of General Montgomery's Eighth Army saw him in swirls of dust waving to them from command cars or from an open tank turret. Sometimes he wore the beret of the Royal Tank Corps with two regimental badges pinned to it. Again he would appear in a big Australian campaign hat covered with badges. Usually he wore an old turtleneck sweater, To his men, and to a good part of the world, he became “Monty.”
His complete self‐assurance, the touch of showmanship that appealed to the Tommies and, above all, his way of taking them into his confidence gave them faith in themselves and in their commanders. (Some squirmed, however, at the schoolboyish phrases in his message on the eve of the battle of‐El Alamein, such as “hit the Hun for six” and “good hunting, chaps.”)
In his memoirs Field Marshal Montgomery recalled that when he was at the front in France in World War I he never once saw the British commander in chief. It was his policy not to let this happen when he was in high command. Of his policy of dealing with troops, he said, “Tell them the truth. Warm their hearts. Excite their imagina tions.” As a colleague said, all this “made Monty the best known, if not the best liked, field commander since Wellington.”
Field Marshal Montgomery was an exponent of muscular Christianity. His father, who became an Anglican bishop, established a record at Cambridge University of jumping up the 10‐foot‐long and 4‐foothigh steps of Trinity College. When General Montgomery took command of the Eighth Army in Egypt in 1942 he made his officers run up and down stairs to keep in condition.
At his retirement in September, 1958, Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein had completed 50 years of active duty. Since 1855, no British Army officer is known to have had a longer unbroken period of active duty.
His memoirs, published in 1958, were critical of his allies and of many of his brother officers. After calling his former superior officer, General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, “a remarkable and most lovable man,” he wrote:
“He had never seen a shot fired in war till the landings in North Africa and he never commanded troops in battle. I would not class Ike as a great soldier. He might have become one if he had ever had the experience of exercising direct command of a division, corps and army—which unfortunately did not come his way.”
After Lord Montgomery left the army he traveled extensively and wrote for various British publications about what he had seen and the persons with whom he had talked. In his writing he could boil down a world crisis into a kind of schoolboy insolence that made amusing and instructive reading. Once when tensions were building up between Britain and West Germany, Lord Montgomery had seen Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. At a dinner he told 400 senior officers of the Royal Military College of Science that Dr. Adenauer “needed a dose of weed killer.” He added that “a small dose would do.”
Born in London
Bernard Law Montgomery, third son in a big family, was born Nov. 17, 1887, at Kennington, London, where his father, the Rev. Henry Hutchinson Montgomery, was vicar. His mother, the former Maud Farrar, was a daughter of the Very Rev. F. W. Farrar, Dean of Canterbury. Dr. Farrar wrote religious and inspirational books for children. One of these, “Eric or Little by Little,” became one of the most widely circulated books of its kind in the English‐speaking world.
Like several other great British soldiers of his generation, Field Marshal Montgomery came of a Northern Irish family. His father inherited the family estate at New Park, Donegal.
Bernard Montgomery spent his early childhood in Hobart, the neat little capital of Tasmania, where his father was appointed bishop in 1889. When he was 14, the family returned to England and settled in Chiswick, London.
Of his early years Field Marshal Montgomery wrote:
“Certainly I can say that my own childhood was unhappy. This was due to a clash of wills between my mother and myself. My early life was a series of fierce battles, from which my mother invariably emerged the victor.” He wrote of “constant defeats and the beatings with a cane.” He recalled that his mother ran all the family finances and “gave my father 10 shillings a week” and that “he was severely cross‐examined if he meekly asked for another shilling or two before the end of the week.”
At 14 he entered St. Paul's School in London, which was near home and much less expensive than Harrow or Eton. He entered the Royal Military College, now the Royal Military Academy, at Sandhurst in 1907.
His departure from Sandhurst narrowly missed being premature “when,” as he later recounted, “during the ragging of an unpopular cadet I set fire to the tail of his shirt as he was undressing: he got a badly burned behind, retired to the, hospital, and was unable to sit down in comfort for some time.”
Served in India
Second Lieutenant Montgomery was accepted by the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, whose cap badge he admired and whose mess bills were low. By the beginning of World War I in 1914 he was 26, had served in India and was a full lieutenant.
In action near Meteren at the first battle of Ypres early in the war, Lieutenant Montgomery, sword in hand, led his platoon in a charge. But, he explained later, he had never been taught to do anything with his sword except salute, and so he felled and captured his first German by kicking him in the groin.
Later in this fight Lieutenant Montgomery was shot through the chest. He survived only because one of his men who had come to help him was fatally shot and fell across him, thus protecting him from further bullets. The Distinguished Service Order was awarded to Lieutenant Montgomery for his courage and leadership on that day.
After the war he completed the course at the Staff College at Camberley in 1920.
Headed Third Division
At the beginning of World War II Major General Montgomery went to France in command of the Third Division.
Of the French‐British defeat that led to the evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940, Lord Montgomery wrote:
“The battle was lost before it began. The whole business was a complete ‘dog's breakfast.’”
He got his outfit out through Dunkirk in such relatively good shape that the Third Division was selected to receive reserve equipment, of which there existed in Britain at that time just enough for one division.
In 1942 Lieut. Gen. W. H. E. (Straffer) Gott was selected to command the Eighth Army in Egypt. He was killed in an airplane accident before he could assume his command and Lieutenant General Montgomery was ordered to fill the post.
He arrived in Cairo and arbitrarily took command of the Eighth Army two days before he had been authorizd to do so.
Revived Eighth Army
Once he had achieved command, General Montgomery set about revivifying the Eighth Army, which he said he found with its “tail down.” He chased officers and other ranks around in violent physical exercise. When he turned his pale gaze to look through an officer and said, “You're no use to me, no use at all,” the officer knew he was as good as on a boat headed for home.
Heedless of home front clamor for action, General Montgomery built up his force and battle equipment with care. His opponent, General Rommel, had inflicted serious reverses on a series of previous Eighth Army commanders.
The British were in the course of overwhelming General Rommel with a supply build‐up and the German knew that he had to bring the matter to the touch. He attacked, and General Montgomery defeated him. As the British commander put it, he “saw him off” at a shrewdly fought defensive battle in Alam Halfa. The stage was set for the battle of El Alamein.
On Oct. 23, 1942, after a strong air and artillery preparation, the British launched night assault from their positions in front of El Alamein. By Nov. 7 they had broken through and the world rang with the news of the desert victory. General Montgomery was made a full general and knighted.
The Eighth Army, directed from Cairo by Gen. Sir Harold Alexander (later a field marshal and Earl Alexander of Tunis) and in the field by General Montgomery, drove the Axis forces back from the gates of Egypt to Tripoli in 30 days. The Americans under General Eisenhower landed in North Africa to attack from the opposite direction.
U.S. Generals Irked
This brought the first clash of views between the British and American commanders. As one who had been doing so well, General Montgomery thought that resources allocated to the landing should have been placed at his disposal. He criticized the conduct of operations under General Eisenhower—unkindly in the opinion of Gen. Sir Francis de Guingand, General Montgomery's chief of staff. This had little effect on General Eisenhower but clearly irked Generals Bradley and Patton, and Americans commanding in Algeria and Tunisia. The pattern was to be repeated in Europe.
Few laurels were gained by General Montgomery or any other Allied commander in the capture of Sicily or in the dull plodding through Italy. General Montgomery bade farewell to his Eighth Army and went to England, where he exercised field command over the British and United States armed forces during the Allied landings in Normandy in 1944 and in the early stages of the fighting in France.
On D‐Day, June 6, 1944, British and United States forces stormed across the Normandy beaches. General Montgomery's British and Canadian forces were held near the landing places by the Germans longer than the United States forces were, a situation that General Montgomery said had been planned by the Allied strategists. Neither General Eisenhower nor General Bradley, commander of the assaulting United States forces, fully concurred in this interpretation of the battle plan.
During the 1944‐45 Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, General Eisenhower found it advisable for tactical purposes to place part of General Bradley's forces under Montgomery, now promoted to field marshal. When the German thrust failed Field Marshal Montgomery held a press conference in which he gave the impression that he had come to the rescue of the foundering United States Army, and not a minute too soon.
In his memoirs, General Eisenhower wrote:
“This incident caused me more distress than any similar one in the war. I doubt if Montgomery ever came to realize how deeply resentful some American commanders were.”
In his war recollections, General Bradley wrote:
“But Montgomery unfortunately could not resist the chance to tweak our Yankee noses. General Eisenhower held his tongue only by clenching his teeth.”
After V‐E Day, Field Marshal Montgomery was appointed commander in chief of the British Forces of Occupation, Military Governor of the British Zone of Occupied Germany and British member of the Allied Control Council of Germany. In June, 1946, he became Chief of the Imperial General Staff, the ranking uniformed post in the British Army. He had been elevated to the peerage as Viscount Montgomery of Alamein on Jan. 31, 1946.
When General Eisenhower was appointed commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces, Field Marshal Montgomery became his chief deputy, a post that he held until 1958.
Time mellowed Lord Montgomery very little. In June, 1964, in a radio broadcast linked with commemorative ceremonies in Normandy on the 20th anniversary of the D‐Day landings, he said that General Eisenhower, who had been in overall command of the operation, “never understood the Normandy strategy at all” and that “he got the whole thing muddled up.”
Lord Montgomery returned to this refrain in a supposed tribute on the death of General Eisenhower, referring again to the latter's alleged lack of understanding of the Normandy situation. But he added in warmer tones that the Supremo Commander, while “not a great soldier in the true sense of the word,” was “a great human being” whose qualities of patience and forbearing had “kept the peace between the warring tribes of generals and air barons.”
In 1927, when he was 39 years old and an instructor at the Staff College, Colonel Montgomery married Mrs. Oswald A. Carver, widow of an army captain killed in World War I. One son, David, was born to them. Mrs. Montgomery died in 1937.