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Allies But Not Friends

  • Nov 3, 2009
War makes for strange bedfellows. Two of the strangest were key members of the winning team in World War II: Western Allied commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, who rose to top rank in the U.S. Army despite never having a field command; and Bernard Law Montgomery, a distinguished British field commander who let no one, least of all Ike, forget it. Just how they got along, and didn't, is the subject of this book.

"Ike & Monty" is a dual biography of sorts, concentrating on the pair before and during their time leading the assault on Nazi Germany. Straddling two very individual stories is part of the problem Norman Gelb encounters with his narrative. Another part is that, while published in 1994, there's very little here that will be new to anyone who has been following World War II scholarship, The sharp personality and policy differences between Ike and Monty have been pored over since the 1960s; nothing new there.

Gelb does tell an at-times gripping story with real objectivity. Montgomery remains a figure of much scorn among Americans, as reading Stephen Ambrose or watching "Patton" will show, but Gelb sees him as a more complicated figure of genuine accomplishment. As ground commander of D-Day landing forces, Monty managed a skillful thrust-and-parry against a stiffening German counterforce by using British and Canadian troops as a buffer and sending U.S. troops under General Bradley in a daring gambit that averted a potentially bloody stalemate.

It was the one time Montgomery acted counter to his image as gloryhog and chauvinist, an image he too often cultivated with his haranguing, supercilious tone. Even worse was his surfeit of caution. "He is so proud of his successes to date that he will never willingly make a single move until he has concentrated enough resources so that anybody could practically guarantee the outcome..." Eisenhower once said.

When exactly Eisenhower said this is something Gelb doesn't reveal, an all-too-common failing with the quotes used liberally in his text.

Regarding Ike, there is little here to clash with conventional wisdom. Diplomatic almost to a fault, Ike was "unable to think reflexively in nationalistic, confrontational terms" and was thus able to forge a mighty alliance. Even when Gelb takes shots at Ike's leadership, suggesting a kind of dithering at the crux of his command, he does so without any real vigor.

What made the two men work as well as they did together, despite their issues, is also not made clear. When Monty and Ike first joined forces in 1942, Allied victory was not a foregone conclusion, but Gelb seems to think it was, and his narrative while concrete lacks a sense of suspense or drama. Their friction is well documented, though a final falling out, after the post-war publication of Monty's sharp-tongued memoirs degrading Ike's command, comes as an afterthought, another of the riddles at the heart of the enigmatic Monty.

I liked reading this book. Alas, despite not being an especially well-read World War II student, I didn't feel I learned much from it. Gelb's account is fair, and at times riveting as it goes into some friction points at length, but if you want to know how a fractious relationship nearly compromised the Great Crusade, you'll find as many questions here as answers.

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Bill Slocum ()
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Reading is my way of eavesdropping on a thousand conversations, meeting hundreds of new and fascinating people, and discovering what it is about the world I enjoy most. Only after a while, I lose track … more
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Gelb ( Desperate Venture ) offers a comprehensive analysis of the troubled wartime collaboration between two military leaders whose professional differences were compounded by deep contrasts in character and behavior. Gelb depicts Dwight D. Eisenhower as likable and honorable, conspicuously successful as managing director of the Allied war effort but less effective as a general. He too often allowed himself to be distracted by the non-military aspects of his job, Gelb argues; his campaigns would have benefited from closer control and a firmer hand. Bernard Law Montgomery emerges as a difficult man whose aspirations, particularly after the Normandy campaign, were not matched by his achievements. Gelb admires his narrow-front strategic plan for ending WW II quickly, but he also demonstrates that the Field Marshal's poisonous personality made it impossible for him to win Eisenhower's support for his concept. Specialists will discover nothing new here, though others will find a useful study of the human aspects of high military command. Photos not seen by PW .
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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ISBN-10: 0688143466
ISBN-13: 978-0688143466
Author: Norman Gelb
Publisher: Quill

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"Allies But Not Friends"
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