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"Montgomery and his Legions:" A study of operational development, innovation and command in 21st army group, North-West Europe, 1944-45

"Montgomery and his Legions:" A study of operational development, innovation and command in 21st army group, North-West Europe, 1944-45
Charles James Forrester

2010

School of History, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UNITED KINGDOM.

ABSTRACT

This thesis considers armour and infantry unit organization and structure in the British Army during the Second World War, specifically in Montgomery's 21st Army Group in North-West Europe. 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 issue of debate among historians. This thesis examines and analyses the factors that produced both an effective weapon and a functional doctrine for combining armour and infantry. It does this by tracking how 21st Army Group moved from 'anarchy' to 'problem solving' under Montgomery's direction.

It shows that far from being either authoritarian or anarchic, Montgomery's ultimate command system actually encouraged commanders to use their initiative within the goals set out by Montgomery in late 1944 in a series of pamphlets. He believed in the imposition of doctrine, but this overlooks mid-July to end-of-September 1944 when he was open to the "bubble-up" of new ideas: albeit post-pamphlets the subsequent price of uniformity of doctrine was a certain apparent inflexibility. By late 1944 when Montgomery's 21st Army Group "stood at the door of Germany", armour-infantry co-operation practice is shown to have involved the coordination of armour originally intended to play different roles; infantry, and artillery on the basis of commonly agreed upon understandings which had been reached by an essentially collaborative process. Once set out in Montgomery's pamphlets, however, no deviation from this framework was subsequently permitted. Simultaneously, success in action depended on commanders exercising their initiative to be proactive to a greater extent than has hitherto been suggested: Montgomery wanted to constrain choices yet he allowed armoured commanders enough freedom of action to respond to challenges within the "master plan".

This thesis thus makes an original contribution to the debate on Montgomery's command style, and its consequences, and more widely on the role of a great commander.