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Richard Mead
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5 Mushroom Heads
Much has been written about Field Marshall Montgomery, some by his own staff, but not much has been put down about the officers who enabled the successes of Monty. Mead has now done this and has brought us one of the most readable books I have come across for a long time.

The introduction to the book by Mead ends with a quote from one of Monty’s senior staff officers Lieutenant General Sandy Galloway. He is commenting about the composition of officers at the Victory Parade in 1946.

“I should have thought they might have included some of
the staff who played a part in all the immense work that
went on. This war has not only been a war of commanders,
but of intense and brilliant staff work.”

And there Galloway has summed up the essence of this book. If there was one thing that Monty was supremely excellent at it was picking the right man for the right job, and once the person is in post, allowing them to get on with the task without micro managing everything. Indeed Monty took this to its absolute limits and left his staff totally alone to get on with what they did, sometimes to the detriment of the staff officers themselves.

The book deals very much with Freddie de Guingand, Monty’s Chief of Staff from his time of arrival in the desert to victory over Germany in 1945. Once Freddie had Monty’s plans and thoughts, he was left to implement them, something that he did brilliantly, ending the war a Major General and with a knighthood. However, Monty could be very harsh to the people who worked with him and very jealous of anyone who might just be taking the shine off his glory, and Mead does not hold back from that. Monty’s strengths are well known and he was a great UK general; however, he had many faults and an ego which was out of control at times. Freddie de Guingand’s job was to smooth the waters after Monty has stirred up the storm, especially with the Americans. This was not always possible.

Mead takes us through the senior appointments and how Monty had, throughout his time in various appointments, noted certain officers and brought them on to his staff when possible, stealing officers away from other commanders where he could. There were only two types of officer in Monty’s eyes; one who is “sound” and one who is “utterly useless”. He did not confine that to junior ranks but to his seniors and peers also, holding Eisenhower and Alexander in low opinion as soldiers. If an officer was in the first category, he was trusted fully and left to get on with the job, if he was in the second category he was disposed of or sidelined making them ineffective. In this instance Monty was absolutely ruthless, but if you held his esteem, then you also had his absolute loyalty and Monty would look after his ‘protégés’; but if you didn't..........

Much of the book deals with the relationship between the HQs that Monty set up and how he used them. He would stay at his small Tac HQ, close to the front line, and use Liaison Officers (LOs)to maintain contact both forward to Corps and Division plus back to Main HQ. Due to Monty’s rule of the commander never going back Main HQ also used LOs to take back information from Tac HQ in order that the staff officers, and de Guingand in particular, could know and understand what the CinC wanted. These LOs were relatively junior officers but travelled with the full authority of Montgomery and expected to be seen by GOCs of Corps & Divisions in order to get the information they needed. This obviously needed a certain amount of tact from these officers but they pressed for the information where needed and the whole system of LOs was so efficient that Montgomery always had an up to date picture of the battle as it progressed, or otherwise.

The book does not go into any details about the battles fought but remains faithfully on the story of the Staff and their role in moving the battle forward. Indeed Alamein only takes a couple of pages as does D-Day and Arnhem. In a way, the actual fighting was not the issue for the Staff officers but handing the Commander the ability to fight that battle was. Whether it was men, material or intelligence, all were made available by Monty’s Staff officers. Mead does an excellent job in showing how the Staff, while not actual fighters, were the enablers, which was the point Lt Gen Galloway was making about the VE Day parade in 1946.

This has been one of the most enjoyable books I have read for some time as the writing is well done and flows logically and smoothly covering a huge area that is staff work. Again, like the battles, the book does not go into the minutiae of staff work, but shows what the Staff can and did do to bring about victory in Europe. Very much a personal portrait, giving the characters of the main players; how Monty used his young LOs to wind down at dinner in his very small and exclusive Mess showing his sometimes wicked sense of humour. Mead does not miss out on the foibles of Monty’s personality, indeed they form a major part of the work that his staff, especially the Chief of Staff, had to work round and with. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and should anyone have a wish to see how a successful Commander became so because of the support of his Staff then this is the book for you.

5/5 Mr Mushroomheads for this excellent book.
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