Canada in the Second World War


Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery

Bernard Law Montgomery, born in London on November 17th, 1887; died near Alton, Hampshire, on March 24th, 1976. British Army officer.

General Sir Bernard Montgomery during a press briefing, Normandy, June 12th, 1944

General Sir Bernard Montgomery during a press briefing, Normandy, June 12th, 1944
Photograph by Ken Bell. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-132475

Bernard Montgomery was the son of an Anglican bishop. He attended St. Paul’s School and the Sandhurst Military Academy; in 1908, he enlisted with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He served in India for some time, and after WWI broke out, in France, where he was severely wounded. He was back on the front in 1916 and, after the war, served as Chief of General Staff for the 47th London Division. Already he was regarded as a remarkable officer for training the troops, an officer who believed that top physical fitness went hand in hand with good leadership.

During the early months of WWII, Montgomery commanded II Army Corps. Unable to stop the progression of German troops, he was forced to retreat towards Dunkirk, and from there, to sail back to England on June 1st, 1940.

In August 1942, Winston Churchill put Montgomery in command of the 8th Army, which had just been defeated by Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps. Montgomery was able to build back the confidence of his troops. The 8th Army, advancing cautiously, drove back the Germans and forced them to regroup outside Egypt after a decisive battle at El Alamein in November 1942. It was the first Allied victory against Nazi Germany, a victory that gave the British some confidence and confirmed “Monty’s” reputation.

Later on, Montgomery led the 8th Army during the invasion of Sicily. Under the supreme command of US General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 15th Army Group comprised the British 8th Army and the US 7th Army under General George Patton. For the invasion of Sicily, the 8th Army’s order of battle included the 1st Canadian Infantry Division under Major-General Guy Simonds. After the liberation of Sicily, Montgomery prepared the transfer to continental Italy.

On September 3rd, 1943, he led the 8th Army, landing in Reggio di Calabria in southern Italy and then proceeding northwards. At that point in time, Montgomery had under his command the 5th and 10th British Corps, the 2nd Polish Corps and 1st Canadian Corps, under Lieutenant-General H.D.G. Crerar.

In December 1943, Monty was called back to England to take command of the land forces that were to take part in the invasion of Normandy. He was Commander-in-chief, 21st Army Group during the campaign in north-western Europe, which started on D-Day, June 6th, 1944, and lasted till the final surrender of Germany on May 4th, 1945.

During that campaign, both II Canadian Corps of General Guy Simonds and the 1st Canadian Army of General Crerar were under Montgomery’s command. Relations between Monty and the Canadian generals were friendly but tense at times. Montgomery wanted to use the troops supplied by the Dominions as if they were British units, dividing them up when the need arose, which was a cause for some friction with the Canadian General Staff and government, intent on maintaining the cohesion and the national character of their armies. Montgomery made no secret of his high regard for Guy Simonds, whom he viewed as an exceptional commander. He was, however, more reserved towards Crerar, whom he thought was more a manager than a military leader.

When the war ended, Montgomery was Field Marshal since September 1st, 1944. In 1946, he was made a Knight of the Garter and 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein to salute his outstanding contribution to the Allies’ victory. Later on, he was appointed Chief Imperial General Staff from 1946 to 1948; Chairman, Western Europe Chiefs of Staff Committee from 1948 to 1951; and Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, from 1951 until he retired in 1958. He published his Memoirs that same year.


Suggested Reading:

  • Viscount Montgomery of Alamein.The Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery. The World Publishing Company, 1958.