Was a Montgomery an eventuality?

Jan 2020
3
Alabama, USA
There is no denying that Erwin Rommel had a profound effect on how we perceive World War 2. To his admirers he was a military genius, to his critics he was an overated commander who was used to cover-up Allied incompetence. Fortunately, they all agree that Erwin Rommel was at the very least a competent general to survive several years in North Africa.

Something interesting though is that while I was looking over the North African campaign, I took a closer look at Rommel's defeat to Montgomery. While I was looking at the battle, I saw that Montgomery had a huge numerical advantage in both men and tanks compared to Rommel. Not only that but out of the available tanks at Rommel's disposal, he could only use about a quarter of them for battle due to his fuel shortages. One might attack him for his lack of tactical genius, but one must only look back to the Invasion of France for his true genius. He and Guderian were practically the only commanders in the entire campaign who were able to successfully complete the pincer movement that would lead to the evacuation at Dunkirk. This was done with only Panzer 1's and 2's which were originally meant to be nothing more than training tanks with only a machine gun, light turret and a crew of two people. Another might say the fox may have lost a few steps, but I would argue that Rommel was still as crafty as ever by using anti-aircraft guns as anti-tank guns to replace his lack of heavy tanks. His critics also point out to the fact that he stretched his supply lines too thin, but I believe he was playing to his advantages. Remember that the Axis Powers were up against the United States, the Soviet Union, France, Great Britain and China who were all established global powers. So in order to prevent his enemies from overwhelming him with their superior armies, Rommel had to gain quick decisive victories to get leverage at the negotiating table. This was almost the exact same strategy that Napoleon, Hannibal Barca and Alexander the Great employed throughout their campaigns also and yet they are undisputed for their military prowess.

Another point I should bring up is the fact that the German High Command never even supported a North African campaign in the first place. They only allowed Rommel and the Afrika Korps in Libya in order to prevent the collapse of their Italian allies. Not only that, but the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force were constantly attacking Rommel's supply lines to the point were only about one third of his intended supplies reached him. Basically Rommel was left to his own devices in the campaign and was extremely innovative in his methods for victory, but it would all be moot in a war of attrition against five of the greatest nations of the world.

What do you think on this topic? Was this question too easy? Please tell me on whether you think I was right or wrong. I will leave the videos on where I got my information down below.

The Armchair Historian: The North African Campaign series and Invasion of Dunkirk From the German Perspective

Potential History: The German Tank Meme Part One and The French Tank Meme

Military History Visualized: The Second Battle of El Alemein
 
Jun 2015
1,333
Scotland
I think you should first question some of your presumptions.

1. Rommel was never really significantly outnumbered. Even at second El Alemein the British had a lot less than 2-1 advantage while attacking a well entrenched enemy and still won.
2. Rommel was a capable operational commander but like many of his peers in the Heer he was strategically naive and consistently over extended himself and ignored the wider picture.
3. He regularly ignored wise council from superiors (Kesselring in particular) to his and his troops cost.
4. While supply convoys from Italy were interdicted it was not always as effectively as portrayed. His biggest problem was ignoring the inevitable logistic difficulties until the became unsustainable.
5. Rommel was Hitlers poster boy and North Africa received significant resources beyond the theatres strategic value and in fact beyond the axis ability to logistically support.

There were also many problems with the way the British performed operationally, particularly with their use of armour which made Rommel appear better than he was. As these issues were ironed out he became less and less effective.
 
Oct 2015
1,039
Virginia
The German Army High Command, General Staff and operational commanders notoriously de-emphasized, set aside or disregarded the limitations imposed by logistics, even when their logistical staffs pointed them out. They nearly always trusted their own tactical and operational skills, and the ability of the troops to overcome supply and transport limitations. Sometimes this worked (Poland, Norway, France, the Balkans, Crete, Gazala), but sometimes it didn't (Egypt, Moskow, Rostov, the Caucasus, Stalingrad) leaving their troops exhausted and out of supply, lines overextended and vulnerable to counter-attack. Rommel was not alone in this and Kesselring was one of the few not in the habit.

Montgomery, on the other hand, always made sure his supply was solid, maintained a significant reserve (what he called "balance") so that he was ready for any eventuality.

Maybe the Germans had to gamble on logistics due to their overall strategic situation, but if they didn't win a quick, complete victory they usually found themselves in big trouble
 
Jan 2020
3
Alabama, USA
Thank you very much for straight shooting my oversights and presumptions, you have excellent analytical talents. I am sorry if my contributions were less than satisfactory as I am still new to this forum.
 
Jun 2015
1,333
Scotland
Thank you very much for straight shooting my oversights and presumptions, you have excellent analytical talents. I am sorry if my contributions were less than satisfactory as I am still new to this forum.
Sorry if I made you feel that way, it wasn't my intention. 'Excellent' is probably a bit of a stretch as far as I'm concerned, just someone with a passing interest in the subject. Rommel is one of those historical characters were the myth has overtaken the facts. He was a good self publicist and was heavily promoted post war as the good German. That's not to say he wasn't a good commander, he was but had several flaws which are often overlooked.

There is a mountain of literature out there about Rommel, not all of it very good but if your interested I would suggest read as much as you, get to know the facts behind him and make your own judgements. Mine are as open to criticism as any.
 

pugsville

Ad Honoris
Oct 2010
10,098
This was done with only Panzer 1's and 2's which were originally meant to be nothing more than training tanks with only a machine gun, light turret and a crew of two people.
Not ONLY with Panzer I and IIs.

955 of the 2582 german tanks (over a thrid) were panzer III, IV, 35t and 38t. And British and French field tanks armed iwth only machine guns, the British Matailda I, and Light Mark IV, and a huge variety of flawed designs that were french.


 

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
8,116
Cornwall
Thank you very much for straight shooting my oversights and presumptions, you have excellent analytical talents. I am sorry if my contributions were less than satisfactory as I am still new to this forum.
Also don't forget that Alamein II was the end of a very long and complex campaign. The general Montgomery was sent in to replace was rather unlucky to be sacked - as had others before him. By this time the balance of men and equipment had changed - and Montgomery was not going anywhere until he had assembled a huge amount of men and equipment (some call it cautious) so it's not entirely coincidental that he was well-stocked, whilst the Germans were getting short of tanks and fuel

There's some interesting programmes on Discovery from time to time which will tell you all about the N Africa campaign
 
Dec 2014
501
Wales
Also don't forget that Alamein II was the end of a very long and complex campaign. The general Montgomery was sent in to replace was rather unlucky to be sacked - as had others before him. By this time the balance of men and equipment had changed - and Montgomery was not going anywhere until he had assembled a huge amount of men and equipment (some call it cautious) so it's not entirely coincidental that he was well-stocked, whilst the Germans were getting short of tanks and fuel

There's some interesting programmes on Discovery from time to time which will tell you all about the N Africa campaign
Exactly. One of the things that annoys me is people who criticise Montgomery for being too cautious while at the same time saying 'well he had so many more tanks/men/guns of course he was going to win', seemingly without seeing the connection between the two. Monty liked to stack the odds in his favour, but given he had the access to all those tanks/guns/men, he would have been a fool not to.

To the OP. this post gives a few of the rebuffs to the myth around Rommel and the Afrika Korps. I'm not saying they are all completely accurate, but it is quite good. Rommel was amazingly similar to Patton (except Patton had good logistics support and the ability to replace his losses quickly), lots of flair and dash, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn't.


The difference between Rommel's victories and Montgomery's victories in North Africa was Rommel would sweep around formations and force their retreat - but the bulk of the British forces usually survived enough to be reinforced and fight on. In the end his great 'victories' just gained him lots of desert and long supply lines. Even if the Royal Navy hadn't controlled the Med there wasn't a decent port he could resupply through, so had to use trucks to move everything up, so every victory simply added to his problems. With all his great victories he was never able to destroy the British, just force them back.

At Alamein with no way to sweep round the Axis were stopped and couldn't force their way through. Montgomery's attack so effectively destroyed the Axis IN ONE PLACE that they would be unable to raise a serious defence for more a thousand miles.
 
May 2019
452
Northern and Western hemispheres
Not ONLY with Panzer I and IIs.

955 of the 2582 german tanks (over a thrid) were panzer III, IV, 35t and 38t. And British and French field tanks armed iwth only machine guns, the British Matailda I, and Light Mark IV, and a huge variety of flawed designs that were french.


One advantage the Germans had in the battle of France was that their tanks had radios compared to the British and French.
 

MG1962a

Ad Honorem
Mar 2019
2,521
Kansas
Also don't forget that Alamein II was the end of a very long and complex campaign. The general Montgomery was sent in to replace was rather unlucky to be sacked - as had others before him. By this time the balance of men and equipment had changed - and Montgomery was not going anywhere until he had assembled a huge amount of men and equipment (some call it cautious) so it's not entirely coincidental that he was well-stocked, whilst the Germans were getting short of tanks and fuel

There's some interesting programmes on Discovery from time to time which will tell you all about the N Africa campaign
Yes cautious is a good word. I think for Monty his biggest fear was going down in history as the general who lost the war.

But love him or hate him, Monty got the job he was asked to do....done. Can you really ask any more of a soldier?