In one well-written volume John English presents an integrated history of the Allied armies fighting in Western Europe. The result is a fuller understanding of how and why the Allies won in the West. He achieves this by studying the army commanders other than Patton and the campaigns fought by their armies. Patton is not ignored however; the Army Group commanders, Montgomery, Bradley, and Devers, also figure in the analysis, as do some corps and divisional commanders but this book is about the other generals--Crerar, Dempsey, Simpson, Hodges, Patch and de Lattre de Tassigny. Each general has a chapter and English meshes his story into the battles and campaigns.
English begins with an analysis of Allied organization, general staffs, coalition warfare and the size of these armies. This is highly informative and provides the context in which each army commander ran his staff and ultimately executed his duties. The appendix on Allied tactical air support is also superb. In describing the operations of these six armies sequentially from north to south English demonstrates how each general's personality, ability, and leadership interacted to produce victory. His approach also highlights the inter-relatedness of the Allied armies and how the events in one army's sector often spilled over to its neighbour and he follows the subsequent knock-on effect. After reading this book, I came away with an elevated opinion of Montgomery.
English has based his research on a wide-range of archival sources in addition to memoirs and secondary literature. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to know more about how our armies won the war in the West and who the men were who led them.
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Very Useful Work With Minor FlawsApril 6 2009
David M. Dougherty
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Author English has written a very useful book on the Allied army commanders other than George Patton who served in France and Germany during 1944 and 1945. For reference, the organization was as follows:
SHAEF Commander - Eisenhower
21st Army Group - Montgomery British 2nd Army - Dempsey Canadian 1st Army - Crerar
12th Army Group - Bradley US 1st Army - Hodges US 9th Army - Simpson US 3rd Army - Patton
6th Army Group - Devers US 7th Army - Patch French 1st Army - De Lattre
As the author states, there are many books on Patton, but only one biography of Patch, Hodges, and Crerar, only one in English on De Lattre, and none on Simpson or Dempsey. This work brings these other commanders to life in a comparative framework.
The author's biases are a little too apparent -- namely he downgrades Patton (even mentioning non-combatant correspondent Andy Rooney's less than flattering appraisal of Patton) and only Montgomery and Dempsey really get high marks. Although a Canadian, the author's treatment of Crerar left me puzzled as he evidently preferred Crerar's understudy Simonds to Crerar. His passing remarks on Eisenhower are generally negative, and the conflict over Dever's effectiveness receives more coverage than I believe it deserved in this context (except when Devers wanted to cross the Rhine in 1944.) Of the Americans, only Simpson came off well, and specifically his ability to get along with Montgomery was a big plus. In fact, the constant carping by one commander about another (such as Haislip's comments on Patch which the author dismisses) made me want to say in rebuttal, "OK, but they were good enough to win!"
The writing was often redundant when more than one army was involved in a campaign, and the reader can skip over reiterations where desired. In addition, a lot of space is devoted to troop movements that add little to biographies of the commanders, especially when the battles did not reflect positively or negatively on the army commander being discussed. I was also put off by the author's treatment of Montgomery (was always right -- Eisenhower got blamed for allowing Market-Garden to precede the opening of the Scheldt.) The presentation of command and staff organizations was unusual in that the British (Canadian) organization was given first and the American then compared to it.
All that being said, this book is a very useful introduction to Crerar, Simonds, Dempsey, Simpson, Hodges, Patch and De Lattre who are usually just names in the campaign on the Western Front. For that the author is to be commended, but the reader will probably feel the need to delve further into these commanders to answer many questions the author implies concerning their effectiveness. Pehaps the problem was space in this volume, but I definitely wanted more information on Simpson and Dempsey. Patch had seen action in the Pacific, and his record there important but only mentioned in passing. In short, the author left me wanting much more. He could also have included the two army commanders in Italy to complete the picture.
I recommend this book to those interested in the Western Front in World War II as an introduction to the Allied army commanders. There is much valuable information here, but don't expect to go away feeling that you have a handle on all the commanders. That will take additional reading and study, and some of the author's comments definitely require more research before being accepted at face value. Like I said, this is a good introduction.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Patton's PeersSept. 20 2011
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John English has written an excellent introduction to six of Patton's "peers", general officers who have forever been relegated to taking a backseat to the popular and controversial commander of the 3rd U.S. Army.
English presents the stories of General Harry Crerar (1st Canadian Army), General Miles Dempsey (British 2nd Army), General Courtney Hodges (U.S. 1st Army), General William Simpson (U.S. 9th Army), Lt. General Alexander Patch (U.S. 7th Army) and General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny (French 1st Army) and their exploits on the Western Front during 1944-1945.
The introduction gives the reader a quick breakdown of the Allied command system and how it varied between countries. Each general has his own chapter with, what I found to be interesting titles. For example, Chapter Two: In the Shadow of Montgomery (Dempsey), Chapter Three: In the Shadow of Bradley (Hodges), and Chapter Six: In the Shadow of Napoleon (de Tassigny). English pulls no punches as he reveals the strengths and weaknesses of each of the generals.
Each chapter presents a brief background of the subject before delving into their roles on the Western Front. English spends time discussing troop movements and covers most major operations each commander was involved with. Each chapter also has several pertinent maps making it easy for the reader to follow the troop movements of these operations. The book includes several photographs allowing readers to put faces to these often unfamiliar names.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Allied commanders on the Western Front. It was an interesting and quick read. For me, it was very interesting to learn about the commanders who "collectively directed almost 2 million more troops than Patton" and carried out the strategies that helped end World War Two.
7 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Little-known generalsApril 21 2009
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This is a good book for the amateur historian. It does not overwhelm one with facts and figures but it does shed light on some of the "forgotten" leaders of the armed forces in WW II. It provides a very good jumping off point to explore the leadership of Allied general and exposes some "warts".