Brilliant, innovative, articulate, loved, energetic, compelling, charismatic, tenacious...these are just a few of the laudatory descriptors applied to General the Honourable Andrew George Latta McNaughton, PC, CH, CB, CMG, DSO, CD, MSc, DEng, DCL, LLD, psc, IDC. A man whose career saw him a soldier, scientist, and statesman.
"Andy" served in World War 1, invented the cathode ray direction finder (forerunner of radar), served as Chief of the General Staff in the inter-war years, became President of the National Research Council, led critical elements of Canada's war effort both as serving soldier and as Minister of National Defence, and represented Canada in the UN and on the Security Council.
A small portion of such a resume is impressive. Yet, McNaughton's operational command performance of the 1st Canadian Army has been deemed lacking by historians and cast a pall over his legacy. This view has largely gone uncontested until the publication of Rickard's book. The author examines three key factors that have contributed to the longstanding critique of McNaughton: his stubborn defence of Canada's national priorities and obsession with keeping the entire Canadian army intact; poor operational abilities in command of large forces specifically training; and his personality. The latter is the most gripping aspect of this history.
It seems that as brilliant and charming as the man was, he may also have been "abrasive and inflexible, as quick to form judgements, and as totally lacking diplomatic skills". One only has to think of Eisenhower to realize how important personality was to leadership within the Allied leadership. Unfortunately, McNaughton clashed with those of whom he needed to build consensus: Sir Alan F. Brooke, Bernard Paget, Kenneth Stuart, James Layton Ralston, and Harry Crerar. The book charts McNaughton's background and accomplishments while including in-depth analysis of Operation Spartan and Montgomery's snub in Sicily both of which factored into his resignation.
This re-examination of McNaughton is absolutely fascinating, very well written, and one that I look forward to re-reading in time. Whatever conclusions you arrive at, it is clear that he was a Canadian patriot, twice wounded, and one who experienced the terrible loss of his youngest son, "killed in action as a bomber pilot and Canadian squadron leader".