Book Review: Story of WWII told through 3 generals

AP News
Posted: Nov 09, 2009 2:44 PM

"Patton, Montgomery, Rommel: Masters of War" (Crown Publishing, 448 pages, $30), by Terry Brighton: During a dinner in Saigon with some news correspondents in 1971, Gen. Creighton Abrams, the U.S. commander in Vietnam, was asked his opinion of the movie, "Patton."

Abrams, who had served under the bombastic George S. Patton in World War II, paused. Then he slammed his fist on the table and exulted, "That was Patton!"

That the film accurately depicted the brilliant but often erratic tank commander known as "Old Blood and Guts" comes through as well in "Patton, Montgomery, Rommel: Masters of War."

In this meticulously researched book, British historian Terry Brighton deftly retells the story of WWII from North Africa in 1942 to Germany's surrender in 1945, through the three rival generals _ American, British and German _ who were as famous for their egos, arrogance and colorful personalities as for leading armies in battle.

The author makes the most of the idea that these three being cast together by fate seemed almost too good to be true. His narrative ricochets among his subjects, with startling details and ironic touches that other big picture historians might have missed.

Brighton relates anew the stories of Patton nearly being relieved of command after slapping a wounded soldier in a hospital for alleged cowardice, and of Gen. Erwin Rommel barely escaping death when British Spitfire fighters attacked his car _ near a Normandy village coincidentally called Ste-Foy-de-Montgommery.

Of particular note is Brighton's unflinching portrayal of "Monty" _ Bernard Montgomery _ Britain's most honored soldier of WWII, as a petty schemer and would-be Napoleon who constantly demeaned his U.S. allies, took credit for other commanders' successful plans and told transparent lies to explain his own failures.

The author also casts significant doubt on the widely accepted belief that Rommel was among the senior German officers who conspired to kill Hitler with a bomb in 1944.

While that failed plot was the reason Rommel was forced to commit suicide, Brighton says evidence suggests Rommel went only so far as to secretly advocate surrender to the Americans and British _ to forestall a Russian seizure of Berlin.