UK publisher: Penguin
Data: 464 pages, 60 photos
Hardback (2008): £25.00
Paperback (2009): £8.99
Website © Terry Brighton
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Alan Parr spoke to Terry Brighton in Lincoln, UK
Alan: A great deal has been written about these three men. What makes Masters Of Battle different?
Terry: This is the first time all three have been brought together. This triangular relationship - Monty's and Patton's respect for Rommel, and their passionate distaste for each other - sets up a tremendous dynamic for the book. A single-life biography finds space for its subject's self-justification. My three subjects have a lot to say, but their every comment is challenged by one of the other two! This is not a leisurely history. It is war as they experienced it - hectic, crude, often contradictory, always moving on. And it is in that melee, caught in Masters Of Battle, that we see Monty, Patton and Rommel as they really were, rather than the careful portraits their official biographers paint.
Alan: How did you go about researching these three men?
Terry: From the Sherman that Montgomery used as his command tank, now at the Imperial War Museum, London, to the pearl-gripped pistol at the General George Patton Museum at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and the photographs Rommel took with his Leica, now in the Rommel Museum in Herrlingen, there's a popular 'museum trail'. But I found that the true insights are elsewhere, and particularly in the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, King's College, London, the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, Washington DC, and the Bundesarchiv Militärarchiv, Freiburg. What these three men said and wrote has to be the starting point. But then it must be used critically. Biographers can become so immersed in the material that they are hoodwinked by their subjects. The advantage of writing about Monty, Patton and Rommel together is that the comments of each one are continually brought into question by the other two. I believe this very active dynamic enabled me to get closer to the truth about each of them - because it is precisely in this triangular relationship that each is most clearly revealed.
Alan: So who will buy Masters Of Battle?
Terry: There's an insatiable interest in each of these three generals that reaches far beyond any specialist military history readership. Most readers are fascinated by personalities rather than politics or strategy, and this book is about three outstanding and controversial military leaders at the sharp end of the Second World War. It's an accessible account and assumes no specialist knowledge. But its extensive use of original source material will also attract the military enthusiast who knows the period well, but who wants to get closer to the action and learn more about the fiery affairs that embroiled these three.
Alan: What will readers be most surprised by in Masters Of Battle?
Terry: British readers probably know that Montgomery was not a nice guy, but they will be shocked by how very badly he behaved, lying even to Churchill, and undermining the Americans whenever he could. He single-handedly brought about a rift in the Anglo-American alliance that could have won the war for Hitler. His antics certainly cost a good many American lives. If that sounds like an exaggeration, read the book - it isn't! Readers will also be surprised by the extent to which Eisenhower, with the full support of his President, handed the fruits of the Allied victory to Stalin. Patton predicted the Cold War in words that proved to be uncannily accurate, but no one was listening because he wanted to fight the Russians there and then. Churchill saw the danger too, and felt that Stalin had outsmarted them all, but by then Britain was a junior partner in the Alliance and the Americans were not listening to him either. Patton was a hothead, but he assessed the political situation correctly while the whole American leadership got it wrong.
Alan: Any surprises about Rommel?
Terry: Monty was so obviously duplicitous, and Patton always said exactly what he thought, but Rommel was more careful - because he had to be. So it's more difficult to know what he was really up to. Towards the end he disagreed strongly with Hitler, and was forced to commit suicide, and because of that he's still seen as a sympathetic character. But Masters Of Battle reveals a darker Rommel. He never carried a Party card, but he was undoubtedly a true Nazi.
Alan: Which of the three was the greatest general?
Terry: Patton quipped that he could 'outfight that little fart Monty anytime'. That was probably true. On the other hand, only Monty could have planned the D-Day landings so meticulously that they actually succeeded. But if Hitler had not overuled Rommel's plans for the defence of occupied France, the landings might have failed. All three were truly Masters of Battle, but in very different ways.
Alan: It sounds almost as if you came to like them?
Terry: They lived extreme lives at the most critical of times. Each clashed violently with the other. But they were men like us. They loved, they were fallible, they cried. I got to 'know' them, to the extent that is possible, and in Masters Of Battle they were in a very real sense my co-writers. But I wouldn't want to live next door to any one of them.
© Terry Brighton 2008