Military History Matters 131 Letters – November 2022

Your thoughts on issues raised by the magazine


Describing Field Marshal Montgomery as ‘indispensable’ in your special article on him (MHM October/November 2022) perpetuates the myth that Montgomery himself did so much to establish.

From October 1942 onwards, his leadership had accrued enough tactical and strategic errors to have ended the career of most other generals.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

First was the arguably needless (and probably politically motivated) Second Battle of El Alamein. Rommel’s drive to the Suez Canal had, thanks to General Auchinleck, already been stopped, and following Operation Torch, it was only a matter of time before the Axis forces in North Africa withered on the vine.

And yes, heavy rains did hamper the Eighth Army’s pursuit, but they equally hampered the enemy’s retreat (something, I suspect, that was an inconvenient truth for Montgomery).

Moving forward to 1944, there was the delay in capturing Caen, and of course the disastrous Operation Market Garden. But Montgomery’s failure to clear the Scheldt Estuary once Antwerp had been captured was a strategic blunder of enormous proportions, quite possibly lengthening the war itself.

David Flintham Romford, Essex


I was intrigued by Patrick Mercer’s account of the Irish ‘croppies’ in the 1790s (MHM June/July 2022). He marks out the 57th Foot as having the most numerous Irish rebels enlisting under the British Crown. In 1806, one Thomas Sullivan, an Irish labourer aged about 29, joined that regiment. His wife rarely saw him while he soldiered in the Peninsula and in North America (he went AWOL twice). By 1814, she was living in Holborn in penury taking in washing.

It was then that she petitioned the Royal Military Asylum – today the Duke of York’s Royal Military School (still flourishing; I am an alumnus) – to take her eldest boy, Thomas Jnr. He became an army bandmaster and fathered (Sir) Arthur Sullivan, who, in his collaborations with dramatist W S Gilbert, was much influenced by military as well as by church music. Sullivan died a multi-millionaire in modern terms, just two generations on from dirt poverty.

Chris Crowcroft
via email


Concerning the term ‘bazooka’ as discussed in your regular War of Words column (MHM August/September 2022): when North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950, American troops sent to slow them down carried Second World War-era equipment, including bazookas.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

They were quick to discover, however, that these weapons did not penetrate the frontal armour of the Russian-supplied T-34 tanks. Only later in the war did more powerful versions become available.

Many men of my generation can recall listening to the radio and hearing the bazooka-playing Bob Burns, whose tube-shaped instrument of his own invention, as your columnist rightly notes, gave the weapon its name.

Donald W Killmeyer Clairton, PA


In his review of Enemy at the Gates (MHM August/September 2022), Taylor Downing does not mention the most egregious historical fault in the film: the daylight crossing of the Volga by soldiers completely unburdened with supplies. The Red Army would never go to the trouble of shipping soldiers across the mighty river without loading them down with all the impedimenta of war a poor Ivan could carry.

Thus, the rifle and bullets sharing scene also was silly and pointless. The only credible account I have found of rifles being doled out in this manner was a militia division outside Leningrad in September 1941. It certainly did not happen on the far side of the Volga!

However, Downing was correct in most of the rest of the review, especially his critique of Bob Hoskins’ Khrushchev parody.

James Derieg
Kemble, Gloucestershire

Please note: letters may be edited for length; views expressed here are those of our readers, and do not necessarily reflect those of the magazine.