The Holocaust Historiography Project

General Montgomery's 'Racist Masterplan'

Mark Weber

The reputation of Britain's most famous Second World War military commander has suffered a major blow with recent disclosures about his "racist master plan" for postwar Africa.

Sir Bernard Law Montgomery (1887-1976) is perhaps best known for his victory as commander of the British Eighth Army over Afrika Korps leader Erwin Rommel at El Alamein (Egypt) in October-November 1942, and as commander in 1943-45 of British forces in Sicily, France, the Netherlands and Germany. He was promoted to Field Marshal in 1944, and named a viscount in 1946.

In a confidential postwar report to Prime Minister Clement Attlee, "Monty" was scathingly critical of London's policy of encouraging self-government in black Africa. The African, he concluded, "is a complete savage and is quite incapable of developing the country himself."

Montgomery's report, based on a two-month fact-finding tour of eleven African countries in late 1947, was written in his capacity as Chief of the Imperial Defence Staff, a post he held 1946-1948. He recommended a sweeping plan to turn much of sub-Saharan Africa into a British-controlled bulwark against Communism that would be aligned with white-ruled South Africa, which at that time was still dominated by Britain.

Contrary to British policy of the period, Montgomery urged the government to counter popular anti-colonial strivings in Africa: "There is an increasing social and political consciousness developing in the African peoples; this is a very great potential danger and must be watched." His basic attitude toward African autonomy movements is summed up in a recommendation: "We should have no nonsense with the United Nations Organization about Tanganyika; it should be absorbed into the British bosom." He also expressed contempt for black African leaders such as Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, whom he called a pathetic figure.

These revelations were made public in a front-page story, headlined "Secret Papers Reveal Monty's Racist Masterplan," in the prestigious British daily The Guardian, January 7, 1999, which was based on recently released papers from Britain's main government archives, the Public Records Office.

Prime Minister Attlee was so alarmed by "Monty's" plan that he called a special meeting of senior ministers to discuss how to handle it. As a result, Montgomery's African fact-finding tour and his embarrassing report were both kept secret, and agents were assigned to watch his lectures to make sure he made no public criticism of government policy.

Colonial Secretary Arthur Creech Jones replied to Montgomery in a secret memo: "We cannot, of course, have anything like a uniform policy in native administration with the Union of South Africa. They aim at maintaining white supremacy; we aim at building up self-government for the Africans."

In a January 1948 letter, "Monty" responded to the government's rebuttal of his proposal by reaffirming his report's conclusions. He added: "It is obvious we disagree fundamentally … Time will show which of us is right."

Historians, relatives and former associates of Montgomery have been concerned about the long-term impact of the new revelations. (Guardian, Jan. 7, 1999, p. 3). "His reputation is irredeemably damaged," commented historian Lord Chalfont, author of Montgomery of Alamein. Nigel Hamilton, Montgomery's official biographer, remarked "… There's no doubt he was a racialist. He did believe in fairly Aryan views."


Bibliographic information
Author: Weber, Mark
Title: General Montgomery's 'Racist Masterplan'
Source: The Journal for Historical Review
Date: March/April 1999
Issue: Volume 18 number 2
Location: Page 33
ISSN: 0195-6752
Attribution: "Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, PO Box 2739, Newport Beach, CA 92659, USA. Domestic subscriptions $40 per year; foreign subscriptions $50 per year."
Please send a copy of all reprints to the Editor.