The mobile headquarters of one of Britain’s greatest military leaders
John Delaney: “I'm John Delaney, I'm head of Second World War history at the Imperial War Museum and behind me are Montgomery's three campaign caravans.
Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery was Britain's most famous Second World War general, most famous for routing the Africa Korps and knocking Rommel out of North Africa. The three caravans themselves were part of his forward headquarters, they were sort of the heart of his headquarters unit.
The caravan directly behind me is his bedroom caravan, which he acquired in May 1943 from an Italian general named Giovanni Messe, who he beat in Tunisia, and it was his bedroom from then onwards until the end of the war.
And he's quoted as saying that he wouldn't turn out of it for anyone, it was his bedroom, he didn't give it over to anybody else for anybody else's use except for two people and that was the King and Winston Churchill when Winston Churchill visited him, and then he went and found accommodation elsewhere.
The Office Caravan was acquired first, but that was captured just before the battle of El Alamein, just before actually he came into command and he acquired it from an Italian general who was named General Bergonzoli, and he was known as General Electric Whiskers because he had a huge moustache.
The map caravan - the third caravan - was built specifically for him for the D-Day landings, because he wanted a bespoke built caravan where he could lay out all his maps and work out where his troops were going to move in the battles to come.
The caravans themselves are of great interest to the Imperial War Museum because they can tell the story of the individual through the contents of the caravans. We can be certain from wartime photography, and from his personal reminiscences, that this is exactly how they looked, and also the contents are the exact contents that were there at the end of the war.
For example, in the map caravan you can see all the pinpricks where all the British units were, on the very final day of the war. Within the office caravan, he still hung on the walls all the portraits of the opposing generals. He used to sort of sit there and think while looking at the portrait photography of the general he was up against, and he said somehow it enabled him to think clearer about what he was going to do in the battle that was to come.”
For 100 years IWM has told the stories of people involved in conflict through its collections. These three caravans, located at IWM Duxford, offer an insight into the working methods of one of Britain’s greatest military leaders and how he thought approached battles with his adversaries.
Field Marshal Bernard ‘Monty’ Montgomery was the most famous British General of the Second World War. A charismatic leader of men and popular figure amongst his soldiers, Montgomery conducted his campaign in North West Europe from three command caravans: one for his office, one for his bedroom and one for his map room.
These mobile headquarters allowed Montgomery to be close to the frontline, sometimes only a few miles away from the battle, while also allowing the Field Marshal to separate himself from the rest of Tactical Headquarters if he needed some solitude to plan his campaign.
Monty’s Office Caravan has a WW2 Italian caravan body remounted on a British Leyland Retriever 6x4 truck chassis. Its original owner was General Annibale 'Electric Whiskers' Bergonzoli, Commander of the Italian 23rd Corps. Bergonzoli was captured at Beda Fomm, south of Benghazi, in February 1941 and Montgomery took Bergonzoli’s caravan as a symbol of this victory.
When Montgomery assumed command, this caravan became his only home until the end of the North African Campaign in May 1943. It wasn’t until Montgomery acquired a second caravan that this vehicle became his office, which he used during campaigns in Sicily, Italy, and North-West Europe (1943-1945).
Monty’s Bedroom Caravan is Italian-built and mounted on a Lancia Chassis and was captured by Montgomery’s 8th Army from Field-Marshal Giovanni Messe, Commander of the 1st Italian Army, during the final stages of the North African campaign in May 1943. Messe said that it had also been used by Rommel, and Montgomery – promoted to General after the Battle of El Alamein – would use this caravan as his bedroom for the remainder of the war.
The Map Caravan is the third of Montgomery's vehicles and was custom built by the British Trailer Company to the designs of Montgomery's personal staff. During his campaigns in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, Monty had realised the need for a map lorry to co-ordinate his operations in the field, and this caravan was presented to him on 17 April 1944, seven weeks before D-Day. It became the nerve centre of Montgomery's Tactical Headquarters in North-West Europe from June 1944 until May 1945.
The caravans were bequeathed to IWM on Viscount Montgomery's death in 1976, and are on display at IWM Duxford.