Friday 27 April 2018

The mobile headquarters of one of Britain’s greatest military leaders

The mobile headquarters of one of Britain’s greatest military leaders

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.

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