Skip to comments.World War II + 70 Years Forum Continuing Discussion Thread
Posted on 10/31/2010 8:21:03 AM PDT by Homer_J_Simpson
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My own knowledge of WWII generals and admirals is quite extensive. For example, I know that Ike led the invasion of France, that Patton went around slapping soldiers all the time and looked exactly like George C. Scott, and that MacArthur Returned and looked exactly like Gregory Peck. Okay, I admit I am out of my depth on this topic. But I have been paying attention to the events of mid-1940 pretty closely and I have one name to throw out in the category of Military Leaders who have Played Important Roles over the Last Few Months. In honor of the end of the Battle of Britain . . .
Air Marshal Hugh Dowding.
“Air Marshal Hugh Dowding.”
Remarkable individual historically. Will read more about him later. Thanks.
Let’s not forget General Curtis LeMay!
Admiral-wise, worst were Bull Halsey & Marc Mitscher. Best was Ray Spruance.
Near the end of the war (February 1945), Eisenhower ranked the capabilities of U.S. generals in Europe. Omar Bradley and Carl Spaatz he rated as the best. Walter Bedell Smith was ranked number 3, and Patton number 4, followed by Mark Clark, and Lucian Truscott.
Bradley himself had been asked by Eisenhower to rank all the generals in December 1945, and he ranked them as follows: Bedell Smith #1, Spaatz #2, Courtney Hodges #3, Elwood Quesada #4, Truscott #5, and Patton #6 (others were also ranked)
However, Patton was a ground commander. Spaatz and Quesada had been air commanders since the 1920s, having spent their military careers through the end of World War II in the Army Air Force, the forerunner of today's U.S. Air Force, which was not separated from the U.S. Army until 1947. It may be impossible today to make a fair comparison of commanders from two such different branches of the U.S. military.
Eisenhower's and Bradley's rankings probably included factors other than Patton's success as a battle leader. As to that, Alan Axelrod in his book Patton (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006) quotes German Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt as stating "Patton was your best" and, surprisingly, Joseph Stalin as stating that the Red Army could neither have planned nor executed Patton's advance across France. Even Adolf Hitler was impressed by Patton's ability, reportedly calling him "The most dangerous man (the Allies) have."
Hadn't thought of that.
Halsey deserves some credit for saving the situation at Guadacanal but loses it and then some for his near catastrophic impulsiveness at Leyte Gulf.
As for Marc Mitscher, his performance as a captain at Midway was horrible (I'm surprised he wasn't sacked) and if not for the absolute thrashing US airmen gave the Japanese attackers even the Phillipine Sea would've been a disappointing lost opportunity.
You might want to include Heinz Guderian, arguably the first effective practitioner of Blitzkrieg.
I was in Gen Patton’s army for a few weeks at the time of the Bulge, unit transferred to 7th Army General Patch. In Austria occupation, I met General Mark Clark.
During World War I, he led a company of soldiers in 1917 and was seriously wounded by shrapnel. After the war, Clarks abilities were noticed by General George Marshall.
During World War II, he was the Allied Commander in Italy. He is known for ordering the destruction of the abbey at Monte Cassino and his subsequent entry into Rome in 1944 ignoring orders, the action which allowed the escape of the German 10th army, who joined their countrymen at the Transimene Line. Clark became the youngest American to be promoted to general in 1945.
Both Winston Churchill and General Dwight D. Eisenhower considered him a brilliant staff officer and trainer. Clark won many awards, including the Distinguished Service Cross for extreme bravery in war, subordinate only to the Medal of Honor.
Air Marshal Hugh Dowding.
I believe he looks like Laurence Olivier.:>)
Guderian was a great general but many German generals considered Field Marshall Erich Manstein to be Germany's top strategist and I've even heard it said he was the best General in the war. His tactics against the Soviets, who always outnumbered his forces at least three to one, were models of creativity and skill and he probably saved Army Group South after Stalingrad when the Italian, Hungarian and Romanian forces in the east were overrun by the Red Army.
Ground Commanders: Erwin Rommel, Erich von Manstein,Hermann Hoth, Tomuyuki Yamashita, George Patton, Bill Slim
Air Commanders: Albert Kesselring [also a ground commander],Pete Quesada, Jimmy Doolittle
Naval Commanders: Andrew Cunningham, Raymond Spruance, Wilhelm Marschall, Guenther Lutjens, Tamon Yamaguchi
In my opinion a huge blunder.
For air, I’d submit Adolph Galland, navy Wilhelm Canaris and Isoroku Yamamoto, land Patton, Rommel, Bradley for consideration on the list of best.
For worst, there ought to be a place for both Montgomery and Eisenhower on the list. Probably MacArthur, as well, certainly Halsey.
Lemay was a tough SOB, but he cared about his men. He got a bad rap for being Wallaces VP choice.
He made the rubble bounce.
For best generals -- those responsible for winning the most battles: Marshall, Eisenhower, Montgomery, Zhukov, Timoshenko & MacArthur.
On the German side: von Manstein, Guderian, Rommel and Kesselring come to mind, as does Japan's Tomoyuki Yamashita
Of course, each of these had commanders under them who may deserve much, if not most, or the credit.
I'm thinking especially of MacArthur's two "German" Lt. Generals -- Eichelberger and Krueger -- who humbly made MacArthur look like the genius he considered himself to be.
Battlefield commanders are a different story, of course, and I certainly couldn't name the best or worst of those.
But we might note this: among some armies, the numbers of generals killed in battle was not just dozens, but hundreds.
And if the first measure of a good commander is courage, then all of those passed that test.
As for the quality of their generalship, yes, we might suppose that some died from their own incompetence.
But my guess is many more were put into the most difficult circumstances just because they were considered the most likely to prove successful.
So I'm suggesting a good place to begin looking for the best and worst generals is among the lists of those who didn't live to tell their stories.
Excellent topic — happy to be on this thread. Wonder how I missed the links? Must have spent too much time reading the papers!
Okay, a thumbnail sketch on my best (read: effective) commanders:
British: Richard O’Connor (underrated general, defeated the Italians in North Africa before being captured in a freak incident — later escaped and commanded a corps in France); Brian Horrocks (commander XXX Corps).
American: Omar Bradley, Chester Nimitz, George Patton. It has been said that the reason the Germans admired Patton so much was that he was the Allied commander who thought most like they did.
Russian: Georgi Zhukov, Ivan Koniev.
German: Erich von Manstein, Adolf Galland, Fedor von Bock
Japanese: Tomoyuki Yamashita.
Patton was the best US field commander of the war, and he must have been a patient man because he was nearly as often as not given jobs that didn’t make any tactical or strategic sense. The taking of Sicily was an example of that. I don’t think there’s much to the way that campaign unfolded that can be taken as factual in that movie. Patton was given assignments in Brittany that made very little sense at all, before he was greenlighted on Cobra.
The scene in the movie where Patton was asked what he could do to relieve Bastogne was generally true to the events, but in reality Ike was there, and when Patton told him what he planned to do, Ike said, “don’t be fatuous, George”. Fatuous? Are you bleepin’ kidding me? Ike was ideal in the role he played, but from the perspective of field command, he was exhibit A for the Peter Principle.
imho Spruance and Halsey were the most important of the Pacific theater admirals; there were a great many of the best fighters of all kinds ever produced by the US who fought in the Pacific.
During WWII Bradley was best in his role as a grocer; his mean-spiritedness toward Patton during and after the war was one of his biggest failings. Patton would have got his fourth star before Bradley because of Bradley’s failure (and Patton’s success) at recognizing the seriousness of the last German offensive and preparing his own counterstroke, despite having been denied fuel and other supplies thanks to the machinations of that asshole Montgomery; instead Bradley (to whom Patton reported) was given his fourth a month or so before as a face-saving gesture.
Bradley’s near-admission of his own failure regarding the Bulge can be found in “A Soldier’s Story”, but is so vague that he seems to be saying that the Battle of the Bulge wasn’t all that serious in retrospect. He settles some scores in that memoir (with the US’ own air support post-Dday, and with Montgomery); after the WWII he did a lot for US veterans; during Korea he testified against MacArthur and in favor of his firing, as well as against fighting the Chinese.
Ike’s brilliantly insensitive bon mot upon relieving Patton of all command was to say that he wasn’t doing it because of what Patton said or did, but what he was going to say or do next. Patton was paralyzed by a car-truck collision, spent some weeks or months (I don’t know the length) slowly dying, then died. At his own request he was buried at the head of the dead of the Third Army.
Canaris was Chief of the Abwehr[ German Military Intelligence], and held no sea commands in WW II.
Stuffy be dead. R.I.P.
Yes, but what does that have to do with who was among the best flag officers of the war?
Wasn't he in command of XXX Corps during their leisurely advance toward Arnheim?
There were no links to miss because the thread wasn't launched until around 8 PDT this morning. From now on a link will be built into every daily news thread.
With apologies, I’ve just now gotten to this thread. Thank Homer for getting this started. My list will take me a bit to compose but I’ll get it up there tomorrow. It really is difficult to home in on a top ten among all the generals and commanders in the war.
When I’ve really stopped and thought about it, I found that I really like many of these commanders for different reasons. Ike is a favorite of mine because he had a unusual quality of being able to combine the generalship of leading armies with the diplomacy of holding together what was actually a very tenuous alliance. Guderian and Patton were masters of armored and mobile warfare, but not particularly savvy on the political aspects of generalship (especially Patton). And frankly, as well versed as I am on the Second World War, I don’t know everything about all the leading commanders in the fight.
My bottom 10 is actually quite easier since there were some who were truly unsuited for where they were and as a result got a lot of men killed because of it.
He was able to keep FRD in line (Mostly) - and then his post war actions as Sec. of State.
Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics.
Marshall was a logistician on a planetary scale.
The Abwehr was one of the MOST ineffective organizations of WWII [aside from a few successes like “North Pole”]. And considering that Canaris and some of his underlings were actively engaged in betraying their country to the Allies, I find it odd you would consider him among the “best flag officers of the war”.
PzLdr; your list looks consistent with mine but with a few variations.
I’m going to go best & worst by nation:
Germany (they get first ‘cause they started it)
Erich von Manstein, easily Hitler’s best general, of Jewish ancestry.
Walther Model, the “Fuhrer’s Fireman.” He gained notice as commander of 9th Panzer Division, closing the pocket on the Soviets at Kiev in 1941. Commanded 9th Army in Army Group Center during 1942 and early 1943, holding the Rzhev salient against heavy attack. Later rushed from front to front. It was said he only retreated after the air had turned to lead, and then only after due deliberation. He was also able to conjure up a counter-attack reserve on a seemingly empty battlefield. He was the only general Hitler would listen to in the latter part of the war.
Hermann Hoth, the capable but relatively unknown commander of 4th Panzer Army for most of the war on the Eastern Front. Very competent at “operations” which is the German level between tactics and strategy.
Ewald von Kleist, a daring and forceful panzer leader, possibly superior to Guderian.
Gunther Kluge, one of the few army level commanders not sacked after the defeat at Moscow, he consistently held army group commands in the east and west until his suicide following the allied breakout from Normandy.
Heinrich Himmler; yes, he commanded two army groups late in the war. And no, he wasn’t any good at it.
Oscar Kummetz: a naval commander who didn’t really do much the few times he sortied the German fleet in the north. Was once able to snatch defeat from victory.
Ernst Udet: a good fighter pilot who was way over his head as a Luftwaffe administrative officer.
I didn’t identify many “worst” commanders. There weren’t that many in the Wehrmacht. I did not list Rommel as one of the best. I think he got too many favorable press clippings. He was good, but it’s my opinion that had he been sent to the Eastern Front he would not have risen above command of a panzer corps until very late in the war and would be just another forgotten German general on the eastern front. I did not include Field Marshal von Paulus under the worst. He was certainly not exceptional, but fate was not kind to him. He did an able job handling 6th Army as it hacked its way through heavy resistance in the Don bend to reach Stalingrad, and was able to shuffle his forces to maintain pressure on the Soviets in the brutal urban fighting. He was deprived of any significant reinforcement and he knew his flanking Romanian armies were vulnerable.
John Tovey; commander of the Home Fleet during the dark days when Britain fought alone. He had to coordinate coverage of huge areas of the ocean with limited resources. Best known for sinking the Bismarck.
Viscount Andrew Cunningham; last of the “sea dogs” in the Nelson tradition in the RN. Not just one of the best admirals of WW2, he was one of the best admirals of all time.
Viscount Bernhard Montgomery of Alamein; Love him or hate him, he was a winner. He knew how to build a winning machine, and use it. Sure, Market Garden didn’t turn out as he’d hoped, but it was a bold and daring plan and not at all consistent with the historical rap of being “cautious.”
Richard O’Connor; we are going to learn more about him on the Real Time thread in a few months. He was the “British Rommel” who really knew his stuff about mobile tactics. Ran rings around the Italians, was captured by the Germans, escaped confinement as a POW in 1943 and led British VII Corps in Normandy and Holland.
Arthur Percival; presided over the British defeat in Malaya. His forces outnumbered Yamashita’s Japanese forces, but Yamashita led his men through 500 miles of jungle in a few weeks to capture Singapore. What a loser.
Italy, Romania, Hungary:
All of them.
Georgy Zhukov; his detractors said his idea of strategy was lining up a thousand artillery pieces and lighting them off. While he was a brutal man who didn’t care about the length of his casualty lists, he also knew that the Red Army was more or less built as a club rather than a rapier, like the Wehrmacht. He knew how to use the club to bludgeon the Germans into submission.
Mikhail Vasilevsky; in four short but active years, this able leader rose from the rank of Colonel to Colonel-General, eventually becoming Marshal of the Soviet Union. A protoge of Chief of the General Staff Shaposhnikov, he had been groomed to replace Shaposhnikov and did so when Shaposhnikov retired due to poor health. It was Vasilevsky, not Zhukov, who came up with Operation Uranus that destroyed 6th Army at Stalingrad. Vasilevsky was to the USSR what George C. Marshall was to the US Army, with a major difference. While Marshall could build an army as he saw fit in the comparative safety of the United States, Vasilevsky had to build an army from the wreckage of the 1941 Red Army, and do so while in deadly combat with the Germans, with the most of the industrial and population centers of the Soviet Union occupied, and basically fighting the Germans alone.
Ivan Konev, Konstantin Rokossovsky, Ivan Cherniakovsky, Nicolai Vatutin; all capable front commanders, who knew how to swing the club. Konev was Zhukov’s main rival for military honors; Rokossovsky survived torture and the Gulag in the purges to be rehabilitated. Cherniakovsky and Vatutin were capable and audacious commanders who were killed during the war; Cherniakovsky in combat, Vatutin was killed by Ukrainian nationalist partisans.
Dmitri Pavlov: he was the unfortunate soul in command of the West Front on June 22, 1941. He never had control over his forces and his front disintegrated. By July he’d been sacked and shot.
Kliment Voroshilov; a crony of Stalin’s, he had a heavy tank named after him. As a commander he blew dogs. He was the first commander in the Winter War, tried to defend Leningrad against the Germans in 1941 until Zhukov had to put things right. Never commanded again after that.
Grigory Kulik; another Stalin crony, Kulik was commander of the Artillery Directorate before the war, he delayed mass production of decent anti-tank guns and artillery pieces. His motivational style for his subordinates was summed up in his quote: “Jail or medal!” In June 1941 Stalin tried to have Kulik restore order at West Front. Kulik flew into the Belostok pocket and most of the other Soviet commanders hoped he would not return. He did get out, but was never heard from again, having been sent east to a minor post.
Lev Mehklis; the “sinister” Mehklis was another Stalin crony who was primarily a political officer. He overstepped his bounds and actually tried to exert command authority in the Crimea in early 1942. Pitted against von Manstein, it was a mismatch like the New York Yankees playing a bad 5th grade little league team. Mehklis poor performance got hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers killed, and convinced Stalin to do away with command responsibilities for political officers.
Tomoyuki Yamashita; The “Tiger of Malaya” Yamashita conqured Singapore in a daring land campaign. He later commanded Japanese forces in the Philippines late in the war. Unlike many other Japanese generals, he was able, flexible and competent. After the war he was tried, convicted and sentenced to death for war crimes by MacArthur’s military tribunal. (A sentence which, by the way, I strongly disagree with).
Jisaburo Ozawa; a capable carrier admiral, it wasn’t his fault that he had to go up against the most powerful navy ever built. He did what he could with what was dealt to him.
Raizo Tanaka; (from the Combined Fleet website, the quote below was written by John Paschall, author of “Shattered Sword”): “This guy was a bonafide genius, probably one of the finest squadron commanders of the entire war to serve on either side. He routinely defeated superior Allied forces in the Solomons, or escaped with the bulk of his forces from traps that should have meant his annihilation, the Battle of Tassafaronga, November 30, 1942, being a prime example. His primary working assets were often no more inspiring than a handful of overloaded, overworked destroyer transports. Fortunately for the U.S., he was removed from surface command shortly after the final evacuation from Guadalcanal, presumably a casualty of the Navy’s finger-pointing as to who was to blame for the debacle.”
Takeo Kurita; snatched defeat from victory at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He was the linchpin of the whole Japanese battle plan, which actually went off as it was intended. But he was like the wide receiver who has gotten behind the opposing secondary on the trick play, the ball has been thrown to him to hit him in stride at the 10 yard line, and he dropped it. Having gotten behind the American fleet with Halsey’s carriers and fast battleships off on a wild goose chase, only a few destroyers stood between his powerful battle fleet and the American tranports. Kurita turned tail and ran. After the war he refused interviews and never explained why.
National Command Authority: Of all the major combatants, Japan may have had the worst national direction in the war. Even worse than Italy. She had a first rate military, but a third rate logistical and industrial support structure which was never addressed during the war. Japan had absolutely no business trying to take on the United States of America, and routinely bungled every strategic decision made after June 1942. Worse, after it was obvious even to those leaders that the war was lost after June 1944, in a state of denial they refused to end the war. It took the use of nuclear weapons to finally convince them.
United States of America:
George Catlett Marshall: Built the American Army from scratch, and able and steady Chief of Staff. Had the best quality a leader can have; an eye for talent. Good men are made great because they know how to surround themselves with other great men and delegate to them. Marshall was great.
Dwight Eisenhower; not a great strategist, or a great “military man” but he was a great “military diplomat.” He had to fight the war in the most challenging way possible; as the leader of a disparite coalition. No other general was able to work coalition warfare during the war. None.
“Lightning Joe” Collins; of all American generals, Collins is one of the few I could see being successful as a German panzer commander in the East.
George Patton: I put him on the list because in the one real test of generalship, he passed with flying colors. That was his response to the Ardennes Offensive. In 24 hours, he ordered a halt to his imminent attack on the Saar, reoriented his army 90 degrees, and laid the groundwork to immediately attack the southern shoulder of the German penetration. He had the foresight to get his staff working on the problem even before the attack because he saw the threat, and then not only carried it out but personally toured the division and corps HQs to make sure the commanders knew what they were to do. As he wrote his wife: “Not bad for a day’s work.”
George Kenney; only aviation buffs know who this guy was. Kenney commanded the 5th Air Force in New Guinea. He was incredibly innovative, especially in low-level attacks. He developed the para-frag bombs, where the parachute would slow the descent of the bomb to allow the low-level bomber to get away before the bomb exploded. He packed the B25 nose with eight .50-cal machine guns to make them awesome killing machines when strafing ships or airfields. He developed the skip-bombing technique of bouncing the bomb off the water and into the side of a ship, increasing accuracy and effectiveness. Kenney’s tactics all came to fore in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, which I consider one of the most important battles of the Pacific Theater. The Japanese tried sending a heavily armed and escorted convoy, with heavy fighter cover, from Rabaul to New Guinea. Kenney’s airmen shot down or drove off the fighter cover, smothered their airfields with bombs, and sank all eight merchant ships and four of eight escorting destroyers. After that, the Japanese never again dared send a daylight convoy into waters under the American air umbrella. That, my friends, is a confession of defeat.
Matthew Ridgeway; great airborne division commander, who later commanded a Corps in the Ardennes. Aggressive and hard hitting.
There are many other good American commanders; but I’m getting tired of typing right now.
Lewis Brereton; despite months of warning that the Philippines were a prime target for Japanese aggression, and hours of notice that Pearl Harbor had been attacked, his Far East Air Force was largely caught on the ground and destroyed on the first day of the war. Somehow he became commander of the Allied First Airborne Army for Market Garden, where his performance was less than spectacular.
Daniel Callaghan; personal naval aide to FDR before the war, his handling of the American forces in the First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal was inept at best. He had a great advantage in American radar, he had a subordinate in Norman Scott who was a proven winner in naval night fighting, but he managed to squander all those assets in the fight. Both Callaghan and Scott were killed during the battle.
Alan Jones; commander of the 106th Infantry Division in the Ardennes, his was the only American Division more or less wiped out in combat. Jones was dealt a bad hand; his division was inexperienced and not combat-ready when put into the line, didn’t get time to settle in, and was in an exposed and vulnerable position. However, Jones did little to show positive qualities. Jones handed command of St. Vith to the commander of the 7th Armored as soon as he showed up, and within a few days was evacuated as a casualty with a heart attack.
Well, like I said, I’m tired of typing and have some real work to do. More later.
And not one mention of Nimitz.
At the battle of Waterloo, Colonel Clement, an infantry commander, fought with the most conspicuous bravery; but unfortunately was shot through the head. Napoleon, hearing of his gallantry and misfortune, gave instructions for him to be carried into a farm where Larrey the surgeon-general was operating.
One glance convinced Larrey that his case was desperate, so taking up a saw he removed the top of his skull and placed his brains on the table.
Just as he had finished, in rushed an aide-de-camp, shouting - 'Is General Clement here?'
Clement, hearing him, sat up and exclaimed: 'No! but Colonel Clement is.'
"Oh, mon général' cried the aide-decamp, embracing him, 'the Emperor was overwhelmed when we heard of your gallantry, and has promoted you on the field of battle to the rank of General.'
Clement rubbed his eyes, got off the table, clapped the top of his skull on his head and was about to leave the farm, when Larrey shouted after him: 'Mon général - your brains!' To which the gallant Frenchman, increasing his speed, shouted back: 'Now that I am a general I shall no longer require them!' (J.F.C. Fuller, Generalship)
This tongue in cheek introduction by Fuller in a way represents the perception that many have of leadership in general. Often this portrait is painted with the opinions of others as they have built the picture that we have viewed to help us form our perceptions of the leadership in the Second World War. Here in the United States there is not much demand to explore the attributes of some of the Soviet generals who where truly successful. German commanders suffer the stigma of having been on the wrong side of history which taints their record and victimizes their achievements with the classical mantra, the victors write the history. On the other hand there have been those who were completely incompetent in their command, but were shielded by the need of the time for heroes, or generally the desire of historians to cast them in a better light. But for those at the top, they have mostly endured the criticisms of times reexaminations of them and continue to be viewed as some of the best. Some of these are obvious, others are not as much. In making my list of top ten I had to weigh many things that placed them there. Many make the list based on excellence in completely different attributes and if the rolls would have been reversed these men may have ended up in the dust bin of history as failures. Eisenhower may not have been a very successful division general in France, while Patton would certainly been a disaster as head of SHAEF. But they were not in these positions and the positions they were in were well suited for their skill sets and placed them where they are on my list. Because of the length of this, I did decide to break it into two parts though. This first part is the glamour list. These are my top 10. Actually I think I have overall a top 30 and if you asked me on a different day some of these may slip off the list for another commander, but overall I think this is a good top 10. Stay tuned for part II which will have my bottom 10.
Best Commanders: (in no particular order)
Heinz Guderian In my own opinion he was the top German general of the war. That really is a statement considering the fact that the Germans fielded more top notch generals than any other of the belligerents in World War II. He not only was a master of using the tank in mobile warfare, but he also had a masterful understanding of what it took to keep this new war machine working. In his execution of the Sickle Cut Plan in the western offensive many of his tanks had jerry cans of fuel and loads of ammo strapped to their sides. His biggest complaint prior to the beginning of operation BARBAROSSA was that most of his support and supply vehicles were confiscated French vehicles which he had no means of maintaining to keep his supply lines rolling.
George S. Patton - Another tanker. Patton was a hard headed and controversial figure in the American Army during the Second World War, but there is one thing that many cannot deny. He got results. As the disaster at the Kasserine Pass took place in North Africa, Eisenhower of heard saying that he wished he had put Patton in command of the II Corps instead of leaving him in Casablanca. When Patton was at the front he made the most of it. His aggressiveness was first showcased on Sicily when first made his run on Palermo then began his move along the coast towards Messina. In France his biggest limitation was his supply lines. Omar Bradley wrote in his diary that Patton had told him as he moved on Metz that if Bradley would give him 400,000 gallons of gas, he would be in Germany in a week. Though this was perhaps boastful, there is not doubt that when he made his shift north to support the First Army that was reeling from the Ardennes Offensive, that Patton could take large forces and move them along offensive lines faster than about any other general in the war.
Dwight D. Eisenhower - Ike, as he was called, probably would not have made a great commander of units, but there is one thing that stands out for him over other commanders. He was a master at maintaining a military coalition and in the position he held this was absolutely critical. Many do not know just how large a task he had in front of him in doing this. Not only did Ike have to deal with keeping together two peoples separated by a common language, but he also had to deal with other nations and his how generals all of whom had different designs on how the war should be won. Im having trouble narrowing down the number of examples so Ill just pick one and go with it. In North Africa, Ike had to first deal with the fact that this was an unpopular move with the U.S. Army in general and the Navy felt it even justified shifting to a Pacific first policy (though Marshall dealt with that) but he also had to deal with some strong French personalities. General Giraud felt that he was coming in to take command of all forces in French North Africa which was essentially Ikes job. Then he also had to deal with the wildly unpopular, but necessary decision to bring Admrial Darlan into the fold. Darlan was needed to bring the Vichy forces to the Allied side which saved many Allied lives, but the decision was not well like in the press and hated by the British. This political hot potato was a festering problem for Ike until Darlan was assassinated before the end of the year. His balancing of diplomacy and generalship kept the Alliance together.
Erich von Manstein A fantastic operational general he is better remembered and perhaps rightfully so for his strategic mind. He is considered by many historians as the author of the Sickle Cut Plan which called for a shift in the planned western offensive from the area of Liege and Namur to a thrust through the Ardennes. This was the plan which crushed the French in May of 1940 as the forces quickly cut the Allied forces in two. Manstein also spent extensive time of the eastern front which I think may have been more significant had he not been shifted around as much as he was. What he did achieve while on that front was significant though. His accolades include the siege and capture of the city of Sevastapol, the destruction of Vlasovs 2nd Shock Army when assisting in the siege of Lenningrad and even command of Army Group Don charged with trying to break Paulus out of Stalingrad. Though that effort did not allow him to get to the 6th Army, it did allow him to open a corridor long enough to allow the 1st Panzer Army to escape which would have compounded the disaster had that not been done.
Chester Nimitz - Put in command of the Pacific Fleet just days after Pearl Harbor, Nimitz inherited a naval force that had just been decimated by the Japanese attack. This did not stop Nimitz from immediately going on the offensive. With the backing of Admiral King he began planning for carrier raids in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands. This lead to the birth of the Carrier Task Force which is what our current naval formations are still based on today. Halseys Task Force 8 and Fletchers Task Force 17 harried Japanese forward forces to the point to lead them to push the matter with a naval showdown, first at the Coral Sea, and them at Midway which was a disaster for them. Nimitz was also amiable enough to work with General MacArthur, but firm enough to keep the old soldier from dominating the theater. This is no small task and in fact despite this effort it cannot be said that other leadership, including the President didnt have to occasionally intervene.
Lucian Truscott - Truscott was involved in the European Theater from start to end beginning with his command of the landing forces at Mehdia where his units truly did rock the Kasbah. From there he continued across Africa and was a commander at Salerno and Anzio and continued on into France. He was always a reliable commander and was in charge of the planning and training of the landing forces that put Devers and Patch in southern France in operation DRAGOON. Where ever Truscott was, success usually followed and he continually moved up the ranks as the war moved on. He once said that Polo games and wars arent won by gentlemen, no sonofabitch, no commander. This personified his unrelenting style.
Jonathan Wainwright - I dont think that anyone could have been handed a more impossible situation than Wainwright was in the Philippines in 1942. The Japanese had landed and quickly demonstrated just how ill advised MacArthurs defend them at the beaches strategy was and now MacArthur was called to Australia by the President himself and Wainwright was left to try and make something of this mess. Make the best of it he did by holding out until May of 1942. At this point though he knew that to wait any longer would just mean the sure death of his men and so he finally gave up the fight. Eisenhower, said on hearing that Wainwright had surrendered to the Japanese, Poor Wainwright! He did the fighting in the Philippine Islands. Another got such glory as the public could find in the operation MacArthurs tirades to which TJ and I so often listened in Manila would now sound as silly to the public as they did to us. But hes a hero! Yah. Despite this valiant but hopeless effort he still worried that he had let his country down in surrendering at Corregidor. When he was liberated the first thing he asked the men relieving him from the camp was how am I thought of back in the States? MacArthur would block the recommendation of the Congressional Medal of Honor for Wainwright who eventually receive the award in September of 1945.
Teddy Roosevelt Jr. - The son of Rough Rider and former president Theodore Roosevelt, Teddy Jr. would serve with distinction in World War II. His winning of the Congressional Medal of Honor along with his father doing the same makes them only one of two father/son pairs to both win that honor. In my personal opinion they are the only pair to legitimately win the award. Though Roosevelt was effective in his roll in North Africa, he really shown during the Normandy landings. He was one of the few commanders that landed with his troops on D-Day and was instrumental in coordinating the attack from Utah beach on that day establishing the bridgehead. Roosevelt is what would be called a field commander of the first order. He was never afraid to be right at the front and to make corrections immediately based on the situation he saw.
Georgii Zhukov - With Stalins tendency to purge his generals it is amazing that the Soviets had any decent generals at all. Hitler was absolutely counting on the fact and the stalemate that was the Russo-Finnish War in 1939-1940 would seem to have confirmed it. Luckly for Stalin, he did have several generals that did quite well. Zhukov stands out to me for the events in which he was involved in before the Germans attacked. Prior to the Soviets being at war with the Axis powers there was a dust up in the Mongolian frontier that really set the stage for the rest of the Pacific war. Japan tangled with Zhukov at the Mongolian town of Nomonhan. There Zhukovs forces gave the Japanese a pretty severe black eye which I think made a difference in policy for the Japanese when it came time to decide whether to expand north into Siberia or south into the Indies. He was very sucessful on the Eastern Front first in the effort to help the besieged Leningrad and eventually to the point where he was the commander who accepted Germanys surrender. So successful was he, that he ran afoul of the ever suspicious Stalin after the war and relegated to a lowly district commander until Stalins death.
Albert Kesslering - Smiling Al was an interesting commander in that he was an air commander and a ground commander. While I feel he was a top notch air commander, the thing that really sets him apart in my book is his use of ground forces. Particularly, his ability to use defensive lines in order to serve as a delaying action against opposing troops. In Italy for example, he took advantage of every aspect of the terrain and equipment he had available to make what Churchill thought would be a rather easy line of conquest, an absolute nightmare for the troops on the ground. In effect, with a minimal amount of troops he was able to turn Italy into a stalemate that ate up Allied troops and resources. Of all the generals in the war, if you were fighting a defensive action, Kesslering would be the man you would want in command of that defense.
bump to my post. I just take longer to get my posts done.
See #21 above and #34 below.
Looks like Col. Clement got a Bidenectomy.
I agree with most of your list. You included Truscott and Nimitz, whom I omitted through oversight and not through disagreement. Same with Kesselring; I should have included “Smiling Albert” because of his versatility. He was brought up as an artillery officer, switched to the Luftwaffe where he rose to command, and then fought in Italy more or less commanding ground troops.
You included Wainwright, and I don’t strongly disagree, but I still don’t consider him a top commander. Showing a strength of character in “Kobayshi Maru” scenario doesn’t make you great.
While I’ve been a fan of TR as president, I don’t think his son was that great in comparison to other luminaries in WW2.
Guderian was deliberately omitted from my list, and I was ambivalent about him. In France, he carried out Manstein’s plan under von Kleist’s direction. In Russia, he was apt to run off without his infantry support. Sacked in December, he was not heard from again until made director of armored forces in 1943. While he was able to rebuild the panzer arm in time for Kursk, much of his accomplishments were as much due to the production streamlining of Speer. As one of the last Chiefs of OKH, his performance was uneven, although by then he didn’t have much to work with. I thought there were other, better German generals. For much the same reasons I left Rommel off my list, I omitted Guderian. Guderian just got better ink than many of his contemporaries.
As an addition to your list of best American commanders, I'd like to recommend Rear Admiral Charles McMorris, who commanded Task Force 16.6 during the Battle of the Komandorski Islands. His force consisted of one heavy cruiser, one light cruiser and four destroyers, and he went up against a Japanese force of two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and four destroyers. This battle is significant in that it was the last major surface engagement in which aircraft did not take an active role. During the nearly four hour engagement, McMorris skillfully managed his ships, inflicting heavy damage on several of the enemy vessels and forced the Japanese commander, Boshiro Hosogaya, to retreat.
For his actions, McMorris was made Chief of Staff of the Pacific Fleet and named a personal adviser to Admiral Nimitz. Hosogaya's retreat in the face of an inferior force was viewed as an act of cowardice by the Japanese High Command and he lost his command and was assigned to the reserves.
As a personal aside; one of the reasons I've studied this battle so intently is that my great-uncle, Lieutenant Commander John Atkeson, was commander of the destroyer Bailey and was awarded the Navy Cross for charging the Japanese force to divert their attention away from the heavy cruiser Salt Lake City after she lost power due to an engineering accident.
Great post and worth waiting for. But are you sure you that is really a photo of Nimitz? I thought he looked more like Henry Fonda.
He saved Switzerland. He saved Gibraltar. He saved the Pope.
How many of the U.S. WWII war leaders have some connection to central Texas?
Lol. I’m pretty sure. But then again, when I think of Henry Fonda I see the junior navy man in Yours, Mine, and Ours.
I will try to get my Worst list up by Thursday at the latest. As usual, I’m long winded.
Very good question!
And what does that have to do with being a “best flag officer” of Germany?
Yes...that was he. There are some interesting backstories on that one...including learning Russian while a POW in WWI....
Wainwright makes my list based more on character and commitment to his men. These are traits that often are ignored when measuring a leader. It is a shame that he did not get to perform in a better set of circumstances that may have showcased his command ability, but at the same time he also had the character to not attack the man (MacArthur) who put him in that situation and even tried to tear him down when he came up for his Medal of Honor citation. He even went so far to forgive MacArthur and remained friends with him after the fact.
His leadership did not stop once he was captured though and though I didn’t write much on this it was on my mind when putting him on this list. Throughout his imprisonment by the Japanese he was regarded very highly by the men who naturally fell under his command in the Prisoner of War camps. In these camps he fell under the same treatment as the other men, but still put himself at risk to confer with his Japanese captors (as the senior officer) to try and get improved conditions for his men.
I see your point on Guderian, and I agree that he did get good press. But I am impressed with how he understood the logistical needs of running these highly mobile forces and how he improvised to work around some of these short comings despite the fact. Even with all his efforts he still had nightmarish issues keeping his forces in supply, especially fuel.
TR along with the likes of Allen were a different sort of general. They really were in the dirt types that made them unpopular with Bradley (possibly to their detriment). He would not been a successful Army commander and his fatal heart attack after Normandy ultimately cut him short before he got the chance, but on the division level he was excellent in my opinion. It really boils down to rolls again I guess. Some of these leaders just were in the right position for their skill set that moves them up on my list. I suppose if Fredendall had been left to training troops, which he was excellent at, and not put in command of sending them to fight he would not have made my worst list for that matter too.
There are others that I really would have liked to add, but you can see how long this gets anyways. Neither of us list Devers or Patch. I almost put Simpson in instead of Wainwright in all honesty. Then there are those like Fletcher, Spruance, and Turner who would rank, and Halsey who would probably make both lists. And as for the Germans, I think Moltke’s perfection of establishing general staff laid the ground work for some very effective generals for generations to come. It is almost easier to list the ones who were not top commanders than to pick a few as the best of the best.
Just wait until I get my worst list up. I have a couple on there that I’m sure are going to ruffle some feathers, one of them I’m betting you can guess.
He accomplished many of his objectives while overcoming great adversity.
I have added an index by authors, with their locations and publication dates, to the bottom of my profile. It is taking quite a while so I decided to post it before it is complete. The missing part goes from February 1939 through June 1940. I know - that is most of the war period. Even with that gap, though, it is interesting to see how the thrust of the reporting evolves over time. Last summer, for example, you couldn't swing a cat in London without hitting a Times reporter. At this point there are only two correspondents reporting regularly from Asia - Hugh Byas and Hallett Abend. Do you suppose that will change over the next year or so? Look at the output of Hanson Baldwin. The guy is a machine.
You get the idea. Scroll through it and see what you think. But keep in mind the index only includes articles posted by yours truly, so it is probably misleading in some respects.
For the time being I will continue to work on the index on a Word document and update the one on my profile when I complete another month - either a new one or one in the missing period. I hope it is useful and provides additional enjoyment for the class.
With the Leningrad front stablilized he as called back to Moscow to lead the defense and winter counter offense that almost destroyed the German army.
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