Page 1 of 21 12311 ... LastLast
Results 1 to 20 of 403

Thread: Who are the great generals?

  1. #1
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Posts
    37

    Default Who are the great generals?

    I recently read with interest the article 'A Failure in Generalship' posted on this website. It expresses the beleif that there is a crisis in the upper levels of the military leadership. It rasies the question who are the great generals, why were they great and why are we not producing their equivalents today?

    I would be interested to hear from the wider forum and not just about the most well known but others like the Duke of Marlborough or Alfred the Great who may not be so well know outside Europe.

    Comments?

    JD

  2. #2
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Posts
    32

    Default

    The "failure in Generalship" is in my opinion related to the process of high level leadership selection, better referred to as "careerism".
    In todays' militaries, if you make a mistake, you get a bad evaluation and that spoils your career. So, to become a four-star general, you really are supposed to make no mistake for let's say at least 30 years of service. Which then means, just those who are not innovative and don't dare to do new things (and make mistakes) get into the highest ranks.
    That's why one sees so many "bloodless" types of generals there.

    Maybe one of the latest -rare- exceptions was USMC General Tony Zinni.

  3. #3
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Posts
    499

    Default

    What are the qualities and attributes of a great general? I'm going to assume (dangerous, I know) that a great general needs to be a great strategist, correct?

    If that's so, then America has produced many truly brilliant tacticians that were probably never general officer material. Not at all bad officers, just not general officer material. People like Robert Rogers and Nathan Bedford Forrest - in spite of their tactical ability - didn't seem to think on the strategic level.

    Am I wrong there?
    Last edited by Rifleman; 05-03-2007 at 09:08 PM.

  4. #4
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Posts
    37

    Default Socety and the Military Leadership

    For what its worth, I think John Monash and Rommel were the great generals of the 20th century but Alexander of Macedon was perhaps the greatest of all time. He proved his tactical genius over and over but it was his ability to create and hold an Empire by adopting and using local customs and institutions that marked him as great. Toward the end of his life the majority of his army was not Greek but Asian and after his death, his Asian conquests remained loyal while the Greek regions rebelled. He must have been a remarkable leader to have instilled such loyalty and formed such diverse regions of sworn enemies into an Empire.

    A fundamental issue with western society is that we do not accept error. The Nike founder recently said that the problem with America is not that too many errors are made, but not enough. There is a saying in motor racing that if you aren't crashing once in a while, you're not really trying but society somehow expects senior military leaders to control something as chaotic as war and never make a mistake. Not only that, but they are unfarily held responsible for the actions of personnel over which they have little if any direct influence. Is it any wonder that in such an environment, senior leadership is unwilling to take bold decsions or devolve decsion making to lower levels?

    Alexander would not have thrived in such an environment. He attacked a Persian Army at least seven times bigger than his own on a field of their choosing. He took up the customs of his Asian subjects. He defeated enemies in battles and then immediately reinstated them as vassal kings. But, unforgivably, he made mistakes. His army mutinied twice and he nearly destroyed his army in the deserts through his own mistakes in judgment and inadequate logistical planning. Can you imagine such a man keeping his job as a General today? And that's before discussing his relationship with Hephaistion!

  5. #5
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Posts
    15

    Default

    Actually I would say Alexander was primarily a tactician. To call him a strategist would be to misunderstand his character. He was not like the conventional picture of a strategist, manipulating military circumstance on a large scale to the advantage of his polity. He was a glory-hound, more like a viking going on a raid but on a gigantic scale. If he had been fighting for the interests of the Macedonian Empire then Carthage would have been his target after Persia, not India.

  6. #6
    Council Member RTK's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Location
    Wherever my stuff is
    Posts
    823

    Default

    Some of my favorites:

    Chesty Puller
    George S. Patton
    Omar Bradley
    Erwin Rommel
    Winfield Scott
    Heinz Guederian
    Oswald Lutz
    Example is better than precept.

  7. #7
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Location
    Florida
    Posts
    8,060

    Default In chronological order.

    Belisaurius
    Subutai
    Anthony Wayne
    Colin Campbell
    John Buford
    Galusha Pennypacker*
    Erwin Rommel
    Bill Slim
    Matthew Ridgeway
    Erich Von Manstein
    Bruce Palmer

    Okay, not a great strategist -- but neither were Puller or Bradley but Galusha P. has always been a favorite...

  8. #8
    Council Member Uboat509's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Location
    CO
    Posts
    681

    Default

    I woudl be remiss not to mention LTG Yarborough. I have also always liked Von Manteuffel.

    SFC W

  9. #9
    Council Member Anthony Hoh's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Location
    Charleston Illinois
    Posts
    61

    Default

    I would have to go with General Mills, because we all know that sugar smacks rock!

    But to quantify who the great generals of today are by comparing them to the standard of excellence we have known in the past is impossible.

    I doubt most of the generals and leaders that you all have mentioned thus far, were held in the same esteem when they were actually in command. History has a way of making us forget faults.

    I think we will have to wait another 50 years for someone else to decide who the great generals of our time really were.
    Last edited by Anthony Hoh; 08-25-2007 at 11:08 AM. Reason: Typing with oven mitts

  10. #10
    Council Member RTK's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Location
    Wherever my stuff is
    Posts
    823

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Uboat509 View Post
    I woudl be remiss not to mention LTG Yarborough.
    I feel bad for not mentioning him now. I should have. He had so much to do with making USSF what they are.


    Quote Originally Posted by Anthony Hoh View Post
    I think we will have to wait another 50 years for someone else to decide who the great generals of our time really were.
    True, but we can still remember who the douchebags of the past are as well.

    Custer, Bragg, Westmoreland
    Example is better than precept.

  11. #11
    Council Member jonSlack's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Posts
    156

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by RTK View Post
    True, but we can still remember who the douchebags of the past are as well.

    Custer, Bragg, Westmoreland
    lol

    Well put.
    "In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists." - Eric Hoffer

  12. #12
    Council Member Mark O'Neill's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Canberra, Australia
    Posts
    307

    Default

    My five cents:

    Napoleon

    Monash

    Guderian

    Zhukov

    Giap

  13. #13
    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Posts
    4,818

    Default

    American Army
    James M. Gavin I know that surprises everybody here He literally wrote the book on Airborne Warfare....the first FM was done by him and he believed the division to be nothing but an extension of the calvary division, but due to the technical limitations at the time it had to become an Airborne Infantry division. Today the term Air-Mech Division is much closer to what he had in mind. RTK you feeling me man

    USMC
    Chesty Puller
    Tough and had tremendous common sense.

    British Army
    J.C. Fuller my definition of a thinking general. He wrote a great book about Generalship it's disease and it's cure. Can not remember the exact title.

    German army
    Erwin Rommel A professional and a leader of the highest order.

  14. #14
    Council Member RTK's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Location
    Wherever my stuff is
    Posts
    823

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by slapout9 View Post
    American Army
    James M. Gavin I know that surprises everybody here He literally wrote the book on Airborne Warfare....the first FM was done by him and he believed the division to be nothing but an extension of the calvary division, but due to the technical limitations at the time it had to become an Airborne Infantry division. Today the term Air-Mech Division is much closer to what he had in mind. RTK you feeling me man

    USMC
    Chesty Puller
    Tough and had tremendous common sense.

    British Army
    J.C. Fuller my definition of a thinking general. He wrote a great book about Generalship it's disease and it's cure. Can not remember the exact title.

    German army
    Erwin Rommel A professional and a leader of the highest order.
    Your list is awesome. I agree with you on Gavin. His vision for the Airborne was that they were a supporting effort for a larger main effort. The 82nd doesn't see themselves that way anymore.
    Example is better than precept.

  15. #15
    Council Member Mark O'Neill's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Canberra, Australia
    Posts
    307

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by slapout9 View Post
    American Army
    James M. Gavin I know that surprises everybody here He literally wrote the book on Airborne Warfare....the first FM was done by him and he believed the division to be nothing but an extension of the calvary division, but due to the technical limitations at the time it had to become an Airborne Infantry division. Today the term Air-Mech Division is much closer to what he had in mind. RTK you feeling me man

    USMC
    Chesty Puller
    Tough and had tremendous common sense.

    British Army
    J.C. Fuller my definition of a thinking general. He wrote a great book about Generalship it's disease and it's cure. Can not remember the exact title.

    German army
    Erwin Rommel A professional and a leader of the highest order.
    Hey Slapout,

    Surely, to be a 'great' general, the general should have been at general rank, and commanded troops on operations at that rank, in a war.

    By my reckoning you only have one wartime general on your list.

    It is my opinion that distinguished service on operations in the junior ranks , whilst noteworthy, is not the same as exercising the art of successful generalship in war.

    Cheers,

    Mark
    Last edited by Mark O'Neill; 08-25-2007 at 01:53 PM. Reason: punctuation

  16. #16
    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Largo, Florida
    Posts
    3,989

    Default Point Well Taken...

    Surely, to be a 'great' general, the general should have been at general rank, and commanded troops on operations at that rank, in a war.
    ... but I'll throw General Anthony Zinni into the frying pan here - in my humble opinion a great general who may not have led CENTCOM in a 'war' (by traditional standards) but contained Saddam while picking up the diplomatic slack (in the Middle East) that the DoS could not or would not provide during his tenure.

    Via Wikepedia, his career as a general officer:

    His initial general officer assignment was as the Deputy Director of Operations at the U.S. European Command. In 1991, he served as the Chief of Staff and Deputy Commanding General of Combined Task Force Operation Provide Comfort during the Kurdish relief effort in Turkey and Iraq. He also served as the Military Coordinator for Operation Provide Hope, the relief effort for the former Soviet Union. In 1992-93, he served as the Director for Operations for the Unified Task Force Somalia for Operation Restore Hope. Also in 1993, he served as the Assistant to the U.S. Special Envoy to Somalia during Operation Continued Hope. Zinni was assigned as the Deputy Commanding General, U.S. Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Quantico, Virginia, from 1992 to 1994.

    From 1994 to 1996, he served as the Commanding General, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. During early 1995, Zinni served as Commander of the Combined Task Force for Operation United Shield, protecting the withdrawal of U.N. forces from Somalia.

    From September 1996 until August 1997, Zinni served as the Deputy Commander in Chief, United States Central Command. His final tour was from August 1997 to September 2000 as the Commander in Chief, United States Central Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. He organized Operation Desert Fox, a series of airstrikes against Iraq during December 1998, with the stated purpose of degrading Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction program.

  17. #17
    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Posts
    4,818

    Default

    Good Morning Mark, I think the list includes two, Gavin and Rommel were both war time generals. Puller was a colonel in war WW2 and Korea I think Fuller was a Lt. Col(not sure) you may know that.

    I agree and disagree with you somewhat about having to be a wartime general to be great. I think you should also take a look and how they tried to shape their respective armies when they came into positions of power that allowed them to influence and change future developments. Did he learn his lessons of war and try to improve their organizations so the lessons would not have to be relearned? Or did he just set back and rest on their laurels so to speak.? My opinion anyway.

    I almost added Zhukov and he should be on the list.

  18. #18
    Council Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Posts
    567

    Default

    From this amateur:

    Powell, though he doesn't seem too popular here.
    Rommel, especially since he was involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler
    Lee
    Hannibal
    Sun Tzu wasn't a real person but whoever wrote The Art of War should be on the list.

    I think Monty was vastly over rated.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark O'Neill View Post
    Surely, to be a 'great' general, the general should have been at general rank, and commanded troops on operations at that rank, in a war.
    Not if you agree with Sun Tzu that the best outcome is too achieve your objective without fighting.
    Last edited by Rank amateur; 08-25-2007 at 02:45 PM.

  19. #19
    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Largo, Florida
    Posts
    3,989

    Default Custer

    May deserve some slack here - yea Little Big Horn was not his finest moment. That said, there are many who credit Yellow Hair with saving our Union via vs. J.E.B. Stuart at Gettysburg... Food for thouight...

  20. #20
    Council Member jonSlack's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Posts
    156

    Default

    Additions:

    Grant, Robert E Lee, Jeb Stuart.

    Orde Wingate

    And of course, an Engineer, E.D. Swinton.
    "In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists." - Eric Hoffer

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •