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Thread: Who are the great generals?

  1. #201
    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default J. Lawton Collins

    if you mean command in the Pacific and then in Europe. Of Course, Wavell and Auchinlek went the opposite way...

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    Quote Originally Posted by wm View Post
    If you want to tout WWII Allied Generals with "consistent competency," I suspect you need to include Patch and Lucian Truscott Jr.. Patch was also a significant leader in the Pacific (Formed the Americal Divison, later the overall commander on Guadalcanal) before moving to the European Theater. I cannot recall any other Allied General who has a similar claim to fame, but I look forward to being corrected if I am wrong.
    You're correct on all counts wm, and I apologize for my negligence. And contrary to some accounts, the advance from the Riviera up the Rhone was rather less of a walk in the park as many histories might lead some to believe (principally out of negligence, again). After all, our man Audey Murphy won his MH in the wake of Anvil. Devens and Patch made remarkable time, even if the German retreat could have been better handled. Except for the outstanding Alpine Corps, the great majority of 1st French Army was a dead-weight on logistics, not to mention a political nuisance.

    I believe Truscott, in addition to his superlative training and handling of his men and his formations, was the only subordinate general to ever go eyeball -to-eyeball with Patton, and come out of it (professionally) intact. One of the gutsiest moves any US General ever made beyond the direct observation and fire of the enemy during WWII.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    if you mean command in the Pacific and then in Europe. Of Course, Wavell and Auchinlek went the opposite way...
    Setting aside the above mentioned (Wavell was a Great enabler, and Auchinleck a much better general than given credit for), Ken is also correct about Collins...did Middleton commanded V Corps after coming up from divisional command, didn't he/

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    Quote Originally Posted by Norfolk View Post
    ... Auchinleck a much better general than given credit for...
    I completely agree, completely!

    Incidentally, has anyone ever read the late Russell F. Weigley's book, Eisenhower's Lieutenants? (Or am I a day late and a dollar short, as usual?) If you haven't, it is worth every dime you spend on it. For my 10 cents, the best book ever written about D-Day on.

    Best wishes,
    Fred.

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    Default Collins

    Quote Originally Posted by Norfolk View Post
    Setting aside the above mentioned (Wavell was a Great enabler, and Auchinleck a much better general than given credit for), Ken is also correct about Collins...did Middleton commanded V Corps after coming up from divisional command, didn't he/
    Hard to believe I forgot about him. Maybe it has to do with my thinking that Middleton's VIII Corps (not V Corps) was the big noise during the breakout. (Or maybe it has to do with a personal defensive reaction against all things "VII Corps" after being assigned to a tenant unit in the Corps area while Patton the younger was the deputy Corps Cdr )

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    Figured I'd try to revive this thread a bit.

    How about Hjalmar Sillasvuo? Granted, he was only a colonel at the time of Suomussalmi, but he did kick the stuffing out of two Soviet divisions with a scratch force of territorials.

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    Quote Originally Posted by charter6 View Post
    Figured I'd try to revive this thread a bit.

    How about Hjalmar Sillasvuo? Granted, he was only a colonel at the time of Suomussalmi, but he did kick the stuffing out of two Soviet divisions with a scratch force of territorials.
    Tactical stuff. And one wonders whether he was that good or his opponents were that bad. Russian performance during the Winter War was almost as bad as it was in the Russo-Japanese War IMO. Based on what I've read about his subsequent career, there is not much to write home about. As a corps commander in the Continuation War he did not seem to have had much success.

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    WM, I obviously wouldn't put him on the same level as a lot of the people we're talking about, but I think he does deserve more credit that you're giving him.

    His success at Suomussalmi wasn't so much a tactical thing as it was reliant on his developing on the fly a fairly advanced operational concept -- akin to Daniel Morgan's "two volleys" at Cowpens, which completely changed the face of the American revolution. He understood the limitations of his troops, and employed them against a superior opponent in a manner in which those limitations were irrelevant. He also understood the psychological level of the battle in a way a lot of more conventional commanders don't.

    I think he gets a bum rap for the 1944 Karelian Isthmus thing. He was facing an absurd concentration of Soviet artillery and armor. I don't think any commander could have done much better. I think (could be wrong) that he's one of the few, if not the only, non-Germans to lead an SS division during the war. Not really relevant but a fun tidbit.

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    Council Member wm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by charter6 View Post
    WM, I obviously wouldn't put him on the same level as a lot of the people we're talking about, but I think he does deserve more credit that you're giving him.

    His success at Suomussalmi wasn't so much a tactical thing as it was reliant on his developing on the fly a fairly advanced operational concept -- akin to Daniel Morgan's "two volleys" at Cowpens, which completely changed the face of the American revolution. He understood the limitations of his troops, and employed them against a superior opponent in a manner in which those limitations were irrelevant. He also understood the psychological level of the battle in a way a lot of more conventional commanders don't.

    I think he gets a bum rap for the 1944 Karelian Isthmus thing. He was facing an absurd concentration of Soviet artillery and armor. I don't think any commander could have done much better. I think (could be wrong) that he's one of the few, if not the only, non-Germans to lead an SS division during the war. Not really relevant but a fun tidbit.
    My comment about tactical dealt with the level of action. I suspect that the Finns' actions were directed by Mannerheim who probably recognized the threat of having his country split in half

    My comments about the Continuation War are from far earlier than 1944. In 1941, his Third Corps basically tried, in reverse, what the Russians failed to do during the Winter War, ending up with their defeat in detail at the extended battles around Suomussalmi. Just as the Russians never made it to the sea, the Finns never seized the Murmansk railroad.

    Regarding tactics that make the best use of what you have--if that's the marker for a great general , then I guess we could include the character played by Patrick Swayze in "Red Dawn" in our list.

    You are right about his command of the 6th SS Division "Nord" (which had been upgraded to a division only the previous month), but his command only lasted for about 3 months, probably a stopgap measure to reform and refit the unit after it had been routed during Operation Silverfox.

  10. #210
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    Quote Originally Posted by wm View Post
    Regarding tactics that make the best use of what you have--if that's the marker for a great general , then I guess we could include the character played by Patrick Swayze in "Red Dawn" in our list.
    except... he's fictional

    You're probably right here, I'm just a huge fan of Suomussalmi. Can't get the image of Finnish territorials on skis cutting up the Red Army out of my head.

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    You know, of course, that if we're down to listing fictional characters and tactical operations then we can just say Maximus Decimus Meridius and forget about the rest.

    I'm thinking this thread has pretty much run it's course.
    "Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen." - Jeff Cooper

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rifleman View Post
    I'm thinking this thread has pretty much run it's course.
    Unfortunately, I tend to agree. I would, however, like to get one last opinion. The Germans had a field marshal during WWII by the name of Ferdinand Schörner. I am reasonably sure Schörner made his rank by virtue of the fact he was supposed to have been a Nazi stalwart, though I am not positive of that. He rose up in rank with much of the old guard of the Prussian general corps (he was born in 1892, making him a few years younger than some), so he probably wasn't incompetent, but I just wonder how good he really was. Despite his closeness with Hitler, the man ran his own show and on more than one occasion, defied the "great" general/politician/idiot/madman. With v. Manstein's departure, Schörner seemed to be the superstar of the Eastern Front (such as anyone could be in 1944-1945).

    So... with that in mind, I wonder how good a general this guy really was. Any opinions... ?

    Best wishes,
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    Since #1 post in this thread called for generals, I'm not sure about including state leaders, like Alexander the Great, Darius the Great, or Frederick the Great. Ceasar is a border case, as at the time of his conquests he was in a triumvirate with Crassus and Pompeius.

    Going strictly for generales, a number of WW2 Germans sure do qualify.
    And Islam produced a whole range of incredible successful generals like Khalid ibn al-Walid (I think he was mentioned), Timur (also a border case, as he was not a state leader, but acted as one, and founded an empire), and also not yet mentioned I think Robert Guiscard.

    Also I think the Spanish conqistadores were not yet mentioned, even though their rate of utilized assets vs gains (or whatever you might call it) is absolutely unique, winning a whole continent with only a handful of men.

    I personally like Wallenstein, even though his impact was rather regional.

    And on this U.S.-heavy forum Douglas MacArthur was not yet mentioned?
    Last edited by Distiller; 12-13-2007 at 05:38 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Distiller View Post
    I personally like Wallenstein, even though his impact was rather regional.

    How about the generalship of Osama bin Laden? His impact is certainly way beyond regional, and, like Wallenstein and the effects of the Thirty Years War, many see him and his war of terror as evil.

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    You are right Colonel but People don't like to admit that. He understands EBO and he understands Targeting. His failure for us fortunately was he could not continue to press the attack or we would have been in deep trouble.

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    Default George Washington is number one

    Well if the criteria are understanding the war you're in, and implementing a strategy to win it, then my list is below.

    Gen Washington has my vote for best in American history. Consider what he had to work with, where he had to go, and what he accomplished. Yes, I know, he only won three battles, if you don't count the successful evacuations, but the man understood the nature of his war and kept that always in mind. He also coordinated with Allies (French and various Indian tribes) to include the French Navy. Now that, for 1783, was a grand accomplishment.

    I think old George gets completely ignored. My list is American only as I don't feel competent to go abroad.
    1. Washington
    2. Grant
    3. Marshall
    4. Pershing
    5. Eisenhower
    6. Winfield Scott
    7. Sherman
    8. LeMay (both during WWII and Cold War)
    9. Jimmy Doolittle
    10. Vinegar Joe Stillwell

    All these guys showed imagination, innovation, took risks and understood the nature of the war they were in. And, all except Grant, Scott, and Sherman had to handle Allies.... which is truly an art form. Previous comments have Zinni on peoples' lists. I'd concur and think that if we had him there instead of Franks, it would be a very different ball game now.

    All this is a fun parlor game, but the real issue Yingling's article got me thinking about is why, with all our professional education, service Academies, and other "challenges" and "opportunities" do we have so precious few around like these today?

    Perhaps its because they, had careers filled with innovation and risk, just showing up for normal duties in their peace time army? I don't know but I wish someone would figure it out.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jayhawker View Post
    10. Vinegar Joe Stillwell
    Did Vinegar Joe misuse or have unrealistic expectations of Galahad? Or were his orders just the nature of the war in Burma and what had to be done?

    Scott R. McMichael in comes down pretty hard on Stilwell in his work A Historical Perspective on Light Infantry.

    Charles Ogburn states in The Marauders that Stilwell had to assume deputy duties from Mountbatten once for 22 days and "it was said the senior staff, American as well as British, were dismayed to find him (Stilwell) at sea in high-level administration and to be incapable of taking charge or giving any useful directions."

    The general feeling seems to have been that Stilwell was fine at division level, maybe in a little over his head at corps level, and that "the requirements of an army command were entirely beyond Stilwell's scope."
    Last edited by Rifleman; 12-31-2007 at 10:33 PM.
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  18. #218
    Council Member Jayhawker's Avatar
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    Default Vinegar Joe

    I had not seen those comments about him before, and they could very well be justified. The joke was that CBI did not stand so much for China-Burma-India theater, but rather Confusion Beyond Imagination! "Working" with Chaing Kai-Shek and the British provided a level of complexity that I think most do not recognize. You know the Brits, often repeat the old Montomgery/Alanbrooke saw that Ike was no battlefield commander, but rather an "Allied administrator...." Which demonstrates their lack of understanding of the complexities and challenges of being a Supreme Allied Commander, in any theater of war.

    No rocks thrown at my Air Force generals? All you army guys....where are you?

  19. #219
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    Default Okay Jayhawker...

    I’ll bite.

    "Bombs Away” LeMay’s belligerence threatened to escalate tense Cold War situations, especially during the Cuban Missile Crisis, into open war (and possible nuclear exchange). I think his mantra of “bomb them back into the Stone Age” still pervades in some Air Force circles (which is not a good thing). While he was an important Air Force general with many kudos (the box formation; low-altitude, nighttime incendiary attacks; Berlin Airlift) he couldn’t see the proper application of strategic air assets and concentrated on strategic bombing as the premier strategic weapon of the US.

    Doolittle was only a GO from August of 42 to May of 46 so his impact, other than the fame of leading the Doolittle Raid, was not exceptionally noteworthy.

    I think if you’re adding US Air Force generals to the list then Vandenberg, Spaatz, or Arnold would be better choices rather than either LeMay and Doolittle. Or better yet General Buck Turgidson and Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper!

    Overall, I think it’s tough to have a blanket list of “great generals” that stretches across 3000+ years. A change to the sight picture, sight alignment might help, i.e. of the US; of WWII; 17th Century; etc.
    "What is best in life?" "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women."

  20. #220
    Council Member Jayhawker's Avatar
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    Default Buck Turgison, et al...

    Glad to get a rise out of someone. Yes, LeMay's time as Chief of Staff was near to a disaster when it comes to the Cuban missile crises. But his organization and leadership was key in Europe and Asia during WWII and his re-org of SAC into a premier organization (that never would have allowed the recent mess up with nukes from ND to LA with ....what? They were here a moment ago!!... to happen) was fundamentally sound and ahead. And for Doolittle, the raid is impressive, but not the best thing he did. When he got to England in early '44 he refocused the effort on bombing German fighter factories, which depleted their number, allowing for command of the skies by June of 44. Had he not done that, well, who knows?

    I like Hap Arnold a lot, but his focus on strat bombing over other things diminishes him in my eyes somewhat. Furthermore, he seemed to be impressed with the British area bombing and by '45 want the USAAF to do more of that?! Le May and even more, Doolittle, modulated to what worked, not maintained the strat bombing party line.

    I've a friend whose working title for his diss is "10 or 20 million dead,....depending on the breaks" That should win an award for best titled PhD don't you think? Homage to old Buck....

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