Discussion in 'Non-World War 2 History' started by ray243, Aug 21, 2005.
Who is the best commander of all times? My bet would be sun tzu...
The problem is that we still don't know for certain whether Sun Tzu existed at all. Nothing is known of any military campaigns led by him. He might just be an imaginary figure used as a mask by a whole congregation of generals seeking to bundle their wisdom. The whole issue is further complicated by the fact that the Art of War has never been accurately dated (could be anything from the 7th to the 3rd century BC).
Most of the world's legendary commanders were really the men who applied a new way of fighting which their enemies couldn't match. Often their tactics would barely have worked against certain enemies but the commanders had the luck of not meeting those. As they said in the ancient world, "To a good general luck is important"...
Hannibal , man.He was such an original and clever stratigest.
Hannibal won by finding out how the enemy worked, then using it against them. Had the Romans ever changed anything about their legionairy tactics, they would have easily crushed Hannibal, since in most battles he was way outnumbered. However they stubbornly held to their battering-ram tactics and fielded inferior cavalry time after time, and obviously they lost again and again.
The encirclement tactic employed by Hannibal at river Trebia and again at Cannae was actually a trick he just copied from Xanthippus, a Spartan mercenary general who had used the move against the Romans in 255 BC and won.
Hannibal was no doubt a great leader, and a great motivator of troops, since the feat of holding together such a diverse army over such a long stretch of time and through all the battles and travels is definitely quite something. However, he would not have won as many battles if his enemy had had any imagination or flexibility at all.
His tactics at close combat were good as well , instead of brutually giving blow after blow to the chest where there was armour he simply told his men to slash their achilles heel and disable them for future capture .. or death after the battle was completed , and crossing the Alps and hitting the romans in the arse was pretty clever also.
I would like to nominate Alexander the Great, who also was outnumbered many times and managed to wield a diversive army. Next to this he encountered every civilisation known to him and managed to defeat them on the battlefield without losing any battle.
You beat me to it. It might be a rather conventional choice but it is a good one.
Napoleon is notable as well as he influenced generations of military men with his particular genius.
Not the best , not an honourable mention but a good commander none the less , General Curry of Canada was a good commander who won battles such as Vimy Ridge , played a big part in Ypres, and other battles.
He did not meet the Chinese; one of their enormous armies would no doubt have destroyed him. In fact, most of the armies he did meet were of internally divided countries, countries in the dusk of their existence (like the Greek city states) and armies that did not have anything near the professionalism of the army Alexander commanded, which was created by his father. This army was not infallible either, by the way. The rigidity of the hoplite phalanxes was proven in the centuries after his death, when the new Roman way of war defeated Philippos V of Macedon.
It is true that under Alexander the Macedonian armies triumphed and conquered, but perhaps this is purely because there was no one to oppose him? After all, he carefully avoided pushing further into Asia where he would meet the powerful states of India and China; also he was never forced to fight the powerful armies of Etruscan and Latian Italy. The Persian army, based on a corrupt and divided state, was simply not of the calibre to effectively counter Alexander's drive for conquest (and his towering self-image).
If you reduce it to good commanders the list gets quite large.
How about excellent?
Robert E Lee
come to mind.
Patton and Rommel were inspiring and remarkable figures, but they were not versatile commanders at all. Neither could defend; both could operate only with fully operating armies and lost control as soon as it turned out they lacked replacements, fuel, ammunition or freedom of action to move on. What happened when Rommel was forced to defend is known, since he did it twice and failed; Patton was never in command of a defensive position and that is for the better, as he would have been the man to waste the last precious resources in a counterattack just like Hitler did.
Why Stonewall Jackson, if I may ask? I know next to nothing about this man, standing as he does in the shadow of Lee.
I thought Rommels's specialty was defence ? , and "ALL" commanders these days would be defeated if there was a lull in replacements.
He defeated the enemies he confronted. Perhaps they seem like easy opponents because they lost. In hindsight they might have been "in the dusk of their existence" (some of them) because of their defeat at the hands of his army. I don't think the Persians under Darius were that divided or had reached the dusk of their existence. The battle of Gaugamela is considered one of the most decisive battles in history (particularly ones that were won by the underdog) His seven month siege and defeat of Tyre after building a causeway to the island was remarkable. He inherited a great army it is true however one cannot lead an army based on his father's accomplishments.
Given enough time all things change. Merely the way of the world.
Novel idea and one I haven't heard advanced by military historians. Perhaps one can make a case for it though the Persian defeat at Gaugamela alone would have won him immortality.
Avoided? He defeated an Indian prince (in present day Pakistan) and was only prevented from going farther by the mutiny of his army who had been pushed to their limit. It was his desire to conquer India plus other decisive actions within his army that contributed to the mutiny. It can be said that he pushed his army to the absolute limit which is probably true..would a great military leader be expected to do less?
All states of that time were corrupt insofar as I can tell. How divided was Persia when one compares it to other empires?
Would the Chinese of the time have been able to defeat him? Who can say? Wouldn't that have been during the time of the Zhou Dynasty where the Chinese states were warring against one another? (speaking of divided empires). IIRC China was being fought over by various warlords at the time in question.
Patton and Rommel were inspiring and remarkable figures, but they were not versatile commanders at all. Neither could defend; both could operate only with fully operating armies and lost control as soon as it turned out they lacked replacements, fuel, ammunition or freedom of action to move on.
What commander can excel when he lacks the things you list?
I'm not sure great military commanders and great defenders really go together IMO. So few defenses are successful due to anything that the defending commander did or had control over, it seems. Rommel made the most of what he had. I cannot remember many battles he lost when he wasn't outnumbered or outgunned, nearly out of fuel or ammunition. I'm no expert on the North African theatre though.
He was a great commander because he was a great leader. His men would follow him anywhere and under the most appalling conditions.
He never really lost a battle yet since he died midway through the conflict it is difficult to say what might have been different, had he been at Gettysburg with Lee for instance. His greatest asset as a commander was one that Lee valued most highly; audacity.
I only recall the one time when Patton's army stalled due to a shortage of supplies. Partly due to the Ike's decsion to humor Monty and reroute more than the Lion's share of supplies to the Brits IIRC..and surely at least partly due to the normal hiccups which can occur in such a complicated logistical setup.
Napoleon took advantage of a number of innovations made by the French military (most notably much lighter artillery pieces) and devised a new set of tactics to go with them, which were almost guarenteed to defeat any army of the day.
However, Napoleon committed the cardinal error of inflexibility, and when counter-tactics were introduced (most notably by Wellington) he failed to adapt to them.
Stonewall Jackson was very good, and earned/deserved his nickname.
Julius Caesar is another - although much of our knowledge of his campaigns comes from his propaganda machine! :grin:
what about henry V 'once more into the breach, dear friends',
or prince eugene or Suleiman the Magnificent ?
I do not consider the Persian empire of Alexander's day a very formidable enemy because of two reasons. One, the Persian empire was very much like the late Ottoman empire in those days; the emperor commanded the loyalty and military service of local rulers who got de facto control of the lands they governed for him in return. In practice this feudal system meant that the governors of far-away provinces like Asia Minor were left to deal with external threats on their own and were themselves unwilling to come to the aid of other provinces. Two, the Persian armies were not professional by any stretch of the imagination; they were levied from among the local population in times of war. The only good troops in the Persian army were the noble cavalry and charioteers; when faced with Alexander's excellent Macedonian noble cavalry this advantage is levelled out, which leaves the Persian peasants to deal with the professional, highly trained Macedonian hoplites.
Motivation, leadership, these were qualities Alexander definitely posessed; but he defeated the Persian armies on grounds of simple military superiority.
The Chinese empire was indeed divided and at the time there wasn't even "one" Chinese state at all. However, during the Warring States period the individual states that made up the area of China were each so large and powerful that their armies easily outnumbered the Macedonians by margins even the Persians hadn't enjoyed. Add to that the advantage of the Chinese crossbows, which would pierce any armour the Macedonians carried, and you have a lethal adversary indeed for Alexander.
You're right about Alexander not invading India because of his army, however. I forgot that for one second. We still don't know what would have happened though, had he pushed on.
The truly great commander is the commander who manages to win battles even if his supplies or replacements are lacking. Alexander the Great is a better example of this than Patton or Rommel, particularly since Rommel hasn't won a single battle since his DAK triumphs and Patton was already out of sorts when only fuel was in short supply. During WW2, I'd look for great commanders in leaders like Von Manstein, Model and Slim.
hmm...there are stories where he defeated an enemy by Besiege their capital to rescue an ally....
I am obviously a great fan of Jackson...
Er he kinda screwed up his first assault, leaving Winchester to attack in the dead of winter, his heavy cannon slid off the roads and did his supply wagons.
He kinda reminds me of the German offense in the Ardennes, the force he ultimately attacked was reinforced by the time he got to it.
His job was to keep the yankees away from the Shenandoah and by inference Richmond. He did that.
He also screwed up in the Peninsula campaign, getting lost a bit in unknown swampy bayous. He later made sure he had the best map maker in the army. Grieg might know something about his cartographer.
Jackson and Longstreet together would have come up with a better plan than Lee at Gettysburg, but he died the month before.
I always got a kick out of the notion of M36 Jacksons at Skyline Drive in the Ardennes.
He originally got his first recognition outside Mexico City with his 'mobile artillery" . Later he put cannon on Skyline Drive, Va (Mt Jackson) and near Swift Run Gap out side Harrisburg Va on Rt 33.
http://www.civilwar.org/historyclassroo ... issbio.htm
He taught at VMI after Mexico until the Civil WAr..