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"Worst World War One General" Topic

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archstanton7325 May 2011 4:36 a.m. PST

Out of a pretty uninspiring lot who would you say was the worst of the worst during WW1-
Hunter Weston--Blooding the pups For goodness sake..
Cadorna---Repeated frontal assualts which failed and blames everyone else..
Samsanov-Tannenberg--The hearts of lions but the brains of sheep
Falkeyen--Tried to bleed the French Army dry at Verdun and ended up bleeding his own army as well..
Haig-Not learning lessons from 1915/1916 and 3rd Ypres
Pershing--Not learning any lessons from the French or British..

RittervonBek25 May 2011 5:15 a.m. PST

Townshend – the unkindest Kut of all? (not my pun I must add!)

Phil Gray25 May 2011 5:34 a.m. PST

ludendorff – lost germany the war, fostered the myth of the 'stab in the back', can't get bigger than those two

Guthroth25 May 2011 5:49 a.m. PST

Another vote Townshend.

A complete twunt.

Martin Rapier25 May 2011 5:52 a.m. PST

Yet if Townshend had made it to Baghdad he'd be hailed as a hero.

How about Butcher Mangin, get didn't get the nickname 'butcher' out of affection….

The Beast Rampant25 May 2011 6:01 a.m. PST

Hunter Weston's attitude was appalling. It's really hard to top that.

Though for sheer scale, I suppose I'd have to name Haig. I always wondered how he slept at night.

toofatlardies25 May 2011 6:18 a.m. PST

Haig was actually the great learner. Contrary to popular misconception there was far more tactical innovation during the Great War than almost any other war in history, it was unfortunate that primitive communications stopped lots of these ideas being fully effective.

Within days of the first day of the Somme the British were implementing changes in artillery tactics, within weekes infantry tactics were changing rapidly. By 1918 the British were the force that had developed most rapidly in combining tactical and technoogical innovation in order to break through the Hindenburg line and utterly defeat the German Army. All of that under Haig's watch.

Townshend must come out on top, he was simply appalling. Ludendorff's belief that tactics can win over strategy was half-baked to say the least, but he was not utterly imcompetent.

recon3525 May 2011 6:20 a.m. PST

Any general who ordered the men "over the top" on November 11, 1918.

Old Slow Trot25 May 2011 6:34 a.m. PST

Cardona,Nivelle, others.

Wargamer Blue25 May 2011 6:36 a.m. PST

Haig. The side with the most men wins.

Sysiphus25 May 2011 6:38 a.m. PST

Robert Nivelle. His 'offensive' caused unrest in the French army, leading to mutiny is some cases.

Supercilius Maximus25 May 2011 6:51 a.m. PST

Well said, Richard; it is also forgotten that it was Haig who supported the careers of the likes of Plumer, Currie and Monash – all generally considered the best of the best in WW1.

I think it is indicative of the UK's almost unhealthy self-obsession over WW1 ( despite suffering the fewest losses of any major – and most minor – combatant nations, both numerically and as a percentage of those in uniform) that we should even consider someone from the army that ended up on the winning side despite having been nothing more than a small colonial police force for the previous 50 years. Having to expand from 8 divisions to 80 in under two years – requiring more divisional commanders than had seen combat in the entire history of the British Army up to 1914 – using a population with no military experience, was a major feat in itself.

For those who've learned their opinions of British generalship from The Guardian or Black Adder Goes Forth, I would suggest reading at least one of the following:-

The Smoke and The Fire, by John Terraine
Mud, Blood and Poppycock, by Gordon Corrigan
The Great War Generals, by Robin Neillands

All first class historians who have looked at the facts, rather than allowing themselves to be hoodwinked by class-hatred disguised (often only very thinly) as analysis.

That said, Hunter Weston seems to be in a Melchettesque class of his own. Even Haig described him as a "rank amateur".

Ben Waterhouse25 May 2011 7:01 a.m. PST

Well said Super Max and Lardie,

Haig led the last British (and Empire) Army that beat the main force of a major European Power. (Marxist and nancy boy mythmaking notwithstanding)…

Khusrau25 May 2011 7:07 a.m. PST

I have to support TFL. Haig gets an extraoridnarily bad rep, but on closer examination he has to be one of the more innovative of generals responsible for the western front.

Compelled by political imperatives to mount assaults, he continually looked for ways to improve and change how it was done in a very unforgiving environment.

The other thing that is neglected or ignored is the extraordinary difficulties in communication, to the extent that a Napoleonic General who could see the whole extent of the battlefield, and had riders and runners to communicate, could actually exert more direct control than most WWI generals once the battle commenced.

hurrahbro25 May 2011 7:12 a.m. PST

Count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf?

He helped start it all, his plans while well considered by his rivals, were terrible in their execution and it all eventually lost him his empire.

aercdr25 May 2011 7:43 a.m. PST

Cadorna. Any general who could kill 600,000 of his own men and then introduce decimation to re-invigorate their spirit is in a class by himself.

After he was relieved and the Italian army introduced pay, leave, hot food, life insurance, things got much better.

Ludendorff, who in 1918 squandered the best army of the war in a series of pointless operations, with no goal in mind other than to "punch a hole and see what happens." Even the German official history dryly admits that "one misses a specific center of gravity in his operations."

Uesugi Kenshin Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse25 May 2011 7:53 a.m. PST

I confess, I know little about the War past 1916, but I would go with Haig.

Personal logo Jeff Ewing Supporting Member of TMP25 May 2011 8:23 a.m. PST

Another vote for Cadorna. Virtually all WWI history is enough to make you weep, but Mark Thompson's _The White War_ makes particularly appalling reading -- in subject matter: the book itself is excellent.

Personal logo McKinstry Supporting Member of TMP Fezian25 May 2011 8:27 a.m. PST

While not a general, Churchill certainly amassed a really bad record in World War One. His micro-management and meddling contributed to the Goeben fiasco, his inability to grasp the naval basics around squadroning like capable ships and his failure to understand Canopus as a liability along with a tendency to confuse orders with vague pronouncements lead directly to the disaster at Coronel, his putzing about on the ground with the naval brigade in a useless defense of Antwerp wasted lives and time and all of that even before Gallipoli. He may have been great in 1940, he was a goofus in 1914 and 1915.

Martin Rapier25 May 2011 8:41 a.m. PST

"While not a general, Churchill certainly amassed a really bad record in World War One"

He did however command an infantry battalion in the front line after his fall from grace, so not all bad. He just wanted to beat the germans come what may, same as in WW2.

Another one leaping to the defence of poor maligned General Haig over here as well.

Arrigo25 May 2011 8:43 a.m. PST


not an incompetent, his advance toward Ctesiphon was brilliant (get Patrick Crowley book on Kut for that matter), then he seems to have lost mind. Of course there were problems at the top and the conduct of the campaign was bordering the surreal, but then he did not do anything except to wait. He could have gotten out of Kut in time, he could hav e done a more aggressive defence but he just sat. and after the surrender his behaviour was appalling (but this is more a failing of the man rather than the general).

Hunter Weston is a good candidate, and better than Cadorna (that at least has some organizational ability)… Cappello (not the trainer) he simply ignored Cadorna warning of the upcoming caporetto offensive and positioned his forces in a rather silly way.

Nivelle was bad… but Rennenkampf and Samsonov are probably the worst of the worst..

I agree with Richard that Haig is not belonging to this list.

Connard Sage25 May 2011 9:15 a.m. PST


I hear the heavy tread of the revisionist cadre approaching. Ignore them, Haig was a murdering Bleeped text who never even bothered to visit the battlefields upon which he was sending his men to their deaths. I hope he's rotting in hell.

Grandfather was a lieutenant in the Great war, he never said a good word about the man in all the time I knew him. I'll take his opinion above the revisionists.

adub7425 May 2011 9:33 a.m. PST

Didn't Haig help setup the Royal British Legion?

Gattamalata25 May 2011 9:42 a.m. PST


ancientsgamer25 May 2011 10:18 a.m. PST

Any votes for colonel? My ancestor lost the only battle he was a commander in ;-) Col. Tamburini lost to the Austro/Hungarians in some forgotten battle or so the family gossip says… LOL

Jovian125 May 2011 10:26 a.m. PST

Is there a "good" general in WWI? Can we say that any of them did a good or excellent job? I can't say that either side had any "good" or "excellent" generals or other commanders. Most of them were horrible, bad, incompetent, out-dated with the advancements in weaponry, or worse. Some were at best average or above-average. None of them rate as being "good" or "excellent" in my reviews, your opinions may vary or differ, but the sheer loss of life on both sides in this conflict without any appreciable gain was simply atrocious. One can see why many French did not want to fight in WWII and turn the countryside back into a blood bath from which they hadn't recovered.

Arrigo25 May 2011 11:02 a.m. PST

funny… when someone tries to do proper history and not mythmaking and simply repeating the frustrated rambling of a failed captain is always attacked as being revisionist.

And before people start anything… I am an historian and even worse as far WW1 is concerned, I like Bill Philpott (author Bloody Victory, great book on the somme putting in in proper context)

Connard Sage25 May 2011 11:10 a.m. PST

funny… when someone tries to do proper history and not mythmaking and simply repeating the frustrated rambling of a failed captain is always attacked as being revisionist.

Nice try, but unlucky. He enlisted as a private in 1914, got a junior commission due to an officer shortage in 1917. He was a very successful squaddie, not a failed captain. He came to the army from a foundry, not RMC Sandhurst.

Nice try though. Mind if I take a dig at your forebears usual stereotypes in the Western Desert in WWII?

"How many gears do Italian tanks have? Two forward, and twelve reverse. Hahaha!"


Thought not.

Grand Dragon25 May 2011 11:24 a.m. PST

From the ' I say so , so it must be right ' school of warfare then ?

I agree 100% with Arrigo's posts , no need to add any more.

Connard Sage25 May 2011 11:31 a.m. PST

From the ' I say so , so it must be right ' school of warfare then ?

It's called an 'opinion'. People are still allowed to have them where I come from. Unlike some, I'm not presenting it as fact.

I agree 100% with Arrigo's posts , no need to add any more.

Even the part where he launches an unprovoked attack on my deceased grandparent?

Ironwolf25 May 2011 11:32 a.m. PST

All the ones that never figured out having men charge machine guns was a waste of their men!

John D Salt25 May 2011 11:57 a.m. PST

Connard Sage wrote:

Even the part where he launches an unprovoked attack on my deceased grandparent?

I had assumed that the reference to "frustrated ramblings of a failed Captain" was a reference to Basil Liddel-Hart.

All the best,


archstanton7325 May 2011 12:10 p.m. PST

Thanks Connard…The "received wisdom" of recent ramblings by some historians that state Haig wasn't too bad and was trying in a difficult situation miss out the fact that all the bloody lessons of 1915 were either ignored or misread and continued in 1916 and 1917…

Brusilov was, I think, one of the few "Good" generals of WW1..Actually learn't from others mistakes and won a great victory!!

Arrigo25 May 2011 12:46 p.m. PST

Failed captain was another person… as pointed by John D Salt.

no attack on your grandparent Connard. The point is that your grandparent opinion is not in discussion.

"All the ones that never figured out having men charge machine guns was a waste of their men!"

colonel Grant rode a cavalry charge on machine guns and was quite successful. A lot of people over-estamte machine guns. What stopped the attacks were not machine guns but a combination of fire and terrain obstacles that forced the troops to stay more in the beaten zone of said machine guns. Infantry attacks were made agaisnt machine gunes later and no one complained about them being useless on average.

Lets face it usually attacks were able to carry the first line without too much hassles usually the artillery was suyccessful in flattening the wire. The problem started later when the attacker outran their own artillery.

The lessons were studied, buty between understanding the problem and finding a workable solution there is a difference that seems to not have been noticed yb Liddel Hart and his cronies. Tanks evolved into a solution, but at start they were more another problem.

I found pretty insulting the ramblings of amateurs criticize everything professional historian do while not publishing any paper, any article or not even doing research but just repetating words of other historians (so old historians were right modern historians not…).

<end of disgusted transmission>

toofatlardies25 May 2011 1:17 p.m. PST

John D Salt is quite right. Liddel-Hart was the frustrated Captain.

My own grandfather was wounded on the first day of Third Ypre, shot in the ankle and consequently in hopsital until the middle of 1919. He was undoubtedly a nice chap, but I do not feel his opinions have any particular weight in this debate. I have his notebook here with his pencilled account of his career in the army. What I can learn about the war from his notes is simply the opinions of a Sergeant in the Northamptonshire Regiment in 1917. Nothing else. It cannot tell me what his Company commander thought, let alone what the Generals had in mind.

The fact is that Haig not only was concerned about the men that he lead, he refused any honuors from the British government and inisisted that they did something to help the men who suffered in the war. The result is the Royal British Legion which still exists today and is represented by the Poppy appeal each year.

However the whole "Lions led by Donkeys" myth is a lot more comfortable to those who can't be bothered to read even the most reader-friendly book published in the last twenty five years.

Paddy Griffith published Battle Tactics of the Western Front in the early 90's which debunked all of these trendy socilaist myths, and did so comprehensively and categorically. Since then well respected historians have fallen in line to confirm this, and more importantly that the great "class war" Bleeped text between toffs in the chateau and the men in the trenches is not simply, but entirely, a poltically inspired misreoresentation of the truth. This is not revisionist, this is simply the facts.

The truth is that Haig and all Great War Generals were faced wiht issues that were way beyond their historical remit. In the last major war fought by the Germans the had had the Dreyse Needle Gun, first issues in 1841. For the British the Boer War was the most recent experience in which commander had (ineptly) run battles with up to 12,000 men. Now they were obliged to run battled with 100,000 men and using technology that constantly promised to hold the key to success.

Let us, for a brief moment examine Haig's track record. In the Boer War a barrage of a few hours on the enemy positions would suffice to suppress them, so when in June 1916 he was told by the gunners that a bombardment of four days was available, and using better shells, better fire control and with machine gun support, why would he refuse to believe them?

The fact is that the attack on the first day of the Somme failed is not due to Haig throwing men in with no concern for their safety, but that he attempted to develop artillery tactics that would save his men's lives. The fact that it didn't work is simply a case of over-expectations, and sadly this was par for the course for the Great War.

Interestingly, the only difference between the infantry tactics, the artillery tactics, the machine gun tactics, the air support tactics of the Great War and the Second World War is one simple five letter word: Radio. Everything that troops could do in 1945 they could do in 1918, and even 1917. The difference was that in WWII they had communicatins which allowed then to talk to their support, as opposed to the Great War when the moment then advanced out of their front line they were out of contact and attempting to work to a pre-prepared plan. That is it.

To condem Haig as a butcher is to totally misunderstand the situation. There are any number of excellent books by main-stream modern historians that confirm this, but it seems there are many who prefer to go with the old cliches. I suppose it is human nature; but it is wrong.

Lee John Ayre25 May 2011 2:56 p.m. PST

I'd just like to add that it wasn't the generals that started and prolonged the war, no doubt it suited the politicians who caused the mess to have the generals as scapegoats.

UK John25 May 2011 3:43 p.m. PST


Grand Duke Natokina25 May 2011 6:39 p.m. PST

A toss up between Haig and Falkenhayn.

vtsaogames25 May 2011 7:16 p.m. PST

I dunno Rich, the gulf between the toffs in the chateaus and the men in the trenches is part of what led the Russian war effort to collapse in revolution and a lot of 'red' stuff in other areas, like the German troops falling back on Der Schwartze Tag calling the reserves 'strike-breakers'.

Even if it has been overdone since then, it did exist. For that matter, Patton living in expropriated mansions while his dogfaces slept in muddy foxholes seems to have a bit of that too.

- yer red buddy

Etranger25 May 2011 7:45 p.m. PST

Not a fan of Haigs but he wasn't the worst by a long way. To add to the already long list of British generals – Sir Ian Hamilton & Lt Gen Sir Frederick Stopford of Gallipoli infamy, the latter's appointment being an grave indictment of the British military system of the time. Lord only knows how he was felt to be a suitable commander for such an operation…..

Von Falkenhayn did go on to knock Romania out of the war in one of the more successful campaigns of WWI. He wasn't incompetent in my book. Excessively cold blooded perhaps….

Field Marshal25 May 2011 7:52 p.m. PST

Falkenhayn was a reptile pure and simple. Nivelle and Mangin tag team almost destroyed the French army, Petain rescued it…..have a look at Nivelles offensive….

Personal logo enfant perdus Supporting Member of TMP25 May 2011 9:35 p.m. PST

Well put , toofatlardies.

It is difficult to overstate the gulf between what General Officers had been trained to do prior to the Summer of 1914 and the war they ended up fighting.

toofatlardies25 May 2011 10:07 p.m. PST


This is a C3 issue. Generals have large a staff, they need a large building and a central communications point in order to try to maintain control. Nowadays they take over office blocks and airports and the likes, back in the Great War the only large buildings were chateaus.

Of course, if you're a bolshevik it is very easy to point to the men in the chateau and accuse them of having a good time, but it doesn't make it true. Indeed the Russian people subsequently found out that much of what they were told by the Bolsheviks wasn't true.

Interestingly Ike spent WWII in a succession of large houses much further behind the front lines than Haig was, yet nobody accuses him of being a chateau General.

Gennorm26 May 2011 2:31 a.m. PST

It's interesting that the defenders of Haig cite evidence and example and are prepared to discuss the subject, while the detractors simply dismiss him as a 'butcher'.

Gennorm26 May 2011 2:33 a.m. PST

Incompetents like Townshend exist throughout history while inciting a mutiny of such magnitude is unique so I'd give the 'award' to Nivelle.

Old Bear26 May 2011 3:09 a.m. PST

It's interesting that the defenders of Haig cite evidence and example and are prepared to discuss the subject, while the detractors simply dismiss him as a 'butcher'.

About as interesting as noting that the step up on Haig revisionism coincides with the lack of people able to tell you what a git he was.

artaxerxes26 May 2011 3:17 a.m. PST

With great respect Connard (and I mean that), I think you're wrong, the weight of family testimony notwithstanding. (My great uncle joined the 17th Bn AIF on the original Anzac Day in 1916, served through the Western Front to the end of the war, and had a mixed view of Poms in general. He was wrong, also).

It's the sort of discussion not well suited to the on-line world (and certainly not to TMP). I'll be in UK for a couple of months late in the year, working on a book on the war with Turkey – would you care to exchange views in the civilised discourse that a good pint commands?

Supercilius Maximus26 May 2011 4:51 a.m. PST

<<About as interesting as noting that the step up on Haig revisionism coincides with the lack of people able to tell you what a git he was.>>

Actually, the real revisionism on Haig came in the late 1920s and early 1930s when Lloyd George (the man who insisted on the Somme offensive, despite Haig telling him his raw troops were not ready) wanted to find a scapegoat for his refusal to negotiate a peace and, at a time when his political career was dying, set himself up as the real architect of victory. Incidentally, it was the failure of the politicians, not the generals as is often stated, that caused Sassoon to throw his medal ribbons into the River Mersey.

I'm sure you'd find ex-soldiers to bad-mouth any British general, however successful. It's worth noting that the Russian generals of WW2 used far cruder tactics, yet are never criticised in the same way that the British generals of WW1 are.

1) The British Army finished up on the winning side.
2) It expanded and changed out of all recognition – and in doing so had to cope with socio-political factors that were completely new to it (unlike its allies and opponents).
3) It was responsible for the majority of technological and tactical innovations during the war.
4) It suffered the fewest casualties of any major nation, both numerically and as a percentage of those engaged.
5) To follow up a point Richard/TFL made, the losses suffered by assaulting units in WW1 were no worse than those suffered by similar units in WW2 – the attrition rate for British infantry from June 1944 to May 1945 was 100% for ORs and 110% for officers.

Haig was neither a clever man, nor a military genius; but nor was he the uncaring butcher so often depicted by people who refuse to accept evidence to the contrary. Tens of thousands of veterans lined the streets to pay their respects when he died.

archstanton7326 May 2011 5:24 a.m. PST

Well, when Haig was told that the wire wasn't cut in many places on the Somme he still sent the men over, one of the few divisions that did well and had few casualties was trhe one where the commanding General said"Ignore Haigs orders yo walk--Run like Hell"--If more Generals had done this then there would have been far fewer casualties and a much better success rate..
AND in the 3rd Ypres he was advised that to attack over very boggy ground where digging in was almost impossible would have been bloody an futile--Yet he carried on bashing away. Losing over 250,000 men in the process, and meaning that the hugely successful attack at Cambrai lacked infantry to exploit the initial breakthrough..

If he had cared about his men as much during the war as he did after the maybe we would still have won but without all the pointless bloodletting??

The fact that he was better than most (Cadorna for example) make me shudder at how truly bad they were!!

Martin Rapier26 May 2011 6:13 a.m. PST

No-one said Haig was perfect, just not the blundering dunderhead he is often portrayed as.

So, do we have to parade our dead relatives from WW1 to discuss this now?

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