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"Best WWI British General?" Topic

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23 Sep 2017 3:47 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Removed from TMP Poll Suggestions board

1,082 hits since 27 Feb 2017
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian27 Feb 2017 8:03 p.m. PST

Which of the British generals were the best?

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP27 Feb 2017 8:31 p.m. PST

Maybe Allenby or Smith-Dorien? When did Fuller make Brigadier, and does Brigadier count? Who was the one in CS Forester's The General? (Yes, I know he was fictional. Are we disqualifying the Loamshires and the West Yorkshire Fusiliers for Best Regiment?)

Not an inspiring war for generalship, though, and this is especially true on the winning side, which is downright odd.

bsrlee27 Feb 2017 8:54 p.m. PST

Smith-Dorien would be my vote for both Best and Worst. If he had not held things together at Le Cateaux it was likely that the BEF would have collapsed and the Germans would have outflanked and over run the French, Franco-Prussian War all over again. But, because he held things together there followed the 3+ years of horrendous trench warfare – so not conventionally 'worst' but the man who indirectly caused all the additional casualties on the Western Front.

Wackmole9 Supporting Member of TMP27 Feb 2017 8:55 p.m. PST


Allen5727 Feb 2017 8:59 p.m. PST

According to Montgomery, Montgomery was the best general.

Grelber27 Feb 2017 9:30 p.m. PST

Actually, according to Montgomery the best general on the Western Front in WWI was John Monash.
Monty didn't make brigadier until 1937 and major general until 1938.

Ducking and running for cover

Personal logo Ironwolf Supporting Member of TMP27 Feb 2017 9:47 p.m. PST

How many men they lost, how long the trench line was stagnant. I'm gonna go on a limb and say None.

Rod I Robertson Inactive Member27 Feb 2017 10:02 p.m. PST

Although he was a Belgium born, naturalised Briton and for only three days before the end of WWI Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart was promoted to a brigadier general, he is my choice. For his colourful style, dauntless military zeal and progressive lack of body parts (from the Boer War through the Second World War) I nominate him! Evelyn Waugh meets Mad Max!

Cheers and good gaming.
Rod Robertson.

Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member27 Feb 2017 10:36 p.m. PST

Whoa. What a difficult and thankless question!

Cerdic Supporting Member of TMP28 Feb 2017 12:09 a.m. PST

Carton de Wiart is a good suggestion. Everyone should read his book "Happy Odyssey". The man was bonkers….

Wargamer Blue28 Feb 2017 12:23 a.m. PST

John Monash

Vintage Wargaming28 Feb 2017 12:55 a.m. PST

The point about Curzon in CS Forester's The General is that he is a man of limited imagination who seems a hero at the start but is slowly revealed (in parallel to the progress of the war) to be quite monstrous and the sort of man who allowed the prosecution of the war in the trenches without much regard for the value of life. If you have the same opinion of him at the end of the book as at the beginning you have either been very clever at the beginning or missed the point of the book, which is that he is not an evil man but a limited and unimaginative one who is a product of the army culture he inhabits and who serves the Army's needs to keep the meat grinder running. As a product of the system the novel is not a critique of Curzon but of that system itself. It is subtly done and I was on at least my fourth reading of it before I first realised you were not intended to take it at face value. Being Forester it has a considerable element of psychological insight into the character of its protagonist.

It is also interesting that it was published in 1936. Curzon's reputation hinged on an incident in the Boer War and the book reminds us of the tendency to fight the next war as the last.

It is a very powerful but neglected book and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone. I think it is fairly easily available on Kindle and is also currently in print in paperback with a new introduction by Max Hastings.

Sorry to bang on about this but it is an excellent novel that deserves to be better known than it is.

langobard Supporting Member of TMP28 Feb 2017 2:51 a.m. PST

+1 for Monash.

Night Witch Inactive Member28 Feb 2017 3:17 a.m. PST


Allenby was a very sub par general when he commanded the cavalry while in France.

GreenLeader28 Feb 2017 3:23 a.m. PST

Until the 1960s leftwing revisionism / Blackadder Goes Forth mindset took hold, Haig was known as: 'The Man who won the War' a title bestowed upon him by Pershing. It is estimated that 1 million people paid their respects at this funeral in 1928.

There can be little doubt that the victory at The Battle of the 100 Days was an incredible achievement, and it was under his command that the British army introduced tanks, became the most mechanised in the world and operated with impressively close air and artillery support.

It is also noteworthy that the British army – unlike several other of the major combatants – never suffered from a serious mutiny. Surely he deserves some credit for that too?

Of course, he is now not popular, but that is a different matter: Buller was known as 'The Man who saved Natal' before being reinvented as a bumbling incompetent.

Like others, I would also put Allenby up there, and 'Light Horse' Harry Chauvel (though he was Australian).

foxweasel28 Feb 2017 3:33 a.m. PST

Haig, he won. If he had been as bad as the revisionist historians say, he would have been sacked, the British Army has never had a problem with getting rid of generals. The population of his time, and more importantly, most of the troops thought he was great. Who are we, looking back 100 years, to say they're wrong.

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member28 Feb 2017 4:25 a.m. PST

…and the sort of man who allowed the prosecution of the war in the trenches without much regard for the value of life.

I think the author, and probably you also, have confused the main character with a "politician" for it is they who decide how long a war lasts, not the generals. When Lloyd George took over as PM, he was told by the Imperial General Staff (led by a former domestic servant, lest we get too much into crass stereotypes) exactly how the war was going to pan out and how many casualties it was going to cost the Empire. The only error they made was in overestimating the length of the war (by six months) through underestimating the effects of the naval blockade of Germany. That same evening, the Welsh Windbag Mk1 wrote in his diary: "These men are idiots, they know nothing."

Byng and Birdwood who created the Canadian and Anzac corps and developed the careers of Currie and Monash are conveniently written out of the narratives of these elite formations; both toured the respective countries after the war to massive acclaim, and Byng later became GG of Canada. Plumer was also a commander of considerable note in fact didn't the Canadians/ANZACS (possibly both?) ask to be transferred to his command towards the end of the war? Allendy was a mixed bag, but the prize of the spiked masturbation glove has to go to Gough.

Haig's reputation has been suffering ever since Lloyd George published his memoirs in the mid-/late-1930s, in which he tried to shift the blame for the failures of him and other politicians to create a better Britain after the war, onto men who were mostly, by then, dead and who could neither defend themselves, nor had published their own memoirs. It was well known that DLG hated Haig he relegated him to the fifth carriage in the victory parade, despite the fact that both Pershing (no Anglophile) and senior French generals had congratulated Haig on the war-ending 100 Days. In addition to the estimated million souls who lined the streets (on a weekday, which would have entailed taking time off work) when Haig's cortege passed through London, the queue of local people waiting to pay their respects outside the kirk in his home village prior to his funeral stretched for over a mile……in driving sleet. As foxweasel says, who are we to judge them wrong?

I always find it odd that all the anti-general vitriol over WW1 is reserved for the officer corps of the army that went from just 8 divisions to over 80 in a little more than two years, lost fewer men (both numerically and as a percentage of those in uniform) than EVERY other major and most minor combatant nations, and won the war having evolved both low- and high-level tactics that later became the norm for modern armies and are still used today. And, moreover, did so in the teeth of interference from one of the most corrupt, self-aggrandising Prime Ministers the UK has ever had.

GreenLeader28 Feb 2017 4:43 a.m. PST

Supercilius Maximus

Magnificent stuff – take a bow, Sir!

Weasel28 Feb 2017 5:27 a.m. PST

""Good-morning, good-morning!" the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of 'em dead,
And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
"He's a cheery old card," grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

But he did for them both by his plan of attack."

-Some 1960's leftist revisionist no doubt ;)

I'll throw my vote for Allenby on the Brit side, but there may be better candidates.

BlackJoke Inactive Member28 Feb 2017 5:42 a.m. PST

I second Byng.

Vimy Ridge28 Feb 2017 5:59 a.m. PST

Byng is well known in Canada and I would certainly second a vote for him as number one. I think Supercilius hit the nail on the head though.

Also if you are throwing Monash out there (he wasn't British) I would have to throw in Currie as well.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP28 Feb 2017 6:07 a.m. PST

Allenby for me followed by Byng

I like Sir John Monash but he wasn't British (born and died in Melbourne, Australia) and I also like Sir Arthur Currie, who also wasn't British (born in Adelaide, Ontario Canada)

As I recall, in Lloyd George's memoirs there is the suggestion that if the war had carried on he was thinking of putting Monash and Currie in charge of the Western Front

Big Red Supporting Member of TMP28 Feb 2017 6:26 a.m. PST

I feel Plumer did quite well.

Personal logo 22ndFoot Supporting Member of TMP28 Feb 2017 7:43 a.m. PST

+1 Green Leader
+2 SuperMax

A couple of books worth reading:

The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army, Gary Sheffield
Forgotten Victory: The First World War: Myths and Realities, Gary Sheffield
Command and Morale: The British Army on the Western Front 1914-18, Gary Sheffield
Mud, Blood and Poppycock, Gordon Corrigan
1918: A Very British Victory, Peter Hart
Battle Tactics of the Western Front: The British Army's Art of Attack, 1916-18, Paddy Griffith

Oh, and Bleeped text to Joan Littlewood and her mob! And David Lloyd George!

GuyG1328 Feb 2017 8:58 a.m. PST

No love for Rawlinson? 4th army was a prodigy in 1918

wrgmr128 Feb 2017 9:38 a.m. PST

I second Vimy Ridge, Bing and Canadian born Currie.
Supercilius +1

daler240D Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member28 Feb 2017 10:09 a.m. PST

"who are we to look back a 100 years and say they were wrong"???!!!! Did you really write that? I guess the entire field of history then is set in stone at the time of an event. We sure can save a lot of money buying books and paying professors to do any research. Maybe it takes 100 years for the propaganda of the time to wear off- "revisionism" as some call it.

vtsaogames28 Feb 2017 10:10 a.m. PST

Just read "Challenge of Battle" about the BEF in 1914. The author is not a fan of Smith-Dorrien, though he thinks French's post-war vendetta against him was not valid.

In his telling, Le Cateau wasn't so brilliant. Conventional delaying tactics would have been better than making a stand with exhausted units. The BEF wasn't badly outnumbered until the end of the battle. II Corps was beaten up mostly by one German Corps.

Haig was the most competent of the generals in the 1914 BEF. But Monash gets my vote.

Allenby looks good because the Turks collapsed on his watch. I rate the guys who fought Germans the whole time.

GreenLeader28 Feb 2017 10:35 a.m. PST

I think we can all agree that Smith-Dorrien had the best nickname.

foxweasel28 Feb 2017 11:13 a.m. PST

I stand by my statement, and plenty on here agree with me. Are you so arrogant that you can say a million people at the time we're wrong and you know more about it than them. You obviously have some sort of issue with me, take it PM instead of writing things like "did you really write that?" Of course I wrote it, you just read it.

daler240D Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member28 Feb 2017 11:22 a.m. PST

I have no issue with you. I don't know you. I am just surprised how many apologists there are on this issue. The notion that we cannot look back dispassionately on historical events after the events when more of the evidence is available seems to only hold to this topic. The people that are contemporaneous with the events did not have the advantages of all the records and were no more informaed then what the papers gave them. It is a known fact that the papers were censored. How could they possibly have an informed opinion that we should just leave alone and respect as the final word for historical judgement?

foxweasel28 Feb 2017 11:26 a.m. PST

He died 10 years after the end of the war. I think that's plenty of time for the million who turned up at his funeral to have an informed opinion. And I also think you're wrong about historians, unless it's within living memory all history is just opinion, we can never see the past through the eyes of those that lived it.

GreenLeader28 Feb 2017 11:42 a.m. PST

And not even the most insane revisionist historian denies that the Battle of the 100 Days happened, the German armies were shattered, the British army won or that Haig was in command of the latter. Surely that much is undeniable?

Weasel28 Feb 2017 11:51 a.m. PST

The population of the UK in the early 20's was about 35 million.

Is it at all possible that in a population this size, one might find divergent opinions on topics?

Besides, the topic is generals, wasn't Haig promoted to Field Marshall before the 100 days?

GreenLeader28 Feb 2017 12:37 p.m. PST

That would seem a touch pedantic – does that rule out Major-Generals and Lt-Generals too?

foxweasel28 Feb 2017 1:05 p.m. PST

Of course there were plenty of different opinions at the time. But for a population of 35 million, a million people lining the streets for a funeral would suggest the vast majority believed he was a great man who had won the war for Britain.

Weasel28 Feb 2017 1:31 p.m. PST

Nothing is too pedantic for a TMP poll :-)

Foxweasel – Sure. I am inclined personally to believe he had his ups and downs, as most probably did.
Allenby had more dash though, so he's my pick :)

By and large, people have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that no solutions to the first world wars tactical challenges functioned without significant flaws.

So the best anyone could do would still be costly and unpleasant.

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member28 Feb 2017 3:23 p.m. PST

As I recall, in Lloyd George's memoirs there is the suggestion that if the war had carried on he was thinking of putting Monash and Currie in charge of the Western Front.

Yes, DLG claimed in interviews with his biographer that he was going to put Currie in charge and have Monash as his chief of staff. Like much of DLG's claims regarding his "influence" on the war, it is pure BS – both men had only just been promoted to Lt Gen and would have needed another promotion just to become an army commander, then needed to prove themselves at that level before leap-frogging over the heads of Plumer, Rawlinson, et al.

Both were good men, and considering Currie had risen from the rank of private and Monash was a Prussian Jew by birth, their careers (which included being knighted twice in both cases) provide an interesting antidote to the accusations that the British Army was riddled with snobbery and anti-Colonial prejudice.

Personal logo Unlucky General Supporting Member of TMP01 Mar 2017 1:04 a.m. PST

Actually Monash was British. Australians at that time were members of the British Empire (kind of why we were over in Europe) and held British passports. It was a time when being British was still extended beyond the British Isles. Was a while ago though and perfectly excusable to have forgotten it.

GreenLeader01 Mar 2017 3:52 a.m. PST

In terms of the fact that there would have been some who thought differently about Haig at the time: well, of course that is absolutely correct.

The point that I and others have been endeavouring to make, however, is that the prevailing opinion / public perception of him was very different in the 1920s than in (say) the 1960s.

This seems to be under-going a slight change again, as some historians begin to challenge the 'Lions led by Donkeys' stereotypes which have held sway for a generation or two.

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member01 Mar 2017 4:26 a.m. PST

I thought Australia achieved dominion status in 1901, which essentially made them a separate country? Of course, having been born in 1865, Monash would have been British at the time of his birth (as well as being a Victorian in both senses of the word). Apparently he met Ned Kelly during one of his raids.

I believe that over 50% of WW1 "diggers" were actually born in the UK and were recent emigrants.

willlucv Inactive Member01 Mar 2017 6:24 a.m. PST

I'll side with A.J.P. Taylor and go for Monash too, he comes across as a very human commander.

On the basis that wars are fought based on the preceding war World War 1 commanders were simply out of their depth and unable to formulate a workable strategy for how to wage war. Training and mentality were a key issue, and Monash as a part time soldier up until shortly before the war may have been at an advantage in this respect.

Khusrau Inactive Member01 Mar 2017 4:55 p.m. PST

One point often overlooked is just how many of the great offensives were primarily political in nature, so the British army could be seen to be sharing the burden, or relieving pressure. Haig is on record several times telling the politicians that an offensive was not feasible, but in the end he followed the orders of his political masters, and did his best with the tactics and resources available. Frankly, given the technology available I don't think there was an answer until 16-17, when they started working out the artillery tactics, better reconnaissance, tanks started to become available, and better trained troops.

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP02 Mar 2017 8:47 a.m. PST


GreenLeader07 Mar 2017 8:19 p.m. PST

Another way to look at it would be to say: which German generals on the Western Front were better than their British counterparts?

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