My List of the Greatest Commanders in History

macon

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
3,545
Slovenia
Guan Yu (關羽) is really qualified as one of the worst military commanders in history.

How about open a thread for the list of the worst military commanders, Nobunaga-sama ? That would be an interesting subject.
Not really. He lost against trickery and against much stronger combined Wu/Wei. Argument against him can be that he was not having many independent commands.
 
Jan 2015
5,375
Ontario, Canada
Point is that you can't make such point because of a differency of a technological level and that you can't evaluate Sun Quan by today's standards but with standards of his time for which you need to compare him to greats of his time.
No, commanders in the 1700's and 1800's were also commanding from a headquarters and sending written letters to the officers on the front. The technology at this time would have been basically the same. The telegram did not play a major role at least until the 1850's, in the Crimean War, but that was also limited.
 
Last edited:
Jan 2015
5,375
Ontario, Canada
Not really. He lost against trickery and against much stronger combined Wu/Wei. Argument against him can be that he was not having many independent commands.
The Wu army was not at Fancheng. Besides in the previous pages I already established that Yu Jin's army was destroyed due to flooding. There is no mention in any part of the Sanguo Zhi that Guan Yu caused the flood. It clearly specifies that Yu Jin's camps flooded due to rain. So in his independent command he lost a portion of Jing Province to Lu Su's campaign in 215, besieged Fancheng but was defeated by Xu Huang in 219 and was then killed and lost Jing Province to Lu Meng immediately after. Guan Yu is terrible in any role that is not subordinate. He even failed as a strategist and politician by allowing himself to get sucked into a siege at Fancheng and then allowed himself to be attacked from behind by the Wu army.

No idea why losing to trickery is a good excuse. Lots of generals have lost to trickery, that is to say strategy. Guan Yu fundamentally fails as a strategist.
 

macon

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
3,545
Slovenia
The Wu army was not at Fancheng. Besides in the previous pages I already established that Yu Jin's army was destroyed due to flooding. There is no mention in any part of the Sanguo Zhi that Guan Yu caused the flood. It clearly specifies that Yu Jin's camps flooded due to rain. So in his independent command he lost a portion of Jing Province to Lu Su's campaign in 215, besieged Fancheng but was defeated by Xu Huang in 219 and was then killed and lost Jing Province to Lu Meng immediately after. Guan Yu is terrible in any role that is not subordinate. He even failed as a strategist and politician by allowing himself to get sucked into a siege at Fancheng and then allowed himself to be attacked from behind by the Wu army.

No idea why losing to trickery is a good excuse. Lots of generals have lost to trickery, that is to say strategy. Guan Yu fundamentally fails as a strategist.
I suppose that Wei were not complete idiots after 2 decades of constant warfare to build a camp on a terrain which was about to be flooded and that it is very possible that Guan Yu was having something with it but we of course can't know to which degree. Of course it was flooded by a rain water but someone was capable to collect and direct rain water to Wei camp. Logically your quote does not oppose that Guan Yu may have caused it. He may have or may have not. I think that later texts imply that he had (and primary source saying nothing precise).

Wu army based their success on backstabbing trickery (from a position of an ally!) so it tells a lot what a formidable opponent Guan Yu was on a battlefield. They were not able to do anything against him even when most of his army was fighting Wei, they needed to use a lousy tactic which seems fine only because they succeeded at end. You see it as a sign of Guan Yu's incompetence but I see against him a much much stronger odds in a coalition of Wu and Wei (in resources and number of men) and also a lousy backstab which puts Sun Quan in a strange light. I don't believe that such moves make someone more competent, only less trustworthy.

Yes, Guan Yu gets negative points as a strategist.
 

macon

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
3,545
Slovenia
No, commanders in the 1700's and 1800's were also commanding from a headquarters and sending written letters to the officers on the front. The technology at this time would have been basically the same. The telegram did not play a major role at least until the 1850's, in the Crimean War, but that was also limited.
All generals with big armies of tens of thousands were usually leading from behind and sending couriers. Chinese in antiquity were sometimes having six numbers armies and there was no way directing such numbers and tens of miles of frontlines with a direct approach. Just check three years long Changping campaign.
 
Jan 2015
5,375
Ontario, Canada
I suppose that Wei were not complete idiots after 2 decades of constant warfare to build a camp on a terrain which was about to be flooded and that it is very possible that Guan Yu was having something with it but we of course can't know to which degree. Of course it was flooded by a rain water but someone was capable to collect and direct rain water to Wei camp. Logically your quote does not oppose that Guan Yu may have caused it. He may have or may have not. I think that later texts imply that he had (and primary source saying nothing precise).

Wu army based their success on backstabbing trickery (from a position of an ally!) so it tells a lot what a formidable opponent Guan Yu was on a battlefield. They were not able to do anything against him even when most of his army was fighting Wei, they needed to use a lousy tactic which seems fine only because they succeeded at end. You see it as a sign of Guan Yu's incompetence but I see against him a much much stronger odds in a coalition of Wu and Wei (in resources and number of men) and also a lousy backstab which puts Sun Quan in a strange light. I don't believe that such moves make someone more competent, only less trustworthy.

Yes, Guan Yu gets negative points as a strategist.
The sources don't say that Guan Yu built a dyke or diverted the Han River. There really is no reason to think that the flood was caused by him except for apocryphal stories and myths. Chen Shou doesn't mention Guan Yu causing the flood anywhere and the later writer Pei Songzhi doesn't either. They say clearly that it was caused due to the autumn rains.

If Guan Yu was unable to discern that Wu was going to attack him, then he shouldn't have insulted their leader.

Guan Yu was not defeated by a joint Wu and Wei coalition though. He had already been defeated by Xu Huang, which ended his siege of Fancheng. He lost so many troops that he was unable to put up any effective resistance to Lu Meng's invasion.
 

macon

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
3,545
Slovenia
If you simultaneously fight two enemies on two different fronts it counts as fighting them both although it seems they were not directly cooperating. Guan Yu's insult was not a bright move and it puts him down as an overall figure.

Autumn rains can still be collected and diverted, think logical that such a statement as you wrote does not say anything about human involvement or about no human involvement. I still hardly buy that Wei were diletants. Do you know what later happened to Wei's commander who got flooded? If he returned and he was punished by Cao Cao it would imply that it was his fault and I believe that it is bigger fault to not predict flooding than getting slammed by Guan Yu who was holding big aura of military provess in a time of Fancheng.
 
Jan 2015
5,375
Ontario, Canada
If you simultaneously fight two enemies on two different fronts it counts as fighting them both although it seems they were not directly cooperating. Guan Yu's insult was not a bright move and it puts him down as an overall figure.

Autumn rains can still be collected and diverted, think logical that such a statement as you wrote does not say anything about human involvement or about no human involvement. I still hardly buy that Wei were diletants. Do you know what later happened to Wei's commander who got flooded? If he returned and he was punished by Cao Cao it would imply that it was his fault and I believe that it is bigger fault to not predict flooding than getting slammed by Guan Yu who was holding big aura of military provess in a time of Fancheng.
If Guan Yu had diverted the Han River it would have been mentioned. Much the same as it is mentioned that Cao Cao diverted the Yi and Si Rivers to flood Xiapi in 198. There is no implication that this was the doing of Guan Yu. We may assume that this extreme flooding was not a common occurrence but part of a flash flood. Yu Jin had been in this area in 208 and had been near the Yangtze in putting down banditry in other years. This suggests that such a huge flood was not common. Moreover neither Chen Shou nor Pei Songzhi mention this many years after the battle. If it was unknown at the time of the battle it is odd that Chen Shou did not mention it, nor Pei Songzhi years after Chen Shou wrote the Sanguo Zhi.

Yu Jin was rescued by Wu and kept there until 222 as a hostage. When Cao Pi proclaimed himself Emperor, Wu returned Yu Jin along with several hostages. Yu Jin was pardoned by Cao Pi for his failure but upon being reminded of Fancheng he supposedly died of grief soon after.
 
Likes: macon
Jul 2018
482
Hong Kong
I recommend Takasugi Shinsaku adding into the list of the greatest military commanders.

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Takasugi Shinsaku (高杉晉作, 27th September 1839 - 17th May 1867), the Chosun Domain (長州藩) 's samurai in the Bakumatsu Period (幕末), renowned for his active participation in the sonno joi (尊王攘夷 — revere the emperor to power & expel the barbarians) and the anti-Shogunate movement (倒幕). He proved himself a military genius in two wars — one for overthrowing the Choshu Domain's conservative regime at Hagi and another war that successfully repelled the Tokugawa Shogunate's full-scale invasion of the Choshu Domain.

During his AD 1862 journey in Shanghai (上海) as a representative of the Shogunate, he realized the overwhelming superiority of the Western nations' military power over the Asian nations, and concluded that Japan will degenerate into a semi-colony of the Western great powers sharing the fate of the Qing Dynasty of China unless the modernization would be carried out.

He pondered on the methods for resisting the foreign invasion after he had returned to Japan, and began to participate the prevalent sonno joi movement. In AD 1863, the Choshu Domain was resolute to "expel the barbarians", carried out the indiscriminate bombardment on any foreign vessels passing through the Shimonoseki Strait (下関海峡), thus triggered the Shimonoseki Campaign (下関戦争);In this crucial moment, Shinsaku founded the Kihetai (奇兵隊 — the strange army) — anyone enlisted would be accepted regardless of the difference of social classes, thus completely shattered the tradition that only samurai had the right to be a soldier ; this had the profound impact on the military history of Japan. He believed that the future military force will be dominated by the "commoners", rather than those high-bornt, decayed samurai who had long since lost their fighting ability and spirit.

In AD 1864, the navies of Britain, France, USA and the Dutch striked back for vengeance and launched the devastating bombardment on Shimonoseki, capturing or destroying all the batteries on the shore. The Choshu Domain was greatly humilitated and was forced to seek peace. Shinsaku was assigned to negotiation for discussing peace terms as an envoy. This catastrophic defeat further enabled him to realize the huge disparity of military power between the Western nations and Japan.

Soon after the bombardment of Shimonoseki and the Kinmon Incident (禁門の変, occurred on 19th July 1864, in which the Choshu Domain attemped to take control of the Emperor by sending troops to occupy Kyoto, only got crushed by the Satsumi 薩摩 and the Aizu 會津 Domain 's troops), the Choshu Domain was declared as the "rebel" by the Shogunate. Panicked, the Choshu Domain's real power fell into the hands of the conservative faction (俗論派), which begged the Shogunate for peace while cracking down the sonno joi movement and the reformist faction ruthlessly (with many retainers imprisoned or executed) in order to pacify the Shogunate's wrath. Even the Kihetai was ordered to disbandment after a clash with the samurai troops.

Disappointed, enraged, Shinsaku determined to wage the coup d'etat against the conservative regime in the Choshu Domain. At the night of 15th December 1864, he declared the armed rebellion at Kosanji with 84 brave men, historically known as the Kosanji Uprising (功山寺挙兵) ; despite of the numerical inferiority initially, his uprising troops was increasing in number with many people joining his side and ultimately overthrew the conservative regime at Hagi (萩, the seat of the Choshu Domain) after the crushing victory at the Battle of Ohda-Edou-Akamura (大田・絵堂 ・赤村の戦い), which lasted from 6th - 16th January, allowing the reformist faction to take back the Choshu Domain's de facto authority. Hereafter, Shinsaku took charge of the Domain's military reform, purchased the newest type of rifles and gunboats from the British Empire through the Satsuma Domain (薩摩藩), which eventually formed the alliance with the Choshu Domain.

In June 1866, the Tokugawa Shogunate launched the punitive expedition against the Choshu Domain, historically known as the Second Choshu Expedition (第二次長州征討). Though extraordinarily outnumbered by the Shogunate force, Shinsaku was undaunted and superbly confident. With only a single warship Heiinmaru (丙寅丸), he crushed the Shogunate navy of 3 ships at the north of the island Suo-Oshima (周防大島) in a brilliant night raid. Then he continued the fighting against the Shogunate force around the Shimonoseki Strait and Kyushu, defeated the loosely-organized, ill-moraled Shogunate army which was actually the disorganized coalition of a great number of vassal lords. The enemy armies even burnt down their headquarter at Kokura Castle (小倉城 ) in panic and confusion on 1st August. Finally, the Tokugawa Shogunate recognized his defeat and abandoned the expedition ; this sealed the inevitable downfall of the Tokugawa Shogunate with his reputation and authority severely damaged.

On 17th May 1867, Takasugi Shinsaku passed away in the age of 28 due to the illness of turbeculosis, ended his short but resplendent and thrilling life that caused the even greater upheavel in the turbulent era of the Bakumatsu Period. Regrettably he could not witness the final demise of the Shogunate. Had he not existed in this world, the Meiji Restoration (明治維新) might be delayed as the Tokugawa Shogunate survived longer.

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What do you think about this outstanding military commander ?
 
Last edited:
Aug 2015
1,844
Los Angeles
My point is that if commanders in the 1800's and commanders now can exercise command without making tactical decisions or even being on the field of battle, then they could do it throughout history.

For instance Augustus was a military commander. How do we know? Because he formulated policy, dictated strategy and grand strategy and on occasion took part in operations and battles. As a strategist he was capable if not decent, but as a tactician and operationalist he was awful. Still his decision to send Tiberius and Germanicus to Illyria or Germania was a military decision. He had a plan in mind and he sent his subordinates to carry out that plan, whatever that plan might have been and however detailed or specific it was.
That's just bullshit. Augustus would then be a great military commander. It was his decision to take over Gaul, his decision to engage Anthony, and his decision to do all the military operation. By your definition, Augusts would be one of the greatest military commander.
 

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