My List of the Greatest Commanders in History

Jul 2017
2,187
Australia
If you haven't already put him on the list, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck. In charge of the German Empire's African possessions during the first World War, held down up to a quarter of a million British troops with 5,000-20,000 men, never lost a battle and engaged in an amazing guerrilla war.
 
Jul 2018
299
Hong Kong
Book of Jin, 12, 载记第十二
骁勇多权略,攻必取,战必胜,关、张之流,万人之敌者,则前将军、新兴王飞,建切将军邓羌,立忠将军彭越,安远将军范俱难,建武将军徐盛。

Martially powerful and capable, when attack he shall take, when he fight he shall win, the likes of Guan and Zhang, capable of 10000 man .....
His bravery and leadership as an awe-inspiring leader in energizing soldiers' battle spirit was unquestionable. But still, almost no contemporary or later comments praised about his ability in stratagem or wisdom, which are the very essential qualities as a capable military commander.

To metaphorize my thought, he's just like that Marshal Murat in the Napoleonic Era, very courageous but lack of stratagem and wit. Yes, he did seize a bridge near Vienna by a little ruse without combat, but that's not the reflection of a great planner / commander in strategic / operational level. Guan Yu was just like Marshal Murat, a perfect officer for the hot-blooded charge to crush the enemies, but showed definitely no promising skill in military command of "large corps" in operational level.

I guess nobody think that a sort of general like Marshal Murat is a "great military commander". His awful performance for independent command in AD 1815 campaign could be compared with Guan Yu's defeat in AD 219. To be a great military commander requires far more than a military “officer” who only need to lead by bravery, example and toughness.

Guan Yu has many flaws, but these were mostly about how proud he was. That is a character flaw. For that matter, Guan Yu was said to be arrogant to his superior [except for Liu Bei] but treated his subordinates with gentle humanness. If you think as one of the worst commander in history he was able to scare Cao Cao I honestly think you should stop talking about the Three Kingdom.
Cao Cao was "scared" ONLY because of the catastrophic defeat of Yu Jin (于禁) and Peng De (龐德) at AD 219 Xiangfen Campaign — that's largely attributed to the summer heavy rains rather than having much to do with Guan Yu's "military genius" or "great leadership".

And his character flaws played a fatal part of his downfall in AD 219 Jingzhou Campaign — his subordinates Mi Feng and Shi Ren deserted him instantly once the Wu army invaded, proved how failed he was in consolidating his subordinates' heart and strategic planning. Placing two of the most unreliable and untrustful generals to defend the vital bases exhibited his foolishness.

And because of his pride and vanity, he easily fell for the ruse of Lu Meng and left Jiangling and Gongan vulnerable in defense without adequate preparation.

Guan Yu was aggressive and energetic, but did these qualities bring him any victory in “campaign-level” as an independent commander of large corps ? He failed to prevent the loss of three counties in AD 215 Eastern Jingzhou Campaign without scoring even a single tactical victory,, and then obtained his only victory at AD 219 Xiangfen Campaign with the help of “divine flood”, but ended up his entire army routed and losing the entire Jing Province. How these “achievements” convince anybody that he was a great military commander as you said ? Pardon me, I cannot see it. In turn, I only perceived how incompetent he was as a military commander.

Next time, I’ll focus on talking about Sun Quan. For now, that’s all.
 
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Aug 2015
1,828
Los Angeles
How do I even quote with this new thing! Do I have to manually type everything?
His bravery and leadership as an awe-inspiring leader in energizing soldiers' battle spirit was unquestionable. But still, almost no contemporary or later comments praised about his ability in stratagem or wisdom, which are the very essential qualities as a capable military commander.
When people say 万人敌 or worth 10,000 men, they aren't actually saying he is worth 10,000 men, but rather on his command ability. When Xiang Yu said I want to learn how to be worth 10,000 men, he isn't soloing 10,000 men, but rather, capable of commanding 10,000 men and fight.

To metaphorize my thought, he's just like that Marshal Murat in the Napoleonic Era, very courageous but lack of stratagem and wit. Yes, he did seize a bridge near Vienna by a little ruse without combat, but that's not the reflection of a great planner / commander in strategic / operational level. Guan Yu was just like Marshal Murat, a perfect officer for the hot-blooded charge to crush the enemies, but showed definitely no promising skill in military command of "large corps" in operational level.



I guess nobody think that a sort of general like Marshal Murat is a "great military commander". His awful performance for independent command in AD 1815 campaign could be compared with Guan Yu's defeat in AD 219. To be a great military commander requires far more than a military “officer” who only need to lead by bravery, example and toughness.
Yah they are nothing alike. You don't know what you are talking about because you didn't even understood the primary sources on WHY they call him what they called him.

Cao Cao was "scared" ONLY because of the catastrophic defeat of Yu Jin (于禁) and Peng De (龐德) at AD 219 Xiangfen Campaign — that's largely attributed to the summer heavy rains rather than having much to do with Guan Yu's "military genius" or "great leadership".
These are pretty dumb comments.

Do you think CHINA DIDN'T HAVE HEAVY RAINS? Do you think other people DIDN'T DEAL WITH HEAVY RAIN? If this is actually some kind of real crazy rain, you think WE WON'T HEAR ABOUT FAMINE AND ALL THE OTHER STUFF THAT COME WITH HEAVY RAIN THAT SWEPT AWAY AN ARMY?


And his character flaws played a fatal part of his downfall in AD 219 Jingzhou Campaign — his subordinates Mi Feng and Shi Ren deserted him instantly once the Wu army invaded, proved how failed he was in consolidating his subordinates' heart and strategic planning. Placing two of the most unreliable and untrustful generals to defend the vital bases exhibited his foolishness.
You know no one is actually saying he is the perfect general, so saying how flawed he was doesn't actually support your point on how he is the 'worst' general.

And because of his pride and vanity, he easily fell for the ruse of Lu Meng and left Jiangling and Gongan vulnerable in defense without adequate preparation.
You are aware that Wu and Han were in fact allies? This is like saying how come Canada didn't have a strong border defense when they are invaded by US (in the scenario that Canada is invaded by US).

And yes, he probably should be more aware, but his job was to fight against Wei, and that was what he was doing.


Guan Yu was aggressive and energetic, but did these qualities bring him any victory in “campaign-level” as an independent commander of large corps ? He failed to prevent the loss of three counties in AD 215 Eastern Jingzhou Campaign without scoring even a single tactical victory,, and then obtained his only victory at AD 219 Xiangfen Campaign with the help of “divine flood”, but ended up his entire army routed and losing the entire Jing Province. How these “achievements” convince anybody that he was a great military commander as you said ? Pardon me, I cannot see it. In turn, I only perceived how incompetent he was as a military commander.
You can say whatever the hell you want, but logic simply disputes it. All you got is 1) he has character flaws and 2) some kind of divine rain that only affected the Wei forces.... OK.....

Guan Yu's commanding ability was never questioned until modern day where people want to be edgy and say 'yah I can be a better commander than Hannibal.'

Yah, that's what your comment is like.
 
May 2018
75
Bordeaux
Liu Yuan had less territory than Cao Cao, won against a internally divided Jin, held less territory than Cao Cao, started off as a warlord. What makes him 'MORE' impressive than Cao Cao or Subutai?
When Liu Yuan began invasion of North China,Jin was still unified empire.
Despite this,he beat several armies of Jin empire and send his commanders to Jin capital Luoyang.
He did all of this with 50.000 Xiongnu soldier in six year,not 250.000+ humanmass army.
 
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Aug 2015
1,828
Los Angeles
When Liu Yuan began invasion of North China,Jin was still unified empire.
Despite this,he beat several armies of Jin empire and send his commanders to Jin capital Luoyang.
He did all of this with 50.000 Xiongnu soldier in six year,not 250.000+ humanmass army.
A unified empire, sure, but a unified empire after a civil war, literately 2 yrs after the War of the Eight Kings.

Also, you are nuts to think Cao Cao actually had a 250,000 + human mass army.
 
Oct 2018
53
Minneapolis, MN
Just one after seeing some of the other US commanders in there that might be worthy of consideration over some of them...

Friedrich Wilhelm Von Steuben.

One of Washington's soldiers after meeting him said he was "of the ancient fabled God of War ... he seemed to me a perfect personification of Mars."

When the US troops wintered in Valley Forge he was who turned them into a real fighting force, taught them how to fight, lay out their camps, keep order of their equipment, and most importantly created officers who could then train their own men based on his teachings. Basically came up with the training program for the US military that really turned the tide, and eventually became Washington's Chief of Staff. Then after war led the demobilization and defense plan for the US post-war.


And I really enjoy the naval list you have there. Bravo.
 

macon

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
3,421
Slovenia
A unified empire, sure, but a unified empire after a civil war, literately 2 yrs after the War of the Eight Kings.

Also, you are nuts to think Cao Cao actually had a 250,000 + human mass army.
So what was he having at Red Cliffs? Because Wu and Shu were having 50.000+ and were seriously outnumbered to a proportion that outcome was viewed as a miracle.
 
Jul 2018
299
Hong Kong
So what was he having at Red Cliffs? Because Wu and Shu were having 50.000+ and were seriously outnumbered to a proportion that outcome was viewed as a miracle.
The biography of Zhou Yu (周瑜) in Sanguozhi (三國志) has offered the answer to your question. Zhou Yu claimed :

「諸人徒見操書,言水步八十萬,而各恐懾,不復料其虛實,便開此議,甚無謂也。今以實校之,彼所將中國人,不過十五六萬,且軍已久疲,所得表衆,亦極七八萬耳,尚懷狐疑。夫以疲病之卒,御狐疑之衆,衆數雖多,甚未足畏。得精兵五萬,自足制之,願將軍勿慮。」

His main points :

1. The army number of Cao Cao was extraordinarily overestimated. In fact, he only marshalled 150,000-160,000 troops in total from the north. Though he had additional 70,000-80,000 troops annexed from the conquest of Jianzhou, these troops’ loyalty was highly questionable.

2. The enemy troops had been exhausted already after the long and arduous march through vast territories.

3. Cao Cao could be defeated by the smaller but fresh army !

Zhou Yu also provided other arguments to support his thesis :

4. The northeners are not accustomed to naval combat, while the Jiangdong people are superbly excelled in that.

5. Cao Cao’s army will not garner enough fodders for horses due to the harsh winter.

6. Ma Chao (馬超) and Han Sui (韓遂) menaced Cao Cao at the western front, diversed the substantial proportion of Cao Cao’s military resource.
 
Likes: macon
Aug 2015
1,828
Los Angeles
So what was he having at Red Cliffs? Because Wu and Shu were having 50.000+ and were seriously outnumbered to a proportion that outcome was viewed as a miracle.
I mean, if he has 70,000 vs 50,000 and lost, that's still a pretty damn good fight. Not everyone can pull off significant disadvantages (granted it's a bit different from your typical cases in this scenario.)
 

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