What Makes a General Great?

Apr 2018
757
India
Varying reasons of different military leaders. Take WWII for discussion's sake -

1. Rommel - Early victories against an inept enemy, good character
2. Doenitz - Successful naval attrition warfare with very limited and utilitarian resources, although unsustainable in the long run for different reasons
3. Nimitz - Theater management, admiral of victory.
4. Yamamoto - Nothing job related, face saving measure by Japs, good character.
5. Zhukov - Aggressiveness, strategizing, maskirovka, deliverer of victories, larger than life character
6. Stalin (He was no general but a commander nonetheless) - Total war management.

etc etc.
 
Sep 2016
1,333
Georgia
For an example let's look at someone like Charles XII of Sweden. He scored many brilliant victories in the Great Northern War but also made many strategic mistakes and lost in the end. Yet he is considered great.
I know people that don't really consider him great.
 
Mar 2016
1,222
Australia
I know people that don't really consider him great.
This is a weird argument. Are you suggesting that because you know some people that disagree about him, that he is not otherwise widely considered great? His popular image is literally of a great warrior-king that scored amazing battlefield victories. That's.... mostly all he's remembered for. It's his entire image.
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,932
Charles XII has been a contentious character ever since he got his brains blown out over in Norway. There has always been a group of historians considering him The Hero King, and an opposed camp regarding him as an addled war-monger. And that's just the Swedish, and Finnish, historians. His reputation in Finland has always been particularly low because he decided to try to seek a battlefield settlement by an aggressive invasion of Russia – which left Finland to simply be occupied by Russian forces for a decade, rather than put up a defensive fight over it.

The problem with Charles as a strategist is that while we know the outcome – he was defeated – we really have very little idea about the thinking and planning behind his invasion of Russia. All documentation was burned by his staff officer immediately following the battle Poltava. (Adding complexity to the general problem that he never actually shared his deeper objectives behind his plans with his subordinates.)

So consequently he has been rather a blank canvas onto which both camps of historians have been free to project their preference – military genius or deluded fool, take your pick.

His final campaign, against Norway, where he managed to get himself killed, was actually a pretty cool piece of for the 18th c. extremely inventive logistics.
 
Sep 2016
1,333
Georgia
This is a weird argument. Are you suggesting that because you know some people that disagree about him, that he is not otherwise widely considered great? His popular image is literally of a great warrior-king that scored amazing battlefield victories. That's.... mostly all he's remembered for. It's his entire image.
In academic circles, not everybody is in awe of him. Even some of his victories also receive criticism.
 
Sep 2016
1,333
Georgia
You make it sound like his unexpected death was actually orchestrated by himself.
There always were high chances that Charles would be killed eventually, because of how he usually behaved during the battlefield and in his campaigns.
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,932
You make it sound like his unexpected death was actually orchestrated by himself.
Oh no, not at all.

But he was known to expose himself. There was a myth among the soldiery that the king was "hard" against shot, i.e. he couldn't be killed except through magical assistance. (He had had a number of wounds through his career indicating he was hard-to-kill.) He seems to have kind of cultivated that. (Never mind how the stylings of a warrior king requires you not to be too timid in the presence of danger just generally.)
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,397
Sydney
let's take the analogy of a general as a horse rider
he care for his horse , make sure it's not overworked , reasonably fed and achieve his purpose without killing the beast
Charles was brilliant and used his men hard , well above what one would think appropriate
ultimately because of his hubris , he had them killed and lost everything he wanted to achieve , leaving his country in deep trouble
I do believe his own killed him as a basic survival strategy
 

Kevinmeath

Ad Honoris
May 2011
14,079
Navan, Ireland
............................

Being able to inspire your forces. Army's moral is a very important factor.

.............................................
One of the great things about Bill Slim in WWII was that be could inspire his men to such an extent that I have read in many places historians say that when interviewing his veterans they always speak that they were 'with' Bill Slim in Burma, they talk as if Slim was in the frontline with them. Now no modern general is (if he is he shouldn't be that's not his job) in the frontline and I don't know whether Slim visited it any more than other generals or whether it was because he came from a ,relatively, modest background but his men believed and in him. So much so that when he was wrong footed by the Japanese he openly admitted it to the troops, told them he could solve it but he needed time which they would buy with their lives. Far from harming moral the forward troops appreciated the honesty and new what they had to do.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Gvelion