Top 10 Worst Military Leaders in History


In war, there are winners and losers. Sometimes an army is defeated because they simply faced a larger and more powerful foe. Other times they lose because of some bizarre set of circumstances no one could have foreseen, or because they were simply outwitted by a cunning adversary. Sometimes an army is even dealt a defeat because of bad weather (as happened to the Mongol fleet of Kublai Khan in 1281 AD, which was destroyed by a typhoon as it tried to cross the narrow strait between Korea and Japan.) However, there are also those battles that were lost due to the sheer incompetency of a leader, which is the source for this list.

Of course, even a good military leader can have a bad day. As such, this list is not about leaders who simply lost a battle, but those who either snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory or were classic incompetents that somehow managed to be given command of entire armies. A few are on this list because they are perceived as being far more capable than history demonstrates them to have been; in other words, besides the worst leaders, this list also contains the most overrated leaders who, while competent to a degree, do not rightly deserve the level of credit given to them by history. Finally, this is not a list of Generals only, but of men—some of whom may not even have been in uniform—that made the decisions that ultimately led their armies to utter catastrophe. And so, without further ado, here is my list for the top ten most incompetent, overrated, or just plain unlucky military leaders in history.

10. (Tie)  Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, U.K.

Okay, not really a bad field commander. In fact, a pretty fair one. The only reason he’s on the list is that, like a British version of Macarthur, he too may be one of the most overrated commanders of World War II. While Monty is credited—and rightfully so—for his victory at El Alamein, Egypt in October of 1942, it must be remembered he was fighting an exhausted and over-extended German Afrika Korps that lacked significant air support and was running on fumes. The British and their allies, in contrast, massively outnumbered Rommel in almost every category, making victory—pending some remarkable chain of events—eventually inevitable. Unfortunately, unlike his predecessors, Monty choose not to follow up on his victory by pushing the Germans out of Africa immediately, waiting until May of 1943 to finally accomplish what should have been done months earlier. But Egypt wasn’t Monty’s real problem.

That came later, first with the over-planned and under-executed landings in Sicily (Patton’s forces beat Monty’s British Army to Messina even though they had twice as far to go), followed by his dismal attempt to capture Caen, France on D-Day. (The city was not taken until July 18, 1944, six weeks after the initial landing.) Then there was Operation Markey Garden in September, 1944, the attempt to take three key bridges in Holland that would make a breakout into the Ruhr Valley possible. Great idea; just poorly implemented, the result being the surrender of 6,000 British paratroopers at Arnhem and  a temporary stalemate that was to last until that next spring. Monty had good intentions; it’s just that he tended to be too timid when aggressiveness was called for, and too aggressive when caution would have been more advisable.

10. (Tie) Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Germany

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This is easily my most controversial pick, and I do it with some reluctance only because of the esteem the “Desert Fox” is looked upon with today. In my defense, I do not maintain that Rommel was a bad General. In fact, considering the circumstances he had to deal with—lack of supplies, harsh conditions, being perpetually outnumbered—he did a remarkable job as arguably Germany’s most successful—or, at very least, most popular—general. Plus, the fact that he was implicated in the plot to kill Hitler—though pretty late in the game—makes him a hero to both sides.

However, in terms of actual accomplishments, the man may not quite live up to his reputation. While an aggressive and capable commander, he tended to be abrasive, intolerant, unteachable and rash to the point of foolhardiness, which might be one of the reasons he was defeated by the British in North Africa not once, but twice (the first time at the hands of British General Auchinleck, the second time by Montgomery) and finally pushed off the continent.

Afterwards given the task of securing the French coastline from allied invasion (the Atlantic Wall) he oversaw the construction of a formidable barrier of bunkers and gun emplacements that prevented the allies from taking the beaches at Normandy on June 6, 1944 for about half an hour or so, thereby demonstrating the futility of depending on fixed defenses to stop invasions (a lesson the Germans should have remembered from France’s futile efforts to hold the Maginot Line in 1940). Obviously, not all of this could be laid at Rommel’s doorstep as he did have to work under the limitations imposed upon him by der fuehrer, but when one considers his almost legendary reputation, it seems he should have been able to do more to stop the allied advance in France.

9. Admiral Gunichi Mikawa, Japan

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This is a case in which a successful commander enjoyed an overwhelming victory, only to almost immediately squander the priceless opportunity it afforded him. Admiral Mikawa was an up-and-coming Japanese admiral known for his intelligence and sound judgment when he assumed command of the Japanese 8th fleet at Rabaul in July of 1942. Just a month later, he was to lead this same fleet to one of Japan’s greatest naval victories of World War Two when, during the night of August 8-9, 1942, he slipped into the waters off Guadalcanal and sent four allied cruisers to the bottom in a little under one hour. In doing so, he left the Marines on Guadalcanal without sea protection and rendered the transports anchored off shore sitting ducks. However, just as complete victory—and the routing of the American forces on Guadalcanal—was all but imminent, the Admiral inexplicably broke off the attack and headed for home, thereby saving the U.S. Navy from further humiliation and destruction.

Had the man shown a bit more aggressiveness and sank the hapless transports, very likely the U.S. would have been forced to evacuate the Solomon Islands and the war would have been extended by months or, possibly, as long as a year. Rightfully criticized by his superiors for his timely blunder, he was given increasingly smaller and more isolated commands throughout the remainder of the war until being forcefully retired by the Japanese Navy in June of 1945, three months before the war ended. Not a bad officer, but an officer with bad timing.

8. Saddam Hussein, Iraq

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People don’t normally think of the Butcher of Baghdad as a military leader (though he liked to wear uniforms), but for the twenty-four years he called the shots in Iraq, that’s exactly what he was. Like Hitler, every military operation was overseen by him personally and in great detail, though, again like Hitler, he left the day-to-day tactical operations to a group of hand-picked incompetents known more for their loyalty to him than for their battlefield prowess.

Consider that during his reign, Saddam oversaw three major conflicts (the invasion of Iran and Persian Gulf I & II) all of which he lost soundly (although the Iranian conflict dragged on for 8 long years before Saddam finally sued for peace.) His inept defense of Kuwait in 1991 against U.S. and coalition forces almost cost him his entire army—not to mention his head—while the follow-up war just eleven years later (the U.S. led invasion of Iraq in 2003) cost him both. Perhaps his best idea was convincing the world he had WMD in an effort to discourage an invasion, thereby encouraging the very conquest he was trying to avoid.

Worst, he forgot to tell his own generals his WMDs were merely a figment of his imagination, much to their consternation as they were counting on using them to slow the American march on Baghdad. Truly it could be said that no American military commander ever had a better ally than the madman from Tikrit.

7. General George McClellan, USA

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While there were a host of bad generals serving on both sides during the American Civil War—mostly on the Union side unfortunately—the one that usually gets the most credit for dragging out the war as long as he did is Union General George McClellan. McClellan wasn’t the worst general in the Union army—that title probably belongs to men like Joe Hooker or Ambrose Burnside—but he was the most cautious which, in war, can be as dangerous as being too bold. In command of the Union Army from November, 1861 until he was dismissed by Lincoln after the bloody and inconclusive Battle of Antietam in September, 1862, McClellan was famous for his take it slow approach that resulted in interminable delays and missed opportunities to hit the rebels hard and potentially shorten the war.

To his credit, some of his biographers write that McClellan was hesitant to commit to battle out of concern for the lives of his men—which is admirable—but missing opportunities to potentially and soundly defeat the smaller Confederate Army on several occasions may have inadvertently extended the war by years, actually resulting in an even greater loss of life than might have been experienced had he simply been more aggressive. The man’s personal contempt for Lincoln was also unwise (he once refused to see the president when he visited his home in Washington, claiming he had gone to bed and could not be disturbed) while his political ambitions—he ran against Lincoln in the 1864 presidential election—made him more of a publicity-hound than the type of quality commander the Union Army needed. Again, not a terrible general—just the wrong man for the job.

6. General Robert Georges Nivelle, France

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What Douglas Haig was for the British Expeditionary Force in France during the First World War (see no. 5), Robert Nivelle was for France. A French artillery officer who took command of the French Army in December of 1916, he immediately set about doing very little but sit by and watch his men and the Huns slaughter each other on an unimaginable scale. At the Battle of Verdun (21 February to 18 December, 1916) Nivelle went through French troops like pork through a sausage factory, racking up an impressive half a million casualties before it was all over.

But it was his ill-fated and poorly planned “Nivelle Offensive” in the spring of 1917 that was his undoing. Promising a quick and decisive victory over the Germans, in April of 1917 Nivelle sent over a million French soldiers against a German army half its size and got his proverbial butt kicked. By the time the French government finally pulled the plug on the thing three weeks later, over a quarter million French had been killed or wounded and the army was on the verge of wholesale mutiny.

It was only his quick sacking that prevented the French soldiers from turning on their own officers and the whole allied front from collapsing, handing victory to the Germans by default. (On the other hand, had the Germans won in the summer of 1917, there would have been no Hitler and no Second World War and history would have taken a much different track. Oh well…) Unlike his British counterpart, Sir Douglas Haig, Nivelle did not return home a hero but slinked off to some outpost in Africa—the French equivalent of being sent to Siberia—to finish out what little was left of his career. He died in 1924 and was buried with full military honors…and then promptly forgotten.

5. General Sir Douglas Haig, U.K.

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The Commander of British forces in France during the disastrous Battle of the Somme in 1916, Haig has the distinction of overseeing the greatest single day loss of British lives in history: on the morning of July 1, 1916, 60,000 troops—20% of the entire British fighting force engaged—was killed or wounded (including all but 68 men of the 801-man strong 1st Newfoundland Regiment) in an offensive that failed to gain a single one of its objectives.

Haig, ever the optimist however, did not consider the enormity of the casualties inflicted all that bad and even wrote in his diary the next day “…the total casualties … cannot be considered severe in view of the numbers engaged, and the length of front attacked.” Of course, today such incompetency would result in the immediate sacking of the offending buffoon, but things were different back then. In fact, Haig would continue to oversee the British forces for the rest of the war and even was promoted to Field Marshall for his fine work.

Under his auspicious leadership, some 800,000 British soldiers would ultimately die. Remarkably, Haig came home a hero after the war and is still considered to have been a competent military commander by many today (mostly by people who never served under him, one might assume). While no commander on either side during that war comes off looking good when it came to incurring casualties, what makes Haig stand out is his seeming indifference to the carnage and an unwillingness to learn the hard lessons required to fight a twentieth-century war. He had his moments of brilliance, to be sure, but by-and-large he was definitely not the right man for the job.

4. George Armstrong Custer, USA

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The dashing Custer may have made a fine 1940’s-era Western hero, but in real life he was the sort of military leader enlisted men desert for. Brash, intelligent, and personally courageous, his great undoing was his indifference for the welfare of his men—or their safety for that matter. (As one of the youngest Generals in the Union Army during the Civil War, his cavalry unit had the highest casualty rate of any in the Army). He was also savage when it came to dealing with the Indians, whom he would slaughter without remorse.

His recklessness finally caught up with him, however, when he led his famous 7th Cavalry to disaster at Little Big Horn in June of 1876, losing almost his entire command in the course of a few hours when he attacked an Indian encampment with several thousand Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors in it. Somehow, he became a legend as a result of this debacle—largely through the tireless efforts of his widow, Libbie, who went on speaking tours on his behalf the rest of her life—demonstrating the old adage that Americans tend to honor their defeats (Little Big Horn, the Alamo, Pearl Harbor, 9/11) more than their victories.

While adored as a martyr by millions of Americans for generations, Custer has not fared well with historians of late, who have come to see him as the publicity-seeking, Indian hating, ambitious huckster he really was, dulling his sterling reputation considerably. Does he deserve such scorn? Ask any of the 267 men who died alongside of him (not to mention the hundreds of Native Americans he dutifully slaughtered).

3. Douglas MacArthur, USA

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What? Doug MacArthur has made it onto my top ten losers list? The hero of the Pacific Theater and the mastermind behind the Inchon Landings? Impossible!

Not if you look at the record. Start with his incoherent strategy to defend all of the Philippines that ended in the disastrous surrender at Bataan in April of 1942 (the largest mass surrender of American troops in U.S. history). Follow that with an antagonistic ego that made him frequently unable to work with the Australians defending New Guinea and the ill-advised decision to invade Peleliu (a Japanese stronghold of no immediate strategic value that cost 10,000 U.S. casualties and took two months to secure). Then there is his insistence that Roosevelt invade the Philippines—despite the fact the archipelago had no real strategic value—so he could keep his promise to the Pilipino people that he “would return” (as though they cared). The operation at Leyte Gulf took up so much in terms of military assets that Doug may have single-handedly extended the war by months.

But what about Korea, you ask? Wasn’t he the mastermind behind the Inchon landing that broke the back of the North Korean Army and (almost) secured victory on the peninsula? Yes he was, but considering that Inchon was defended by only a small garrison of Korean troops—the rest being locked in battle with U.N. forces around Pusan—meant that only the most incompetent commander would have failed to take it. It’s what happened later, however, where Doug shows his true nature; ignoring intelligence reports that a million Chinese troops were massing along the Korean border ready to invade, he suddenly found himself overrun by Mao’s best and brightest and was forced to retreat well past that pesky 38th parallel. Only his timely firing by Truman (probably Truman’s best decision as President) and General Ridgeway’s (his replacement) tactical sense saved Korea from becoming another Soviet satellite state.

Okay, he was a decent military governor in Japan after their surrender and kept the Russians out of Japan, but beyond that, there’s not much that can be said for him, either as a general or a person. Unfair appraisal, you say? Consider that this is the man who had to pull in favors and lobby Congress to get them to award him the Congressional Medal of Honor for his inept defense of the Philippines in 1942. Talk about gall.

2. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Mexico

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This colorful character should never have donned the uniform of a Mexican General (or any uniform for that matter). Whenever he did, bad things always followed for his hapless army. Yes, he took the Alamo in 1836 (losing twice as many men as the Texans), but he lost his entire army and was captured at San Jacinto just a few weeks later in a Battle that lasted all of fifteen minutes. Still popular in Mexico (Santa Anna liked to refer to himself as the “Napoleon of the West”), after a brief exile he returned home to once more be given command of the Mexican Army and the task of pushing a small French force out of Veracruz.

He lost the battle, along with a leg, which resulted in the Mexicans being forced to capitulate to the French, but he returned home—with his prosthetic cork leg in tow—more popular than ever. After a short stint as dictator (he was to serve in this capacity several times during the course of his illustrious career) he found himself again at the head of the Mexican Army as it was repeatedly trounced by American troops during the Mexican-American War of 1846. (It was during this war his cork leg was captured by American forces and put on display.)  Returning home to Mexico after yet another ill-fated foray as a military strategist, Santa Anna once again took over the government and spent the next few years lining his pockets before the people finally got tired of him and sent him fleeing into exile to Cuba in 1855. Clearly in Santa Anna the Mexican people had a man that was both a military and political catastrophe, yet who managed to remain popular with millions of Mexicans for years, just as he does to some degree today, demonstrating that competency is not a prerequisite for fame in some countries.

1. Adolf Hitler, Germany

Many may be surprised to see der fuehrer on a list of failed military leaders, largely because he was not a military officer. However, this is a list about failed leaders—not necessarily officers—which, given his role in ensuring Germany’s long awaited defeat in World War Two—makes him top on the list. While it is true that Hitler never commanded soldiers on the field, in the last three years of the war he increasingly took over day-to-day control of his armies, telling his generals where and when to attack and then refusing to allow them to retreat when defeat was inevitable.

While he was content to leave the tactical details of running the armies to his generals, he set the strategic objectives, oversaw the allocation of resources, and all but drove the first tank into each battle after 1943, ensuring that no matter how well the Germans fought, they were doomed to failure. With the former World War One Corporal at the helm, allied success was practically assured. Of course, all of this was a good thing in hindsight, for it’s scary to think what the Germans might have accomplished had Hitler kept a hands-off policy and left it to his generals to figure out how best to vanquish his enemies (as he did in the first three years of the war). Additionally, this was the single biggest difference between Hitler and his nemesis, Joseph Stalin; Stalin knew he wasn’t a military strategist and let his Generals run the show.

Hitler, assuming his time spent in the trenches of France in the First World War made him an expert, never figured that out, much to his—and an entire generation of Germans—detriment.

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  1. These arent even close to a list of the worst. A list of the most overrated, maybe.

  2. Just Wondering on

    Great idea for a list.
    Please get someone who has some military expertise and knowledge of events before 1800.

  3. John Massoud on

    Having Rommel or MacArthur was ridiculous. But why have Hitler without Czar Nicholas II?

  4. I think I saw a couple square centimeters of blank screen. Get some clickbait on there, STAT!

  5. Alan_McIntire on

    Worthrthless article. A REAL bottom 10 might have included Gaius Terentius Varro and Lucius Aemilius Paullus who led the Romans as Hannibal’s smashing victory at Cannae.
    The Russian Generals Samsonov and Rennenkamph each lost an army of about 300,000 men during the first month of WW1. Crassus, one of the triumvirate which included Pompey and Caesar, lost an army attacking the Parthians.

  6. The author is ignorant and has only the most superficial idea of military history. Jeff, go look up Manzikert or Agincourt. These were stupid losses. BTW, there is a difference between being incompetent and being stupid. Neville was incompetent and Custer was arrogant and stupid.

    OTOH, ignorant is more a quality of writers who write about things that they know very little about.

  7. Frank Kuchno on

    MacArthur pushed for Inchon when EVERY other US commander and official opposed it. It doesn’t get him off the hook for being surprised on December 8th and losing the Philippines…..but give the devil his due on Inchon.

  8. Well Chris, I can see that this is going to go on longer then the “HUNDREDS YEAR WAR” (1337-1453). This will now be the FOURTH time that I have asked you to leave me alone and just drop the FRICKEN SUBJECT ABOUT ME. Just FORGET about me. I haven’t heard from Martyn since I apologized to him and now your acting as his proxy. And I would love to know what country you’re from so that I can cast aspergins upon your own people as well. JUST FRICKEN DROP IT. Do you have any intelligence or is your brain smaller than a pimple on a mosquito’s dink. Que sont vous jusqu’a (That’s French for “What are you up to. Yes I speak French as well). Martyn reported me to TOPTENZ.COM and I also have the right to do it as well. GET OFF OF MY FRICKEN CASE, YOU PARROT !!!!

    • Peter,

      As long as you keep clogging up my in box with threats, orders and personal insults.. then I will respond.

      As amusing as it all is to me… I feel honour-bound to stand up to (would-be) bullies like you Peter.

      I’ve not threatened you… or personally insulted you. I disagree with your views… but, after all, this is a blog. Right? And I have little/no respect for you… because you don’t seem to be able to argue coherently.

      If you want to stop threatening me… and personally insulting me…. then that’ll be the end of it. Hopefully you can manage that. 🙂



    • Peter,

      Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Where do I start with your increasingly hysterical rants?

      Firstly, I’m NOT American.
      Secondly, I’m not in the military. Never have I ever been… or intend to be. (All this orders/threats/’superior’ sounds INSANE.) And the draft-dodging!?!? Crazy. Even if I was American… there hasn’t been a draft in the US since the Vietnam War. And even then… it was completely corrupt… and if you had money… 🙂
      Thirdly, I personally believe that the US military is responsible for much of the evils of this world. Torchuring innocents and stealing oil of poor people is nothing to be admired. But that’s MY opinion. (And btw, ALOT more people on the globe would agree with me than you.) However, you’ve got a your opinion and you’re entitled to it.
      Fourthly, you obviously can’t tolerate anyone who has a different opinion to you. I would’ve thought then that blogs are not the place for you. Think about it.
      Fifthly, I’m NOT intimidated by threats and attempts to bully. Actually, it’s kinda laughable. However, you very obviously haven’t learnt your lesson re: Martyn. So I will be reporting you to this group’s moderators.
      My advice… seriously… chill. Get some fresh air. Do something apart from blogging.


  10. CHRIS, CHRIS, CHRIS, I was man enough to apologize to Martyn about my behavior to him and now you are just exasperating the problem. I see on my yahoo mail that you are opossed to the U.S. MILITARY ??? ARE YOU A DRAFT DODGER ??? DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU COULD SPEND TIME IN LEAVENWORTH, KANSAS FOR THE (READ UP ON THAT PLACE AS THEY WOULD RUN ROUGHSHOD UPON YOU) DESERTION OF A TERM CALLED BEING AWOL ?? I believe that you are the one that is all behind this argumentative crap. So for the THIRD time, just leave me alone and for get that I ever exist. If you want to take it into a further realm, I would be man enough. After all, when a superior officer in the military gives you a direct order, you follow through with it. Did you know that, Chris, My friend ????

  11. Chris, Chris, Chris, I received a letter from the HIGHER UPS from Top Tenz website and was informed of my actions towards Martyn and to never do it again, but left me with just a warning. I take full responsibility of my actions and I do not need to be reminded like a little child anymore. I apologize for anymore comments that I will make in the future on one exception. That you have ABSOLUTELY no CONTACT with me ever again !! You sound like the intimitator to me. So be it………Peter

    • Peter, Peter, Peter,

      You said yourself that you’ve been warned about inappropriate behaviour. (With your completely unprovoked yammering threats again Martyn.) And now you’ve compounded it by threatening me?

      The discussion is “Top 10 Worst Military Leaders in History”. Stick to that Peter.

  12. This must be a Joke!!!! Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in 1980 planing to detach Khuzestan province of Iran in just 3!!!!!! days. But he couldn’t finish the war until 8 years later 1988. How could he be oon of top 10 military leaders!!

  13. Nice article! You did neglect many ancient military blunderers but they were long ago and the victors wrote the history for the most part so the exact facts are disputed. Here are a few that came to mind though:

    Crassus @ Carrhae
    Cao Cao @ Red Cliffs
    Varus @ Teutoburg Forest

    There are many many others. I obviously left out many terrible commanders from the Greco-Persian wars. Too many geniuses on the Greek side. It would be unfair to call someone one of the worst commanders when he was up against the likes of Alexander, Miltiades and Themistocles.

    I do have a great suggestion for a similar article. It would involve more than 10 though so I’ll just go ahead and do it for you

    Top 66,000,000 Worst Soldiers

    Answer: The French

    Hehe, sorry that was in bad taste but you can’t talk about the WW’s without bringing it up.

  14. Uncle Joey Stal didn’t let his generals run the show.. he didn’t have any left during world war2. He had liquidated them all by then.

  15. If Douglas MacArthur is on the list of worst military leaders, then explain to me how he was the most decorated soldier in all of history according to the Guinness Book Of Records ??

    • Well, MacArthur did kind of decorate himself. He had himself awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for taking on plane over Korea on routing visits to it during the Korean War and managing an air cargo mission, he awarded himself a Purple Heart for service in WW1 20 years after the event which had not been seen as worthy of winning the award, he gave himself the Congressional Medal of Honor for his retreat from the Philippines, he had an Air Medal despite never completing the five combat missions necessary to earn it. So taking the medals to his name as proof of his abilities as a soldier and general may be a bit misleading.

  16. AHH! I hate Santa Anna! He was just a complete idiot! All he wanted was power and money! He didn’t care about the welfare of his soldiers or the citizens of Mexico! It was his fault that the US-Mexico war even began! If he were smarter and treated the people fairly the texans wouldn’t have revolted.

  17. DeathToIran24 on

    This list is a joke. Rommel was one of the best generals of the war his defeat was largely due to the fact that he lacked enough strength as the royal navy was attacking his supply lines.While Montgomery is overrated he was just an average general not a bad one. MacArthur is the stupidest choice, the Philippines was lost because Washington would not send reinforcements he ordered the planes south but Bereton would not obey because he planned on throwing a party. His New Guinea campaign was a masterpiece capturing large amounts of territory with minimal casualties. Also Peliliu was supported by Nimitz. Also the Philippines was very strategically important that’s why the Japanese attacked in the first place, why else would they ristk there remaining fleet at Leyte Gulf. His Inchon landing was one of the greatest counterstrokes in military history. The Chinaman were successful because Truman refused to allow Macarthur to attack Chinese bases.

  18. Joke list! No Patton? No Caesar or Alexander the Great? Where is Napoleon ? Your the genius right? These guys are pale in the light of your genius.

  19. Monty and Rommel definitely shouldn’t be on this, they were both great commanders. This is the only top 10 list i don’t like for the simple reason that none of these leaders were ‘Bad’ leaders. I mean, Douglas Haig, yes, he lost 60,000men in one day at the battle of the Somme, but Britain did break through eventually, he was just doing his job. Another example, Adolf Hitler. I DO NOT support Hitler in any way shape or form, but come on… The Nazis Took over most of the world under Hitlers rule, so how can he be a bad leader? I would say taking over most of the world was pretty damn successful don’t you? As well as fighting more than 10 Countries at a time? with at least 4 of those countries being major ‘super powers’ in the world at the time and even today. (Great Britain, USA, Russia and France). In reality Hitler was a great commander, look what he achieved. Even though what Hitler did was beyond barbaric he still conquered most of the world. Feel free to hate on me if you want, its just my opinion.

    • Hitler did not conquer the world, his generals did it for him. He was just a charismatic politician (and a genius gambler) but that’s all – he wasn’t a strategist, a tactician, a military leader. Actually, the Germans lost the war because of HIM.

  20. I’m sorry, but even in elementary school, here in Mexico, Santa Anna is said to be “the worst leader Mexico has ever had”. Personally, I haven’t met a single person here whose opinion about this character is better than “terrible”. I mean, we all know he sold more than a half of the country, there is no reason for we to consider him a famous character, rather than an infamous one. The phrase ” demonstrating that competency is not a prerequisite for fame in some countries” (and I’am NOT saying this isn’t true) is, lacking of a better word, ignorant.

    • No people no country open space. It took Americans to develop a wasteland. 5000 Mexis at most what a joke.

  21. I was disappointed to see Douglas Haig on the list. Of all the First World War commanders, Douglas Haig was easily the most competent, and no First World War commanders (with the exception of Conrad von Hotzendorf of Austria-Hungary) were ineffective. No-one was able to envisage a way out of trench warfare because of the problems of maintaing effective artillery support and communications with the rear once men had gone over the top. Contrary to popular belief, Haig was far from a Luddite in implementing technological solutions. His despatches, written at the conclusion of each year of warfare, recognise the importance of tanks, aircraft reconnaissance, and artillery innovations (e.g. the creeping barrage) in his armies. Furthermore, Haig oversaw the expansion of the British army from an expeditionary force of around 150,000 men in 1914 to 2,000,000 in 1918, with all the logistical headaches that that entailed. These men had to be turned from raw recruits drawn from the civilian population into an effective fighting body.

    His despatches also record his profound sorrow at the extraordinary loss of life amongst his soldiers. The principal criticism of Haig is that he wasted men’s lives in efforts that accomplished very little. Not only was this not a unique situation for Haig, but it was also a sound strategic conclusion to be drawn. Even before American involvement in WW1 could be felt, the Entente enjoyed a crushing superiority in terms of men and materiel, whilst the naval blockade of Germany was strangling her industry and agriculture of its ability to sustain the war effort. Haig concurred with his military and political contemporaries, both in Britain and Germany, that time was on the side of the Allies. The Entente thus used this advantage to wage a war of attrition in which they consistently inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. Entente casulaties were inflicted too, but these were more easily replacable than in Germany. Furthermore, once Haig was a principal architect (along with Ferndiand Foch) of the Hundred Days Offensive that essentially won the war. This offensive was won for a number of reasons (technological superiority, fresh troops from the USA, unified command, multiple offensives to tie down reserves), but one of the chief reasons was the demoralisation of the German army thanks to heavy casulaties and the belief that such heavy losses could not be sustained. Ultimately Haig’s attritional strategy was proved correct, and he was able to break out of the trenches using improved tactics and strategy, and utilising superb commanders such as Arthur Currie and Herbert Plumer.

    There is much more to say in defence of Haig, and he has many academic defenders (John Terraine; Brian Bond) who have put the case much more concisely and fully than I have. Perhaps more instructive, however, is to consider how his contemporaries, military and non-military, considered his leadership. It was popular to condemn in the 1960s-1980s, but in the aftermath of the war Haig was celebrated as a hero. He recieved a barontecy and a substantial pension (equivalent to many millions of £s). His state funeral in 1928 was attended by huge crowds, and two princes and two marshalls of France (Foch & Petain). John Pershing, the American commander, remarked that Haig was “the man who won the war”. I am pleased to see that Haig’s reputation is undergoing a restoration in popular circles as well as academic ones, and it is thus a great shame to see him included in an otherwise excellent list of the worst military commanders of all time.

  22. What about Benito Mussolini? Hitler had to bail him out in Africa and eastern Europe. If hitler didn’t have to do that, his invasion of Russia would have happened early in the year. And the nazis probably would have took Moscow in 1941. It’s hard not to say that the addition of Mussolini as an opponent actually HELPED the allies.

    • Duce! Duce! Duce! Yep Italian know how and pomp! There ya go. The Fiat of war machines.

  23. By the admission of the lists author Field Marshal Montgomery should not be on this list – ths lists author stating thatr he wasn’t a bad general but a pretty good one – so, with that in mind, why the bloody hell is he on this list?! The reason given is “he’s the British MacArthur”, meaning he was a egomanic and has been overrated. That’s not a good reason for calling him one of the worst military leaders in history. Beside which, how many times have you ever heard or Montgomery refered to as one of the greatest generals ever? a contemporary of Napoleon and Ceaser? I’ve never seen it. I’ve seen people say Patton was one of the greatest generals ever and a contemporary of the great commanders in history but Montgomery consistantly gets bashed and castigated for being “overrated”.

    To more substancial matters. North Africa – there are a few main point to go to regarding Montgomeries conduct in North Africa which should be split into pre-El Alamein, El Alamien and post-El Alamein.

    Pre-El Alamein – before Montgomery arrived the commander of the British 8th Army was Claude Auchinlech and he had managed to halt Rommel at the El Alamein line however 1st El Alemien was no major set back for the Germans and only offered the British a minor reprieve and as a result the Auk was sacked and, after the death of Strafer Gott, Monty was brought in. Monty found the army beaten, demoralized and confused with none of its officer confident of victory or even understanding what they were supposed to be doing. Monty took over and changed things in very quick order. He threw the Auk’s confusing plans in the bin and made a far more simple defensive plan then began retraining troops, sending more battle-weary ones on furlough and preparing the defense for what became the Battle of Alam el Halfa. After only 28 to 29 days in command of the 8th Army Montgomery had to deal with a full out offensive by the entire Panzer Army Afrika. Rommel, being halted, had taken the opportunity to resupply and had built his supplies up to relatively even standing with the 8th, furthermore Rommel had far better weaponry at his disposal than the British did and outgunned them and, manpower and material wise, outnumbered them but he had fallen for Montgomery’s deceptions in the prelude to battle and was defeated with ease.

    El Alamein – having been defeated completely at Alam el Halfa Rommel decided that he couldn’t dishonor his troops by falling back to a more easilly resuppliable position and so sat at the furthest extent of his supply line while the Royal Navy and RAF straggle those supply lines. His bad supply situation was, thusly, his own fault. That said he had placed between the two armies the largest minefield laid in the entire war, he had dug in his guns and some of his armour while leaving his most powerful armoured units free and mobile to respond to any attempted break through and had secure flanks thanks to the Qatarra Depression in the South and the Mediterranean to the North. The only way for the 8th to get to the Panzer Army Afrika was to create avenues through the minefield and advance through them. The victory was far from a forgone conclusion and had Rommel not been on sick leave in Germany and had Stumme not died in the initial bombardment then there is a strong case to be had the the 8th’s advance could have been stopped dead in the minefield. The British advantage was only 2/1 or 3/2 at best and this too did not make victory inevitable. The battle lasted about as long as Montgomery predicted it would and the British suffered about as many casualties as he predicted they would. He attempted to capture Rommel after the battle but his Armour let him down by losing cohesion as a sand storm blew in.

    Post-El Alamein – Montgomery’s advance after Rommel was unequalled in the War for its speed. It covered 720 in 20 and over 1000 miles in less than two months. The advance was at times so fast that the only way to resupply the 8th was by air but Montgomery was not going to make the same mistakes of his predecessors and go out on a limb for Rommel to hit him on a counter-attack and so set specific place to halt and reorganize. In doing this he maintained the offensive and insured that Rommel could never take the initiative back from him. Montgomery was the only desert commander to coquer the logistics of the task involved in crossing the desert and securing the position on the other side.

    Next to Sicily – Patton’s advance to Palermo was without orders and conducted purely for the fact that Patton wasn’t the center of attention and wanted the glory of taking the Sicilian capital. Rather than trying to win the campaign and defeat the Germans he advanced through open country against neglibile opposition and had no plans for advance on Messina. Montgomery, on the other had, had to advance against the rugged country around Mount Etna and prepared defensive positions along that line where the Germans were dug in a fought a stage a stage by stage withdrawl. Montgomery’s route of advance was infinitely more difficult than Patton’s was. When Monty leant of Patton’s position near Palermo he suggested that Patton move on Messina because he was in a better positon to take it than Monty was. The race to Messina was one-sided on Patton’s side as Monty had given up the prize and pulled most of the 8th back to prepare for an invasion of the Italian mainland. When Patton finally engaged the German rearguard he had no more success than the British did and had little impact.

    Normandy – Montogmery was the prinicpal architect of the Overlord Plan and the Allied Ground Forces Commander for the operation. As such he was responsible for success and failure of the operation as a whole, not just the British sector. The only Allied force to achieve its D-Day objectives were the Canadians but this overlooks the fact that the D-Day objectives were ambitious but not vital and failure to take them was only a minor set back – not a major one – and didn’t change the overall plan. Furthermore the actions of the 2nd British Army was the responsibility of General Miles Dempey just like the action of the 1st US Army was the responsibility of General Omar Bradley, Montgomery’s responsibility was controling the action of the whole campaign. In placing “blame” for being unable to take Caen on the day+1 on Montgomery you remove Dempsey’s accountability.

    Market Garden – Montgomery came up with the concept but didn’t plan it, nor did his command it. It was planned by Frederick Browning and Louis Brereton and they, and Dempsey, commanded it. Montgomery was unusally hands off for the operation. This aside, it was a very close run thing and almost worked, also it was not a major set back as the troops used in the operation were mainly ones which had not been deployed into action since Overlord. Market Garden’s failure in no way accounted for Bradley/Hodges’ failed offensive into the Hurtgen Forest where the US Commanders were just dreadful throughout and cost the Allies 31,000 men in a battle tha lasted several months and accomplished nothing, nor did it account for Patton’s failed offensive against Metz in the Lorraine Campaign where bad decisions from him cost the 33,000 casualties. The Allies ground to a halt in the Autumn and Winter months of 1944 because Eisenhower’s Broad Front had left no Army Group strong enough to press forward any offensive and because Eisenhower had not formed a strategic reserve he could no reinforce anyone. Market Garden was an attmept to avoid the stalemate that was inevitable because of the Broad Front – it was not the thing that caused that stalemate.

    The final statement made about Montgomery – that being he was too caution when aggression was needed and too aggressive when caution was needed – is just part of the Monty-bashing myth and doesn’t stand up to any real scrutiny.

    • Let’s make into simpler terms shall we ?? Montgomery had one very important thing missing with him. HE DIDN’T HAVE ANY BALLS OR KILLER INSTINCT, THAT’S WHY HE IS ON THIS LIST !!!! If you want to have some fun. Go to the wikipedia and look up Winston Churchill and the French Navy. Churchill wasn’t exactly on the up and up as far as World War II was concerned. In a way I am kind of glad we put the Brits in their place with the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812

      • And also, why is Erwin Rommel on this list as well when in fact he should be on the TOP TEN GREATEST list. “The Desert Fox” was probably the greatest military mind that Nazi Germany ever had. Even George “Ol’ Blood And Guts” Patton considered him to be a genius and they fought against each other. I firmly believe the reason as to why Rommel is on this list is because he attempted to conspire to have Hitler assassinated. Well, he got caught and was given two choices. Be executed or take “The Pill” (cyanide).

      • The comment about Churchill and the attack on Mers-el-Kabir has absolutely nothing to do with either my post of the subject. The comment about the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 also has absolutely nothing to do with the subject and really only makes clear the fact that you are an Americanophile and puts questions onto you attitude regarding the British.

        As to your comments about Monty not having any “balls or killer instinct” – rubbish.

        You could make the case that Monty could have been more aggressive in attacking but this would ignore the fact that he actually had to conserve more manpower than the likes of Bradley, Patton and Hodges since the British were drawing from the last of their manpower and had to start breaking up divisions to provide replacements for battle loses near the end of 1943. It would also ignore the fact that in battles he won Montgomery usually decimated the vast majority of his enemies army leaving only a token force able to withdraw and needing to be reinforced to stand again.

        To the “no balls” thing, that’s ridiculous.Nobody ever doubted Montgomery personal or professional fortitude. In WW1 he almost died in an advance across no mans land, in the Battle of France his division was often baring the brunt of the German attacks on the BEF, he was completely unafraid in his private and public utterances, he was prepared to risk career suicide to stand up to his political and military masters and call them morons when he thought they were being morons, he never once doubted that once a plan had been put in place that it would succeed, he had full confidence that he would always succeed and never once doubted his methods and he was prepared to take risks when he thought the military situation required it – examples, the Narrow Front strategy which was vastly more bold and daring than Eisenhower unimmaginative Broad Front and MARKET GARDEN which even his harshest critics would say was a major risk and a bold move.

        The fact is that whatever you say against him Montgomery won more battles than any other Western Allied Commander, played a major role in three of the biggest Allied victories of the war – El Alamein, OVERLORD and the Ardennes Offensive – and won his battles at a tolerable casualties cost while maintaining 21st Army Group as a major force on the continent despite Britian’s dwindling manpower.

        • Well, all I can say is watch the movie entitled “Patton” starring George C. Scott as Patton (which he won the Academy Award for best actor) and Karl Malden as General Omar Bradley. What I do find ironic was the actor who portrayed Montgomery who happened to be the actor who portrayed the Prison Guard in the movie “A Clockwork Orange”. So here we go again with us arguing and fighting about our opinions which elevate in reality to WAR and FUTILITY.

        • The movie Patton is not accurate. There are many faults with it but chief amongst them is the portrayal of both Patton and Mongomery. Their personalities were exaggerated to a vast degree where they were more contoonish stereotypes than representations of the people, and the man who comes out of that film looking like a proper general is Bradley – which isn’t surprising since Bradley was the military consultant for the film.

          If your basing you information on movies then you don’t have a leg to stand on in an faux-acedemic/faux-historical debate. Try reading books every know and then, and not just books which bash Monty.

        • That’s a nice response Martyn.

          One of the things that most bugs me about the way history is perceived is that it so closely tied to the way its portrait by popular movies. And… since ‘historic’ movies are either/or made by/made for Americans… Americans are always totally AWESOME and everyone else either:
          Totally absent
          Totally incompetent
          The bad guys

          WWII is a great example. Whether totally incompetent, like MacArthur or preety darn good like Eisenhower… the whole western front thing was a sideshow. The Soviets pretty much won the war single-handed.

          But you know… America won the war right? Of course it did… I saw it in that movie…. Captain America. LOL

        • Oh dear, another “Hollywood historian”. If you only knew how you sound using the movie “Patton” as your source. I’d love to hear your opinion of Patton’s performance at Gabes, in which his 88,000 force were mauled by the 10th panzer Div -which was returning from being mauled themselves by 8th Army at Medenine and so were at half strength. Or Metz, when he bragged that he would take it in 10 days but then it took him 10 weeks. The problem with Monty bashers like you is they generally just repeat the same old myths without actually knowing a thing about the battles he fought, beyond maybe Market Garden and Caen. Any of his failures are dwarfed by the debacle of the Battle of the Bulge, where the US got caught with their pants down, or the idiotic sacrifice of troops in the Hurtgen Forest by Hodges and Bradley for no strategic gain. Monty bashers don’t have a leg to stand on for the simple reason that they don’t apply the same standards when assessing other General’s performances. It almost makes you wish that Monty should never have bothered saving your backsides at the Bulge.

        • So now you see my point that even the First Amendment of The Constitution of the United States of America also causes arguments, fights, riots (like what going on at Wall St. right now), oppression, and yes WARFARE. This is one helluva sociological experiment that we are creating now isn’t it. Except warfare is on a very much larger scale. Let’s just let it go and be done with this, O.K. gentleman ? Wanna have some real fun ? Go over to the Top Ten List website called LISTVERSE which I also frequent and get into their Theory Of Evolution argument that people are having over there as wee speak. That one makes this one look like the Mickey Mouse Club. Goddamn Bible toting Creationists, Fundamentalists, GOP, Republicans vs. Pro-Evolutionary people are going at it Tooth and Nail right now over there. You would have fun on that one !!!!

  24. Hamish Gordon on

    Sorry but the most inept military leader in history is not on the list. Napoleon Bonaparte was quite simply inept. For a man with the reputation for being a military genius he cost his country more than any of the men on your list. Ignore Waterloo for a moment and focus instead on his glorious invasion of Russia. He left France with a well drilled and highly efficient force of 422,000. Shortly afterwards he sent 22,000 off on a separate objective. By the time that body of men reconnected with Napoleon’s army they numbered only 6,000. Unfortunately that was actually 50% more than the General’s main force which had been reduced to 4,000 men. He had lost 99% of his army. Try Googling the map of Charles Minard who in graphical form shows this “General’s” skills. Sun Tzu in his work, “The Art of War” outlines in chapter 1 the calculations a General must make. Napoleon’s arrogance blinded him to the futility and danger of his task. He failed chapter 1. He failed his men. He failed his country.

    • Chris Stonehouse on

      Hamish, I hear what you’re saying… but europe declared war on France… not the other way around. Napoleon did a remarkable job. Against all expectation he defeated arm after arm. But yes, I agree with you – he over-extended.

      But if you compare him to someone truly incompetent – like Percieval or MacArthur. Well, there’s no comparison.

  25. This may sound crazy, but I admire Saddam. Yeah, say I`m crazy. He may have been a thug, but you have to respect the way he refused a hood, when he was executed and wasn`t scared in the slightest by his executioneers who were taunting him like cowards. If that had been Bush, Blair or Cheney, they`d have cried like pussies. He showed more dignity than anyone I`ve ever seen.

  26. HAng on…haig xost 60k of the total force in one battle being 20%

    therefore making the whole army 300k strong…
    yet somehow lost 800k ?
    thats about as stupid as saying 6million jews died in the holocaust!
    seriously can people not do basic maths when calculating casualties anymore?

  27. Hi

    An other one is the french general Maurice Gamelin, in 1940.

    I agree with you that Rommel is overated, and there is many reasons to say such a thing.

    He was a great tactical commander, but his success in Africa were some gamble. And during one of the battles of Tobrouk, he left his troops without any commander for 3 days, because his was during this time in the front line. 3 days without any commander is enought for losing a battle.

    He also refused the attack on Malta because he wanted the 5000 elite paratroopers for himselfs as infantry near Alamein. 5000 elite troops was nothing in an army of 200 000 troops, but so the attack on Malta was cancelled because of him.

    Finally, when he was the commander in France, he wanted the panzer to be just near the beach. But the allied invasion in Italy has proven that in such a case, Panzer are wiped by the Naval Artillery. (The Rommel’s tactic was used at Anzio and the german counterattack was halted by the navy)

    Rommel was like the french marechal Ney ( one the Napoleon’s general) : A very great tactical commander, always with his men, able to dare, but a poor commander for an army. At this level, to dare become a gamble. You win : you are a genious, but at the end : you lose.

  28. This list is missing two very important failures, Chiang Kai Shek, and Josef Stalin. First of all, Shek, as commander-in-chief of Nationalist China, lost more territory in a war than any other leader on this list, including Hitler. He lost all of China to Mao Zedong, when he had US support and a much larger, more modern army. Stalin should make the list for ignoring intelligence reports from both his spies and the US government that predicted the date of Nazi Germany’s invasion within two days, beheading his military leadership with the show trials, and then barely holding out at Stalingrad and Moscow to win the war, at the cost of approximately 10 million Russian soldiers.

    • Chinese names start with the family name. Calling Chiang “Shek” is the same as calling Stalin “Joe”. Remember, his opponent is not known as “Chairman Zedong”1

  29. common people, iraq war was for oil and also served to scare other middle eastern leaders in case they did not cooperate with USA. There is also the belief that Saddam was also planning to trade oil in other currency than US $,

  30. For your information, Filipinos at that time were really clamoring for MacArthur’s return. The Japanese were brutal occupiers and were worst than the Germans when pacifying a country even to the point of bayoneting babies. You can ask about this among the old folks in the Philippines.

  31. Iraq did have Weapons of Mass Destruction bought from the United States, during the Iran-Iraq conflict. Hence the use of mustard gas on Kurds in the late 1980s.

    The reality of the WMD mess, was that Hussein’s son in law was likely the culprit in destroying the stockpile, as he was placed by Hussein to hide it.

    • Yes, Iraq did have WMD’s as you said for the time period you mentioned.

      But clearly, Iraq did NOT have the humongous stockpiles of WMD’s they claimed to have prior to the 2003 invasion that caused unnecessary violence, misery, and suffering for countless people.

  32. Good list, but I think Rommel gets the shaft here as he was stuck under Hitler’s thumb during the Normandy landings.

    And yeah, I think spoiling the list by mentioning future entries was a bad call. Still, like I said, it’s a good list and I enjoyed it.

  33. nice article
    I do agree with most of your pick
    but Rommel ?
    well, I only know a bit about WWII but as far as I know, Atlantic wall defense was a joint command between Rommel and if I`m not mistaken it`s Walter Model, both suggest for dynamic line of defense and of course it`s Hitler who messed everything by not allowing such strategy and forcefully order for static defense
    and then another fact followed, Rommel was not in command when the invasion happen because he is on his way to Berlin, so blaming him on the lost is a bit odd I think

  34. Alexandria Baucco on

    I loved the list, but I absolutely hated that he mentioned Hitler and said “see No.1”. For me, scrolling down and reading these one by one, trying to figure out what the number 1 will be is the best part. Ruined. Completely ruined at number 8.

  35. I would also like to remember those who died as a result of the disgraceful surrender of Singapore in WWII. The allied generals surrendered 120,000 men to an unsupplied Japanese force of just 30,000. Most of these surrendrees were worked to death or murdered in labour forces.

  36. Rommel WAS a military genius – a rather limited, niched one, with many flaws, but nevertheless a genius. As for Monty – an overrated mediocrity indeed.

  37. Rommel WAS a military genius. A very limited, niched one, but nevertheless a genius. (As for Germany’s WW2, I think not Manstein but von Rundstedt was their greatest military commander.)

    • Claude, I am in total agreement with you about Rommel. He was a military genius and even George Patton (Ol’ Blood and Guts) looked up to and admired Rommel for his military leadership and his strategic mind. But of course he plotted to have Hitler assasinated which I guess is the reason for why he is on this list.

    • I just read up on Arthur Percival. Great addition to this list: Here is a fun quote, “In 1918, Percival had been described as “a slim, soft spoken man… with a proven reputation for bravery and organisational powers” but by 1945 this description had been turned on its head with even Percival’s defenders describing him as “something of a damp squib”.” Ouch.

    • Chris Stonehouse on

      Good call Jerry. The consequences of his blunder surely can’t be topped.

      That’s what I was thinking. It’s an interesting list… but probably more concerned with causing controversy than a realistic top 10. Not necessarily a bad thing.

  38. I really liked this one, well written and explains why each leader was so inept.

    I agree with McArthur in the top 5, I never bought into any of his hype when you really look at his accomplishments.