Who were the most incompetent generals of all time?

I would suggest Aylmer Hunter-Westonhas to be right up there with them.
His speciality was having his troops charge machine gun nests during daylight.

He had no concern about casualties.

Just for stupidity, how about General John Sedgwick?

Civil War, battle of Spotsylvania:

“What? Men dodging this way for single bullets? What will you do when they open fire along the whole line? I am ashamed of you. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist…”

During the 19th and early 20th century the British Army had all kinds of generals who were equally stupid. An explanation of how the world’s greatest empire had so many utterly incapable generals would take a long, long time, but they had some real dolts.

They sold ranks.

There. All done.

There are so many:
-General Sir Duglas Haig (British, WWI): Gen. Haig didn’t think that machine guns were important (“one per battalion is more than sufficient”)-he kept ordering suicidal charges against german machine gun nests. The undertakers of Great Britain were grateful.
-General Nivelle (French, WWI): spilled the plans for his upcoming offensive, kept going even when his losses became suicidal; provoked a general mutiny in the French Army
-General (Lt. Colonel) Custer: odered his men into an ambush, surrounded by better-armed and 5X his number of indian wariors-he was killed, with all of his men.
-Marshal Budyenny (Russian, WWII): ordered cavalry charges against german panzers, caused a near collapse of the Russian Army
-General Mark Clark (US, WWII): allowed Germans n Italy to regroup; persisted in frontal attacks against entrenched positions
-General Birdwood (British, WWI): ordered frontal attacks against positions ABOVE his, caused the collapse of the Gallipoli campaign.
There re plenty of exampls.

I repeat, the great general pershing; Haig won the war!

Nobody won WW1; one side happened to lose first.

I’d nominate the yes-men generals who surrounded Hitler, most notably Wilhelm Keitel, who was called “Lakaitel” (lackey) behind his back.

This guy gets my vote good ol’ General Motors.

This is extraordinarily incorrect. I don’t often get angry on ths board, but this post, sir, is ignorant, rude, crass, and a filthy stain upon the honor of a gentleman!

Major Gen. “Uncle” John Sedgewick was an able commander, often sent into action by foolish superiors, but who was quite good at his job. He did not die in mid-sentence, as your wholly incorrect so-called “quote” suggests, and he was killed not by the main body of enemy fire but by a special sharpshooter detachment.

I’m not sure this is fair. Not to excuse his actions at Little Bighorn. But Custer had a great record in the civil war. He was the youngest general in the union for a reason. And his actions at Gettysburg, on the Overland campaign, in the Valley, and most importantly for bringing Lee to a halt at Appomattox all deserve recognition.

Now all that said his actions at Little Bighorn, and before, led to the death of several hundred. He never shouldn’t have refused the reinforcements he had been offered from the 2nd. He should have scouted better and never should have divided his command.

But he also shouldn’t be on a list of the worst generals of all time, unles you want to put someone like Lee on there for Pickett’s charge. Everyone makes mistakes. He didn’t survive his.

Whatever his other merits, the Rif campaign of the Spanish general Silvestre has to go down as one of the most horrible botch jobs in military history.

That is also the most poorly-translated Wiki page I’ve ever seen.


3 whole legions in the Teutobergwald … conducted a massacre of 4000 people in Judea, which caused a general boycot of red samian ware as a result …

It takes real skill to alienate entire populations at opposite ends of an empire …

General Jubilation T. Cornpone! Commander at Cornpone’s Defeat, Cornpone’s Rout, and Cornpone’s Utter Humiliation.

But seriously, folks, I would nominate General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, with gratitude. Were it not for his well-timed afternoon siesta at San Jacinto, I might not have been afforded the privilege of a childhood in Waco, TX, the “Athens on the Brazos”.

Another example, in the category of collective stupidity, are general Oreste Baratieri’s brigadiers Dabormida, Albertone , Arimondi and to a lesser extent Ellena, who based on little more than jingoistic pride and against Baratieri’s better instincts, convinced him to attack into the teeth of an Ethiopian army that outnumbered them more than five to one. An Ethiopian army that was known to have a top-notch native general in Ras Alula who had beaten the Italians before, a decent artillery park, and a largely rifle-armed force with mostly better-quality arms than the Italians. An Ethiopian army that was also on the verge of eating itself out of the field and would have quickly melted away, if it hadn’t been engaged.

The results were somewhat predictable.

WOW, man are you showing your age. I bet that less than 1% of the people on this board have even heard of Jubilation T. Cornpone! That brings back memories.

I would go with Custer.

My second for ego would be Paton. He let the Germans escape Sisily just so he could beat Mongomery into Palarmo. And his orders were to cut off the escape. He ended up having to fight them later in Italy when they had been resupplied.

I think we should draw a distinction between otherwise able commanders who were caught flat-footed by a technological, tactical or strategic innovation or paradigm shift.

I.e. many of the 1940 Battle of France generals look relatively incompetent by virtue of the ease with which the Wehrmacht rolled over them, but that was because their forces were neither equipped nor trained to fight that sort of mobile war. I’m hesitant to call the World War I generals incompetent; they were doing what was considered sound at the time- it’s only now with tanks that such tactics seem so incompetent. Without tanks, what else were they going to do? They tried a lot of other stuff- infiltration, rolling barrages, mining, etc… none of it really worked vs. defence-in-depth trench systems.

Contrast that with say… Ambrose Burnside at the Battle of Fredericksburg, who mounted an uphill frontal attack vs. entrenched forces. Even by the standards of the time, that was a pretty bad idea.

Or Gen. Ned Almond, who in WWII, when his 95th division performed poorly, blamed the failure on the fact that it was composed of black troops, or when in Korea, as commander of X Corps during the advance to, and withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir, who couldn’t get along with either his peer general O.P. Smith of the 1st Marine Division, or his superior, Gen. Walton Walker. Add to that his failure to cut off, destroy and pursue the retreating North Korean forces after the landings at Inchon, and you have a pretty clear case for incompetent generalship, even by the standards of the day.

As mentioned; WWI generals who turned a pointless war into a pointless bloody war. Haig springs immediately to mind, although I’m sure the blame rests with others on both sides.

Varus was an over-trusting bureaucrat who got his legions wiped out because he misjudge the character of Arminius/Herman

Darius III of Persia. May seem unfair, because against the greatest general of all time, anyone will seem crap, but I think a fair portion of the Alexander III of Macedon’s success in Persia comes from his failings; his overconfidence to begin with and his spinelessness to end with.

Speaking of overconfidence; Crassus started a war with Parthia for no discernible reason other than personal glory, made a horrendous mess of things and got a molten gold mouthwash for his trouble.

George Bingham, of ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ fame, whose senseless tactics foreshadow that of WWI.

You could amass an impressive list of all-time lousy generals just from the history of the Civil War, but my top nominee is George McClellan.

He was great at organizing a well-drilled army, but horrible at using it in battle, constantly overestimating the strength of his opponent and being outmaneuvered by the opposition (notably Robt. E. Lee, an excellent commander but one who also had the great fortune to repeatedly go up against McClellan).
Lincoln got so frustrated with McClellan’s lack of aggressiveness that he was dismissed from his post, whereupon he turned around and ran against Lincoln for the Presidency in 1864 on a party platform of ending the war and negotiating with the Confederates.

He eventually was elected governor of New Jersey, a well-deserved punishment. :smiley: