Britains Greatest General Debate

Who was Britain's Greatest General

  • 1st Duke of Marlborough

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • 1st Duke of Wellington

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • 1st Viscount Slim

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
There will be a debate on 30 Oct 08 at 7pm in the Guildhall, Salisbury on the above topic. The host (I have never heard of him) is David Dickinson (I understand he is not the weird orange bloke who hangs around antique markets).

The combatants are:

Saul David for 1st Duke of Marlborough;

Simon Scarrow for 1st Duke of Wellington;

Damien Lewis for 1st Viscount Slim.

My vote is for Slim, however Saul David is probably the most compelling speaker.
#3 opposed to 'Britain's Greatest Debate General', which was the headline after the government vetoed Dickie 'balls of steel' Dannatt for the top job.
OK Duke of Marlborough and Duke of Wellington were responsible for battering the French (always a worthy task) but Its very difficult to decide because your candidates fought in different styles of warfare and is really quite difficult to compare their battles.

Also I feel more candidates should be up there, like Edward the Black Prince and many others.
fusil89 said:
OK Duke of Marlborough and Duke of Wellington were responsible for battering the French (always a worthy task) but Its very difficult to decide because your candidates fought in different styles of warfare and is really quite difficult to compare their battles.

It hardly takes a great general to beat the French, now does it?


As someone said, read Defeat into Victory.
Wellington. Just look at the number of campaigns that he dominated and the time period he did it over.


Crazy_Legs said:
Read 'Defeat into Victory' and there can be only one winner!!
I totally agree. Having read "Slim the Standard Bearer" by Ronald Lewin you realise what a human character he was, and 50 years ahead of his time in terms of management technique and "diversity". And of course he got into the mind of the enemy to great effect. The way he also resisted the pleads of the "special forces" lobby insisting that a normal soldier, well led, motivated and trained could do just as good a job. The retreat from Burma would have broken a lesser man. No wonder he was loved by his men.

Slim's got my vote.
Would it be impudent to ask what the point of this debate is? These men, as great as their achievements undoubtedly were, are long dead. Unless this debate is intended to finally put an end to the saga of the spare plinth in Trafalgar Square, I think they are wasting their breath.
I don't know much about the Duke of Marlborough, much to my regret, but understand he had a difficult job as he was commanding a coalition.

The Duke of Wellington had some excellent results in India, but could be argued, that his posting there was much to his elder brothers influence. In Spain, his initial results at Rolica and Vimeiro were outstanding, defeating the fench as soon as he landed, however if he was still the commander of the expeditionary force instead of Sir John Moore, the question would be could he have extracted his force under pressure of Napoleon's advance.

Later in Spain Wellington had an advantage that his overland supply lanes were more secure and Royal Naval supremacy alowed him the freedon of manouver, the French did not have. Also with Spanish forces spread wide, French forces in Spain could not consolidate against him. But saying all that he did co-ordinate a solid alliance in the penninsula.

Slim, well I have to say, always been a fan, based on extracting his force then re-building it for re-capture of Burma. Faced with the difficult terrain, an enemy that did not now when to give up, all the time being at the bottom of the food chain when it came to reinforcements, Europe taking the priority.
How about Archibald Percival Wavell, 1st Earl Wavell? Nearly drove the Italians out of the whole of Libya before having to divert forces to Greece in 1941. This whilst being outnumbered by the Italians.

Or Sir Alan Gordon Cunningham? Commanded the forces that cleared the Italians out of the Horn of Africa, taking 50,000 captive for 500 KIA.

Or maybe Sir Thomes Fairfax or Oliver Cromwell. Both of whom managed to to take a rag bag mix of soldiers from 3 seperate armies and build the first standing national army in the 1640's. Or maybe Sir John Norries, commanded forces for Elizabeth 1st in Ireland, Holland and France in very akward conditions. Or Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, finally defeated the various rumbling Irish factions in 1604 after nearly 30 years of on/off warfare. Or General James Wolfe, whose capture of Quebec ended his life in 1759.
All three great generals, however neither Slim or Wellington were/are considered the best of their generation as Napoleon or Guderian.Manstein usually take these plaudits. The reson for this is that they completely re-wrote the rule book and shattered the conventions of what had gone before. They were the visionaries that transformed warfare. However if we look at Malborough we see he is the visionary who changes the nature of warfare with his dramatic movements and highly agressisve battle tactics.

If you don't know much about him he is definately worth a read. A good book on Blenheim which explains how his rapid and highly suprising manouvre forced the battle, and then how he tactically controlled the battle, forcing the French to conform to his desires and then having sucked in the French Reserves to the flanks shattering the weakened French centre with his massed cavalry will be a good start. Vision, innovation and balls of stell.

Jusy my twp pennies worth.

Slim commaded the largest and most diverse of Britain's Armies in WW2. He was also (unlike - tantalisingly absent from the nomiinees - Monty) personally responsible for the defeat of the enemy's main army in the field, despite being at the bottom of the resources prioority list, and at the end of a most extraordinarily stretched line of sommunications. He managed to maintain excellent relations with, and the complete trust of, the allied officers he worked with and for (a feat that consistently defeated Monty), and always gave the credit for his victories to the blokes who fought for him.

Not bad for the grammar-school educated son of a dodgy Brummy ironmonger.

He gets my vote.
Arthur Wellesly commanded at least 3 very different armies.

In India it was diverse with mainly Indian local troops backed up with EI company and regular British troops.
In the peninsular it was a mixed brew of European troops with varying experience.
The Waterloo campaign was mostly unseasoned troops.
Wellingon never lost a battle, despite having more worries than more contemporary generals.
Ozduke said:
Why, old Hooky of course.
Given that, after his personal sucesses in command, Wellington spent much of his remaining time in service and as Prime Minister actively preventing the modernisation of the Army - thereby contributing significantly to the mess it was in by the time of the Crimea - I'm afraid I would have to demur.

I once heard Richard Holmes describinbg Wellington and Monty as each 'casting a cold shadow'. Meaning that their style of command was such that good men (let alone great ones) were not allowed to prosper under their leadership.
Given the 3 candidates in the debate, my vote would have to go to Slim. He constantly battled extremes of terrain & weather, commanded the Commonwealth's most diverse army, was last on the list for supplies & manpower, & after Imphal & Kohima beat the Japanese Army at their own game. All this through his ability to inspire, motivate & train his troops thoroughly for the type of warfare they were expected to undertake.
He was also ably assisted by some of the best Corps & Divisional commanders the British & Indian Armies ever produced, notably "Pete" Rees & Frank Messervy (remember the Battle of the Admin Box?).
Sorry but it has to be Marlborough.

There is nothing wrong with Slim, its just we are comparing apples with pears. Slim commanded a forgotten Army in a theatre of war in a sideshow. Burma wasn't high on either Axis or Allied priorities. Slim was an army commander. His peers were Dempsey, Crearer and Leese. Wellington commended Britain's major army in the field and had comparable responsibilities to Haig or Montgomery. Marlborough was the leader of a coalition armed force and is comparable to Eisenhower or Foch.

Claiming that Its like claiming that the greatest sporting performance of all time was in some meaningless mid table club fixture or that American Pie II is the worlds greatest comedy film.

Wellington faced and beat all Napoleon's Marshals then Napoleon himself. Wellington arguably never lost a battle. The only significant criticisms of his generalship are around Napoleon humbugging him in the 100 days.

Marlborough was a strategic and tactical genius and comparable with Charles XII as one of the great Captains. He was a man who could be counted on to win decisive battles in a time when battle was risky and warfare was mainly siegecraft.

Marlborough commanded at a time when Britain didn't have a great military reputation. In the reign of Charles II Britian was almost a client state of Louis XIV. The English soldiers did not particularly shine in the Williamite wars or in the war of the league of Augsburg. Marlborough was a n outstanding organiser and trainer. He made his cavalry as decisive an instrument as German Panzers. He had the gift of seeing the tactical potential of terrain -as at Ramifies. The march to Blenheim was a strategic masterstroke. Marlborough made the post restoration British Army's reputation.

He was a personal superstar. He served alongside one of Dumas' musketeers - he was the second man through the breach at Maastricht after d'Artagnan. This is Iranian Embassy window stuff. Add in his legendary sexual stamina "His lordship pleasured me three times in his top boots" and we have a all round hero that all ranks can be proud of!
Marlborough's legacy was to establish the small British Army as a force to be reckoned with and an essential part of an allied force in mainland Europe. He was the greatest general of his generation, but was undone by the body count at Malplaquet and political machinations against him at home. The British army has waxed and waned in quality during its history, but could Wellington have achieved what he did without Marlborough's achievements? IIRC (and I stand ready to be corrected) was it not Marlborough's despatches which Wellington used to position his army to defend Brussels in 1815?

I must accept, however, that Wellington's achievements exceed Marlborough's. The sheer breadth of his operations from India to Western Europe and the wide variety of terrain he fought over highlights his genius, but if Napoleon had been on top of his game at Waterloo, would we remember him so fondly?

Great though Slim was, he commanded for a shorter period than Wellington or Marlborough (through no fault of his own) and whilst undoubtedly greatest of our 20th Century Generals, his achievements during one campaign do not match Marlborough and Wellington's over several.

I must settle for the Iron Duke, purely because his achievements are so much greater than the other two, even if he may be lacking in other departments. What this debate should prove beyond doubt is that there is no such thing as a perfect general!

Editied to add: Is it mere coincidence that Wellington and Marlborough both based their strategies on effective logisitics?

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