Thinking about generals

Yesterday on TMP, a poll suggestion arose about people’s favourite generals.  It was nice to get something like this rather than who is the ‘best’ which inevitably leads to pointless unwinnable arguments.  The answer for me was instantly Marlborough, as anyone who has read this blog would probably guess.

File:John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt.jpg

Marlborough – instant favourite on the NDC top ten list of historical personages.

But then I thought through my second and third places.  It took very little time to come to the conclusion that Hannibal was next on the list, but then there seemed to be a bit of a gap before a gaggle load of competitors vied for attention.

Hannibal – second because of Zama – and cruelty to elephants…

Until I refocussed on the question – favourite does not have to mean the most successful or egotistical all-singing all-dancing conqueror of all-time.  And my thoughts were drawn to a name few would probably think of – Mikhail Tuckhachevskii.

Micky T –  Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Darth Vader and Karl Marx all rolled into one.

I first read about Mikhail in the writings of JFC Fuller.  Fuller wrote of a wild-eyed nihilist, a man who wanted to emulate Genghis Khan in wiping out Western Civilisation.  I was very attracted to this character.  Not that I wanted to see the end of civilisation mind you.  Like Kenneth Clark in his famous television series of the same name, I have to admit that I am quite fond of being civilised and not at all certain that Barbarism is my cup of tea.  But I had to admit there was something rather primal and magnetic in this description of the man.  

A few years later when I had a bit more of a critical academic eye than that of a 16 year old war buff, I realised that Fuller had written for effect.  That what he had meant to say was that he hated Communism and he would make this general a symbol of all the things he feared Communism would bring.  Old Micky lost a little of his mystique.  But this was replaced by a whole new appreciation for him as a general.  Yes, he had lost the Battle of Warsaw (well, Budyenny and Stalin had lost it for him…), but what he would later do as head of the Soviet armed forces and his concept of deep battle marks him as one of the greatest military minds of the Twentieth Century.  Even though Stalin had him killed in 1937, it was the ghost of Tuckhacheveskii that won the Second World War.  I firmly believe that had the Cold War gone hot in Europe then Mikhail’s ghost would have led to the Soviet conquest of Europe.

So Tuckhachevskii came third – although I still like to think of him as Fuller’s dark angel of the apocalypse now and then, and this little bit of nostalgic whimsy has a strong bearing on the ‘favourite’ tag.

Interestingly, none of these men was ultimately loved by his country.  Marlborough fell from favour and was replaced by the Queen he had served so loyally (kind of… long story); Hannibal was exiled and eventually committed suicide; And Tuckhachevskii ended up with a bullet in the head to remind him of all the great things he had done for the Soviet Union.  Admittedly Marlborough was restored by George I in 1715, but by then the war was over, France had won the peace and the Duke was left with a home his wife wouldn’t stop complaining about for the last couple of years of his life.

Anyways, I have a Soviet WWII Flames of War army I am in the process of finishing off, and DBA armies for the Punic Wars, but I have no Marlburians, having sold them off in order to buy more toys.  Never fear, though!  I have a cunning plan…  Using the Foundry 1644 rules and Wargames Factory plastics I am going to build up 28mm British and French Marlburian armies!  Huzzah!  Now I just need to buy them.  And paint them. Sigh.



6 comments on “Thinking about generals

  1. Nate

    No mention of Hannibals nemesis – Scipio Africanus? I’m shocked!!

    I like your choices, a fun combination of off the wall perspective and the conventional … with a common thread.


    • Hi Owen
      To be fair Scipio did occur to me, and he pretty much suffered the same fate of being unappreciated. He might be at number four. I think that I am also a fan of polyglot or armed rabble type armies and the generals that can get the best out of them. Marlborough, Hannibal and Tuckhachevskii all seemed to be on a hiding to nothing with the armies that they had, but showed that they could do the business anyway.

  2. There is only one great commander for me and its Napoleon, second Hannibal and third Alexander fourth Marlburough, we all have our favourites. To be honest great generals could be a list as long as your arm for all sorts of reasons, but good choices. Sorry to hear yyou sold your 15mm Marlburians, some lucky guy got some beautiful figures

  3. Hi Allan
    Yeah, Napoleon was my fave for a long time, too. Tastes change over time, although I don’t think that Lord raglan will ever be at the top of the list!
    The Marlburians have a safe little home about 30 minutes drive away in John’s cabinet, and I can play with them whenever I like, so the news isn’t as devastating as it might be!

  4. Tuckhachevskii is a great choice I remember reading about him in graduate school. Very overlooked in light of some of the later German WWII generals.

  5. Good Post ; ‘Favourite’ not ‘Best’….
    I had a think about this, and there were so many to choose from, that appealed to me for various reasons. But as ever I am as usual inspired by the magic media that is the big screen, and one of the most colourful and characterful portrayals is that of G C Scott as Patton. Bloody marvelous! [to paraphrase: “you don’t win a war by dying for your country, you win a war by making the other dumb bastard die for his!”]
    Plus Patton did work some wonders, and seems to have been the only Allied commander the Germans feared…
    Others for me would probably be Wellington, just for my sense of patronage, plus he did pretty well against Napoleon and and his generals in the Pennisular…
    And also Julius Caesar, double circumvellation of Alesia, etc etc for my love of Ancients…
    There’s more I could chat about, but this is your blog, not mine!

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