The 20th century saw two world wars which changed the world forever. Apart form the two great wars many other wars have also been fought in the 20th century. With the technological improvements of weapons and tactical changes to warfare, the battlefield has changed a lot over the last 100 years. We’ve seen a lot of great military leaders during this time, so many that it is really hard to pick the top ten among them. Here’s just another attempt to present my personal list of the greatest military leaders of the last century. Here are the top 10 greatest military leaders of the 20th century.
Ahmad Shah Massoud, also known as “The Lion of Panjshir”, was an Afghan freedom fighter and a great military leader during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989 and during the civil war that followed. He was an engineer from Kabul University where he got involved in the anti communist movement. When the Soviets attacked he was one of the hundreds of local guerrilla leaders who resisted the Red Army. He was one of the best leaders in Afghanistan and defended his territory in northern Afghanistan against all other factions. He kept trying to unite the several factions of Afghanistan under one united government but failed when the Pakistan backed Taliban came to power. In 2001, two days before the twin towers attack, Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated by Al Qaeda suicide bombers.
Chester W. Nimitz was the Fleet Admiral of the United States Navy and during World War 2 he held the dual command of Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet for the United States Navy and Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas for U.S. and Allied air, land and sea forces. He took over the command after the Pearl Harbor attacks by the Japanese and his tactical strategy which he stuck to diligently proved that his campaign was one of the most successful campaigns of World War Two and helped in defeating Japan.
Sam Manekshaw was known as “Sam Bahadur” which literally translates to “Sam the brave”. He was the first Indian Army officer to be promoted to the rank of Field Marshal. His career started in the British Indian Army during World War Two. He became the 8th Chief of Staff of the Indian Army and led the victorious campaign during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 that resulted in the independence of Bangladesh.
Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, was one of the most interesting characters of World War Two. He started his military career in First World War but gained fame in World War Two when he commanded the 8th army in the Western Desert Campaign and defeated the German Erwin Rommel in the Battle of El Alamein. He planned the D-Day invasion of Normandy. After the war he became Commander in Chief of the British Army of the Rhine and then Chief of the Imperial General Staff. He was notorious among fellow officers for his pomposity and disregard for other officers but also beloved to the troops who fought under him for his genuinely emphatic concern for their welfare.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was a five star General in the United States Army before going on to become the 34th President of the United States. During World War 2 Eisenhower served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces. He planned the invasion of Africa in Operation Torch and later the invasion of France and Germany. He was also the first Supreme Commander of NATO. He was a great strategist with a lot of political tact and administrative flair that made him the best candidate to lead the vast western military coalition during World War Two.
Erich Von Manstein was the most prominent commander of the Germany’s Nazi forces of World War Two. He became the Field Marshal and was considered to be a great military strategist. He was born into a family that had a great history of military service and began his service in the First World War. He was Chief of Staff to Gerd Von Rundstedt’s Army Group South during the invasion of Poland. He planned the invasion of France and was active in the invasion of the Soviet Union.
Vo Nguyen Giap is a retired General of the Vietnam’s People’s Army and a politician. During World War Two Giap took up arms with Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh and led the guerrilla arm against both French and Japanese occupation. Later during the Vietnam War against USA, Giap fought the world’s greatest superpower in a conventional war while also supporting the guerrilla Vietcong. After about 40 years of armed struggle, in 1975, the Indochina peninsula became one nation because of the military genius of Gen. Giap.
Erwin Rommel was popularly known as The Desert Fox because of his success as the leader of the German and Italian Forces during the North African campaign. He is considered one of most able commanders of World War 2. He won immense respect from the troops who fought under him and from his enemies for being a humane and professional officer. During his campaigns none of his army ever did anything that could be called a war crime. He ignored the orders to kill Jewish soldiers and civilians and this didn’t sit well with Hitler. Rommel was also linked to the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. Hitler didn’t want to prosecute him openly because of his stature as a national hero so he is said to have given Rommel a cyanide pill to commit suicide along with the promise to not persecute his family after his death.
If the British had Montgomery, the Americans had George S. Patton. He was a great military commander that was respected by his own troops and feared by his enemies. He was also notorious in the media for his flamboyant remarks. He led the Seventh United States Army during the North African Campaign in World War Two and later the Third United States Army in the European Theater. He was a leading expert in tank warfare and known for his high speed attacks. He died in an automobile accident in Europe in 1945.
Gregory Zhukov was feared as much by his enemies as by his own troops. He was a Soviet Commander of the Red Army who played a major role in defeating the Axis powers and ending their occupation of the Soviet Union. He ultimately ended up conquering Berlin, the capital of Germany at the end of the war. He was a great tactician and a ruthless commander. He is the most decorated officer in the history of Soviet Union and is respected as the most able commander in terms of the numbers and scale of his victories. Montgomery and Eisenhower, among other generals have been known to acknowledge Zhukov’s brilliance. His combat achievements have changed the world’s military theory.