The Worst World War 2 Generals Of All Time

The worst generals in World War II transcend nationality, experience level, and the size of their commands. These bad generals blundered into defeats, hampered their own troops, disdained technical advances, and cracked under pressure time and time again. Whether Allied or Axis, this is a list of the worst World War II generals.

Many of these generals had their worst defeats when their countries were at their least prepared for conflict, such as the hapless Soviet generals who faced the German infiltration of Russia in 1941. Others were experienced military men who should have known better than to take the risks they took - or not take the risks they should have. And a few were just not fit to command men in the field.

Here are some of the worst WWII generals and what they did that was so terrible. Vote up for the most terrible military commanders.


  • 1

    Jay MacKelvie

    General MacKelvie's 90th division Division landed at Utah Beach a few days after the initial D-Day landings, and within days, had become bogged down and almost passive - despite the rapid gains American troops were making elsewhere.

    As the story goes , MacKelvie's assistant commander found the general cowering in a ditch during an enemy bombardment and berated him until he stood up. With the division losing so many soldiers that it had a replacement rate of over 100%, MacKelvie was sacked after just five days in command - likely the quickest replacement of any American general in the conflict.

  • 2

    Arthur Percival

    As commander of the British forces in Malaya, Percival became party to the largest surrender in English history . He was given command of a large force that outnumbered the Japanese two-to-one, but it was poorly equipped and trained, with little air support and no tanks. Percival himself shunned the building of defensive works, fearing they would sap morale, and spread his forces far too thinly to launch a proper counterattack.

    Japan infiltrated Malaya an hour after bombarding Pearl Harbor, and within a month, Percival's force was in a panicked retreat back to Singapore, which fell weeks later. As a result, 130,000 British troops, including Percival, were taken captive. Malaya suffered horribly under Japanese occupation.

    • Age: Dec. at 78 (1887-1966)
    • Birthplace: Aspenden, United Kingdom
  • Maurice Gamelin
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    3

    Maurice Gamelin

    A decorated commander during WWI, Gamelin commanded France's army on the eve of WWII. He believed the Maginot Line would keep Germany out of France, and they'd have to cut through Belgium - exactly like they did in WWI. Germany did indeed go after Belgium, but through the thick Ardennes Forest, which Gamelin ordered to be left virtually undefended.

    Gamelin ordered his best troops into Belgium north of the main strike, and they stayed there for days, doing very little fighting. Meanwhile, German troops cut through the middle of France, attempting to reach the English Channel. Realizing his mistake, Gamelin ordered his troops to head south but inexplicably continued to delay on launching a full counterattack. Having proven totally incapable of fighting the German infiltration, Gamelin was sacked after just eight days of combat.

    • Age: Dec. at 85 (1872-1958)
    • Birthplace: Paris, France
  • 4

    Lloyd Fredendall

    Facing Rommel's elite Afrika Korps, Lloyd Fredendall was totally unsuited to the task of commanding American forces in the field. He was well-liked by superiors, but very hands-off in the field and issued orders in an incomprehensible personal slang code. One order typical of Fredendall's gibberish read: "Have your boss report to the French gentleman whose name begins with J at a place which begins with D which is five grid squares to the left of M."

    Beyond that, he infuriated Eisenhower by ordering an entire battalion to construct a giant command bunker 100 miles behind the front that he'd never have to leave. He left other commanders out of his decision-making process and had no grasp of how or where to position units to form a defensive line. The result was the US Army's humiliating defeat at Kasserine Pass. Soon after the fight, Eisenhower removed Fredendall from command.

    • Age: Dec. at 79 (1883-1963)
    • Birthplace: Cheyenne, Grant Village, Wyoming
  • Maxime Weygand
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    5

    Maxime Weygand

    After rapid German success in the infiltration of France, General Gamelin was relieved of command of French forces. The position was given to another WWI hero, General Maxime Weygand . Weygand promptly canceled the urgent counterattack that Gamelin had planned, and spent the next 48 hours tending to courtesy visits with foreign dignitaries in Paris.

    Those 48 hours allowed German soldiers to catch up with their over-extended tanks, ending any chance France had of a successful counter-offensive. Weygand finally launched a strike, but the German position had become too strong for it to work. With his armed forces spent in fruitless, piecemeal strikes, Weygand became overwhelmed by defeatism. He ordered Paris left undefended, advocated for surrender, and became an ambivalent SS collaborator.

    • Age: Dec. at 98 (1867-1965)
    • Birthplace: Brussels, Belgium
  • Bill Rupertus
    Photo: U.S. Marine Corps / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    6

    Bill Rupertus

    General Rupertus was the commander of the 1st Marine Division when they assaulted the Japanese-held island Peleliu . Rupertus predicted the island would fall within 4 days, and sent his troops ashore with minimal water supplies. Instead, the fight was a horror show that dragged on for nearly 75 days.

    The Marines were unprepared for the innovative tactics the Japanese were using and relied on what had worked in previous island infiltrations. But Rupertus stuck to his original plan even as casualties mounted and withdrew tank support for a critical assault, mistakenly believing it wasn't needed. The 1st Marine was pulled out after a month of vicious combat and was mauled so badly that it didn't fight again for six months. Rupertus was pulled from command and soon passed.