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The Worst World War II Generals

Updated November 13, 2020 221.4k votes 59.3k voters 1.5m views20 items

List RulesVote up the worst of the worst WWII generals from any country.

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. They may be quite famous, but not for any good reasons. 

Many of these generals had their worst defeats when their countries were 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. These bumbling men, perhaps some of the worst generals in history, are from all different backgrounds, such as British, Japanese, American, Russian, French, and Italian. For example, Douglas MacArthur's incompetence led to many of his own men being injured, captured, or killed. These are truly some of the worst generals of WW2.

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

  • Dmitry Pavlov
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Pavlov was the commander of the Soviet Western Front when the Germans infiltrated in June 1941. He had 45 divisions under his overall command, most of them untrained conscripts. In the shocking first days of the fight, Pavlov lost contact with his forward units, then ordered his men to carry out Stalin's orders and strike in all directions.

    Never a true believer in the role of tanks in conflict, Pavlov squandered his armor in wave after wave of frontal strikes against dug-in German arms. The critical cities of Minsk and Bialystock were both captured in gigantic cauldron conflicts, and of the 650,000 men under Pavlov's command, less than 150,000 survived. Pavlov and a dozen other lesser generals were executed soon after.

    • Born: 1897-10-23
    • Birthplace: Kologrivsky District
    Was he the worst?
  • Mario Roatta
    Photo: Italian government / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Mario Roatta was an Italian general during WWII who became known as "The Black Beast" because of actions he took against thousands of Yugoslav civilians. He was sentenced to life in prison in 1945 for masterminding the destruction of Carlo and Nello Rosselli as well as those innocent Yugoslavians; though he disappeared in Spain shortly after.  

    General Roatta was involved with Croatia's Rab concentration camp of which one soldier wrote, "We have destroyed everything from top to bottom without sparing the innocent. We [take out] entire families every night." Though some still considered Roatta a savior for combating Mussolini's attempt at turning Jewish refugees over to the Third Reich. Instead, however, he sent them to Rab where they suffered anyway.

    • Born: 1887-02-02
    • Birthplace: Modena, Italy
    Was he the worst?
  • 3

    Maurice Gamelin

    Maurice Gamelin
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    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.

    • Born: 1872-09-20
    • Birthplace: Paris, France
    Was he the worst?
  • 4

    Grigory Kulik

    Grigory Kulik
    Photo: Министерство обороны Российской Федерации / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

    A callous and bumbling military Luddite, Marshall Kulik was given command of the Soviet Artillery Directorate, despite loathing tanks and motorized artillery. He disdained modern tech like the machine gun, believed the field would be forever ruled by horses, and meddled in the construction of the iconic T-34 tank by ordering it to be armed with an inferior cannon.

    Kulik's interference in industrial production ensured the Soviet army was totally unprepared when Germany infiltrated in June 1941, leading to horrific casualties. A totally ineffective field commander (his motto was "jail or medal"), Kulik was nonetheless put in charge of the Leningrad Front - and led it so poorly that the iconic city was surrounded almost immediately, leading to a three-year siege. Kulik somehow survived the conflict, but was detained in a post-conflict purge, and then slain in 1947.

    • Born: 1890-11-09
    • Birthplace: Russian Empire
    Was he the worst?