Top 10 Military Generals of World War I
World War I (WWI), contemporarily called “The Great War,” was commanded by some of the fiercest military generals in history. Raging between 1914 and 1918, the bloody war was fought between the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria, the Allies – a coalition of nations including the United States, Britain, Italy, Russia, France and Japan, and the Central Powers of Austria-Hungary and Germany.
Military generals devised many complex battle strategies and led their forces with great courage on all sides. Russia’s most prominent military general was Aleksey Brusilov; from Great Britain was Douglas Haig, while Enver Pasha commanded Ottoman forces. All of the other vital generals, including Erich Ludendorff, Douglas Haig, and Paul Von Hindenburg, were responsible for determining the decision to continue the war and various war targets.
Below are the top 10 military generals of World War I (listed in ascending order):
Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck
Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, nicknamed “the Lion of Africa,” was the famous general of the German East African Campaign during World War I.
He distinguished himself as an army general for his humane treatment of his warriors and civilians and for living by the famous warrior code of honor, chivalry, and respect for adversaries. He was also notable for treating his African troops in similar fashion as his German forces during the period when the US Army discriminated against black soldiers.
He is famous for never losing a battle and only surrendering after Germany recognized defeat in November 1918 (armistice). Furthermore, during WWI, he was the only German general to invade British Imperial land successfully. Again, when the British freed his German soldiers but chose to imprison his black troops in camps after the war, he refused to leave Britain unless the Africans received proper care and were guaranteed early release.
John Pershing, birth name John Joseph Pershing, was a famous and revered US military general and army officer. Nicknamed “Black Jack,” he rose to prominence for leading the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) to victory on the Allied Western Front during World War I.
During the early stages of WWI, he initially rejected the demands of the French and British that the American forces (AEF) be merged with the Allies. Instead, he insisted on the AEF operating as a single entity under his command. Eventually, his later willingness to join the Allied coalition contributed to AEF’s significant assistance in destroying the German resistance during the Meuse–Argonne attack in October 1918.
Furthermore, General Pershing was the only Allied general who opposed the “Armistice” and advocated that Germany be relentlessly pressed until they fully surrendered, ultimately leading to the end of WW1.
A few months after the war, General Pershing was honored by Congress with the rank of General of the Armies. The honor was for his for heroic efforts during World War I. Pershing is the only military general in the history of the United States to earn the rank of General of the Armies while still alive. Some historians like to equate the General of the Armies to a six-star general. Pershing is one of two people to hold that rank. The other is George Washington. In 1976, U.S. President Gerald Ford promoted our nation’s first president to this rank as part of the United States Bicentennial.
John Monash, also known as General Sir John Monash, was an Australian civil engineer and military commander during World War I (WWI). He was the finest Australian general of the First World War and the most renowned Australian military commander in history. He was a visionary and innovative leader who won the admiration of many prominent political and military personalities.
Monash is famously remembered for planning the successful “Allied offensive” of the Battle of Amiens on August 8, 1918. The Monash-led Australian Corps, which was the largest on the Western Front, spearheaded the Allied attack carried out by the British forces. It resulted in a mighty, substantial victory for the Allies and a decisive triumph that forced the Germans to admit defeat.
Frederick Stanley Maude
Frederick Stanley Maude was undoubtedly the most strategic British army general during World War I. He was also the most influential commander of the “Mesopotamian” front throughout the war.
Maude began his WWI career as a member of General Pulteney’s III Corps’ general staff in France. He was appointed brigadier general and head of the 14th Brigade in October 1914. In June 1915, he became major general and was later named General of the 33rd Division. In July 1916, he was assigned commander of the “Tigris Corps” and later became the commander of all “Allied” troops in Mesopotamia.
Nicknamed “Systematic Joe,” for being always cautious and consistent, he led the Allied forces to several successfully organized operations in the Mesopotamian campaign. He is also known for leading his troops to a series of triumphs, including Battling and reclaiming “Kut” in February 2017 and conquering Baghdad on March 11, 1917.
It would be a complete historical farce to list the top generals of World War I without mentioning Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, one of the greatest generals of the late Ottoman Empire.
He became a prominent military general for his courage and strategic initiatives that aided the Ottoman Empire in achieving its most significant victory of WWI in the 1915 Battle of Gallipoli, which saw the Ottoman forces fend off an invasion by the Allied powers.
Mustafa Kemal was also deployed in Iraq and Syria and fought in Russia several times, never losing a battle as a Turkish general.
In July 1917, he was made commander of the 7th Army, but he clashed with German General Erick Falkenhayn and resigned shortly after observing the dire conditions on the Palestinian front.
In August 1918, he fought for the Ottomans in Syria. However, the Ottoman Empire’s war ended quickly following the Armistice of Mudros in October 1918.
Mustafa Kemal Pasha later became Turkey’s first president, serving between 1923 and 1938. Today, he is revered as the founder of modern Turkey.
Aleksey Brusilov was Russia’s most prominent military general during World War I. He was a remarkable commander of the Allied coalition, notable for developing innovative offensive tactics.
Brusilov initially rose to fame during WW1 as the commander of the 8th Army, which launched a victorious offensive against the Powers of Austria-Hungary in August 1914. He understood the usefulness of contemporary artillery, machine gunnery, and modern warfare in that role.
He planned and conducted the famous Brusilov Offensive as the chief commander of the South-Western Front. He launched the offensive on May 22, 1916, and it eventually led to over one million casualties on all sides. However, many historians believe it to be the turning point and the most advantageous event for the Allies in WWI.
Douglas Haig was a senior British commander who served on the Western Front for the majority of World War I. However, he was one of the most contentious personalities in British military literature. He was mainly described as an old-fashioned general hesitant to develop combat technology during the war. However, his admirers praised him for his somewhat inflexible and hardline traits.
In December 1915, he became commander of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). In this post, he led two crucial and widely criticized WWI offensives, the Somme and Passchendaele, in July 1916 and 1917. However, although the offensives were technically triumphs, no breakthroughs were made, and the massive death toll far exceeded the few grounds gained. However, in 1916 and 1917, his attrition and tenacity exhausted the British adversaries successfully.
Erich Ludendorff was arguably the most important German military general and commander during the latter years of World War I.
However, at the commencement of the war, he served as quartermaster general of the Second Army of Bulow and was responsible for conquering the forts of Liège. He was then transferred to East Prussia, where he worked as Paul von Hindenburg’s chief of staff. Hindenburg depended largely on Ludendorff’s support for the triumphs at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes between 1914 and 1915.
His unrestricted submarine and naval warfare advocacy was initially a divisive doctrine among Americans. However, his support and philosophies ultimately dragged American forces into World War I.
Furthermore, Ludendorff was also a key figure in the “Brest-Litovsk” peace pact, negotiated with Russia at great expense. Finally, he resigned from the army when Germany’s massive advance in 1918 failed due to the entry of more American forces.
As a heroic military officer and prominent leader of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, Ismail Enver was given various titles, including “Pasha” – an honorary title for Ottoman Empire officers who became a major general. As a result, he was often called Enver Pasha.
In January 1914, he became the Minister of War of the Ottoman Empire, taking complete control of the Ottoman Army. He secretly negotiated with Germany and Russia in 1914 and was primarily responsible for the Ottoman Empire’s decision to join the “Central Powers.” In addition, he developed the “Pan-Turkic” schemes that unified the Ottoman Turks with the Turkic community of “Russian Central Asia.”
Ferdinand Foch is highly regarded among the generals of the First World War due to his enormous influence on the development of the French forces and being the general who ended the land battles of the war in November 1918.
He was the commander of the French 9th Army, which won the First Battle of the Marne by stopping the German offensive at Saint-Gond. However, after the brutal Somme Offensive, which caused many Allied casualties, he became the French scapegoat and was exiled for a time.
In early 1918, as the French and British forces ramped up their attacks against the Germans, the Allied army called him back to war. He quickly resumed command of the Allied military in March 1918, surviving the Ludendorff Offensive.
Foch’s famous victory at the Second Battle of the Marne in July 1918 helped bring the bloody war to a close.
In November 1918, he drafted and signed an armistice agreement (i.e. the Armistice of 11 November 1918), which ended the land, sea, and air battles between the Allied forces and their last surviving adversary, Germany.
After WWI, General Foch was honored as a British and Polish marshal and received many accolades from the Allied countries.