Military Incompetence that Changed History

The misconduct and lack of professional generals was several times in history a tool for blaming presidents and leaders on weakness and inaptitude that is part of selecting the wrong command for office.

Genrals’ Decision Making Blunders Costing Decisive Battles and Wars

Many turning point battles were lost because of series of decisions made by incompetent generals that didn’t act on initiative or respond on time. Some of these critical battles had a delay or wrong movement which enabled their enemy a flanking maneuver which neutralized their armies while trying to outflank the enemy by themselves This is the classic condition where a smaller army can take a bigger army and cause chaos. These cases can be seen at the battle of Warsaw in 1920, Tanenberg, Stalingrad, Kursk, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The battle of France in 1871 and 1940, Antietam, Ludendorff Spring Offensive and so on.

Incompetence may be a result of lack of analytic skills, lack of resolve, lack of supervision, lack of understanding logistics and intelligence, cowardliness, arrogance, feud with rival general or a combination of one of those factors.

A pincer or encirclement movement that is not synchronized and backed up by competent supporting generals that respond in time may be a trap. Sometimes the supporting general doesn’t perform his duty as result of a feud with another general and may result in losing a battle, a campaign or even a war.

The result of these battles changed warfare actions immediately as well as made a strategic shift of battles to other regions and extended the respective wars in time and violence. Amazingly, if we compare the battle of Tanenberg and Chancellorsville, winning sides of the belligerents used similar battle of movement tactics and calculated risks of splitting smaller size armies twice while similar rolling battles of encirclement and flanking. The losing armies lost because of arrogance, miscalculation, narcissism and egoistic thinking of arrogant generals that don’t help their fellow generals on time.

The misconduct and lack of professionalism demanded from high command generals resulted in unnecessary bloodshed or losing a turning point battle or the war itself. Several times in history the outcome of a battle or war was used as tool for politicians and the press for blaming presidents and leaders on weakness and ineptitude that comes to light when selecting the wrong command for office.

“The President is a weak man, too weak for the occasion, and those fool or traitor generals are wasting time and yet more precious blood in indecisive battles and delays.”
Senator Zachariah Chandler – 1863 memoir

1862- Battle of Frederickburg Blunder 1 – South
Maj. Gen. George G. Meade units made a substantial advancement towards flanking positions in December 13th, 1962. He opened a major gap and arrived at the ridge crest where he started capturing Confederate soldiers and positions. His pleads to support and exploit the gap where responded with bureaucratic excuses. by Brig. General David B. Birney and
Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds and Gibbons officers who failed to exploit the only meaningful breakthrough while one reserve corps was waiting idle in the back. Counter attacks and encirclement forces Mead to retreat.

December 13th, 1962
Battle on 1:00 PM


December 13th, 1963
Battle on 8:00 PM

1862 – Battle of Frederickburg Blunder 2 – Center

While the Federals frolicked in the streets, Lee took advantage of the delay to bring Jackson’s corps into position. Should Burnside have crossed more of his troops on December 11 and have attacked on December 12 before Lee could reunite his divided army? Some contemporary observers and later historians have concluded that this in fact proved to be Burnside’s greatest blunder.

Battle of Chancellorsville

Lee went against one of the first rules of war by dividing his force in the presence of a numerically superior enemy to confront Hooker’s flanking force near Chancellorsville. Hooker immediately went on the defensive, and Lee yet again split his army with a wide march that routed the Union right flank.

1920- The Battle of Warsaw

The red army mishandled the final stages of the war on Poland. A Pincer movement going wrong on the Vistula front made Warsaw battle the turning point of the war. The south pincer movement under of Joseph Stalin, the future Soviet dictator, failed to move in and assist to campaigns run by Mikhail Tukhachevsky who Stalin had a feud with before and after the war .
Stalin, in search of personal glory and personal intrigues, wanted to capture the besieged industrial center of Lviv instead of advancing to the capital therefore they missed the battle. This allowed the poles to counter attack and outflank Soviet forces that retreated to Prussia in the north and to the east. The result was the first major defeat of the Bolshevick army which tried to expand their soviet doctrine to Europe. Soviet losses were about 15,000 dead, 10,000 wounded and 65,000 captured, compared to Polish losses of approximately 4,500 killed and about 22,000 wounded.

Related Resources and Links

Battle of Fredericksburg Blunder

Battle-of-Fredericksburg Visuals

The Blunder of the Pincer Movement in Chancellorsville

Lincolns’ “Do-Nothing-Generals”

Senator Zachariah Chandler – memoirs

Surrounding a Pincer movement in Chancellorville

The Battle of Tanenberg

Animated Battle of Chancellorville

The Battle of Warsaw Stalin Blunder in the Pincer Movement

Author: Myth Watch

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