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.
1940 – The Battle or Norway
Operation Weserubüng was the code name for the German invasion of Norway and Denmark. It was the turning point battle that enabled the conquest of east Europe including France. It marked the air and land superiority of Germany in Europe as well as Britain superiority in the sea. It was the end of the Phoney war and the opening of World War II de-facto.
The Allies prepared to occupy the shores and key Norwegian port before moving into the Swedish frontiers and akin control of the iron ore sites and access routes but the Germans outmanoeuvred them
Both Britain and Germany had been embarking troops and preparing Destroyers, submarines and battleships for the purpose of conquering Norway right after the Altmark incindent which took place in February 1940.
The Germans needed a steady supply of iron ore from Sweden and a launchpad against Allied convoys in the Atlantic and later on anothe front against Russia. The Allies needed exactly that too, but also a military and commercial access Sweden and to Finland were the cold war was ending.
On 3 April, the Allies got reports of preparations and buildup of troops, materiel and ships in the Baltic. They decided to proceed with the mining of the iron ore route in parallel to the landing operation, setting a date of 8 April for the Admiralty to implement it. It was assumed that it was part of a force being sent to counter Allied plans after the Altmark incident. They amassed troops and ships close to Scapa Flow, the Royal Navy base in the Orkney Estuary.
Norway allocated about 40% of their tiny outdated strategic Air and Naval forces against Germany and about 60% preparing to oppose the allies. The Norwegian government wanted to uphold neutrality at all costs. Norway’s main cities and ports, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik, were occupied in the following 24 hours using amphibious landing. on the same day During the day paratrooper troops captured the aerodromes in Oslo and Stavanger with this as the first capture done by air. German paratroopers would also land in airports in Oslo, Kristiansand, and also in the perimeter of the air base in Sola. These were the first airborne attack in the history of this kind. This new startegy was the predecessor of the paratrooper capture of the fort Eben Emael which enabled the fast fall of Belgium and France and the encirclement of Royal Expedition Force.
By the end of the second day of the German invasion it was too late to redistribute the forces and the Royal Family and government fled to Sweden as British and French aid was slow and disorganised.
The Germans had 4 Echelons of navy and 1 airborne unit which captured the strategic ports and airfields all the way to Narvik, Denmark was captured within 4 hours using diplomatic deceiving with military occupation. This gave the Germans an Airfield in Northern Denmark that allowed strategic air superiority and logistic supply to their troops in Norway. It also meant that all counter attacks by land and sea on Norway would be easily intercepted and counter attacked from the air with bombings, paratroopers or air supply.
The Royal navy had the capability of reaching Norway or engaging Jutland operation area within 10 hours from call, but they misused this advantage. Their reaction to the German invasion was prompt since air scouts reported ship movements. But the direction and manoeuvre wasn’t effective and properly coordinated. The assessment of the British navy was that the Germans were headed west-north to destroy convoys and not as a mission to capture Norway. After the Hence British navy desembarqued their troops and moved their navy northwest in a disorganised manner. Plans were altered many times while underway. This produced confusion and sometimes chaos. British troops, which were embarked for the Norwegian invasion, had to be disembarked in Scotland so that the battle cruisers could be chased.
When the British troops were re-embarked for a counter invasion, they didn’t have the right equipment and air coverage. Thus, the liberation of Norway failed and brought the downfall of the Chamberlain government.
The HMS Ark Royal and HMS Glorious air carriers were sent support the Allied counterattack, but they arrived 15 days after the beginning of the campaign. The Glorious was sunk because of wrong decision-making of its captain and a feud with his Air wingcommander.
At the end of the campaign , Britain and France had ceded a strategic launchpad from Denmark and Norway and also committed and loss troops, artillery, navy and warplanes that would be needed later on for defending Fance and Belgium.
Operation Wilfred was a belligerent assault of Norway’s territorial waters, which preceded the invasion carried out by Germany. At the Nuremberg Trials, Admiral Raeder received a life sentence, partly for violating Norway’s neutrality.
Related Resources and Links
Battle of Fredericksburg Blunder
The Blunder of the Pincer Movement in Chancellorsville
How Britain Navy Incompetence that enabled Norway Conquest
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