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Armistice Day Essay Contest: The Worst Commander of the 20th Century

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Attention all INPF commands. The following message is unclassified and marked for widest distribution. Publicly publish the following orders at gathering points within your command.

From: Commander, 76th Strike Group, INPF Pacific Command
To: All INPF Commands
Subject: Armistice Day Essay Contest

Situation:
The Captain's Association, and the Admiralty Board of the Discord Server is pleased to announce that we will be holding an essay contest, to celebrate the imminent launch of the game,  (whenever that might be!) and to commemorate the end of the Great War. The contest is open to all ranks, and begrudgingly, to all services, including our land locked cousins. Please see the following information for details. Respond to this thread, or contact the Admiralty Board on the very Unofficial Victory Belles Discord server if you have questions.

Mission:
In the spirit of the old saw "Lions Led By Donkeys", the subject of the essay shall be, The Worst General or Admiral of the 20th Century
As an argumentative essay, your essay about your selected historical personage must be based primarily in facts and reason. Citations are not required. A certain amount of persuasive writing (arguing from emotion) and humor is encouraged, but should not encapsulate more than half of the essay. The board wishes for all participating personnel to have fun after all, but the goal is making a historical argument with these essays in addition to having fun.

Some exceptions to the requirement of your essay subject being a flag officer will be entertained on a case by case basis, but should ideally be at the very least, the commander of a land formation no smaller than a regiment, one large warship, or the commander of a squadron or flotilla of smaller vessels. If you really need to expose the incompetence of such an individual, contact the contest organizer with the following information: Who you want to eviscerate in text, and why you feel they should be considered in the company of failed generals and admirals.

Execution:
The contestants shall write an argumentative essay of at least one typed page in English, size 12 font. The essays will be judged solely on content, not on grammar, but keeping things vaguely comprehensible is encouraged so as not to drive the judges to drink. Anything above ten pages is probably a touch excessive, but if you have the will, by all means.

Essays may be submitted via paste bin link, or posted whole cloth in the contest thread on the Victory Belle's forum.

These essays will then be judged by the Admiralty board via an internal process. Results will be announced via the Discord, and this thread. This will be accomplished as quickly as possible after the end of the submission period. Depending on the volume of submissions... it might take awhile, what with a war to fight against eldritch horrors and all that.

To encourage enthusiastic participation, the Admiralty Board is offering the following prizes to the victor. The admiration of your peers, the smug satisfaction that you've lampooned an utterly incompetent git for the amusement of others, and of course for the over all winner, a prize, either a strategy game with appropriate amounts of naval combat, or a steam gift card of equivalent value . The exact value of the prize, and a possible prize for second place, will depend on the number of participants who successfully submit their entry, but will be no less than 20.00 USD.

The winner will be messaged via PM on this forum, or by discord to arrange for final delivery of the prize.

Administration:

Due date: All entries must be submitted by the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, Reiwa 2/2773 AUC/2020 CE, in the Central Time Zone of the United States.

Command and Signal:

As before, please contact myself under the handle TwoHeavens on the forum, or via the (Unofficial!) VB discord here: https://discord.gg/8AqrYGq with the same call sign.

Keep an eye out for a special further announcement regarding this contest later this week!

 

May the most irate historian win!

Respectfully,
T. Heavens.
Admiral, USMC, INPF
Commanding
 

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Update 1:  As you may have seen per Naval Message #191 from Naval High Command BCS, they are going to provide an in game reward to the winner of our essay contest, to be awarded on the launch of the game. The prize will be a unique crewman or woman, inspired by the subject of the winning essay.

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Alfred von Tirpitz – All risk(theory), no plan

Alfred von Tirpitz is best known as the ship. Really, more people know about the ship, but not its namesake. And in the collective mind of my fellow Germans -at least the ones who payed attention to the 5 seconds of history class he gets mentioned- he is the mighty Admiral who built the mighty Hochseeflotte for the Kaiser Wilhelm II.

But in fact he was a stubborn idiot with a risky plan, which he based on a theory he himself coined (or let coin) "risktheory". Nomen EST Omen. I do not exaggerate if I say: The blood of every German seaman who died west of the Kattegat in World War 1 (WWI) is on his hands. But let me explain.

His life begins 1849 in Küstrin, Province Brandenburg, but more importantly, his military career begins in 1865 unremarkably, but develops remarkably well. He joins the Prussian Navy in 1865 at the age of 16 and is apparently well enough educated to become a Kadett, officer in spe - Ensign in anglophone navies. He's not nobility at the time as the Prussian and later the German Navy accepts "Bürgerliche", well educated subjects of the king who are commoners, as officers from the get go. Unlike the army, which is forced to do so eventually, but that's of no importance here.

He trains on the school ship of his time, SMS Musquito, where he makes a first visit to the Mediterranean. A few promotions later he sees "action" in the Franco-Prussian war on the Ironclad SMS König Wilhelm. Most of the time at anchor as the numerical superior French Navy semi-effectively blocks Wilhelmshaven. A few break out operations see no French opposition. After the formation of the Kaiserreich he serves quietly at sea, before developing the German torpedo, torpedo tube (still in use in WW1 according to a newspaper article I found), torpedo boats and the torpedo flotilla basically alone in the years between 1877 and 1888. He commands as Kapitänleutnant the first German torpedo boat "SMS Zieten", with which he sinks the first ever German flag ship of 1848 "Barbarossa" in a successful test. How very Prussian of him.

He leaves the torpedo inspection which he built from scratch in 1888 as Korvettenkapitän, because "torpedo stuff" fell out of favour under the new Chancellor at the time. He requests to be put in command of a ship and is assigned as commander of the SMS Preussen and afterwards the SMS Württemberg. During that time he gets promoted to Kapitän zur See. Finally in 1890 he is assigned to be chief of staff of the "Marinestation Ostsee". Which hints at one thing, which I found echoes of in the articles about him: He is seen as much better at thinking and strategizing about naval affairs than actually commanding a ship or even a fleet at sea. And he also already had his fatal ideas in mind. But you don't need to lead from the front lines to doom your entire navy to losing a minor military encounter like WWI. Oh, you thought he is only responsible for all dead sailors west of the Kattegatt in WWI? No, all 34.836 dead sailors are on his tab. But who is counting, right?

Since you might be wondering at this point: "What is that Korky person rambling about?", I'll get to the point. As early as 1890 Tirpitz promoted the idea of a strong battlefield fleet over a mobile cruiser fleet. Now, in 1890, chief of staff of the whole Baltic Sea for the German Navy he collected all sorts of stand-in battleships and even made a presentation of his plans with them to the Kaiser. Personally. Who was reportedly impressed. Big ships! Yummy! It even gained him personal access to the Kaiser. Which should've been way out of league for him at this point rank- and positionwise. An he's a commoner! Alas nothing immediately came of it as the time was not right.

The reason being, the naval state secretary at the time, Hollmann, opposed the idea and favoured a "mixed fleet" and even the Kaiser was a bit more preoccupied with favouring cruisers for the moment, as they would provide better support and protection in over seas engagements. Like the colonies or supporting the Boers. Important to pretend to be a big mighty empire. The Kaisers heart was with Tirpitz, but his mind distracted. And the political setting was against a bigger fleet and the navy supporters rather clumsily missed their chance with the then current chancellor. They first fell out of favour with him and then even lost the bit of traction they had gained in the Reichstag. Which was equally bad, because the Reichstag had to approve the money to build the envisioned fleet, no matter what ships..

In any case Tirpitz had obtained the favour of the Kaiser and showed skill as chief of staff. So much so he became chief of staff of Naval High Command in 1892 and was promoted to Konteradmiral in 1895. The conflict between cruiser vs. battleship doctrine had further escalated in the meantime and Tirpitz asked to be relieved in late 1895. He was frustrated his superiors, the chancellor and the naval state secretary, still favoured cruisers and blocked him at every opportunity. But the Kaiser loved him. He loved him because Tirpitz was capable and shared the dream of a fleet with big ships. Big shiny battleships, with big shiny guns. After all size matters, right? And Cousin George of England had one. A fleet with a lot of battleships, I mean. The Kaiser wanted Tirpitz to be naval state secretary, but it was impossible, because sacking his predecessor during negotiations with the Reichstag AND a crisis in South Africa (remember, the Boers) the time just wasn't right. Soooo Tiritz was persuaded to first draft a few battleships and -after more political shenanigans- was sent off as commander of the Kreuzergeschwader Ostasien (not famous yet) to find a suitable harbour for the Reich to lease from the Chinese. He did, but was recalled home before a decision on the matter was reached. Tirpitz time had come, Hollmann and his incompetent band of losers had resigned, the Kaiser wanted Tirpitz, the Navy wanted Tirpitz and Tirpitz wanted the job to finally do what was right and inevitable: Challenge the Royal Navy! He had shown skill in fleet management, was well versed in the naval Reichspolitics, even developed a completely new type of naval weapon for the Reich. What could possibly go wrong?

His strange obsession with Great Britain and the Royal Navy could. I told you I'd get there.

The moment Alfred Tirpitz (still no "von") became naval state secretary in 1897 he went to work on two fronts. One was inside the Navy. He got rid of basically anyone in the way of the "Tirpitz-Plan". He also immediately published and actively circulated a seemingly standard memorandum about the state and composition of the German navy. But in it he basically abandoned cruiser based warfare and discredited it. He demanded a strong, battleship based fleet to be able to face the Royal Navy. From there he developed his "risk theory".
That was his second front. The German Navy should at all times be at around 2/3rds the strength of the Royal Navy, effectively denying the RN the realisation of its "Two-Power-Standard". Thus the RN would not "risk" an engagement with the Kaisers fleet. A battle would, in theory, be too risky for the RN. Even if it managed to beat the Kaisers fleet, such a Pyrrhic victory would be the real risk. The then mightier fleets of France and Russia could make short work of British naval supremacy. Hence "risk theory".

In only 20 years time this plan could be put into effect, afterwards the German Navy would surely be strong enough to fend off the RN and keep the North Sea shores safe and the trade routes into the Atlantic open.

And the Kaiser and the Reichstag loved it. They swallowed it hook, line and sinker. Remember big, shiny ships! Rivaling England on the high seas! A bit of cunning coercing by an immensely successful propaganda campaign, led by Tirpitzs man for the masses Ernst Levy von Halle helped a fair share and soon the fleet frenzy of the Kaiserreich had broken out.

Only a few critics saw the flaw in the Tirpitz-plan. Or rather the many flaws.

What if the Royal Navy decided to NOT come out and fight? Tirpitz completely disregarded a fleet in being approach. His High Sea Fleet was there to bravely engage the Royal Navy (not allied with the French Navy at the time... as if THAT would ever happen).

And if, just for the love of speculating, Britain would actively blockade Germany at sea? How could a fleet of slow battleships break that blockade? At all.

If the home fleet would be beaten and the -even in Tirpitzs plans- inferior German Navy had survived the decisive battle, how would the problem of still having to sail past bloody Britain itself to get to the Atlantic be solved? Tirpitz never addressed this. He also denied the Naval commanders favouring a cruiser fleet enough resources to build a parallel raider/trader fleet to exploit the unlikely success.

Then ther's the time frame. 20 years is actually a bloody long time. And Britain has a head-start in size and power. And the better and much more naval resources..... how was Tirpitz to achieve 2/3rds of the RN size and power if, let's say Britain got wind of it and decided to beef up its own Navy accordingly?

Did I mention the Kaiser loved to brag about his fleet and exaggerated its power to impress Cousin George? No way Georgie (and everyone else like...dunno... the French maybe?) would panic and build even more ships!

What if France and or Russia start to ally with Britain? Because the Kaiser also loved to brag how Germany would take "its rightful place" as an imperial superpower equal to them in might AND size. A bit problematic if no space of the world is unoccupied...... and the Kaiser insists.

Talking about France and Russia: Tirpitz seemed to be strangely obsessed with Britain. He sent his daughters there to a reputated girls school, but also only ever fixed his mind on defeating the Royal Navy. Other Navies appear in everything I read about his plans only on the sidelines. Which is especially odd, because you payed attention, dear reader, and know his only battle experience was against the French.

To top it all off, the army started to mention a slight underfunding problem, because military funds were pumped into very expensive battleships and not the modernisation of the army. Not to mention to keep it at the manpower levels laid out in the armys own plans and approved by the Reichstag. But who cares about an army, if he wants to wage a war in the distant future and only roughly 9/10th of the country borders are landborders? And who had EVER heard of a French or Russian army being a "thing"?

The one thing I let Alfred von Tirpitz off the hook is HMS Dreadnought. He couldn't really foresee it. I assume in his favour he HAD spies in Britain. But he was warned prior to 1906 time and again about all the other fallacies. Even prior to 1900, when he was elevated into nobility. The HMS Dreadnought also did something else: It rendered all other battleships obsolete. So suddenly all efforts in regards of achieving 2/3rds of the RN strength evaporated with her.

In the grand scheme of things the HMS Dreadnought effectively should've killed the German fleet program:
Germany had to stick to its obsolete concepts, because those had to be finished.
The new concept had to be adapted somehow first before ships akin to HMS Big D could be built.
They also would require a renewed political battle with a now sobered up Reichstag and populous.
This meant keeping old ships in the fleet, while Britain was merrily modernising its fleet.

And did I mention everyone could see by 1906 how close Britain and France had become? And Russia and France? Punching another hole the size of a football goal into the Tirpitz-plan, which hinged on the idea of Britain having to fear those two Navies.

And those are only the problems adding to the other problems I mentioned above.
And those are only the obvious ones. If we go into detail we could spot many more, I'm sure. But naval details (like comparing fleet quality) is not my strong suit.

But do you think Tirpitz (and his buddy the Kaiser) abandoned their HSF-risk plan over such minor concerns? Of course not. Even in the face of the army complaining about a slight underfunding problem, because someone in Germany was building big, expensive battleships and now on top of it was developing completely new ones. The army was delighted to loose even more funding as you can imagine. Things got so obviously bad, finally even a small opposition inside the Navy formed against the almighty Tirpitz, promoting cruiser warfare again. But it was discarded.

And I think my point becomes clear by now. But I must insist to hammer it home. Because not only the whole Navy disaster was Tirpitz-made. In fact he lost Germany the whole WWI. Yep, the entire gig failed because of him and was doomed to fail even if von Moltke had been a better field commander. In fact every German dead soldiers and a lot of other dead soldiers blood is on von Tirpitzs bloody hands. Not all, because he did not kick it off, but his “preparations” doomed them all in the long run.

As we are all hopefully aware, in 1914, all hell broke loose. Long story short: After Coronel the surface fleet and its doctrine failed miserably. In fact the most successful squadron of Germany was the East Asia Squadron (Kreuzergeschwader Ostasien, famous now). A cruiser based squadron and its most successful ladies, the Emden and Dresden are the stuff of German naval legends to this day. Remembered stories seem to only exist around raiders and cruisers, hinting already at how wrong Tirpitz was. Imagine if he had equipped the far away colonial outposts properly to support the cruisers? Because the German colonies were only equipped to handle the cargo ships to exploit colonial goods. If at all. Staffing, fortifying and equipping those colonial harbours to support cruisers would've meant to give a Mark (the German currency) for the cruiser doctrine. Not with Al von T.!

Or if their numbers had been greater? And the Royal Navy would have been super busy guarding the North Sea regardless. And finding small, annoying German cruisers in the bloody oceans, made even harder by their ability to supply themselves properly. How devastating well supplied cruiser could wreck havoc on a superior enemy was proven by Göben and Breslau in Ottoman service. Of them there was even a very compelling argument made they were the most influential naval force of the whole first world war. <insert link to DYM post>

Instead after Coronel, nothing came of it. The heavy cruisers were dealt with immediately and the light cruisers held out until they ran out of luck and supplies. The African colonies laid bare anyways and the North Sea blockade of the Royal Navy was super effective, because no one had thought to build small vessels as blockade runners. And the decisive battle in the North Sea? The HSF received one bloody nose after another most famously at the Doggerbank and at Jutland. Sure, the RN received wounds as well, but in relation the RN was demoralised to go on the offensive. The HSF was incapacitated to do so, which she desperately needed to do since she was the one being blockaded. The RN just had to hang in there and exist to stop and frisk some trade ships. And such the German Navy lost 34.836 men and gained nothing.

Another immense failure of him was the Babylonian structure of the naval command. Naval command was split between the Kaiser, the chancellor, the cabinet and the supreme command of the army(!). It was so frustrating von Tirpitz actively resigned over the matter in 1916. How easily this issue could've been fixed was proven in 1918(!) be Reinhard Scheer, the German commander in the Battle of Jutland. The latter had apparently some similar realisations after the battle of Jutland on his time afterwards as supreme commander of the fleet trying to quell mutinies. He handed the keys to the fleet to Franz von Hipper on August 11th 1918, met with OHL on August 12th and had replaced all the administrative nonsense with a beautiful and effective Seekriegsleitung officially on August 27th 1918. So Tirpitz (and his successors, all his "followers" until Scheer) was a failure in fleet administration at wartime as well. He was so bad he resigned over an issue, Scheer solved in roughly two weeks.

The only thing in which Tirpitz proved possibly right was his advocation of the unrestricted U-Boot warfare. He wanted to implement it in 1915 already, after German Naval command had first realisations that the many, many sunken British ships were a result of the U-Boote and not mines. Over the months and years a lot of German admirals endorsed the U-Boot warfare, including the aforementioned Admiral Scheer basically as a consequence of Jutland. But if you payed attention, you know why he was right there: Torpedoes were heavily involved in the topic.

But you know. That's only the Naval failure of Alfred von Tirpitz in all its miserable scabbiness.

I also now mentioned twice the impact of his policies to the army. And how he doomed them all to a long terrible manslaughter. I'm talking about his impact on the army that put up a 4 year fight to the combined strength of Italy, Belgium, Serbia, Russia, Britain, France, Hellas, Franz Xaver Josef Conrad von Hötzdorf and Romania. Also some US folks who eventually happened to come over. On every landborder the Reich had to offer and beyond (that's how Conny landed on the list).

Well, most people reading this probably know about the Schlieffen-Plan. It was first introduced in 1893/94 and was changed several times by von Moltke until 1914. Well, prioritizing the Tirpitz battleship-fleet meant the war started and the German army was.... actually undermanned and underequipped. Yep, the mighty German army was actually going to war below the strength planned by Schlieffen and even Moltke. As a broad example: The army had prepared to equip and staff around 750.000 soldiers. Total. Prior to full mobilisation it had ~500.000 soldiers ready and equipped to face both France and Russia in the case of an attack.

But the original Schlieffen plan had asked for ~790.000 soldiers alone for its initial offensive actions and additional soldiers to man the planned siege of Antwerpen, cut off French troops in southern Germany and encircle the bulk of the enemy force in or around Paris. On top of that it acknowledged the necessity for additional troops to occupy Belgium, to hold off Russia or if the British Expeditionary Force showed up. (They did not foresee Austrias incapability, just saying.)
But the army had voluntarily restricted itself and settled for 750.000 men, because they wanted to tend to the Kaisers need for BIG, SHINY BATTLESHIPS!!! - courtesy of Tirpitz.

So apart from one or two tactical errors, which Moltke had -at least mentally- prepared for, he had to throw the decisive battle of the Marne, because he had 750.000 men in the battle and realised: He had run out of steam. He couldn't fill a gap between his two armies and no HSF battleship would come to his aid. That realisation broke Moltke and he was relieved from command, deemed unfit for duty. His successor Falkenhayn suffered the long term consequences as well, when he only had freshly drilled regiments to start the race to the sea, while the Brits could use their best men to beat the young German soldiers. Because all seasoned men were needed to hold the line elsewhere, no reserves available. There simply were not enough, because of big shiny battleships anchoring in Kiel and Wilhelmshaven.

Now you see why Tirpitz was the most incompetent military leader of all time. He was so bad, he sealed defeat for his whole country years before the war it had to fight even began.

With all this in mind now, two ironic circumstances in regards to "his" battleship are remarkable in my opinion:

  1. Tirpitz got herself some nice torpedo launcher, endorsing the one thing her namesake was indisputably good in (apart from sweet-talking the Kaiser and almost everyone else into battleships) and he reportedly called his service at his torpedo fleet "the best eleven years of my life".

  2. Tirpitz service record proves her namesakes rejection of the fleet-in-being concept very wrong. And on top of that she was only one ship, hardly a fleet.

Alfred von Tirpitz.odt

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Lieutenant General Sir Frederick William Stopford - Becoming the epitome of incompetent generalship


Compared to the likes of Sir Douglas Haig or even Field Marshal Conrad von Hötzendorf, Lieutenant General Sir Frederick William Stopford doesn’t seem like the prime candidate for “worst general of the 20th century”, especially with von Hötzendorf’s infamous record. However, when your performance in command is considered one of the most incompetent feats of generalship of the First World War, so much so that enemy victory was almost total, it gives Stopford a bit of a leg up, if not the entire leg and then some.

Sir Stopford’s career started like any other British upper class ponce. The younger son of the 4th Earl of Courtown, Sir Stopford was commissioned into the Grenadier Guards and participated in the Battle of Tel el-Keber in 1882 as aide-de-camp to the chief of staff of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, acting as Sir John Adye’s personal assistant and secretary. He continued this post alongside Major General Arthur Fremantle during the Suakin expedition. Afterwards he was made brigade major for the Brigade of Guards posted to Egypt. Later in 1886 he became brigade major of 2nd Infantry Brigade, and deputy assistant adjutant general at Horseguards and Aldershot, later becoming full on assistant adjutant general for Horseguards in 1897. Now for those not in the know, Horseguards and Aldershot are both headquarters for the British army. For some time, when it came to officers, it would sometimes be a matter of who you knew at Horseguards if you were looking to be promoted or assigned to prestigious postings. Essentially, they were a rich boy’s club where knowing the right person was more important than actual skill.

His military career continues on, as he participated in the Fourth Anglo-Ashanti War. This war was more of a show of force, as the local Ashanti people refused to surrender sovereignty to the British. Not a single shot was fired in the 2 month war, but 18 men died with half of the troops falling sick to disease. During the Second Boer War, he again found himself as secretary to the commanding officer, this time General Sir Redvers Buller, and the secretary to the general officer commanding Natal. Apparently he did such a good job that he was knighted and appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in November 1900.

So, let’s take stock of where we are right now. Sir Frederick Stopford’s military career up to this point has been “Secretary, Secretary, Adjutant General at the Military’s own boy’s club, participant in a 2 month war where all casualties were from disease, Secretary, and again Secretary”. In vast comparison, Conrad von Hötzendorf, the typical poster child for incompetent generals, started as a lieutenant in a jäger battalion and graduated from the Kriegsschule military academy, reformed field exercise of the 11th Infantry Division and was professor of military tactics at said academy. Sure he had little direct combat experience, but he studied and wrote about theory and tactics, so much so that his published works on infantry tactics sold well. He even campaigned for modernizing the armed forces. Even Sir Douglas Haig had plenty of combat experience and spent time actually learning about warfare and the implementation of it. Compared to two of the worst regarded military commanders of the First World War, Sir Frederick Stopford seems to not only take the cake but the entire bakery as well.

Unfortunately for history, his career does not stop there. He finally was given a chance to command as the chief staff officer for I Corps with the temporary rank of brigadier general, followed by the appointment of major-General commanding the Brigade of Guards, commanding the London District from 1906. In spite of the lack of actual combat experience, he was made the director of military training at Horseguards, and made GOC of the First Army on August 5 1914 until some absolute idiot decided to give him IX Corps.

By now the First World War was in full swing, and Sir Frederick Stopford found himself leading one of the last attempts to break the deadlock of the Battle of Gallipoli. Leading the Mediterranean Expeditionary force, General Sir Ian Hamilton ignored the fact that Stopford had in fact retired in 1909 and never commanded men in battle, and instead accepted the appointment of Stopford to lead the Suvla landing for the August Offensive purely based on seniority. For some reason Stopford’s hesitancy during preparations for the landing, a sign of things to come, did not set off any alarm bells in Hamilton’s head. The stage then was set for Stopford to show history how truly incompetent one commander can be.

On August 6th 1915, Stopford and IX Corps began putting their plan into motion, as the 32nd and 33rd Brigades of the 11th Division began landing at “B Beach” south of Nibrunesi Point just before 10pm. Two companies from the 6th Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment, drove the Ottomans away from the hillock of Lala Baba, but not without losing all but two of their officers and a third of their strength. The 34th Brigade attempted their landing at A Beach within the Suvla Bay, but their destroyers anchored 1000 yards too far south and on the wrong side of the channel. Two lighters were grounded on the reefs and the men were forced to wade ashore in water up to their necks.

Things did not go any better for the 9th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers, as they waded ashore in darkness and were pinned between the beach and salt lake by sniper and artillery fire. 7 Officers, including the CO, were killed from Ottoman fire. The greatest success came in the form of the 11th Battalion, The Manchester Regiment. Having come ashore from the destroyer HMS Grampus, they managed to find their way to the Kiretch Tepe ridge and fought some distance along it to the east, paying in 200 men.

All along the bay, the landing was in chaos. The pitch darkness of the night of August 6th resulted in units getting mixed up and officers unable to locate their positions or their objectives. Once the moon rose, British troops became prime targets for Ottoman snipers. Hill 10 wasn’t even captured until after dawn on the 7th, as no one in the field knew where it was, and the Ottoman rearguard had withdrawn during the night.

But where was Stopford during all this? Well, he was on board the HMS Jonquil. Not commanding mind you, that would actually be something a somewhat competent commander would do. Instead, Stopford did the only sane thing he could do. As the landing was in progress, Lieutenant-General Frederick Stopford went to sleep. In fact, he did not receive any news on the landings until 4am on August 7th, when Commander Unwin came aboard to discourage further landings in Suvla Bay.

The next day did not fare any better. With the chain of command breaking down, progress had become minimal. Lack of supplies, especially drinking water, and Stopford “commanding” from offshore led to a lethargic advance, just managing to seize Chocolate Hill and Green Hill in the evening with minimal resistance but with constant harassment by shrapnel and snipers. The command structure of the British forces completely broke down by the end of day on the 7th, and the butchers bill tallied 1700 casualties. This was a figure that exceeded the total size of Major Wilhelm Willmer’s 3 battalions, the sole defending forces under command of the Bavarian cavalry officer lacking machine guns and under orders to delay enemy advances. Fortunately for Major Willmer, Stopford was doing a good job of that himself.

General Otto Liman von Sanders, the German commanding officer of the defenses in the area, redirected two divisions to reinforce and repel the British. While enemy reinforcements were en route, Stopford proceeded to make it as easy as possible for the Ottomans. He had no intention of advancing to the high ground, and instead signaled Hamilton that he would instead consolidate the position held. The lack of progress and absence of any drive led General Hamilton to dispatch Captain Aspinall and Lieutenant-Colonel Maurice Hankey to find out what was happening, and on receiving Stopford’s signal decided to see the clusterfuck for himself.

Once Aspinall arrived along with Hankey, he found Stopford in excellent spirits and well satisfied with the progress, despite the fact that his men had barely made it off of the beach. Hamilton arrived not long after, and with a clear picture of the travesty that was going on, went to confront Stopford with Aspinal and Commodore Roger Keyes. Stopford had finally planned an advance that would take his men off of the beach and to the important Tekke Tepe ridge, but in usual cautious fashion, had planned it to take place the next morning on August 9th. Hamilton, understandably frustrated, insisted it take place immediately, sending the 32nd Brigade 2 ½ miles to the ridge that evening. The attack was a shambles, as the brigade took 10 hours to reach the ridge in the dark over unfamiliar and rough terrain, and fresh Ottoman reinforcements met the exhausted British with a bayonet charge that virtually annihilated the brigade in a matter of minutes. Hamilton wrote of the situation: “My heart has grown tough amidst the struggles of the peninsula but the misery of this scene wellnigh broke it... Words are of no use

The evening of August 8th did not serve to improve the British position, as the Ottoman reinforcements had arrived and took up positions. However, Feizi Bey, the commander of the reinforcements, objected to Von Sanders’ orders to attack immediately. If he did, considering the ineptitude of the British command, he might have broken the British right away. Instead, Von Sanders dismissed him and replaced him with an aggressive and capable commander, Mustafa Kemal, who boosted Ottoman morale. Seeing the position he was in, he was in no rush to sacrifice the defensive line while dealing with the Sari Bair ridge threat. British Reinforcements were also arriving, but command continued to remain paralyzed. Stopford began giving complete nonsensical and surreal reasons for inaction, including that the Ottomans were “inclined to be aggressive”.

6 days after the landings began, Hamilton finally cabled Lord Kitchener to replace the IX Corps generals. Kitchener, who had appointed Stopford in the first place, approved of this, saying that he would send any competent generals to Hamilton. Even before Kitchener got a response, he made Lieutenant-General Julian Byng available. Stopford was ultimately dismissed on August 15th, replacing him with Major-General Beauvoir De Lisle while Byng was en route from France. Major-General Hammersley was also dismissed, and while Lieutenant-General Sir Byan Mahon was supposed to remain in command of the 10th Division, he abandoned his division while it was in the thick of the fighting on Kiretch Tepe. Mahon was incensed that de Lisle was appointed above him, as he disliked the man. Major-General John Lindley of the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division also resigned. Once de Lisle arrived, he reorganized and reinforced the front, leading to the climax on August 21st with the Battle of Scimitar Hill. Fighting became sporadic, until the British evacuated in late December.

Lieutenant General Sir Frederick William Stopford shoulders the blame for the failure of the Suvla operation due to inaction, indecisiveness, gross inexperience, and incredible incompetence. Lord Kitchener and Sir Ian Hamilton share responsibility for this as well, with the former as the one who appointed the old inexperienced general to an active command and the latter who not only accepted the appointment but also failed to impose his will on his subordinate. Hamilton in fact waited a full week before finally replacing Stopford. However, one thing to keep in mind is that this was still the thing during the First World War, and in some capacity in the Second World War. Ever since the times of the Napoleonic War, the 7 Years War, the Hundred Years War, even as far back as the Roman conquests of Gaul, it was commonplace to allow nobles with lack of military experience into commanding positions within the military. The majority of European nations at least were all involved in this practice, as well as granting elderly generals positions based purely on seniority. Kitchener and Hamilton don’t have the same weight of responsibility because of this. Instead, the lives of every British soldier and complete and utter failure of the Suvla Bay landing lies at the feet of Stopford. By the end of the landings on the 15th, the British advance had stopped after only a single mile and no objectives were even achieved. It was a complete Ottoman Victory.

To me, and hopefully to you, you can see now why Stopford is not only considered to have been responsible for one of the most incompetent feats of generalship of the First World War, but is also deserving of the title “worst commander of the 20th century”. A man who bought his way into command, who never once served in active duty commanding soldiers, who never even went through military training himself, who was given command of an operation due to his age, who decided it was more important to sleep during the initial landings and to secure the 1 mile advance along the beach than it was to actually command, and who hammered the final nail in the coffin of the Gallipoli offensive through inaction, overcautiousness, and incompetence. It is fortunate for the rest of the British forces active during the Great War that he, as far as I’m able to find, was never given command again, and retired from the service in 1920.
 

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Marcel Bruno-Gensoul: How to sink a rising star

 

Military officers have two duties to fulfill in their service. The obvious one is their obligation to serve their nation and carry out the missions assigned to them. Indeed many of the most vilified officers in history are notorious because of their perceived failure to uphold this first duty. The second duty is remarked upon less but is just as important to an officer’s effectiveness. They have a duty to their men, specifically to preserve their command and maintain its ability to resist the enemy and carry out the nation’s orders. While it may often seem like the two goals are opposed in many situations, the decent commanders find a way to make the best of any situation for both their country and their men. Unfortunately, the debacle at Mers El Kebir proved that Marcel Bruno-Gensoul was not one of those commanders. 

Finding biographical information about the late Marcel Bruno-Gensoul was difficult, but he was born in the city of Montpelier in southern France in 1880. He joined the French Navy in 1898 and was promoted to the rank of ensign in 1903. By the time WW1 began, he had experience serving aboard various warships in Asia, Mediterranean Sea, and Syria. During the inter-war years, he rose in rank steadily, reaching contre-amiral rank in Oct 1932 and full admiral rank in 1940. Clearly this admiral was a rising star within the French navy of the time period. He also was one of the most anglophilic French admirals of the time according to at least one historian. Supposedly this is on account of him being one of the few Protestants in the French Navy. Most notably, during the Phony War of 1939-40, he participated in Franco-British combined operations in the North Atlantic, during which time he had ships of the Royal Navy, particularly HMS Hood, under his direct command.

After the French surrender, he was actually visited by Admiral Dudley North who attempted to persuade him to continue the war with the British. Gensoul apparently made it clear that he held no ill will towards the British officers, and that he had no intention of letting the Germans get their hands on his squadron at Mers El Kebir. However, he felt loyalty first to the government of the Republic and thus told North that he could only obey Petain’s orders. Indeed, Gensoul’s opinion of the British was good enough that when Darlan informed him of the French government’s acceptance of the Franco-German armistice, Gensoul did not think it was likely that the British would attempt to seize his squadron.

With hindsight of course this was a foolhardy assumption. Indeed, in my opinion it was naïve within the context of the times as well. The Royal Navy had developed a reputation and a tradition of destroying neutral or unaligned navies when they threatened to make the Royal Navy's position untenable. In addition, Darlan had warned him of the British qualms with the Franco-German Armistice. Even if Gensoul had been unaware of the rapidly worsening state of French-British affairs that had developed after Dunkirk, his decision not to heed the warnings of his direct superior is an indictment of his capacity as a military officer.

When a destroyer from Force H entered the harbor of Mers El Kebir on the dawn of the 3rd of July, Gensoul was unprepared for the situation he was about to be confronted with. On board the HMS Foxhound was a certain Captain Cedric Holland, a former attache to Paris who had been sent on behalf of Admiral Sommerville to confer with Gensoul. Gensoul interpreted the dispatch of such a junior officer to be an official snub, and responded by sending Flag Lieutenant Dufay (who apparently was a friend of Holland according to one historian) to meet the Captain.

This turned out to be a major mistake. Unknown to Gensoul, Churchill had forced through a plan to neutralize the French fleet against the wishes of his cabinet and the British Admiralty. Admiral Sommerville had been ordered to scuttle the French fleet if they did not respond to the ultimatum delivered by Holland. According to some sources, Somerville's choice to send Holland instead of meeting with Gensoul in person was motivated by Holland's fluency in French, not by a desire to snub Gensoul. Regardless, the ultimatum was significantly delayed and could not be retrieved by Gensoul until 9AM, by which point he only had 6 hours to formulate a response. 

The ultimatum contained 3 possible options for Gensoul. First, he could join the Royal Navy and fight against the Germans. Second, he could sail his ships to a channel port under British control and reduced crews. Third, he could take his fleet to the Antilles Islands and the US under British control, where they would be interned for the duration of the war. Failing to accept these options would result in the scuttling of the French fleet being demanded. Otherwise the British task force would open fire on the French ships in harbor. Gensoul ordered his ship's captains to prepare for battle and sent a message to part of the French admiralty in Southern France explaining the situation. He neglected to mention the third option when describing the ultimatum. Even if it would have been rejected by the French government, the omission of such a critical piece of information in a tense standoff was yet another mistake Gensoul made that day. 

Over the course of the day Gensoul informed the British of his intention to resist with force. It is worth noting that at the same time Admiral Rene-Emile Godroy had came to an agreement with Admiral Cunningham to prevent an attack on the French fleet in Alexandria. While the situation in Alexandria was different from Mers el Kebir, it is worth noting that Alexandria was possible because Cunningham disobeyed Churchill's orders. With Sommerville feeling compelled to carry out Churchill's intentions, the choice for how the confrontation would play out was squarely within the control of Gensoul. Unfortunately, he could not reconcile his desire to avoid a confrontation between the two nations with his understandable reluctance to disobey his government and endanger the Franco-German armistice. He attempted to conduct last minute negotiations between himself and Holland in order to buy time, before finally offering to scuttle his ships in Oran as a compromise almost 2 hours after the expiration of the original ultimatum. Unfortunately, the British were made aware that French reinforcements were closing on the port and thus Churchill ordered Sommerville to put an end to the fair. Since Gensoul had not taken measures to maneuver his ships into a position from which they could effectively resist the British, the result was a one sided slaughter. The battleship Bretagne was sunk while its sister Provence was damaged to the point it sunk in harbor. In addition, the battlecruiser Dunkerque and super destroyer Mogador were both badly damaged. The only capital ship that managed to escape the trap was Strasbourg. 

Gensoul had been caught off guard at Mers el Kebir. Whether you choose to take the sympathetic or unsympathetic view on his actions and character, what is immeasurably clear is that Gensoul failed to react decisively when confronted with Sommerville’s ultimatum. He failed to take the dispatch of Holland seriously, which cost him precious hours. He did not send the entire contents of the British ultimatum to the French government, which left them without a piece of critical information on the situation. Finally, he could not make up his mind to defy his government, compromise with the British, or prepare for battle until he had run out of time. Whether it was Gensoul’s naive faith in British honor or his own determination to avoid a conflict, Gensoul certainly contributed grievously to the loss of 1200 French sailors and the dissolution of the French Raiding Force. This incident would mark a low point in Vichy French and British relations, and would destroy the career of an otherwise widely respected officer. For failing to fulfill his obligations to his country and his men at a crucial juncture, I judge Gensoul to be one of the worst commanders of the 20th century. 

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The Admiralty Board has granted a 24 hour extension to 2300 CST, 12 November to the dead line.

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Unclassified Message - Distribute To All Personnel 
From: Commander, 76th Strike Group, INPF Pacific Command
To: All INPF Commands
Subject: Armistice Day Essay Contest 
 
The Admiralty Board is pleased to announce our victor in our essay contest. Captain Korky secured a fantastic victory with his essay arguing quite persuasively that Alfred von Tirptitz, the man behind the name of everyone's favorite lonely queen of the North, deserves the "honor" of being named The Worst Admiral of the 20th century. Rather than go on at length we will allow Korky's words to speak for themselves up thread.
 
Thank you to everyone who participated! There's every chance we will run an event like this again, so we hope to see even more of you throw your hat in to the ring for some intellectual fisticuffs. 

Respectfully,
T. Heavens.
Admiral, USMC, INPF
Commanding

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*hüstel*
 

Hoch verehrte Mitglieder der Admiralität, meine geschätzten Mitkapitäne, verehrte Damen und Herren, liebe Kinder,

diesen Sieg nehme ich mit Dankbarkeit und Demut entgegen und ich bin mir sicher hätte jemand mit einem echten Abschluss in Geschichte, wäre das Ergebnis anders ausgefallen. So aber möchte ich der Admiralität dafür danken meinen bescheidenen Beitrag über Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz zum besten Beitrag dieses Wettbewerbs ausgewählt zu haben. Was als ein harmloser Scherz über einen bis dahin geschätzten Admiral der Deutschen Geschichte begann, entpuppte sich entgegen meiner Erwartung zu einem Inferno der Inkompetenz, welches mir diesen Sieg beschert hat.

Daher gebührt mein Dank zuvorderst Alfred von Tirpitz, der in wunderbarer Preußischer Hybris und Selbstüberschätzung das Kleindeutsche Kaiserreich in den wohlverdienten Untergang getrieben hat. Wenn man sich in Deutschland auf etwas verlassen kann, dann dass es ein Preuße für uns schon versauen wird. Weiterhin möchte ich der Person danken, welche damals das zweite Victory Belles Promovideo bei YouTube eingestellt hat, denn ohne sie wäre ich nicht hier. Fürderhin darf ich auch nicht diese wunderbare Gemeinschaft der letzten aufrechten VB-Gläubigen vergessen, denn wenn ich nicht zumindest denken würde, dass ihr es zu schätzen wüsstet, hätte ich gar nicht erst mitgemacht. Un ringraziamento speciale al mio alleato italiano. Non essere l'unico membro dell'Asse a volte mi dà la forza di cui ho bisogno tra tutti questi alleati. Ferner danke ich allen bei Black Chicken Studios, dass sie weiter tapfer an der Fertigstellung des Spiels arbeiten. Wir geben ja alle nur nicht auf, weil ihr nicht aufgebt. Darüber hinaus danke ich natürlich meiner Mutter, meinem Vater, meiner Frau, welche diesen Teil meiner Freizeitgestaltung nur mit Kopfschütteln aufnimmt und Odin, der mir offenbar hin und wieder die Schriftzunge silbern pinselt. 

Danke.

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