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FINAL ROUND! - The battle royale!

After an unprecedented ties in both semifinals, we called an audible and threw everyone into one final four-way battle at the end of the it all. So here we are:

Ghengis Khan vs Helmut von Moltke vs Robert E Lee vs Alexander the Great



Ghengis Khan

Superlative Strategist:  He gathered disparate nomadic Mongolian tribes together into a formidable and unified military society.  It was not something he inherited; he had to create it.  This took superior estimative judgment and political skill.  He was able to transcend tribal customs and reward competence and loyalty, rather than bloodlines.  Genghis Khan integrated his defeated foes--usually initially terrorized into submission--into his nation, thus gaining strength from each conquest.  He won loyalty inside his organization--he did not fall to an assassin's blade or poison plot.  When he died, his empire carried on and did not disintegrate.  Indeed, it went on to win new victories under his descendants.

Master Organizer of his Army:   Genghis Kahn built his army with excellent individual equipment and weapons so as to travel as light as possible, streamlined his logistical system, and created a superb command and control system.  Demonstrating keen flexibility of mind, he never hesitated to adopt the weapons and methods of his adversaries when advantageous.

Matchless Campaigner:  He vanquished all those he went to war against through a combination of speed, deception, utter ruthlessness, and total trust in his subordinate commanders to make their own decisions.  His empire expanded to cover a huge chunk of Asia--bordering Korea in the East and the Caspian Sea in the West--his forays reached Georgia in the Caucasus and into the Crimea.  Even the tactical defeat of Subatai by the Kievan Rus forces was transformed into a strategic victory as the Russian princes sued for peace and were nevertheless then put to death, setting the stage for expansion in a later generation.

Fearsome Tactician and Fighter:  Inured to cruelty from a period of enslavement by the Thaichi'uts when he was 20, Genghis Khan escaped and earned a reputation for personal bravery and a keen tactical sense.  Employing spies extensively, he developed a deep appreciation of the ways and motivations of his adversaries on the eve of battle.

Genghis Khan is credited by some in conquering more territory and population in a quarter century than did the Romans in four centuries.  Only Alexander the Great bears comparison, but Genghis Khan's humble beginnings, his mastery in building his own military machine instead of inheriting one from his father, and his similarly vast yet more enduring empire under his sons set him above the Macedonian conqueror.


-- VS --


Robert E Lee

The question of the greatest land combat commander is not an easy one. History provides several candidates of great ability and daring. They are men we are all familiar with - Alexander, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Patton. One name stands above the others, Robert E. Lee. In June 1861,  Lee took command of what would become the Army of Northern Virginia. At that moment, the Union Army of the Potomac was poised to take Richmond and a swift end to the Confederacy seemed a certainty. In short order, Lee seized the initiative. During a series of battles known as the Seven Days, he drove the Army of the Potomac away from Richmond and ultimately off the Virginia Peninsula. Through the Seven Days Battles, Lee demonstrated his trademark skills by aggressively outmaneuvering an enemy superior in numbers and material. He would repeat the performance many times in a series of successful campaigns unparalleled in the history of land warfare.

Lee was a naturally aggressive commander and master of the "calculated risk". During the Seven Days, Lee took the measure of his opponent, the cautious and methodical George McClellan. Leaving some 25,000 troops outside Richmond to oppose 70,000 Yankees, Lee was able mass the bulk of his army against the isolated V Corps on the Union right flank. Once V Corps was forced back, McClellan felt compelled to withdraw in order to secure his base of supplies on the James River. Lee's gamble had paid off.  In scarcely a month, he had turned the impending fall of Richmond into a victory that raised hope throughout the Confederacy while crushing Northern morale.

Never able to match Union forces in strength of numbers or quality of equipment, the Army of Northern Virginia was able to match and best its foe thanks to Lee's exceptional grasp of maneuver warfare. Lee's abilities were on full display at Chancellorsville. With barely 56,000 men to pit against the 135,000 under Joseph Hooker, Lee was faced with envelopment and destruction of his army when Hooker took to the offensive. Lee countered with a flanking maneuver of his own.  Leaving a fraction of his army to hold in Fredericksburg, Lee sent Stonewall Jackson's Second Corps in a sweeping move around Hooker's far right. Once again, Lee's bold offensive plan paid off.  Jackson's attack on May 2, 1862 caught the Union XI Corps flatfooted. While heavy fighting continued on May 4, in the end Hooker lost his nerve and withdrew behind the safety of the Rappahannock River. Lee had out thought another Union commander and his troops had outfought the much stronger Army of the Potomac once more.

Faced with long odds from the moment he assumed command, Lee was able to take an ill-equipped, numerically inferior army and wield it to maximum effect. He drove the Army of the Potomac from the gates of Richmond and then carried the fight to Union soil, more than once threatening Washington itself.  His boldness and skill in the face of daunting odds make Robert E. Lee the greatest land combat commander in history.


-- VS --


Helmut von Moltke (Moltke the Elder)
Helmut von Moltke created the German army as we know it. His insights at the strategic, operational and tactical levels won all three Wars of German Unification. More than that, he raised the Prussian General Staff, later the “Great” General Staff, out of obscurity.
Of Danish stock, Moltke was an accomplished intellectual who put his gifts at the service of Prussia. When advising the Ottoman Empire, his advice was largely ignored, leading to Turkish defeat at the 1839 Battle of Nezib. One of the first board wargamers, he rose quickly in Prussian service and became chief of the Prussian General Staff in 1857, aided by his friendship with Wilhelm I. The General Staff was at its nadir due its defeat in Demark in 1848-1850 and the humiliation at Olmuetz. Moltke reorganized the army’s logistics and tactics using modern technology such as railroads, telegraph and the Dreyse breech-loader. He also emphasized staff rides and independent command (Auftragstaktik).
When the 1864 Schleswig-Holstein War started to sputter, Moltke was made chief of staff of the German coalition army. He switched from Napoleonic tactics of assault columns to open, mobile formations. He organized victory through a rare German amphibious operation on the island of Als. Throughout this campaign, he noted the strength and weaknesses of both the Prussians and their nominal partners, the Austrians.

This knowledge helped greatly in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War. His use of railroads allowed his “march separately, fight together” strategy to strategically confuse, operationally paralyze and tactically overwhelm the Austrians. He recognized and made provisions for the inherent dangers of Auftragstaktik and the fact that his subordinates were all members of the royal family. At Koeniggraetz for example, a Prussian general attacked prematurely and Wilhelm I considered retreat. Moltke spread calm over the situation because he knew the Crown Prince was coming to roll up the enemy flank. A cool head is worth thirty hot ones in battle. However, Moltke noted the inferiority of Prussian artillery in this war.

Moltke’s modernization of the artillery helped tremendously when the French Chassepot rifle outclassed the Dreyse in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Accurate and devastating shelling allowed flanking movements to support the costly massed infantry charges to close the range to the French positions in the frontier battles, erasing the French small arms advantage. At a crisis during Gravelotte, Moltke personally led a corps to save the situation. Masking Metz made the decisive battle at Sedan a foregone conclusion.

Moltke’s greatness seems cold. Orders, intelligence, maps, railroads and timetables do not heat men’s blood and make women’s hearts flutter; they merely win wars. His reforms made the Great General Staff key to the German army. His emphasis on logistics, topography and technology was lasting. Those concepts carry on in one form or another to this day. An argument can be made that Germany lost both World Wars but they wouldn’t have come as close to winning as they did without Moltke’s legacy.


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Alexander the Great

I chose Alexander the Great as the Greatest Commander of all time because it is justified by his achievements.

Alexander conquered half the known world in approximately 10 years (335BC to 325BC) against overwhelming odds. Had he lived longer than the age of 32 who knows what more he might have achieved with the time left to him. At the time of his death he is said to have been actively planning the conquest of Arabia, and more long term both Italia and the Gallic Empire. If he had done so, he would have eclipsed the rise of Rome and forever altered world history.

During his entire life he is said to have never lost a battle. He is so respected for this that he is remembered for his military skill millennia after his death. Centuries later, even other Great Commanders like Hannibal and Scipio Africanus were agreed that Alexander was the greatest of all generals.

Alexander was a consistently able commander at the tactical, operational and strategic level. He was personally brave and displayed outstanding leadership. He led by example and did not ask his men to do anything that he was not prepared to do himself and he was respected for that.

Alexander was far more than a great commander. He was an astute politician and a builder. He left a legacy that was a bench mark for future leaders aspiring to military and civic greatness. Despite opposition he worked hard, and to a large degree successfully, to create a “new” empire that gave opportunity to peoples who to Macedonian eyes were now a “subject people”. The consequence is that there was less unrest in a vast new empire, which would have been a nightmare to police with Macedonian troops alone.

There is no doubt that there are other highly talented commanders who have achieved so well against the odds, like Caesar, Belisarius, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, or even some of Hitler’s generals in World War Two. Alexander’s closest runner up as a commander is probably Genghis Khan. However, Alexander can be said to have achieved more. As a Commander he generally had fewer troops than Genghis and he achieved his conquests in a shorter time period. When both commanders died both their empires split into successor states, but the cultural legacy left by Alexander’s conquest are far greater than those of Genghis Khan, which essentially was simple conquest and tyrranical overlordship. In terms of individual military achievement Genghis comes very close, but the sum of Alexander and his legacy make him the greatest.




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