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Posted on May 14, 2008 in Armchair Reading

July 2008 Mailbag

Gerald D. Swick

Canadian “Great Generals” Part I

Before I begin, let me just say that I am slightly biased in my evaluation, as a Canadian, I was a little upset about a couple of potential omissions from your 100 Greatest Generals List in the most recent issue of ACG.

I was somewhat dismayed to see that there were no Canadian Generals on your list – granted, we’re not known as a warlike or warrior nation, nor do we celebrate our true warriors with the same vigor as the USA, UK, Russia, France, etc. However, we have produced some very good soldiers (a profile on one or two or an article about valourous Canadian soldiers would be very well received).
General Sir Arthur Currie was not on your list, which upset me greatly.

Gen. Sir Arthur CurrieCurrie, who was not even a trained soldier, beyond some basic militia training, became one of the most innovative generals of World War One. He first truly came to prominence at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. His frightfully detailed planning and training of Canadian troops, as well as creative innovations were crucial in the victory at Vimy. (though not specifically designed by him personally, he allowed good subordinates to lead as well). Currie had maps given to almost every soldier, not just officers so they would know the battlefield, as well as a full-scale model that officers & men could pour over in order to know the battlefield intimately. The modification of the Creeping Barrage to the Vimy Glide and the widespread introduction of integrated platoons allowed Canadian troops to take Vimy where hundreds of thousands of French and British troops had failed. Currie is responsible for the Victory at Passchendaele – standing up to General Haig and demanding the appropriate amounts of artillery, as well as the time to impliment HIS plan and not simply commit Canadian manpower into the fight in bits and pieces. Not only that, but he predicted the Canadian Corps’ casualties within a few hundred men (16,000+). During the Hundred Days, Currie and his Canadian Corps were in the vanguard of the fight, including the daring crossing of the Canal du Nord. Currie, who is NOT on your list, was one of World War One’s greatest commanders – it was Britain’s PM David Lloyd George who said that had the war gone on into 1919, Currie would have replaced Haig as commander of all British troops. However British General Rawlinson is on the list – one of the commanders who wouldn’t or couldn’t believe that the plan for the Battle of the Somme was coming unstuck and continued to beat his forces against the German defences (resulting in 97% casualties in 30 minutes for the Royal Newfoundland Regiment).

Other Canadians certainly deserve a spot on the list – Perhaps General Harry Crerar, but almost definitely General Guy Simmonds. Simmonds, like Currie, was an innovator and creative thinker. It was Simmonds and his team who came up with the plan to take the guns out of "Priest" SP’s and put armour plate on them and use them as Armoured Personnel Carriers in Normandy, to help break the stalemate behind the British and Canadian beaches and smash forward through Verriers Ridge and deep into the German defences and work to close the Falaise Gap. In addition, it was Simmonds who commanded during the Battle of the Scheldt (to correct the error of Monty and Ike eof not clearing the Scheldt with ease when Allied forces first entered Belgium and Holland – they were busy with the disastrous Market Garden at the time). It was the crucial Battle of the Scheldt, conducted by Canadian & British forces, that allowed the use of Antwerp as a port by the allies. This greatly lessened the Allied supply problems and allowed the Allies to smash into Germany in the early months of 1945 (again with Gen. Simmond’s Canadian troops in the van of British forces.) If Simmonds’ plan in the Scheldt had failed, it might have resulted in the Allies supply problem stopping all large-scale offensive actions, allowing the Soviets to take Western Germany and move toward Denmark and Norway, (which they did have eyes on).


Clearly, as a Canadian, I am biased and passionate about my nation and the exclusion of Simmonds is unpleasant, and a bit of a slap in the face, but the exclusion of Currie is wholly unacceptable. He was one of the most innovative, creative and victorious British/Empire Generals in World War 1.

Perhaps a bio of one or both of these men, as Canada’s greatest Generals, or something of this sort could make up for the omission.

[I was also surprised that Freyberg was missing as well, and yes, I know Gen. Mark Clark wasn’t on the list as well – but that man was a bigger help to the Germans than he was to the Allies.]

Thank you for your time, and a wonderful publication, I have not missed a single issue and have them all safe, protected and dry so I can reread them often, and use their information in my History classroom.

Andrew Frise,
Orangeville, Ontario. (Canada)

Thanks very much for your email and for the information on the ‘missing’ Great Generals, Currie and Simmonds. You’ve made great cases for the inclusion of both of these on the list. Thanks for reading Armchair General and for taking the time to send us your thoughts on the Greatest Generals article.


Canadian “Great Generals” Part II

Good day Sir,
I am not sure if I have the correct person, but please forward this on if I do not, thank you.

I subscribe to your magazine and for the most part, enjoy it very much. However I was very dismayed at some of your selections (or lack of
selection) for top 100 generals in the March 2008 issue.

There is one pick that you had in the World War I category that was puzzling, plus one that you missed that, in my opinion, should have
definitely have been there. Here they are as follows:

Should not be there:
1. William Robertson – This man did basically nothing of strategic military value in WWI. Sure, he did rise from private to General – but
what did this man accomplish on the battlefield as a general? Virtually nothing of significance. Now I bring you to who really should have been in the WWI category – ahead of many.

Should definitely be there:
2. Sir Arthur William Currie – Currie was and is known as the greatest Canadian General who ever commanded in the field. Now this may not mean much to you, but as a young nation in the Great War, Currie was the savior of our troops and was respected by all allied (and German)
commanders. Indeed, Curries formations were feared most of all by the Germans ahead of everyone else. Furthermore, Currie commanded 4 Canadian divisions (under Julian Byng) and took Vimy Ridge (Second Battle of Arras) within 3 days with approx. 12,000 casualties, whereas the French and British squandered approx. 250,000 in unsuccessful attempts to dislodge the Germans on which was thought an impregnable ridge. Also, the British were so convinced of Currie’s impending failure that they did not back up his attack with a push through the German lines and Currie was forced to stop after capturing the ridge. Currie was a maverick amongst allied generals in WWI and thought every man should know what was going on in a particular battle and every man should have a map. Currie was known for his meticulous planning and cared for his troops by standing up to other Allied generals (like Haig) who would wantonly waste precious lives in careless attacks. Currie always turned in low casualty figures (by WWI standards), which every good commander should.

There are many more great and interesting facts regarding Currie too numerous to mention in this email. Please do a little research on Sir Arthur Currie and maybe amend your list. He should be rated far higher than those British and French generals (Foch/Petain/Haig) who recklessly threw away "the flower of their countries youth"

Thank you very much,
Frederick R. Joseph

Thanks very much for another vote for Currie!


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  1. In your July 08 edition on page 68 there is a picture of Reuben James saving Stephen Deccatur, the caption reads that the unknown sailor, though wounded, gives his life by taking the scimitar blow that was meant for Decatur. The problem is that Reuben James, who is not mentioned by name, survived the scimitar wound and retired from the Navy in 1836 and died in Washington DC in December 1839. I hope this helps set the record straight for the readers of your fine magazine.

    Dennis K. Repke
    Annapolis, MD
    SFC (Ret)

  2. General Eric von Manstein

    The recent article on General Eric von Manstein was very well written. However the author seriously short changed the General on his service to Germany after the war.

    General von Manstein was more than just “a long time advisor. He was called on by the West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer to served as his senior defense advisory and chair a military sub-committee appointed to advise the parliament on military organization and doctrine for the new German Army, the Bundeswehr and its incorporation into NATO. He later moved with his family to Bavaria. His war memoirs, Verlorene Siege (Lost Victories), were published in Germany in 1955, and translated into English in 1958. In them, he presented the thesis that if the generals had been in charge of strategy instead of Hitler, the war on the Eastern Front could have been won.

    Never having been a member of the Nazi party, he had no trouble in West Germany, unlike some of the Reich’s more notorious Hitler supporters. Because of his influence, for the first few years of the Bundeswehr, he was seen as the unofficial chief of staff. Even later, his birthday parties were regularly attended by official delegations of Bundeswehr and NATO top leaders, such as General Hans Speidel who was the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied ground forces in Central Europe from 1957 to 1963. This was not the case with pro-Nazi Field Marshals such as Milch, Schörner, von Küchler, and others, who were disregarded and forgotten after the war.

    Erich von Manstein suffered a stroke and died in Munich on the night of 9 June 1973. He was buried with full military honors. His obituary in The Times on June 13, 1973, stated that “His influence and effect came from powers of mind and depth of knowledge rather than by generating an electrifying current among the troops or ‘putting over’ his personality.”

    I would think that the many honours bestowed on him by the new German defence establishment should be more than enough to establish his credibility. I fully agree with the closing statement in the article, that ” ACG readers are advised to closely examine the evidence on both sides, and then judge for themselves if Manstein’s “Lost Victories” claim rings true.”
    That would of course entail actually reading the book, and supportive documents; as well as the full circumstances behind his war crimes trial. At the end of the day please remember one thing—-He was the one and only WWII German General to hold the post war positions that he did. I knew the General personally, and I believe that the belief that had Hitler let his general’s run the War that events may have unfolded differently. There are some inherent problems with Heads of State being Commander-In-Chief of their national military.

  3. Dear Colonel John Antal In the attack of the T-72 tanks with the M1A1 in Iraq, I would right flank & attack & in line so that 4 of the T-72 would be in line & only one of them could fire.Then I would reposition & continue picking them off as they couldn’t fire without shooting their own tank in front of them. Best Regards warren Great magazine!!!