The Commanders of World War II were for the most part career officers. They were forced to adapt to new technologies and shaped the direction of modern warfare. Some political leaders, particularly those of the principal dictatorships involved in the conflict, Adolf Hitler (Germany), Benito Mussolini (Italy) and Emperor Hirohito (Japan), acted as supreme military commanders as well as dictators their respective countries or empires.
The last British soldier to evacuate Dunkirk, replaced Auchinleck from command at North Africa, and turned the tide in the Allies' favour. Defeated the Germans in North Africa. Staged a successful invasion of Italy, and as Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces liberated it in 1944 before becoming Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces Headquarters, responsible for all military operations in the Mediterranean Theatre.
Commander-in-Chief of British Forces in the Middle East 1939–1941. Commander-in-Chief in India 1941–1942. Commander of ABDACOM 1942. Commander-in-Chief in India 1942–1943. Viceroy of India 1943-1947.
A World War I hero, he played a major role in mobilising and arming the British forces during the Phony War. He took command of the British Expeditionary Force for the German invasion of France, and despite courageous fighting, was overwhelmed by German military tactics. When his troops were trapped in Dunkirk, he disobeyed orders from French and British command to attack and decided to evacuate, a decision which saved the lives of over 300,000 soldiers.
Organised the Home Guard to protect against Operation Sea Lion. A quick response to the Iraq revolt impressed Churchill, who appointed him Commander-in-Chief of the North Africa forces. Frequent disagreements with British command, coupled with significant loss of territory against Rommel, forced him to be reassigned back to India. He fared better in this theatre, successfully mobilising Indian forces against the Burma invasion.
Built up the French Navy to prepare for war, only to see it destroyed by the British Navy. Served the Vichy France government and was tipped to become Pétain's successor. Was commander of Vichy French forces in Operation Torch. After arranging a ceasefire, he defected to the Allied side.
Was the aide to General Pershing during World War I. Was Chief of Staff having overall command of the US Army during and before World War II. Marshall served as the U.S. Army Chief of Staff during the war and as the chief military adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Many of the American generals that were given top commands during the war were either picked or recommended by Marshall, including Dwight Eisenhower, Lloyd Fredendall, Leslie McNair, Mark W. Clark and Omar Bradley. He led the rapid growth of US forces, co-ordinated the Western Allies and promoted postwar reconstruction of Europe.
Recalled from retirement prior to the start of the Pacific war. Early on in World War II, received the Medal of Honor for extreme bravery. Was disappointed to relinquish the Philippines to the Japanese. Promising to return, he did so in 1945 and whilst in Manila, prepared for war in Japan itself. MacArthur presided over the Japanese Unconditional Surrender in 1945. His strategy of maneuver, air strikes and force avoidance meant that soldiers under his command faced relatively low casualties.
This former infantry school instructor entered the war under Patton, later becoming his boss. Towards the end of the war, led a force of over 1.3 million troops (America's largest to serve under one man).
An aggressive general whose ferocious military thrusts earned him admiration and respect from all participants in the war (and at times endangered his military career). Successfully used the German tactic of armored blitzkrieg against the Germans.
Recipient of the Medal of Honor for saving hundreds of refugees during the United States occupation of Veracruz in April 1914 during the Mexican Revolution. Operational commander at the pivotal Battles of Coral Sea and of Midway; nephew of Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher. In November 1942, he became Commander, Thirteenth Naval District and Commander, Northwestern Sea Frontier. A year later, he was placed in charge of the Northern Pacific area [according to Oxford companion to second world war, this occurred in October 1942].
One of the pioneers of US military aviation, Spaatz advocated the use of scientific analysis to bombing raids, and made effective use of long range fighters, tactics which helped the Allies achieve air superiority over Europe.
Involved in nearly every major battle on the Eastern Front. He successfully led the defense of Moscow and later relieved Leningrad. After vying with Rokossovsky for overall command, he led all Soviet armies in the closing stages of the war and at the Battle for Berlin.
Stalin's strategic specialist who planned and carried through many successful Soviet operations as overall commander, particularly the encirclement at Stalingrad and the grand plan for Bagration. Commander-in-Chief of Soviet Forces in the Far East during Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation.
Deputy of the Chief of the General Staff of the Red Army. Decisive Soviet commander at Kursk, outmanoeuvered German commander Manstein and later routed German forces in Korsun salient.additional citation needed
Defence Commissar till 19 July 1941. Chairman of the Stavka (Soviet High Command). A capable commander in the early stages of World War II. Played a decisive role in the Winter War and the invasion of Poland. After the disaster at Kharkov, Timoshenko was removed by Stalin from front-line command but given overall commanders in different fronts of the USSR.
Sturdee served as the Chief of General Staff and commanded the First Australian Army (1939-1945).
On 6 September 1945 he was the senior Allied officer present at the surrender of Japanese Forces in Rabaul in the South West Pacific theatre.
On 1 December 1945 Sturdee was appointed Commander in Chief of the Australian Military Forces, overseeing the demobilisation of the wartime army. He was mentioned in despatches for a third time on 6 March 1947.
Chief of General Staff and then Commander in Chief
RAF officer loaned to Australia and served as Chief of the Air Staff from 1940 to 1942. Oversaw a 20-fold increase in the size of the RAAF which supported the Empire Air Training Scheme. Returned to Great Britain in 1942 and while suffering poor health worked in the RAF's cadet organisation, the Air Training Corps. Died of a coronary thrombosis months before the end of the War.
A veteran of the Mexican Revolution and Victoria Cross recipient during the First World War. First soldier on beach for the Battle of Gallipoli during the First World War and the youngest general in the British Army during the First World War. He liked to be in the thick of action—Churchill called him "the Salamander" due to his love of fire. Involved in the disastrous defeat in the Battle of Greece. Again defeated as the Allied Commander in the Battle of Crete after Churchill failed to provide enigma intelligence. Very successful as a commander in various campaigns in the North African Campaign, including the Battle of El Alamein. Defeated again at the Battle of Cassino as a Corps Commander (this is nonsense-the Germans lost at Cassino-how could Freyberg be defeated?). Relieved Padua and Venice, and was first to enter Trieste in the race for Trieste, and successfully confronted Josip Broz Tito's Partisans there. By the end of World War II, Freyberg had spent ten and a half long years fighting the Germans (1940-1945 plus 1916-1918 equals 7 years-he fought the Turks in 1915).
A veteran of World War I and air ace. Served under Hugh Dowding and commanded the defense of London during the Luftwaffe attacks. Dowding and Park are credited with winning the Battle of Britain. Led the defense of Malta.
Military commander and a leading member of the Nazi Party (NSDAP) of Nazi Germany. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler later appointed him Commander of the Replacement (Home) Army and General Plenipotentiary for the administration of the entire Third Reich. Himmler was one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany and one of the persons most directly responsible for the Holocaust.
A Kriegsakademie graduate of the Prussian nobility, and a major World War I veteran, Rundstedt distinguished himself as commander of numerous fronts of World War II including the Western and Eastern fronts of Europe.
Recipient of the Pour le Mérite from World War I, rose rapidly in rank to field marshal by the fall of France. Took command of Army Group Centre, whose Panzer groups penetrated the furthest into Russia. Was one of the senior Wehrmacht commanders before the outbreak of war. Play a decisive role in the defeat of Poland and France. Bock was German Army Group Center commander during Operation Barbarossa, after the defeat at Moscow was relieved of command by Hitler. After Reichenau death, he was appointed to take over Army Group South. He was instructmental in defeating Marshal Timoshenko forces at Kharkov. However, Hitler was displeased with Bock and dismissed him. Played no further part in the war
The master of mobile battle, authored the original Sichelschnitt plan, a plan which enabled Germany to capture France with minimal casualties. Manstein was one of the ablest general Hitler had. Manstein captured Sevastapol and was responsible for shoring up the Southern Front after the defeat at Stalingrad. He later recaptured Kharkov and gave the Soviets a beating. After the defeat at Kursk, he skillfully handled his army group retreat. However, he was dismissed by Hitler after frequently clashing with him in 1944. He then played no further part in the war from then on.
A legend in his own time, The Desert Fox headed the German campaign of North Africa. Rommel was highly decorated in World War I with the Pour le Mérite, Germany's highest award. During World War II, he made an immediate impact in the Saharan desert, conquering all of West Africa and threatening to reach Suez. A number of factors such as stretching supply lines and the reinforcement of Allied military power (both in Morocco and Egypt) turned the tide in the favour of the Allies, and his forces were routed in the Battle of Tunisia in 1943. Before he could counterattack, German high command reassigned him to defend the Atlantic Wall. Rommel failed to stop the allied invasion of Normandy. Though typically linked to the assassination of Hitler, Rommel probably did not take part in the July 20 plot as he did not want future generations to think that the Axis lost the war due to backstabbing. Nevertheless, Rommel had to commit suicide, lest he face a mock-trial which would have surely ended in the death of him, his family and his aides.
Was a high scoring air ace and took over the Red Baron's famous squadron, and won the prestigious Pour le Mérite in World War I. Hitler's second in charge. Commander-in-Chief of Luftwaffe 1935-1945. During World War II, he did not live up to his prior high standards. He was involved with the running of Germany and the war, and the central decision making, including implementation of the Holocaust.
Was commander-in-chief of Luftwaffe South (1941–1943), then South-west (1943–1945), then West Europe (1945). Was a very competent commander as chief of the defense of Italy against the allies, when he caused plenty of problems, even though heavily outnumbered, including at the prolonged battles of Anzio and Monte Cassino. Was a leader in the defense of Germany at the end of the war. Kesselring was widely admired and acknowledged on both sides as a "fair fighter" and was responsible for protecting priceless artworks and even the City of Rome from destruction.
An ace of World War I and winner of the prestigious Pour Le Merite award. Before World War II, went to China to help build their air force. A commander of the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Poland. He was loyal to Hitler to the end, flying in on 26 April 1945 with Hanna Reitsch. He and Hanna Reitsch said "It was the blackest day when we could not die at our Führer's side.".
An ace of World War I. Before World War II, trained troops in airborne operations. Commanded the successful airborne operations in the Battle of Crete. Commanded the highly successful operation to free Benito Mussolini. Successful again in the defense against airborne landings near Arnhem.
Removed from service by Badoglio in 1943 under Allies' request. He later fled to Spain living under protection of Francisco Franco. In Italy he was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment but his sentence was overturned in 1948. Died in 1968.
He was one of the members of the Fascist Grand Council who voted oust Benito Mussolini. After Mussolini was put in charge of the Italian Social Republic, de Bono was sentenced to death after the Verona trial in 1944.
Forced the surrender of the allies in the Battle of Singapore. Defender of the Philippines against MacArthur. an American military tribunal in Manila tried General Yamashita for war crimes relating to the Manila Massacre and many atrocities in the Philippines and Singapore against civilians and prisoners of war, such as the Sook Ching massacre, and sentenced him to death. This controversial case has become a precedent regarding the command responsibility for war crimes and is known as the Yamashita Standard.
Arrested by the American occupation authorities after the surrender of Japan, Matsui was charged with war crimes in connection with the actions of the Japanese army in China also known as The Nanking Massacre. In 1948, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE) found him guilty of class B and C war crimes, and he was hanged that December at Sugamo Prison, alongside six others, including Hideki Tojo. He was 70 at the time of his death.
Commander of the Dec. 7, 1941 Attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy 1939-1943. Isoroku Yamamoto, was killed on Bougainville Island when his transport bomber aircraft was shot down by United States Army Air Forces fighter aircraft operating from Kukum Field on Guadalcanal.
Torpedo specialist and commander of the Carrier Striking Task Force that attacked Pearl Harbor. Successful raids at Darwin and the Indian Ocean were reversed at the Battle of Midway. Although he had tactical victories in the Guadalcanal campaigns, his battle strength was severely depleted, and was switched to the defence of the Mariana Islands.
Was one of the most important Finnish generals. Was extremely influential in the development of the Finnish Army's artillery. The trajectory calculation formulas he developed are still in use today by all modern artillery.
Took control of Romania when Carol II abdicated, and established a fascist dictatorship with the Iron Guard Party. Acted as Commander-in-Chief of the Romanian Army and Conducător of Romania, recapturing Bessarabia and northern Bucovina, then appointed himself marshal. When his forces were decimated at Stalingrad, he started negotiating for peacecitation needed. His career ended in 1944 when he was arrested by King Michael, who signed an armistice with the Allies.
General Guisan developed his famous Swiss National Redoubt concept in summer 1940, He made it very clear that Switzerland would resist any Nazi invasion. If they ran out of bullets they were to resort to the bayonet. He said that Switzerland would defend itself against any invader and would never surrender. Indeed, Swiss citizens had been instructed to regard any surrender broadcast as enemy lies and resist to the end.