by Rob Morgan
My colleague, Trevor, is a WWI historian and I asked his opinion on the worst commanders of that particular period. He suggested the Russian, Samsonov, in the 1914 Tannenberg campaign, any number of Austrian generals, before and after the capture of their Eastern fortresses, or, as he said, take your pick of French or British commanders on the Western Front. WWI was a lean time for generals all around.
We both came to the same conclusion in terms of the Second World War though.
The absolute worst commander was Marshal Rudolfo Graziani of the Royal Italian Army. He’d achieved notoriety and success in the Italian invasion of Abyssinia. When old Marshal Balbo was accidentally shot down by his own anti-aircraft guns, Graziani took over command of the huge Italian forces in Libya planning to invade Egypt and capture the Suez Canal.
A glance at a map will show that this was no great distance. For a well-handled army of a quarter of a million, massively outnumbering its 30,000 British and Commonwealth opponents, the task was straightforward.
But the Italians had Graziani!
The invasion, such as it was, halted within days. An amazing failure to deal with, even to face, the ensuing British counterattack, which only started as a raid, ultimately lost Marshal Graziani over 138,000 prisoners of war, some 450 tanks, around 1,200 artillery pieces, and a vast park of motor transport in a matter of a few weeks.
He never commanded a field army again.