Ground Commanders: Erwin Rommel, Erich von Manstein,Hermann Hoth, Tomuyuki Yamashita, George Patton, Bill Slim
Air Commanders: Albert Kesselring [also a ground commander],Pete Quesada, Jimmy Doolittle
Naval Commanders: Andrew Cunningham, Raymond Spruance, Wilhelm Marschall, Guenther Lutjens, Tamon Yamaguchi
PzLdr; your list looks consistent with mine but with a few variations.
I’m going to go best & worst by nation:
Germany (they get first ‘cause they started it)
Erich von Manstein, easily Hitler’s best general, of Jewish ancestry.
Walther Model, the “Fuhrer’s Fireman.” He gained notice as commander of 9th Panzer Division, closing the pocket on the Soviets at Kiev in 1941. Commanded 9th Army in Army Group Center during 1942 and early 1943, holding the Rzhev salient against heavy attack. Later rushed from front to front. It was said he only retreated after the air had turned to lead, and then only after due deliberation. He was also able to conjure up a counter-attack reserve on a seemingly empty battlefield. He was the only general Hitler would listen to in the latter part of the war.
Hermann Hoth, the capable but relatively unknown commander of 4th Panzer Army for most of the war on the Eastern Front. Very competent at “operations” which is the German level between tactics and strategy.
Ewald von Kleist, a daring and forceful panzer leader, possibly superior to Guderian.
Gunther Kluge, one of the few army level commanders not sacked after the defeat at Moscow, he consistently held army group commands in the east and west until his suicide following the allied breakout from Normandy.
Heinrich Himmler; yes, he commanded two army groups late in the war. And no, he wasn’t any good at it.
Oscar Kummetz: a naval commander who didn’t really do much the few times he sortied the German fleet in the north. Was once able to snatch defeat from victory.
Ernst Udet: a good fighter pilot who was way over his head as a Luftwaffe administrative officer.
I didn’t identify many “worst” commanders. There weren’t that many in the Wehrmacht. I did not list Rommel as one of the best. I think he got too many favorable press clippings. He was good, but it’s my opinion that had he been sent to the Eastern Front he would not have risen above command of a panzer corps until very late in the war and would be just another forgotten German general on the eastern front. I did not include Field Marshal von Paulus under the worst. He was certainly not exceptional, but fate was not kind to him. He did an able job handling 6th Army as it hacked its way through heavy resistance in the Don bend to reach Stalingrad, and was able to shuffle his forces to maintain pressure on the Soviets in the brutal urban fighting. He was deprived of any significant reinforcement and he knew his flanking Romanian armies were vulnerable.
John Tovey; commander of the Home Fleet during the dark days when Britain fought alone. He had to coordinate coverage of huge areas of the ocean with limited resources. Best known for sinking the Bismarck.
Viscount Andrew Cunningham; last of the “sea dogs” in the Nelson tradition in the RN. Not just one of the best admirals of WW2, he was one of the best admirals of all time.
Viscount Bernhard Montgomery of Alamein; Love him or hate him, he was a winner. He knew how to build a winning machine, and use it. Sure, Market Garden didn’t turn out as he’d hoped, but it was a bold and daring plan and not at all consistent with the historical rap of being “cautious.”
Richard O’Connor; we are going to learn more about him on the Real Time thread in a few months. He was the “British Rommel” who really knew his stuff about mobile tactics. Ran rings around the Italians, was captured by the Germans, escaped confinement as a POW in 1943 and led British VII Corps in Normandy and Holland.
Arthur Percival; presided over the British defeat in Malaya. His forces outnumbered Yamashita’s Japanese forces, but Yamashita led his men through 500 miles of jungle in a few weeks to capture Singapore. What a loser.
Italy, Romania, Hungary:
All of them.
Georgy Zhukov; his detractors said his idea of strategy was lining up a thousand artillery pieces and lighting them off. While he was a brutal man who didn’t care about the length of his casualty lists, he also knew that the Red Army was more or less built as a club rather than a rapier, like the Wehrmacht. He knew how to use the club to bludgeon the Germans into submission.
Mikhail Vasilevsky; in four short but active years, this able leader rose from the rank of Colonel to Colonel-General, eventually becoming Marshal of the Soviet Union. A protoge of Chief of the General Staff Shaposhnikov, he had been groomed to replace Shaposhnikov and did so when Shaposhnikov retired due to poor health. It was Vasilevsky, not Zhukov, who came up with Operation Uranus that destroyed 6th Army at Stalingrad. Vasilevsky was to the USSR what George C. Marshall was to the US Army, with a major difference. While Marshall could build an army as he saw fit in the comparative safety of the United States, Vasilevsky had to build an army from the wreckage of the 1941 Red Army, and do so while in deadly combat with the Germans, with the most of the industrial and population centers of the Soviet Union occupied, and basically fighting the Germans alone.
Ivan Konev, Konstantin Rokossovsky, Ivan Cherniakovsky, Nicolai Vatutin; all capable front commanders, who knew how to swing the club. Konev was Zhukov’s main rival for military honors; Rokossovsky survived torture and the Gulag in the purges to be rehabilitated. Cherniakovsky and Vatutin were capable and audacious commanders who were killed during the war; Cherniakovsky in combat, Vatutin was killed by Ukrainian nationalist partisans.
Dmitri Pavlov: he was the unfortunate soul in command of the West Front on June 22, 1941. He never had control over his forces and his front disintegrated. By July he’d been sacked and shot.
Kliment Voroshilov; a crony of Stalin’s, he had a heavy tank named after him. As a commander he blew dogs. He was the first commander in the Winter War, tried to defend Leningrad against the Germans in 1941 until Zhukov had to put things right. Never commanded again after that.
Grigory Kulik; another Stalin crony, Kulik was commander of the Artillery Directorate before the war, he delayed mass production of decent anti-tank guns and artillery pieces. His motivational style for his subordinates was summed up in his quote: “Jail or medal!” In June 1941 Stalin tried to have Kulik restore order at West Front. Kulik flew into the Belostok pocket and most of the other Soviet commanders hoped he would not return. He did get out, but was never heard from again, having been sent east to a minor post.
Lev Mehklis; the “sinister” Mehklis was another Stalin crony who was primarily a political officer. He overstepped his bounds and actually tried to exert command authority in the Crimea in early 1942. Pitted against von Manstein, it was a mismatch like the New York Yankees playing a bad 5th grade little league team. Mehklis poor performance got hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers killed, and convinced Stalin to do away with command responsibilities for political officers.
Tomoyuki Yamashita; The “Tiger of Malaya” Yamashita conqured Singapore in a daring land campaign. He later commanded Japanese forces in the Philippines late in the war. Unlike many other Japanese generals, he was able, flexible and competent. After the war he was tried, convicted and sentenced to death for war crimes by MacArthur’s military tribunal. (A sentence which, by the way, I strongly disagree with).
Jisaburo Ozawa; a capable carrier admiral, it wasn’t his fault that he had to go up against the most powerful navy ever built. He did what he could with what was dealt to him.
Raizo Tanaka; (from the Combined Fleet website, the quote below was written by John Paschall, author of “Shattered Sword”): “This guy was a bonafide genius, probably one of the finest squadron commanders of the entire war to serve on either side. He routinely defeated superior Allied forces in the Solomons, or escaped with the bulk of his forces from traps that should have meant his annihilation, the Battle of Tassafaronga, November 30, 1942, being a prime example. His primary working assets were often no more inspiring than a handful of overloaded, overworked destroyer transports. Fortunately for the U.S., he was removed from surface command shortly after the final evacuation from Guadalcanal, presumably a casualty of the Navy’s finger-pointing as to who was to blame for the debacle.”
Takeo Kurita; snatched defeat from victory at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He was the linchpin of the whole Japanese battle plan, which actually went off as it was intended. But he was like the wide receiver who has gotten behind the opposing secondary on the trick play, the ball has been thrown to him to hit him in stride at the 10 yard line, and he dropped it. Having gotten behind the American fleet with Halsey’s carriers and fast battleships off on a wild goose chase, only a few destroyers stood between his powerful battle fleet and the American tranports. Kurita turned tail and ran. After the war he refused interviews and never explained why.
National Command Authority: Of all the major combatants, Japan may have had the worst national direction in the war. Even worse than Italy. She had a first rate military, but a third rate logistical and industrial support structure which was never addressed during the war. Japan had absolutely no business trying to take on the United States of America, and routinely bungled every strategic decision made after June 1942. Worse, after it was obvious even to those leaders that the war was lost after June 1944, in a state of denial they refused to end the war. It took the use of nuclear weapons to finally convince them.
United States of America:
George Catlett Marshall: Built the American Army from scratch, and able and steady Chief of Staff. Had the best quality a leader can have; an eye for talent. Good men are made great because they know how to surround themselves with other great men and delegate to them. Marshall was great.
Dwight Eisenhower; not a great strategist, or a great “military man” but he was a great “military diplomat.” He had to fight the war in the most challenging way possible; as the leader of a disparite coalition. No other general was able to work coalition warfare during the war. None.
“Lightning Joe” Collins; of all American generals, Collins is one of the few I could see being successful as a German panzer commander in the East.
George Patton: I put him on the list because in the one real test of generalship, he passed with flying colors. That was his response to the Ardennes Offensive. In 24 hours, he ordered a halt to his imminent attack on the Saar, reoriented his army 90 degrees, and laid the groundwork to immediately attack the southern shoulder of the German penetration. He had the foresight to get his staff working on the problem even before the attack because he saw the threat, and then not only carried it out but personally toured the division and corps HQs to make sure the commanders knew what they were to do. As he wrote his wife: “Not bad for a day’s work.”
George Kenney; only aviation buffs know who this guy was. Kenney commanded the 5th Air Force in New Guinea. He was incredibly innovative, especially in low-level attacks. He developed the para-frag bombs, where the parachute would slow the descent of the bomb to allow the low-level bomber to get away before the bomb exploded. He packed the B25 nose with eight .50-cal machine guns to make them awesome killing machines when strafing ships or airfields. He developed the skip-bombing technique of bouncing the bomb off the water and into the side of a ship, increasing accuracy and effectiveness. Kenney’s tactics all came to fore in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, which I consider one of the most important battles of the Pacific Theater. The Japanese tried sending a heavily armed and escorted convoy, with heavy fighter cover, from Rabaul to New Guinea. Kenney’s airmen shot down or drove off the fighter cover, smothered their airfields with bombs, and sank all eight merchant ships and four of eight escorting destroyers. After that, the Japanese never again dared send a daylight convoy into waters under the American air umbrella. That, my friends, is a confession of defeat.
Matthew Ridgeway; great airborne division commander, who later commanded a Corps in the Ardennes. Aggressive and hard hitting.
There are many other good American commanders; but I’m getting tired of typing right now.
Lewis Brereton; despite months of warning that the Philippines were a prime target for Japanese aggression, and hours of notice that Pearl Harbor had been attacked, his Far East Air Force was largely caught on the ground and destroyed on the first day of the war. Somehow he became commander of the Allied First Airborne Army for Market Garden, where his performance was less than spectacular.
Daniel Callaghan; personal naval aide to FDR before the war, his handling of the American forces in the First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal was inept at best. He had a great advantage in American radar, he had a subordinate in Norman Scott who was a proven winner in naval night fighting, but he managed to squander all those assets in the fight. Both Callaghan and Scott were killed during the battle.
Alan Jones; commander of the 106th Infantry Division in the Ardennes, his was the only American Division more or less wiped out in combat. Jones was dealt a bad hand; his division was inexperienced and not combat-ready when put into the line, didn’t get time to settle in, and was in an exposed and vulnerable position. However, Jones did little to show positive qualities. Jones handed command of St. Vith to the commander of the 7th Armored as soon as he showed up, and within a few days was evacuated as a casualty with a heart attack.
Well, like I said, I’m tired of typing and have some real work to do. More later.