LONDON (Reuters) - American revolutionary leader George Washington has been voted the greatest enemy commander to face Britain, lauded for his spirit of endurance against the odds and the enormous impact of his victory.
In a contest organised by the National Army Museum, Washington triumphed over Irish independence hero Michael Collins, France’s Napoleon Bonaparte, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.
Making the case for Washington, historian Stephen Brumwell said the American War of Independence (1775-83) was “the worst defeat for the British Empire ever.”
“His personal leadership was crucial,” he said.
Washington was a courageous and inspirational battlefield commander who led from the front but also had the skills to deal with his political counterparts in Congress and with his French allies, Brumwell said. Above all, he never gave up even when the war was going against him.
“His army was always under strength, hungry, badly supplied. He shared the dangers of his men. Anyone other than Washington would have given up the fight. He came to personify the cause, and the scale of his victory was immense.”
Almost 8,000 people voted in an online poll which produced a shortlist of five men, whose merits were debated by guest speakers at a weekend event at the museum before a final ballot of attendees.
The main criterion was that each commander must have led an army against British forces in battle - which ruled out foes such as Adolf Hitler - and that they must fall within the National Army Museum’s time frame of the 17th century onwards.
Michael Collins was hailed as a great guerrilla tactician who took on and defeated British forces within the state itself. Bonaparte challenged Britain for nearly a quarter of a century across the globe before his defeat at Waterloo.
The legend of Rommel inspired fear and awe among British troops in the North African desert in World War Two, even though his battlefield successes were limited. Ataturk was involved in one of Britain’s greatest military humiliations at Gallipoli and later thwarted British designs in the region and created modern Turkey.
Matthew Hughes of London’s Brunel University said that Rommel and Napoleon were both great operational commanders but they ultimately achieved nothing on the political level.
“The other three are more interesting because they all achieved a political objective, something concrete that is still with us.”
None of the five is particularly pleasant ideologically,” Hughes added, saying that even Washington was a slave owner whose newly forged country then went on to try to destroy its native population.
Reporting by Angus MacSwan, London newsroom 44 207 542 7918; editing by Tim Pearce