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Page last updated at 07:31 GMT, Friday, 8 April 2011 08:31 UK
Who is Britain's greatest general?

The National Army Museum has conducted an online poll to find the top British general of all time. Five men have made the cut and a debate at the museum will decide the winner.

Here five experts give their reasons why their man should be voted Britain's most treasured military commander.


"There are now more biographies on Oliver Cromwell than almost any other Englishman, with more than 30 appearing in the 20th century alone.

Love him or loathe him, Cromwell's claim to greatness and his unique rise to become head of state was based firmly upon his soldiering career.

No other British soldier towers over his times as Cromwell does with the Cromwellian period. None has left such a lasting legacy to the British Isles, or one that transcends military history so much that it has passed into folklore."

Andrew Hopper is a lecturer in History at the University of Leicester who has written extensively about the English Civil War.

Douglas Haig

"Previous to 1914 Haig was instrumental in reforming the structure, doctrine, staff work and training regime of the British army so that it was ready for continental war.

Haig commanded the largest army ever to be put in the field by the British Empire, in the principal theatre, for three years. Haig presided over the material, doctrinal and practical transformation of warfare which the British army experienced between 1915 and 1918, at the same time fighting the main enemy in an intense, prolonged, systematic series of cumulatively effective military engagements.

Building on this experience, in 1918 the armies under Haig's command achieved the most sustained and decisive series of victors over the enemy ever achieved by British forces.

Haig managed coalition relations with powerful, demanding allies on a day-to-day basis. He was instrumental in establishing a new nationwide ex-servicemen's welfare organisation, the British Legion, 1918-28."

Dr William Philpott is a lecturer in military history at Kings College Department of War Studies with a special interest in WWI.


"Bill Slim was a born leader of soldiers. When he became chief of the Imperial General Staff in 1948 it was said of him that he had never forgotten the smell of soldiers' feet. Everything he did was based on ensuring that his men came first. His soldiers knew and loved him because of this.

He fought in Burma and India in a very different way to that of most other British Generals of the Second World War and indeed of most other British Generals of all time.

He tried to outwit the enemy and dislocate him mentally, rather than trying to overcome him by force alone. To do this he took huge logistical and operational risks, he attacked the enemy where the enemy was weakest rather than at his strongest point, he surprised the enemy and he sought to use subtlety and guile in a very powerful and new way.

This method certainly surprised the Japanese and it defeated them at Imphal and Kohima in India in 1944 and again at Mandalay and Meiktila in Burma in 1945. It also surprised his bosses in New Delhi and London, who were taken aback at the remarkable success of this remarkable man."

Robert Lyman, a former army officer, is a military historian and biographer of Bill Slim.


"First, he defeated the Marshalls of France at a time when they were acknowledged to be the greatest commanders of the day.

Second, John Churchill held together the Grand Alliance of England, Holland and Austria during the long years of the War of the Spanish succession.

Thirdly, in holding together the Grand Alliance, he established Great Britain as a major power for the first time both in Europe and the wider world. Fourth, a sound strategist, he took his army all the way up the Rhine from the low countries to the rescue of Austria when Vienna was in mortal danger, carrying out the great victory at Blenheim in August 1704.

Finally, John Churchill's tactical triumph on Whit Sunday 1706, when he defeated the French army at Ramillies, demonstrated his own brilliance in the field. He went on to overrun the whole of the Spanish Netherlands, what we know today as Belgium, in just a few short weeks."

James Falkner is a military history author who has written a number of books about Marlborough.


"They do not come any better than Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. If you look at all the Wars of National Survival that Britain have been through in the last Millennium, the one that in many ways is the most important is the War against Napoleon, the French Emperor. It was a war in which one central figure was absolutely critical to the defeat of Napoleon and that was the Duke of Wellington.

He was the most extraordinarily soldier. The enterprise that he led between 1808 and 1815 (in which time he never took a day's leave) slowly, but surely pushed Napoleon's armies back across Europe, never losing a pitched battle. He was not a man loved by his men, but he was admired and respected by them and that is what mattered. They knew that he was going to win the next battle.

Arthur Duke of Wellington is an extraordinary man, and although aloof and withdrawn, a man capable of deep emotion. After the battle of Waterloo he said: "Next to a battle lost the deepest misery is a battle won."

Peter Snow is a retired BBC TV presenter and author of At War With Wellington.

Do you agree with our experts? Or is there another great British commander - Montgomery perhaps, or Wolfe? - who you would choose? Get in touch using the form below or join the debate on Twitter or Facebook .

For me it would be John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury whom no-one has probably ever heard of. He fought in France at the end of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453). He was a brilliant exponent of the doctrine employed by Robert E. Lee which was by going in fast and hard, a smaller force may defeat a larger one. His skill as a general allowed the English to hang on in France longer than they had any right to.
Mike, Oxfordshire, UK

These are all relatively modern - what about Henry V? He conquered the majority of France, seeing his son made heir to the throne of France and delivered victories such as Agincourt that reverberated throughout Europe. All of this when England was a poor insignificant nation and France was the wealthiest and strongest nation in European, and set against the fact that as the son of a usurper his hold on the English throne was less than completely sure.
Dave, London

Best guerrilla fighter - William Wallace.
Edward O'Neil, Whitburn, West Lothian

Cromwell set the standard for a modern army on which all armies are now modelled. Wellington however set the Standard off tactics and battle which all modern commanders still copy and learn from.
Chris, Auckland, NZ

It is difficult because they come from different fighting eras. But the question needs to be asked why no Monty. But looking at the list it has to be Slim because he was fighting in difficult terrain and also against an enemy that had been waging war longer than the Germans and had not known defeat.
Len Kelly, Chorley, UK

What about Montgomery? Has he no champions? Is he the Guinevere of military history, will no one defend him? If we had asked this question in the years after 1945, no doubt he would have been top of the list. What are the criteria? Never being defeated, concern for welfare of his men? Planning and supply? Is he out of fashion as the butcher Haig is now in?
Bill Major, Liverpool

What about Alan Brooke, CIGS for four years in WW2 seeking to influence and co-ordinate strategy in every theatre. Managing all the generals as well as guiding Churchill. The man who probably did more to defeat Nazi Germany than any other man.
Martin Mortimer, Petts Wood, Kent

Has to be Marlborough. 100% success rate in battles and sieges.
Pete Lee via Twitter

Wellington - without question! Cromwell was a dictatorial thug! But what about the Navy - Nelson mean anything to anybody?
Felix Thorne, Exeter, Devon

I'd be more impressed if we lauded the peacemakers, instead of the warmongers! This country is, and always has been, obsessed by war - and it shames us.
Bibi, Grimsby, UK

Without question the Duke of Marlborough gets my vote. All five are certainly worthy of consideration, but for me John Churchill had the perfect balance of tactical awareness, strategy thinking, decisiveness of action and care and consideration for those who served under him. Just look at the march to Blenheim; he kept the enemy guessing as to his real intentions the whole time. He also ensured that his men were well supplied (even to the extent of giving all of them a new pair of boots along the way), and in the battle itself defeated a formidable foe.
Howard, London, UK

Sir Thomas Fairfax, the man who actually shaped and led the New Model Army during the English Civil War, and the man to whom the troops were actually loyal (not Cromwell).
Bryn Roberts, Richmond, Yorkshire, UK

Marlborough. Up there with Caesar and Napoleon (with whom he had a lot in common).
Sean Lang, Cambridge, UK

Bill Slim for me. He took his armies that had low morale and poor equipment and turned them into an incredible fighting force that took on the best of the Japanese armies - and won decisively. My Grandfather fought at Imphal as a private and would never, ever hear a bad word about "Uncle Bill".
Mike Thomas, High Wycombe, UK


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