Who is the Von Hotzendorf or Cadorna of WW2?

Fans of the Great War will no doubt be familiar with these two chiefs of staff of WW1.

Although originally hailed by many writers as a strategic genius, more modern scholars have been less than kind towards Conrad Von Hotzendorf. As chief of staff of the Austro-Hungarian army, he presided over many failed campaigns with the offensive into the Carpathians in the winter of 1915 with an army not equipped with winter clothing being one of his worst. Under his leadership, the Austro-Hungarian army was slowly bled white until its final collapse.

Cadorna of course launched no less than 12 offensives along the Isonzo, General Melchett style, and was eventually sacked when the Austro-Hungarian troops, re-enforced by German units, successfully counterattacked and drove the Italians back beyond their starting point.

Is there an equivalent to leaders like these in WW2? There were certainly disasters on all sides. Kimmel at Pearl Harbour, Percival at Singapore and Ritchie at Gazzala all presided over major military defeats. While German commanders were generally excellent on a tactical or operational level, they often failed badly at strategy or logistics. Italian commanders often demonstrated incompetence that would have made Cadorna proud.

Can any figure from WW2 match these two though for the sheer scope of their incompetence and hubris and the scale of their defeats? Is there any leader who managed to stay in charge as long as they despite the irrefutable evidence of their ineptitude?

What says the board?


Mussolini and every Italian General was a small Cadorna


Semyon Budyonny perhaps? He led two disastrous defences at Uman and Kiev in 1941, resulting in enormous encirclements and many, many Soviet soldiers captured. He also insisted on the supremacy of the horse in combat, coming from a cavalry background himself.

Thankfully Stalin was having none of his nonsense and gave him inconsequential roles afterwards. The autocratic nature of Stalin’s rule meant he could move quickly to relieve him of his command, unlike someone such as Cadorna who hurt his army’s prospects for years before he was relieved of command. He was lucky, as he was a Russian Civil War hero, so he didn’t get the bullet unlike some other Soviet leaders.


Was thinking similar… but AFAIK, his “get out of jail for free” card was his role as a cavalry commander during the Russian Civil War


Budyonny’s a good shout actually, but as you say he didn’t have the longevity of Von Hotzendorf or Cadorna. While presiding over some crushing defeats, he didn’t bring his country to the brink of disaster in quite the same way.

How about Gamelin though?


Just adding two cents to Budyonny - his ‘victories’ in the Civil War weren’t his making, but those of the superior command. Moreover, together with Stalin he was one of the architects of the wonderful idea of not leaving L’Viv in 1920 to support Tukhachevsky at the Battle of Warsaw. Now… Stalin had Tukhachevsky (who was an accomplished strategist and tactician) executed in 1937 during his purges, but spared Budyonny and let him lead his troops into defeat in WWII… loyalty always trumps competence with the big boys.


This may be heresy (at least in the USA), but Patton, MacArthur, and LeMay at times channeled von Hotzendorf. They had that “ego writing checks reality could not cash.” Granted none of them hamstrung their own military and nation so egregiously- oh, wait, Doug kinda did in the Philippines.

Goring was “the load” as well. (I’m using a gaming term to reference his being “dragged along by his friends” nature not his weight.) By playing politics and favoring short-sighted solutions handicapped the Luftwaffe, in my opinion. The lack of innovation and multiple levels of subterfuge and backstabbing meant that the German aviation sector wasn’t near as flexible as the British, American, or Japanese. Not to mention too many lofty promises without the ability, or planning, to deliver. I wonder what his hat tasted like?


I’m suprised no one’s mentioned Grigory Kulik.

To quote. "He bitterly denounced Marshal Tukhachevsky’s campaign to redevelop the Red Army’s mechanized forces… Kulik successfully argued against the change, suggesting in a letter to Stalin that such attitudes showed an unhealthy ideological sympathy with the “degenerate fascists ideology” of favoring feint and deception over aggressive frontal attack… Already opposed to tanks, Kulik deliberately opposed the adoption of the superior F-34 gun… Kulik similarly scorned the German issue of the MP-40 machine gun to their shock troops as a “bourgeois fascist affection”… Kulik also disparaged using minefields as a defensive measure… considered by many of his colleagues to be a murderous buffoon.

Really, just read his wiki, its absolutely insane how much total damage he alone caused for the USSR.


Communist dogma teaches that the most dangerous enemy is the enemy within.

It’s interesting watching the recent episode about Stalin’s failure to support Tukhachevsky’s attack on Warsaw because it shows the seed being sown of the Red Army’s catastrophic failure in Barbarossa. Because Tukhachevsky was a champion of armored warfare, and because Stalin saw him as a rival in some sense, anything in the Red Army to do with tank warfare was seen as suspect as well. In the purges, every tank corps in the Red Army was disbanded and pretty much every senior officer killed. It was only really when the success of Blitzkreig became apparent that the Red Army reconstituted its tank corps and started gearing up for large scale armored warfare again but they were way, way behind. That just strikes me as monumentally stupid and it’s a decision that was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not of millions.


As opposed to the Hoxha regime post WWII covering virtually all of Albania with monuments to stupidity. I know I know I’m outside the nominal timeframe, but… reasons.


(And yes, that’s a bunker in a playground.)


Well during these interwar years we can talk about King Zog, Indie really loves talking about him, quite the character.


This is kind of what’s called a “gravedig” on online forums, but I believe relevant since Indy and Sparty asked the question during the livestream, who do we think was the Cadorna or Hötzendorf of WW II.

To go off on a tangent first:

To Stalin’s credit (and I really dislike saying that) he did realize pretty early on in the Nazi-Soviet war (1941-1945) that they needed big changes and quickly, sidelining Budyonny and Kulik. And despite massive losses they did manage to turn things around (though they could have won that war with less than half the casualties they eventually ended up suffering had they not been so staggeringly incompetent and malicious).

Let’s not forget Lev Mekhlis either. And to a lesser degree men like Voroshilov who were also Stalin flunkies.
The Soviets ended the war with the largest tank army in the world, with arguably the best artillery, best ground attack aircraft and some of the best rifles, so they did manage to turn it around, unlike Nazi Germany.

Had Tukhachevsky been allowed to build the army like he wanted, Nazi Germany (which was hilariously unprepared for a long drawn out war) would never have gotten much further than the Minsk-Kiev line. Nazi Germany was pretty much the last of the major players to go on “total war” footing since Hitler kept insisting civilian production be maintained for morale reasons, and by then it was already too late for them.

I dare say that Nazi rule was at least as incompetent and perhaps even more so as Soviet rule was. Only because it had a better prepared army in the beginning did it make the progress it did. But once Germany pretty much ran out of oil the game was up. By 1944 food shortages in German occupied Europe were increasing, energy was only available in limited quantities and they had severe manpower shortages.

Back to the Cadorna/Hötzendorf thing:

I think it’s difficult to really point at people who could be considered WW II equivalents of the level of incompetence and stubbornness that Cadorna and Hötzendorf displayed in the Great War.

Most of the incompetents were not allowed to stick around as long as Cadorna and Hötzendorf did. None of them were allowed to fail over and over and over again for years on end. And none of them are considered military geniuses of strategy today as some have puzzlingly referred to Hötzendorf after the Great War…

The French had Gamelin and Weygand but those were out of the picture by the summer of 1940.
Huntziger was part of Vichy’s administration after the French defeat but led no further armies.

Britain: Percival, who panicked and withdrew to Singapore when it wasn’t necessary and let Yamashita bluff him into surrender (Yamashita could not have taken Singapore without Percival being fooled by the bluff). Percival spent the rest of the war as PoW.

Soviet Union: the previously mentioned Budyonny, who after 1941 was effectively relegated to minor theatres of war.
Dmitry Pavlov who squandered his forces in direct frontal attacks that all led to disaster. He was executed in 1941 on Stalin’s orders but he was supremely incompetent, even in carrying out Stalin’s orders.
Lev Mekhlis who as commissar was responsible for several disastrous campaigns of the Crimean Front. When Mekhlis tried to blame the military commander, Stalin relieved and demoted Mekhlis instead.
Grigory Kulik who disdained modern weapons, and might well have been one of the most incompetent of them all. Almost directly responsible for the collapse of the armies of the Leningrad Front, condemning the city to a 1,000 day siege. He was shot in 1947 in a post war purge.

US: Lloyd Fredendall who was humilitated by the Germans at the Kasserine battle. He was famously replaced by Patton. Not heard from again in terms of command.
General Jay MacKelvie commanded the 90th infantry division during Overlord. He was found cowering in a ditch and was relieved of command after five days because his lack of leadership led to a casualty rate over 100%
Bill Rupertus commanded the 1st Marines during the battle for Peleliu in the Pacific. He’d been so confident of victory in a matter of days that he didn’t bother bringing supplies in case the campaign would last longer.
1st Marines were pulled out after 30 days and were so badly mauled they were unable to resume fighting for the next 6 months. Rupertus was relieved and he died a few weeks later when the battle for Peleliu was still not over.

Italy: general Sebastiano Prasca (military governor of Albania in 1940) who had boasted to Mussolini that his forces could overrun Greece in a matter of weeks. That didn’t quite work out as planned. However, Prasca had an interesting career despite being relieved of command two weeks into the Greek campaign. He was part of the anti Mussolini resistance, captured in 1943, sentenced to death but sent to jail in Germany instead. He escaped and fought with the Red Army in the battle of Berlin.
Rodolfo Graziani who was hilariously out of his depth when attacking Egypt in 1940, allowing a much smaller British force to rout his army. Infamously, Graziani was the only Italian marshal who stuck with Mussolini to the end.

Germany: Ernst Busch comes to mind. He was in charge of Army Group Center from the spring of 1943 onwards. Even when you factor in Hitler’s insane orders, Busch could have saved a part of Army Group Center, but chose not to, and let it be effectively destroyed between June and August 1944.
In a sense you could add Friedrich Paulus. Paulus, who replaced the dead Reichenau in early 1942 was an effective army manager as long as the Germans were advancing and things were going relatively well. Once his 6th Army started to get into trouble he was out of his depth and often paralyzed in his decision making, if he made decisions at all. Paulus went into captivity rather than to commit the suicide Hitler wanted out of him. In effect, Paulus was an example of the Peter principle, promoted beyond his competence.

This list is by no means complete, but are the first names I can think of.

** Aug 24, I’ve added in 2 American and 1 German general. Again, no equivalents of Cadorna/Hötzendorf.