Top 10 Military leaders of World War 1

Numerous leaders from both sides commanded the battles of World War I: the Allied Powers and the Central Powers.

WWI was fought on a massive scale which raised unprecedented challenges for the leaders involved.

All the significant leaders, including Douglas Haig, Erich Ludendorff, Paul Von Hindenburg, and Maurice Sarrail, were responsible for the decision of going to war and deciding the war aims to be pursued.

Here are 10 significant Military Leaders of World War I.

10. Paul Von Hindenburg, Germany

Paul Von Hindenburg, Germany

Paul Von Hindenburg ( 1847 – 1934), a native of Germany received education from Cadet Schools in Wahlstatt and Berlin and was the German military commander and a president during World War I. 

He fought in numerous fights including Franco-German War and Austro-Prussian War and took retirement in 1911 for the first time. He joined his duty again in 1914 and shared his power as the commander of the 8th Army and Chief of the General staff, along with Erich Ludendorff. 

While with Erich, he used submarine warfare and drew the US into the battle, and was considered a National Hero.

In the year 1918, he became a part of the final significant German push in France which led to the surrender of Germans in November 1918. Later, he withdrew the German forces from Belgium and France after the end of World War I.

Paul Von retired again in June 1919, became president of the Weimar Republic in 1925, named Adolf Hitler the German chancellor, and died in the year 1934.

9. Erich Ludendorff, Germany

Erich Ludendorff, Germany

Erich Ludendorff ( 1865 – 1937) was a native of Germany who got educated in the cadet corps. He was able to achieve fame during  World War I for his vital role in the victories of the German Army at Liege and Tannenberg.

After the outbreak of World War I, Erich was elected as the chief of staff for the 8th Army (German Empire), where he got renowned for the victory at the Tannenberg battle.

Later, he was elected as the nominal deputy to the chief of the general staff and overhauled the tactical doctrines of the army. He was in support of the unrestricted submarine warfare which led to dragging the US into the war.

Maintaining a central-role in the Brest Litovsk peace treaty, he negotiated at a massive cost to Russia. However, he resigned in October 1918, as the nominal deputy to the chief of the general Paul Hindenburg, after Paul’s failure of the offensive due to the arrival of fresh American troops. 

Before his retirement, Paul was entirely dependent on Ludendorff for the victories at Tannenberg in 1914 and the Masurian Lakes in 1915.

He wrote Der Totale Krieg and many articles about the German military’s conduct and served in parliament as National Socialist Party’s member from 1924 to 1928. 

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8. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Ottoman Empire

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Ottoman Empire

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ( 1881 – 1938) was a Turkish national. He was the first president of Turkey, first prime minister of the government of the Grand National Assembly, and the first speaker of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.

On March 1914, Mustafa was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, as he was serving in Sofia as a potential and had a political intrigue in Istanbul. 

In 1915, Ataturk was able to secure the Ottoman Turkish victory at the Battle of Gallipoli. He then served in Edirne till 1916 and was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General on 1st of April. 

As the leader of the Turkish National Movement, Kemal established a provisional government at the Ankara and got victory over the forces sent by the Allies. The emerging success was then considered as the Turkish War of Independence.

He resigned from the Ottoman Army on July 8, 1919, as the government issued a warrant for Mustafa’s arrest for the charge of disobeying the Sultan’s order to dissolve the remaining Ottoman forces in Anatolia, 

He then led the Turkish National Movement resisting mainland Turkey’s partition amongst the Allied powers holding victories. 

7. Douglas Haig, Great Britain

Douglas Haig, Great Britain

Douglas Haig ( 1861- 1928) was a British national. He got his education from Oxford University and the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.

In December 1915, he was made commander-in-chief of the British Army. In very less time, he had to strategize for the Somme Offensive, to break the standoff on the Western Front and to reduce the pressure of the French troops at Verdun.

The British forces led by Haig were much criticized for the ineffective conduct of the Somme offensive which involved the massive casualties of at least 1.2 million French, British, and German soldiers wounded, killed, or captured.

Again in July 1917, the Third Battle of Ypres began causing 448,000 casualties but led to the weakening of the German Army. He was a controversial figure due to the massive casualties that were caused by his military strategy. 

Haig served from 1918 to 1921, as commander-in-chief of the British Home forces. He helped in the establishment of the Royal British Legion and raised funds for them. He took his retirement in 1921 and died on January 28, 1928.

6. Maurice Sarrail, France

Maurice Sarrail, France

Maurice Sarrail (1856 – 1929) was a French national. He got his education from St Cyr and was posted to the infantry as a sub-lieutenant.

As a French General during World War I, he was open about his political views. He had socialist political connections, which made him a rare personal amongst the conservatives, Catholics, and monarchists who were dominating the French Army.

Ultimately he was promoted to command the Third Army after the remarkable performance by his troops in the invasion of the Ardennes in 1914 and was also appointed to lead at Salonika.

The Salonika Campaign intended on supporting Serbia and providing a chance to France to show its political and economic influence over the declining Ottoman Empire and Greece. 

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Sarrail’s forces did not succeed in the conquest of Bulgaria even with numerous offensives.

Serbia and Romania were captured by the Central Powers in 1915 and 1916 respectively. He was then dismissed by Georges Clemenceau in 1917 and was replaced by French General Guillaume.

5. Sir Frederick Stanley Maude, Great Britain

Sir Frederick Stanley Maude, Great Britain

Sir Frederick Stanley Maude( 1864 – 1917) got his education from Eton and entered Sandhurst to begin a career in the military, and was able to achieve Egyptian Medal and a Star while he served Egyptian by joining the Coldstream Guards in February 1884.

Beginning his career in World War I as a staff of General Pulteney’s III Corps in France in October 1914, and then getting promoted to Brigadier -General and commanded the 14th Brigade, got him more involved in the wars.

In 1915, Maude was sent back to his home, England, as he was seriously injured. He stayed there for recuperation and returned to service. With his return, in June 1915, he got promoted to major general as the commander of the 33rd Division.

Maude is known for his outstanding operations in the Mesopotamian campaign in World War I and also for conquering Baghdad in 1917. He died in 1918 due to severe cholera which was caused by contaminated milk.

4. Aleksey Brusilov, Russia

Aleksey Brusilov, Russia

Aleksey Brusilov (1853 – 1926) was initially educated at home ( age 14 ) and later joined the Imperial Corps of Pages in Saint Petersburg and was an innovative commander of the wars who flourished during the Bolshevik and Romanov periods.

Being handed command of the Russian 8th Army in August 1914, Galicia, made him appreciate the value of modern artillery, modern battlefield, and machine gunnery.

Then in the year 1916, he became South-Western Front’s Commander-in-Chief, where he executed the Brusilov Offensive ( May 22, 1916).

The Offensive led to numerous casualties on all sides and is considered as the turning point which tipped the war towards the favour of the Allies.

He died on March 17, 1926, suffering from Pneumonia.

3. John Pershing, United States

John Pershing, United States

John Pershing(1860 – 1948) got his education from a school in Laclede and later studied at the State Normal School in Kirksville and was the senior United States Army officer which got him famous for serving in the American Expeditionary Forces ( AEF ) as the commander on the Western Front during World War I.

Serving as the president, first captain of the West Point class of 1886, and in the Spanish and Philippine- American wars, led to the punitive raid against the Mexican Pancho Villa.

In 1917, John was selected to command the AEF leaving for Europe by President Woodrow Wilson. He was able to transform ill-prepared American military forces into disciplined soldiers.

Though initially, he refused to integrate with the British and French, later in October 1918, in the Meuse-Argonne offensive the AEF supported them to destroy the German resistance.

John Pershing became the only commander to stand against the Armistice and insist for the pressure to be given to the German continually until their surrender.

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This behaviour of his helped end the war. He died in 1948 due to coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure. He was buried with honours at Arlington National Cemetery.

2. Enver Pasha Ottoman Empire

Enver Pasha Ottoman Empire

Enver Pasha(1881-1922) got commissioned in the Turkish Army from an early age. He underwent training in Germany and got inspired by its culture and the system of military training.

As the main leader of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkan Wars and World War I, and with his heroic military ranks, he was given various titles; the main title was ‘ Pasha ‘ – honorary title Ottoman military gained for being promoted to the level of major general( Mirliva). 

As a new minister of War, in 1914, he planned for secret negotiations with Russia and Germany which led to the joining of Ottoman in the Central Powers.

He also planned on uniting the Turkic people of Russian Central Asia with the Ottoman Turkic and served in the dual capacity of Minister of War and Commander-in-Chief of Ottoman during World War I.

Due to the failure of his plans, there was a loss of massive men from 3rd Army against Russians and had to recover from foiling the Allied expedition in 1915-1916. With the withdrawal of Russian from the war in 1917, Enver led the Ottoman forces and occupied Baku in 1918.

Enver was compelled to flee in exile to Germany by the armistice with the Allies. He was killed in 1922 by the Soviet forces.

1. Louis Franchet d’Esperey, France

Louis Franchet d’Esperey, France

Louis Franchet d’Esperey(May 25, 1856, to July 18, 1942), the native of France, got educated at Saint-Cyr and graduated in the year 1876 and served in French Indochina(1900) after being assigned to a regiment of Tirailleurs of Algeria.

As an active French Commander, he witnessed an effective service during World War I, towards the Western and Balkan Fronts. With the participation as a commander of Corps 1, he started his career in World War I, being the part of General Lanrezac’s 5th Army (Charleroi).

Replacing Lanrezac, he commanded the 5th Army for the 1st Battle of the Marne in Sept 1914. He got the victory and along with the win came his promotion to the post of commander of the Eastern Army Group ( Western Front).

In May of 1918, Germans defeated him on the Chemin des Dames, which led to him being sent to the polygon Allied Armies( Macedonia). With his effort, in September of 1918, he was able to gain victory over Bulgaria and draw them out of the war, which opened the path to Vienna.

With his bold attempts and decisions, he was made Marshal of France in 1921 and was elected to the French Academy in 1934. 



With the participation of these military leaders, the Great War was able to lead to the planned campaigns. They also made a path for the new leaders to enter the war while it was being progressed.

Some of the decisions and strategies of these leaders led to a vigorous victory, whereas some led to a massive loss.

Some of the other primary leaders of World War I include Ferdinand Foch, Paul Von Lettow – Vorbeck, Franz Conrad Von Hotzendorf, and Helmuth von Moltke the Younger.

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