Junior Achievers: Successful Young Commanders
At the tender age of 24 one Napoleone Buonaparte became a General de brigade in the French Army. By 26 he was winning gloriously on the field of battle, thereby launching one of the most brilliant military careers of all time. To have attained such rank, and subsequent success at such a youthful age is generally considered one of the proof's of Napoleon's genius. Yet he was by no means the youngest successful commander in history.
This table, which is hardly complete, includes only commanders of 25 years of age or less, lists noble types by their first names, and less exalted folks by their family names. aristocracy.
|Alexander III (356-323 B.C.)|| Macedon|| 16|
| Antiochus III (241-187 B.C.) ||Syria|| 20|
| Charles XII (1682-1718) ||Sweden ||18|
|Charles, Archduke (1771-1847) ||Austria ||22|
|Custer, George Armstrong (1839-1876*) ||U.S. ||23|
|Demetrius II (c. 159-125 B.C.*) ||Syria ||14|
|Edward IV (1442-1483) ||England ||19|
|Edward, the Black Prince (1330-1376) || England ||17|
|Eugenio von Savoy (1663-1736) ||Austria ||22|
|Fernando di Pescara (1490-1523) ||Spain ||24|
|Francois I (1494-1547) ||France ||21|
|Gaston de Foix (1489-1512*) ||France ||22|
|Giovanni de Medici (1498-1526*) ||Papacy ||21|
|Gustavus Adolphus (1594-1632*) ||Sweden ||17|
|Henri IV (1553-1610) ||France ||16|
|Henry II (1133-1189) ||England ||20|
|Hoche, Lazare (1768-1797) ||France ||25|
|Iacopo del Verme (1350-c.1410) ||Milan ||20|
|Ivan IV "The Terrible" (1534-1586) ||Russia ||22|
|Johnston, Robert D. (1837-1919) ||C.S. ||24|
|Jeanne d'Arc (1412-1431) ||France ||17|
|Juan de Austria (1545-1578) ||Hapsburg ||23|
|Lee, W.H.L. (1837-1922) ||C.S. ||25|
|Louis II de Conde (1621-1686) ||France ||22|
|Miles, Nelson A. (1839-1925) ||U.S. ||24|
|Pennypacker, Galusha (1844-1916) ||U.S. ||20|
|Pompey the Great (106-48 B.C.) ||Rome ||24|
|Richard III (1452-1485*) ||England ||19|
|Rupert of the Rhine (1619-1682) ||England ||23|
|Tagueña, Manuel (1913-1971) ||Spain ||23|
|William I (1027-1087) ||Normandy ||19|
|William III (1650-1702) ||Holland ||21|
|Ybarra, Tomas (1849-1918) ||Venezuela ||20|
|* Killed in action|
Note that a lot of these folks were members of the nobility, and many actually royal persons. Also, most of them listed made their names on land, although both Don Juan of Austria and Rupert of the Rhine were just as good at sea.
That a relatively young person might successfully attain senior command is less likely since the rise of technologically sophisticated armies. After all, up until about the mid-nineteenth century a lot of generalship consisted of placing oneself at the head of the troops and shouting “Charge!” Nevertheless, even in the twentieth century an occasional boy wonder made it to relatively high command, such as Manuel Tagueña; a youthful professor of physics, and Communist Party member, he evidenced a talent for winning after he volunteered for service with the Spanish Republic in 1936 and eventually rose to command a corps, later serving in that capacity in the Red Army against Germany.
Note: The good readers are urged to submit additional names for inclusion in an expanded version of this list to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Other Rommel
Erwin Rommel is well known as the brilliant officer who commanded the German 7th Panzer Division during the 1940 Campaign, and then went on the earn the sobriquet "Desert Fox" at the head of the Afrika Korps in 1941-1943, before taking command of the forces occupying France on the eve of D-Day in 1944, only to be forced to suicide in the aftermath of the famous “July Plot” against Hitler’s life.
But there was another General Rommel in World War II, Lt. Gen. Juliusz Rommel, of the Polish Army.
During the last post-war years Rommel had actually served as Inspector General of the Polish Army, effectively the highest ranking officer in the service. When the Germans invaded Poland, on September 1, 1939, he commanded the “Lodz” Army, five infantry divisions, plus a brigade of infantry and two of cavalry, deployed on the central portion of the German-Polish frontier. Under pressure from the German onslaught, Rommel fell back to cover Warsaw, of which he was shortly appointed military governor. Given four more infantry divisions, weak units composed mostly of reservists, Rommel had orders to defend the city to the last. The Germans put enormous resources against Warsaw, virtually destroying the against the invading Germans until forced to surrender the devastated city on September 27, 1939, though not before arranging to organize an underground resistance army, what became the Polish “Home Army,” which staged an heroic but ultimately unsuccessful uprising in Warsaw in 1944.
Amazingly, this Rommel – more correctly “Rómmel” – survived nearly six years (1939-1945), as a prisoner of the Germans. Rommel was one of over 5,000 other Polish prisoners – including 22 other generals – liberated when American troops overran a large P/W camp at Murnau. Afterwards he lived in retirement, dieing in 1967, at well over 80 years of age.
It’s not know if the two Rommels were related. While the name is not as common as some, it isn’t exactly rare. Nevertheless, the German Rommel was from Swabia, a poor area in southwestern Germany from which many people migrated, not only to America but in earlier times to other parts of Europe as well.