Washington was the winner in a contest run by the National Army Museum to identify the country’s most outstanding military opponent

George Washington has been named as the greatest foe ever faced by the British.
By Jasper Copping

7:02PM BST 14 Apr 2012

The American was voted the winner in a contest run by the National
Army Museum to identify the country’s most outstanding military

He was one of a shortlist of five leaders who topped a public poll and
on Saturday was selected as the ultimate winner by an audience of
around 70 guests at a special event at the museum, in Chelsea, west

In second place was Michael Collins, the Irish leader, ahead of
Napoleon Bonaparte, Erwin Rommel and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

At the event, each contender had their case made by a historian giving
a 40 minute presentation. The audience, who had paid to attend the
day, then voted in a secret ballot after all five presentations had
been made.

Dr Stephen Brumwell, who had championed Washington, said: “As British
officers conceded, he was a worthy opponent.”
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The shortlist of five were selected from an initial list of 20
candidates, drawn up by the museum’s curators.

To qualify, each commander had to come from the 17th century onwards –
the period covered by the museum’s collection – and had to have led an
army in the field against the British, thus excluding political
enemies, like Adolf Hitler.

The contest was designed to not only identify Britain’s most
outstanding opponent, but also to draw attention to some lesser-known

Most of the 20 fought in various colonial wars, such as Ntshingwayo
kaMahole, the Zulu leader and victor of Isandlwana, one of the British
army’s greatest military defeats, and Tipu Sultan, known as the “Tiger
of Mysore”, who resisted British expansion in India.

Alongside Rommel, the only Second World War leader was Tomoyuki
Yamashita, the Japanese commander who oversaw the fall of Singapore.
The one woman on the list was Rani of Jhansi, who fought British
forces in nineteenth century India.

The online poll was launched in the middle of February, and around St
Patrick’s Day – March 17 – there was a surge in support for Michael
Collins, although several people pointed out on the museum’s website
that, technically, the guerrilla leader never led an army on a

He took a strong lead, but the contest was later featured in the
Turkish media, leading to wave of support for Atatürk, who ended up
winning with more than 3,000 votes – 40 per cent of those cast.

The museum selected the format – of an online poll followed by a
closed vote – to filter out tactical voting, reducing the risk that a
candidate could win thanks to orchestrated “block” voting – along
national lines – rather than on the specific criteria of their
performance in battle against the British. The eventual winner, George
Washington, came fourth in the online poll, with less than two per
cent of the vote.

The top five:

George Washington (1732-99) – 45 per cent of the vote in the final round

Guided the American rebels to victory over the British in the War of
Independence. Often outmanoeuvred by British generals with larger
armies, his leadership enabled him to hold together an army of
secessionists from 13 different states and keep it in the field – and
ultimately prevail – during the protracted struggle.

Stephen Brumwell, author and specialist on eighteenth century North
America, said: “Washington scores highly as an enemy of Britain on
three key grounds: the immense scale of damage he inflicts upon
Britain’s Army and Empire – the most jarring defeat that either
endured; his ability to not only provide inspirational battlefield
leadership but to work with civilians who were crucial to sustain the
war-effort; and the kind of man he was. As British officers conceded,
he was a worthy opponent.”

Michael Collins (1890-1922) – 21 per cent

Helped transform the Irish Republican Army into a powerful force which
fought the British to a standstill in the Irish War of Independence,
securing the separation of most of the island of Ireland from the rest
of the United Kingdom.

Under him, the force waged a guerrilla campaign, mounting attacks and
ambushes on barracks, police stations and convoys before quickly
withdrawing. His tactics made much of Ireland ungovernable – with an
army that never exceeded 3,000 active volunteers at any given time.

Gabriel Doherty, lecturer at University College Cork, said: “He was
much more than just a great military leader. He had many different
hats and his political and administrative skills tend to be a lot more

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) – 18 per cent

Emerged from the turmoil and terror of revolution to become France’s
greatest military commander, conquering much of Europe. His greatest
victories were against other countries, but his final campaign,
culminating in the Battle of Waterloo, tested the Duke of Wellington
to the limit.

Alan Forrest, professor of modern history at the University of York,
said: “Napoleon was, of course, a supremely gifted general and
military tactician, and he also had an unerring gift for propaganda
and self-promotion. He recognised in Britain his most implacable
opponent, and concentrated all his resources – political and economic
as well as military in his attempt to defeat him.”

Erwin Rommel (1891-1944) – 10 per cent

A decorated veteran of the First World War, he led the German
“Blitzkrieg” of France in the Second World War before making his name
battling British forces in North Africa, where he earned the nickname
“Desert Fox”. His skill at handling armoured formations enabled his
“Afrikakorps” to consistently outmatch his opponents, often against
heavy odds.

Dale Clarke, a reservist officer in the Royal Artillery, author and
technical adviser on historical films and television shows, said: “A
myth may have grown up around Rommel but there is an underlying truth
that he was a superb leader who knew that in war you have to instantly
grasp the initiative and keep your men moving forward. He is still the
ultimate enemy, because of his sheer tenacity and skill.”

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938) – 6 per cent

Fought a tenacious defensive campaign at Gallipoli in 1915 which
forced the Allied invasion force to withdraw. Displayed great
leadership and tactical acumen, reacting immediately to the landing at
Anzac Cove to launch successful counter-attacks, preventing his
opponents from securing high ground.

Matthew Hughes, from Brunel University, said: “Atatürk resisted the
British-led amphibious landings and was the man at the front who
stopped the enemy troops taking the peninsula, advancing on Istanbul
and knocking Turkey out of the war.”