It is being reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin has a personnel problem.  He’s lost numerous Generals and Colonels in combat, fired at least 150 members of the state security service, and is scrambling to fill empty leadership slots all the way down to company commander in his tables of organization.  While personnel changes are not uncommon in any military, we thought it might be interesting to look at some of the really big ones that have shaken up the US military in history.

It was not uncommon for the top military commanders and presidents to have disagreements and clashes at times. As the leader of a whole nation, it was the president’s responsibility to make major and sometimes difficult decisions that most of the time involved the military, especially in times of conflict. What was harder was if the general was popular at home while taking a different view of foreign or military policy and was against the president’s agenda. In our military that just can’t be allowed to happen.  The military answers to civilian authority.

MacArthur Triggered a War With China

Even before President Harry S. Truman relieved General Douglas MacArthur as commander of the US forces in Korea, problems with the general had already been brewing for months. It all started in the early days of the war in Korea, beginning in June 1950. MacArthur successfully devised a brilliant strategy and approach to prevent South Korea from falling to the invading forces of the North Korean.

The war hero was aggressive in pushing North Korea literally to the border with Communist China and argued for a policy that would reunify the Korean peninsula under South Korean control. Truman was concerned that Communist China was freaking out about UN forces being so close to the Chinese border and that the conflict would turn into a general land war in China as well.

General McArthur seemed to welcome that and advocated for the use of atomic bombs if the Chinese entered the war formally and attacked UN forces in Korea.

As for Truman, he wanted to keep the conflict in Korea a “limited war,” concerned that the USSR would join China and the war could spread to Europe as well.  General MacArthur assured him that there were slim chances that the Chinese government would intervene in the conflict. To their surprise, hundreds of thousands of Chinese forces rushed into North Korea and attacked the American lines, successfully pushing the US troops back into South Korea. As a remedy, MacArthur asked permission to bomb communist China and deploy the Nationalist Chinese forces from Taiwan against the People’s Republic of China. Truman didn’t take a second to say no, and a public argument between the two soon ensued. Because of that, President Truman decided to fire General MacArthur and had him replaced with Gen. Matthew Ridgway in April 1951.

Proposed draft messages to Frank Pace, Douglas MacArthur, and Matthew Ridgway. (Harry S. Truman, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

In April 1951, President Truman fired MacArthur and replaced him with Gen. Matthew Ridgway.

Kimmel and Short After the Pearl Harbor Bombing

The United States was unprepared when the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service attacked the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu on December 7, 1941.

Lord Louis Mountbatten, center, Lt. General Walter Short, left; Admiral Husband Kimmel, right. In the back row are Major general Frederick L. Martin and Rear admiral Patrick N. L. Bellinger. (US Military, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

When World War II commenced, Admiral Kimmel had already attained the rank of rear admiral and was the one in charge of commanding the cruiser forces at Pearl Harbor. In January 1941, he was promoted to commander of the Pacific Fleet. Kimmel was an excellent commander who was a creature of habit. A trait that was exploited by the Japanese forces and used to successfully bomb the harbor. He did not take action in securing Pearl Harbor even when rumors that Japan was more likely to strike first against the US were already out. In fact, he was expecting that the sneak attack would be at Wake Island or Midway Island. With that, he requested Lieutenant General Walter Short, then-Commander of the Army at Pearl Harbor, to provide extra anti-aircraft artillery in his expected area.

When all was said and done, and Pearl Harbor was pulverized by the Japanese bombs, both Kimmel and Short were relieved of their duties by President Roosevelt for not acting to prevent the attack on the Hawaiian islands.

We actually think Kimmel and Short got a raw deal.  They were not warned by Washington of an imminent attack on Pearl Harbor and were told instead to guard against acts of sabotage and subversion.

McClellan and His Lack Aggressive Spirit

General George B. McClellan was a promising commander who was working as a railroad president before the American Civil War broke out. Originally, the Union Army was under the command of the 75-year-old Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott, who had to be replaced later on. Since troops under McClellan’s command scored multiple valuable victories, he was summoned by Lincoln to Washington, DC, to take over the Army of the Potomac, who just had a humiliating defeat during the Battle of First Bull Run.

Black-and-white portrait of U.S. Civil War General George B. McClellan sitting in a chair. (Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

For the next nine months, McClellan built a strong army with an efficient command structure. When Lee defeated Pope at the Second Battle of Bull Run in 1862, Lincoln ordered McClellan to gather his troops and stop Lee. The two forces battled along Antietam Creek, where the Confederates retreated, but McClellan didn’t bother pursuing them. For the next six weeks, Lincoln and McClellan sent angry messages to each other until the general finally decided to move across the Potomac, which took him nine days. Lincoln’s last straw was broken, and he notified the general that he was being removed. General Ambrose Burnside took his place.