5 Slapstick Failures by Modern Military Commanders

#2. Ubaldo Soddu Wasn't Really "About" His Day Job

Greece Army

One lesson you can learn from the previous example is that if your country is not at war, there are all sorts of ways to rise through the ranks of the military without being good at war stuff at all. You could probably have a long career and retire with honors as long as, you know, fighting never breaks out.

That brings us to Italian General Ubaldo Soddu.

Valdis Kursietis/Generals.dk
Who failed to live up to the promise of his first name.

Saying that Soddu was a terrible general might not be fair, since by all accounts he was fantastic at every part that didn't involve commanding troops in battle. As a charming party dude, he spent the 1930s convincing both the Nazis and the British that he was on their side, while developing very refined tastes in music and pasta. In fact, he was so good at schmoozing that he gained a reputation as a "first-class commander" despite the fact that his description of his own military philosophy was "When you have a fine plate of pasta guaranteed for life and a little music, you don't need anything more." That reads like a particularly sloppy attempt to dodge a question, since music and pasta have nothing to do with the military or, strictly speaking, philosophy -- but weirdly enough, due largely to Italy's somewhat lackluster warrior culture, his military career was actually really promising.

Right up until a war broke out.

After Mussolini's secret invasion of Greece ended up being as effective as throwing pasta at the wall, Soddu was the guy he sent to clean everything up. Most people would take a position as a commanding military officer during World War II pretty seriously, but Soddu really wasn't into the whole "fighting" thing. So, he approached the most terrifying warpocalypse the world had ever seen the way most of us approach a part-time job at Denny's: He'd start off by half-assing his way through a shift, then duck out early to go back to his tent and write music. His thing was composing soundtracks to movies, which actually doesn't sound like something that takes a lot of practice based on the pornos we've seen.

Anton Vaver/iStock/Getty Images
His work on Double D-Day left a lot to be desired.

Soddu's disastrous career on the battlefield ended after just four weeks, when his superiors realized he had no idea what the fuck he was doing (even if he did probably hear a rousing score in his head during every retreat). After his late-night groove sessions cemented his army's defeat, Mussolini ended up having to call on Hitler for support, which delayed the German invasion of Russia until winter, which ended up crippling the Nazi war machine and all but guaranteeing a victory for the Allies. See, kids, this is why you need to pay attention at your day job.

#1. Russian Generals Had Trouble Getting With the Times

Alexander Kiyan

We don't doubt that there are some jobs where being old-fashioned is an advantage. Military general is not one of those jobs -- in real life, the Ewoks will immediately get mowed down by the Stormtroopers. Unfortunately for anyone fighting on behalf of Russia during World War II, Joseph Stalin had a nasty habit of putting grumpy old men in charge of military technology -- men who looked at innovations like rockets and tanks the same way your cranky old uncle looks at that damn smartphone you keep tweeting on at every family get-together.

via Battlefield.ru
"Those things'll give you polio, that's a fact."

For example, we have General Semyon Budyonny, who made a name for himself as an excellent soldier during the Communist Revolution of 1917, was made a cavalry leader by Joseph Stalin, and eventually had a hat named after him. This apparently went to his head, because he promptly decided that the horse was the pinnacle of human technology and would never be surpassed. While the Germans, Italians, and British were revolutionizing their armies with tanks and aircraft, Budyonny believed so strongly in the military might of horses that he briefly convinced Stalin to abolish the entire tank corps. But when Budyonny finally got a chance to face down the gigantic metal armored death guns he so arrogantly dismissed, they quickly surrounded and captured or killed all of his 665,000 men, giving Hitler his greatest military victory ever.

But Budyonny was hardly the only high-ranking Russian commander who took his equestrianism way too seriously: His colleague General Grigory Kulik was constantly claiming that anything he didn't understand (which included most things) was sabotage and decided that the best way to prepare for engaging Hitler's forces during Operation Barbarossa was to halt the production of tanks and anti-tank rockets (which he hated because they didn't sound cool when he fired them) so he could engage the state-of-the-art German war machine with World War I-era horse-drawn artillery.

via Ukraine SSR
Anyone with this mustache was probably the wrong choice to oppose Hitler.

That would've been bad enough even if Kulik hadn't been a drunken lunatic known for screaming "prison or medal" at his subordinates (those being the two possible rewards for their efforts to obey him). Ultimately, Kulik's strategy of waving his cane and demanding that the tanks get off his lawn failed to pay off: His ineptitude allowed Leningrad to be surrounded, kicking off one of the bloodiest sieges in history. All because -- if we're being totally honest -- the guy was probably fucking his horse.

With those kinds of leaders calling the shot, it's arguably even more incredible that Russian soldiers basically won the war for everyone else.

For more military brilliance, please pre-order Jacopo's upcoming book THE GREAT ABRAHAM LINCOLN POCKET WATCH CONSPIRACY!

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Related Reading: Insects could out-general all of these guys. And in fact, bees can carry out more complex sieges than most human armies. Sometimes uniform designers fail even harder than these generals, check out the Italian Carabinieri. Not had enough armed incompetence? Read about these disastrous military computer glitches.

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