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Generalissimo[1] is a military rank of the highest degree, superior to field marshal and other five-star ranks in the countries where they are used.

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  • Luigi Cadorna - The Generalissimo I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?


On July 1st, 1914, four weeks before the First World War began, Alberto Pollio, Chief of Staff of the Italian army, died suddenly and unexpectedly. A new Chief of Staff was appointed, and he was the man who would lead the Italian army for more than three years, Luigi Cadorna. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to our Great War bio series, “Who did What in World War One?” today featuring Luigi Cadorna. Luigi Giovanni Antonio Carlo Giuseppe Cadorna was born September 4th, 1850 in Pallanza, on the coast of Lake Maggiore. His father, Raffaele Cadorna, was a soldier and fought in the Crimean War, but later became a General in the Piedmontese army and led the conquest of Rome, the final act of the Italian Risorgimento, in 1870. Luigi had gone to military school and was commissioned at age 18 as a Second Lieutenant in the artillery. He actually also participated in taking Rome, joining the forces led by his father. His father played a big role in Luigi’s life, and indeed in Luigi’s later years he would write a biography of his father. In Rome, Luigi met Giovanna Balbi, whom he would marry and with whom he would have three daughters and a son, of course naming the son Raffaele after his father. Over the years, Luigi Cadorna rose through the ranks. As a major he was chief of staff of Verona Divisional Command, in the 1890s he was Colonel commanding a regiment of Bersaglieri, and in 1898 was promoted to Lieutenant-General. He then held several senior staff and divisional command positions. Now, Cadorna never experienced combat as a leader until World War One as he did not take part in the Italo-Turkish war in 1911 and 1912. So... it’s the summer of 1914 and soon to be 64 year old Cadorna has a fairly noteworthy career behind him and is nearing his retirement when he’s suddenly offered the post of Chief of Staff of the Italian Army. Cadorna accepts, reluctantly according to his letters, though he accepted only on condition that, even though the king formally commanded the army, Cadorna will have effective leadership with no limitations. Now, Cadorna had a reputation for strict discipline and harsh punishments, and he is confident in his own ability, and is a real authoritarian. He’s also Catholic, very devout as is his family; in fact, two of his daughters would become nuns. At this point, days before the war began, Italy was still linked with Germany and Austria-Hungary by the Triple Alliance and when the war began Cadorna began making plans to help the German attack on the French border. He was completely in the dark about the government’s foreign policy and that policy of armed neutrality took him by surprise. I’m not going to talk about the situation in Italian politics during the year of armed neutrality before Italy entered the war with the Entente in 1915 because I covered all of that in our special on Italy. Cadorna was of course affected by the political upheavals, but he had more to worry about, most of all the deficiencies of men – especially officers – and materiel – especially artillery – in the army. So Italy joined the war and Cadorna established his headquarters in Udine in the Archbishop’s Palace. Cadorna was not so much popular, especially among politicians, as he was a cult figure. Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, described him as, “an old Roman, a man cast in the big simple mold of antiquity”. Gabriele D’Annunzio wrote two poems dedicated to Cadorna, saying that he was “cut and shaped from the hardest granite by a maestro whose vigor was greater than his artistic ability”. Cadorna’s reply was, “It’s a nice way to say I’m ugly”. Luigi Cadorna would rule his army as a dictator, was called the Generalissimo, and would remove men from command for the slightest pretext. During his tenure as Chief of Staff, he would fire 217 generals, 255 colonels, and 337 lieutenant-colonels. He published a bulletin in February 1915 called “Attacco frontale e ammaestramento tattico” that outlined his military theory. For Cadorna, the most important thing, the difference between victory and defeat, is morale. “Victory is determined by the demoralization of the enemy!” This is kind of Cadorna’s main limitation as a military theorist – he understood that modern war is a war shaped by material, but that for him was only a side note. Cadorna soon realized that the war would not be a short one, and having few alternatives, he focused his attention on the line of the Isonzo River. I cover all of the battles there in our regular Thursday episodes, but I’ll highlight a few points here. The first main offensive was in June and July 1915. The gains were minimal and the losses huge for the Italians, and the deficiency of the Italian artillery really showed. In fact, in the first six months of the war, Italian casualties numbered 280,000, almost double those of Austria-Hungary. The Italian Minister of War, Vittorio Zupelli, very much unsatisfied with Cadorna’s command, pled his case against Cadorna to the cabinet at the end of January 1916, and a council of war was suggested, made up of ministers and generals, that would attempt to contend with Cadorna for control of military operations. But Cadorna had the King on his side, and that was rejected, and the only resignation from the whole affair turned out to be that of Zuppelli as Minister of War. Cadorna wrote to his wife that his principal enemies were no longer the Austrians. Cadorna opposed sending Italian troops to any other fronts, such as Libya or Albania, and only sent troops to the Macedonian Front because all the other allies were there and the absence of Italian troops might mean the loss of future concessions in Asia Minor. Up to mid 1916, the Austrians had been solely on defense on the Italian front, but that changed. Rumors and even newspaper stories warned of an Austrian build up for an offensive, but Cadorna paid them no heed so when that offensive began he was taken completely by surprise. This was partly because of a confused and inadequate structure for intelligence reporting, which was kind of a reflection of the way he ran his headquarters. Cadorna had learned by this time the importance of war materiel and his army was very much beefed up in terms of artillery and machine guns, but he still believed “morale preparation” was the most important thing. Still, in August 1916, thanks to meticulous preparation and artillery, Italy captured Gorizia, a major victory. The failure to follow this up properly did cause over 50,000 Italian casualties, though. In fact, by 1917, the Italian army was in a state of mutiny and desertion. That year would be the worst of the war for Italy in terms of war dead. Cadorna believes the cause to be propaganda, and indeed when the Italian army faced disaster in the field, he would not blame his own failings or his enemy’s skill, but rather found the fault within his troops, and his reaction was discipline basically of terror. Soldiers were subjects who were shaped by punishments, not individuals who deserve to know hay they fight and die. The Italians do push the Austrians back 12 kilometers that summer, so the Isonzo itself can no longer be used as a defensive barrier, but when Austria turned to Germany for help, the resulting Battle of Caporetto, featuring storm troops tactics, broke the Italian lines. The Italians were forced back all the way to the Piave River, but Cadorna again blamed the loss on the morale of his men, and not German technique and skill. It was an outbreak of willful disobedience and defeatism by insufficiently patriotic troops. The Italian line holds at the Piave but Cadorna’s time in command is at an end after Caporetto. Armando Diaz is named new Chief of Staff in November. Cadorna is assigned as the Italian representative to the Allied War Council in Versailles, but would soon resign. On July 1st, 1918 he retires to Florence where he will work on his father’s biography. During the rise of fascism, which he at first sees positively, he declared mistakenly that the Mussolini regime would never last because the Italian people don’t want dictatorships. In 1926, Luigi Cadorna moved to Trieste and died in 1928 in Bordighera, Liguria. His reputation, certainly on this channel, is not a good one, for he consistently believed that a soldier’s morale is more important than his guns, and did not take blame for his failures in the field, as much as he did take credit for his successes. In some ways he was very much a man of ancient Rome in the age of Modern War.. Thanks to Andrea Maisano for the research on this episode. Andrea is actually operating his own Italian blog and twitter about World War 1. Check out the link to his profiles in the description.



The word generalissimo (Italian: Generalissimo), an Italian term, is the absolute superlative of generale ('general') thus meaning "the highest-ranking of all generals". The superlative suffix -issimo itself derives from Latin -issimus,[2][3][4][5][6] meaning "utmost, to the highest grade". Similar cognates in other languages include generalísimo in Spanish, generalíssimo in Portuguese, généralissime in French, and generalissimus in Latin.

Historically this rank was given to a military officer leading an entire army or the entire armed forces of a nation, usually only subordinate to the sovereign.[7] Other usage of the rank has been for the commander of the united armies of several allied powers and if a senior military officer becomes the head of state or head of government of a nation like Chiang Kai-Shek in China and later in Taiwan, and Francisco Franco in Spain.

The rank Generalissimus of the Soviet Union would have been a generalissimo but Stalin refused to adopt the rank.[8][9]

List of generalissimos

Wallenstein – Albrecht von Waldstein, 1625, 1st Generalissimo
WallensteinAlbrecht von Waldstein, 1625, 1st Generalissimo
Person Service Country Era Notes
Chiang Kai-shek National Revolutionary Army Republic of China 1926 Appointed commander in chief of the Nationalist Army for the Northern Expedition.[10] In 1935 was appointed "general special class" (特級上將 Tèjí shàng jiàng).
Joseph Joffre French Army France 1914 His rank was Marshal of France, but his title as commander-in-chief of the French Army was généralissime.
Alexander Suvorov Russian Imperial Army Russian Empire 1799
Alexander Danilovich Menshikov Russian Imperial Army Russian Empire 1727–1728 [11]
Ferdinand Foch French Army France 1918 Généralissime was the title used to describe Ferdinand Foch's Allied Command, starting 26 March 1918. He actually held the rank of général de division, Marshal of France and later the ranks of British Field Marshal and Marshal of Poland.[12]
Maurice Gamelin French Army France 1939 His rank was général d'armée, but his title as commander-in-chief of the French Armed Forces was généralissime.
Maxime Weygand French Army France 1939 His rank was général d'armée, but his title as commander-in-chief of the French Armed Forces was généralissime.
Francisco de Miranda Venezuelan Army Venezuela 1812
Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla Revolutionary Army of Mexico América Mexicana 1810 September – 1811 February [13]
José de San Martín Peruvian Army Perú 1821–1822 Generalísimo de las Armas del Perú
Francisco Franco Spanish Armed Forces Spain 1936–1975 generalísimo[14]
Emilio Aguinaldo Philippine Revolutionary Army Philippines 1898–1901 Heneralismo[15]
Ihsan Nuri Ararat Forces Kurdish Republic of Ararat 1927–1930 [16]
Crown Prince Charles John Royal Swedish Army Sweden 1810–1818 [17][Note 1]
Joseph Stalin Soviet Armed Forces Soviet Union 1945 Generalissimus of the Soviet Union[18] (declined)
Kim Il-sung Korean People's Army North Korea 1992 Taewonsu[19]
Kim Jong-il Korean People's Army North Korea 2012 Taewonsu (Promoted posthumously)[20]
Rafael Trujillo Dominican Army Dominican Republic 1930 [21]
Sun Yat-sen National Revolutionary Army – Warlord Era (Northern Expedition) Republic of China 1921 Technically as da yuan shuai or "grand marshal of the army and navy"[22][23]
Albrecht von Wallenstein 30 Year's War Holy Roman Empire via the "Principal Decree of the Imperial Deputation"[24] 1625 [25]
John J. Pershing United States Army United States of America 1919 Promoted to General of the Armies of the United States on September 3, 1919.[26]
John  Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough War of the Spanish Succession Dutch Republic 1702 Referred to as Generalissimo by the Dutch States General.[27]
Prince George of Denmark British Army Kingdom of Great Britain 1702-1708 Declared 'Generalissimo of all our Forces within Our Kingdom of England and Ireland and Elsewhere' by his wife Queen Anne[28][29]
James, Duke of York Third Anglo-Dutch War Kingdom of England April-June 1673 'Generalissimo and Supreme Commander' over forces employed against the Dutch.[28]
Louis Dauphin of France War of the Spanish Succession France 1708 Commanded French Army[30]
William VIII, Landgrave of  Hesse-Kassel Swedish Army Sweden 1720 [31]
George Washington Continental Army
United States Army
United States of America 1776 When chosen to be the Commander in Chief, was called by the Virginia Gazette the generalissimo of the American forces.[32] Promoted posthumously to General of the Armies of the United States on January 19, 1976 with date of rank of July 4, 1976.[33]
Deodoro da Fonseca Brazilian Army Brazil 1890
Hermann Göring Luftwaffe Nazi Germany 1940-1945 Promoted to the rank of Reichsmarschall on 19 July 1940. Stripped of rank on 30 April 1945.
Kalākaua Hawaiian Army Kingdom of Hawaii 1886–1891 King of Hawaii, was given titles of "Supreme Commander and Generalissimo of the Hawaiian Army".[34]

See also


  1. ^ The Napoleonic Marshal of France Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, Prince of Ponte Corvo, was elected Crown Prince of Sweden by the Riksdag of the Estates and King Charles XIII in 1810. Given his exalted French military rank, the rank of generalissimus was likely granted him in order to give him precedence over "mere" Swedish field marshals. Once he became King of Sweden and Norway in 1818, the generalissimus rank became superfluous.


  1. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica: Or, A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature, Enlarged and Improved. Archibald Constable. 1823. p. 484.
  2. ^ Webster's Third New International Dictionary., French Larousse Étymologique.
  3. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  4. ^ "Define Generalissimo at".
  5. ^ "Generalissimo – Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Merriam-Webster.
  6. ^ "Definition of generalissimo – Oxford Dictionaries (British & World English)". Oxford Dictionary of English.
  7. ^ Thomas Hobbes (1660), Chapter XVIII: Of the Rights of Sovereigns by institution, retrieved 16 August 2015
  8. ^ Service, Robert (2005). Stalin: A Biography. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p. 548. ISBN 978-0-674-01697-2.
  9. ^ S. M. Shtemenko. The General Staff in the War Years. Moskva 1985. Vietnamese version (vol. 2) . pp. 587–588.
  10. ^ New York Times, Dec 04, 1926, pg.6.
  11. ^ "Menschikow und Stalin waren die einzigen Heerführer der russischen Geschichte, die sich "Generalissimus" nennen ließen." [Menshikov and Stalin were the only military leaders in Russian history who declared themselves "generalissimus".] Jena, Detlev (1996): Die russischen Zaren in Lebensbildern, Graz, p. 520.
  12. ^ John McGroarty :The Gray Man of Christ: Generalissimo Foch (1919) Los Angeles, Walter A Abbott
  13. ^ Comunica Miguel Hidalgo su proclamaci n como General simo de Am rica. Documentos Historicos de Mexico, 24 Oct 1810.
  14. ^ Cover, TIME magazine, 18 Oct 1943
  15. ^ cite archive: |institution= required; (help)
  16. ^ Bletch Chirguh, La Question Kurde: ses origines et ses causes, Le Caire, Impimerie Paul Barbey, 1930, front cover, IHSAN NOURI PACHA Généralissime des forces nationales Kurdes (in French)
  17. ^ (in Swedish) Ancienneté och Rang-Rulla öfver Krigsmagten år 1813
  18. ^ Joseph Stalin was appointed Generalissimus of the Soviet Union. See: Ivan Aleksandrovich Venediktov, Selskokhozyaystvennaya yentsiklopediya, Vol. 4, Gos. izd-vo selkhoz, 1956, p. 584. (in Russian)
  19. ^ The Daily Yomuiri, 29 September 2010, Kim Jong Un spotlighted / 'Heir apparent' promoted to general, makes DPRK media debut
  20. ^ The Australian, 15 February 2012, Late Kim Jong-il awarded highest honour by North
  21. ^ Stanley Walker, Generalissimo Rafael L. Trujillo (1955) Caribbean Library
  22. ^ Linda Pomerantz-Zhang (1992). Wu Tingfang (1842–1922): Reform and Modernization in Modern Chinese History. Hong Kong University Press. p. 255. ISBN 962209287X. Retrieved 2010-10-31.
  23. ^ Taylor, Jay (15 April 2009). The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the struggle for modern China. Harvard University Press. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-674-05471-4. Retrieved 28 February 2017.
  24. ^ A short history of Germany. Ernest Flagg Henderson, 1908
  25. ^ Tilly und Wallenstein – ein Vergleich zweier Heerführer. Harry Horstmann, 2010. (in German)
  26. ^ Public Law 66-45 of September 3, 1919 to revive the office of General of the Armies
  27. ^ Rapin de Thoyras (M., Paul) (1745). Nicholas Tindal, ed. The History of England. Volume IV, part 1 (French original: Histoire d'Angleterre, 1724–27). J. and P. Knapton. p. 562. Retrieved 16 September 2018. The Earl of Athlone [Godard van Reede] was set on by the other Dutch Generals, to insist on his quality of Velt-Marshal, and to have the command with the Earl of Marlborough by turns. But, though he was now in high reputation by his late conduct, the States obliged him to yield this point to the Earl of Marlborough, whom they declared Generalissimo of all their forces, and sent orders to all their Generals and other Officers to obey him.
  28. ^ a b Roper, Michael (1998). The Records of the War Office and Related Departments, 1660-1964. Kew, Surrey: Public Record Office. p. 5.
  29. ^ Rapin de Thoyras (M., Paul) (1745). Nicholas Tindal, ed. The History of England. Volume IV, part 1 (French original: Histoire d'Angleterre, 1724–27). J. and P. Knapton. p. 104. Retrieved 16 September 2018. The Prince was Duke of Cumberland, Lord High-Admiral of Great-Britain and Ireland, Generalissimo of all her Majesty's forces both by sea and land, and Warden of the Cinque-ports.
  30. ^ Rapin de Thoyras (M., Paul) (1745). Nicholas Tindal, ed. The History of England. Volume IV, part 1 (French original: Histoire d'Angleterre, 1724–27). J. and P. Knapton. p. 68. Retrieved 16 September 2018. But an unexpected alteration was suddenly made, and the French King declared the Duke of Burgundy Generalissimo of his forces, appointing the Duke de Vendosme [sic: Vendôme] to serve under him; and he was to be accompanied by the Duke of Berry.
  31. ^ Pock, Johann Joseph (1724). Der politische, katholische Passagier, durchreisend alle hohe Höfe, Republiquen, Herrschafften und Länder der ganzen Welt. Brechenmacher. p. 832. Retrieved 16 September 2018. wurde 1720. von dem König in Schweden [...] zum Generalissimo der sämmtlichen Schwedischen Trouppen ernennet
  32. ^ Chadwick, Bruce (2005). George Washington's War: The Forging of a Revolutionary Leader and the American Presidency. Sourcebooks, Inc. p. 40. ISBN 9781402226106. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  33. ^ Public Law 94-479 of January 19, 1976 to provide for the appointment of George Washington to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States
  34. ^ Chapter XXII: Act Act To Organize The Military Forces Of The Kingdom. Laws of His Majesty Kalakaua, King of the Hawaiian Islands: Passed by the Legislative Assembly at Its Session of 1886. Honolulu: Black & Auld. 1886. pp. 37–41. OCLC 42350849.
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