My vote goes to this guy:
Russian General Aleksei Brusilov (1853–1926)
He was the only general of the major powers to find a solution to the stalemate of trench warfare. Using stealth, surprise, and overwhelming force on a narrow front with well-planned breakthrough operations, he managed to penetrate and destroy the Austro-Hungarian army lines between Kovel and Lutsk. The effect of his penetration, which had the possibility of shattering the AH lines was lost when the commanders on each side of his penetration, scorning his innovations, launched conventional attacks in support. When these bogged down, the Russian high command took units from Brusilov’s successful front and transferred them to the unsuccessful fronts, throwing away a major opportunity to change the outcome of the war in the east.
Brusilov’s ideas included:
- doing away with long preliminary artillery bombardments across the front (which notified the enemy that an offensive was coming, and where it would be launched), with short bombardments aimed at communications and transportation resources (which were vulnerable) instead of first-line fortifications (which usually were not)
- Attacking multiple specific points at the same time, rather than a continuous attack all along the front.
- The leading troops of each attack were called “shock troops” and were carefully briefed about what they should expect when they reached their objective and what they should do.
- The troops of the offensive were not brought to the front line until the last moment before the bombardment began, so the enemy would not have time to mass troops for resistance.
Brusilov’s tactics were no less expensive of men than the tactics used by other generals. He lost many; but he was successful in piercing the fortified line.
Unfortunately, he was a general in an army riddled by corruption, favoritism, and resistance to change. He lacked the political pull with the Imperial Court his contemporaries had. Until it was too late, the habit of taking forces from successful operations to reinforce failing ones continued. AH, which suffered from the same problems, might have been completely destroyed beyond the power of Germany to rescue them without fatally weakening themselves in the west had Brusilov been given control after his immediate success.
But the Germans learned much from him. It is they who benefited from his innovations. Their use of shock troops almost lead them to victory in the Ludendorf offensives that led to the Second Battle of the Marne.
Brusilov’s tactics of using carefully-trained shock troops to hit vital areas and using artillery to hit supply and communications rather than built-up fortifications, when combined with the use of tanks as spearheads for the attacks, and pinpoint air support for the attacks using dive bombers were combined in the tactics that came to be known asBlitzkrieg. It is ironic that two of the main constituents of Blitzkrieg were conceived of or developed by Allied leaders, specifically General Brusilov, and Winston Churchill.