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Best leader of WW2

LAURENCE REES: Who was the single best leader of WW2?

RICHARD OVERY: I think this question depends on what you mean by leader. I mean, I can think of senior officers that I would pick out who have largely been unsung as a result of the Second World War.

LAURENCE REES: The best leader of 'consequence', in that important decisions flow from their leadership.

RICHARD OVERY: Well, I think asking who’s the best leader is a beauty contest which is very hard to judge. Again, I suppose Stalin would emerge as the best of what I’d call the best of a bad bunch, only because...

LAURENCE REES: Not Churchill from what you said about the Battle of Britain?

RICHARD OVERY: No. Churchill didn’t win the Battle of Britain. He may have lost it actually. But Stalin, for several reasons; partly because he’s able to hold the whole of that system together, and it’s a rambling system, but he holds it together; it’s a fully centralised war effort and is more effective as a result of that. Secondly, I think because he does recognise his limitations and there comes a point where he lets the experts do what they are expert at. He tries being the amateur strategist for the first year or so of the contest with disastrous results, and although he’s always sitting on their shoulder saying do this, do that, or why aren’t you doing this, why aren’t you doing that, for the rest of the war, in the end he leaves it to Zhukov and Vasilevsky and others and they are able to finish the Germans off.

If Stalin had been the one sitting there making all these decisions as Hitler was on the other side then I think the war might well have gone rather differently on the Eastern Front. So I suppose a mark of a good leader is in fact the recognition of your limitations, and there were other leaders around in the Second World War who never had a sense of their limitations. Hitler is an obvious one, but, of course, you might say that Churchill too was very reluctant to recognise his limitations.