Channel 5 – Great British Commanders (2005)
Fascinating historical biography series about six of the greatest military commanders Great Britain has ever produced. The internationally known characters cover a range of historical periods, and each had an enormous influence on British history.
The series is presented by enthusiastic and engaging military expert Major Gordon Corrigan. Though each episode is stand alone, across the series Corrigan also address broader questions about what makes a great commander, allowing modern parallels to be drawn. Commanders featured are Henry V, the Duke of Marlborough, Admiral Nelson, General Douglas Haig, Oliver Cromwell and the Duke Of Wellington.
Part 1: Henry V
Major Gordon Corrigan presents a profile of King Henry V, whose victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 was the pinnacle of a military career that began when he was just 16. In the clash British troops were outnumbered five to one, but devastated the enemy thanks to their superior training and the King’s ruthless tactics. The key to Henry’s success as a military commander was that he put the English army on a professional footing. He defeated the Welsh and then the French, despite being totally outnumbered. He was the first English monarch who really understood how an army works.
Part 2: John Churchill: 1st Duke of Marlborough
Major Gordon Corrigan profiles John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough. His reputation as a great British commander was cemented by his tactical knowledge, ability to get on with foreign allies and care for the common soldier. Churchill always wanted to be on the winning side. He deserted James II to support Dutch prince William of Orange, but was later accused of plotting to restore James to the throne. John Churchill (son of an earlier Sir Winston Churchill) rose to great fame and wealth. He was one of England’s greatest Generals who led British and allied armies to important victories over Louis XIV of France. Locations for this film are the magnificent Blenheim Palace that a grateful monarch had built for him and the site of two of his battles, Malplaquet and Blenheim itself.
Part 3: Viscount Horatio Nelson
Major Gordon Corrigan investigates the life and legacy of Admiral Horatio Nelson to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, in which the leader guided his fleet to victory but was shot dead in the final hours of fighting.
Horatio, Admiral Lord Nelson, was a master of public relations. His victories were great and he was a national hero when one was badly needed.
Part 4: Field Marshal Douglas Haig
Major Gordon Corrigan presents a profile of Field Marshal Douglas Haig, commander-in-chief of British forces during World War One’s Battle of the Somme. Corrigan explains why he believes the military leader does not deserve to be blamed for the thousands of British casualties, and actually played a key role in winning the war thanks to his co-ordinated use of planes, tanks and troops. Douglas Haig was the man who took a tiny British army, expanded it five fold through the inclusion of the Commonwealth countries, then trained and deployed it to fight until it was the only allied army capable of defeating the Germans in 1918.
Part 5: Oliver Cromwell
Major Gordon Corrigan presents a profile of Oliver Cromwell, a captain who overcame his inexperience to lead his Roundhead forces to victory over the Cavaliers in the 17th century. Although most famous for deposing the monarchy and founding British democracy, Cromwell was also notorious for instigating a brutal invasion of Ireland. Given his lack of background in soldiering, Oliver Cromwell’s rise as a military commander was remarkably swift. He reached the top, as he did in politics. He became a Captain in 1642, a Colonel in early 1643, in charge of cavalry of one regional army by the end of that year. Lieutenant General of the New Model Army by 1645 and Lord General for the campaigns in Ireland and Scotland thereafter. Cromwell understood organisation, and that was what made him a good military commander. His belief in training and professionalism was what made the New Model Army what it was.
Part 6: Arthur Wellesley: 1st Duke of Wellington
Major Gordon Corrigan concludes his survey of leading British commanders with a profile of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, who inspired Britain and the Allies to defeat Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. Wellesley was a master of logistics, often winning battles with fewer troops than his enemies. Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, was England’s greatest General and without him the history of Europe would have been very different.