H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the four-star Army general who led allied forces to a stunningly quick and decisive victory over Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi military in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and who became the most celebrated U.S. military hero of his generation, died Thursday in Tampa. He was 78.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta confirmed the death in a statement. Gen. Schwarzkopf’s sister, Ruth Barenbaum, told the Associated Press he had complications from pneumonia.

Little known outside the U.S. military before Hussein’s Republican Guard invaded Kuwait in early August 1990, Gen. Schwarzkopf planned and led one of the most lopsided victories in modern military history.

Even before the rapid victory, the general was known as “Stormin’ Norman” for his sometimes volcanic temper.

The campaign, designed to expel Hussein’s forces and liberate Kuwait, commenced in January 1990 with a 43-day high-tech air assault on Iraq before a massive armored assault force launched a 100-hour ground offensive that inflicted swift and heavy losses on the Iraqis. Gen. Schwarzkopf commanded more than 540,000 U.S. troops and an allied force of more than 200,000 from 28 countries, plus hundreds of ships and thousands of aircraft, armored vehicles and tanks during the war.

Broadcast to the nation nonstop on CNN, the war gave the nation and the world its first look at a new American military strategy that used precision-guided bombs dropped from hundreds of aircraft and Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from ships. Both Gen. Schwarzkopf and his boss at the Pentagon, Army Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were Vietnam War veterans who had helped rebuild this force.

Gen. Schwarzkopf was accessible to the media throughout the war and became a familiar figure addressing reporters in his desert fatigues. He spoke in plain English, instead of using military jargon.

But the adulation he received from the American public quickly gave way to second-guessing by many historians, who questioned the decision by President George H.W. Bush and senior members of his administration to end the ground war after just four days, allowing Hussein to remain in power and much of his Republican Guard to retreat from Kuwait unscathed.

In a television interview after his triumphant return to the United States, Gen. Schwarzkopf claimed that he wanted to continue the war. But his assertion was sharply contested by Richard B. Cheney, then secretary of defense, and Powell, who said that Gen. Schwarzkopf had concurred in the decision by the president and his administration to end combat in four days.

Gen. Schwarzkopf, who retired in the summer of 1991, backed off his claim in his 1992 memoir, “It Doesn’t Take a Hero,” for which he received an advance of almost $6 million. He criticized unnamed civilians in the Bush administration for trying to hastily speed commencement of the ground war.

Rick Atkinson, in his 1993 book “Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War,” described Gen. Schwarzkopf as a volcanic figure who threatened to fire numerous subordinates and often behaved like an imperial dictator. But he concluded that Schwarzkopf made “no significant error of strategy or tactic.”

Gen. Schwarzkopf does not fare nearly as well in a new book by Thomas E. Ricks, “The Generals.” Ricks faults Schwarzkopf for failing to understand strategic aspects of the war, allowing much of the Republican Guard to escape from Kuwait, and for allowing the Iraqis to fly armed helicopters over Iraq following the end of the ground campaign. Those helicopter gunships were subsequently used to attack and decimate anti-Hussein Shiite uprisings in southern Iraq and Kurdish protests in the north.

The future general was born in Trenton, N.J., on Aug. 22, 1934. His father, who was also an Army general, was named Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf, but he disliked his first name so much that he refused to pass it on to his son. So he was named H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr.

The elder Schwarzkopf was the founding commander of the New Jersey State Police and was in charge of the investigation that led to the 1934 arrest of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was convicted and later executed for kidnapping and killing the toddler son of aviation hero Charles Lindbergh.

From the age of 4, the younger Schwarzkopf determined that he would follow his father to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and pursue a career as a soldier. He attended a military school in New Jersey, then spent time overseas with his family from 1946 to 1951.

He spent a year in Iran, where his father trained a national police force and advised the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, then lived in Switzerland, Germany and Italy. He spoke conversational German and French throughout his life.

After returning to the United States, he spent a year at the Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pa., before entering West Point, where he played football, wrestled and sang in the choir. Gen. Schwarzkopf, who directed a chapel choir of cadets at West Point — one of his first command positions — had a lifelong love of opera and music.

He graduated in the upper 10th of his class and entered the Army infantry. Between field assignments with airborne and infantry units, he received a master’s degree in missile engineering from University of Southern California in 1964.

After a teaching stint at West Point, he went to Vietnam in 1965 as an adviser to Vietnamese airborne troops. He returned for a second tour in 1969 commanding an infantry battalion.

He received a Silver Star and won the respect of his troops for his courageous efforts to rescue soldiers wounded by land mines. In one case, he covered a writhing soldier with his own body, reportedly saying, “Take it easy, son. It’s only broken.”

In 1970, an errant artillery shell killed a sergeant under Gen. Schwarzkopf’s command. The soldier’s parents launched an investigation, which later become the inspiration for C.D.B. Bryan’s 1976 book “Friendly Fire,” which later became a movie. The parents held Gen. Schwarzkopf responsible at first, but Bryan portrayed him as an officer of honor and compassion and concluded that the killing was accidental.

“He’s a good mud soldier,” Lt. Gen. William S. Carpenter Jr., who served with Gen. Schwarzkopf in Vietnam, told the New York Times in 1991. “The most important thing is that he cares about ground troops and he’s not about to get them chewed up.”

He received his first star as a brigadier general in 1978, then won widespread respect among military brass as deputy commander of the invasion of Grenada in 1983. He held several more high-profile jobs, became a four-star general in 1988 and was named commander of the U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

In the late 1980s, with the Soviet empire collapsing, Gen. Schwarzkopf studied the likelihood of future wars and concluded that the Middle East would be the next hot spot. He planned for the possibility that the United States could become embroiled in regional disputes that crossed the borders of U.S. allies.

In July 1990, he led military troops in elaborate war games built around a theoretical invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. Less than a week later, real Iraqi forces marched across the Kuwaiti border.

Gen. Schwarzkopf’s survivors include his wife of 44 years, Brenda Holsinger Schwarzkopf; three children; and his sister.

Considered a master battlefield tactician who didn’t wilt under fire, Gen. Schwarzkopf admitted that he felt fear in combat and didn’t trust any soldier who didn’t.

“Yes, I am antiwar,” he told U.S. News & World Report in 1991. “All you have to do is hold your first soldier who is dying in your arms, and have that terribly futile feeling that I can’t do anything about it. . . . Then you understand the horror of war.”

Vernon Loeb contributed to this report.