List of military disasters

In this list a military disaster is the unexpected and sound defeat of one side in a battle or war, sometimes changing the course of history.

Military disasters in this list can range from a strong army losing a major battle against a clearly inferior force, to an army being surprised and defeated by a clearly superior force, to a seemingly evenly matched conflict with an extremely one sided result. A military disaster could be due to bad planning, bad execution, bad weather, general lack of skill or ability, the failure of a new piece of military technology, a major blunder, a brilliant move on the part of the enemy, or simply the unexpected presence of an overwhelming enemy force.

One definition of military disaster describes the presence of two or three factors:[1]

  • chronic mission failure (the key factor)
  • successful enemy action,
  • (less significant) total degeneration of a force's command and control structure

According to this definition, two particular characteristics are not necessary for an event to be classified as a military disaster:

  • enormous loss of life
  • having greater casualties than the enemy

Ancient era

Medieval era

  • The Battle of Salsu in 612, during the second Goguryeo-Sui War, between the Korean kingdom of Goguryeo and the Chinese Sui Dynasty. Goguryeo cavalry forces defeated the massive Sui army at the Salsu River (modern name: Chongchon River).
  • The Battle of Yarmouk in 636, where the bulk of the Byzantine military along with their Christian Arab allies are destroyed by the Rashidun Army under Khalid ibn al-Walid, permanently costing the Eastern Roman Empire the Levant.
  • The Battle of al-Qādisiyyah in 636, in which the Arab Muslim army decisively defeated the Sassanid army, resulting in the Islamic conquest of Persia and the nigh-collapse of the Sassanid Empire.
  • The Battle of Tours in 732. The Muslim Moors marched into France meeting no foes, until encountering the Christian Frankish forces led by Charles Martel at Tours. Despite the Moorish advantage over the Franks militarily, they were defeated decisively by the Franks.
  • The Battle of Pliska in 811. Byzantine forces were ambushed by a Bulgarian force, leading to the death of the Byzantine Emperor and greatly increased the Bulgarian power in the Balkans.
  • The Battle of Acheloos in 917. A Byzantine army of 30,000 men was tactically outwitted by a smaller Bulgarian force, causing the death of much of the Byzantine force in one of the bloodiest battles in the Middle Ages. The bones of tens of thousands who perished could be seen on the battlefield 75 years later.
  • The Battle of Arcadiopolis in 970. A large force of 30,000 Kievan Rus allied with Bulgarians, Pechenegs and Magyars was defeated by a 12,000 strong Byzantine force through an ambushing tactic. This ended the Hungarian invasions of Europe.
  • The Battle of Kleidon in 1014. A large Bulgarian force was destroyed by a Byzantine force in the Belasitsa Mountains. This encounter greatly reduced the ability of the Bulgarian state to resist and essentially led to the fall of the First Bulgarian Empire.
  • The Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. A Norwegian army under king Harald Hardrada is destroyed by an Anglo-Saxon army under King Harold Godwinson. The battle is so costly for the Norwegians that only a fraction of the fleet used to transport the army is needed to pick up the survivors.
  • The Battle of Hastings in 1066. The Anglo-Saxon King Harold is slain in battle against the Normans led by William the Conqueror, resulting in the Norman Conquest of England.
  • The Battle of Manzikert in 1071. The Byzantine Empire suffers a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Seljuks, resulting in the capture of Emperor Romanos IV and Turkish settlement of Anatolia.
  • The Battle of Didgori in 1121. David IV of Georgia, with 55,600 soldiers, routs the massive (100,000 minimum, more likely 250,000) army of the Great Seljuk Empire. As a result, the Kingdom of Georgia obtains large swaths of Seljuk territory, including Tbilisi.[4][5][6][7]
  • The Battle of Hattin in 1187, where overconfident Crusader forces from Jerusalem became trapped in a waterless desert area, and thus became easy prey for the Saracen forces of Salah-ud-din (Saladin)
  • The Battle of Kalka River, 1223. A Mongol army obliterates an allied Kievan-Rus'/Cuman army at a river crossing on the Kalka in the Ukraine. The Mongols draw the Russo-Cuman force out until they are overextended, then attack with their heavy cavalry and destroy the allied forces in detail. The Mongols capture several Russian princes and ritually execute them by crushing them beneath a feasting table on which the Mongol leaders dance and feast.
  • The Battle of Legnica, 1241. A Mongol army under Baidar crushes an allied force of Poles, Germans, Bohemians, crusaders and mercenaries under King Henry II the Pious of Poland. Poor discipline within the allied ranks allows the Mongols to destroy first the knights and then the infantry. Henry II is killed, as are many nobles and princes, and most of the allied army except for the Bohemian contingent, which the Mongol army decides not to pursue having incurred heavy casualties.
  • The Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. English Earl John de Warenne's well-equipped army were trapped on a narrow bridge by William Wallace's 15,000 unarmored, lightly armed Scots, bearing the traditional long spears of lowland Scotland. The bridge had been chosen as the point of engagement by Warenne, even though the river could easily have been forded just a few miles upstream.
  • The Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302, Flemish foot militia defeat a superior French army through the mass use of pikes in assembles into schiltrons.
  • Siege of Chittorgarh (1303) the Delhi Sultanate ruler Alauddin Khalji captured the Chittor Fort from the Guhila king Ratnasimha,killing all its defenders after an eight month long siege. After his victory, Alauddin ordered a general massacre of Chittor's population. According to Amir Khusrau, 30,000 Hindus were "cut down like dry grass" after the siege.
  • The Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. A Scottish army of around 7000 men under King Robert I defeats a roughly 20,000-strong English army near Stirling Castle. The English knights fail to penetrate the schiltrons of Scottish spearmen on the first day, and are routed completely the next day when Robert decides to counter-attack. King Edward II of England only narrowly escapes capture, and some of England's most important nobles are killed or captured.
  • The Battle of Maritsa in 1371 was defeat of thousands of Serbs by Ottomans.
  • The Battle of Nicopolis in 1396 was the rout of an allied army of Hungarian, Wallachian, French, Burgundian, German and assorted troops at the hands of an Ottoman force in modern-day Bulgaria. It is often referred to as the Crusade of Nicopolis and was the last large-scale crusade of the Middle Ages.
  • The Battle of Agincourt in 1415. A large French army, with a large contingent of knights, was defeated by Henry V's much smaller army, which included the famed English longbowmen.
  • The Tumu Crisis in 1449. A very large force (500,000) of the Ming dynasty were defeated by a very small army (20,000) of Mongols, and the Zhengtong Emperor of the Ming dynasty was captured. This battle is regarded as the greatest military debacle of the entire Chinese history. There is a legend that Zhengtong Emperor had been working as a herder during the capture in Mongol.

16th century

  • The Battle of Cochin in 1504. 200–1000 Cochinese Indians aided by 140 Portuguese fended off an army of 57,000–84,000 Zamorin soldiers, resulting in Zamorin imperial attempts being stopped and preservation of the independence of the kingdom of Cochin, also securing the continued presence of the Portuguese in India.
  • The Battle of Flodden Field in 1513. A Scottish invasion of England is defeated, resulting in the death of the popular King James IV of Scotland, as well as most of Scotland's nobles.
  • La Noche Triste in 1520. Hundreds of Spaniards and thousands of their native allies are slaughtered by Aztec warriors as they flee the capital city of Tenochtitlan.
  • The Battle of Mohacs in 1526. The Ottoman army crushed the Hungarian forces, who lost their king, Louis II during retreat. The battle marked the end of the medieval Hungarian state.
  • The First battle of Panipat in 1526. Babur sacked Delhi and defeated Ibrahim Lodhi.
  • The Siege of Vienna in 1529 marked the height of the Ottoman Empire. Suleiman the Magnificent failed to capture the city, despite significant advantages in manpower.
  • The Battle of Cajamarca in 1532. Francisco Pizarro and less than 200 Spaniards hold off against nearly 10,000 Incan warriors, killing 2,000 and capturing the Incan Emperor, all without sustaining a single casualty.
  • Battle of Solway Moss in 1542. 15,000–18,000 Scottish troops were defeated by 3,000 English after becoming trapped in a bog.
  • Battle of Sammel(1544) Sher Shah Suri's army of 80,000 Pashtuns gained costly victory against a small band of Rathore horsemen, Shah is said to have commented that "for a few grains of bajra (millet, the main crop of Marwar) I almost lost the entire kingdom of Hindustan.
  • Battle of Okehazama in 1560. Imagawa Yashimoto's invasion of Owari province halted completely, after being ambushed by Oda Nobunaga's force during the night, leading to large casualties, many officers (including Yashimoto) dying, and his army being forced into a rout and eventually dismemberment.
  • Great Siege of Malta in 1565. The siege resulted in catastrophe for the Ottoman Empire.
  • Battle of Siget 1566. 300 Croatian troops under Nikola Šubić-Zrinski held Ottoman army of 100,000 troops and 300 cannons, led by Suleiman the Magnificent, for a month. Ottoman army lost 30,000 soldiers, while Suleiman himself died.
  • The Battle of Lepanto in 1571. The Holy League's fleet defeated the Ottoman fleet in one of the largest naval battles of human history. The Ottomans lost 240 ships (out of about 300), while the League lost 12 of their 210 ships.
  • Siege of Chittorgarh (1567–1568) Forces led by Akbar surrounded and besieged 8,000 Rajput and around 40,000 peasants under the command of Jaimal in Chittorgarh.
  • The Spanish Armada in 1588. An English fleet sends fire ships into the Spanish invasion fleet destroying some and scattering the rest effectively ending the invasion threat. The Armada would later run into storms and almost half the ships never returned to Spain, as well as more than half the troops.
  • The English Armada in 1589, where the English fleet was defeated by the recovering Spanish fleet. This allowed the Spanish fleet to quickly recover and maintained their shipping from the Americas.
  • The Battle of the Yellow Ford in 1598. An English force of 4000 is attacked by Irish defenders under Hugh O'Neill and defeated. This temporarily put Ireland out of English control, allowing the rebellion to spread throughout Ireland.
  • The Battle of Myeongnyang, on October 26, 1597, the Korean Joseon Navy, led by Admiral Yi Sun-sin, fought the Japanese navy in the Myeongnyang Strait, near Jindo Island, off the southwest point of the Korean peninsula. With 13 ships remaining from Admiral Won Gyun's disastrous defeat at the Battle of Chilchonryang, Admiral Yi held the strait as a "Last Stand" battle against a fleet of 133 Japanese warships and at least 200 logistical support ship

Battle of Sisak 1593 - small Croatian contigenent of 300 men managed to hold army of 10,000 Ottomans, which was then annihilated by incoming Croatian army.

17th century

  • The Raid on the Medway in June 1667. A Dutch fleet led by Michiel de Ruyter sailed up the river Medway and attacked the English fleet lying at anchor at their home base of Chatham. Ending in a decisive victory for the Dutch, and an unfavorable peace for the British in the Second Anglo-Dutch War.
  • The Battle of Saraighat in March 1671. The Ahoms under their general Lachit Borphukan defeated the Rajput general Ram Singh's Mughal imperial forces consisting of 4,000 troopers (from his char-hazaari mansab), 1,500 ahadis and 500 barqandezes by an additional 30,000 infantrymen, 21 Rajput chiefs (Thakurs) with their contingents, 18,000 cavalry, 2,000 archers and shieldmen and 40 ships.
  • The Battle of Vienna in September 1683. A coalition of armies from Poland, Germany, Hungary and Italy fought the invading Ottoman Turks. The Polish King Jan Sobieski led one of the largest cavalry charges in history and crushed the Ottoman force.
  • The Battle of Narva in November 1700, where the city of Narva was under siege by a Russian force of 37,000 men, led by Charles Eugène de Croy. A blizzard against the Russian side allowed a Swedish army, led by Charles XII of Sweden, to win despite having only 12,000 men.

18th century

  • The Battle of Poltava in June 1709. Charles XII of Sweden's disastrous defeat ended his wintertime march on Moscow during the Great Northern War and marked the beginning of the decline of the Swedish Empire.
  • The Battle of the Salween River in September 1718. An entire Qing army was destroyed by Zunghar Mongols.
  • The Battle of Karnal in 1739 was a battle in which an invading Persian army under the military genius Nader Shah decimated a much larger Mughal army in a matter of hours and thereby subdued the Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah, making him a vassal of Nader Shah's.
  • The Battle of Cartagena de Indias in March–May 1741. This battle, fought in the War of Jenkins' Ear, saw a huge British amphibious force of 26,400 men and 186 ships beaten back and defeated by 4,000 Spanish troops and just 6 ships. The British pulled back after losing over 8,000 men killed, 7,500 wounded losing 1,500 guns and 50 ships.
  • The Battle of the Monongahela river at the beginning of the Seven Years' War (July 9, 1755) A small contingent of French and allied Indians soundly defeated a far superior British-American force under the command of General Edward Braddock, the commander-in-chief of British forces in North America. Braddock was killed in the battle as was the French commander, Daniel-Hyacinthe de Beaujeu.
  • The Battle of Plassey on June 23, 1757 when the British East India Company decisively defeated a much bigger force fielded by Siraj Ud Daulah and gained their first major foothold into India.
  • The Third Battle of Panipat on January 14, 1761 between the two indigenous South Asian military powers of the time, the Afghan Durrani Empire and the Hindu Maratha Empire. The Durrani forces were able to achieve decisive victory. The battle is considered one of the largest fought in the 18th century,[8] and has perhaps the largest number of fatalities in a single day reported in a classic formation battle between two armies. The extent of the losses on both sides is heavily disputed by historians, but it is believed that between 60,000–70,000 were killed in fighting from both sides, and another 40,000-70,000 Maratha non-combatants massacred following the battle.[9][10]
  • The Battle of Buxar(1764) was an engagement in which 8,000 British East India Company troops defeated a Mughal Army of 40,000, allowing the British to establish dominion over northeastern India.
  • The Battle of Trenton was a pivotal battle of the American Revolutionary War that took place on the morning of December 26, 1776 in Trenton, New Jersey. American forces commanded by George Washington surprised and decisively defeated Hessian mercenaries fighting for the British.
  • The Battle of Saratoga in September–October 1777. John Burgoyne's British Army is captured after the battle by the American Army under Horatio Gates. The victory humiliates the British Army, and brings France into the war on the side of the Americans.
  • The Battle of Camden in August, 1780. The American forces under Horatio Gates were defeated by the British who were half their size in numbers. This battle in the South turned out to be important for the British General Cornwallis.
  • The Battle of Polliur(1780) was a disastrous defeat for the British East India Company against the Kingdom of Mysore during the 2nd Anglo-Mysore War. Mysore's use of long-distance rockets allowed them to defeat a numerically superior British force and ultimately win the war, delaying British conquest of Mysore for 20 years.
  • The Great Siege of Gibraltar in June 1779 – February 1783. During the American Revolution a combined Franco-Spanish force lays siege to a British garrison for nearly four years. A 'Grand Assault' of over 60,000 men, and 150 assault vessels by the besieging forces in September 1782 results in total disaster, with over 6,000 casualties and dozens of ships lost.
  • The Battle of Karánsebes on the 21st of September 1788. A friendly fire incident including drunken soldiers arguing over recently purchased schnapps ending in massive confusion and the loss of 1,200 Austrian soldiers, 3 cannons and the payroll for the entire army. Nicknamed, "The Battle of the Schnapps".

19th century

  • Battle of Assaye 1803: A British force of 10,000 men, led by Arthur Wellesley, defeats a Maratha force of 50,000 and leads to the destruction of the Maratha Empire.
  • The British invasions of the Río de la Plata. Taking place during the Napoleonic Wars, the British intended to take advantage of Spanish weakness in South America during that time. At first they were successful, and the Spanish Viceroy fled to Cordoba. However, the local Criollo forces under Santiago de Liniers and others were not pleased and eventually wrested control of Buenos Aires back from the British. A second invasion of British forces in Buenos Aires that took place in late June and early July 1807, under the command of John Whitelocke, proved quite disastrous with a decisive Criollo victory by Liniers and so forth, and then the British forces capitulated from the entire River Plate region. Subsequently, Whitelocke was court-marshalled and cashiered.
  • The Battle of Bladensburg. War of 1812, the rout of American forces in 1814 by a smaller force of raiding British regulars and Marines under General Robert Ross, which led to the British Burning of Washington. Described in an 1816 American poem as the Bladensburg Races after American troops ran through the streets of Washington in disarray. Ross was later killed by American soldiers on campaign during the Battle of North Point but was subsequently honoured posthumously as Ross of Bladensburg. His US opposite, General William H. Winder, was later court-martialled but cleared of blame.
  • Napoleon's Invasion of Russia in the summer and winter of 1812 where Napoleon lost almost all of his troops; it was the turning point of the Napoleonic wars.
  • The Battle of New Orleans. War of 1812. On January 8, 1815, a British force of more than 8,000 attacked entrenched positions manned by 4,000 Americans commanded by Andrew Jackson, and were smashed—losing more than 2,000 killed and wounded, to 55 killed and 185 wounded. Ironically, it was fought after the Americans and British had agreed to peace (the Treaty of Ghent, Belgium), but sea-borne communications were too slow to prevent the battle.
  • The Battle of Waterloo. Napoleonic Wars, June 18, 1815. Napoleon was defeated by a coalition of Anglo-Prussian forces. This led to his exile to St. Helena, where he died six years later.
  • The Battle of Koregaon, 1st Jan 1818: Fought between the British light Native Infantry (500 in number) and Peshwai Forces of 28,000. The troops fought continuously for more than 12 hours without food or water. Peshwai forces finally surrendering by day end.
  • The Battle of Gravia Inn. during the Greek War of Independence,8 May 1821. The Greek leader, Odysseas Androutsos, with a group of 120 men repulsed an Ottoman army numbering 10,000 men and artillery under the command of Omer Vrioni. This attack is considered important to the outcome of the Greek revolution because it forced Omer Vrioni to retreat, leaving the Greeks to consolidate their gains in the Peloponnese and capture the Ottoman capital of the Peloponnese, Tripoli. Over 300 Ottomans were killed and 800 were wounded with the Greeks losing only six men.
  • The Battle of San Jacinto. Texas Revolution, April 21, 1836. General Santa Anna, fully aware that the Texian Army was very nearby, ordered his exhausted army to take an afternoon siesta and failed to post standing skirmishers or sentries. This led to an absolute rout when the Texian Army under command of General Sam Houston made a surprise attack in broad daylight, with 630 of Santa Anna's 1400 troops killed against 9 Texians and almost the entire remainder captured, including Santa Anna himself. This also proved to be the decisive battle of the entire war as the Republic of Texas then successfully negotiated with Santa Anna the withdrawal of all of his remaining troops from Texan soil at the Treaties of Velasco.
  • The Battle of Blood River. Andries Pretorius and his 470 commando Voortrekkers defeated an estimated 15,000–21,000 Zulu attackers under Dingane kaSenzangakhona on the bank of the Ncome River on 16 December 1838. The Zulus surrounded the trekker laager and waited for daybreak. The battle was fought till the afternoon. Over 3,000 Zulu were killed and an unknown number injured. Only 3 Voortrekkers were lightly wounded.
  • The Charge of the Light Brigade. Crimean War, 1854. A British officer misinterpreted an order and led a suicidal charge against the Russian guns. ("Not tho' the soldier knew, someone had blunder'd", Tennyson)
  • Battle of the Little Bighorn. June, 1876 – Montana Territory. Lieutenant Colonel George Custer attacks a superior force of armed Native American warriors, gets himself and his entire command killed, the only survivor being a lone horse. 268 U.S. troopers were killed and 55 were wounded.
  • Battle of Isandlwana. A Zulu impi armed mostly with spears destroys two British battalions armed with rifles.
  • William Elphinstone's disastrous withdrawal in 1842 during the First Anglo-Afghan War led to the loss of about 3,500 British and Indian soldiers and civilians numbering about 10,000.
  • Both the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Battle of Cold Harbor become horrible one-sided battles in which Union advances on entrenched Confederate units result in horrendous casualties during the American Civil War.
  • Battle of Chancellorsville. April 30, 1863 - May 6, 1863. General Lee defeated the Union forces under "Fighting Joe" Hooker, even though the North had twice as many troops. However, 20% of Lee's army was injured or killed, including General Stonewall Jackson, and his losses were difficult to replace. Lee's weakened army went on the offensive, but less than two months later was defeated and forced to retreat after the Battle of Gettysburg.
  • Pickett's Charge by the Confederates in the Battle of Gettysburg was easily repulsed and, along with the cost of the previous two days of the battle, permanently crippled the Army of Northern Virginia.
  • Battle of Fish Creek has been categorized as a disaster for the Canadian militia who greatly outnumbered their Metis counterparts, but suffered a major defeat, in 1885.
  • HMS Victoria collided with HMS Camperdown and sank with the loss of 358 lives after the fleet commander George Tryon ordered a sudden turn during manoeuvres in 1893.
  • The Battle of Adwa fought between the Italians and Ethiopians in 1896. The Italians were completely defeated and the battle confirmed the independence of Ethiopia.
  • The Battle of Majuba Hill during the First Boer War resulted in the deaths of 92 British soldiers (including the British general, Major-General George Pomeroy Colley) and another 134 wounded, while only 1 Boer was killed and 5 wounded, despite the British holding the high ground.

20th century

First World War

  • The Battle of Tannenberg — August 1914, at the first month of the war, in the forests of East Prussia. 2 Russian armies consisting of 230,000 men have a catastrophic defeat suffering 170,000 casualties against a German army of 150,000 that suffers 13,000. Although having numerical superiority, the 2 Russian commanders are at enmity with each other, their soldiers are poorly trained, ill-prepared, composed largely of illiterates, for supplies they rely on two outdated trains and the use of Cossack horses, and for communication they use radio messages that have been already decrypted by the Germans. Though numerically inferior, the Germans have vastly superior technology, planning, mobilization and mechanization, their units have superior training, equipment and tactics, and the commanders are united and communicate with each other. The victory is so total that Russians come out from the forests massively to surrender, forming a line that spans miles and provokes a traffic jam — 60 trains are required to transport Russian POWS and captured equipment to Germany. The event would be known by the Germans as “Erntetag“, or "Day of the Harvest".
  • The Battle of Tanga and the Battle of Kilimanjaro :- A force of 12,000 British and Indian troops are defeated by 1,200 Germans and Askaris led by Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck in German East Africa over two battles at the outbreak of World War I. The British lose over 50% of their numbers, while having superior technology, naval superiority and a massive advantage in numbers while the Germans and Askaris were armed with 1870 Issue equipment. These battles allowed the German and Askaris to salvage modern equipment and remained undefeated throughout the rest of the campaign.
  • The Battle of Sarikamish – Ottoman forces attack Russian fortifications in the Allahuekber Mountains in late 1915. They suffer devastating losses because of their use of outdated tactics and ill-preparedness for low-temperature combat.
  • The Siege of Kut – The British Indian 6th Division attempts to capture Baghdad but its commanders underestimate the strength of the Ottoman forces and meet unexpectedly heavy resistance. They were defeated at Battle of Ctesiphon (Selman-ı Pak), and besieged in Kut Al Amare. Despite relief efforts by British troops, Kut surrendered to Ottoman Forces on 29 April 1916 ending up with capture of General Townshend himself, many high ranked British officers, and 11,000 soldiers. Around 30,000 casualties had been suffered.
  • The Gallipoli Campaign – April 1915 to January 1916. A combined British, Commonwealth and French attempt to capture Istanbul becomes a stalemate on the Gallipoli peninsula and is abandoned.

Intra-Wars Era

  • The Battle of Warsaw (1920) also known as the Miracle at the Vistula was the decisive Soviet defeat in the Polish–Soviet War.

Second World War

  • The Battle of Suomussalmi in December 1939 and January 1940. The Finns smashed the much larger Soviet army.
  • The Battle of Raate Road – During the Winter War, a Finnish division outnumbered 2.5 to 1 defeated the Soviet 44th division by breaking them up into smaller groups. The Finnish suffered 20 times fewer losses than the Soviets
  • The Battle of France in 1940 – the Allied army moved to meet the Germans inside Belgium, believing the Maginot Line would force the Germans to rerun the Schlieffen Plan, but was cut off by a German advance through the Ardennes.
  • The follow-up to the Italian invasion of Egypt in North Africa during winter 1940–41. The Italian army built their forts too far apart so they were not mutually supporting, and lacked tanks or other mobile forces. A British force of 35,000 men was able to rout, during Operation Compass, the Italian army of 150,000, forcing them back 800 km (500 mi) and capturing around three times their own number for almost no losses.
  • Operation Typhoon, the failed German drive towards Moscow in 1941
  • Battle of the Philippines (1941–42). American and Filipino forces, commanded by General Douglas MacArthur, were isolated and overrun after five months of continuous combat despite advanced warning of attack after Pearl Harbor. It is generally considered the largest defeat in US history, with over 100,000 allied troops captured.
  • The fall of Singapore in February 1942 to two Japanese divisions was the largest surrender of British-led troops in history and destroyed the linchpin of the American-British-Dutch-Australian Command. Although the Japanese invasion force was ⅓ of the size of the defending force, Japanese air attacks on the city and lack of water meant the British surrendered.
  • The Battle of Midway was one of the turning points of World War II. Admiral Yamamoto of the Imperial Japanese Navy planned to invade the American navy base at Midway Island. U.S. Navy intelligence had broken Japan's main naval code and anticipated the attack. Japan lost four fleet carriers in three days, due to ill timing of fuelling and arming of aircraft, American fortitude and good fortune, and, ultimately, poor planning by Yamamoto.[11]
  • The Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942–43 was one of the turning points of World War II. German General Friedrich Paulus failed to keep a mobile strategic reserve and the Sixth Army was surrounded by a rapid Soviet flanking attack. Rubble caused by German bombing and artillery fire left their tanks unable to enter the city. The 250,000+ German troops in Stalingrad surrendered even though Adolf Hitler had promised they would never leave the city.
  • Operation Bagration (1944). The Soviet summer offensive sliced through the German line and reached Poland within two weeks, and also destroyed Army Group Center with a loss of well over 400,000 men, the backbone of German forces in the east.
  • The Battle of Leyte Gulf (23–26 October 1944) – a climactic battle in the Pacific that is perhaps the largest naval battle in all history. The Japanese prepared for a titanic battle in the hopes of turning the tide of the war and allocated a huge part of their war effort. It was the last time the Japanese had significant resources to fight the war, much of their ships and planes were destroyed.

Cold War Era

  • The Battle of Inchon in September 1950 was an amphibious invasion during the Korean War that resulted in a decisive victory for the United Nations forces led by Genera Douglas MacArthur. The battle at Incheon led to the recapture of the South Korean capital, Seoul, two weeks later and a general collapse of the North Korean army, with 135,000 KPA prisoners taken by the Americans in the next four weeks.
  • The Battle of Dien Bien Phu, which forced the French to withdraw from northern Vietnam in 1954.
  • The Bay of Pigs Invasion was a United States-backed attempt in 1961 to overthrow Cuban President, Fidel Castro, using 1,500 Cuban exiles. Not only were the exiles heavily outnumbered when they reached the bay, but the US-promised air support never came to aid the exiles.
  • In the Six-Day War, in response to Arab threats of invasion and low-level attacks, Israel launched surprise air attacks which almost completely destroyed the Air Forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, followed by a series of ground, air, and naval attacks which saw the capture of the Sinai from Egypt, the West Bank from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria, victories which lead toheavy Arab losses in personnel and material.
  • The Battle of Longewala – during the western theater of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, Pakistan launched a large-scale offensive (involving 2,800 soldiers, 65 tanks and more than 130 other military vehicles) to capture a small Indian Army post at Longewala manned by 120 personnel and one jeep-mounted recoilless rifle. Despite numerical inferiority, the Indian Army successfully held on to the post during the night. In the morning Indian Air Force aircraft were launched at first light. This air offensive halted the progress of the Pakistani regiment. The ensuing battle resulted in destruction and capture of more than 100 Pakistani tanks and military vehicles.[12][13]
  • Operation Eagle Claw, a U.S. attempt to rescue hostages in Iran in April 1980. This operation was marked by a series of planning, mechanical and communication failures that led to the deaths of eight American servicemen, and failed to rescue the hostages.
  • the Battle of Afabet, where the Eritrean People's Liberation Front killed 18,000 Ethiopian soldiers and prevented Ethiopia from destroying the ELPF.
  • The Gulf War, in which the Iraqi Army had invaded and annexed Kuwait, resulting in a vast international coalition being assembled in response. The Coalition then launched a counter-invasion of Kuwait and Iraq proper, resulting in the complete reversal of all Iraqi territorial gains, the devastation of the Iraqi Army (with over 100,000 casualties), and Iraq becoming an international pariah state.

Post Cold War

  • Battle of Grozny (1994–95), a Russian invasion of the city of Grozny at the dawn of the First Chechen War that became a bloody urban battle. Despite the Russian army outnumbering Chechen separatists at an estimated 6 to 1, constant separatist ambushes against Russian convoys of infantry, fighting vehicles and Russian units entering the city caused a breakdown in Russian morale and the complete destruction of the Maikop 131st brigade. The Russian casualty rate was estimated to be over 2,000.
  • Fall of Mosul, The Iraqi army had 30,000 soldiers and another 30,000 federal police stationed in the city, facing a 1,500-member ISIL attacking force. However, after six days of fighting, the central city, Mosul International Airport and the helicopters located there all fell under ISIL control.

See also


  1. McNab, C. "World's Worst Military Disasters". The Rosen Publishing Group, 2009. 978-1404218413
  2. Beate Dignas & Engelbert Winter, Rome & Persia in Late Antiquity; Neighbours & Rivals, (Cambridge University Press, English edition, 2007), p94, p131 & p134
  3. Beate Dignas & Engelbert Winter, Rome & Persia in Late Antiquity; Neighbours & Rivals, (Cambridge University Press, English edition, 2007), p94, p131 & p134
  4. Golden, Peter B. Turks And Khazars. Farnham, England: Ashgate/Variorum, 2010. Print.
  5. Mikaberidze, Alexander. Conflict And Conquest In The Islamic World. Print.
  6. Alexander Mikaberidze, Miraculous Victory:’ Battle of Didgori, 1121, Published: May 14, 2008;"The size of the Muslim army is still a matter of debate with numbers ranging from a fantastic 800,000 men (“Bella Antiochena”, Galterii Cancelarii), 600,000 Turks (Matthew of Edessa) to 400,000 (Smbat Sparapet’s Chronicle) while the estimates of modern Georgian historians vary between 100,000-250,000 men."
  7. Nomads in the Sedentary World, p. 47, at Google Books
  8. Black, Jeremy (2002) Warfare In The Eighteenth Century (Cassell'S History Of Warfare) (Paperback – 25 July 2002)ISBN 0304362123
  9. James Grant Duff "History of the Mahrattas, Vol II (Ch. 5), Printed for Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1826"
  10. T. S. Shejwalkar, "Panipat 1761" (in Marathi and English) Deccan College Monograph Series. I., Pune (1946)
  11. Willmott, H. P. (1983). The Barrier and the Javelin: Japanese and Allied Strategies, February to June 1942. United States Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-949-5.
  12. Lal, Pratap Chandra. My Years With The IAF. ISBN 978-81-7062-008-2.
  13. Palit, D. K. (1972). The Lightning Campaign: The Indo-Pakistan War, 1971. Thomson Press. p. 86. ISBN 1-897829-37-X.

Further reading

  • Military Intelligence Blunders and Cover-Ups, by Colonel Hughes-Wilson John (ISBN 0-7867-1373-9)
  • Geoffrey Regan's Book Of Military Blunders, by Geoffrey Regan (ISBN 0-233-99977-9)
  • Scottish Military Disasters, by Paul Cowan (ISBN 978 19032 38967)
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