Military history is riddled with royal f***k-ups. Some are tactical errors, others are oversights, and many are simply stupid mistakes.
While there are a few ancient doozies that ended in tragedy and innumerable lives lost, others came out the other side relatively scot-free. Well, aside from the fact that the blunder will be ridiculed until the end of time. We take a look at a bit of both scenarios.
Not knowing a code name when you see one
During the Korean War, the US’s 1st Marine Division was stuck in the Chosin Mountain Reservoir, in extremely cold, sub-zero conditions. Some 15,000 men were up against an approaching Chinese force of 120,000. The troops sent out an order for more mortar shells, whose code name was “tootsie rolls.” Some dunderhead in charge of stockpiles back home took the call out seriously, sending tonnes of crates of actual tootsie rolls to the reservoir.
Leaving your grub behind
There are many cases where starvation has resulted in a lost battle, and this may be one of the earliest examples. But it wasn’t due to supplies running out, rather an over-eagerness for victory. In 260 BC, Zhao Kuo of the State of Zhao attempted to break a three-year siege held by the Chinese state of Qin. Zhao marched 450,000 men out to take the Bai Qi army, but he was so eager to conquer upon seeing that the size of the opposing force was much smaller than expected, that he raced ahead, leaving his supply train behind. The Bai Qi cavalry swept in from behind, destroying the supplies and leaving Zhao’s troops without food. Eventually, Zhao’s men surrendered due to the death of their leader and impending starvation. The 400,000 emaciated prisoners were executed.
Accidentally starting an avalanche in an attempt to prove a point
Carthaginian general Hannibal is often thought of as the founding father of military strategy. But he had a couple of hiccups during his time. One involved a cane, an avalanche and the death of a decent amount of his army, including an elephant or two. While traipsing his army through the Alps on the way to invade the Roman Empire, he tried to demonstrate to his wary troops that a snowdrift was entirely safe to pass through, by jamming his cane into the ice. This, however, created an avalanche that killed 18,000 of his 38,000 men, 2,000 of his 8,000 horses and a couple of his (supposedly military?) elephants. General Hannibal effectively killed off more of his army than any of the Romans did during battle.
Flooding your own city with a battleship
The Japanese battleship, Musashi, is one of the largest warships ever created. It was incredibly heavy, and unbelievably well-armed. But it caused a few mishaps before its infamous career as a tactical vessel had even begun. As Musashi was lowered into the water during its launch in Nagasaki in 1940, its immense weight caused a meter-high tsunami which flooded the city. The Japanese kept it under wraps because the launch was supposed to be secret. But the residents of flooded homes were none too happy about being forced to stay indoors in order to avoid making a scene and blowing the military’s cover.
Getting stuck in the mud
In 1415 Charles d’Albret decided to take offence to some chanting and apparently vehement flag flying and ended up getting several thousand men killed. He and his army of Frenchmen had met Henry V’s army as they marched across northern France to English held territory. Henry’s men were weakened due to lack of food and weeks of adverse camping conditions. All d’Albret needed to do was block them from passing to deter their advance. But he took their patriotic antics as a challenge and decided to charge. Unfortunately, he didn’t think to check the conditions ahead before attacking and led his army over a quagmire which significantly slowed their progress, making them sitting ducks for the English archers. As a result, Henry, who started out in the much weaker position, ended up losing only a small amount of men, and d’Albret suffered considerably. The Battle of Agincourt was a significant eye-opener to the advantage of long-range weaponry.
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