Top 10 WORST Military Decisions Of All Time
In times of war, one decision can be the difference between victory and defeat. One tiny slip up or major blunder can completely change the course of history. As the leaders behind these top 10 worst military decisions have found, when the bullets start flying and the enemy is advancing, there is no room for mistakes and bad calls.
The Vietnam War
When the United States entered the Vietnam War to back South Vietnam against North Vietnam and its communist allies, it launched one of the biggest American military disasters to date. Outside of a lack of support from both the Vietnamese and Americans, the United States military completely underestimated the Vietcong. The United States was unprepared for the guerrilla tactics that were used, so much so that American troops resorted to destroying entire villages in fear of hidden Vietcong aggressors. By the time the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam, its military force suffered over 200,000 casualties and for no discernible reason – Vietnam ended up becoming a communist nation afterward anyway.
Hitler's Invasion of Russia
As Napoleon found out, invading Russia isn’t an easy task and comes with dozens of variables. Hitler didn’t heed the warnings from the French’s failed invasion and made the same mistake over 125 years later. Believing Russia just needed one last push before crumbling, Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941. Despite victories over the Russians, Hitler halted the German advance and diverted forces towards Kiev. This allowed enough time to pass for one of Russia’s fiercest winters to roll in. Unprepared for the subzero temperatures and frozen battlefield, Germany was eventually forced to retreat and give up the ground it had fought hard for.
The Battle of San Jacinto
Maybe when you’re in the middle of war, breaking for a traditional mid-afternoon nap isn't the wisest of choices. The final battle of the Texan Revolution against Mexican forces was a quick one, lasting only 18 minutes before the Mexicans retreated. The fatal flaw came when Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna allowed his army to break for a siesta without proper guards keeping watch. In the cover of the mid-afternoon sun, Texans crept towards the relaxed military force. With cries of “Remember the Alamo” and “Remember Goliad,” the Texans attacked, catching the napping military off guard and causing upwards of 850 casualties.
The Battle of Changping
Supplies are vital to any military force and when a supply line is cut, the forces relying on them will likely collapse soon after. After assuming command of the military of the State of Zhao, Zhao Kuo, son of former General Zhao She, made a vital mistake by following the retreating State of Qin forces towards the Qin fortress. Awaiting the Zhao was a 30,000-strong trap that fatally divided Kuo’s forces. With his supply line cut and his forces divided due to his ambitious assault, the Zhao were unable to return to their own fortress. For 46 days, the Zhao suffered under Qin sieges until their remaining supplies dwindled and Kuo was killed.
The Battle of Hattin
Waging war in a desert environment requires a hefty supply of water, so when King Guy of Lusignan ordered his Crusaders to march beyond their camps at Sepphoris, where they had plentiful water and an advantage over Ayyubid sultan Salah ad-Din, he was making a monumental blunder. As one can guess, as Guy’s Crusaders walked along a barren path, they suffered from dehydration. By nightfall, the Crusaders were stuck on a dry hill while Saladin’s forces enjoyed comfort in a nearby valley. On the morning of July 4, 1187, Saladin stormed the hill and overpowered King Guy’s weakened army.
Charge of the Light Brigade
In times of war, good communication can be the difference between a crushing defeat and victory. During the 1854 Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War, one simple miscommunication spelled imminent doom for upwards of 100 of the Light Brigade, or Britain’s light cavalry. British commanders had their sights set on a Russian brigade that would have been easy to overtake, but a hiccup in communication sent the Light Brigade head first into a valley surrounded by Russian troops. Though many within the cavalry recognized that it was essentially a suicide mission, the 600-strong force rushed forward anyway. Before being forced to retreat, the Light Brigade suffered upwards of 270 casualties.
Napoleon's Russian Invasion
Even the best military tacticians can make grave mistakes, but Napoleon’s fumble of invading Russia was a disaster retold countless times. In the early 19th century, encouraged by a series of victories won by his Grande Armée, Napoleon sought to crush Russia once and for all. Through a series of battles, the French pushed the Russians deeper into the country – but then they hit Moscow. Napoleon waited fruitlessly for a Russian surrender but the freezing weather forced a retreat, allowing the opposition to regroup. Russian allies took the withdrawal as a sign of weakness and rejoined the fight against the French, leading to Napoleon’s defeat in 1815.
George Meade's Indecision
When you’ve delivered a hefty blow to your opponent’s forces, you don’t give them the chance to rebuild. Typically, you strike while the iron’s hot, lay waste to the rest of their military. Union General George Gordon Meade either was not aware of this tactic or grossly misjudged Confederate General Robert E. Lee after the Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg. After defeating Lee and crippling his army by 1/3, Meade refused to pursue the wounded Confederate force that could have potentially ended the war two years earlier. It was a decision that even President Lincoln chided the general for allowing Lee to escape.
Attack on Pearl Harbor
It seemed like a viable plan – surprise the United States Naval base at Pearl Harbor and cripple the American fleet to conquer the Pacific, but Japan’s surprise bombardment of several airfields and Battleship Row may have been a complete mistake. Out of the nine battleships moored at the harbor, only three were permanently sunk. The rest either joined the war effort immediately after or were repaired prior to 1945. Beyond even the failed attempt to cripple the Navy, the United States’ role in World War II was likely vital in Japan’s defeat, so by drawing the U.S. in, the country sealed its own fate.
Battle of Red Cliffs
During the Battle of Red Cliffs, warlord of the Eastern Han dynasty, Cao Cao, engaged the Sun Quan and Liu Bei in what should have been a quick victory. Armed with upwards of 240,000 soldiers (or 800,000 by his account), Cao Cao’s army could have crushed his opponents, who struck back with a force around 50,000 strong. Cao Cao’s biggest mistake, however, was turning his experienced infantry unit into an untried naval force, essentially rendering them useless in battle. Unfamiliar with sea travel and susceptible to disease within the tropics, the Han dynasty’s military was far too exhausted and inexperienced to fight back against Sun Quan and Liu Bei.