One reason we love war stories here at Cracked is because so often, what actually happens on the battlefield is way stranger than anything we got in cheesy 80s action movies. The real battlefield is chock full of heroics so badass that if you put them in respected war films like Saving Private Ryan or Universal Soldier, we'd all collectively groan, "Yeah, right."
Here are five groups of soldiers that prove that no matter how implausible the plot, some group of soldiers, somewhere, have topped it.
5Pavlov's Platoon Holds Off the Nazis. All of Them.
The Half-Assed Hollywood Effort:
Here's a story implausible enough it could only have come from the fantasy genre, specifically the Battle of Helm's Deep from Lord of the Rings. A bunch of under-equipped warriors find themselves holed up in a fortress, outnumbered 30 to one. Knowing that death is all but inevitable, they decide to fend off the vastly superior army for a miraculous stretch of time as a pure exercise in ball-flexing manliness, before being rescued by a wizard.
Also, the fat elf dies.
Topped by Real Life When:
Imagine if Helm's Deep had only been defended by two dozen guys and the enemy crossed the sheer overwhelming math of a zombie horde with the Empire's propensity for terrifying marshal efficiency.
That's what one Sergeant Yakov Pavlov's platoon found themselves facing down in September of 1942. The Nazis were pushing into Russia as part of the biggest military operation in the history of the human race, and everything was about to come to a head in the city of Stalingrad with a battle over a single bombed-out apartment building.
They called it the "Battle of Stalingrad" because "The Battle of That Building Where Sergei's Mom Used to Live" didn't sound quite as impressive.
Pavlov and his platoon was tasked with the thankless job of retaking the building after the Nazis had seized it. To get a snapshot of what their mindset was like heading in, it's helpful to know that the assignment was considered an extremely dangerous one by the Soviet Army, and that the Soviet Army's slogan at the time was "die for Russia."
Somehow, the slogan failed to raise morale.
Doing the quick math, Pavlov realized his only chance was to throw his whole platoon into the meat grinder, and hope that the speed with which they passed through left at least a few alive. He lost all but four men in the assault, but eventually his plan worked and they took the building. Had they known they were dealing with a man who considered four people surviving a success, the Nazis probably would have realized that they were in for some serious shit. Having barely enough survivors to outfit a respectable zombie movie, Pavlov could only station one soldier to each floor. However, the drop-dead gorgeous line of sight it offered was enough for them to unleash a mountain of unholy hell against all Fascist comers.
The last face many Nazis ever saw.
The building was subjected to relentless fire--as were the civilians huddled in its basement--but Pavlov's unit held out long enough to be reinforced by a still-tiny 25 men. Not a wizard, but it was all they needed. His men were given machine guns, rifles, mortars, barbed-wire, anti-tank mines, some body armor and a PTRS-41 anti-tank rifle which Pavlov personally used to snipe a dozen tanks from the rooftop. They basically used what little equipment they had to convert the apartment into a goddamn anti-Nazi death machine that could annihilate whatever came at it from a kilometer in every direction.
As long as everyone conserved their ammo and manned their posts, the only real danger posed to the building came from flamethrowers. Fortunately, with legendary snipers like 19-year-old Anatoly Chekhov on the top floor, this usually resulted in a Viking funeral for the Nazis.
Wave after wave of the German army hammered the building. And died.
Later, Pavlov's men could boast that they killed more Germans defending their one building than the French killed in the entire fall of Paris. And unfortunately for French egos, they were still alive to boast--by February 2 the next year, the Battle of Stalingrad was over. Pavlov was named a Hero of the Soviet Union, and the building he defended was made into a monument.
4The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
The Half-Assed Hollywood Effort:
Hopefully you didn't see the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen but did read the comics, which feature a band of legendary fictional characters such as Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man and Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde, all coming together from separate fictional universes to save the world.
The Badass True Story:
What if we told you that there was a secret military unit during World War II which featured this guy:
And this guy:
...who operated out of Sherlock Holmes' headquarters and saved the world from nuclear annihilation at the hands of the Nazis?
Meet the Special Operations Executive, a super-secret branch of the UK military personally tasked by Winston Churchill to "set Europe ablaze." On the crew were James Bond-creator Ian Fleming (who would base Bond on his own experiences), as well as members who would be Fleming's inspirations for M, Q, Miss Moneypenny and the sultry Vesper Lynd. They were joined by the future Dracula/Saruman/Dooku Christopher Lee. They were stationed at Baker Street. Yep, the place where the fictional Sherlock Holmes solved his mysteries.
These "Baker Street Irregulars" were Churchill's go-to guys and girls for "ungentlemanly" warfare. If there was a bridge that needed busting or an Axis officer who needed seducing, you'd better believe the SOE had all the cloaks and daggers necessary to make sure Colonel Arschloch spent his last moments of WWII getting murdered in his bed anywhere from the English Channel to Southeast Asia.
The Ministry's greatest achievement, and perhaps the single finest act of sabotage in all of WWII, was Operation Gunnerside: a crossover between the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare and their cousins in the Norwegian Resistance. Their mission: train a crack commando unit of former-Vikings to join SOE on a secret mission to destroy a heavy water plant in Norway before the Nazis could build an atomic bomb with it. It's thanks to these unknown bastards of WWII that Hitler didn't have any nuclear-tipped V-2 rockets to turn the last months of the war into something akin to Judgment Day.