#3. The Big Unit: 442nd Regimental Combat Team
So it's World War II and, during one of the bigger dick moves in American history, the U.S. government starts sending Japanese-Americans to internment camps.
To defend against the very real threat illustrated here by Dr. Seuss.
What you may not know is that some Japanese-Americans not stranded behind barbed wire actually fought in the U.S. military, a few thousand of them in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. And they performed pretty well.
And by "pretty well" we mean the 3,800 Japanese-American Rambos in the 442nd won 18,143 awards. That's not a typo. While serving in Africa, Italy, France and Germany, they won a mind-boggling 21 Medals of Honor, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars, 4,000 Bronze Stars and 9,486 Purple Hearts.
Wait. See that last number? Did you remember that those 9,486 Purple Hearts were earned by just 3,800 men? That's two and a half serious battle wounds per soldier.
That's nearly as many battle wounds as there are Uruk-hai in this picture.
The 442nd also received a total of seven Presidential Unit Citations, five of which were earned in a single month, for acts of heroism that included the rescue of the "lost battalion," a regiment that had been isolated and trapped by enemy forces. That was a group of more than 200 men who got surrounded by the Nazis and saw two previous attempts at rescue fail. Then the 442nd stepped up and, after five days of vicious fighting where they suffered 800 casualties, got them out.
It was like saving 230 Matt Damons.
#2. The Big Sea Battle: The Battle of Lake Poyang
It makes sense that when talking about the biggest anything, China is going to show up on the list. We could have gone for the obvious and pointed out that gigantic wall of theirs, but they're also responsible for what is to this day the largest naval battle in history. And it happened way back in 1363.
Accounts say hundreds of boats and around 850,000 sailors from the combined fleets of the Han and the Ming navies met in Lake Poyang. The Han by far had the larger navy, which consisted of 11 squadrons and more than 600,000 men equipped with what the Han called lou chuan ["tower ships"], which were essentially floating fortresses, crammed with troops.
Yes, that dude on the left has a flamethrower.
So, just to recap, that's a Han fleet twice the size of the entire U.S. Navy, armed with warships the size of elementary schools versus a "smaller" Ming fleet of 200,000 sailors.
And although Lake Poyang is the largest freshwater lake in China, the summer sun "had already caused the lake's water level to drop considerably." They were essentially fighting the largest naval battle in history in an enormous bathtub with a hole on the bottom.
The winning strategy wound up being fittingly insane for such a battle. The Ming constructed several "fire ships," that is, kamikazes filled full of explosives and the most flammable shit they could find. They staffed these boats with fake sailors made of straw to fool the enemy, then sent them downwind toward the Han. Flames roared through the decks of the Han ships, burning tens of thousands of men alive.
By the end of the fight, the Ming had won and a few hundred thousand sailors were floating dead in the water. To this day, Poyang Lake is considered the Bermuda Triangle of China, with constant reports of ships disappearing without a trace. We're going to venture a guess that it has something to do with several hundred thousand angry sailor ghosts.
#1. The Big General: Subutai
If the goal of war is to conquer land, then Subutai "the Brave" is the single most successful general in history.
If the goal of war is to grow fantastic facial hair, the most successful general is Ambrose Burnside.
As a teenager from a modest background he signed up with Genghis Khan simply because it seemed like something cool for him and his older brother to do that afternoon. It turned out he was really, really good at it. By the time he was done, his army would conquer 32 nations, win 65 major battles and overrun more territory than any other commander in history. He is also the only person to conquer Russia.
Armed with Chinese technology, a vast spy network, and the best army any nation would see until WWII, Subutai led the invasion of Persia before marching west and coming this close to making all of us part-Mongol. Once Genghis died, his successor Ogedei Khan immediately dispatched Subutai to ride west until he hit the Atlantic Ocean. At that point Subutai's cavalry could cross 270 miles of Eastern European snow, sleet, and ice--in the dead of winter--in only three days, and the Mongolian spy network stretched as far as England.
Oh yeah, lots to spy on there.
Once, in 1241, Subutai destroyed the entire armies of Poland and Hungary in two separate battles, in two different countries more than 200 miles apart, on enemy territory, on consecutive days. During the Hungarian battle, Subutai devised a strategy that would lead to the slaughter 40,000 enemy soldiers, while losing less than 1,000 of his own.
And he did all of it while looking like this:
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