As much as we'd like to believe what Braveheart and Return of the Jedi have told us, real-world battles are rarely won by the ragtag team of underdogs. Tanks beat horses, guns beat spears.
Yet, as we've found again and again here at Cracked, often history turns out to be more awesome than fiction.
#6. The Battle of Morgarten
The Swiss are truly a slippery breed. With their endless supply of clocks, pocketknives and chocolates, they have managed to outlast just about every dictator/emperor/Hitler in history. What gives? What makes them too good for our friendship?
The rest of us non-Swiss have a long memory when it comes to Switzerland's neutrality.
In 1315, Duke Leopold I of Austria decided to put Europe's mutual hatred of the Swiss to good use by invading the country with a force of anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000 soldiers and cavalry. According to contemporary chronicler Johannes Vitoduranus, "The men of this army came together with one purpose, to utterly subdue and humiliate those peasants who were surrounded with mountains as with walls."
Because being a peasant wasn't humiliating enough.
Leopold's Austrian army was well-suited for battle, riding in with heavy mail and plate armor that could withstand all but the most piercing attacks. Along with heavily armored horses, the combined weight of these knights was expected to be enough to crush any pain in the ass innocent bystanders who got in their way ... which, of course, was exactly what they planned to do with them.
Their opponents were the Swiss.
The only thing the Swiss had going for them was the halberd, which was a bit of a mix between an ax, a spear and a meat hook that handled like all three weapons in one. You know ...
Like one of these.
But Austria was soon to learn exactly why nobody ever seems to want to fuck with the Swiss. On Nov. 15, 1315, Leopold's Uruk-hai army was greeted by a roadblock on a narrow point between Lake Aegeri and Morgarten, buttressed with a steep slope on one side and a swamp on the other. Before anyone figured out this might possibly be a trap, 1,500 Swiss confederates stationed in the cliffs above started hurling enough rocks, logs and Swiss army knives that the Austrians thought they were being assaulted by goddamned ewoks.
The Battle of Morgarten was not so much a battle as it was an absolute massacre. Whoever wasn't conked on the head with a boulder was forced off the road and into the swamp by Swiss footmen. For all the advances in armor plating during the Middle Ages, Leopold's army was undone by logs and rocks.
Also, by George Lucas running out of ideas.
#5. The Battle of Valcour Island
In October 1776, just after the Revolutionary War broke out, a British flotilla of 25 warships sailed down the Hudson River with enough firepower and powdered wigs to blow New England all the way back to Regular England. Our Founding Fathers watched in terror, since their own navy was, at this point, still in tree form.
Yeah? Come over here and say that.
Fortunately, the U.S. was blessed to have a headstrong general named Benedict Arnold, who, as we've pointed out before, was basically history's answer to Rambo. Yeah, he turned on his country, but only because he thought they were being pussies. When Arnold saw the Brits coming, he decided he would beat the Brits back if it meant strapping together a bunch of logs and paddling out there himself.
Benedict Arnold: George Washington's George Washington.
The British forces consisted of 25 armed ships, 700 sailors and almost 2,000 redcoats, Indians and Hessian mercenaries, all equipped with the best training the British Empire could provide. Arnold, on the other hand, was a general, not an admiral, and he walked into this battle with about as many warships and hours logged in naval combat as you have.
Benedict Arnold did exactly what the A-Team would do: build an ad hoc navy in the lake out of whatever fishing boats and drift wood he could find. If it could float, and could remain floating with a cannon strapped to it, it became part of the first American navy.
Despite the fact that Arnold gave the boats badass names like Royal Savage, they weren't fooling anyone at the Battle of Valcour Island. He lost almost every one of his vessels. However, the general had an ace up his sleeve: being the sly bastard that made him notorious.
Arnold slipped past the British gunboats one night following the initial bloodbath, and forced the British fleet on a wild goose-chase along the Hudson River Valley. When the Brits eventually caught up with him and started sinking his ships, they were surprised to see Arnold didn't appear to give a shit. They were probably even more surprised when he burned the last few himself with their flags still flying, dusted off his hands and declared victory.
Arnold had completely outfoxed the enemy; his bullshit navy had successfully stalled them long enough that it was now too late in the year for them to continue their invasion. They were forced to retreat back to Canada, blaming each other the whole way.
By the admission of Baron Riedesel, commander of the Hessian mercenaries in the battle, the American Revolution should have ended with their invasion of the Hudson River that year. Even historians acknowledge that the U.S. would have been utterly screwed by the invasion had it not been for Benedict Arnold's insane gambit.
#4. The Battle of Stirling Bridge
You've actually seen this battle, halfway through Braveheart. But contrary to whatever you think Mel Gibson taught you, William Wallace was not five-foot-nine, the Scots did not fight in kilts and the Battle of Stirling Bridge was actually fought on a bridge.
Mel had the bridge cut from the scene, claiming it was too "Jew-y."
The Battle of Stirling Bridge was fought on Sept. 11, 1297, we're guessing to the full knowledge of King Edward's equivalent to Dick Cheney. England expected Scotland to be such a pushover that they only bothered to outnumber them five to one -- 8,000 to 10,000 soldiers against 2,000 Scottish infantry, and 1,000 to 2,000 cavalry units against 300 Scotsmen on horses.
Please note that we said "Scotsmen on horses" as opposed to actual cavalry, since Scotland didn't have the expensive, quilted armor that made heavy cavalry the Sherman tanks of their time. All the worse for the Scots, they were up against English longbows, literally the most feared weapon in the world until the arrival of the goddamn repeating rifle 600 years later. All the Scots really had going into this battle was the that fact they were Scotsmen.
And that was enough.
Oh, and William Wallace, who by the way is described in the chronicle Scotichronicon as "a tall man with the body of a giant." Wallace knew there was no way his men could face the English cavalry on even terms, but his solution was as crazy as it was brilliant: They stood in a square formation, the best for minimizing the impact of the feared longbows, and forced the English into a choke point -- the narrow Stirling Bridge.
The bridge was only wide enough for two mounted units to cross at one time, so the Scots effectively forced the English into the tactic that bad guys always use against Batman -- line up and attack one or two at a time.
Nearly half the English army was butchered, including the English treasurer to Scotland, Hugh de Cressingham. He got off easily via decapitation in Braveheart, but in reality was supposedly flayed, and "in token of hatred," they "made thongs of his skin."
Yes, you read that correctly: He was made into thongs.
Some people don't play.