The 6 Greatest Twist Endings in the History of Battle

There's a reason Hollywood makes more movies about war than, say, wine tasting competitions. Horrific human suffering aside, these are history's greatest dramas, and you never know how they're going to turn out. To quote Sun Tzu, "War? That shit is bananas."

For examples of war stories with ridiculous twist endings, look no further than ...

#6. A Civil War Battle Is Won With Painted Trees

Piotr Krzeslak/iStock/Getty Images

Our favorite war stories are the ones that easily could have occurred in the universe of a particularly wacky cartoon. For instance, while the American Civil War was a spectacularly brutal and awful situation for everyone involved, that just makes it even crazier that somebody once turned a battle by painting a bunch of trees to look like cannons.

That absolutely happened in 1862, when Union General George B. McClellan was marching his massive 100,000-strong army toward the shoddy fort at Yorktown being defended by Major General John B. Magruder and his pitiful 13,000 men. It should have been a minor speed bump along the way for the Union army, if not for the power of shenanigans.

George N. Barnard/James F. Gibson
"Our backup plan was tomfoolery."

The Twist:

Magruder was a playwright by trade, and he often put on stage shows to entertain his men. That's the sort of skill that doesn't come in super handy in a brutal, primitive war of attrition, but as Union soldiers descended on Yorktown, Magruder knew it was time for him to put on his greatest show yet for this new audience from the North.

With McClellan's forces gearing up to attack the fort, Magruder had his men scurry around inside and make a lot of noise, to make it seem as though there were more of them than there really were. They then hauled rocks around randomly so that, through McClellan's binoculars, it looked as though they were moving supplies around the fort that they didn't actually have, presumably while shouting, "Damn it, there's nowhere to sleep with all of these EXPLOSIVE CANNONBALLS laying everywhere! Go stack them next to the dragon's cage!" When the Union soldiers got too close, the Confederates fired haphazardly, to make it seem like they had plenty of ammunition to waste.

George N. Barnard/James F. Gibson
"Shouldn't we at least try to hit someone?"
"No ... that's just what those Yankees are expecting."

But Magruder's most ingenious innovation was probably the so-called "Quaker cannons" -- ordinary wooden logs carved and painted to look like cannon turrets. By lining dozens of these faux cannons up along the borders of the fort, Magruder was able to make it look like his forces were armed to the teeth and ready to rumble, when in fact they were relatively helpless and desperately hoping their crazy general wasn't about to get them killed.

George N. Barnard
"Uh, he knows that's not real, right?"

But the theatrics worked -- McClellan and his men were sufficiently confused to hold off their siege for a month while they tried to figure out what the hell was going on. This was long enough for Magruder's army to summon reinforcements, and eventually they were able to sneak away under cover of night to join the larger Confederate forces that would go on to drive the Union back. And that was how the South won the Civil War! Or kept it going for a few more years, anyway.

#5. The Dutch Deliberately Flood Their Own Country

hlehnerer/iStock/Getty Images

As anyone who has ever witnessed a schoolyard brawl can tell you, if you're smaller and weaker than your opponent, it helps to be crazy. Just ask Holland, which once thwarted an invasion by intentionally flooding their own fucking country.

Back in the 1500s, the small Protestant country found itself at war with the much larger and more powerful Spanish Empire, which had been stuffing Catholicism hand over fist down the throats of the Dutch by way of the Spanish Inquisition. The Dutch eventually got tired of this and started the Dutch War of Independence to reclaim their homeland. The problem with this was that Spain was one Sith Lord away from the Galactic Empire, while Holland was, to keep the analogy, a tiny nation of moisture farmers. Their navy ships were nicknamed "water beggars," because to the Spanish, they were basically the hobos of the sea.

Hendrik Cornelisz. Vroom
They were so scruffy, they didn't even have nerf to herd.

So the Spanish sighed and geared up for a good old-fashioned imperial beatdown, figuring that after having already subdued half the world, they should have been able to conquer Holland half-asleep and hung over.

The Twist:

What Holland lacked in military strength, they made up for in ingenuity and/or insanity. The ingenuity part was a necessity, as it just so happened that their country was below sea level, and the only thing keeping it from doing an Atlantis was the system of levees and dikes that they're famous for. Although the sea was their mighty adversary, they were also better at dealing with it than the Spaniards, which is why the leader of the Dutch rebellion, Prince William of Orange, made the brash decision to tear down the dikes and deliberately flood Holland. It's kind of like when you ask a little kid for some of his candy and he quickly licks it all so you won't want any.

Michiel Jansz. van Miereveld
"We peed in the water, too. Because fuck 'em, that's why."

But there was more to it than just making their country all soggy and gross so the Spanish wouldn't want it. Those tiny, shitty ships in the Dutch navy could navigate around the shallow floodwaters just fine, whereas the big fancy Spanish warships could not. And since the Spanish infantry didn't have Aquaman powers, they were kind of at an impasse. Although the war continued to rage for some years, the Spanish were never again able to penetrate Holland's borders, and eventually they gave up trying.

Cornelis Claesz van Wieringen
"You're all clear, kid, now let's *blow* this thing and go home!"

#4. The Soviets Invent Warplanes That Are Too Slow to Kill

Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images

When the Germans decided to invade Russia during World War II, they started off strong, kicking Soviet ass until they reached a region known as Caucasus, which was the Russians' last stand before the Nazis started rocking up on the doorstep of Stalingrad. Up to that point, the only defense the Soviets had was basically throwing technologically inferior soldiers at the enemy, like trying to smother a fire with dry kindling.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-299-1808-15A/Scheck/CC-BY-SA

And the fire has a flamethrower.

Outgunned and on their heels, the Soviets were starting to run out of options. And then, someone said, "What if we could attack the enemy with a weapon so shitty that they don't even know how to kill it?"

The Twist:

As we've mentioned before, the Soviets were one of the first nations to allow women into major combat roles, mainly because they were running out of men to send to their deaths. One of the all-female combat teams Stalin put together was an air force division called the 588th Night Bomber Regiment. The Soviets didn't actually have a lot of warplanes to go around, but what they did have a shitload of were slow, creaky crop dusters.

theatlantic.com
"Oh, we're not giving you parachutes either."

These were biplanes made of plywood and probably held together with twine and chewing gum that were designed mainly for dusting fields and terrorizing Cary Grant. Nevertheless, the Germans weren't laughing for long -- the biplanes were so shitty in comparison to the German air force that their maximum speed was slower than the Nazis' minimum speed. In other words, the Germans couldn't go slow enough to engage them without falling out of the sky.

The Germans came to refer to the women pilots as "Night Witches," because the relatively silent aircraft attacked under cover of darkness, and presumably "Night Bitches" didn't have the same ring to it. The Witches were instrumental to the war effort during the Battle of Caucasus by basically annoying the Germans into retreat, swooping in silently at night, and bombing their frontlines. Even when they were shot down, the wooden planes crashed so delicately that the pilots often survived to scurry back and get on another biplane.

via YouTube
Not Wright brothers footage.

The Nazis held on to Caucasus for two years, trying desperately to push into Stalingrad, before Hitler eventually cried "fuck it" and pulled them back.

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