Underdogs of War: 6 Tiny Nations That Kicked Ass
You've got to love the underdog. It doesn't matter who they are or whether or not they're good at all, we just want the little guy to win--because in the real world, he usually doesn't.
So today we celebrate these tiny, underdog countries, the Rocky countries, who kicked ass against all odds.
Albania Cheats at War... and Kicks Extraordinary Amounts of Ass
If you're not familiar with the Balkans, here's a fun experiment that'll give you a quick education. Go to YouTube, and find any video from the region (Albania, or Greece, etc). Scroll down to the comments and lay witness to the terrifying spectacle of violent, unrestrained Balkan hate contained within.
Something along these lines.
That's the Balkans. So when we hold up Albania as an example of a badass underdog of a country, well, you can see what kind of neighborhood they're from.
And it's been that way for a long time. More than 500 years ago, the small, mountainous, fiercely independent country was under attack by the Ottoman Empire, at the time a hugely powerful nation that had just torn through the whole of the Balkans like paper mache. Only tiny Albania stood in its way of total regional domination. The Ottomans promptly high-fived each other, said something about how "this was going to be fun," and prepared for a route.
Waiting for them was a man named Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg--the name alone is so incredibly badass that it will make you shit yourself--who lead a hardened, patriotic army of Albanian resistance warriors all across the countryside, basically fucking up the Ottoman's shit every opportunity he got.
In one battle, he killed 22,000 Turks while losing a mere 2,000 of his own men. While defending the castle of Kruje, his 8,000 man army beat 160,000 Turkish troops, who were led by the legendary Sultan Mehmet II.
Shit, those are feats we can't even replicate in Age of Empires.
Pictured: Albanian resistance leader Gjergj Skanderbeg, tattooed onto the arm of a man who
we are going to assume will kill you just to see if his gun is still working.
Gjergj Skanderbeg was what many consider the world's first guerrilla leader, using the mountains to his advantage and striking at the Ottomans in ways that would make any strategy game-playing nine-year-old cry out, "GAY! HAX!"
What was it that finally ended Albania's stand? Fucking malaria. Skanderbeg died in 1467, and though the memory of his name was enough to inspire Albania for another 10 years of resistance, they eventually fell.
That's right, it took mosquitoes to do what the most feared army on Earth at the time could not.
The Knights Hospitaller Killed in the Name of God. A Lot.
Founded after the First Crusade, the Knights Hospitaller were an order of mainly German knights that quickly evolved into pretty much the only reason why the Catholics didn't get utterly mauled during the Second Crusades. Along with other famous orders like the Knights Templar, the Hospitallers fought off Muslim hordes, and really any horde they could get their hands on (these were easy to come by in those days) for nearly two centuries. Their secret? A combination of maniacal religious fervor and insanely badass suits of armor.
Even if there's an asthmatic 12-year-old under that armor, we're still scared shitless.
Once the numbers became too much for even the Hospitallers to handle, they high-tailed it to Cyprus. They were there for about 20 years until they realized that dicking around in Cyprus involved way less killing than they were used to, and took the island of Rhodes from whatever poor fool was controlling it.
While in Rhodes, the Knights fought off invasions from both the Sultan of Egypt in 1444 and from the Ottoman Empire in 1480 (the latter was coming off their own conquest of Constantinople, the single most difficult-to-invade city on the planet.).
Finally the knights' reign ended, when the aptly-named Ottoman Suleiman the Magnificent invaded the island with nothing less than 200,000 troops. Despite the fact that the knights only had 7,000 men to defend their holdings, it still took six freaking months for Rhodes to fall.
The knights abandoned Rhodes and moved to Malta and, sure enough, the Turks sent another massive army to besiege it. Historians rank the Siege of Malta as one of the most epic, transformative moments in military history, pretty much the Citizen Kane of sieges. It was one of the most celebrated events in its time, known throughout the corners of Christendom.
Why? Because the knights managed to fight off a massive horde of nearly 50,000 Turks with a few thousand men and absolutely zero room to retreat.
The Turks had lots of room to retreat, however, and after four months of watching the knights laugh off the 130,000 cannon balls they fired at them, the Turks turned and ran. It was the first time they had been beaten in 100 damned years.
A Bunch of Dutch Settlers Vs. the British Empire
In terms of picking a sympathetic protaganist for a story, you can't do much worse than German Knights fighting for the Catholic Church during the crusades. Well, other than White South Africans. But luckily, when it's other white people that they're fighting, it's officially OK to be on their side. Thus we feel safe to say that the Dutch settlers of South Africa (a.k.a. the Boers) kicked a remarkable amount of ass.
It all started one day in the Boer republic of Transvaal in South Africa. A guy named Erasmus Jacobs was just chilling, taking a stroll, when he found a giant diamond on the ground. Unbelievably, it turned out there were tons of diamonds laying all over the fucking ground across South Africa. Lucky Boers, huh?
Well, not really. Like a rich, pasty white teenager who makes a wrong turn in his Lexus and ends up in Compton, South Africa became too valuable a target held by too pathetic a foe. The Boers, and their newfound wealth, drew the attention of Imperialism's version of MS-13: The British Empire.
The British had conquered half the damned world at that point, so taking the diamonds from a haphazard clan of Dutch settlers seemed like the kind of thing they could do over the course of a piss stop on the way to some other, more challenging war.
When the British forces entered Transvaal, it was the world's most dominant superpower versus some sloppily organized rabble of backwater--and probably high as fuck--Dutch farmers. We're not kidding, the Boers had no standing army. Just a bunch of dudes with rifles.
Why did they have rifles? Because they had to hunt for food. And in the course of hunting, they got really really good at it. They used to have shooting competitions there which involved hitting a chicken egg from a football field away. So guess what happened when the British showed up in the jungle in their bright, hugely-visible red coats?
Within minutes of the start of the first battle, 120 British soldiers had gaping bullet holes in them. The Boers lost two guys.
It was over in a few months, and Britain wouldn't make another serious attempt at it for almost 20 years. It was no coincidence that shortly thereafter, the British finally stopped wearing red into battle.
The Sultan of Aceh Defends his Pepper
So the Dutch, they're just unstoppable killing machines, right? Well, they've been on the business end of an embarrassingly lopsided ass-kicking too.
There's a piece of land called Aceh, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra (Aceh was at the epicenter of that huge tsunami that hit the area in 2004). Back in the 19th Century, Aceh was sitting pretty because they produced one of the world's most valuable resources: pepper. Since everything pretty much tasted like shit back then, pepper was worth its weight in gold, and they made half of the black pepper on the planet.
The Dutch, desperate to control Aceh's precious pepper mines, made their move. The guy in charge, Sultan Mahmud Syah said, "Bring it," and managed to remain independent for 30 insane years, in which he made the vastly technologically superior Dutch look like a bunch of assholes.
The Dutch tried to take the Sultan's palace, and not only did they fail, but their general died in the process. They tried again, succeeded, only to find the palace was empty with a proverbial note tacked to the door saying "FUCK YOU."
When a British ship (they were allied with the Dutch) got stranded in Aceh, the Sultan actually forced the Dutch and British governments to pay him a huge pile of cash in order to get the sailors back. When the pissed-off Dutch tried pay a local warlord crazy amounts of money to take out the Sultan, the warlord instead turned around and attacked them with the army they paid for.
The Dutch did slowly take over, inch by bloody inch, though resistance would remain in the highlands for generations after. But it was all worth it, knowing that those men had given their lives to the worthy cause of sweet, delicious pepper! Aw, yeah!
300 Guys Retake all of Spain
Those flamboyant Spanish sex machines don't like to admit it, but years ago, Spain got ripped a new asshole by Islamic invaders. Starting in 711, the Umayyad Moors from modern-day Morocco utterly destroyed the forces of Christian Spain, conquering the entire country in eight years. Keep in mind, this was during a time when it probably took eight fucking years just to get from one end of Spain to the other, even without a bunch of Christians trying to kill you along the way.
The Muslims swept across the Iberian Peninsula, gobbling up every piece of land in their path. Every piece of land, that is, except for one little strip along the northern mountains.
A Spanish nobleman named Pelayo retreated north, to the mountains of Asturias. There, he got together an army of 300 men (which barely qualifies as a rabble nowadays) and defeated a Muslim army almost three times its size.
This shitty band has more fans than Spanish army had soldiers in 711.
After the Battle of Covadonga, Pelayo's pathetic little mountain kingdom would go on to retake all of Spain. Sure, it took almost 800 fucking years, but still... damned fine work.
Not only did little Asturias hold off a vastly superior enemy, it actually defeated that enemy. So it should come as no surprise that Pelayo went down as one of the greatest heroes in Spanish history, getting his name on everything from a shitty 19th Century battleship that did absolutely nothing in almost forty years of commission, to...
... a shitty monument in the middle of the fucking mountains.
Ethiopia Kicks Ass in an Old School Way
Ethiopia is the ultimate underdog these days, as most westerners picture it as a stretch of barren land inhabited by starving children. But the country has a history of badassery literally stretching back to the dawn of man.
In the 1800s, the fad among Western countries was to take over random hunks of Africa, often for no good reason. It was kind of a status thing, if you wanted to have any respect at all, then you had to claim vast tracts of African land that probably had zero natural resources and would not benefit your nation in any way. It was basically the 19th Century equivalent of bling.
Peep the way I'm sportin' these countries, yo.
In 1895, Italy was in the terrible position of having hardly any Africa at all (all it had was a few shitty, tiny coastlines of African land--definitely not enough to be considered cool). But, unfortunately, the only African country not yet claimed by anyone else was Ethiopia.
It would have to do. Italy brought in a huge mess of modern military gear: guns, cannons, artillery, the whole shebang. The simple idea of losing a war to Africans was utterly preposterous. The Italians were so confident of victory, they basically decided to fuck tactics and march right in. Seriously, what are a bunch of Ethiopians going to do about it?
After all, it's not like they'd been fighting wars for the last 3,000 years or anything.
Well, the Italian army of 20,000 got its ass handed to it at the Battle of Adwa, and the ragged band of comically confused survivors fled back to Italy. The fallout was horrendous. Within a few months, riots broke out in major Italian cities, with angry mobs of wacky, mustachioed men charging at government buildings, dousing them with olive oil, and setting them on fire with flaming bread sticks. The government collapsed, and the rest of Europe had a good laugh.
Ethiopia, meanwhile, earned the distinction of being the only African country to successfully resist European colonialism (well, temporarily, anyway) and Italy earned the distinction of being the only European country to lose a war in Africa.
If the Total War franchise is to be believed, this is what Italy lost to.
Oh, and by the way, it's thought that humans first appeared as a species in Ethiopia. So in a way, all of the badasses on this list were Ethiopian. Who else can say that?
For more bite-sized country fun, check out Fun Size Countries: The Insane Histories of the World's 6 Tiniest Nations. Or see what the rest of the world has to offer in the form of national anthems, in 6 National Anthems That Will Make You Tremble With Fear.
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