5 Screw-Ups on the Battlefield That Accidentally Won the War
Life is full of happy little accidents, mistakes that wind up working out in the end. They're the best part of, say, painting a picture or baking a pie. But where you don't find happy accidents is on the battlefield, where brilliant commanders will use the slightest misstep against you. In war, you do it right, or you die.
That's what you'd think, anyway. Sometimes, even in war, a little stupidity can work to your advantage.
The British Accidentally Announce Their Surprise Attack on the News
In 1982, Great Britain and Argentina were fighting over a small island grouping called the Falklands, and Britain was losing. In need of a quick victory to reinvigorate the campaign, operational planners closed their eyes, took out a map and (we can only assume) played pin the tail on the Falklands to decide where to attack.
We attack here, at "Cow Pasture City."
The selected town was called Goose Green. To prepare, 690 Royal Marines stealthily broke off from the main contingent and moved down to set up the attack. It was all ready to go for May 28, but then ...
... the BBC announced the upcoming attack on their worldwide news, and yes, you guessed it, the Argentinians were watching.
"Look, we're on the news! Oh ... crap ..."
The British commander of the Royal Marines in the upcoming battle was furious, threatening to sue the BBC for ruining their plan of attack and spoiling their element of surprise.
But It Turned Out ...
The Argentinian commanders saw the broadcast and concluded that no attack would ever come, under the assumption that only total arrogant idiots would announce their plans via worldwide news service. The British, however, continued with their plans anyway. Did they know the Argentinians had let their guard down? Or did they just decide that if they had already gone through all this trouble, they might as well follow through?
We didn't drag this flag all the way here for nothing ...
When the British actually attacked the following day, the Argentinians were caught by an even more complete surprise, and the British easily won the battle, retaking Goose Green, reinvigorating the Falklands campaign and ultimately earning a victory.
Unauthorized Invasion of France Leads to Victory on D-Day
On one morning in 1942, the British Lord Louis Mountbatten up and decided to invade France. Normally an easy task for anyone to accomplish, this time there were a few key differences. One, this was in the middle of World War II, so France was being occupied by the Nazis. And two, he did it without bothering to tell anyone on his side.
Mountbatten can be seen here with his medal for the smuggest-looking face ever.
He literally launched an invasion and didn't bother to let his superiors or just about any of the Allied command know what he was about to do. He ordered thousands of Canadian, British and American troops to capture the French coastal town of Dieppe and create a beachhead. What could honestly go wrong with this?
Since Mountbatten didn't bother to tell anyone about his plans, the force was sent in lacking many things a normal invasion force would have, such as proper resources, intelligence and also the backing of the British Home Command. Generally speaking, half-assed attacks without any support never really end well, and the Dieppe Raid was no exception.
"OK, here's the plan, run up that beach and shoot. That's it, really."
To start things off, Mountbatten's "plan" relied heavily on surprise, of which the British had none since SPOILER ALERT: the Germans knew they were coming.
From the moment the troops hit the beaches, the whole operation was screwed. Mountbatten had set his "plans" up like dominoes; if one thing went wrong, everything else failed. Sure enough, mere minutes after leaving for the beaches, boats began to get disoriented in the early morning darkness. When the Allied troops hit the beaches, all hell broke loose.
"Stop hogging all the kills, Hans."
They suffered a mind-blowing 73 percent loss rate. A whopping 100 percent of the equipment (tanks, jeeps, etc.) that landed on the beach was lost. After several hours of fighting, what was left of the Allied troops ran back for the boats in the most unorganized retreat imaginable, leaving the Nazis with a huge victory, and left Mountbatten as pretty much the most hated military figure in Canada.
He would go on to cup the Prince of Wales' man-breasts.
But It Turned Out ...
It's comforting to know that your disastrous failure could at least show somebody smarter than you how to succeed. That's exactly what happened here -- that clusterfuck of an invasion attempt gave the Allies precious info on how to handle an amphibious invasion in the future, particularly on D-Day.
"We should have brought floaties."
They now knew they'd need a large artillery barrage beforehand, paratroopers to land behind enemy lines and a far more flexible plan to account for conditions on the shore. It even led to the creation of a special tank just for D-Day, after every tank that landed at Dieppe was destroyed.
After the war, many military commanders remarked at the importance of the Dieppe invasion toward the victory at D-Day, with Winston Churchill himself saying that Dieppe was "an indispensable preliminary to full-scale operations."
But the most important lesson was never put this man in charge.
Stalin's Disaster in Finland Helps Him Beat Hitler
When World War II broke out, Germany invaded Poland. Very soon thereafter, Soviet Russia decided to get in on the action and flex their muscle by attacking Finland. And what a laughably easy attack it would be -- Soviet tanks outnumbered Finland's by a ratio of 200 to 1. In aircraft, it was 34 to 1. The Soviets had triple the number of troops. Shit, wars like this shouldn't even be legal.
"Comrades, we vill be home in time for borscht and unsatisfying sex with our dour wives!"
The problem was that at the time, most of the Soviet military was kind of a joke. This made itself obvious when six months after attacking, Stalin had a few miles of territory in Finland and two great big buckets of casualties to show for it. The overwhelming Russian force inflicted 70,000 casualties on the Finnish military ... and suffered over 300,000 for the effort. More than 3,500 of their tanks and a few hundred aircraft were left in burning chunks of twisted metal at the hands of the tiny Finnish force. Eventually Stalin decided to settle with the Finns and end the embarrassment they were causing him.
But Hitler was watching the whole thing.
"Holy balls, Finnish people are terrifying."
Hitler already had his eye on Russia, and was just waiting for a sign that he could feasibly take them on. A sign like Russia invading a country of semi-frozen sardine-eaters and suffering a disastrous loss.
But It Turned Out ...
Stalin's fuck-up made Hitler so over-confident that he said, "We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down." We can't blame him. We mean, if we were watching this happen, it'd be easy to come to the same conclusion.
But if you know even a tiny amount about WWII history, you know what came next.
Germany won and the whole world was Nazis.
In 1941, Germany launched Operation Barbarossa and, sure enough, made huge gains into the Soviet Union. By the time Stalin got his act together, Hitler's forces weren't too far from Moscow. But, it turned out the Soviets just needed time to get the production of war materials really rolling, and to get reinforcements from Old Man Winter.
The Soviets pushed back, and the Nazis eventually had to retreat, until Hitler demanded the city of Stalingrad be held at all costs. That decision ended up costing several hundred thousand men that Hitler couldn't afford to lose and gained him exactly zero Stalingrads. From then on, it was downhill for the Third Reich. Stalin's fuck-up in Finland wound up being the perfect bait for his Hitler trap.
He wasn't the sharpest Hitler-Jugend-Fahrtenmesser in the gruppe.
Failing to Prepare for War Ends Up Working Out for Israel
In 1967, Israel launched a preemptive strike against hostile neighbors Egypt, Syria and Jordan, and in the process took control of some hotly contested land. About 30 seconds after that, Egypt, Syria and Jordan wanted some payback.
"Oooh, you guys are dicks."
Now, Israel wasn't stupid; they knew their Arab neighbors were plotting revenge. However, based on intelligence estimates, they calculated that Israel didn't need to worry about an attack until at least 1975. Meanwhile, around 1973, smart individuals in Israeli intelligence started noticing moves that troubled them, almost like Egypt and Syria were getting ready to, you know, start a war. But with 1975 still two years away, these people were fairly well ignored.
"Those are probably peace tanks."
Israel didn't realize that their enemies were actually in far better shape than they thought they were. Pretty much everyone was feeding Israel misinformation, and the other side was steadily being armed by the Soviets.
Still, the Israelis were so confident that no attack was coming that when the freaking King of Jordan flew in to say, "Yeah, they're totally gonna attack you, and I know because they asked me to join them," no one believed him.
When Yom Kippur rolled around, Israel initiated a partial call-up of their reserves, but otherwise the holiday was set to go on as normal. Meanwhile, the "surprise" attack started: Egyptians breached Israel's so-called Bar Lev Line without much difficulty and began pouring into the Sinai, while the Syrians retook most of the Golan Heights in their attacks.
But It Turned Out ...
Israel's lack of preparation allowed a massive Egyptian army into the Sinai unimpeded. This would wind up spelling doom ... for the Egyptians.
"Oh shit, we forgot to bring enough army!"
That's because Israeli forces managed to reseal the Bar Lev Line, which had the effect of trapping an entire Egyptian army in the Sinai. When it came time to negotiate a settlement, Israel found itself with a nice bargaining chip in the form of said trapped Egyptian army. They didn't really want the Sinai so much as they wanted Egypt to leave them the hell alone. So they proposed a deal: They'd let Egypt have back both the Sinai and their army if they just agreed to recognize Israel's right to exist. Egypt took the deal.
Israel also managed to take the Golan Heights and offered it back to Syria for the same deal, but the Syrians weren't ready to accept Israel. Perhaps if Israel had a couple hundred thousand Syrian troops trapped there, things would have been different. It just demonstrates how fortunate they were that so many Egyptian soldiers managed to put themselves in a position to be trapped, and it probably would not have happened if Israel had actually been ready.
"Surprise wars are nice. There's a lot less stress, y'know?"
The U.S. Misses a Warning About Pearl Harbor That Saves the Fleet
On "a date which will live in infamy," Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. It pretty much sucked.
On November 28, 1941, the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations sent an encoded important warning message via commercial telegraph that warned of an imminent attack from Japan and advised the military to start flying reconnaissance missions to watch out for, say, Japanese fighters that were sent to attack Hawaii.
Why send such an important message by telegraph? Well, atmospheric conditions on that day made radio transmissions between Washington, D.C., and Hawaii impossible, and email hadn't been invented yet.
"We'd settle for AOL right about now."
Despite what the message said, army and navy planes at Pearl Harbor were not flying reconnaissance, and this didn't escape Japanese attention. This is because that message was received on the 6th of December, but wasn't translated until the 8th -- one day after the attack. Believe it or not, that was considered a short delay. Another message sent on November 24 giving a detailed report of goings on at Pearl was not translated until December 16.
As a result, the navy didn't sail out to meet the Japanese attack, everyone was caught by surprise, history happened.
America unleashed its horde of giants shortly thereafter.
But It Turned Out ...
If the U.S. military had been translating these in real time, there's a good chance the fleet would've been sortied (deployed to attack), especially when they read this urgent request from Tokyo on the 6th referring to an earlier message from the 2nd. But they didn't, and it wasn't. Which saved a whole lot of lives.
Why? Well, those ships would have been taking on Japanese aircraft. And, as many ships would find out during the war, it would have been suicide. Ships at the time just weren't equipped to defend themselves from air attack.
Most of the American fleet had ditched its AA for high-quality surround sound systems.
For instance, the British found this out for themselves three days after the attack when Japanese planes caught HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse in open water. For the price of just three airplanes and 18 men, the Japanese sunk both ships, with a total loss of over 800 hundred men for the Allies.
Throughout the war there would be several more battleships sunk by airplanes, including both of the biggest battleships ever built (the Bismarck and the Yamato). Many sailors could have told you how it goes when ships take on aircraft carriers and the planes they carry.
We'll give you a hint: not well.
This is why Admiral Chester Nimitz said, "It was God's mercy that our fleet was in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941." Yes, the fleet was bombed in the attack. Eight ships sank. But there is a huge difference between ships getting sunk in the harbor (where crews were easily rescued and six of the ships saved) versus out in the open ocean (where those same ships would have wound up on the ocean floor, along with the 20,000 sailors on board).
In reality, the Japanese attack was pretty much a failure. The U.S. ended up losing only two battleships: Arizona and Oklahoma. Meanwhile, all the fuel and repair facilities at the base were left untouched, and the navy could get to work fixing them right away, which is exactly what they did. They were also able to send out the Pacific fleet submarines, fully fueled and stocked, within 24 hours of the attack. As for the remaining battleships, they got the Six Million Dollar Man treatment -- they were rebuilt with stuff like fire control radar and dual-purpose secondary armament (making them capable of shooting at airplanes and ships).
A few years later, we'd have a chance to show them the new improvements in person.
All because they stayed home on the day of the attack, thanks to the fact that nobody bothered to read their messages.
For more historic buffoonery, check out 5 Battlefield Screw Ups That Were Hilarious (Until People Died) and 5 Minor Screw-ups That Created The Modern World.