The 6 Most Mismatched Battles Ever Won by Underdogs
Even if you have the finest weapons and the absolute best leadership, war is hell. In fact, hell is just the beginning when you're facing an enemy with 10 times the gear and manpower your side has.
In those desperate circumstances, sometimes the underdog just has to get stupid. What do we mean? Well ...
Cambyses II Conquers Egypt With Cat Shields
Like most other centuries, the sixth century B.C. had to witness a war in the Middle East. Persian king Cambyses II, fresh from his coronation, set his eyes westward to expand his empire, which meant war with Egypt. But going up against the Egyptians on their home turf was seven kinds of stupid. Not only did they know the terrain, but they were exactly as tough as you'd expect from people whose embalmed corpses were destined to become horror movie villains a few millennia down the line.
Fresh Egyptians: 30 percent more zesty than desiccated Egyptians.
Even so, Cambyses didn't give a damn. He stormed Egypt like a jock mowing through a keg party, only to have his ass promptly handed to him. Sure, Cambyses had the numbers, but the Egyptians had the home advantage and far superior weaponry. The Persians were bound to lose the war ... until Cambyses spotted the Egyptians' only weakness: cats.
Back in the day, Egyptians were deathly afraid of cats, which they thought were representatives of death itself. As such, killing a cat was both a terrifying sin and a quick one-way ticket to Death Central. So, according to legend, it is here that the Persians started using cats as shields. Seriously.
Embarrassed artists hid this fact and said Cambyses won just by being really tall.
Also, they lobbed a bunch of felines into the battlefield, to the point where Egyptians could not take a step or swing a sword without the risk of harming a cat. By some accounts, Cambyses supplemented his feline secret weapon with a bunch of other animals Egyptians held sacred, such as ibis birds, dogs, and sheep, thus creating the world's first Battlefield Petting Zoo.
Whatever the reasons behind it, the gambit worked, as the Egyptians were so afraid of accidentally striking a cat that they either fled or just flat out surrendered to the inferior Persian fighting force. Hey, this is what writers at the time say happened, we weren't there. The Persians went on to preside over Egypt for ages to come. Cats went on to lazily rule over man until the end of time itself.
The Ottomans Win With a Centuries-Old Cannon
It was 1807, and the Ottomans found themselves at war with Great Britain, the reigning world champion at messing up other countries. And sure enough, the Brits, with their superior troops and weapons, were set to dominate the Ottomans. Ready to delve into the heart of Turkey, the British Royal Navy went right through the Dardanelles Strait, where the Aegean and Black Seas meet.
The Ottomans knew their opponent was coming, but realized they only had a few laughably tiny cannons set up in the area. They had no way to put a dent in the British ships. What they did have was this:
Check out the Dardanelles on that bad boy.
If that looks like a gigantic decorative cannon from ancient times, you're right. It was a ridiculous thing built back in the 15th century when Sultan Mehmet II ordered the construction of what would be called the Dardanelles Gun -- an 18-ton, 17-foot contraption that could send a 670-pound cannonball over 5,000 feet. It was installed at the aforementioned Dardanelles Strait, but since the gun's ammo was so heavy that it didn't fly so much as it rolled along the ground with some extreme force, it was never really used. It was just there to look cool.
That is, until 350 years later, when the desperate Ottomans dusted off their giant-ass antique.
Despite being from an age where knights were still doing the fighting, the Dardanelles Gun was found to be in reasonable working order. Since the Ottomans had no proper projectiles for the monster, they just filled it with gunpowder and random debris. With their impossible antique bullshit cannon in place, the Ottomans waited ... and waited ... and fucking well fired.
Comically expelling bats and cobwebs. And hellfire.
The British ships were, naturally, pretty surprised when they were greeted by a rain of rubble blasted out of a big-ass museum piece. The surprise soon turned to shock when said museum weapon actually blasted holes in their ships (and their men) with every bit as much gusto as the most efficient cannons of the time ... and then some. The British Royal Navy suffered one of their rare defeats that day.
A curious epilogue to the story: 60 years later, Sultan Abdulaziz visited Great Britain. As a solid contestant for the "least subtle 'fuck you' move in history" award, he gave the Dardanelles Gun to Queen Victoria as a present.
Korea Beats the Japanese Navy With a Handful of Wrecked Ships
Japan and Korea have a long history of not particularly liking each other, mainly due to the former's tendency to invade the shit out of the latter at every opportunity. In the 1590s, the countries were engaged in a three-way war with China called the Imjin War. China and Korea were getting their butts handed to them by the powerful Japanese army and their particularly strong navy, which in 1597 took out pretty much the entire Korean fleet.
"Come on, men! If we win, Korea will never be at war again!"
The Korean navy was down to 13 ships, all badly damaged. Their admiral, Yi Sun-shin, quickly gathered the survivors, knowing full well that Japan was gearing up for another go at invading Korea and they were the only line of defense. There was also another problem: Their 13 limping vessels were facing over 330 Japanese warships.
With nothing to lose, Yi decided to go for it and engaged the Japanese ships anyway ... and he beat the ever-loving crap out of them. In a shocking twist, it turns out there's more to naval warfare than just numbers. Yi knew the waters and waited for the enemy at Myeongnyang Strait, where the Japanese ships inevitably bottlenecked thanks to its narrowness. You may recognize this exact strategy from the movie 300, although we think even Leonidas would have thought twice before trying it with freaking warships.
You can't break ships in slow motion. You'd drown.
From there, it was almost embarrassingly easy going. Yi ordered his crippled ships to blast row upon row of incoming ships like it was a game of Space Invaders. Eventually, the tide turned against the Japanese fleet, banging their ships together and further adding to the chaos. The Japanese navy was eventually forced to retreat in shame, having lost 33 ships and over 8,000 men, with 90 more ships badly damaged.
Admiral Yi lost two men, presumably due to fatal laughing fits.
The People of Eger MacGyver Their Way to Victory
In 1552, the Hungarian town of Eger found itself in a tough spot. The Turkish force had been advancing into their 'hood, slowly but surely taking over Hungarian terrain. The fearsome Turkish army had already taken a whole bunch of bigger cities with precisely zero problem, so the vast majority of Eger denizens took their cue and ran like the wind. Soon, the town was down to a skeleton crew of 2,000 soldiers and a few thousand civilians. Before long, a Turkish force that outnumbered the remaining denizens of Eger freaking 6 to 1 started lining up outside the town.
Too many soldiers, not enough restaurants, way too few bathrooms. It was chaos.
A massive force with massive artillery, the invaders were facing just a few cannons and trench guns that passed for Eger's siege defense. The Eger folk had precious few people to man the weapons and were also low on ammunition. The Turks saw all of this and, anticipating an easy victory, started shelling the city.
This did nothing. In fact, despite their laughable arsenal, the ridiculously outnumbered defenders responded with an unfairly well-rounded barrage of cannon fire and random crap raining down the city walls.
Mainly stuff that they'd been planning to dump anyway.
Every soldier and civilian participated in combat, up to and very much including the ladies. When there wasn't enough ammo, they hurled rocks, boiled fat, and even hot soup at the enemy. The cannonballs launched at the city by the Turks were happily plucked out, loaded into the defenders' cannons, and fired back. Hot tar was poured, gunpowder barrels flung at the enemy. All in all, the thing was less of a brutal siege and more of a medieval Home Alone.
At some point, the Turks managed to figure out that there was no point in shooting at the city since they would just throw everything right back at them. Settling for an angry "We'll get you yet!" fist shake, their vast army withdrew, leaving Eger to bask in the glory of sweet, unlikely victory. Then some poor bastard presumably had to clean up all that crap they'd flung at the Turks.
Khan Janibeg and the Corpse Catapult
In 1345, Khan Janibeg, the chief of the Golden Horde of Mongols, was doing what he was best at: conquering his enemies and wreckin' European shit. Janibeg had already raked in impressive swaths of Eastern Europe when he came to the next major city on his "things to seriously mess up" checklist -- the heavily fortified Caffa, a Black Sea port city ruled by Venice. Janibeg laid siege to the city, only to watch everything go to hell almost immediately. Not only did Caffa hold out, but a strange illness soon struck Janibeg's army, gleefully mowing down his men like a wrath from above. Meanwhile, the Caffan defenders were basically left scratching their asses and looking on as the Mongols dropped left and right.
And hoping itchy butts weren't among the mystery disease's early symptoms.
All in all, the situation was looking pretty grim for the Golden Horde. They could not conquer their enemy and were rapidly losing a fight against a goddamn microbe. Janibeg had literally no options left, except for the most insane one: On the off chance that whatever was killing his men was contagious to the other side as well, he started flinging the dead bodies of his men into Caffa with catapults.
This proved to be a fairly good strategy, as the corpses were infected with a little something called the goddamn bubonic plague. After inadvertently inventing biological warfare, Janibeg just waited until there were fewer and fewer projectiles and Monty Pythonesque insults flying out of Caffa. Then, when the people inside were too sick to fight him, he just up and stormed the place with his remaining army.
Walking gingerly to avoid the corpses, stumbling into other corpses. Giggling.
Janibeg might have won the battle, but the real winner in this particular war was the plague itself. When Italian mercenaries fled the city back to their homes, they brought the disease with them, letting the Black Death spread all over Europe and kill off over a third of the continent's population.
Thanks a ton, Janibeg!
Evan V. Symon is a moderator in the Cracked Workshop. When he isn't busy trying to train cats for nefarious purposes, he can be found on Facebook. Be sure to bookshelf and vote for his new book, The End of the Line.
Related Reading: Speaking of people who won battles through sheer inventiveness, have you heard about Hannibal's snake catapults? Sometimes nature decides the issue: one battle in World War 1 was decided by a horde of angry bees. Finish out your study on military history with these insane underdog stories.