3 Idiotic Military Blunders That Lost Battles Before They Started
War has changed greatly over the course of history, that much is obvious. From tactics to weapons to what exactly you’re allowed to do to the opposing forces without being considered a war criminal, those interested in seizing others’ lands in pursuit of liberation, loot, or the second masquerading as the former, follow a much different path than armies of old. I’m sure medieval armies would have loved to have a remote-operated, axe-wielding juggernaut drone that could charge the opposing castle’s champions like heavy-metal Pokemon instead of getting a mace to the face, but they never had such luck.
One constant through any generation of warfare, though, is something that doesn’t have to do with armies, their armaments, or whether or not poisoning is ok. It’s a limitation that ancient lords share precisely with modern generals: the human brain’s constant capacity to make an incredibly dumb decision. Pure brute strength can only ever carry you so far, and one ill-timed miscalculation can cost you infinitely more dearly than a number disadvantage or obsolete artillery. War is a game in which many lives are on the line, and unfortunately, it can be thrown just as easily as a round of League of Legends.
Here are 3 incredibly dumb, and massively devastating, military blunders in history.
The Battle Of Agincourt
For the first incredibly deadly oopsie, let’s look at the famous Battle of Agincourt from the Hundred Years’ War. To set the scene, we can imagine the general state of things before the battle was to begin. In this corner, we have a French army of 20,000 men, primed and ready to deliver a drubbing to the enemy. In the other corner, we have the 27-year-old King Henry V of England, with only 5,500 men, most of whom were currently suffering from dysentery. As you can imagine, the French army had pretty much already marked this as a W. With almost four times the men, and with far fewer of them having active, bloody diarrhea, they were almost celebrating in advance.
However, it was what stood between the armies that would make the biggest difference: a massive, recently plowed field, turned by rain into a sea of deep mud capable of drowning a pig. The English, understandably, didn’t want to fight in the mud, but Henry realized they might be able to goad the French into taking the disadvantageous ground with, basically, a large-scale, medieval version of shouting “HEY, I BET YOU GUYS CAN’T KICK OUR ASS!” His army threw up banners and marched only a small distance forward, but this taunt was enough to send the French Army, their minds filled with an Arnold Palmer of equal parts hubris and bloodlust, charging into a literal shitstorm. Their men and horses immediately got stuck in the mud and became a human shooting gallery for the English archers. By the time the battle ended, the French would surrender after losing nearly 6000 men. The casualty count for the English? Roughly 400. If only the French had played Darkest Dungeon.
The Charge Of The Light Brigade
Another human error resulting in massive human loss was the battle known as the Charge of The Light Brigade during the Crimean War in the year 1854. It’s a battle that even inspired a poem of the same name by Alfred Tennyson, dedicated to the heroism of those that would die in the battle. However, this heroism, and these deaths, were entirely and wholly unnecessary, caused by something that even a modern office worker is all too familiar with: miscommunication among management. Though one could also argue that hundreds of men dying because two big wigs couldn’t clearly communicate is itself a poetic treatise on war.
First, the loss that led to the situation that would go so deadly sour: the British and French, fighting the Russians, were forced back from the Causeway Heights, fleeing four fortifications filled with recently installed artillery. The Russian forces were repelled only a short distance later, but Lord Fitzroy Somerset Raglan decided he would really like all those guns they just left back. So he issued an order to try to take back those four fortifications to prevent the Russians from acquiring all that sweet, sweet, weaponry. Except that he didn’t say “Please go retake the four fortifications we just abandoned, to retrieve our guns.” He said instead, “advance rapidly to the front … and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns.”
The guns he was talking about were the guns in the Causeway Heights. The cavalry he issued this order to, unfortunately, was not in sight of the Causeway Heights. What they were in sight of was a fully entrenched, absolute shit ton of Russian artillery, at the end of an open valley. For some reason, instead of maybe questioning the wisdom of an order that was basically “run down a hallway at a mounted gatling gun,” George Bingham and James Brudenell, the Earls of Lucan and Cardigan, respectively, shrugged their shoulders and basically went, “seems weird but ok.” They then charged their men into the valley, at which point they were shot at from THREE SEPARATE DIRECTIONS by Russian gunners. It was basically a horrific, deadly, real-life version of Tower Defense flash game. 670 men participated in the charge. 110 died, 160 were wounded, and 375 horses were killed. They did not win.
The Battle Of Karansebes
Though the two military blunders already covered might vary greatly in both time period and cause, they do share a single element that this final entry does not: an enemy. After all, in every fight, there is a winner and a loser (at least objectively), but it takes real talent to lose a battle in which no one else is actually participating. During the Austro-Turkish war, the Austrians managed to pull off this uniquely embarrassing feat in the “battle” of Karansebes. The tale starts, like many great mistakes, with a good quantity of alcohol.
Outside of Karansebes, a group of soldiers were getting good and soused off a supply of schnapps, now mostly known for making 18-year-olds puke at a house party. Another traveling group passing by asked to split the bottle, and were denied. Out of maybe a mixture of pride and a deep love for borrowed schnapps, this quickly turned into a fistfight. This fistfight between soldiers then resulted in a couple rogue discharged firearms.
Now, back in Karansebes, the rest of the army was on high, un-schnapps-filtered alert, and when they heard gunshots, they sounded the alarm, shouting “Turks! Turks!” believing themselves to be under attack. They shouted it loud enough for the drunken tusslers to overhear, who then, not knowing they were the false Turks in question, panicked themselves, and started charging back to camp to help protect it from… themselves.
At this point, we have two groups of Austrian soldiers. One, in Karansebes, fingers on triggers, looking for Turkish soldiers approaching from the horizon. The second, drunk group of Austrian soldiers were now quickly approaching from the horizon. You might be able to play the rest of this out in your mind. The soldier in the city fired on the group riding home. The group riding home assumed their camp had already been taken by the Turks, and fired back. And thus, that night began a battle between the Austrian army and the Austrian army that would result in thousands of casualties and included precisely zero enemies.
Even better, the real Turks did indeed arrive two days later, to find a greatly reduced, rag-tag army in the process of recovering from a battle against themselves. The city of Karansebes had rendered itself defenseless, and the Turks were then all too happy to capture it with minimal fuss. Teaching one of, perhaps, the most important military lessons of all time: don’t bogart the schnapps.