Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn

Now those of you out there who have been on the winning side of a skirmish, cruising along at a nice pace, only for things to spectacularly slip from underneath you thanks to the decision of one person will know how annoying it is.

But when this happens, you chuck your airsoft guns and kit in the back of your car, pack up and come back next time raring to go and eager to prove a point… Which is more than can be said for this lot…

Below we have taken a look at five rather spectacular military blunders from the history books, where commanders have managed to throw away the advantage of greater numbers, superior weaponry and strong positions, only to lose a battle they should have easily won!

Little Big Horn (pictured at the top)

We’ll start with one that many of you out there are probably familiar with, the story of a certain US Lieutenant Colonel George Custer. He had 647 men of the 7th Cavalry Regiment against an alliance of Sioux, Cheyenne and other tribes camped along the Little Big Horn River.

Custer decided to split his men into three and launch an attack from three different directions, catching the tribesman unawares and stop them from forming up properly. Alas, they knew he was coming and were waiting for him…

Custer’s own detachment of 210 men were first isolated and then overwhelmed. The other two detachments led by Major Reno and Captain Benteen were forced back but were able to join up and form a defensive position where they held out for the next 24 hours until relieved. By dividing his stronger group of men, Custer lost both the battle and his life.

Agincourt

Painting of the Battle of Agincourt

We venture back to 1415 when an English army under the command of Henry V was marching across northern France when it was faced with a larger force of Frenchmen under the command of Charles d’Albret.

The English were short of food and suffering from camping outside in autumn weather (classic English mentality!), meaning they were at the mercy of the French. All d’Albret had to do was block the route to English-held territory and he’d surely be victorious.

But when Henry advanced with flags flying and men chanting, d’Albret took offence and attacked, leading his armoured men across a field of sticky clay mud, which had essentially been turned into a giant slip-n-slide by heavy downpours.

The French soldiers could not keep their footing, making them sitting ducks for the English archers. By the time the French got close enough for hand to hand combat, they were tired and disorganised. Several thousand Frenchmen, including d’Albret, were killed and many more taken prisoner, whereas the English may have lost as few as 100 men, although the exact number is unknown.

By leading his soldiers across unsuitable ground, d’Albret doomed himself and his army, handing victory to the English.

Trasimene

Painting of Flaminius being decapitated

In June 217 BC, Carthaginian commander Hannibal was leading his army through northern Italy during a war against Rome. The Roman commander Gaius Flaminius Nepos was after Hannibal to face him in battle, although he kept eluding the pursuit.

However, luck would have it that Flaminius managed to catch up with Hannibal’s rear guard on the shores of Lake Trasimene on the morning of June 24th. What he didn’t realise was that Hannibal had set this as a trap in order to ambush Flaminius.

Flaminius sent his entire army to join the fighting, now he finally had Hannibal in sight, in order to crush him in battle. However, by failing to send his horsemen to scout the nearby wooded hills, Flaminius did not see Hannibal’s main army hiding in the hills, who swiftly moved in and battered the Roman commander and his troopers.

Flaminius was killed, and of his 30,000 men, half were killed, a third captured and only 5,000 got out alive. By failing to scout his flank, Flaminius doomed himself and a lot of his men.

Stalingrad

Russian soldiers defending the outskirts of Stalingrad

In the summer of 1942, the Germans and their allies attacked the southern part of the Eastern Front in the Soviet Union. The aim was to seize the oil fields of the Caucasus and the rich mining areas around the Don and Volga Rivers. The intention was to capture the city of Stalingrad to secure the left flank of this advance.

The advance was going better than planned, so Hitler diverted the 4th Panzer Army to help the 6th Army take Stalingrad and the surrounding areas. However, without the 4th Panzers, the main advance slowed.

Stubborn Soviet resistance in Stalingrad led Hitler to flood reinforcements into the city, which was a very bad move indeed. A subsequent Russian counteroffensive surrounded the 6th Army and forced them to surrender.

By shifting his focus on a secondary objective and reinforcing failure, Hitler failed to take his primary objective and lost an entire army of 330,000 men.

Retreat from Moscow

Napoleon and his troops leaving Moscow

 

Bit of a different one here, as the mistake was made post-fight. In 1812, the French Emperor Napoleon led an army of 680,000 men taken from France and close allies on an invasion of Russia. For three months, the Russians fought back, but Napoleon eventually took Moscow.

Even though he conquered the city, the Russians refused to make peace. Napoleon was short on supplies, so decided to retreat… The same way he just came, where there was no food or shelter to be found.

Factor into the equation the fact that it was a very bitter winter and the French army were without adequate clothing, you’ve got big issues. Sickness and frostbite whittled down the already depleted numbers caused by Russian raids.

By the time he left Russia, 380,000 of Napoleon’s men were dead, 100,000 were prisoners and more than 50,000 were unfit for service. By advancing too far and then choosing the wrong route to retreat, Napoleon had lost pretty much his entire army.