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The Worst Battlefield Blunders: Five Battles That Ended Badly

By Stephan Wilkinson 
Originally published by Military History magazine. Published Online: September 27, 2007 
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Imagine how much longer and bloodier World War II might have been had Admiral Yamamoto not filled the decks of his vulnerable carriers at Midway with fully fueled airplanes awaiting ordnance. What if Hitler, despite his anger at the bombing of Berlin, hadn't switched tactics from downing Spitfires to uselessly attacking London?

Battlefield blunders can be as decisive as brilliant tactics, whether they suddenly advance tribal factions toward nationhood, punish a proud military unaccustomed to losing or temporarily swing the balance of power in an utterly unexpected direction.

That said, following are five losers who might have wished for a do-over.

Hamilton at Gallipoli

During World War I, German General Erich Ludendorff famously observed, "The English fight like lions." "Yes," a staff officer famously replied, "but they are led by donkeys."

British General Sir Ian Hamilton might not have been a full-fledged ass, but he was certainly a bumbling Ferdinand the bull—shy, courteous and overly accommodating. Unfortunately, Lord Kitchener, Britain's Secretary of State for War, gave him command of the 1915 invasion of Gallipoli—the amphibious landings by British, French and ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) troops intended to take Turkey, a German ally, out of the war. The campaign demanded an assertive, tactically brilliant, take-charge commander. Instead, the Allies got a kindly uncle who really didn't want to interfere with his brigadier nephews.

Not that a promising young Winston Churchill had done any better. As First Lord of the Admiralty in 1915, he proposed that a task force of 18 aging battleships charge through the Dardanelles, the narrow 38-mile-long strait that led toward the Turkish capital at Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). Forts flanked the high-bluffed Gallipoli Peninsula west of the strait, so Churchill's strategy was akin to taking a convoy of vintage Cadillacs on a thunder run through central Baghdad. The British lost five battleships, mainly to mines but also to Turkish coast artillery.

This should have been a hint, not that Gallipoli was impregnable, for the Turks really didn't have a modern army or much in the way of good artillery, but that the commanding terrain made a frontal attack potentially suicidal. Indeed, the Greeks—the Turks' neighbors and longtime adversaries—had formulated a war plan in case the Gallipoli Peninsula ever needed to be attacked, and it called for 150,000 men. Lord Kitchener scoffed at that estimate. Johnny Turk would cut and run at the first sign of the Allies, he insisted, and half as many troops would do just fine.

Thus, early on the morning of April 25, 1915, Hamilton launched his enormously ambitious amphibious landing. An outline of the beachhead assault might read like a description of the D-Day landings were it not for the absence of any specialized landing craft. Armored assault boats did exist back in England, but they remained a well-guarded secret; heaven forfend invaders would use them and thus spill the British beans. Instead, huge warships towed ponderous strings of cockleshells—essentially lifeboats—toward shore, then split the strings and transferred the towing job to slow, shallow-draft launches. Oarsmen stroked the final few yards onto the beaches.

The action most often memorialized in paintings of the landing was the beaching of the old steamer River Clyde to allow soldiers to emerge from its sally ports (doors along the hull at the waterline) and stroll ashore on gangplanks. Unfortunately, it was equally easy for Turkish machine gunners on the heights to pick off troopers one at a time as they popped from the sally ports like mechanical ducks in a shooting gallery. Of the first 200 soldiers to step from the ships, just 21 made it to the beach alive.

General Hamilton chose the battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth, the grandest ship available, as his command vessel. While it made sense to oversee the battle from somewhere offshore, an oceangoing capital ship engaged in long-range bombardment wasn't the ideal platform. Hamilton was too far from the beaches to see what was going on (chaos, for the most part), and his corps commanders were also literally and figuratively adrift during the crucial early hours of the invasion. Communications both ashore between units and from ship to shore ran the gamut from primitive to nonexistent, so junior officers on the beach were largely left to their own devices.

Two thousand Brits had landed at a providentially undefended spot called Y Beach and climbed the cliffs unopposed. Having nothing else to do, no commanders to enact Plan B and no direction from Hamilton, they simply hunkered down and boiled water for cuppas. They heard distant firing but had no idea it signified the slaughter of ANZACs at the beachhead to their north. While the Turkish defenders were relatively few in number, they commanded the high ground with machine guns. A flanking maneuver by 2,000 Tommies could have ended the battle in minutes, but it was not to be.

To this day ANZACs haven't forgiven the English for "sittin' on their arses brewing tea and havin' a smoke" while Aussies and Kiwis who had never before experienced war were dying by the hundreds only hours away.

Due to Hamilton's haphazard planning, the beachheads ANZAC forces were able to secure were cramped and highly vulnerable. In fact, British corps commander General Sir William Birdwood suggested an immediate evacuation, to which Hamilton replied: "There is nothing for it but to dig yourselves right in and stick it out….You have got through the difficult business, now you have only to dig, dig, dig until you are safe." (Australians have since borne the fond nickname "Diggers.") At one point, the clueless Hamilton wired Kitchener, "Thanks to the weather and the wonderfully fine spirit of our troops, all continues to go well."

After eight months of pointless trench warfare, Hamilton's forces evacuated the bloody beaches. Half a million men on both sides had died for nothing in a true standoff— combined British and French losses numbered just 700 men more than Turkish losses. Each year on April 25, the invasion anniversary, Australia and New Zealand celebrate ANZAC Day, marking their painful emergence into true nationhood.

Burnside at Fredericksburg

The Battle of Fredericksburg was a humiliating meat-grinder of a defeat for the Union Army, and the fault lies squarely with General Ambrose Burnside. Burnside admitted as much after the war, while many another general played the blame game. The man would be forgotten today but for the fact that he lent his name to excessive cheek hair. Yes, sideburns were indeed originally called burnsides, and Burnside himself looked like he had a pair of squirrels hammocking between his nose and ears.

President Lincoln gave Burnside command of the Union Army of the Potomac because General George McClellan had turned out to be diffident, slow-moving and cautious. Burnside, also a West Pointer and among McClellan's best friends, was determined not to make the same mistakes.

Unfortunately, he made others.

In December 1862, Robert E. Lee's rebel forces were precariously divided at Fredericksburg, Va., a rail terminus about 50 miles from Richmond, the crucial Confederate capital. Burnside felt that if he moved rapidly and decisively, he could end the war by eliminating the defenses at Fredericksburg and taking Richmond. Burnside commanded some 118,000 troops—the largest army in U.S. history up to that time.

Some of Lee's troops were defending Fredericksburg itself; the rest, under the famed T.J. "Stonewall" Jackson (so named for his stubborn resistance at the 1861 First Battle of Bull Run), were about three and a half miles south at Prospect Hill. A good tactician might have assessed the situation and said, "Take Prospect Hill pronto with your superior numbers, turn north and finish off Fredericksburg with a flanking maneuver, then on to Richmond. Game over."

Instead, Burnside chose to confront the Fredericksburg defenders with his main force and send General George Meade to deal with the rebels at Prospect Hill. Driven back by Jackson, Meade begged for reinforcements, but by that time Burnside was busy head-butting Fredericksburg.

Burnside first tried to traverse the Rappahannock River with pontoon bridges—Lee had burned all the existing spans—but Confederate sharpshooters on the far bank proved too much for the exposed, unarmed Union engineers desperately trying to lay planks across the boats. Burnside ultimately used the pontoons as makeshift assault craft to mount one of the earliest amphibious assaults in U.S. history. It didn't help that a sudden December thaw and heavy rain had turned the far bank of the Rappahannock into boot-sucking, wheel-clogging mud. The river crossing cost an entire day, exactly what Jackson needed to force-march his troops to Fredericksburg and link up with its defenders.

An infuriated Burnside tried to level Fredericksburg with his artillery, but the Confederates fell back to what would prove to be the finest defensive position Lee would ever hold: Just west of town was a broad cow pasture bordered by a substantial stone wall, built to keep the cattle out of the adjacent sunken road. Confederate soldiers who took up position behind this wall didn't even have to crouch—just stand and deliver. Behind them was a ridge, beyond which Lee emplaced his artillery, hidden from direct fire.

Inexplicably, Burnside threw 14 brigades at the stone wall, and rebel infantry scythed wave after wave of blue uniforms. Burnside became obsessed with the deadly Southern redoubt, perhaps assuming the Confederates would at some point run out of ammunition or morale. Neither happened, and by nightfall on December 13, 1862, after nine direct assaults, more than 12,000 Union troops lay dead or wounded, a carpet of blue on a meadow where the temperature soon plummeted to 15 degrees. The thaw had ended.

Navarre at Dien Bien Phu

Hubris—exaggerated pride or self-confidence—often afflicts Western military men when they confront Eastern armies, navies and air forces. So it was in 1905 at Tsushima when Japanese ships stunningly sank nearly every trace of the imperial Russian navy. So it was in 1942 when superior Japanese Mitsubishis flown by pilots whose skill stunned the Americans and British shot down Grumman Wildcats, Brewster Buffalos and Gloster Gladiators almost at will. And so it was again in 1954 when a Viet Minh peasant army dismantled haughty French commander Henri Navarre's 16,000 largely elite troops at Dien Bien Phu.

Navarre's biggest blunder was to underestimate the courage, capability and skill of General Vo Nguyen Giap and Viet Minh forces. How could rice farmers wearing black pajamas and shower clogs possibly defeat skilled French artillerymen and Legionnaires defending a fortified garrison supplied by aircraft—the latter a technological marvel to which the Viet Minh had no access?

Placing a garrison at remote, jungle-bound Dien Bien Phu in the first place was a decision an ROTC freshman might have questioned. The French depended on air support for everything from beurre to bullets—and, above all, reinforcements—but C-47s couldn't carry enough to keep the fortress supplied. Complicating matters, Navarre somehow got the artilleryman's credo backward and took the low ground (Dien Bien Phu was in a valley), which meant Giap's surprisingly skilled antiaircraft gunners could shoot down at landing planes. The weather between Hanoi and Dien Bien Phu was often dicey, and though the base initially had the luxury of two airstrips, the Viet Minh quickly put both out of action, forcing the French to parachute in supplies—about half of them, including stacks of artillery rounds, landed in enemy hands.

When the Viet Minh first attacked Dien Bien Phu in November 1952, it was little more than an outpost, and the tiny French garrison bugged out.

It was a logical move, but one that rankled the French, who had been humiliated in World War II. The all-important honneur de l'armée was at stake, and they were intent on reoccupying and holding Dien Bien Phu at all costs.

"Giap has no logistics," Navarre's advisers had repeatedly assured him. Au contraire, mon général. Giap had tens of thousands of worker ants chugging everything from trucks to bicycles over impossible mountain roads and trails to the hills surrounding Dien Bien Phu. Giap also understood the vulnerabilities of French logistics. His guerrillas snuck on to French air bases and destroyed countless planes on the ground. On Giap's orders, they ignored the French Bearcats and B-26s—powerful combat airplanes—and firebombed only the unglamorous cargo craft.

Navarre had imagined Dien Bien Phu as a powerful, ornery hedgehog, a prickly offensive base from which French infantry and armor could range at will. Instead, the garrison played possum, its starving defenders, outnumbered four to one, hunkered down in mudholes under relentless fire from artillery Giap had somehow manhandled to the site. The Viet Minh general had placed his main batteries in secure positions behind the ridges and concealed those guns on the forward slopes in spider holes the French artillery was unable to hit.

In the end, Henri Navarre lost to a smarter, more focused commander whom he had totally underestimated. Hubris? Navarre conducted his war from an air-conditioned office in Hanoi. Giap commanded from a cave.

Baratieri at Adwa

Only one obscure movie—a 1999 Ethiopian docudrama—recounts the 1896 Battle of Adwa, in which the Italian army went up against the Ethiopians. Yet like the 1964 Michael Caine classic Zulu, Adwa had all the elements Hollywood loves. Fought on an epic scale over stunning terrain, the conflict involved more than 150,000 men—and one woman, Ethiopian King Menelik II's consort, the Empress Taitu, who headed a reserve force that ultimately drove the Italians into their final, pell-mell retreat. Adwa represented the clichéd confrontation between cultured Europeans and benighted Africans, between the forces of enlightened civilization and presumed savages. It also offered the classic David vs. Goliath confrontation, though it could be argued that Goliath was Ethiopian. Props included bronze shields, colorful uniforms and feathered headdresses bright as parrot plumage. Menelik's troops wore the red, gold and green favored today by Jamaican Rastafarians, the Ethiopians' ideological descendants.

Adwa also had a villain: Italian General Oreste Baratieri, who so badly underestimated his Ethiopian opponents that he suffered the worst European defeat ever at the hands of Africans. But, as is often the case, the defeat wasn't entirely Baratieri's fault.

Italy had come late to the let's-carve-up-Africa party. England, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Belgium and even Denmark and Sweden had colonized the continent, leaving Italy with impoverished Somalia and Eritrea. If the Italians could finagle a takeover of Ethiopia, the tribal land that sat between the two, they could at least boast a neat arc of captive nations.

In order to befriend King Menelik, Italy grandly presented him with thousands of their most sophisticated rifles and fieldpieces, plus tons of ammunition and artillery rounds. It apparently never occurred to them they might someday be facing this very same weaponry. The Italians first attempted to annex Ethiopia through a mix of politics and guile, but failed. Meanwhile Menelik, realizing he was being gulled, beefed up his arsenal with the best guns he could buy from U.S. and European suppliers and quietly trained an army of superbly equipped riflemen and cannoneers.

Baratieri did score some initial successes against his opponents. Returning briefly to Rome, he boasted that next time he would bring back Menelik "in a cage."

The remote settlement of Adwa sat amid a lunar landscape—precipitous, rocky, pimpled with bare peaks, confusing and featureless. The Italians had poor maps, scant communication equipment and thin-soled boots ill suited to the terrain. Worse still, Baratieri, trying to save a few lira, gave his troops slow-firing Remington rifles that were less accurate than the Ethiopians' weapons: He wanted to use up the stocks of obsolete cartridges that fit them.

The two armies faced off and waited. Baratieri had 25,000 dispirited troops, most of whom were native Eritreans and either homesick or green, while Menelik fielded more than 100,000 fanatical soldiers, more than half packing high-powered rifles. Both sides were on short rations in this barren land, each trying to outlast the other. Menelik blinked first. He planned to pull out on March 1, 1896.

To Menelik's astonishment, however, a mounted scout tore into camp on the eve of the retreat and announced that Baratieri was marching toward them. Menelik welcomed the confrontation.

Baratieri had been stung by a telegram from Italian Prime Minister Francesco Crispi, demanding that he take action or consider his status downgraded from hero to coward. The general had little taste for the fight—he knew he was outnumbered, though he had no idea how thoroughly he was outgunned—but his brigadiers urged him on.

Baratieri's surprise nighttime assault proved far too complex for the terrain and the mapless Italians. His four brigades stumbled into each other and left miles-wide gaps in the line of advance. Some got thoroughly lost.

The actual battle began at first light on March 1 and was over by early afternoon. The Ethiopians were enraged, pitiless and gave no quarter. More than 10,000 of Baratieri's troops were killed, wounded or missing, while the Ethiopians lost 17,000 dead and wounded. But in a single morning, Ethiopia had risen from medieval obscurity to claim membership among the modern nations.

Custer at the Little Bighorn

Perhaps no battle in history has been as studied, dissected, analyzed, theorized over and wildly guessed about as the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana, where Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and 200-plus U.S. officers and cavalrymen were slaughtered to the last man (save one Crow scout who ducked out early). Nobody but the attacking Sioux and their allies actually knew what happened, and the Indians weren't rushing to admit how brutally they had treated the supposedly crack 7th Cavalry.

Only since the mid-1980s have archaeologists methodically cataloged artifacts in a way that allows a picture of the short but intense battle to emerge. Until that time, what registered on the national consciousness were lurid panoramas commissioned by beer companies for display in saloons, showing the golden-haired, long-locked Custer fighting for the glory of his regiment in the midst of a neat defensive perimeter. That Custer was crew-cut at the time of the battle is the least of the mistakes depicted, for the location of bodies, bullets and cartridges suggests it was more a confused, leaderless rout than a battle.

The spin continues. Custer graduated dead last in his West Point class, by some accounts an arrogant goof-off who learned little more than how to infuriate his superiors. Yet one 7th Cavalry Web site today proudly notes that Custer "graduated 34th in one of the brightest classes that had graduated to date," neglecting to mention there were only 34 men in the class.

What is known is that with five companies of about 210 men, including packhorse drivers and mercenary Indian scouts, Custer mounted a frontal attack on some 2,000 infuriated Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne warriors. Their reaction has been likened to what might happen if you jab a stick into an anthill and stir hard. It was the biggest battlefield blunder Custer ever made—and, of course, the last.

Why Custer thought he could go hey-diddle-diddle-right-up-the-middle into a swarm of angry Indians remains inexplicable. The Plains Indians were among the finest cavalrymen the world had ever seen, and when the repeating rifle came into their hands, they weaponized that Spanish import the horse. In less than 200 years, they had assimilated two warrior technologies with unprecedented success.

For Custer's men—many of them immigrants, others inexperienced conscripts—pitting their ponderous warhorses against the Sioux was about like a bunch of pickup-driving carpenters challenging a thousand Italian and Brazilian Formula 1 aspirants to a drag race. Some 7th Cavalry horses bolted, balked, even took their luckless riders straight into the Indian encampment.

The war against the Plains Indians, which stretched from the 1820s until the final clash at Wounded Knee in 1890, was not a simple territorial dispute. The Indians had little concept of land ownership. To them, it seemed as silly as owning the air: There was plenty of it, available for anyone's use.

Plains tribes were nomadic. Most of their needs were met by vast herds of American bison—a mobile, self-perpetuating crop that provided food, clothing and the raw materials for their tools and tepees. When settlers flooded west, the railroads followed, as did buffalo hunters to supply the work crews. Soon the bison were all but gone, and the Indians fought furiously to preserve their way of life.

So furiously the 7th Cavalry never stood a chance. Notes from the battlefield suggest even Custer was stunned when he first saw the encampment of some 7,000 Indians (including women, children and nonwarrior males), yet he attacked at once with tired troops and horses that had just completed a grueling 30-mile march. He maneuvered to block the Indians' escape—picture an angry drunk locking a barroom door to "trap" two dozen Hells Angels wielding broken pool cues. The cavalry held the high ground, and Custer wouldn't have expected the Indians to attack uphill. But they did.

Prior to the battle, Brig. Gen. Alfred Terry had advised Custer to await the arrival of two columns (one under Terry himself) before engaging the enemy. These reinforcements were approaching at the time of the attack. So why did Custer disregard Terry's warning? Some historians suggest Custer had lost the element of surprise and was compelled to attack. Author Mari Sandoz suggested it was because he wanted to be president; the Democratic National Convention was to begin in St. Louis in two days, and news of a victory would certainly boost one's presidential ambitions. Dozens of other theories abound.

The truth died with Custer and his troopers in the grass along the Little Bighorn.

For further reading, Stephan Wilkinson recommends: How to Lose a Battle: Foolish Plans and Great Military Blunders, edited by Bill Fawcett.


This article was written by Stephan Wilkinson and originally published in the September 2007 issue of Military History Magazine. For more great articles, subscribe to Military History magazine today!


81 Responses to “The Worst Battlefield Blunders: Five Battles That Ended Badly”


  1. 1
    Jeff says:

    The Little Bighorn section of this article is simply riddled with idiotic statements & completely shows the author has no idea whatsoever about what he is actually writing about. Perhaps, he should at least study the campaign & battle itself prior to simply writing what he has heard about the battle. His total ignorance to what took place in Montana simply discredits his abilities as a "writer" as well as historynet.com for posting this ridiculously uninformed article! It seems his only study of the battle came from watching Little Big Man! PLEASE!

    • 1.1
      Rachelle says:

      I agree with Jeff completely.

      I have been to the Custer battlefield and have read a good deal about the fight itself. To say that Custer had 'no chance' is ridiculous. Large parts of his command under Benteen and Reno survived.

      Ridiculing Custer for his performance at West Point is rather silly. During the Civil War he was a superb commander who earned his position as the youngest general on the Union side. His hard-hitting tactics turned the tide many times. It is hardly surprising that he would use them again during the Indian Wars.

      Jeff's scorn for this author is more than appropriate. Was the article borrowed from some p.c. high school essay?

  2. 2
    JRS says:

    Custer was an idiot and a p***y. It doesn't warrant any closer study than that.

    • 2.1
      Jared says:

      He may have been the stupidest man to pick up a gun and call himself a general, but he was no p***y, it takes some balls to attack 2000 well rested and well trained indians that want nothing to do but rip your heart out of your ass. Stupid but not a p***y.

    • 2.2
      DMorgan says:

      Custer had his faults, certainly, but, he was a school teacher prior to West Point, and, no dummy. He liked to party, and, managed to work just hard enough at the Point to avoid dismissal. As for personal courage ( or foolhardiness ), he led from the front. His Wolverines attacked a much larger force led by JEB Stuart at Gettysburg and blunted their action.

  3. 3
    Stanley Peek says:

    Lets not forget Naumo not launching the third strike wave at Pearl Harbor. He would have destroyed the fuel farm, starving the Pacific fleet for fuel, and possibly gotten the returning carriers. There would have thus been no Battles of the Coral Sea, or Midway. But the greatest blunder of all would be politicians overruling GENERALS TACTICAL DECISIONS FOR POLITICAL GAIN. For example, the President of France ordering Verdun to be held at all costs, over the GENERALS DESIRE TO PULL BACK AND SHORTEN THEIR LINES. Result 500,000 unneccesary French dead.

    • 3.1
      Tony M. Kennedy says:

      The German high command decided to attack Verdun as a way to bleed the French white. The Germans never intended to take it, on many occassions German rifle platoons and companies called back when they could have been used as reinforcements to exploit a gap made in the French lines at Verdun. In the end Verdun bled the Germans white, although you could argue that the German's poliotcal-military leadership decision to bled the French white at Verdun was just as bad.

    • 3.2
      Felix says:

      Nagumo could not have destroyed or even made much of a dent in the fuel farms. There were more tanks than attacking planes, and they required bombs to do damage, not machine gun bullets or even 20mm cannon. Further, they were relatively easy to repair or rebuild, had cofferdams to constrain the flood, and tankers from the west coast could have easily filled in after a week or two transit, during which time the unharmed tanks would have been more than sufficient to supply the fleet and air force.

      The Americans would have been even better prepared for a third wave, and losses would have been higher.

      He did not know where the US carriers were, and in fact could not have attacked them with a third wave because they wouldn't have arrived in time. Even if he wanted to take that chance, he had to arm the planes for fuel tanks or ships, not either, and arming them for a remote possibility would have lost planes for no purpose.

      His final wave would have gotten back to the carriers too close to darkness for safe recovery; remember, this was winter.

      You didn't mention it, but another claim is he should have attacked the repair facilities. This was a hopeless task with less than a hundred bombing planes. Most of the repair facilities were just machine shops, where a direct hit might take out one lathe, topple things nearby, put holes in roofs, and do not much else.

      The attack itself was poorly planned and poorly executed. The commander got his flare signals confused and his planes all rushed in at once, racing each other, instead of in the proper order for a surprise attack. The pilots did not have individual targets and piled up on a few big ones instead of spreading out and damaging far more. The attack routes were some of the worst possible and the vulnerable torpedo bombers had to abort their first passes due to interference from the dive bombers and fighters and come around for a second pass. To compound that by ditching returning planes from a third wave which had accomplished little would have been even worse.

      • 3.2.1
        Mustapha says:

        I would disagree with several points here.

        Destroying the tanks would have been secondary to causing them to leak the vast amount of oil that had been painstakingly brought from the US mainland to the Hawaiian islands over several years. Once the tanks were damaged enough to leak, whatever oil escaped confinement would have been irrecoverable. This target, by itself, warranted a third strike and, had it been successful, would have extended the war by years.

        I would agree that a third wave would have been met with a more vigorous US response. In fact, the second wave had encountered more resistance and lost more than the Japanese expected, based on damage reports. But the fact was that the US air assets were essentially wiped out and AA fire, though voluminous, was notoriously inaccurate. If memory serves, after the second wave returned, Nagumo's carries still held some 300 combat-capable aircraft. Losing a third of them in exchange for a Pearl Harbor devoid of oil, repair facilities and maybe with a large ship sunk in the main channel would have been a more than fair trade.

        As for the attacking being "poorly planned" and "poorly executed", I think you would be practically alone in that assessment. Mistakes were made, but they were made almost exclusively by the American commanders, both on the scene in Hawaii and in Washington. Yammamoto based the attack at least in part on the British success at Taranto against the Italian navy, while American commanders ignored the raid.. American commanders thought that Pearl Harbor was too shallow for torpedo attacks ,ignoring the possibility that not everyone agreed (and the US did have nets available but chose not to use them. Gen. Short, the US army commander, knew that diplomatic relations with Japan were on the verge of "rupturing" and also knew that Japan tended to start wars with a surprise attack, yet he took steps to guard only against sabotage, not attack. There were not enough search aircraft to adequately patrol the 270 degree arc around Oahu which presented the most likely directions of attack. Pilots did, in fact, have individual targets, having been shown a sand table diorama of Pearl Harbor with mooring locations of various types of ships clearly marked. They were told to attack carriers first, then battleships, then smaller craft and to make exceptions for ships attempting to sortie. I grant the mistake on the flare signals but that might be the only mistake the Japanese made until the decision not to launch a third wave.

  4. 4
    joe says:

    To JRS: perhaps you should research George Custer and his service during the Civil War. Specifically at Gettysburg and his actions against JEB Stuart's attack that most likely won the battle for the Union. You can start your research with Lost Triumph written by Tom Carhart."idiot and a P***y" thats strong words from someone who prob. couldent even water Custers horse.

  5. 5
    James D Graham says:

    The comment that the British soldiers in WWI were "lions led by donkeys" was never said by any German general or one of any other nation. In recent years Cornelli Barnett (one of the masterminds behind the BBC's wonderful history of WWI) has admitted that he made up the quote, which reflected his own views.

    • 5.1
      Peter says:

      Still true though no matter who said it.

      • 5.1.1
        Anon says:

        Actually, it is not. Any look into the war, more than a passing glance, will show that the whole notion of "lions led by donkeys" is completely incorrect.

        "Butcher" Haig as an extremely terrible reputation, but more than a casual look into the man (read a decent history or his diaries) shows a man who cared about his men (he established the forerunner to the poppy appeal) who looked into any method that would lower losses and turn.

        The war was one fought were defensive technology outstripped offensive technology, with nothing to outflank the direct assault was all that was left. New ways of dealing with this problem had to be discovered, hence the development of the walking barrage, infiltration tactics, mines, etc

        So no, it is not true and Barnett was a lair and is a poorly rated historian.

  6. 6
    Barney Cooney says:

    Naming Custer's defeat as a worst battlefield blunder is lame. He only lost 262 men! It wasn't even the worst defeat to native forces in that decade. Chelmsford didn't do as well in the Zulu war losing 1,200 in a single action two and a half years later.
    Custer's defeat is also paled by St. Claire's losing one half of the U.S.Army 800 men in Nov 1792 to Miami Indians.

    • 6.1
      Allan says:

      I think that Custer losing his ENTIRE command qualifies Bighorn as being a worst battlefield blunder.

      • 6.1.1
        Debauchee69 says:

        Not EVEN Close!!! COL Custer lost an under-strengh Battalion (about 2 modern squadrons of CAV) that killed the campaign. The author would have been better served had he cited Pres. Regan's decision to place 400 marines in harms way in Lebbonon. FYI, that was not a 'terrorist bombing'; that was a brilliant Kimakazi attack that caused America to pull out and abandon the coalition.

        St. Claire's defeat, on the other hand, took out half the American Army and denuded all frontier homes from Kentucky backwards. Little Turtle ROASTED the captives for DAYS until the last screams ended. President Washington was beside himself with 'his greatest loss since the Battle of Camden 1780 and held the first Cabinet meeting as a result.

      • 6.1.2
        Rachelle says:

        Allan….Custer did NOT lose his entire command. He split his command to attack the Indian camp from different directions. Units of Custer's command under Benteen and Reno survived.

        After his initial charge, Custer sent a courier to Benteen with a message that said something like, 'Come Quick, Many Indians', in an attempt to re-unite his unit to adjust to the new tactical situation. Benteen, who infamously did not get along with his commander, took his time and, in fact, never reached Custer before he was over-run.

      • 6.1.3
        Dean1251234 says:

        There are many mistakes all over this segment. Custer did split his army into several parts. The most notible parts were led by Reno, Benteen and Custer. Reno's group was smashed in the initial assault, and Benteen reinforced Reno's group which would have been totally wiped out. They did not no that nearby Custer was outnumbered more than 5 to 1 and had little to no fortification, only dead horses. Custer and his men fought bravely and were all killed. When he had arrived, he had no idea about the size of the village and the amount of soldiers inside.

  7. 7
    hew byrd says:

    the battle of the little big horn was basicly a draw. Custer blundered badly, but Benteen fought well and managed to save the day.
    I do agree with James Graham and suggest that if you want to read about exciting Indian warfare checkout the woodland Indians.

  8. 8
    Derek says:

    It's a pity that The battle for Malaya (8th December 1941 – 10th
    February 1042) was not included in this research of worst
    battlefield blunders.

    One would see how the British Lt.General Percival was defeated
    by Lt. Gen Yamashita (The Tiger of Malaya) with a combat force
    one third that of Percival's.

    Yamashita out thought and out maneuvred the GOC of the
    Commonwealth forces in February 1942 into surrender despite
    Percival having more ammo and provisions than Yamashita's
    forces.

    • 8.1
      Debauchee69 says:

      Agreed!!! The British had more troops and more aircraft and had the benefit of being on the defense—and still lost to the Japanese. GEN PERCIVIL ranks at the bottom of all WWII commanders. The loss of Fortress Singapore 1942 was the death of Empire as Churchill rightly predicted—Why be loyal like Austria and South Africa when the Empire can't help you.

      • 8.1.1
        Vincent says:

        All true except the "more aircraft" part. The RAF had only a handful of Hurricanes at the time of the defeat. They had just lost the Prince of Wales and Repulse due to lack of air cover.

        Their defensive advantages were squandered by Percival by spreading his troops thin. And then to surrender despite Churchill's insistence … there wasn't much chance for re-enforcement and supply for the Japanese, so the British certainly could/should have fought an effective battle of attrition – what an enormous embarrassment.

  9. 9
    Joe Hamilton says:

    There was no Civil War general who is more misrepresented than Ambrose Burnside. The attack at Marye's Heights was planned as a diversion. The real attack was to be several miles away at the portion of the defense line held by Stonewall Jackson. General Meade then a division commander, pierced Jackson's line as planned. The plan then called for Edwin Sumner's Corp to expand the breach and force the confederates to retreat, inflict as many casaulties,etc . However, Sumner a McClellan groupie, said his orders weren't "Clear". So instead of expanding the breach, he did nothing. Meade could not hold the area where the line was breached with a single division. He was forced to retreat. It is true , Burnside did not possess the required "coolness" when things went wrong. He foolishly , after his good plan which would have won the battle was sabotaged, tried to win by repeatedly attacking Marye's Heights. So McClellan's sycophants helped the rebels win another battle as occurred at Second Manasses. Another factor overlooked by those who love to kick a man when he's down was the fact that Burnside, had stolen a march on Lee and easily would have taken Fredericksburg, but for the minor detai of having to wait ELEVEN DAYS for pontoons to cross the Rappahanock. Of Course, by then, Lee's army was totally concentrated on the other side of the river.

    • 9.1
      Debauchee69 says:

      I will cut SIDEBURNS some slack on Fredricksberg—but not the Cretor or the MUD MARCH.

      The biggest culpret to the Union Cause was PRESIDENT LINCOLN, a hippy pacifist (voted against the Mexican War) who was put institutionalized in 1833. He had a great commander in GEN Scott and should have kept him in for the duration. Little Mac was like Von Stubin, a great organizer/ a horrid CDR. GEN Pope was too flghty and was only fit for command of Ft Lewis. Bernie knew how to plan but not implement "The night Lincoln was shot, he saw Burnsides in the audience and smirked "I see old 'Mutton-Chops' is taking in the theatre with me tonight.

      • 9.1.1
        John says:

        Lincoln probably didn't support the Mexican war because he knew the underlying provocation was entirely invented by Polk as a land grab. Much like those who voted against the Iraq War because they saw no real strategic or geopolitical gain was to be acheived by it let alone justified by shaky intel. Lincoln was not a hippy pacifist. He was a pragmatist. A hippy pacifist would have let the southern states break off and done nothing. A hippy pacifist would not have put a man like Grant in charge of his armies, he would have remained happy with a useless dawdler like Mac, or a blunderer like Burnside, or a tactical noob like Hooker. Lincoln understood the primary purpose of his administration was to reunite the nation. he had to destory half of it first, but after the war sought to make a peaceful, magnanimous transition. Thanks to Booth, we got stuck with Johnson, which ironically meant even greater hardship for the south, and was followed by their subsequent reaction. Thanks John Wilkes…should've kept your day job.

  10. 10
    Histogramics says:

    I agree somewhat…. Custer may have had better performances before little big horn…but before you attack an opposing force of 2000 with 250 you run like hell the other way. his scouts had to inform him of the size of the American Indian camp… stupid move… cost him his life… every last man killed including him shows you how dumb the decision was…runaway!

  11. 11
    John says:

    Speaking as a Native-American I am only sorry that there was not more "Indian Unity" and cooperation, like at the little big horn, because Custer was NOT the only foolish arrogant white butcher in the U S Army/Cavalry at that time. We were probably more responsible for losing the west as they were for winning it. I firmly believe that almost any of Custer contemporaries on the field at that time would have been seduced into making the same fatal he did. Custer by no means held a monopoly on race based arrogance. And after all, how far could the U S Army gotten without their "Indian Scouts" help? And we saw how they were rewarded for their service to the U S. Talk about just deserts, and a bunch of idiots . . . .

    • 11.1
      Rachelle says:

      John, I am not so sure that portraying the Indian scouts with Custer as idiots is entirely fair to them.

      They were Crow, traditional enemies of the Sioux, and they had their own reasons for helping Custer attack Sioux Indians who had come into their territory. In fact, even today, much the the land surrounding the battlefield still belongs to the Crow tribe.

      As for Custer's charge being rooted in race-based arrogance, how do you explain his using the same tactics against Rebel's in the Civil War? Race-based arrogance?

  12. 12
    Russ L. Lightfoot says:

    Let everyone in this site know, a critic is a critic! A military blunder for one side is a victory for the other. After serving in the US Army for 19 years and 3 combat tours in Iraq, it is easy to say who is a moronic leader and who is not. especially when some have not experienced war firsthand. Military history is there for us today to learn from past mistakes and not make them again. But, born leaders are not taught in war college or bred from 4 year colleges. Sadaam Hussein could be considered "the worst military leader", but at the time he had the second largest army in the world and top of the line equipment from Russia. No one really knew what the outcome of Desert Storm would be: But it pitted technology against numbers, and technology won! Now, in fighting insurgents that blend in with the civilians, us as soldiers has no idea who the enemy is. We are not fighting uniforms. The problem with war nowadays, is not the leader, soldier or units that fight wars, it is our politicians and public opinion. "We have to be nice and civilized, we cannot tortue, even though it may save a soldier, who could be our husband, wife, daughter or son. To win a war, it takes whatever means necessary to win! Period! Vietnam was lost due to politicians and public opinion, we took ground and gave it back to the Viet Cong, today we are doing the same thing! We take a village, a town, a city and then give it right back to the insurgents. Us as soldiers goes back to our FOB, Foward Operating Base and start the process all over again. I feel the biggest blunder of all wars to end all wars, is our moronic politicians who make the decisions in the first place! As a professional soldier, who is my commander in chief? A civilian, (president of the united states) Who has no clue what it is like to get shot at, get blown up, or hold his best friend in his arms while they are dying! Blunders happen due to stupid decisions, arrogance and underestimating an enemy. No one can take away the bravery of the soldiers of all of history, it takes pure guts and being half way scared out of your mind to fight against someone who is trying to kill you. When a critic of military history can say which is a blunder or not, first experience war first hand and then, only then, can you comment on which is a blunder or not. Until, you have experienced death, smelled it, tasted it, have nightmares about it, then you can be an expert of military history. Politicans get us in wars throughout time, but once in, they dont have the heart of stomach to continue to victory, we have to back out and be nice and rebuild the country that started the war in the first place. Why? What about president Bush pulling out of Desert Storm after 100 hours? Their was nothing left of Sadaam's Army, they were retreating and surrendering by the thousands, I was there! Due to politicians ignorance and it is running rampant today, over 4,000 soldiers have given the utmost sacrifice today in Iraq. If the politicans had the balls to finish the task the first place, those 4,000 would not of died for nothing! My point in this whole thing, Politicians is the biggest blunder of all military history/wars. Look at every war, within the US History, who started all our wars????? Politicians! I for one, want to run for politics, but I would be the one, that would take another politician outside and Beat the living hell out of them! Start kicking their ass once in awhile, and they might for a change start making the right decisions for our country for a change, and that is not just pertaining to military decisions. I live in Mississippi and have trained soldiers, sailors, airmen. ,marines combat operations for Iraq/Afghanistan for three years, I have also for 5 years been with a special operations unit doing worldwide missions. Start making our politicians accountable for their stupidity and future blunders of our millitary won't happen as much. I am sorry for ranting, I would love to put a politican beside me with a m-4 in their hand and try to fight along side of me to take a room, building or whatever, they would cower in their hole.

    • 12.1
      Allan says:

      Russ, ever hear of paragraphs?

    • 12.2
      gary d. snyder says:

      i am an airforce vet.no combat time.my son,however has 10 yrs USMC with 2 combat tours in iraq and facing a third in the other shithole they send our people to.I agree sir. let our warriors do their job or get them the hell out!

    • 12.3
      Debauchee69 says:

      Mr. Lightfoot:

      We cracked Saadam's cordon defenses in T+96hrs after GEN Swartzkofpt did the bootleg left end run abound the desert. Like the Germans before Moscow or Eisenhower before Berlin—we could have gone in there with a bus load of Dallas Cheerleaders BUT FOR TURKEY which pitched a bitch and threatening to disrupt the Coalition because they were more afraid of the Kurds taking over Iraq that Saadam was—and he gassed them!!!

      And as for your comments that unless you walked the walk of an 11B, you ain't a warrior—that is so Neianderthal!!! Look it up, 1/3 of all air missions over Iraq/Lybia/Pakistan/Yemen/Iran/Saudi Arabia/etc., etc. are Preditor/Raptor or recon missions. Those are flown by 30 somethings sitting in an air conditioned 18 wheeler in the midwest/bible belt who grab their coffee at 0700hrs, play their kid's video games FOR REAL and then go home and play hump the wife at 1800hrs (or whatever shift they're on). Goin' at it Mano-Y-Mano with a soldier is now a relic of the past. Did you know Pres George W. Bush is a stone cold Killah? He asked if he could push a button on a terrorist driving in a convoy in Yemen and he lauched the missle that offed the little sh*t!!! That is the new Paradyme of soldiering. Killing someone remotely and then going out and ordering Pizza for your daughter's soccer team fifteen minutes later.

      I'm actually writing a paper on the subject THE CHILD WARRIOR (1606-2014) AMERICA'S PROUD PAST; AMERICA'S NEW FUTURE. There have been studies where 30 something pilots went up against 8 year old playing video games and the 8 year olds CREAMED the pilots at 1/10000th the training and cost. Can America afford to the country at risk because it clings to its outdated chivary of prohibiting the employment of Children Warriors? Inquiring minds want to know!!!

      GENERALS DON'T START WARS; POLITICIANS DO—that's the way is has been since 10,000BC and the way it will be 10,000AD; Deal with it!!! As a soldier, you are nothing but Toilet Paper—the instrument by which the Politicians and ruling classes impose their will!!! Always been that way; Always will be that way. Oh Well!!!

      • 12.3.1
        Dennis says:

        @ Debauchee69 :
        You obviously have never served a day in uniform and are speaking from a very biased 'education'.
        First, whatever you are reading and your belief that infantry fights are thing of the past has been repeated and dispelled a thousand times over in history. Todays fights are as much an example of that as any other. If you think drones shooting missiles are accomplishing anything but headlines, you need to get out of your parents basement. Those drones are usually called in by reconaissance units or infantry. Drones cant do a house to house search, drones dont take and hold ground, drones cant go in a cave.
        As to 8 year olds beating real pilots, thats the same as boasting that some paintball squad beat a real army / Marine unit. Its real easy to win when your tactics and 'game' doesnt involve real death. Its real easy to ask a guy to make a 'suicide' mission if at the end of the 'game' he can get back up. Marine/Army REAL tactics are based on REAL war, so yeah, an 8 year old who is fine with sacrificing 'fake' men and aircraft will likely beat a unit / person thats using REAL tactics that WORK in REAL war.

  13. 13
    S. Craig says:

    To quote Mr Russ L. Lightfoot – ",,,,,I would love to put a politican beside me with a m-4 in their hand and try to fight along side of me to take a room, building or whatever, they would cower in their hole…" I think any one of the following guys would love to join you – they all served their Country with distinction:

    Abraham Lincoln
    Andrew Jackson
    Barack Obama
    Bill Clinton
    Dwight D Eisenhower
    Franklin D Roosevelt
    George H W Bush
    George W Bush
    George Washington
    Gerald Ford
    Grover Cleveland
    Harry Truman
    James Monroe
    Jimmy Carter
    John Adams
    John F Kennedy
    John Quincy Adams
    Martin Van Buren
    Richard Nixon
    Ronald Reagan
    Theodore Roosevelt
    Thomas Jefferson
    William H Taft
    Woodrow Wilson

    • 13.1
      gary d. snyder says:

      sir i work in a V.A. hospital with great pride and deep sadness.the patients are getting younger and there are far far more than there should be.

    • 13.2
      David Willis says:

      S Craig: You listed a few that never served in the military. A small list of those that should be deleted would be; Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Franklin Roosevelt, John Adams,Thomas Jefferson & Woodrow Wilson. I may have missed a few others on the list & I'm sure that will be corrected by someone here.
      As for George W Bush being on this list of military members who "served their country with distinction". Give me a damn break!! I am a Vietnam veteran & I can tell everyone here who doesn't recall what things were like then, that men who joined the Air National Guard during that time did so MOSTLY to escape service in Nam! In the case of our former "fearless leader" Bush, he spent most of his time in the guard at the officers club drunk!

    • 13.3
      Debauchee69 says:

      You D-A-R-E include John Adams, the scumbag lawyer who got all the British Soldiers (Boston Massacre Fame) off with a wrist-slap?

      I wouldn't start giving Obama any high fives yet—although his going in on Bin Ladin with scant information was a ballsy move that I approve of. His handling of the Arab Spring is about as bad as Truman (our only known KKK Klansman president) dealing with the Russians at the close of WW2

      • 13.3.1
        Anon says:

        A crowd, numbering in the hundreds, which had surrounded a lone solider (later reinforced by a handful more) who were being threatened, taunted, and having objects thrown at them. There was blame on both sides that day, and the propaganda that surrounds the events threw out of proportion what had happened and laid the blame squarely on one party. Adams did his job well.

        As for the other commenters regarding civilian politicians and professional soldiers: like it or not, the two should remain separate. Professional militaries are the tool of the civilian government otherwise there would be a dictatorship on our hands.

    • 13.4
      Whale says:

      Jefferson, Clinton, Obama, FDR, Woodrow Wilson, William H Taft, Grover Cleveland, Martin Van Buren, John Quincy Adams, and John Adams were NEVER in the military, let alone as you put it, "served their Country with distinction"

      Bush 2 never left the states and Lincoln admitted that during his time in the Illinois militia during the Blackhawk War, the most danger that he was ever in was from the mosquitoes. Neither of which can be described as serving with distinction.

      James Madison is the only President to have ever taken active part in a battle when he and his cabinet took over an abandoned artillery piece for a very short period during the Battle of Bladensburg before deciding that discretion is the better part of valor and leaving the field.

      whale

    • 13.5
      Peter says:

      George W Bush served with distinction did he? Prove it. The fact is all you Americans are baffled with bullshit and you wouldn't know the truth if it bit you on the ass. Saddam Hussain was sitting on one of the worlds biggest oil deposits and Bush and his mates wanted it.
      If you think it had anything to do with being an evil dictator then you are a fool. If it was true then why are your guns not in Zimbabwe fighting a truly evil man in Robert Magabe.
      I will tell you why as you are truly ignorant, there is no oil in Zimbabwe.

      • 13.5.1
        Dennis says:

        Actually you are wrong on all accounts there petey…
        First, regarding oil. How much of that oil is now owned or was even attempted to be owned by the US or any of its coorporations. The fact is from day one, the US under President Bush sought to ensure Iraqs wealth went to its people. I know because I was there in March 2003 and after. Where were you? Why dont you prove your accusations as there currently is no situation that supports your claim?
        Point two, the war was exactly about the dictator, that would be why the US attempted MULTIPLE times to conduct decapitation strikes on him from the beginning. And the FACT is from day one our target was him and up to the day of invasion, had he left the country, the US would not have invaded. Thats backed up by EVERY rational analysis of the facts at the time and the multiple delays in the invasion date to allow the Brits and UN to try to negotiate him out of power.
        And again since You are the one with the claims against recorded history, its on you to prove your point.
        And given you clearly have zero understanding of the difference between a war in Zimbabwe with no justification and one in Iraq backed up by multiple violated UN resolutions, its not worth explaining to you. But while you are on wars we fight for oil, please enlighten me on the number of barrels per year produced by Afghanistan, Haiti, Dji Bouti, Somalia, Bosnia,Liberia, Phillipines, and all the other nations we have or are involved in since 2001.

  14. 14
    Johnie says:

    Barack Obama and Bill Clinton never served in the military. Perhaps others on your list as well. Unless you are saying as a Politician they served their country well, which I feel is very misleading.

    • 14.1
      TL Rouhier says:

      Obama was pushed to do in Bin Ladin. Hillery was the one with the brass pair.

  15. 15
    HDNKR says:

    S.Craig youre a moron! Most of those on your list never served in the Boyscouts let alone the U.S. Military!! Drop the crack pipe and get out of the den.

  16. 16
    penoy says:

    Anyhow, the military is answerable to the civilian population on which it has a duty to protect, but i do get the point that politicians should let military leaders decide on military matters. We have to remember: the society, through the politicians, should determine the goals of the war, as the generals should for strategy and tactics. I still think the best teaching regarding military matters are the maxims of Sun Zi's 'The Art of War'. Its relevant before and is still relevant today.

  17. 17
    Bad Hand says:

    Jeff, Please elaborate on your comments about article on LBH. He seems fairly close to being accurate. Thx

  18. 18
    sanchez says:

    any how the north won no matter the loss. the only reason they lost was they were dug in like worms in a rock.

  19. 19
    Debauchee69 says:

    People, we are getting off track commenting about the US Presidents; this is about the FIVE GREATEST MILITARY MODERN SCREW-UPS with Consequences. (1800-2011)

    ADOWA 1896 Italy v. Ethiopia. Agreed!!! GEN Baratieri won the battle without fighting it (starving Menelik II into submission) but then lost the battle without first engaging the Ethopians by executing a stupid night assault without proper intel of the ground or opposing forces.

    TSUSHIMA (1905). Japan v. Russia The destruction of the Russian Fleet was needless, given the predicament of the Russian Fleet in Port Arthur. Had Kirpatkin been allowed to implement his sound defence/offense strategy, the war might not have turned out the way it did.

    ANUAL (1921) Spanish v. Arabs GEN Silvestre allowed KRIM to hit him on the flanks just like Hannibal did Flaminius at the Battle of Lake Transimene—20K soldiers killed!!!

    (TIE) SINGAPORE (1942) British Empire v. Japan.
    (TIE) FRANCE (1940) Allies v. Germany

    There was no excuse for the Fall of Singapore except for it being under the command of GEN Percival, the WORST GEN OF WWII. The British had 2-1 troops and 2-1 aircraft and were on the defensive AND LOST. The RAF's inability to fly air cover for HMS Prince of Wales/HMS Repulse was inexcusable.

    There was less excuse for failour for France. Hitler foolishly attacked with 1-2 odds armour (2/3d of it toys else junk Chez stuff) and 1-2 personnel and won?!!! Had Hitler stuck with the original 1939 Plan Yellow (the dash to the channel ports from Belgium, the French would have crush the German Armies before they got to Antwerp. At the last minute, the Germans approved the Schwerepunct to Sedan and caught the Allies flat footed. What killed it for the Allies was planning for the Dyle Plan AND the Breta Varient—which weakened the already weak 2& 9 Corps in the area. FYI, in the 1938 war games, GEN Corap simulated the German attack from the Ardenes to the Sedan bridges AND PIERCED the French Defenses—the move was dis-allowed by Gamelin because 'the Bosch wouldn't act like that'!!!

    DETROIT (1812) British/Canadians/Indian Confederacy v. United States of America. GEN Sir Isaac Brock is in a bad way. He is almost out of supplies, he has less than 200 Red Coat Regulars, 500 militia and 600 Indian allies and is caught in a pincher between two American Armies of approximately 6,000 troops, evenly divided. So what do you do? Offer terms to the Americans at Detroit and after a small demonstration, they surrender. Then what do you do, CDR? Surround BG William Hull's 2,500 soldiers with your 400 best troops and tell the Indians to encircle the Americans, banging pots and pans and their war drums. Then ask to Parley with BG Hull.

    "BG Hull, may I call you WIlliam? Look Bill, I've got you surrounded and I will guarentee your safety. However, remember the savages who roasted your men ALIVE at St. Clairs defeat in 1791. Well, one of Little Turtle's commanders there was Tecumseh and our Majesty has apparently made him a BG in our Army. Bill, you can surrender now and we'll all sing Beatles songs around the camp fires or Tecumseh gets ahold of your men and you all sing Indian songs "IN THE CAMPFIRE"!!! Give me your sword, Billy and you and your men live!!

    And so BG William Hull surrendered his 2,500 man command to 400 British and Indian troops at 1-5 odds. President Monroe ordered BG Hull S-H-O-T, one of two US Flag officers charged under the Articles of War for a death sentence offense (the other being MG Jefferson Davis for shooting his superior officer after getting his face slapped).
    Because of BG Hulls Revolutionary War Service, he was pardoned and released. MG Davis was walked from his jail cell to his command tent and told to 'Get at them Rebs!!!"

  20. 20
    Debauchee69 says:

    On the battle of Detroit:

    I DO NOT FEAR RETALIATION FROM BIN LADIN or Al Queda, Nor does America the Taliban. AMERICA DID NOT FEAR ADOLF HITLER AND HIS NAZI GOONS NOR DID AMERICA FEAR THE KAISER.

    The only people I fear is them DAMN CANADIANS!!! First we tried to liberate Canada in 1775 by capturing Quebec and Montreal and they kick our ass back to America. It it wasn't for the efforts of GEN Arnold, America would be drinking Canadian Club instead of the fine Bourbon I have in my glass as I type this (hence all the Typos and Errors)

    Then we go back to Canada in 1812 and teach them bastards a REAL LESSON!!! This is what happens to you HOSEHEADS when you mess with THE BEST!!! The Canadians take Chicago (Dearborn), Detroit and Queenstone and throw us out into the street like a common drunkard.

    Now they got is M-A-D—we go over to Canada AGAIN and burn their Povincial Capital York to the ground. They roll up their sleeves, go down to Washington D.C., drink up all our licqour, mess around with our women folk and burn the White House and a bunch of other buildings down and then leave. Filthy Soccer Hooligans!!!

    The trauma the Canadians inflicted upon America is still felt today. When ever we Americans Invade Canada, as a courtesy, we always by something (cigarettes, prescription medicines, massages) because we don't want to get them crazy MOFO's angry!!!

    • 20.1
      Dennis says:

      It was the British not Canadians that accomplished almost all of what you give them credit for.

    • 20.2
      Whale says:

      What the hell are you smoking? The CANADIANS took Chicago??? Yeah, maybe in a couple of Stanley Cup Finals, but the were nowhere near Ft Dearborn in 1812! Potawatomi indians massacred the forts inhabitants as they left for Fort Wayne.

      whale

      • 20.2.1
        Dennis says:

        Canada didn't exist at the time except as a possession of the UK.
        So militarily, it was British under British organization in British uniforms, using British tactics, British money, etc etc….

        British.

  21. 21
    Stephen says:

    Did the author write for Cracked Magazine? Why is this poorly written drivel on this site?

  22. 22
    James Creeden says:

    Good Question!

  23. 23
    Cam says:

    It certainly was Audie's biggest oopsie of his career.

  24. 24
    Feather21 says:

    Interesting list, but I agree that there are some better choices than Custer — who actually lost a little over just one-third of his command (as Reno and Benteen's columns both survived). It's also usually overlooked that his assualt actually came close to success (according to testimony later recorded by the Indian victors) — and only faled because Reno abandoned his southern thrust into the encampment just as the Indians were caught by surprise and beginning to retreat in disorder..

    I'm not saying Custer's judgement was right, but it was hardly one of the five biggest blunders in history — either in terms of stupidity or scale (just over 200 dead?). BTW, I see the author repeats the old falsehood about Custer attacking to secure the nomination for presidency, a silly canard that has been long debunked.

    I'd also like to put in a word for Winston Churchill. He ended up blamed for the whole Gallipolli and Dardenelles disaster, partly because the commission named to investigate the battle was careful to whitewash the martyred General Kitchner.

    In reality, Chuchill's insistance on a navy assault of the Turkish fortifications was brilliant — and should have succeeded on Mar. 18, 1915. The Turkish forts at the mouth of the straight were seized and long-range fire from modern warships silenced the interior forts. Minesweepers swept the main minefields. A battering ram of nine obsolete battleships (useless otherwise) made it halfway up the strait before hitting an unknown minefield (laid just the night before the attack) that quickly sank three of the old ships. Admiral de Robeck lost his nerve at that moment and called off the attack. It turned out, the fleet was just passing the last of the Turkish defenses — the U.S. ambassador reported that Istabul was wide open and Turkish officials were prepared to surrender the city as soon as the British battleships appeared.

    But de Robeck's failure of nerve ruined that chance. It's amazing how similar the Mar. 18 action in the Dardenelles was to the Battle of Mobile Bay in the Civil War. What the British needed was a Farragut to order "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead." With that order, Istabul would have fallen on the 19th, Turkey would have been knocked out of the war and the Allies would have opened a backdoor supply line to Russia (with who knows what consequeces). There never would have been a bloody Dardenelles campaign.

    The failure to force the Dardenelles wasn't Churchill's fault — his plan was sound … it was the fault of a lily-livered admiral.

    • 24.1
      Rachelle says:

      From my comments above it is obvious that I agree with Feather21 on the Little Big Horn Battle.

      I but I would like to add that I think his comments on the Dardenelles are excellent as well. Even after the naval attempt was abandoned by Admiral de Roebeck, there were others in the navy who were convinced that they were on the brink of success. Indeed, the Turkish forts were battered and getting low on ammunition. The British ships being used for the initial part of the attack were already scheduled for scrapping in the near future. The number of naval lives at risk were small compared to almost daily combat losses on the Western Front.

      If pressed, and Turkey had been taken out of the war and southern shipping to Russia re-opened, the war could have ended much sooner and hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of lives saved. The venture was worth the risk even if all of the old battleships had to go to the bottom to open the way for modern ships to drive to Constantinople and take out the German cruiser Goeben.

  25. 25
    Nemo from Erehwon says:

    Publius Quinctilius Varus's choosing to trust "Arminius" and not heed the warnings of "Segestes," then making numerous poor decisions after the ambush in the Teutoberg Forest led to the annihilation of three legions and seems to deserve at least an Honorable Mention here.

  26. 26
    Rachelle says:

    Re: The opening sentence in this article:

    "Imagine how much longer and bloodier World War II might have been had Admiral Yamamoto not filled the decks of his vulnerable carriers at Midway with fully fueled airplanes awaiting ordnance."

    Yamamoto did not fill the decks of his carriers at Midway with any planes.

    Yamamoto was about 300 miles to the west on a battleship, not a carrier.

    Nagumo was with the carriers and he and his captains made the tactical decisions that left the carriers vulnerable.

    I do hope that if this author continues to pontificate about history he tries learning some of it first.

  27. 27
    Dennis says:

    Just to name a few that were far more impacting than some of these (or havent been mentioned by other posters).

    Operation Citadel (Battle of Kursk) where the Russians knew the German plans better than they did and the German field commanders knew it

    Battle of Alesia, Vercingetorix and his Gallic allies fail to beat a Roman army many times smaller than their own ending Gallic resistance and making Gaul Roman for the next 500 years.

    Battle of Adrianople, Emperor Valens engaging in battle before Gtratian could arrive causing the destruction of his Army which led to years more of war and desolation in the region and loss of face in the world that invited more and more barabrians to attack.

    Battle of Manzikert, in spite of knowing his troops were undertrained and of dubious loyalty at best, engaging in the battle that would lead the death of the Eastern Empire a few hundred years later.

    Battle of Yarmouk, in spite of numerically superior army in technically its home turf, Byzantines were outmanuvered and crushed causing the permanent loss of Syria and eventually all of the Levant and Africa.

    Battle of Agincourt, French cavalry charging into a muddy field that narrowed and would obviously force them to bunch up and be stuck in the mud. Cost the French king thousands of men in losses and much of northern France.

    Austerlitz, great win for Napoleon, but due to complete incompetence of the Austrian and Russian Generals with the obvious result.

    Aboukir Bay, French Navy ignoring the chance that Nelson might attack in the evening and staying at anchor only to be picked apart and marooning the French Army in egypt.

    Sedan, 1870, Napoleon III fails to learn anything from previous battles with the Prussians and loses the last useful French field army and gets captured.

  28. 28
    Rachelle says:

    I think the top of the list should be Cannae.

    Hannibal killed about 50,000 Roman soldiers in a single day.

    • 28.1
      Dennis says:

      Agree that it was a bad defeat, but for arguments sake, the battle itself (and hannibals invasion in general) didnt really do much other than cause consternation for the Romans, at the same time he and his army were hiking up and down the Italian peninsula (basically unable to decisively do anything and effectively trapped by the Alps and lack of a Carthaginian fleet to suppport them) Scipio and others were taking Spain, North Africa, and setting up what would be the decisive battle at Zama… That the battle was a humiliatingly stupid defeat is true. But in my mind, Hannibals Army would have been better employed securing his rear in Spain and southern France which basically fell to the Romans since his and subsequently Hasdrubals armies were essentially trapped in Italy. Not arguing against it being on the list, just that its impact on the war was, in the long run, similar to the Japanese at Pearl Harbor ie built up an overconfidence about what was achieved and not realizing that the one effective army the Carthaginians had was now trapped on the italian peninsula with the Romans marching all over Spain and Africa.

      • 28.1.1
        Rachelle says:

        Naturally I was speaking of a battle, not a war.

        By the way, a young Scipio was at Cannae and was one of the few to escape. It wasn't until later that he went to Spain to try to turn the war around. For a long while after Cannae [and Trasimine for that matter] Rome was in grave danger and the people of Rome knew it.

        Even in the mechanized slaughter of WWI I don't think there was any occasion when 50,000 soldiers were killed in a single day. It may still be a record. At the Battle of the Somme in WWI the Brits lost about 20,000 killed on the first day, and that was probably the worst single day for the Brits.

  29. 29
    Mustapha says:

    Rather than Nagumo at Pearl Harbor, I think a better choice for incompetence in the first days of the Pacific War would be Douglas Mac Arthur.

    Consider that he had ample warning that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor and various other locations in the Pacific and yet he still managed to have the vast majority of his air force wiped out on the ground.

    He pre-positioned supply dumps in locations that were conspicuous to the enemy, not ewasily defended and not easily relocated, thus depriving his men of food, water and ammunition after only a few weeks' fighting.

    I don't think that anyone could argue that he was dealt a losing hand. The US did have plans to reinforce the Philippines, but not until mid-1942 at the very earliest (more likely date was late '42 to early '43), but he certainly could have done better than he ultimately did.

  30. 30
    EdcuatedFool says:

    "So it was in 1942 when superior Japanese Mitsubishis flown by pilots whose skill stunned the Americans and British shot down Grumman Wildcats, Brewster Buffalos and Gloster Gladiators almost at will."

    Nonsense. The A6M was a rude shock to Allied pilots, but USN pilots learned to deal with it just fine. At war's end, Wildcats certainly had shot down a lot more Zekes than Wildcats were lost to Zekes.

  31. 31
    Aussie Bogan says:

    Gallipoli is not a battle it was an 18 month campaign consisting of many battles. The Brits Drinking tea quote was not even said at the landing but when the Brits were reinforcing their forces at Sulva Bay and an attack at the Nek was planned to distract the Turks. Aussies light cavalry brigade charge the trench about a tennis court away and got slaughtered by machine guns but another 4-5 waves was sent to attack.

    Ian Hamilton could also do nothing when the ANZAC's arrived as they landed on the wrong beach. Which was steep, and rugged and the soldiers had no idea what to do as they had no idea where they were. Although lack of communication was a factor of the failure it was also other issues and Ian Hamilton

    The Brits weren't even an hour away from the Anzacs merely a few
    k's away which I could run in 10 minutes. The Turks also were in between Sulva Bay and Anzac cove so

    Get your facts right
    you insult Aussies

    • 31.1
      Aussie Bogan says:

      it wasn't mainly Ian Hamilton's fault but should be blamed on the British commanders lack of intuition and common sense.

  32. 32
    Aussie Bogan says:

    sorry for raging at the end

  33. 33
    Reg Byrde says:

    GALLIPOLI

    John White, the president of the South Australian Law Society, wrote on the anniversary of Gallipoli in April 2013:-

    \We like to blame the British, although there were Australians involved at many levels of the campaign\.

  34. 34

    [...] know what he gained from the disaster at Gallipoli in the First World War? That what was wrong was that he was only second in command. He needed to be [...]

  35. 35
    DR says:

    What about Braddock's defeat? If this list includes the most massively stupid tactics regardless of numbers (it's true Custer didn't lose that many), this battle deserves to be at least among the top 10. On the other end of the scale, the greatest loss of life over a long series of blunders would be Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Nearly 600,000? Never start a land war in Asia.

  36. 36
    allen lagnado says:

    general custer and his dead men had their uniforms blanckets etc stollen by indians from these polluted clothes the indians were decimated by smallpox and influenza so the next year only a small proportion of weakened indians were left were finished as fighting force so custer won from beyond the grave

  37. 37
    john rogan says:

    worst military blunder would have to be gulf war 1 …papa bush returned 500000 troops from a march on bagdad ,that would have toppled sadaam hussein's regime in 2 days. talk about a yellow dog!Now the USA is afraid to give Maliki's democratic government any air support. The weak Indonesian man named Barry Sotero must be papa bush's illegitamate son….a weak bush-cheney lieutenant….and for this 7000 us troops were killed…another 35000 brought back with missing legs, arms, brains….all psychologically ruined….Jeb Bush in 2016…let the stupidity and contempt for the us military continue ad nauseum!

    • 37.1
      Dennis says:

      "papa bush returned 500000 troops from a march on bagdad ,that would have toppled sadaam hussein's regime in 2 days"

      — And not only would have led to the same insurgency we now fight, we would have even less justification in the UN, burned all our alliances in Saudi, Bahrain, and elsewhere for toppling him, and likely faced economic sanction for doing so… Military opportunity in a vacuum doesn't equal the right decision, your scenario is devoid of a single fact of the time.

      "Now the USA is afraid to give Maliki's democratic government any air support"

      —Again, devoid of the political reality of how Maliki got himself into this mess through the dismissal of all the Sunni and Kurdish military leaders in the Army and the government. He created a Shia controlled government that began oppressing the Sunni. Why should the US support him. You again fail to take into account the political reality on the ground.

      Please re-construct your 'post'.

  38. 38
    Ken says:

    Back to Custer…

    I long thought that his actions were rash, even for a cavalry commander. Not taking a Gatling gun, not waiting for the other two converging US columns, splitting his command, and attacking against numerical odds. I offer the two following counterpoints. First, had Custer waiting for the other two converging columns, the Indians may have slipped away. The Indians likely were not fools and would sense the trap. During the Indian Wars, the Indians often slipped away. If they slipped away from Custer, or Custer lost contact with the Indians, he would have been roundly criticized for lack of aggressiveness. Second, Google "Battle of Palo Duro." This brief battle took place in 1874 under similar circumstances. The US senior officer (Ranald Mackenzie) attacked a much superior Indian forced and routed it. Casualties on both sides were minimal. However, Mackenzie captured more than 1,500 Indian horses and killed them. The killing of the horses robbed the Indians of their all-important mobility. Palo Duro was an important victory. Custer may have thought that he could re-create MacKenzie's success at Palo Duro. His attack was not as unprecedented and crazy as some portray it.

  39. 39
    rtcdmc says:

    The author lost me in his first sentence. It was NOT Yamamoto who made the tactical decisions at Midway, that was Nagumo. Does anyone vette these people who want to pretend that they know and understand history?

  40. 40
    Mark Bailey says:

    At the battle of Midway, the carrier group was not under Admiral Yamamoto's direct command. The Admiral present was Nagumo and his was the error that allowed the accumulation of ordinance that the American dive bombers set off, with devastating results. I have to view with skepticism any analysis whose opening paragraph contains such a glaring error.

  41. 41
    jim carr says:

    Your assessment of the timing of a third wave at Pearl Harbor could not be more wrong. A third wave would have attacked about Noon time, which is plenty of day light left to do the job and still get back to the carriers before night fall. Remember Hawaii is located at about 20 degrees North Latitude and the days are longer the closer you get to the Equator. Timing here for a third wave attack would not have been a large factor as there was plenty of it.

  42. 42
    Matthew says:

    The more I look into Little Big Horn the more I realise that Custer knew exactly what he was doing. Before Little Big Horn it was unthinkable to not charge every Indian group in a zerg rush, and they never planned how to win, but to make sure the Indians could not reteat. Look at Custer's letters, and who he kept with him, and who he put Reno in charge of. He wanted to die in a heap of glory, and in case it was a trap he kept those who wanted to die the same way with him.



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