There is no shortage of human stupidity in warfare. After all, intelligence isn’t always a prerequisite for military leadership.
Just look at this guy.
However, every now and then you have entire wars decided by actions so brainless that they fall squarely into “pobody’s nerfect” territory. The following examples are among the most painful examples of this.
5. The Peninsula Campaign
There was only one general throughout all 10 hours of Ken Burns’ The Civil War who made Sir Robin from Monty Python and the Holy Grail come off like Sir Rambo. We are speaking, of course, of Union General George B. McClellan: the single most regretful byproduct in the history of New Jersey.
More sexy than Snooki? You decide.
McClellan started off his war years more polished than his neatly-waxed mustache. Second in his class at West Point and credited with creating the legendary Army of the Potomac, McClellan planned the Union’s first major invasion of the South during the American Civil War with his Peninsula Campaign. On paper, the McGameplan was actually kind of awesome: build a huge army, sail it as close to the Rebel capital as possible, take the capital, and then go home a hero.
Pretty good idea, right? Well, aside from looking like a gigantic penis…
…There was one serious problem with the McGameplan that President Lincoln would not realize until it was too late: how huge a coward Gen. McClellan was on the battlefield. How cowardly? Let’s put it this way: Sir Robin’s band of minstrels could have scared this guy off.
WHAT RUINED IT: Loud music. Also, cowardice.
After McClellan spent more time than Lincoln would have liked doing absolutely jack shit, he finally agreed to move his 120,000-man army up the peninsula and toward the enemy, which McClellan outnumbered 10 to 1. Only 11,000 thistle-chewing Confederates commanded by Gen. John B. Magruder stood between the Union Army and the Rebel capital Richmond, Virginia. Nevertheless, Magruder had a secret weapon up his sleeve: his band.
By having his band play extra-loud while his tiny army marched in a big, long line, Magruder successfully Gen. McClellan numb with fear. The Union commander estimated a Rebel army as large as 40,000 men was out to get him–which, while wholly imaginary, McClellan still outnumbered 3 to 1. Nevertheless, McClellan dug in and stalled for time while the Confederates reinforced their numbers to 57,000. Again, 2 to 1 odds in McClellan’s favor, yet the general instead petitioned Lincoln for reinforcements, swearing than an army at least 120,000-strong stood outside Richmond. He was right: his army.
Remove the lion costume and you got just another reason to hate New Jersey.
By the time McClellan finally engaged the Confederates outside Richmond two months later, a real life army of 92,000 men was ready to engage the Union Army. McClellan was epically and humiliatingly defeated at the subsequent Seven Days Battles, during which the entire Army of the Potomac was nearly captured at the Battle of Glendale. Fortunately for McClellan, he was nowhere near this noose: he had already heroically “deserted his army” on the battlefield by this point.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the American Civil War did not end three years earlier than it should have. Which would have resulted in the sparing of some half a million American lives.
The rest is history.
4. Operation Barbarossa
Nazi Germany’s invasion of Russia during WWII was the single largest invasion in the history of warfare. More than 4 million Axis soldiers poured into the U.S.S.R., along with 600,000 motor vehicles and nearly 1 million horses.
Also, just one of the guns was this big.
When you consider that’s more men than Nazi Germany ever threw at the UK or US, it would seem prudent that the Germans do at least some research on the country they were invading. Right?
Apparently, the U.S.S.R. was a big face that could be felled with one punch.
WHAT RUINED IT: Really obvious weather.
When someone mentions Russia, what is the first thing you picture?
More or less.
Although Hitler’s invasion of Russia is a popular subject for alternate history, the truth is Operation Barbarossa was doomed from the moment that Hitler thought that the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin could be quickly defeated in battle. He was wrong. Way wrong, and not just because of the Russian winter. Had Hitler invaded earlier, like he had planned, he would have found himself up to his ass in rasputitsa: Russia’s muddy seasons.
How muddy does it get in Russia?
Picture this, only for more than a thousand kilometers.
As a result, it was pretty hard for the Germans to go blitzing to Moscow without falling ass-backwards into an ocean of mud on the way. In fact, the only reason the Wehrmacht was able to resume their advance in November was because the mud started freezing, and we all know how well that turned out for the Germans. Hitler was so convinced that the U.S.S.R. would fall quickly that he did not even think to supply his soldiers with winter uniforms.
More or less, the Wehrmacht during the winter of 1941.
Several million men later, the Nazis were on full retreat and Hitler ended up losing World War II, and it was all because he failed to anticipate the single most famous characteristic of Russia: Its weather.
3. The Battle of Nsamankow
The Battle of Nsamankow was fought on January 21, 1824 during the early stages of the First Anglo-Ashanti War and the Golden Age of Muttonchops respectively.
Either someone from that period or a black-and-white picture of Beast from X-Men.
The battle started off like most of Great Britain’s military campaigns: with some asshole leading an army into a spot of land that was not England. Said asshole in this expedition was Brigadier-General Sir Charles MacCarthy KCMG, the “decent, proud, but stupid” military governor of West Africa’s Sierra Leone.
Only known photograph.
After Britain became interested in the nearby Gold Coast, MacCarthy’s domain was expanded to include that chunk of the continent as well. However, MacCarthy’s brief tenure as governor of Gold Coast came to an abrupt end along the Pra River in present-day Ghana, where he encountered some 10,000 Ashanti warriors there to welcome their new governor with some war drums and muskets.
WHAT RUINED IT: A box of biscuits.
After failing to woo the Ashanti by, no joke, playing the national anthem, Gov. MacCarthy resorted to aggressive negotiations across the Pra. However, shit got real once the Brits realized their undermanned, under-supplied military could not withstand the Ashanti if they crossed the river, which sure enough resulted in an instant game over for the British expeditionary force. As the redcoats took their last stand against the final Ashanti charge, MacCarthy dispatched a British civilian named Charles Brandon to fetch the last of their ammunition. The boxes were broken open during the climax of the battle when, like a bad dream, the Brits realized their emergency ammunition crates were actually filled with… biscuits.
Instead of Gandalf, they got these.
The Ashanti found the Brits in such an ass-backwards position that the imperials were annihilated, leaving only about 20 survivors. As for Gov. MacCarthy, he shot himself to avoid capture for reasons that, in hindsight, we honestly can’t hold against him. The Ashanti ate his heart, we imagine, along with some of the biscuits, tore MacCarthy’s body to pieces, and paraded what was left back home as if they had just won the Stanley Cup. In this case it was the literal truth: Gov. MacCarthy’s skull was eventually fashioned into a fancy drinking cup that became an Ashanti treasure for years to come.
Their “favorite decoration.”
2. The Charge of the Light Brigade
The “Charge of the Light Brigade” during the Crimean War is one of the most eulogized, immortalized, and grossly misinterpreted event in military history. For starters, the charge was a total failure; a god-awful shitty mess of Battlefield Earth proportions. Almost half its +600 participants were killed or wounded, and that’s not counting the 335 horses that were turned into hamburger meat as well.
Which was subsequently sold to IKEA.
Secondly, the cavalry charge was not even supposed to happen. At least not in the sense of it being a suicidal march into the bellies of unsuspecting IKEA customers.
When you consider how shitty their furniture is, is it really so surprising they put horse in these?
WHAT RUINED IT: Body language.
While there have been numerous cavalry charges in real life that put The Return of the King to shame, the order for the legendary charge of the Light Brigade was never really given. What was mistaken as the ill-fated request read as follows: “Lord Raglan wishes the Cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop Horse Artillery may accompany. French Cavalry is on your left. Immediate.”
The message had no major crap-ups short of its hint of snootiness, but the fact that its recipients could not see any guns from their low angle sure made it damn confusing. As a result, what was supposed to read as “I can see some cannons being carted in the distance. Take them out” instead came off as: “Charge straight into the enemy’s guns and dieyou’re your country.”
More or less, the order.
To clarify what the fuck his men were supposed to do, a Lieutenant General the Earl of Lucan asked the officer who relayed the message what guns Lord Raglan was talking about. In a move that would spell certain doom for the screwed six hundred, Captain Louis Nolan supposedly indicated with a wide “sweep of his arm” that the cavalry were to engage a goddamn canyon of Russian cannon referred to as “the Valley of Death.”
“That looks like a good place to die.”
The brigade charged, and their slaughter inspired Alfred, Lord Tennyson to write a poem about how stupid war can be. As for Captain Louis Nolan, what he actually meant with the “sweep of his arm” will forever be lost to history. He became the first of the charge’s many casualties.
1. The Maryland Campaign
Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s 1862 invasion of Maryland had the potential to completely alter the American Civil War. Not only did the invasion present perhaps the best chance the Confederacy would ever get to win European recognition, but he could not have asked for a weaker enemy to face: Union General George B. McClellan.
Yup, this guy.
It was a perfect shit-storm of the Union Army.
WHAT RUINED IT: Cigars.
If someone were to write a movie that turned out like the Maryland Campaign, it would probably never get made because it would sound too ridiculous. Nevertheless, ridiculous is the only way to describe why Robert E. Lee’s Maryland Campaign faltered. On September 13, a Union corporal found an envelope with three cigars wrapped in a piece of paper lying in the grass. The paper contained Special Order 191, which detailed Robert E. Lee’s entire troop movements.
Pictured: The Konami code of the Maryland Campaign.
We’re not speaking hyperbole when we say this: the Civil War could have ended with this discovery, and it would have looked like the war was decided by God’s own hand. However, since George B. McClellan was seriously as big a douchebag as we’ve been building up this whole time, he did jack shit for 18 hours before finally decided to use this miracle God gave him. It was enough to result in the Battle of Antietam, a tactical draw that nevertheless thwarted Lee’s invasion and forced him to retreat.
Still, as we said, the war could have just as easily ended in 1862 because of three misplaced cigars.
Also, because of two misplaced balls.
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