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"10 Military Blunders That Changed The World


In the Autumn of 9 AD, the Roman Governor of Germania, Publius Quinctilius Varus , was

approached by Arminius, a trusted chieftain of the Cherusci. He explained that a rebellion

was fermenting on the other side of the Teutoburg Wald.

Varus wanted to quell the unrest before winter, and Arminius suggested a quick, narrow path

through the dense forest. The only problem was the uprising was made up, and presented

to Varus as bait by the Cherusci.

Despite being warned by Arminiusown father-in-law, Segestes, that his men were walking into an

ambush, Varus made the mistake of pressing on regardless, right into the trap. After

three days of vicious fighting in the heart of the forest, three legions and six cohorts

of auxiliaries were almost completely wiped out.

It was a huge blow to Roman confidence, and while Rome pursued a campaign of retaliation,

she was forever wary of settling East of the Rhine. The massacre of Teutoburg Forest is

still considered a factor in why Roman culture and language, which still defines Southern

Europe, is missing from the North.


After Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939, the British Expeditionary Force was

dispatched to France in May 1940, in much the same way it had 25 years before. However

the German Wehrmacht had learnt from 1918, and within three weeks the allied armies had

been pushed back to the port town of Dunkirk.

Almost 350,000 French and British soldiers were trapped, and awaiting the final push

which never came. On 23rd May Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt ordered a general halt,

which was was endorsed by Hitler. The following day, 24th May, the Fuhrer ordered no-one to

attack the beaches save for the Luftwaffe. Hitler wanted to save tanks for future operations,

and believed that Britain would sue for peace after defeat in France.

Unfortunately for him, the delay in attack allowed the French to establish a rearguard,

while the British arranged a strategic evacuation. When Hitler resumed the advance, it was too

late. Over the course of the eight day evacuation 338,226 allied soldiers were evacuated, allowing

Britain to stay in the war. In control of North Africa and India, the UK denied the

Axis vital resources and would eventually be the launchpad for the invasion of Fortress


Hitlers pause at Dunkirk sowed the seeds of his own downfall.


The year is 208, and China is in a state of civil war. The Han Dynasty, led by the weak

Emperor Xian, has been fractured into three warring states; Wei, Wu and Shu. Dominant

among these was Wei, led by Chancellor Cao Cao, who waged war to reunify China under

his ultimate control.

Key to Cao Caos strategy was control of the Yangtze River, and it was at a place called

Chi Bi, otherwise known as the Red Cliffs, that Sun Quan of Shu and Liu Bei of Wu faced

him. Cao Cao had a host of 240,000 men on ships, compared to the alliances 50,000. But

the men of Wei were apparently not used to naval warfare, which Cao Cao solved by

chaining the ships together.

This made them exceptionally vulnerable to fire ships, which of course Shu and Wu deployed

en mass. The chained ships couldnt escape in time, burning or drowning the huge army,

and leaving Cao Caos campaign in tatters. Wei would never recover from their defeat,

and Chi Bi would mark the beginning of the end for Emperor Xian, and the Han Dynasty.

The battle also prevented Northern domination of the South, leading to a cultural and occasionally

political divide that lasted centuries.


Ok, this one is convoluted, so heres the simple version. Following defeat in the Battle

of Britain in 1940, Hitler turned his attention East, towards the Soviet Union. On 22nd June

1941 Operation Barbarossa was launched, hoping for a quick, decisive victory to knock out

the Russians once and for all with a strike at Moscow.

This alone was a huge mistake, for as weak as the Soviet Army was, the expectation that

Russia could be taken before winter was optimistic at best. The army was not fully prepared for

winter, with weapons, fuels and men freezing without proper weatherproofing.

Then, in December 1941, Hitler assumed full command of the German Army, and decided to

turn attention from Moscow to Stalingrad. By July 1942, as Soviet resistance in the

city grew, Hitler personally rewrote operational objectives to divert more dwindling resources

toward Stalingrad. The battle was becoming one of attrition, something Germany couldnt


With the encirclement of the German Sixth Army in January 1943, Hitler made one more

stupid decision, and ordered the army to make no attempt at break-out. The battled depleted

resources the Wehrmacht could ill afford, breaking their ability to do battle and paving

the way to Berlin.


By 1453 the Byzantine Empire had been pushed back to the walls of Constantinople itself.

The Ottomans, under Sultan Mehmed II, laid siege to the city in April and battered the

great walls of the city with artillery for 53 straight days.

The walls of Constantinople had weathered Huns, Russians and Arab attacks before, and

were considered strong enough to defeat this latest assault. And they might have, had according

to contemporary chroniclers, someone had remembered to lock the Kerkoporta gate.

On seeing the undefended gate, fifty Ottomans rushed in and raised their standard over the

walls. The exhausted defenders, believing the walls taken, fell back into the city in

a panic and Constantinople was taken.

Not only did this lead to the fall of the Roman world, but allowed the Ottomans to launch

further attacks into Europe. This would lead to the partitioning of the Balkans along religious

lines; Something were still experiencing the effects of today. However it would also

result in Byzantine scholars fleeing to the wealthy courts of Italy and France, kick starting

the Renaissance.


On 17th April 1961, 1,500 CIA trained Cubans landed in the Bay of Pigs, with the intention

of overthrowing the unsteady Castro regime. However President John F. Kennedy was desperate

to maintain deniability, and refused to back up any Cuban invasion with American troops,

or meaningful air support.

This was the first mistake. The second was before the force had even landed, a team of

trigger happy frogmen scouted the bay, and inadvertently alerted the Cuban authorities.

By the time the main CIA force arrived, most of the Cuban army was on the way.

By 19th April, Kennedy at last authorised air support for the beleaguered CIA; Bombers

from Nicaragua and fighters from an aircraft carrier near Florida. Except they took off

from different time zones and no one had bothered to synchronise watches.

The bombers arrived an hour early with no support whatsoever, and two B-26s were shot

down. With dwindling supplies and no air cover, the remaining CIA forces quickly surrendered

and were ransomed back to the U.S. for $59 million. Far from toppling Castro, the invasion

strengthened his regime, and would directly lead to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.


Its 499 BC and the island of Naxos in Aegean Sea has declared independence from the Persian

Empire. A local Persian administrator, Aristagoras, has borrowed a vast amount of money, men and

ships from Emperor Dariusbrother, and sailed to reclaim the island.

Problem was that Aristagoras was an unlikeable guy, and quarrelled so much with the admiral

of the fleet, Megabates (MEG-A-BART-EES), that Megabates decided to sabotage the siege.

He sent word to Naxos that a fleet was coming, and they managed to repel Aristagorasinvasion.

Returning to Persia with his tail between his legs, Aristagoras decided that instead

of waiting to be dismissed, hes instigate his own rebellion. After all it worked for

Naxos. The Ionian Revolt as it became known lacked the power to defeat Persia in the field,

and so called in Athens and Eretria for support.

The revolt was eventually put down, but Darius was now intent on punishing Athens, previously

ignored by the Persians. Fifty years of Greco-Persian wars ensued, serving to forge Greek identity

and culture. Everything we regard as Ancient Greek was crystallized as anti-Persian, and

marked a clear divide between East and West.

Because of one mans inability to make friends, later Western cultures such as Rome adopted

Grecian culture, which would influenceThe Westfor millenia to come.


By Winter 1776, George Washingtons Continental Army was looking at defeat. Suffering from

poor morale and British victories, desertion was high, and Washington needed a decisive

victory to prevent complete disintegration.

He settled on attacking Trenton, in New Jersey, however his army happened to be on the wrong

side of the Delaware River. Washingtons force of two and a half thousand men was pretty

difficult to miss, and on spying the build up, one loyalist ran to warn the Hessian garrison.

However the date was 25th December 1776, and Hessian Colonel Johann Rall had left instructions

not to be disturbed. Sensing he wont get to see the colonel any time soon, the loyalist

scrawled a note in English, and asked for it to be passed on. For whatever reason though

Rall failed to read the note, either because he couldnt understand the English, or because

he was busy.

The following morning Washington attacked, taking the garrison completely by surprise.

Rall was killed with the unread note still in his pocket. The victory boosted morale

and the following Spring saw the Continental Army swell with recruits. The larger army

bought time for the Spanish, French and Dutch to effectively bankrupt Britain into submission.

If Rall had read the note in time, perhaps America would be a British colony to this



In July 1945 Japans looming defeat was obvious to just about everyone except Japans

military. A determined army could still inflict thousands of casualties before the end, so

in an effort to avert this the Potsdam Conference issued an ultimatum. Either surrender or face

prompt and utter destruction”.

When asked for a response by reporters, Japans Prime Minister Kantaro Susuki responded with

the phraseMokusatsu”. Now this term can mean eitherremain wisely silent or

inactive”, or the more aggressiveto treat with contempt”. An unknown U.S. translator

is thought to have only provided one meaning to the Joint Chiefs of Staff... the negative

one. Ten days later, a bomb is dropped on Hiroshima that kills 70,000 in an instant.

But who is to blame? The translator? The U.S. military for bombing anyway? Or Sasuki for

being ambiguous? It isnt clear, and many believe there were other reasons to drop an

atomic bomb. But this account suggests that an era of atomic threats, and thousands of

lives, hinged on one simple mistranslation. However this was not the first bloodshed due

to a language barrier.


Before the American Revolution, the British and French had been antagonising each other

in the New World for decades. The French would claim land, the Brits would build a fort on

it, everyone got angry.

In 1754 the British sent a young officer called George Washington to Pennsylvania, to protect

Fort Necessity. It was during this tour of duty that on 27th May 1754 Washington attacked

without prevarication a French patrol, killing their commander Joseph Coulon de Jumonville.

Naturally Jumonvilles brother Louis wanted revenge, and with a force of 700 men, captured

Washingtons shiny new fort. Vastly outnumbered, Washington was forced to surrender, and signed

a document allowing him and his men to withdraw.

Except Washington couldnt read French, which meant he couldnt read what it was

he was signing. Washington had inadvertently admitted to assassinating Jumonville. When

news of this reached London and Paris, it caused a severe deterioration in relations,

leading ultimately to war in 1756.

The Seven Years War as it became known involved almost every European country, spanned the

globe, and led directly to the American and French Revolutions. All that bloodshed, because

George couldnt read French.

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