Bigger isn't always necessarily better. Military history is replete with examples of Goliaths falling to Davids. Sometimes the bigger army is the agent of its own failure, like the restrictions placed on American troops in Vietnam. Sometimes the hubris of a leader who seldom loses leads an otherwise formidable force to destruction the way Napoleon did against the Russians. And then some armies just bite off more than they can chew.
1. Mexico tries to put down Texian Rebellion; gets owned
At last try to stand up when you surrender your superior force after 18 minutes.
In March 1836, the Mexican Army under the dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna attacked a rebel stronghold near San Antonio in an effort to keep Texas under Mexican domination. In an effort to send a message to the Texians, Santa Anna slaughtered the defenders of an old Spanish mission known as the Alamo, almost to a man. The next time the Texians met the Mexicans in a fight would be a month later at the Battle of San Jacinto. Outnumbered, the Texians took all of 18 minutes to defeat the Mexicans, killing, wounding, or capturing almost all of them – including Santa Anna himself. Texas was soon an independent nation.
2. Frederick earns title "The Great" after ending three great powers
If you want to end French supremacy right, you have to do it yourself.
The Seven Years' War was the first true "world war," involving five major powers and a number of lesser ones, pitting a coalition of the British Empire and Prussia against France, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Austria, and many other German states. On the high seas and in North America, Britain reigned supreme, but on the battlefields of Europe, tiny Prussia would be forced to do battle almost alone and surrounded by opportunist enemies. Frederick struck neighboring Saxony first, before anyone was prepared. He then knocked the French out of the war in Continental Europe at the Battle of Rossbach, despite being outnumbered by more than two-to-one. When the Austrians failed to take the offensive, Frederick destroyed it despite being outnumbered two-to-one – using the same maneuver.
3. Italy tries to create an empire in Africa; Ethiopia isn't having it
Italy tried to trick the Ethiopians into becoming an Italian client state by using loopholes in the language of a treaty. When this didn't work, and the Ethiopians decided they were done with Italian meddling, the Italians were already on the warpath, ready to subdue Ethiopia by force. Emperor Menelik II wasn't someone who was just going to roll over for a European army because they had guns. Ethiopia was gonna go down fighting, if it went down at all. After a year of fighting, the Italians had failed to properly subdue the Ethiopians and decided to attempt a final showdown at a place called Adwa. In the ultimate bad idea, 17,000 Italians with guns took on 100,000 Ethiopians with guns. And horses. It was just a fight that should never have happened in the first place.
4. China invades Vietnam; forgets about the French and U.S. invasions
That face when the child soldier you capture is twice the veteran you are.
You might think that the years China spent aiding and arming tiny Vietnam would be a hint that Vietnam had a well-equipped, battle-hardened army with a leadership that was well-versed in bringing down giants who tried to ruin their groove. You'd be wrong. When Vietnam invaded neighboring Cambodia to stop the Khmer Rouge from killing all the Cambodians, China saw an opportunity to attack Vietnam and impose their dominance on the young Communist country. Well, Cambodia collapsed like a senior with heatstroke, and Vietnam was able to quickly turn its attention back to those sneaky Chinese. Within six weeks, Chairman Mao was pulling Chinese troops out of Vietnam much faster than the French or Americans had.
5. Argentina thinks the U.K. won't retake an island full of sheep; it's wrong
Only in the Falklands.
In April 1982, Argentina invaded and occupied a series of islands off its coast that the British had occupied basically forever. Argentina didn't see it as an invasion, really, just a decision to take what was rightfully theirs. Besides, the UK wouldn't make such a fuss over a few fisherman and some sheep. It would be an easy win, but for one thing the Argentines didn't count on.
In Argentina, "Thatcher" means "buzzsaw."
Once Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher decided to respond with force, she was all a-go. The U.K. dispatched a naval task force of 127 ships immediately to retake the islands. In less than 20 days after setting sail, British Special Air Service commandos and Royal Marines were on South Georgia. Less than a week later, the Marines controlled the island, and so it went. The Argentinian fleet and air force were crippled in just over two months, the Argentinian dictatorship collapsed, and Margaret Thatcher won a new term as Prime Minister.
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