Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The worst tactical military offensive of the last 200 years?

With Remembrance Day right around the corner, I would like to pay tribute to history's fallen soldiers by asking the question; what was the worst tactical military offensive of the last 200 years? I am not talking about political effects; I am talking about Napoleon marching into Russia with 600,000 troops and running out with 6,000. Waterloo doesn't count because that was a defensive operation. As soon as Napoleon began to rebuild his army, Wellington marched and Napoleon rode out to meet him.

I am talking about a tactical decision in a large battle that resulted in a crushing casualty rate for the invading force. Iraq might be a political disaster, but in terms of battles fought, the Yanks have kicked some serious ass. I am talking about offensive battles where commanders led young soldiers into certain death, and I am asking for the worst of all said blunders for the last 200 years. I want to honour the fallen. Of all these fallen, which suffered from the worst strategic initiative?

Here is the list. I will run this poll for the whole week and discuss each battle individually if necessary over that time.

Operation Barbarossa; German invasion of Russia 1941

Allied invasion at Gallipoli 1915

Battle at Midway; Yamamoto invades Midway 1942

Operation Castor at Dien Bien Phu; the France invades 1953

Napoleon invades Russia in 1812

The Battle at Little Bighorn; Custer marches 1874

Arabs invade Israel in 1967 (this scored my vote)


  1. I suppose that I do compare some individual battles against full campaigns, but the purpose remains unchanged.

  2. And the poll for most effective offensive military battle or campaign will come in the next few days, suggestions are welcome. This was the best poll that I could think of to honour the dead.

  3. I should have included the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Oh well, people have voted, it is too late now.

  4. The Arab invasion of Israel in 1967 was horribly miscalculated, relying on numbers when the Israelis were better trained and equipped. It was a very bloody war for the Israelis regardless, but the Arabs were just idiotic.

  5. If I'm not mistake, those are campaigns. Usually campaigns are not considered tactical, but strategic. For example, within a battle a feint is considered a tactic, while usually campaigns are much more broader in scope and contain most strategic objectives like securing a securing oil production in Southern Russia.

    Still, I would have to say the worst was Operation Barborasa. I believe half of WWII casualties are a direct result of that campaign. Not only did the Germans lose, but the Soviet Union manage to conquer the Baltic & Balkan states, as well as Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, Romania, Czechslovakia and other Eastern European nations. All these nations suffered greatly, both in the immidiate aftermath and the 45+ years (and in some countries more) of iron curtain dictatorial rule.

  6. Depends if you use numbers of death in your yardstick or possibly an example of blind arrogrance, poor decision making ie Bighorn.

    The numbers vary and the "costs" as a result of the defeat.

  7. What about The "Market Garden" Operation ? Depicted in the movie (A bridge too far)

  8. I actually watched a bridge too far last week. It coulda woulda shoulda made the list, but ultimately I left it off because of the speed and success of the Allied march on Berlin. Napoleon lost his entire army. I was going to include Kublai Khan's invasion of Japan or the Brits at Sterling Bridge, but I wanted a more modern list. When you start to get into antiqity, facts get lost.

  9. Northern Ontario ToryNovember 10, 2009 at 8:32 PM

    I think there is some confusion here in regards to "strategic" and "tactical", and as such this makes a decision here harder. For example, in the long run the German invasion of Russia (Barbarossa) was a huge strategic error as it lead to an unsustainable war on two fronts for Germany. However, it can also be classified as a tactical success because it achieved complete surprise and inflicted huge losses on the Russians. Tactical success was also achieved by capturing important economic areas, particularly the Ukraine.

    I'm not so sure that Midway belongs on the list. The decision by the Japanese to capture the island was reasonably sound and made sense strategically. It is doubtful that the Americans could have resisted the Japanese attack ...... the difference was made by some skillful / lucky code breaking efforts on the American side, which allowed them to be prepared for the attack.

    A better strategic blunder to have on the list would be Hitler's decision to switch from attacking the RAF to bombing British cities. The RAF were in serious trouble and this decision allowed them to recover and turn the tide......thus putting a halt to the possibility of a German invasion.

  10. It is not that confusing. Most of the options are operations, or military campaigns that failed. But I wanted to include Midway and Little Big Horn. Midway was the end of the Japanese in the Pacific. Sure the war did not end, but the losses broke the backs of the Japanese. I just love the name Little Big Horn, and I wanted an American option. 15% of my traffic comes from America.