Going to war is a bit of a risk. Effectively carrying out a war to a successful end will require many critical decisions to be made with minimal information. Sometimes, the commander on the field is dealing with bad intelligence, weather, misinformation and possibly a misreading of the military situation. The ten decisions below resulted in a great loss of human life and/or materiel.
1. The Invasion of Russia by Napoleon
It seems hard to fathom what Napoleon was thinking when he decided to march 750,000 soldiers into the heart of Russia. Napoleon had the biggest army in the world at the time and needed someone else to conquer. So he chose Russia. They went into Russia with their 750,000 and really never fought that much of a battle. The Russians, being rather savvy, just retreated into their massive country and burned everything to the ground behind them. So, Napoleon arrived in Moscow and little but a charred, smoking mess was left. So the army turned around and went home. But they were harassed for months by the Russian army, had no food. And then the winter set in. Bottom line: 750,000 went in. 250,000 came out.
2. The Attack on The Alamo by Santa Anna
The old saying is pride goeth before a fall, and that is really what happened with the Alamo. At this time, the city of San Antonio was nothing but a village on an open prairie in south Texas. The Alamo was just this tiny fort in that huge prairie. If Santa Anna had wanted to, he could have just gone around it. But they decided that they needed to use that big Mexican army to make a political statement about the rebellion of the Texas territory. While the Mexican army pretty much wiped out the whole American crew at the Alamo, including Davy Crockett, the government of Texas had time to get better organized and they got the main army into a better position. What resulted soon after was the Battle of San Jacinto, and the Republic of Texas came out of it.
3. Failing to Attack the Enemy – Gen. Meade – Civil War
When you look at the Civil War, it seems that General Lee for the Confederacy may have had a guardian angel of sorts. Or perhaps the generals he faced from the North were just idiots. The latter seems more likely. In this particular case, General Meade allowed Lee’s army to slip back into Virginia after a devastating loss at Gettysburg.
The Army of Northern Virginia was decimated at Gettysburg. With no reserves left, Lee was struggling to get his severely wounded army back to the friendly confines of the Commonwealth. The army was pinned in by the Potomac river, which was close to flood stage. The roads were mud. The stage truly was set for General Meade to deliver the crushing blow to end the war right there.
Meade, incredibly, never gave the order. He just gathered his forces. And waited. Lincoln was furious when he found out, and it was this incompetence that led to Abe bringing in General Grant from Vicksburg to command the Army of the Potomac.
4. Custer’s Failure to Use Gatling Guns
Most good officers in the military know that it is a good idea to use the best weapons available to them. In 1876, the Gatling Gun was just patented and was the first machine gun readily available. Custer had several of them at his disposal and lots of ammo when he ventured out to dislodge an Indian village on the Little Bighorn River. Custer thought that the guns would slow them down, and he thought that using such a deadly weapon would make him look bad. Custer was a vain man, and this proved to be deadly.
The Gatling Guns surely would have been a huge asset when they were faced with huge numbers of Sioux warriors. He ended up leading 250 soldiers to their deaths.
5. Hitler’s Invasion of the Soviet Union
What happened here is pretty much the exact same story as what happened to Napoleon. All you need to do is change the French into Germans and add tanks and airplanes. Hitler was obsessed with creating more living space for the master race in the territory of Russia, so he thought invading Russia at the same time he was fighting the West was a bright idea. Not exactly.
6. Johnson’s Micromanagement of the Vietnam Conflict
Wars should be run by professional soldiers, with only general oversight by the politicians. President Johnson did not seem to agree with this. He was not a military man, but he singlehandedly took a small army of ‘American advisors’ in Vietnam into an all out war. Sixty thousand Americans died in this conflict that probably never should have involved so many Americans as it did.
Johnson began to expand our involvement in Vietnam in 1964, but he often led the war with one eye on opinion polls. Wars can’t be won that way.
7. Russian Invasion of Afghanistan
Many countries over the centuries have tried to subjugate Afghanistan with poor results. Those folks are tough and live in unforgiving, rough geography. They are good at guerilla warfare, and they always seem to rely on someone to give them plenty of modern weapons. When the Soviets rolled in there in 1979, what they got into was their own Vietnam with sand and rocks. A total of 15,000 Soviet soldiers died in the conflict, and 333 Russian choppers were shot down.
8. The Blitz of London by Hitler and Goering
After France fell in 1940, the Brits stood alone against Hitler for a time. It was very likely that there would be a German invasion by sea. All that stood in the way was the British airforce, the RAF. It prevented the Germans from seizing control of the air and allowing an invasion by sea to happen. The Germans were winning, but Goering decided to start terror bombing London rather than focus on the British airfileds. This gave the Brits a chance to rearm and regroup.
9. Pearl Harbor
Sure it was a glitzy win for the Japanese, but it also helped to plant the seeds for their loss in 1945. The Japanese air fleet focused on destroying old battleships at port, and did not destroy the major island infrastructure, such as munitions plants, oil farms and repair facilities. This allowed the US to use Pearl Harbor as a forward base of operations all through the war. Pacific operations would have been greatly complicated for America without Pearl Harbor as a bas.
This was one of the major reasons the Germans lost the Big One. Hitler had a big plan to capture the Caucasus region of Russia, which is full of oil. However, the attack floundered on the Volga River at Stalingrad. There were months of horrible fighting here that killed hundreds of thousands on both sides. The entire German army eventually was surrounded and forced to surrender.