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Deadly Military Command Blunders

Mar 14, 2013 5:17 pm
ProfessorWinston By ProfessorWinston
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Military command is a skill that historically has been prized above most all others. The achievements of legendary commanders such as Alexander The Great and Julius Caesar may be evaluated in terms of their lack of mistakes and nearly perfect records. Both men were incredible risk-takers, but fate always seemed to reward them for such risks. Any mistakes, such as the ambush of Alexander's army by Persian satrap Ariobarzanes or Caesar's early miscues in Gaul, were rectified with an overwhelmingly greater success.

It does not take much to scar one's reputation, as happened to Attila the Hun at the hands of his former childhood friend Flavius Aetius in the Battle of the Catalaunian Plans. He even considered suicide by way of throwing himself on the fire of the dead, before being convinced otherwise.

Many have not been so lucky, and in war, the wages of sin are often death as well as eternal disgrace in the minds of some. Here are 5 instances of military command blunders and their consequences...

Custer's Last Stand
One of the most famous and controversial routs in military history was the annihilation of George Armstrong Custer's detachment of the US Army's 7th Calvary Regiment in 1876 by the Lakota and Cheyenne indian tribes. Although the defeat was small in scope, as Custer's force only had 210 men, it has been analyzed and reenacted countless times in movies, shows, plays, novels, and by military historians.

At the very least, Custer was probably guilty of overconfidence and also made a mistake when he divided the regiment of 700 men into three battalions. He also had refused to take Gatling guns for the sake of mobility and rejected the offer for an additional force from the 2nd Calvary. One thing is certain. It was a total victory that Native American historians and wannabe-indians like Kevin Costner will never forget.

Stalin blindsighted by Operation Barbarossa
In the late 1930s, Joseph Stalin started by killing off or removing many of the high-ranking officers of the Russian army in the Great Purge. Then, on August 23, 1939, he agreed to a non-aggression pact with Germany and proclaimed it to the Russian people. This deal with the devil, or between devils, was broken in June 22, 1941 when Hitler launched the largest invasion in military history, code named Operation Barbarossa.

Stalin ignored warnings of the attack, and Russia was shell-shocked by the 4 million Axis troops, part of which had advanced 200 miles in a little over a week. By July 3rd, there were already 600,000 Red Army casualties. Stalin was reportedly mentally shaken, but eventually pulled himself together and incited the Russian people to live up to their ancestors and defend their homeland.

Crassus and the Romans meet Disaster in the Desert
Marcus Licinius Crassus, by some estimations, was the richest man in the history of the world. Julius Caesar, Pompey, and he formed the First Triumvirate, the dominant political force in ancient Rome. While Caesar was in Gaul, Crassus fielded an army of 40,000 to attempt to conquer Parthia. The Battle of Carrhae in 53 BC exposed the limits of usually invincible Roman army, or perhaps the limits of Crassus talents for military leadership.

He made the classical mistake of trusting a double-agent advisor, who led Crassus' army deep into the desert. That is, despite warnings not to do so from his other officers, according to Plutarch. Since most of the Parthian army was in Armenia, the Romans were met by a smaller force of 9,000 horse archers and 1,000 cataphracts.

Crassus ordered his army into a formation of a hollow square. They were bombarded with arrows and all attempts to fight back failed, including an attempted break-out led by Crassus's son Publius that ended in encirclement and his suicide. Marcus Crassus then took the approach of waiting for the enemy archers to run out of arrows, but the Parthians had utilized thousands of camels to bring additional ammunition.

The Parthians feigned interest in negotiating with Crassus on the following day, but killed him during the negotiations. Many of the remaining Romans were killed afterwards, with the eventual toll being approximately 20,000 Romans killed and 10,000 captured.

Curio deceived by King Juba of Numidia in Caesar's Civil War
As chronicled in Julius Caesar's War Commentaries on the Gallic and Civil Wars, Gaius Scribonius Curio was in charge of Caesar's forces in Africa, while Caesar himself was taking control of Spain. After trapping Publius Attius Varus in Utica, Curio was going to wait on the reinforcements of two legions but changed his plan when apparent deserters from Utica brought news. They said that King Juba of Numidia had been diverted from his path to rescue Varus and Utica from the seige and was now far away in Leptis. They said that the army approaching was instead a smaller army led by Saburra.

Curio sent his calvary ahead, and they ran into Saburra's advance detachment and killed or captured most of them. The prisoners confirmed the earlier stories by claiming that Saburra was in charge of their forces. More confident than ever, Curio marched ahead to attack Saburra with only part of his legion and 200 calvary, the rest had dropped out on the march. Saburra's troops faked a retreat, and Curio's tired army advanced toward them, abandoning their high ground position.

Of course, King Juba and his Numidian army were in fact very close and eventually joined the battle that ensued. He had already sent 2,000 troops ahead to help Saburra after learning of the attack on the advance force. The Romans fought Saburra's troops valiantly at first, but Juba's reinforcements combined with the fatigue of the Roman army, led to an eventual massacre. The Romans were surrounded by the enemy calvary and gave up all hope. Some were cut down as they tried to run away, and others just fell the ground and lay there.

Curio was urged to try to get back to the camp, but he said, "I have lost the army that Caesar entrusted to me. I can never look him in the face again." He died fighting, and the soldiers in the legion were "killed to a man". Those back in the camp experienced disarray when they later tried to board ships, and most of those that did not escape were later killed by Juba.

Crocodiles and the Nile doom Perdiccas in Battle of Alexander's Successors
After Alexander The Great's death in 323 BC, Perdiccas became the regent ruler for Alexander's half-brother Philip Arridaeus, who was perhaps mentally retarded. The next year a conflict arose when Perdiccas called off his engagement to Antipater's daughter Nicaea, in favor of Cleopatra, the full sister of Alexander. This incited Antipater, as well as Antigonus Monophtalmus, Craterus, Ptolemy, and Lysimachus, as it appeared to be a step toward royalty. With a coalition of diadochi ready to oppose him, Perdiccas chose to invade Egypt in 320 BC due to Ptolemy's hijacking of the body of Alexander while it was in transit to Macedonia.

After Perdiccas and his large army initially failed to cross the Nile at the Fort of Camels, he commanded an all-night march to Memphis in an attempt to regain the element of surprise. This time, he initially ordered part of his men to cross over to an island in the river. He then positioned his war elephants upstream in an attempt to block the current while the rest of his men attempted the crossing. However, this disturbance caused the water to rise and some soldiers drowned with their heavy armor. Perdiccas then ordered those on the island to return, and some more drowned while others were killed by crocodiles.

In the two failed crossings, about two thousand of Perdiccas' soldiers had perished and nothing had been gained. Later, a group including Peithon, perhaps Seleucus, and others broke into Perdiccas' tent and stabbed him to death. At the conference of Triparadisus that followed, Seleucus was made satrap of Babylonia, and the ensuing Seleucid Empire lasted until 63 BC, approximately 250 years. Ptolemaic Egypt lasted until 30 BC when Octavian and Rome defeated Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony.


Professor Winston is a senior fellow at BOCU, an imaginary university that he invented when printing out his paper B.A. and Ph.D. degrees. His main focus is history, philosophy, economics, and trying to get the undergrad bitches to sleep with him or use his tail for sex acts.

More articles from Professor Winston:
Clowntable Discussion: #MeToo...or just #SheToo?
Glances at Prussian History
Clowntable Discussion: Is it Okay to be Gay?
The Second Reich is Forged
Clowntable Discussion: Super Bowl XLVIII Preview and...Tebow FTW!






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