Here are some of the decisive battles of modern history. We have selected air, land, and sea battles. Of course military historians will argue about which battle in a war is the most important. Often but not always it is the last battle. While we realize that historians will take issue with our selection here. We think, however that few historians will take issue with our selection of these battles as of pivotal importance. Interestingly, it is not always winning the battle that proved decisive. The spectacular Japanese victory at Pearl Harbor doomed the Japanese Empire and the NAZI Third Reich because it brough America into World War II. And several of the battles were decisive because they were standoffs: Antitem (1862) and Jutland (1916).
The Arabs beginning in the 8th century dominated the Indian Ocean, especially the Arabian Sea. This meant that they controlled the lucrative commerce with the Orient. The battle was fought near the port of Diu, India. The Portuguese fought a combined fleet of the Mamlûk Burji Sultanate of Egypt, the Zamorin of Calicut and the Sultan of Gujarat. The Portuguese had technical maritime support from the Republic of Venice and the Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik). In some historical accounts, the battle is referred to as the Second Battle of Chaul. Diu was of great historical significance because it ended the Arab monopoly on the Indian Ocean. It was the beginning of European naval dominance in Asia. It also opened a new front in the centuries old struggle between Christian and Muslim powers. The new front was of emense strategic importance. Dominance of the Indian Ocean controlled trade with Asia, not only India, but the Spice Islands and China as well. Diu was the beginning of Portuguese domination of the Indian Ocean and made possible the development of the Portuguese Empire. The Portuguese victory was made possible by the increasing European technological advances and the failure of the Arabs to promote modern science and other secular thought unrestrained by religious orthodoxy.
This was the final battle between Cortez and Spanish conquistadores and Aztec warriors.
The Ottoman Empire occupied almost all of the Balkans (15th century). They then began to move into central Europe (early 16th century). Here they were opposed principally by Jagiellon Hungary and Hasburg Austria. This was the peak of Ottoman power under the leadership of Süleyman the Magnificent (1520–66). The Ottomans represented a major threat to Christian Europe. Hungary at this time was weakened by peasants' uprisings and internal divisions among the nobility. King Louis II Jagiellon of Hungary and Bohemia (1516-26) faced serious dissent within the country's restive nobility. Süleyman took Belgrade (1521). He then attacked north seizing the opportunity to conquer the weakened Hungarian Kingdom. The Hungarian with their small army faced Süleyman's magnificent army alone. The result ws adisater for Hungary. Their small army was totally defeated at the Battle of Mohács (1526). He killed Louis II and most of the Hungarian nobels (1526). Louis' brother-in-law, Ferdinand of Austria, future Emperor and brother of the Emperor Charles V, pressed claims to both crowns for the Hapsburgs, ending an independent Hungarian crown. The victory gave Süleyman control of Hungary as well as Croatia, a province ruled by the Hungarian monarchy. Suleyman next proceeded to conquer Austria. He beseiged Vienna (1529). Vienna held out and with beginning of winter, Süleyman retreated south. This left both the Austrian Hapsburgs and Suleyman with a claim to Hungary.
Babur and Akbar implant Moul rule in India.
Cajamarca was the Couth American equivalent of Tenochtitlán. Pizarro and his conquistadores confront Inca warriors.
The failure of the Turkish assault on Malta was the end of Muslim expansion in the Mediterranean world.
The Battle of Lepanto was one of the decisive naval battles of history (October 7, 1571).
Pope Pius V organized the Holy League (Spain, Venice, Genoa, Savoy, the Knights of Malta and others) who opposed the Ottoman Empire. The two sides fought off the northern edge of the Gulf of Patras along the western coast of Greece in the Ioanian Sea. The Ottoman fleet proceeded westwards from their naval port at Lepanto where they engaged the Holy League fleet east from Messina at the southern tip of Italy. The Christian fleet decisively defeated the Ottoman fleet giving the Christians effect control of the Mediterranean and ending the Ottomon seaboirne thret to Western Europe. The battle is aloso notable as it was the last major battle fought by galleys and other rowed vessels. It was also the largest, most important naval engagement since the Battle of Actium which settled the fate of the Roman Empire (30 BC).
Nagashino was a fight between traditiin and midernity. Swords no longer prevailed in a gunfight.
English audacity and technology at sea laid the groundwork for the Royal Navy and command of the seas. Sir Francis Drake, Sir John Hawkins , and the other "Sea Dogs" bedelved the Spanish treasure fleet with Queen Elizabeth as a secret partner. The English then formed overseas trading companies and very modest colonization attempts were made in the Caribbean and North America by Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Walter Raleigh. The long conflict with Spain was rooted in
an English hunger for Spanish treasure and a commercial and maritime rivalry, but Philip II's desire to destroy the Reformation in the Netherlands and England was also a very important factor. This struggle culminated in Philip's decession to build a Great Armada. Spain in the 16th century was the preminent international power. The Spain as a result of the Reconquista had buily a powerful military capability. Spain and Portugal at the time had colonized or claimed of the known world and huge quantities of gold and silver flowed into Spain from its American colonies. This enabled Spain to build a hugenavy to maintain its colonial dominions. Phillip was a devout Catholic and determined to destroy the Protestant Revolution in his domanins in the Netherlands and to do the same in England. The depredations of the Sea Dogs had convinced him that he must act against England. He built at great cost an "Invincible Armada" of 125 ships which would link up with the Duke of Parma's army already deployed in the Spanish Netherlands to destroy Protestantism. The Armada would then be used to ferry the Duke's army across the Channel to England where it would march on London and seize the Queen. England would then be brought back to the True Faith at the point of Spanish swords. The Armada was placed under the command of the Duke of Medina Sedonia, a nobelman of limited naval experience. The Armada sailed in late May 1588 and reached the Southwest coast of England on July 19. Limited engagements were fought by Lord Howard and Francis Drake who commanded the English fleet. The more manueverable English vessels harassed the Spanish, using superior cannonery tomdamage several vessels and actually capturing one vessel. The Armada anchored at Calais, but found that the Duke of Parma and his army was not yet there. The English set fire-ships at the Spanish (July 28). Little actual damage was done, but the Spanish scattered to avoid the preceived danger. The principal engagement occurred at Gravelines and in an 8-hour running engagement, many Spanish ships destroyed or damaged (July 29). The Commander of the Armada, the Duke of Medina Sedonia, fearing defeat decided not to invade and return to Spain. The prevailing winds forced him to take a northerly route into the North Sea anfd around Scotland and Ireland. The English pursued the Spanish for 3 days, but returned to port when they exhausted their ammunition. Much more damage, however, was done by storms in the North Sea andd floundered in the coasts of Scotland and Ireland. Only a small number of Spanish ships managed to reach Spanish ports. The destruction of Philip's Grreat Armada was a pivital turning point in history. Spanish naval power was ebbing despite the flow if gold and silver from the America. Britain was beginning its rise as a great naval power.
At about the sametime the Spanish Armada was defeated, another mighty invasion fleet was defeated. The Japanesed launched an invasion of Korea designed to eventually conquer China (1592). The Koreans were unable to risist the mighty Jpanese army. The Japanese also destroyed most of the Korean fleet. Then Admiral Yi Sun-shin with only 12 surviving ships, the famed turtle ships, delivered a a stunning defeat on the huge Jaanese fleet.
This was one of the great samurai battles often described as a Samurai showdown. The victory at Sekigahara unified Japan ubder a dynasty of shoguns that would rule Japan for250 years.
Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha mounted the final Ottomon offensive against Austria, beseiging Vienna again (1683). It was one of the largest and most imporant of all the Ottoman military campaigns. Vienna was releaved by a Christian army composed of forces from Poland-Lithuania and the Holy Roman Empire led by King Jan III Sobieski. The Ottoman defeat before Vienna was a major turning point for the Ottoman Empire. In the short term it was the beginning of the end of their rule in Hungary. The Ottomans signed a peace treaty with the Hapsburgs--the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699). Under the Treaty. the Ottomans ceded Slavonia (part of central Croatia) and most of Hungary (Hungarian pashalik) to the Habsburgs. Thus western and northern Bosnia became the boundary between the Ottoman and Austrian empires.
The Glorious Revolution and the accession of William and Mary set Britain on a course of war with France. Britain would enter the continent at the head of a Grand Coalition to prevent France from conqueing the Dutch Republic and Europe as a whole. It would be the largest British military commitment since the Hundred Years War--also against France. And it would last more than a hundred years and not be settled until Waterloo (1815). The untimely death of first Mary and then William brough Mary's sister Anne to the throne. Anne decided to continue the War. King Louis XIV is said to have remarked that he knew he was getting old when women made war upon him.
In fact, the ascent of Queen Anne was Louis' undoing. Anne appointed John Churchill to command her armies, primarily becauise he was the husband of her close friend Sara Churchill. It was a felicitous appoibtment with emense consequences for John Churchill proved to be a military commander of enormous qualities. He revolutionized European war, persuing awar of movement against a lumbering French army committed to seige warfare. Marlbourgh oversaw perhaps the most brilliant series of military engagements in British history, often securing battles against supperior forces. Marlborough conducted ten victorious campaigns, carrying out over over 30 major seiges, and amazingly never lost a single battle. First he deeated the French threatening the Dutch Republic. After Marlbourogh's initial success in the Low Countries, the Grand Coalition faced a major crisis. Then he marched his army into Germany to come to the relief of the Austrians threatened by a massive French army. Churchill Duke of Marlborough led his British Army east to join with Prince Eugene of Austria. The French supported by the Bavarians attacked the Austrians and were moving toward Vienna. Only English support could save Austria, which was a principal element of the coalition. Fighting in the Low Countries was one thing, there the English Army was never far from a Channel or North Sea port where the Royal Navy could deliever supplies and reinforcements. An English army had never before ventured deep into the heart of Europe and would never do so again until Wold War II. To aid the Autrians, Marlborough, demonstrated his mastery of military tactics and strategy. He marched his army 250 miles across Germany to effect a union with the Austrian forces. The two armies met at Blenheim, an unremarkable small village in Western Bavaria on the Danube east of Ulm. The battle is notable for the march of a British army deep into Europe, a feat which would not be reopeated until World War II. Marlborough and Prince Eugene engaged the main body of the French Army at Blenheim (1704). There Marlbouroughj secured one of the greatest victories in British military history. His sucess raises him to the greath pantheon of military commanders along with Ceaser and Napoleon. He destroyed two-thirds of the French Army and captured its commander, Marshall Tallard. The battle was fought between Blenheim and Höchstädt. This was the major battle of the War for the Spanish Succession (1701-14). The war continued for 10 years, but the victory at Blenheim effectively undermined Louis XIV's efforts to expand French borders to the Rhine.
Sweden emrged as a major power in northern Europe (17th century). This meant that there woukd eventually have ti be a showdown between Sweden and the vast an growing Tsarist Russia. Swedish King Charles XII envisioned conquering Russia. Peter the Great brought about extraordinary changes in Russia leading to its rise as amajor European power. The result came to fruition in the Battle of Poltava which would play a central role in the history of EasternEurope. . Poltava is located in the eastern-central Urkraine. Peter's army routed the Swedish army of Charles XII (1709).
The Battle of Quebec would prove to be the key engagement of The French and Indian War and thus the strugle between Britain and France to control North America. At the time it was not understood the huge historical consequences. The British had to assault a well dortfied city in the middle of the North American continent. The importance of the struggle could be forseen by simply looking at a map. But North America except for a narrow Atlantic coastal strip was still a wildreness. No one at the time could forsee that an industriial powerhouse would arise in that wilderness to not only rival, but eclipse Europe itself.
Some hugely sugnificant battles were rather small engagements. This was the case for thebattleof Trenton . It would prove to be thcritical battle of the Revolutionary War. If Washington would have failed to gain a victory at Trenton, the Continetal rnybwouldhave esebtially ceased to exist.
Picking the most decisivev battle of the Revolutionary War is no easy matter. Another potential choice is the Battle of Trenton (1776), because it kept Washington and his army in the field. Never again did the Americans come so close to defeat. The Battle of Saratoga was also critical. The British by 1777 knew they were no longer fighting a rag-tag force of rable., but most military commanders assumed that victory was still assured. Saratoga was the culmination of the second major British offensive in North America. This was part of a British master plan for the summer of 1777 to split the Colonies. General Johnny Burgoyne would drive south from Canada and seize Albany. General Clinton would drive north up the Hudson Valley and join up with Burgoyne at Albany. A smaller British army commanded by Barry St Leger and made up primarily of native Americans would seize Fort Stanwix and move on Albany from the West. Not only would the Colonies be split, but any defending American force might be captured in mass. The plan poorly conceived and did not take in account the problems of moving through the wilderness where roads did not exist or the consequences on American public opinion of using a Native American force. Perhaps the greatest weakness was planning a campaign in the depyths of the wilderness where British forces would be unsupported by the Royal Navy. The plan was put in motion with Burgoyne moving south from Canada (June). At first it seemed to be going well. The British seized Fort Ticonderoga without a fight. After Lake Champgne, Burgoyne found it increasingly difficult to move his cimbersome army complete with camp followers through the heavily wooded American wildreness. There were substantial losses of men through sickness and low-level attacks from militiamen. Burgoyne sent a column to supress the militia, but they were badly mauled at Bennington. The British western force invested Ft. Stanwix. A small American force commanded by Benedict Arnold managed to save Fort Stanwix in the Mohawk Valley and disperse the Native American forces. The small British force retired to Canada. Arnold joined the American commander defending Albany, Horatio Gates, who had moved north to Saratoga where he chose a strong defensive position. Arnold and Gates quaraled over the conduct of the battle. Burgoyne moves on the American forces (September 17). Arnold and riflemen under Daniel Morgan attack the British center column at Freeman's Farm. They are joined by Gates' main army. Although at the end if the figting an British flanking attack forces them to withdraw to their fortified positions. The British retained possession of the battlefield atFreeman's Farm and built redoubts where they waited 3 weeks for Clinton to arrive from the south. The American force was still swelling. The fighting had stopped the British advance and had inflicted very serious losses on Burgoyne's army which was already depleted from the treck through the wildeness and the defeat at Bennington. The British use of Native American allies inflamed the backwoods Americans. Large numbers joined Gates' forces, swelling his force to 12,000 more than double Burgoyne's army. Meanwhile his supplies were running low and in the middle of the American backwoods there was no way to resupply his army. Burgoyne decided probe the American lines and struck at the left flan (October 7). The British and German mercenaries are beaten back with heavy losses and the loss of Breymann Redoubt. Again Arnold, who had been releaved of command by Gates, played a key role in the fighting and is severely wounded. Burgoune is forced to retire north to to Saratoga Heights with his 4,000 remaining troops (October 8). The American force swells to over 20,000 men which Gates used to suuround Burgoyne's army. He no longer had the option of retiring back to Canada. Burgoyne was still hopeful that the British southern force would soon reach him, but in fact they had not even begun to move north. Burgoyne had no choice but to surrender. When Gates threatened a final assault, Burgoyne finally surrendered (October 17). The news electrified the Colonies. Many did not believe a British field army could be defeated. The surrender of an entire British field army to colonial rebels shocked the world. The British defeat resulted in a sense of the bitterness and despair for the nation that could have so easily possessed the whole of North America and all the potential consequences for the European ballance of power. Not only was the British attempt to divide the Colonists defeated at Saratoga, but it convinced the French to enter the War, a crucial development to the American cause. Gates' victory at Saratoga was in lrge part due to Arnold;s actions. Even so, is fame led to him being appointed to command the American southern army which he led to destruction putting the American cause in peril. Gates fled from the battefield at the height of the fighting..
Valmy was the critical battle that saved the French Revolution. As the Revolution turned radical, the monarchies of Europe, especially Austria (Marie Antoinette was an Austrian pribcess) and Prussia, joined withb the emigress to restore order and the monarchy. Valmy is a small village in the Argonne in northeast France. Advancing Prussian forces were stopped by French artillery at Valmy (September 20, 1792). The Prussians declined to coninue their advance and withdrew accross the Rhine.
Napoleon defeated army after army on the Continent. The British because of the Channel and the Royal Navy were able to continue resisting him. Napoleon dearly wanted to invade Britain. To do so, he needed command of the Channel. Napoleon ordered the Brest (Atlantic) and Toulon (Mediterranean) fleets to join in preparation for a campaign aimed at seizing control of the vital English Channel. The combined fleet sailed into Cadiz joining with the Spanish fleet while the Royal Navy other Admiral Horatio Nelson concentrated its forces around the port. The combined fleets posed a serious challenge to the British. Nelson devised an innovative strategy, risky strategy for the battle that would take place at Cape Trafalgar. The British fleet was outnumbered. Instead of the expected massive battle in a standard line battle, Nelson lead the British fleet straight into the French and Spanish line. Nelson in Victory led one of the two lines of British ships--exposing himself to enemy fire. The resulting battle uterly destroyed the French and Spanish fleets. They lost 22 ships and 10,000 men. The British did not lose even a single ship. [Mostert] It was one of the most decisive naval engagements in history and there would not be a serious challenge to British naval dominance for a century. Nelson was killed by a French sniper.
Napoleon Bonaparte's greatest victory was achieved at Austerlitz. The Austrians and Russians sought to destroy Napoleon by combining their armies. Prussia close not to join them. Napoleon had his own plans and set a masterful trap that suceeded in destroying the Austria Army and badly damaging the Russian Army. He decieved the allied Austrian-Russian armies as to his true strength. He bated them with a small exposed force and then brought to bear carefully positioned reinforcements. Bonaparte at the beginning of the battle faced the combined Allied army of 85,000 men and 278 guns with just 66,000 men of his own. The ruse he spring was to abandon a strong central position on the Pratzen Heights and left his right flank weak. The Allies saw it as aretreat and moved in force against theFrench. They occupie the Heights and then weakened their centre to attack the exposed French right. Just as the Allies attacked, Marshal Davout's III Corp arrived to bolster the French line. With the Allied troops committed to the attack, Napoleon launched a French assault that not only
regained the Pratzen Heights, but split the Allied Army. In the intense fighting that followed, the Austrian Army was desimated. Many fleeing soldiers were lost when a frozen lake split under the weight of men and guns. The French lost 8,000 while the Russian and Austrian emperors, both present at the battle, suffered losses of more than 27,000 men killed, wounded and captured. Napoleon also captured 180 cannon. The Austrian Emperor was forcedto seek terms. The Russian emperor with his army badly damaged was forced to move back into Poland. This left Prussia exposed. Napoleon's defeat of Prussia forced to fight without allies at Jenna (1806) left him the mater of Europe.
Leipzig was a massive military clash. Seven European countries combined their forces to finally defeat Napoleon, still recovering from the disaster in Russia. . Four armies converged on Napoleon at Leipzig. It proved to be another disaster for the French.
Waterloo was the culmination of the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815). With the Congress of Vienna in session, Napoleon escaped from Elba, seized cintrol of France and launched a new military offensive known as the Hundred Days Campsign. Waterloo itself was a small village in southern Belgium of little importance, but was simply where important armies colided. Napoleon realized that success could be achieved only by defeating the Allied armies in detail before they could join forces. His plan was to defet the British and Priussians befor engaging the Austrians and Russians. Here he experienced some success. He defeated the Prussians under Blücher at Ligny (June 16), but Blücher fell back in good order. Napoleon ordered Grouchy to press him and then joined Ney to engage the British at Quatre Bras. Wellington withdrew to a more defensible position at Waterloo hoping for Blücher to join him. Napoleon attacked (June 18), the British line wavered but toward the end of the day Blücher who had eluded Grouchy arrived and smashed into thev French right flank. The French army was devestated. Napoleon fled the fiekd and abdicated a few days later (June 22).
The Napoleonic Wars and the French occpation of Spain provided the opportunity for the Crillollos to raise against Spanish rule. The British prevented any action against the independence movements at the Cingres if Vienna. And the Royal Navy made any major Spanish effort to retake their colonies. The three key independence leaders were Bolívar in the north and San Marín and O'Higgins in the south. Their campaign finally coverged on the liberation of Peru where Royalist forces were still strong. The issue was finally decided on the plains of Ayachucho which ended the Spanish Empire in the America, except for the Caribbean island possessions of Cuba anbd Puerto Rico.
One might think that all of the decisive bttles of history were massive battles with huge armies. That is he case in many, but not all instances. Trento (1777) which saved the American Revolution was a vefry small engagement. San Jacinto is another reltive small battle. Texas proved a diffucult territory for Mexico to control even before the arrival of the americans. The Tejanos resented central cintrol from Mexico City. Mexicans generally were ot attracted to the northern territories, both Texas and what is now the American Southwest. One problem here was the Native Americans (especially the A[ache and the Comanches). E,ogration from the new United States created another problem. Santa Ana put down one Tejano uprising. With the arrival of the americans another rebellion flared. He came nirth again with a large army and shotg those who resisted, including prisoners. He took the outposts at San Antonio (the Alamo) and Golead. San Jacinto was the showdown between Sanya Ana and the American commander, Sam Houston. Houston had been retreating, but finally turned and fought. The 18-minute fight gained Texas indeoedendence and eventually the entire southwest, a third of Amnerica's continental territory.
British India was the preserve of the East India Company (EIC), known in India as the Sirkar. This was a commercial trading corporation based in London. It was not a Britisg Government agency. Like other companies, it was answerable to its shareholders. But it was also answerable to the British Parliament. British foreign policy at the time was shifting. For centuries the primary fpe in British history was France located cross the Channel. Britain had limited contct with the Russians and what contact they had was commercial or in the Npoleonic Wars, fighting as allies. This began to change with the acquisition of India. The British began to see the Russians expandung south from the Ukraine and Central Asia as a threat not only to communication wih India, but to India itself. This would eventually erupt in to the Crimean War (1854). The First Afghan War was a precursor. The EIC becamme obsessed with the idea that the Russians were determined to expand their empire south and invade India through Afghanistan. The Northwest Frontier became an increasing concern.
Lord Auckland, the British governor general in India, decided to launch the First Afghan War, often seen as Britain’s most ill-advised war. The EIC at the time was envied and feared throughout India. The indians saw them as militarily all powerful and could not be challenged. The Afghan War changed this. The British retreat from Kabul (January 1842) and the complete annihilation of Elphinstone’s Kabul garrison was a huge blow to the EIC and British prestige in India.
The British encountered many difficultues. They underestimated the difficulties of campaigning in Afghanistan’s rugged and inhospitable mountainous terrain. They did not understand turbulent Afghan politics or its armed Muslim population prepared to resist British and Hindu rule. Before the invention of rapid-fire weapons, local population had a better chance to resist European armies, especilly in rugged terraine away from coasts. And the British did not put the campaign in capable military hands. The EIC Army was primarily composed of Hindus. The substantially Hindu East India Company army crossed the Indus and moved north with considerable concerrn. Many of the Sepoy soldiers feared losing caste by leaving Hindustan. And the became increasingly concerned with the terraine they encountered moving north. The men died of heat, disease and food shortages as they marched north to Kandahar They were attacked in the mountain passes by the irregular forces of the Afghan tribes. By the time they reached Kabul the EIC army had been weakened. The British commanders are widely seen as rank incompetents
The impact of the disaster of the First Afghan War severely undermined the prestige of the EIC and its military reputation. The subsequent defence of Jellalabad and the success of the Army of Retribution could not return the reputation of the East India Company’s reputation to the commanding height it once occupied. The disaster at Kabul and the Kyber Pass were thus an important, but not only factor, in the Great Mutiny in the Bengal Army (1857).
The American Civil War is normally seen as a domestic struggle with only minimal consequences to Europe and other countries. In fact the history of the 20th century would have been very different had not a united America been able to intervene to save the European democricies on three separate occassions. There were many important battles in the War. We think Antitem was the most important. It was Lee's first attemp to take the War to thb north and resulted in the single bloodiest day of fighting. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac at Hsrper's Ferry. He was met by McCllelen's Army of the Potomac at Sharkerburg, Maryland. Some of the fighting took place along Antitem Creek. In three major engagements, Lee's smaller armyb was devestated, but McClellan characteristicallt refused to press his advantage. Had he done so, the Confederate rebellion probanly would have collapsed. Even so it was a huge Federal victory. Not only were Lee's losses irreplaceable, but given the North's material advantages, Condederate victory in the War would have had to come early before the North could mobilize its greater industrial strength and population. The Federal victory at Antitem discouraged European leaders (especially in England and France) from supporting the Confederacy.
After the Napoleonic Wars it was clear that Germany would be unified. The basic question was who would do it, Austria or Prussia. The issued was settled at Königgrätz. major factor was Prussia'searly industrialization. The railrods played a major role in the American Civil War. Königgrätz was the first EuropeanWar where the railroads played a major role. The two forces, hoever were evenly matched. Either could have emerged victorious. Prussia and Austria were the two major countries, but both had allies among the mny German states. Bimarck's strategy was to seize the German states allied to Austria. The character of the new unified German Empire was decided at Königgrätz.
Sedan is a French garrison town on the Meuse River in the Ardennes. Here a largely Prussian rmy decisively defeated the French in the Franco-Prussian War (1870). The Prussiansv also captured French Emperor Napoleon III. The battle is important because the Prussian victory led to the unification of German under Prussian leadership. Sedan was also a World War II battle (1940). The German Panzers at Sedan affected a crossing of the Meuse River, this breeching French defenses leading to the defeat of the Frebnch Army.
Throughout August the German Army moved rlentlessly forward, albeit behind schedule and a great cost. The British and Belgians had shlowed the German advance and diverted German focus on the French. The French army was central to the Allied war effort. The Belgians could delay the Germans and the British could play a mjor supporting role, but in the final analysis it would have to be the French Army that would stop the Germans. The Germans began to cross the Marne and it looked like the French would have to abandon Pars to the Germans. Joseph Joffre, the Commander-in-Chief of the French forces, ordered his men to fall back to a defensible line along the River Seine, south-east of Paris and over 60-km south of the Marne (September 3). Sir John French, BEF commander comitted to attacking the advanncing Germans. The French 6th Army attacked the German Ist Army at the Marne (September 6). General Alexander von Kluck wheeled his entire force to meet the attack, opening a 50-km gap between his forces and the German 2nd Army led by General Karl von Bulow on his flank. The British the French 5th Army struck into that gap, splitting the two German armies. The fighting was furious, the French 6th Army was close to collapse, but the French used Paris taxis to rush 6,000 reserve troops to the front. Finally von Moltke had to order von Bulow and von Kluck to fallback (September 9). Miraculously the French Army had managed to stop the Germans at the Marne, saving Paris. [Tuchman] Not only were the Germans forced to retire back over the Marne, but the French and British crossed the Marne in pursuit. The Schlieffen Plan had failed to bring a quick German victory. By this time the German army had ehausted itself and the two sides began digging trenches to protect themselves from the murderous machine guns and artillery. The short war of rapid movement that everyone had expected degenerated on the Western Front into a stagnant war of the attrition. The Germns had gambled that following the Schliffen Plan and invading Belgium and bringing Britain into the war would be a moot point after a swift victory. This proved to hav been a disastrous miscalculation.
Much of modern history flows from World War I. It is difficult to select one critical battle from the War as the single decisive battle. Perhaps we could chopose the Miracle on the Msrne, because it was here that the Germans were stopped, ending any hope on their part of a quick victory (1914). But we think that Verdun was the single most important battle, actually a series of battles (February-December 1916). It was at Verdun that the French Army was tested to its core. This was the German goal. German Chief of Staff, Erich von Falkenhayn, had concluded as a result of the failed offensives fought during 1915 by both sides that a major break through could not be achieved on the Western Front. So he conceived the strategy of destroying the French Army by bleeding it dry through inflicting massive casualties. The Germns knew the French would resist in force any effort to seize Verdun. So the Germans set out to crack the French Army. The bulk of the Allied force on the Western Front was the French Army and if the Germans could crack it, they would win the War. After the Franco-Prussian War, the French had built a ring of military strongholds around Verdun. The Germans in 1916 focussed their military opperations on breaking the French at Verdun. It was the longest and most costly battle of the War. The Germans succeeded in taking outlieing forts (Douaumont and Vaux), but the French in Verdun held. The defense was overseen by Marshal Pétain and General Nivelle. The French repulsed a series of massive German assaults. The French rallying cry was, "They shall not pass." Over a million men are believed to have died in the intense fighting. The Germans suceeded in cripling the French Army. After Verdun, the French were no longer capable of major offensive operations. But the German losses were heavy as well which impaired German military strength. Verdun was critical because the Allies had access to greater resources than the Germans. And after Verdun the greater material resources of the Allies increasingly affected the German War effort as well as home front morale. While the French bled at Verdun, the British began building a massive conscript army (1916). The declining German position was compounded by the Kaiser's incredibly ill-conceived German policies which brought America with its enormous resources and manpower into the War (1917).
The Battle of the Somme is one of the major engagements of World War I. The BEF supported by the French attempted to take the German's strong defensive position in the Somme valley. The French had convined the Brittish commander Douglas Haig to launch an offensive to relieve the German pressure on the French at Verdun. The British casualties were horrendous. It is probable that if modern media existed at the time that the War would have endeded at Verdun and the Somme. The British public if they had fully understood what had happened would not have tolerated the War. The same can be said of the French Verdun. The Somme was a terrible bloodletting. After the Somme there was no illusioins in Britain about what war meant.
Allied commanders on the Western Front fought a series of battles for 4 long years. The battles were costly, but inconclusive. The Admiraly lived with the nightmare that failure in a seabattle could lose the War in a single day. Jutland was the climatic naval battle of World War I. It was the battle that the British Royal Navy and the Imperial Germany fleets had been preparing for two decades. It was, however, an accidental battle and neiter side was able to implement its battle plans. The result proved to be a stand-off. The Germans narrowly escaped destruction and managed to inflict greater losses on the British than they sustained. Thus the Germans with some validity could even claim a victory, Yet a standoff meant that the debilitating Royal Navy blockade of Germany remained in place. And the blockade would play a major role in the defeat of Germany. The German Navy would never again challenge the British in fotce.
The Meuse-Argonne was the principal engagement of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) during World War I and the first American involvement in Europen affirs of any importance. The Germans did not take the Americans seriously. The British did. A high priority for the British was to draw America into the War. The Kaiser knew that America did not have a sizeable army. The Navy assured him that the U-boats would prevent America from transporting what ever it cobbeled together to Europe. As a result, the Kaiser ordered the resumption of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare (1917).. The only real result was to draw Ametica into the war. Incredibly after paying an enormous price in blood to smash the French Army, Germany drew America into the War, a country with enormous man power reserves. The enormity of this disatrous decesion was felt in the Meuse Argon. The Allied Meuse-Argonne Offensive (Maas-Argonne Offensive or the Battle of the Argonne Forest) was a key part of the final Allied offensive of World War I that waslaunched along the entire Western Front--the first such operaton (September 26-November 11, 1918). The Allied war winning operation is known as the Hundred Days Offensive. The Meuse-Argonne was a joint American-French operation, but primarily fought by the Americans. Itwas the largest battle in American military history. More than 1.2 million American soldiers participated in the battle.
Of all the battles we have selected for this page, this may be the least well known. It certainly is not the least important. Many countries found after going to war they had made a huge mistke, Then of course it was too late. This was not the case of the Japanese Militarists. After 2 years of victoris over the undustrialized Chimnese with few modern weapons, the Japanese should have know the importance of industry and tehnology. And if they did not, this obscure battle on of all palces the Manchrian-Mongolian battle should have told them. They came face to face with a modern-well armed military force at Khalkkhin Gol (July 1939). They had faced the Russins before (1904-05). But this was Siviet Russia with a huge industrail base and modern weapons. And it was a disaster. In fact a small version of the massive invasin visited on the Japanese when th Soviet invaded Japanese-occupied Manchuko. Any basic logic would have old the Japanese after Khalkkhin Gol that they were ill-prepared for modern industrial warfare.
Yet the militarists for some reason continued to believe that the Japanese fighting spirit was the critical factor. They decided somehow that the way to dinally defeat Nationalist China was to attack the Unitd States--the greatest inditrial powrhouse in the world. In fairness to the Japanese milirarists, at the time they made their fateful decesion, it looked like the Whermacht was able to destroy the Red Army. But even here, the decession was virtually lunacy. If the Germans has the military capabiliy of defeating the Soviet Union, what would have stopped them from evntually turning east and evtually defeating Japan as well.
The Battle of Britain was seen as important at the time, few preceived how important--especially in America. After the fall of France only Briain and her dominions were left fighting the NAZIs. Not well preceived at the time was that the NAZI defeat was a failur of technology. The NAZIs saw themselves as being technologically superior to other countries because of their racial superiority. Hitler believed this and their fighting spirit wouls overcome the larger numbers and greater resources arrayed against them. To suffer a technological defeat did not bode well for Germany's ability to prosecute the War. A British defeat would have also greatly strengthened the Germans and allowed them to focus entirely on the invasion of the Soviet Union. And without Britain, America would have been unable to launch an air campaign against Germany, nor would it have been possible to launch the D-Day invasion to liberate France. Britain's capitulation would have in effect insulated Germany and enabled them to use the resources of occupied Europe to build a war machine that would have been virtually unassaleable.
Most popular assessments of the war in the East focus on Stalingrad (1942). While undeniablly a key battle in World War II, the battle before Moscow (December 1941) was the key battle in the struggle. Germany's war effort was based on defeating opponents before thoise countries werecarmed with modern weapons. This worked with Poland and France, but failed with Britain. Germany to persue a lengthy war needed to gain access to resources, especially petroleum. To fight a war against the Soviet Union as well as Britain and America at the same time, the NAZIs needed to quickly defeat the Soviets and gain control of the great resource base of the Soviet Union. Thus the success of Opperatiom Barbarossa was central to the German war effort. Given the material and industrial resources of the America, Britain, and the Soviet Union, Germany could not win a lengthy war. The Soviet offensive before Moscow denied the NAZIs the quick victory on which Hitler based his war planning. The Soviets not only stopped the Wehrmacht, but inflected massive losses in men amd materials--losses that Germans could not easily replace. After the failure to take Moscow, the NAZIs faced an Allied coalition with emense industrial and human resources. The Allies were able to mobilize and equip much larger armed forces than Germany was able to do.
Pearl Harbor was the greatest American military disaster in history. It was the Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into the War. While Pearl Harbor was a stunning tactical victory, it was a strategicblunder by the Japanese of incaluable proportions. It was a successful military success, brilliantly executed by the Japanese. Eight battle ships, the heart of the American Pacific fleet were sunk. But the three carriers of the Pacific fkeet, the real target of the attack, were not at Pearl. Despite the success of the attack, it was perhaps the greatest strtegic blunder in the history of warfare. The Japanese attack on the Pacific fleet changed everything. A diverse and quareling nation, strongly pacifistic was instantly changed into a single, united people with a burning desire to wage war. The issolationism that President Roosevelt had struggled against for over 7 years instantly disappeared. Even Lindburg asked for a commision to fight for the United States. And even the battleships sunk by the Japanese at Pearl were mostly refloted and repaired and played roles in the War.
The enormous miscalculation by the Japanese of attacking the United States was made manifest at Midway. The Japanese after Pearl Harbor were the dominant naval power in the Pacific, but the American carriers were no as planned at Pearl and escaped destruction. And for the next 6 months the Japanese rather than forcing a follow-up naval engagement and destroying the carriers, they proceeded to carve out an enormous empire in the South Pacific. They even launched a sortee into the Indian Ocean of minor importance. All this gave the American carrier force time to prepare and improve their fightging capability. Only after the Dolittle Raid did the Imperial Navy proceed to force the Pacific Fleet to battle. The result was that 6 months after Pearl Harbor, an America carrier force aided by signals intelligence ambushed the Imperial Navy at Midway. The Americans destroyed four of the six main-line Japanese carriers, in essence carving the heart out of the Imperial Navy. The Japanese not only lost carriets at Midway, but also large numbers of their finely trained pilots. Midway bought the time that America needed for emense industrial power to produce needed new carriers. Soon after Midway a tidal wave of new Essex-class carriers and new aircraft types (especially Hell Cats, began reaching the hard-pressed Pacific Fleet.
The battle of Stalingrad is generally seen as the turning point in the Second World War. The German summer 1942 offendive fouced on the south, including the Ukraine, the Causeses, and reaching the Volga at Stalingrad. The massive winter losses had significantly reduced the capabilities of the Wehrmacht. They simply were unable to accomplish the assigned objectives. The Wehrmacht no longer had the strength to launch a massive offensive all along the Eastern Front. They decided to strike in the south toward Stalingrand and the Caucuses where Hitler was especially interested in the oil resources. The powefull, well-equipped 6th Army was assigned the task. Initially they achieved startling successes. The shatered elements of the Red Army fell back accross the Don and were persued by the 6th Army. German inteligence, however, failed to appreciate the ability of the Russians to form and arm replcement armies. Hitler refused to even listen to estimates of Soviet strength. Hitler here made a deadly error. He dividing his forces, weakening 6th Army in an effort to seize the oil rich Caucusses. The Red Army withdrew accross the Volga when the 6th Army reached Stalingrad on August 19, but mainatined forces needed in the city to steadily bleed the Germans. Stalingrad was an important industrial city and a major transportation center for southern Russia. Hitler was also attracted by the name of the city. He felt seizing the city would be a propaganda blow to Stalin and his regime. By fighting in the city, however, the 6th Army's powerful mobil striking potential was negated by determined Red Army soldiers. The Soviet counter-offensive surrounding the 6th Army in Stalingd came as a complete suprise to the Germans. The result when Hitler refused to let the 6th Army break out was the complete loss of the Army, the most powerfull unit in the German order of battle (December 1942-January 1943).
The Western Allies on June 4, 1944 in a dareing amphibious and airborn operatrion opened the long awaited second front on the Normandy beaches which as become known as D-Day. The invasion of Normandy, code named Overlord, was the single
most important battle fought by the Western Allies in World War II. The opening of the second front finally releaved pressure on the Red army in the east. The D-Day invasion, however, meant much more. On the outcome of the battle hinged no less than the future of democracy and Western civilization in Europe. Failure at Normandy would have meant that the future of Europe would have been settled by the titantic struggle in the East between Hitler and Stalin, cerainly the two most evil men in European history. An invasion of France had been the primary goal of American military planners and President Roosevelt since the entry of America into the War in December 1941. Churchill was less convinced. And largely at urging, the first joint Allied offensive was in the Meditteranean. The invasion was an enormous risk. All Allied victories in Europe were achieved by the weight of overwealing superority of men and material to badly over streached German forces. In France, the Allies faced some of the strongest units in the Gernany Army who would until several weeks into the battle be able to amass far superior forces. The Allies had to plan on naval and air superiority to protect the inital beach lodgements until powerful land forces could be landed and deployed. For over two years the Allies had been building a massive force in England which on June 6 was unleased on Hitler's Fortress Europe. The Allies struck with the largest armada ever assembled. First paratroop landings inland and then at after dawn came British, Canadian, and American landings on five Normandy beaches. It was a complete surprise, an incredible accomplishment for an operation of this scope and magnitude
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