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Subject: The Biggest Dumbest Moves in Military History rss

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The Big Three Naval thread always goes back to Pearl Harbor, hence this post.

WW2: In Threes. We like Threes, so three it is.


Day of Infamy: The Attack on Pearl Harbor was Epic Stupid. I agree with those that had this not been done, the US and Japan would have had at best a limited war. Of course, the trigger was the steel and oil embargo, but that was based on Japan having to fight a major war with the USN - something avoidable by NOT ATTACKING the US directly.

The second worst mistake happened a few days later, when dumb old Adolf decided to Declare War on the United States.

The third - compared to the above, hard to think of something of similar magnitude, but perhaps it was the War in Russia.

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Never get involved in a land war in Asia.

Also, I don't think the attack on the US Fleet at Pearl Harbor was necessarily a "mistake". It was a gamble. Certainly, the policies of Japan and the US were on a collision course in the Pacific and East Asia, given that both wanted to dominate the region economically. The US had the ascendant position, and for Japan to accept that it would have to subject its growing economy to the whims of the US. They did not accept this, the US did everything it could to provoke Japan, and war was inevitable.

Hitler's declaration makes much less sense; I've never really understood why that happened. ("He was a nutjob" always seems insufficient.)
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Hey, we won our big one there, and got a long term holding action on the second one.

But yeah, generally, don't attack Russians and/or Asians or their hybrids.
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The 3 dumbest to me are:

1) World War 1

2) Secession, or any strategic decision on the part of the American South 1860-1865.

3) Anglo-Zanzibar War.
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As for 'military history', I would have to say the campaign of Gallipoli, was pretty much dumb.

It was a waste of time, money and most importantly soldiers. Nothing was ever gained.

Another... The sailing of the Spanish Grand Armada in 1588 was intimidating at best, but completely ineffectual. Pretty dumb.

On a smaller scale, Little Big Horn: Custer's Last Stand was pretty dumb. Blind arrogance lead Custer's men to their last stand. In the wide scope of history, that is pretty small in scale, but pretty dumb nonetheless...


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wmd8tc wrote:
The 3 dumbest to me are:

2) Secession, or any strategic decision on the part of the American South 1860-1865.


Looking at the latter point in your post, I would have to disagree to a point.

Playing a purely defensive war, was quite effective. Lee had his biggest defeat at Gettysburg (125th Anniversary edition), when going onto the offensive and invading the North. The need for international recognition of the Confederacy, and an end to the war after several successful defensive campaigns was the impetus to invade, but nonetheless the offensive lead to his defeat. With the surrender of Vicksburg in the western theater, in the same summer as Gettysburg.... It was the beginning of the end, though bloody and long.
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"Biggest Dumbest Moves in Military History" and you cite three examples all from World War II? Geesh!

1. Trojans bringing the Greek horse 'gift' inside the city gates. Especially as Cassandra knew what it was and called to the Greek soldiers inside by name. Then again, the gods had determined that nobody would heed Cassandra in any event. Troy was one of the greatest cities of the Eastern Mediterranean, until that event.

2. Alcibiades' Syracusan expedition of 415-413 BC. In the midst of the Peloponnesian War this expedition was conceived with inadequate definition of purpose or command structure. The loss of 200 ships, 9,000 hoplites, and 25,000 experienced sailors (plus many more Italian and Sicilian allies of Athens), and the ascendency this allowed for the victorious Spartans who came to Syracuse's aid, sounded a death knell for Athenian hopes in the war. The remaining Athenian fleet was left to be manned largely by ill-trained slaves, the Delian League rose in a revolt which could not be suppressed, Athenian democracy was temporarily overthrown for an oligarchy, and Persia entered the war on the side of Sparta. If it needs to be said... the war resulted in the decline of Athens and ascendency of Sparta until they in turn were defeated by Thebes, who were in turn defeated by Macedon, who were in turn defeated by Rome.

3. Marcus and Publius Crassus' war "nulla causa" against Parthia 55-53 BC. This resulted in the Battle of Carrhae in which both were killed, along with 20 thousand other Romans (plus 10 thousand others who were captured). Bonus because of the objections of Cicero. Oddly, Julius Caesar encouraged it, but there is no question the Crassi(?) themselves were the war's protagonists and intended benefactors. Rome itself shrugged off the defeat (like so many others in its history - it just bred more Romans), it is just that this was such a pointless, un-needed, and poorly executed war.
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From what I understand about Pearl Harbor, most of the US's naval oil reserves were stored within a very short distance of the attack. If the Japanese had destroyed the oil it would have crippled the US Navy for several years.
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WW2

Operation Market Garden
Operation Bodenplatte
Wacht Am Rhein
 
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sdiberar wrote:


Never get involved in a land war in Asia.

Also, I don't think the attack on the US Fleet at Pearl Harbor was necessarily a "mistake". It was a gamble. Certainly, the policies of Japan and the US were on a collision course in the Pacific and East Asia, given that both wanted to dominate the region economically. The US had the ascendant position, and for Japan to accept that it would have to subject its growing economy to the whims of the US. They did not accept this, the US did everything it could to provoke Japan, and war was inevitable.

Hitler's declaration makes much less sense; I've never really understood why that happened. ("He was a nutjob" always seems insufficient.)


Hitler was expecting that Germany declaring war on Japan would lead to Japan declaring war on the Soviets, and that would keep the Soviet forces stretched in both directions.

Instead the Soviets knew from their espionage rings that Japan would NOT attack the Soviets, because of the results of a covered up border skirmish (that killed about 17,000 troops,) called the Battle of Khalkhyn Gol. So the Soviets pulled their best shock troops out of the East to save Moscow, and the Germans could not understand why Japan wasn't helping them win the war.


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Wilhammer wrote:
Pearl Harbor was Epic Stupid.


Nah. It was new thinking, untested thinking. Stupid is doing something that fails when you should have known better; there was no real way for Japan to know better.

There was no way to avoid war in the Pacific. So, is it better to pre-emptively strike the enemy's main base in theater before war declaration or after? Before. If there is fail here, it is only that the Japanese really failed to capitalize on the situation.

Epic stupid was any of the Axis powers thinking they could win political and economic concessions from the Allied powers through warfare. That was a failure to recognize the huge disparity in power and advantage that the haves (the Allies) had over the have nots (the Axis)... both did fairly well fighting a foolish war with largely inevitable results.

If there can be said to be any major failure in military planning for the Axis, it was in getting involve in a war with a major power that was an ocean away. At the time, there was no way to wage that kind of conflict... a complete unknown. Even today, in the Information Age, we have a hard time doing it well.

Quote:
The second worst mistake happened a few days later, when dumb old Adolf decided to Declare War on the United States.


Irrelevant and inevitable once their allies attacked the US. They were on a collision course for this already after Dunkirk and the beginning of massive economic aid to Europe.

Quote:
The third - compared to the above, hard to think of something of similar magnitude, but perhaps it was the War in Russia.


The real epic fail here was a political one - if these tyrants had been less crazy and more diplomatic, Russia could have perhaps formed an alliance with Germany instead of gone to war. That would have been the end of the democratic experiment and we'd all be happy fascists today... a Cold War perhaps between Germany and Russia perhaps.

But that is the way of tyrants. They don't share power. They suck at diplomacy and alliances. So, congratulations ... we get to be free because they were stupid and greedy.
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For dumbest moves there are many options... I would say some of the worst are...

1. Hitler letting the British Army escape at Dunkirk. He seemed to believe Goering when he said he could keep the Army trapped there until the British accepted terms. He was wrong about both trapping them, and the British wanting terms.

2. WWI is full of both sides accepting massive losses for the attempt of big gains, and then when the action shows no sign of success, the response is to send larger forces in. Maybe this would be forgivable once, but to become a repeat for over 2 years in different campaigns? To quote one of the best documentaries I've ever seen, "The Somme was a tragedy, but Passendale was a crime."

3. The Russians sending the Baltic Fleet all to the Pacific to die in a few hours in Russo-Japanese war. It was a miracle that the fleet even made it that far, but also they caused an international incident when they mistook a British FISHING FLEET off the coast of ENGLAND for the Japanese navy, and shot it up.

4. The French at Crecy and Agincourt. In both cases the French chose to throw away all their advantages and decide that a frontal assault was the way to victory.

5. The French declaring war on Prussia in 1870. Napoleon III didn't think they could win, but would bow to public opinion. France declaring war led to the German Confederation rallying around Prussia, and the war would lead to the Fall of the French Empire and the rise of a unified Germany, the great fear of France.
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CM Randall wrote:
Looking at the latter point in your post, I would have to disagree to a point.


Secession was foolish because all the wealth, power, and connections were in the North. They were outperformed early, but much like the Germans in WW2, it was pretty much inevitable what would happen - the North would use its greater economic power to gradually overwhelm the South.

Many, many "military" failures are not failures of military practice at all. They are political failures. Political leaders, for political or economic reasons, think they can get what they want using warfare... but warfare is almost always an epic fail when you start down on the economic scale. The only times the poor beat the rich is when the rich have major problems such as distance working against them - that's the only way colonies won independence, for example; the cost and complexity of waging war across oceans.

Military men making bad military decisions is generally rare - think Custer - their lives are usually on the line. But politicians set their militaries up for failure all the time.
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Freitag wrote:
2. WWI is full of both sides accepting massive losses for the attempt of big gains, and then when the action shows no sign of success, the response is to send larger forces in. Maybe this would be forgivable once, but to become a repeat for over 2 years in different campaigns? To quote one of the best documentaries I've ever seen, "The Somme was a tragedy, but Passendale was a crime."


This gets my biggest thumb up. Totally right - the generals fighting WWI were complete fools. They didn't fight the last war, they fought the war of 1000 years before. Your answer is more men?!

You can see in WW2 how the new leadership understood they would have to innovate and outproduce, not just keep grinding away at it.
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cosine wrote:
CM Randall wrote:
Looking at the latter point in your post, I would have to disagree to a point.


Secession was foolish because all the wealth, power, and connections where in the North. They were outperformed early, but much like the Germans in WW2, it was pretty much inevitable what would happen - the North would use its greater economic power to gradually overwhelm the South.

Many, many "military" failures are not failures of military practice at all. They are political failures. Political leaders, for political or economic reasons, think they can get what they want using warfare... but warfare is almost always an epic fail when you start down on the economic scale. The only times the poor beat the rich is when the rich have major problems such as distance working against them - that's the only way colonies won independence, for example; the cost and complexity of waging war across oceans.

Military men making bad military decisions is generally rare - think Custer - their lives are usually on the line. But politicians set their militaries up for failure all the time.


I have to agree with Eric. I think what has to be differentiated between is two categories:

1) Biggest Dumbest Politico-Military Decisions
and
2) Biggest Dumbest Military Operations

In the first category, in no particular order, I would include:
a) Japan's decision to go to war with the USA
b) The South's decision to leave the Union and start the Civil War
c) The US's decision to fight the Vietnam War
In all of these cases, the outcomes should have been obvious, but the political leadership forged ahead anyway, with predictable results.

In the second category, I might consider:
a) The German attack on Kursk
b) Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg
c) The Battle of Tsushima
In all of these cases, the looming military operation was seen by some if not all on the eventual losing side to be a bad idea, but the generals and admirals plunged ahead anyhow, and the results were predictable.
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desertfox2004 wrote:
a) Japan's decision to go to war with the USA


Yeah... militarily, they did great. They dealt a very severe blow to a major military installation at very limited cost to themselves, executing the biggest, possibly most effective sneak attack in history. As a military operation, Japan deserves the credit for a well executed operation.

But they should have seen the consequences of this... all they had was a good battle plan, not a good war plan or a good securing-the-peace-afterward plan.
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Quote:
This gets my biggest thumb up. Totally right - the generals fighting WWI were complete fools. They didn't fight the last war, they fought the war of 1000 years before. Your answer is more men?!

You can see in WW2 how the new leadership understood they would have to innovate and outproduce, not just keep grinding away at it.



I have to disagree. For the longest time I also thought (with great frustration) that the generals of The Great War were lunatic idiots. However, the more perspective I have put into questioning their motives and actions, the more I realize that they were responding as best as they could to an often intractable situation. What does a staff officer of 1916 do when faced with the situation on the Western Front?

Sure, some WERE fools. Two things though. Is it realistic to think that nearly ALL the staff officers of half a dozen major armies would just be stupid? Also, The Great War began with most armies still employing vestigal remnants of linear tactics; tactics that were a thousand years old. At the end of the war, we see all the major elements of modern combined arms being employed, at least in their infant stages.

For what it's worth, Passhendale WAS a crime, but so is any war of this nature.

Good Gaming~! Mick
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""Biggest Dumbest Moves in Military History" and you cite three examples all from World War II? Geesh!"

Hey, make your own list of three - It is a forum.

The decisions of WW2 were perhaps, in term of human suffering, the most tragic in history.

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My top 3 WWII blunders:


1. Germany's decision to bomb London instead of continuing to hit airbases or radar towers.

Not only did the bombing of London strengthen British resolve, it severely depleted the German air force. If Britain had lost their air capability in 40, they would have sued for peace allowing Hitler to focus on the east front.

2. The US telling the Chinese Nationals not to attack the Chinese communists.

Chang Kai Shek had Mao on the ropes, but delayed because of the US wishes. Imagine what the last 50 years would have been like without a red China, a China more like Taiwan or HK.

3. Delaying Barbarossa to bail out the Italians.

With a couple extra good months of weather, Moscow would have fallen to the Germans.
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A lot of the examples offered here are interesting, and the open-ended discussion is interesting, but most seem to be based not on the 'decision' to make the move, but on the results or eventual negative outcome of that move instead, with a few exceptions of course.

Hindsight is 20/20, but maybe not even that good- given that the pieces of history we learn are often distorted or even completely inaccurate- and often written by the victor.

Sometimes the 'dumbest moves' can result in successes that are later considered "brilliant!" yet were in fact as extremely risky if not more so than similar 'dumb moves' that failed miserably. Yet only the ones that failed are considered 'dumb'?

One last point is that IMHO, most 'dumb moves' that are actual decisions are driven by politics, not military strategists.
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Freitag wrote:
2. WWI is full of both sides accepting massive losses for the attempt of big gains, and then when the action shows no sign of success, the response is to send larger forces in. Maybe this would be forgivable once, but to become a repeat for over 2 years in different campaigns? To quote one of the best documentaries I've ever seen, "The Somme was a tragedy, but Passendale was a crime."


A penny auction with lives.

Quote:
2. Alcibiades' Syracusan expedition of 415-413 BC.


I think you're leaving things out to make this seem worse than it was. edit: but I agree it still definitely belongs

This wasn't an Alcibiades thing, it was an Athenian thing. Alcibiades fully supported it and spearheaded it as its general (replacing a previous reluctant general), but only because he had the support of the popular body (Athens was a democracy after all), particularly the soldiers. There was promise of enormous wealth in Syracuse, and thus a chance for massive looting. It also promised a quick end to the war since Sparta was very poor and would need to reduce its fighting to produce grain it would no longer be able to get from Syracuse. The Athenians were also kind of deceived by the towns who invited them, who promised great wealth to finance their war but then reneged. Also, the Persians didn't "side" with Sparta, they jumped back and forth and all around (since "Persia" was hardly a unified entity). In fact it was really Athenian successes that caused Persia to side with the Spartans (they didn't want a "winner" to the Greek war, for obvious reasons).

However, it was still a huge failure for all the other reasons you list, but most importantly the loss of Alcibiades, the greatest general the Athenians had. He was recalled to Athens for trial (some political conspiracy) and told the ship calling him back he would "follow" in his own ship. Then he escaped to Sparta and started giving them advice, especially to send a general to Syracuse. Up until that point Athens was doing well in Sicily (they did send quite a big army), but upon being rallied by the support of Sparta the Athenians were quickly undone. Plus they had lost their best general who gave them advice on how to really hurt Athens (which they did: the fortification and occupation of a town within Athenian territory so they could ravage Athens year round).
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cosine wrote:
Wilhammer wrote:
Pearl Harbor was Epic Stupid.


If there can be said to be any major failure in military planning for the Axis, it was in getting involve in a war with a major power that was an ocean away. At the time, there was no way to wage that kind of conflict... a complete unknown. Even today, in the Information Age, we have a hard time doing it well.



Except that the oceans went "both ways" so to speak and the United States found a way to fight major powers across two oceans, so I don't think geography alone made this a mistake. Where the mistake lay was in failing to think through the implications of that situation and plan accordingly. Both major Axis powers generally substituted wishful thinking and myth-making (Super race, secret weapons, samurai spirit, divine intervention) for hard-headed planning. Too little credit goes to Anglo-American war planners and their political leaders for realistically assessing the strategic situation and making the force-planning, political and grand strategic decisions needed to deal with it.
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All those pale in comparison to THE most stupid battle in the history of human warfare: The Battle of Karánsebes
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1) If Pearl Harbor was a "dumbest move", how does one characterize Douglas MacArthur's Philippine inactivity on the following day?

2) Elphinstone - Afghanistan. Enough said.

3) Colenso - Buller (or First Battle of Majuba Hill earlier). The Brits seem to have a real affinity for questionable application of force.

4) Teutoburger Wald -- Varus
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frontlinegeneral wrote:
A lot of the examples offered here are interesting, and the open-ended discussion is interesting, but most seem to be based not on the 'decision' to make the move, but on the results or eventual negative outcome of that move instead, with a few exceptions of course.

Hindsight is 20/20, but maybe not even that good- given that the pieces of history we learn are often distorted or even completely inaccurate- and often written by the victor.

Sometimes the 'dumbest moves' can result in successes that are later considered "brilliant!" yet were in fact as extremely risky if not more so than similar 'dumb moves' that failed miserably. Yet only the ones that failed are considered 'dumb'?

One last point is that IMHO, most 'dumb moves' that are actual decisions are driven by politics, not military strategists.


Very good points.

Your last statement about most "dumb moves" being driven by politics is especially well taken. I would add economic and perhaps, to some degree, cultural motivations as well (either on a societal level or within a military organization).

Another great thread.

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