Britain has been involved in some of history’s most significant wars: the American Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and both World Wars to name a few. For better or for worse during these wars battles occurred that have helped shape the fabric of Britain today.
Here are ten of the most significant British battles in history.
1. The Battle of Hastings: 14 October 1066
Legend of popular history Mike Loades provides Dan a detailed run down of Henry V's famous victory at Agincourt on 25 October 1415 and how Henry V's 'band of brothers' were really more a band of brigands.Watch Now
On 25 October, also known as St Crispin’s Day, 1415 an English (and Welsh) ‘band of brothers’ won a miraculous victory at Agincourt.
Despite being outnumbered, Henry V’s army triumphed against the flower of the French nobility, marking the end of an era where the knight dominated the battlefield.
Immortalised by William Shakespeare, the battle has come to represent an important part of British national identity.
3. The Battle of the Boyne: 11 July 1690
A painting of William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne.
The Battle of the Boyne was fought in Ireland between a recently-deposed King James II and his Jacobites (James’ Catholic supporters) and King William III and his Williamites (William’s Protestant supporters).
William’s victory at the Boyne secured the fate of the Glorious Revolution that had occurred two years before. Because of this no Catholic monarch has ruled England since James II.
4. The Battle of Trafalgar: 21 October 1805
On 21 October 1805 the British Royal Navy defeated the combined battle fleets of the French and Spanish empires 20 miles northwest of a promontory of rock and sand in southern Spain. This is the story of the Battle of Trafalgar.
On 21 October 1805, Admiral Horatio Nelson’s British fleet crushed a Franco-Spanish force at Trafalgar in one of the most famous naval battles in history.
The victory sealed Britain’s reputation as the world’s leading maritime power – a reputation which arguably remained until the end of World War Two.
5. The Battle of Waterloo: 18 June 1815
The Battle of Waterloo was be a watershed moment in European history, finally ending Napoleon's military career and ushering in a new era of relative peace. This is the story of Napoleon's final battle.Watch Now
Ten years after the Battle of Trafalgar, Britain gained another of its most iconic victories at Waterloo in Belgium when Arthur Wellesley (better known as the Duke of Wellington) and his British army decisively defeated Napoleon Bonaparte, with aid from Blücher’s Prussians.
The victory marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars and peace returned to Europe for the next generation. It also paved the way for Britain becoming the world superpower during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
In British eyes, Waterloo is a national triumph that is still celebrated to this day and commemorations of the battle remain visible in various formats: songs, poems, street names and stations for instance.
London Waterloo Station today, named after the decisive British victory in 1815. Credit: David Martin / Commons.
6. The Battle of the Somme: 1 July – 18 November 1916
Dan Snow takes an emotional journey through the key battlefields of the Western Front, from the memorial parks at the Somme to the formidable defences around Ypres.Watch Now
The first day of the Battle of the Somme holds an infamous record for the British army, being the bloodiest day in its history. 19,240 British men lost their lives that day due mainly to poor intelligence, inadequate artillery support, and an underestimation of their foe – a contempt that has proven fatal so many times in history.
By the end of the battle 141 days later, 420,000 British soldiers lay dead for the prize of just a few miles of land gained.
7. The Battle of Passchendaele: 31 July – 10 November 1917
Also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, Passchendaele was another of the bloodiest battles of World War One.
A new German strategy called defence in depth exacted heavy losses on initial Allied attacks before General Herbert Plumer’s bite and hold tactics, which aimed at taking more limited objectives rather than driving deep into enemy territory in one push, turned the tables for a while. But unseasonably heavy rains turned the battlefield to a deadly quagmire, making progress difficult and adding to the already heavy toll in manpower.
The casualty figures for Passchendaele are highly contested but it is generally agreed that each side lost a minimum of 200,000 men and likely as many as twice that.
Passchendaele had a particularly catastrophic impact on the German Army; they suffered a devastating rate of casualties which by that stage of the war they simply could not replace.
8. The Battle of Britain: 10 July – 31 October
In the summer of 1940, Britain battled for survival against Hitler’s war machine; the result would define the course of the Second World War. It is known simply as The Battle of Britain.Watch Now
The Battle of Britain was fought in the skies above southern England during the Summer of 1940.
Having conquered France and most of mainland Europe, Adolf Hitler planned an invasion of Britain – Operation Sealion. For this to go ahead, however, he first needed to gain control of the air from the Royal Air Force.
Although significantly outnumbered by Herman Goering’s infamous Luftwaffe, the Royal Air Force successfully fended off the German Messchersmitts, Heinkels and Stukas, forcing Hitler to ‘postpone’ the invasion on 17 September.
Britain’s ultimate victory in the skies stopped a German invasion and signified a turning point in World War Two. At the time of Britain’s Darkest Hour this victory brought hope to the Allied cause, shattering the aura of invincibility that had until then surrounded Hitler’s forces.
9. The Second Battle of El Alamein: 23 October 1942
On 23 October 1942 Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery spearheaded a British-led victory at El Alamein in modern day Egypt against Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps – the decisive moment of the Desert War in World War Two.
The victory marked one of the most important turning points, if not the most important, of the war. As Churchill famously remarked,
‘Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat’.
British artillerymen at the Second Battle of El Alamein.
10. The Battles of Imphal and Kohima: 7 March – 18 July 1944
The twin battles of Imphal and Kohima marked a turning point in the Far Eastern theatre of World War Two. Yet the battlefields remain relatively unexplored. Join James Holland as he travels to India and unearths the story of this, Britain's Greatest Battle.Watch Now
The Battles of Imphal and Kohima was a key turning point during the Burma campaign on World War Two. Masterminded by William Slim, British and Allied forces won a decisive victory against the Japanese forces situated in north-eastern India.
The Japanese siege of Kohima has been described as ‘the Stalingrad of the East’, and between 5 and 18 April the Allied defenders were engaged in some of the bitterest close-quarter fighting of the war.
Here’s How 10 Of The Largest And Most Important Tank Battles In History Played Out
The tank is one of the most important weapon systems on the battlefield. Few weapons strike enemy soldiers with the fear that a fully loaded tank rolling towards them does.
After their trial by fire on the fields of Europe in World War I, tanks have become a necessity for any army that wants to be considered a serious foe.
In the one hundred years since its invention, tanks have been the winning factor in a number of battles. Entire wars have depended on their successful use.
Take a look at how 10 of the biggest tank battles in history went down.
Battle of Cambrai: November 20 – December 8, 1917
A Mark IV (Male) tank of &aposH&apos Battalion, &aposHyacinth&apos, ditched in a German trench while supporting 1st Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment near Ribecourt during the Battle of Cambrai, 20 November 1917.Wikimedia Commons
The Battle of Cambrai was the first time tanks were used on a large scale for a military offensive. The objective was to take the commune of Cambrai, an important supply point for the Germans at the heart of the Hindenburg Line, in order to reduce the pressure on the French.
Nineteen British divisions were assembled for the battle, including 476 tanks and five horsed cavalry divisions.
The initial attack on November 20th was met with huge success. The British had torn through four miles of German defenses and captured up to 7,500 prisoners with low casualties.
But by the end of the day, more than half of the tanks were out of action due to mechanical failure. The German Army launched a massive counterattack, and brutal trench warfare ensued.
By the end of the battle, almost all the British gains were lost, over 100 tanks were lost or destroyed, and both sides suffered around 40,000 casualties each.
Battle of Hannut: May 12 – 14, 1940
Two destroyed French SOMUA S35s and an artillery piece being inspected by German soldiers, May, 1940.Wikimedia Commons
The Battle of Hannut was fought during the Battle of Belgium, Nazi Germany&aposs invasion of the Low Countries. It was part of the Wehrmacht&aposs thrust into the Ardennes region and was meant to tie down the French First Army.
It was both the largest tank battle of the campaign and the largest battle in armored warfare history at the time. Over 600 German tanks and 25,000 soldiers squared off against 600 French and Dutch armored vehicles and around 20,000 soldiers.
The battle was technically inconclusive. Some of the French First Army was able to fight their way through the Germans to reunite with their British comrades at Dunkirk, but they had lost well over 100 of their tanks and armored vehicles.
German losses were much lighter, with only around 50 tanks lost. While the French SOMUA S35 tank was considered as one of the best at the time, German tactics and communication technology made the Wehrmacht better.
Battle of Raseiniai: June 23 – 27, 1941
An abandoned Soviet A KV-2 tank, June, 1941.Wikimedia Commons
The Battle of Raseiniai was a large tank battle fought at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler&aposs invasion of the Soviet Union. The battle was fought in Lithuania, then part of the Soviet Union&aposs Northwestern Front.
Some 240 German tanks from the 4th Panzer Group were tasked with destroying almost 750 Soviet tanks of the 3rd and 12th Mechanized Corps.
Despite their numerical advantage over the Wehrmacht, the result of the battle was an utter catastrophe for the Soviets. Some 700 Soviet tanks and their crews — almost the entirety of the Soviet Union&aposs deployed mechanized units on the Northwestern Front — were destroyed, damaged, or captured.
A large part of the German victory was due to their use of airpower. The Luftwaffe was unchallenged during the battle, and the close tank formations of the Soviets were easy targets for Ju 88 aircraft.
Battle of Brody: June 23 – 30, 1941
A German infantryman near a burning Soviet BT-5 tank, June, 1941.Wikimedia COmmons
The Battle of Brody is the largest tank battle in history, according to some historians.
Also fought during the beginning stages of Operation Barbarossa, the battle saw some 1,000 German panzers of the 1st Panzer Group&aposs III Army Corps smash into 3,000 Soviet tanks from the six mechanized corps of the Soviet 5th and 6th Armies.
Again outnumbered, the Wehrmacht proved that superior training, tactics, communication technology, and air support make all the difference.
The exact number of casualties is not known, but estimates put Soviet tank losses at somewhere between 800 to over 1,000. The Wehrmacht also suffered heavy casualties, with anywhere between 200 to 350 tanks destroyed.
“This, in fact, is the biggest tank battle in World War II, and sparsely a word has been written on it,” according to David Glantz, a historian of the Eastern Front and Soviet military.
Second Battle of El Alamein: October 23 – November 11, 1942
A mine explodes close to a British artillery tractor as it advances through enemy minefields and wire to the new front line, October 1942.Wikimedia Commons
The Second Battle of El Alamein saw two legendary generals, Britain&aposs Bernard Montgomery, and Germany&aposs Erwin Rommel — who was nicknamed the “Desert Fox” — fight for the fate of North Africa.
North Africa had been a battleground since Fascist Italy&aposs invasion of Egypt in 1940. Germany&aposs Afrikakorps had to step in to prevent their defeat in 1941 and were able to push the British all the way into Egypt.
They were stopped at the First Battle of El Alamein, which, though technically a stalemate, did prevent the Afrikakorps from rolling through the rest of Egypt, and by extension the Middle East.
Montgomery assembled a force for a counterattack, including around 190,000 men and over 1,000 tanks. Rommel commanded a force of 116,000 German and Italian soldiers, and 540 tanks.
After days of hard fighting in the Egyptian desert, Montgomery was victorious. Five hundred German and Italian tanks, almost all of Rommel&aposs force, were destroyed or captured.
With the Americans launching Operation Torch in November 1942, the tide against the Germans began to turn in North Africa.
Battle of Prokhorovka: July 12, 1943
Panzer IIIs and IVs on the southern side of the Kursk salient at the start of Operation Citadel, July 1943.Wikimedia Commons
The Battle of Prokhorovka took place during the larger Battle of Kursk. It was long thought to be the largest tank battle in history, but according to the book Demolishing the Myth: The Tank Battle at Prokhorovka, Kursk, July 1943 by Valeriy Zamulin, a Russian military historian, that is not the case.
But that is not to say it was small or insignificant. The battle saw over 600 Soviet tanks from the 5th Guards Tank Army smash head-on into around 300 German tanks from the II SS-Panzer Corps.
The fighting was some of the most intense in the history of armored warfare. The Soviets lost around 400 tanks, more than half of their force. German tank losses were smaller by comparison, up to 80 tanks and assault guns destroyed.
The Germans were unable to take Prokhorovka, and although it was not destroyed (the original goal of the Soviets), the II SS-Panzer Corps was exhausted, and prevented from continuing their offensive.
Thus, the momentum swung to the side of the Soviets, who eventually won the Battle of Kursk
Operation Goodwood: July 18 – 20, 1944
Sherman tanks carrying infantry wait for the order to advance at the start of Operation &aposGoodwood&apos, 18 July 1944.Wikimedia Commons
Operation Goodwood was a British offensive that was part of the Battle for Caen, one of the main inland targets that was part of Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy. The goal was to break through to Caen so that it could be liberated.
The British had mustered as many as 1,100 tanks for the battle. The Wehrmacht had only around 370 tanks at their disposal, but they included the fearsome Tiger and Tiger II tanks.
The battle did not go the way the British intended. Their casualties were 5,000 men and 250 to 300 tanks destroyed. German losses were 75 tanks destroyed, mostly by airstrikes.
Operation Goodwood did cause some controversy. Montgomery claimed that all the objectives were achieved and that the mission was a success. But the British had only managed to penetrate roughly seven miles or so East of Caen.
But Goodwood did draw valuable German tanks away from the Western part of Caen, where the Americans were making their push to the city.
Battle of Chawinda: September 17 – 22, 1965
Indian soldiers in front of a destroyed Pakistani Sherman tank during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965.Wikimedia Commons
The Battle of Chawinda was one of the largest tank battles fought since World War II. It was part of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, fought over control of Jammu and Kashmir.
After the Pakistani Army&aposs attempt to foment an insurgency (Operation Gibraltar) was discovered and subsequently foiled, India retaliated with an outright attack along the Pakistani border.
The Indian military had planned to take the city of Sialkot, an important railway hub and central part of the Grand Trunk Road, so that they could use it as a beachhead for further operations into Pakistan.
But the Indian force of 80,000 to 150,000 soldiers and 230 tanks was met outside of their objective at Chawinda by a Pakistani force of 30,000 to 50,000 men and 132 tanks.
After more than a day of intense fighting, a UNSC resolution was signed and an unconditional ceasefire was implemented. India lost anywhere between 29 to 129 tanks, whereas Pakistan lost up to 44 tanks.
Battle of the Valley of Tears: October 6 – 9, 1973
Israeli troops fight off Syrian soldiers in the Golan Heights, the area was later named the Valley of TearsJared Keller
The Battle of the Valley of Tears was fought between Israel and Syria during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The war had started on the holiest day in Judaism, when Syrian soldiers supported by 1,400 tanks crossed the border and invaded the Jewish state.
Just one Israeli armored brigade, roughly 100 or so tanks and armored vehicles stood in the way of the Syrian 7th Division, a force of 1,400 tanks, including 400 T-62s, at the time the most modern Soviet tank in the field.
The Israelis were manning British and American-made Centurion tanks, known for their good gunner sights. Unable to call in effective air support, the Israeli defenders dug in and fought off wave after wave of Syrian tank attacks.
Some Syrian tanks broke through, causing the Israeli tanks to turn their turrets backwards to destroy them. But one by one, the Israeli Centurions were knocked out.
But on the fourth day of the fighting, Israeli reinforcements arrived, and the Syrians were forced to withdraw. Almost all of Israel&aposs tanks were destroyed, but they gave far more than they got — Syrian armored vehicle losses were around 500, around 250 of which were tanks.
Battle of 73 Easting: February 26 – 27, 1991
An Iraqi Type 69 main battle tank burns after an attack by the 1st United Kingdom Armored Division during Operation Desert Storm, February 28, 1991.Wikimedia Commons
The Battle of 73 Easting saw American and British tanks go up against Saddam Hussein&aposs Iraqi Republican Guard Tawakalna Division. Saddam had been warning his people that the “mother of all battles” was on the horizon, and the battle of 73 Easting was certainly part of it.
The main part of the battle was fought between the U.S. 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment and Iraq&aposs 18th Mechanized Brigade and 37th Armored Brigade.
The ensuing battle saw the Iraqi forces be completely decimated. Over 160 tanks and armored personnel carriers were destroyed, damaged, or captured by U.S. forces. Up to 1,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed or wounded, and over 1,000 more were taken prisoner.
U.S. losses were just six killed, 19 wounded, and one Bradley infantry fighting vehicle destroyed. Historian and author Rick Atkinson described the battle:
“Here could be seen, with almost flawless precision, the lethality of modern American weapons the hegemony offered by AirLand Battle doctrine, with its brutal ballet of armor, artillery, and air power and, not least, the élan of the American soldier, who fought with a competence worthy of his forefathers on more celebrated battlefields in more celebrated wars.”
This historical event was a battle between religions. Oswiu, the Christian King of Northumbria battled against King Penda of Mercia who promoted paganism among his coalition across England and Wales. The two armies fought in the river banks of Winwaed. King Oswiu promised the Lord to build 12 monasteries if he will win the battle. Successfully, Penda&rsquos armies were destroyed. King Penda was converted to Christian, resulting in the Christian dominance in England and Wales.
The Roman Conquest resulted in the establishment of Britain as a European Nation. In the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066, they debated where Britain would belong to &ndash in Western Europe or in the Nordic Arc. Harold Godwinson expelled the Vikings from England. The Vikings remained a menace to Roman Catholic civilization. Later on, William the Conqueror defeated Harold&rsquos armies, placing England into the family of Western European nations.
9. Midway Island, 1942
What Stalingrad was to the Germans, the naval air engagement that raged between Japan and the United States for three days in June, 1942, was for the Japanese. Admiral Yamamoto’s plan was to seize Midway Island—a tiny atoll some four hundred miles west of Hawaii—which he planned to use as a springboard from which to attack the strategic islands later. Much to his surprise, he was met by a taskforce of American carriers under the command of Admiral Chester Nimitz and, in a battle that could have easily gone either way, he lost all four of his aircraft carriers, along with all their aircraft and some of his finest pilots, to Admiral Nimitz’ smaller American fleet. The defeat effectively spelled the end to Japanese expansion across the Pacific and dealt Japan a defeat she would never recover from. This is also one of the few battles in World War Two in which it was the Americans who were outnumbered and outmatched and yet they still won. Way to go, Chester!
9. Battle of Plassey
23 June 1757
During the 18 th century, India was one of the main contention grounds between the two main colonial powers of Europe: the French and the British. The engagement of Plassey was the climax of this rivalry, waged by the Nawab of Bengal, on the backing of the French against the British East India Company, led by Robert Clive. Despite being outnumbered 17 to 1 by this Bengali army, the Nawab’s early flight from the battle and the treachery of his commanding subordinates ensured the smaller British force an easy yet decisive victory.
The victory helped consolidate the British’s presence in India. With the wealth amassed from the exploitation of Bengal, the East India Company would permanently erase French influence from the region. It would later pave the way for the setting of the British Raj over India and Britain ascendancy as the world’s first global power.
10 of the Most Significant Battles in British History - History
The Top Ten Battles of All Time
By Michael Lee Lanning
Lt. Col. (Ret.) U.S. Army
Battles win wars, topple thrones, and redraw borders. Every age of human history has experienced battles that have been instrumental in molding the future. Battles influence the spread of culture, civilization, and religious dogma. They introduce weapons, tactics, and leaders who dominate future conflicts. Some battles have even been influential not for their direct results, but for the impact of their propaganda on public opinion.
The following list is not a ranking of decisive engagements, but rather a ranking of battles according to their influence on history. Each narrative details location, participants, and leaders of the battle, and also provides commentary on who won, who lost, and why. Narratives also evaluate each battle's influence on the outcome of its war and the impact on the victors and losers.
Battle # 10 Vienna
Austria-Ottoman Wars, 1529
The Ottoman Turks' unsuccessful siege of Vienna in 1529 marked the beginning of the long decline of their empire. It also stopped the advance of Islam into central and western Europe, and ensured that the Christian rather than the Muslim religion and culture would dominate the region.
In 1520, Suleiman II had become the tenth sultan of the Ottoman Empire, which reached from the Persian frontier to West Africa and included much of the Balkans. Suleiman had inherited the largest, best-trained army in the world, containing superior elements of infantry, cavalry, engineering, and artillery. At the heart of his army were elite legions of Janissaries, mercenary slaves taken captive as children from Christians and raised as Muslim soldiers. From his capital of Constantinople, the Turkish sultan immediately began making plans to expand his empire even farther.
Suleiman had also inherited a strong navy, which he used with his army to besiege the island fortress of Rhodes, his first conquest. Granting safe passage to the defenders in exchange for their surrender, the Sultan took control of Rhodes and much of the Mediterranean in 1522. This victory demonstrated that Suleiman would honor peace agreements. In following battles where enemies did not surrender peacefully, however, he displayed his displeasure by razing cities, massacring the adult males, and selling the women and children into slavery.
By 1528, Suleiman had neutralized Hungary and placed his own puppet on their throne. All that now stood between the Turks and Western Europe was Austria and its Spanish and French allies. Taking advantage of discord between his enemies, Suleiman made a secret alliance with King Francis I of France. Pope Clement VII in Rome, while not allying directly with the Muslim Sultan, withdrew religious and political support from the Austrians.
As a result, by the spring of 1529, King Charles and his Austrians stood alone to repel the Ottoman invaders. On April 10, Suleiman and his army of more than 120,000, accompanied by as many as 200,000 support personnel and camp followers, departed Constantinople for the Austrian capital of Vienna. Along the way, the huge army captured towns and raided the countryside for supplies and slaves.
All the while, Vienna, under the able military leadership of Count Niklas von Salm-Reifferscheidt and Wilhelm von Rogendorf, prepared for the pending battle. Their task appeared impossible. The city's walls, only five to six feet thick, were designed to repel medieval attackers rather than the advanced cast-cannon artillery of the Turks. The entire Austrian garrison numbered only about 20,000 soldiers supported by 72 cannons. The only reinforcements who arrived in the city were a detachment of 700 musket-armed infantrymen from Spain.
Despite its disadvantages, Vienna had several natural factors supporting its defense. The Danube blocked any approach from the north, and the smaller Wiener Back waterway ran along its eastern side, leaving only the south and west to be defended. The Vienna generals took full advantage of the weeks before the arrival of the Turks. They razed dwellings and other buildings outside the south and west walls to open fields of fire for their cannons and muskets. They dug trenches and placed other obstacles on avenues of approach. They brought in supplies for a long siege within the walls and evacuated many of the city's women and children, not only to reduce the need for food and supplies but also to prevent the consequences if the Turks were victorious.
One other factor greatly aided Vienna: the summer of 1529 was one of the wettest in history. The constant rains delayed the Ottoman advance and made conditions difficult for the marching army. By the time they finally reached Vienna in September, winter was approaching, and the defenders were as prepared as possible.
Upon his arrival, Suleiman asked for the city's surrender. When the Austrians refused, he began an artillery barrage against the walls with his 300 cannons and ordered his miners to dig under the walls and lay explosives to breach the defenses. The Austrians came out from behind their walls to attack the engineers and artillerymen and dig counter-trenches. Several times over the next three weeks, the invaders' artillery and mines achieved small breaches in the wall, but the Viennese soldiers quickly filled the gaps and repelled any entry into the city.
By October 12, the cold winds of winter were sweeping the city. Suleiman ordered another attack with his Janissaries in the lead. Two underground mines near the city's southern gate opened the way briefly for the mercenaries, but the staunch Viennese defenders filled the opening and killed more than 1200. Two days later, Suleiman ordered one last attack, but the Viennese held firm once again.
For the first time, Suleiman had failed. Scores of his never-before-defeated Janissaries lay dead outside the walls. The Turkish army had no choice but to burn their huge camp and withdraw back toward Constantinople, but before they departed they massacred the thousands of captives they had taken on the way to Vienna. Along their long route home, many more Turks died at the hands of raiding parties that struck their flanks.
The loss at Vienna did not greatly decrease the power of the Ottoman Empire. It did, however, stop the Muslim advance into Europe. Suleiman and his army experienced many successes after Vienna, but these victories were in the east against the Persians rather than in the west against the Europeans. The Ottoman Empire survived for centuries, but its high-water mark lay somewhere along the Vienna city wall.
Following the battle for Vienna, the countries of the west no longer viewed the Turks and the Janissaries as invincible. Now that the Austrians had kept the great menace from the east and assured the continuation of the region's culture and Christianity, the European countries could return to fighting among themselves along Catholic and Protestant lines.
If Vienna had fallen to Suleiman, his army would have continued their offensive the following spring into the German provinces. There is a strong possibility that Suleiman's Empire might have eventually reached all the way to the North Sea, the alliance with France notwithstanding. Instead, after Vienna, the Ottomans did not venture again into Europe the Empire's power and influence began its slow but steady decline.
Battle # 9 Waterloo
Napoleonic Wars, 1815
The Allied victory over Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 brought an end to French domination of Europe and began a period of peace on the continent that lasted for nearly half a century. Waterloo forced Napoleon into exile, ended France's legacy of greatness, which it has never regained, etched its name on the list of history's best known battles, and added a phrase to the vernacular: "Waterloo" has come to mean decisive and complete defeat.
When the French Revolution erupted in 1789, twenty-year-old Napoleon left his junior officer position in the King's artillery to support the rebellion. He remained in the military after the revolution and rapidly advanced in rank to become a brigadier general six years later. Napoleon was instrumental in suppressing a Royalist uprising in 1795, for which his reward was command of the French army in Italy.
Over the next four years, Napoleon achieved victory after victory as his and France's influence spread across Europe and into North Africa. In late 1799, he returned to Paris, where he joined an uprising against the ruling Directory. After a successful coup, Napoleon became the first consul and the country's de facto leader on November 8. Napoleon backed up these aggrandizing moves with military might and political savvy. He established the Napoleonic Code, which assured individual rights of citizens and instituted a rigid conscription system to build an even larger army. In 1800, Napoleon's army invaded Austria and negotiated a peace that expanded France's border to the Rhine River. The agreement brought a brief period of peace, but Napoleon's aggressive foreign policy and his army's offensive posturing led to war between France and Britain in 1803.
Napoleon declared himself Emperor of France in 1804 and for the next eight years achieved a succession of victories, each of which created an enemy. Downplaying the loss of much of his navy at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, Napoleon claimed that control of Europe lay on the land, not the sea. In 1812, he invaded Russia and defeated its army only to lose the campaign to the harsh winter. He lost more of his army in the extended campaign on the Spanish peninsula.
In the spring of 1813, Britain, Russia, Prussia, and Sweden allied against France while Napoleon rallied the survivors of his veteran army and added new recruits to meet the enemy coalition. Although he continued to lead his army brilliantly, the stronger coalition defeated him at Leipzig in October 1813, forcing Napoleon to withdraw to southern France. Finally, at the urging of his subordinates, Napoleon abdicated on April 1, 1814, and accepted banishment to the island of Elba near Corsica.
Napoleon did not remain in exile for long. Less than a year later, he escaped Elba and sailed to France, where for the next one hundred days he struck a trail of terror across Europe and threatened once again to dominate the continent. King Louis XVIII, whom the coalition had returned to his throne, dispatched the French army to arrest the former emperor, but they instead rallied to his side. Louis fled the country, and Napoleon again claimed the French crown on March 20. Veterans as well as new recruits swelled Napoleon's army to more than 250,000.
News of Napoleon's return reached the coalition leaders while they were meeting in Vienna. On March 17, Britain, Prussia, Austria, and Russia agreed to each provide 150,000 soldiers to assemble in Belgium for an invasion of France to begin on July 1. Other nations promised smaller support units.
Napoleon learned of the coalition plan and marched north to destroy their army before it could organize. He sent part of his army, commanded by Emmanuel de Grouchy, to attack the Prussians under Gebhard von Bluecher in order to prevent their joining the Anglo-Dutch force near Brussels. Napoleon led the rest of the army against the British and Dutch.
The French army won several minor battles as they advanced into Belgium. Although the coalition commander, the Duke of Wellington, had little time to prepare, he began assembling his army twelve miles south of Brussels, just outside the village of Waterloo. There he arrayed his defenses on high ground at Mount St. Jean to meet the northward-marching French.
By the morning of June 18, Napoleon had arrived at Mount St. Jean and deployed his army on high ground only 1300 yards from the enemy defenses. Napoleon's army of 70,000, including 15,000 cavalrymen and 246 artillery pieces, faced Wellington's allied force of about 65,000, including 12,000 cavalry and 156 guns, in a three-mile line. Both commanders sent word to their other armies to rejoin the main force.
A hard rain drenched the battlefield, causing Napoleon to delay his attack as late as possible on June 18 so that the boggy ground could dry and not impair his cavalry and artillery. After ordering a sustained artillery bombardment, Napoleon ordered a diversionary attack against the allied right flank in the west in hopes of getting Wellington to commit his reserve. The British defenders on the west flank, including the Scots and Coldstream Guards, remained on the reverse slope of the ridge during the artillery bombardment and then came forward when the French advanced.
The attack against the Allied right flank failed to force Wellington to commit his reserve, but Napoleon pressed on with his main assault against the enemy center. As the attack progressed, Napoleon spotted the rising dust of Bluecher's approaching army, which had eluded Grouchy's, closing on the battlefield. Napoleon, disdainful of British fighting ability, and overly confident of his own leadership and the abilities of his men, continued the attack in the belief that he could defeat Wellington before the Prussians joined the fight or that Grouchy would arrive in time to support the assault.
For three hours, the French and the British fought, often with bayonets. The French finally secured a commanding position at the center at La Haye Sainte, but the Allied lines held. Late in the afternoon, Bluecher arrived and seized the village of Plancenoit in Napoleon's rear, which forced the French to fall back. After a brutal battle decided by bayonets, the French forced the Prussians to withdraw. Napoleon then turned back against Wellington.
Napoleon ordered his most experienced battalions forward from their reserve position for another assault against the Allied center. The attack almost breached the Allied defenses before Wellington committed his own reserves. When the survivors of Napoleon's best battalions began to withdraw from the fight, other units joined the retreat. The Prussians, who had regrouped, attacked the French flank, sending the remainder running in disorder to the south. Napoleon's last few reserve battalions led him to the rear where he attempted, without success, to regroup his scattered army. Although defeated, the French refused to give up. When the Allies asked a French Old Guard officer to surrender, he replied, "The Guard dies, it never surrenders."
More than 26,000 French were killed or wounded and another 9,000 captured at Waterloo. Allied casualties totaled 22,000. At the end of the one-day fight, more than 45,000 men lay dead or wounded within the three-square-mile battlefield. Thousands more on both sides were killed or wounded in the campaign that led to Waterloo.
Napoleon agreed once again to abdicate on June 22, and two weeks later, the Allies returned Louis to power. Napoleon and his hundred days were over. This time, the British took no chances they imprisoned Napoleon on remote St. Helena Island in the south Atlantic, where he died in 1821.
Even if Napoleon had somehow won the battle, he had too few friends and too many enemies to continue. He and his country were doomed before his return from Elba.
France never recovered its greatness after Waterloo. It returned territory and resumed its pre-Napoleon borders. With Napoleon banished, Britain, Russia, Prussia, and Austria maintained a balance of power that brought European peace for more than four decades--an unusually long period in a region where war was much more common than peace.
While a period of peace in itself is enough to distinguish Waterloo as an influential battle, it and Napoleon had a much more important effect on world events. While the Allies fought to replace the king of France on his throne, their leaders and individual soldiers saw and appreciated the accomplishments of a country that respected individual rights and liberties. After Waterloo, as the common people demanded a say in their way of life and government, constitutional monarchies took the place of absolute rule. Although there was post-war economic depression in some areas, the general plight of the common French citizen improved in the postwar years.
Through the passage of time, the name Waterloo has become synonymous with total defeat. Napoleon and France did indeed meet their Waterloo in southern Belgium in 1815, but while the battle brought an end to one age, it introduced another. Although the French lost, the spirit of their revolution. and individual rights spread across Europe. No kingdom or country would again be the same.
Battle # 8 Huai-Hai
Chinese Civil War, 1948
The Battle of Huai-Hai was the final major fight between the armies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Nationalist Party of Kuomintang (KMT) in their long struggle over control of the world's most populous country. At the end of the battle, more than half a million KMT soldiers were dead, captured, or converted to the other side, placing China in the hands of the Communists who continue to govern today.
Struggles for the control of China and its provinces date back to the beginnings of recorded history. While some dynasties endured for many years and others for only short periods of time, the Chinese had fought among themselves and against foreign invaders throughout history only to find themselves divided once again at the start of the twentieth century. Political ideologies centered in Peking and Canton. Divisions in the country widened when the Japanese invaded in 1914. During World War I, the Chinese faced threats from within, from the Japanese, and from the newly formed Soviet Union.
When World War I finally ended, the Chinese continued their internal struggles with local dictators fighting to control small regions. In 1923, the country's two major parties, the CCP under Mao Zedong and the KMT controlled by Chiang Kai-shek, joined in an alliance to govern the country. The two sides had little in common, and in less than five years, the shaky alliance had come apart when their leaders' views on support from the Soviet Union clashed. Mao encouraged Soviet support while Chiang opposed it.
By 1927, the two parties were directly competing for control of China and its people. Mao focused on the rural areas while Chiang looked to the urban and industrial areas for his power. From 1927 to 1937, the two sides engaged in a civil war in which Chiang gained the upper hand through a series of successful offensives. Chiang almost destroyed the CCP army in 1934, but Mao and 100,000 men escaped before he could do so. For the next year, the Communists retreated from the Nationalists across 6,000 miles of China to Yenan, a retreat that became known as the Long March. Only 20,000 survived.
In 1937, Chiang and Mao once again put their differences aside to unite against another invasion by Japan. Mao and his army fought in the rural northern provinces, primarily employing guerrilla warfare. Mao also used this opportunity to solidify his support from the local peasants while stockpiling weapons provided by the Allies and captured from the Japanese. His army actually gained strength during the fighting. Meanwhile Chiang faced stronger Japanese opposition in the south, which weakened his army.
Despite efforts by the United States to mediate an agreement, the Communists and Nationalists resumed their armed conflict soon after the conclusion of World War II. In contrast to their weaker position prior to the war, the Communists now were stronger than the Nationalists. On October 10, 1947, Mao called for the overthrow of the Nationalist administration.
Mao, a student of Washington, Napoleon, and Sun Tzu, began to push his army south into the Nationalist zone. Whereas the Nationalists often looted the cities they occupied and punished their residents, the Communists took little retribution, especially against towns that did not resist. Now the Communists steadily achieved victories over the Nationalists. During the summer of 1948, the Communists experienced a series of victories that pushed the major portion of the Nationalist army into a cross-shaped area extending from Nanking north to Tsinan and from Kaifeng east through Soochow to the sea.
Mao decided that it was time to achieve a total victory. On October 11, 1948, he issued orders for a methodical campaign to surround, separate, and destroy the half-million-man Nationalist army between the Huai River and the Lung Hai Railway--the locations that gave the resulting battle its name. Mao divided his battle plan into three phases, all of which his army accomplished more smoothly and efficiently than anticipated.
The Communists divided the Nationalist-held territory into three areas. Then beginning in November, they attacked each in turn. Early in the campaign, many Nationalists, seeing no hope for their own survival, much less a Nationalist victory, defected to the Communists. Chiang, who also was encountering internal divisions within his party, attempted to reinforce each battle area, but poor leadership by the Nationalist generals, combined with Communist guerrilla activities, made his efforts ineffective. Chiang even had air superiority during the entire battle but was unable to coordinate ground and air actions to secure any advantage.
Over a period of two months, the Communists destroyed each of the three Nationalist forces. Support for Chiang from inside and outside China dwindled with each successive Communist victory. The United States, which had been a primary supporter, providing arms and supplies to the Nationalists, suspended all aid on December 20, 1948. U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall stated, "The present regime has lost the confidence of the people, reflected in the refusal of soldiers to fight and the refusal of the people to cooperate in economic reforms."
Within weeks of the U.S. announcement, the Communists overran the last Nationalist position and ended the Battle of Huai-Hai. Of the six highest-ranking Nationalist generals in the battle, two were killed in the fighting and two captured. The remaining two were among the few who escaped. By January 10, 1949, the half-million members of the Nationalist army had disappeared.
Within weeks, Tientsin and Peking fell to the Communists. On January 20, Chiang resigned his leadership of the Nationalists. The remaining Nationalist army and government continued to retreat until they finally withdrew to the island of Formosa. On Formosa, renamed Taiwan, Chiang regained power and developed the island into an Asian economic power. Mainland China, however, remained under the control of Mao and his Communists, who are still in power today.
The Communist takeover of China achieved by the Battle of Huai-Hai greatly influenced not only that country but the entire world. Over the next two decades, Mao focused almost exclusively on wielding complete control over his country. He ruthlessly put down any opposition and either executed or starved to death more than 20 million of his countrymen in order to bring to China the "joys" and "advantages" of Communism. Fortunately for the rest of the world, Mao remained focused on his own country. He disagreed with the Soviets on political and philosophical aspects of Communism, and the two nations viewed each other as possible opponents rather than allies.
China's internal struggles and its conflicts with its neighbors have restricted its active world influence. Even though it remains today the largest and strongest Communist nation and the only potential major Communist threat to the West, China remains a passive player, more interested in internal and neighboring disputes than in international matters.
Had the Nationalists been victorious at Huai-Hai, China would have played a different role in subsequent world events. There would have been no Communist China to support North Korea's invasion of the South, or North Vietnam's efforts to take over South Vietnam. Had Chiang, with his outward views and Western ties, been the victor, China might have taken a much more assertive role in world events. Instead, the Battle of Huai-Hai would keep China locked in its internal world rather than opening it to the external.
Battle # 7 Atomic Bombing of Japan
World War II, 1945
The United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 to hasten the end of World War II in the Pacific. Although it would be the first, and to date the only, actual use of such weapons of "mass destruction," the mushroom clouds have hung over every military and political policy since.
Less than five months after the sneak attack by the Japanese against Pearl Harbor, the Americans launched a small carrier-based bomber raid against Tokyo. While the attack was good for the American morale, it accomplished little other than to demonstrate to the Japanese that their shores were not invulnerable. Later in the war, U.S. bombers were able to attack the Japanese home islands from bases in China, but it was not until late 1944 that the United States could mount a sustained bombing campaign.
Because of the distance to Japan, American bombers could not reach targets and safety return to friendly bases in the Pacific until the island-hopping campaign had captured the Northern Mariana Islands. From bases on the Mariana Islands, long-range B-29 Superfortresses conducted high altitude bombing runs on November 24, 1944. On March 9, 1945, an armada of 234 B-29s descended to less than 7,000 feet and dropped 1,667 tons of incendiaries on Tokyo. By the time the fire storm finally abated, a sixteen-square-mile corridor that had contained a quarter million homes was in ashes, and more than 80,000 Japanese, mostly civilians, lay dead. Only the Allied fire bombing of Dresden, Germany, the previous month, which killed 135,000, exceed the destruction of the Tokyo raid.
Both Tokyo and Dresden were primarily civilian rather than military targets. Prior to World War II, international law regarded the bombing of civilians as illegal and barbaric. After several years of warfare, however, neither the Allies nor the Axis distinguished between military and civilian air targets. Interestingly, while a pilot could drop tons of explosives and firebombs on civilian cities, an infantryman often faced a court-martial for even minor mistreatment of noncombatants.
Despite the air raids and their shrinking territory outside their home islands, the Japanese fought on. Their warrior code did not allow for surrender, and soldiers and civilians alike often chose suicide rather than giving up. By July 1945, the Americans were launching more than 1200 bombing sorties a week against Japan. The bombing had killed more than a quarter million and left more than nine million homeless. Still, the Japanese gave no indication of surrender as the Americans prepared to invade the home islands.
While the air attacks and plans for a land invasion continued in the Pacific, a top-secret project back in the United States was coming to fruition. On July 16, 1945, the Manhattan Engineer District successfully carried out history's first atomic explosion. When President Harry Truman learned of the successful experiment, he remarked in his diary, "It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful."
Truman realized that the "most terrible thing" could shorten the war and prevent as many as a million Allied casualties, as well as untold Japanese deaths, by preventing a ground invasion of Japan. On July 27, the United States issued an ultimatum: surrender or the U.S. would drop a "super weapon." Japan refused.
In the early morning hours of August 6,1945, a B-29 named the Enola Gay piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Paul Tibbets lifted off from Tinian Island in the Marianas. Aboard was a single atomic bomb weighing 8,000 pounds and containing the destructive power of 12.5 kilotons of TNT. Tibbets headed his plane toward Hiroshima, selected as the primary target because of its military bases and industrial areas. It also had not yet been bombed to any extent, so it would provide an excellent evaluation of the bomb's destructive power.
At 8:15 A.M ., the Enola Gay dropped the device called "Little Boy." A short time later, Tibbets noted, "A bright light filled the plane. We turned back to look at Hiroshima. The city was hidden by that awful cloud . boiling up, mushrooming." The immediate impact of Little Boy killed at least 70,000 Hiroshima residents. Some estimates claim three times that number but exact figures are impossible to calculate because the blast destroyed all of the city's records.
Truman again demanded that Japan surrender. After three days and no response, a B-29 took off from Tinian with an even larger atomic bomb aboard. When the crew found their primary target of Kokura obscured by clouds, they turned toward their secondary, Nagasaki. At 11:02 A.M . on August 9, 1945, they dropped the atomic device known as "Fat Man" that destroyed most of the city and killed more than 60,000 of its inhabitants.
Conventional bombing raids were also conducted against other Japanese cities on August 9, and five days later, 800 B-29s raided across the country. On August 15 (Tokyo time), the Japanese finally accepted unconditional surrender. World War II was over.
Much debate has occurred since the atomic bombings. While some evidence indicates that the Japanese were considering surrender, far more information indicates otherwise. Apparently the Japanese were planning to train civilians to use rifles and spears to join the military in resisting a land invasion. Protesters of the Atomic bombings ignore the conventional incendiaries dropped on Tokyo and Dresden that claimed more casualties. Some historians even note that the losses at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were far fewer than the anticipated Japanese casualties from an invasion and continued conventional bombing.
Whatever the debate, there can be no doubt that the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan shortened the war, The strikes against Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the only air battles that directly affected the outcome of a conflict. Air warfare, both before and since, has merely supplemented ground fighting. As confirmed by the recent Allied bombing of Iraq in Desert Storm and in Bosnia, air attacks can harass and make life miserable for civilian populations, but battles and wars continue to be decided by ground forces.
In addition to hastening the end of the war with Japan, the development and use of the atomic bomb provided the United States with unmatched military superiority--at least for a brief time, until the Soviet Union exploded their own atomic device. The two superpowers then began competitive advancements in nuclear weaponry that brought the world to the edge of destruction. Only tentative treaties and the threat of mutual total destruction kept nuclear arms harnessed, producing the Cold War period in which the U.S. And the USSR worked out their differences through conventional means.
Battle # 6 Cajamarca
Spanish Conquest of Peru, 1532
Francisco Pizarro conquered the largest amount of territory ever taken in a single battle when he defeated the Incan Empire at Cajamarca in 1532. Pizarro's victory opened the way for Spain to claim most of South America and its tremendous riches, as well as imprint the continent with its language, culture, and religion.
Christopher Columbus's voyages to the New World offered a preview of the vast wealth and resources to be found in the Americas, and Hernan Cortes's victory over the Aztecs had proven that great riches were there for the taking. It is not surprising that other Spanish explorers flocked to the area--some to advance the cause of their country, most to gain their own personal fortunes.
Francisco Pizarro was one of the latter. The illegitimate son of a professional soldier, Pizarro joined the Spanish army as a teenager and then sailed for Hispaniola, from where he participated in Vasco de Balboa's expedition that crossed Panama and "discovered" the Pacific Ocean in 1513. Along the way, he heard stories of the great wealth belonging to native tribes to the south.
After learning of Cortes's success in Mexico, Pizarro received permission to lead expeditions down the Pacific Coast of what is now Colombia, first in 1524-25 and then again in 1526-28. The second expedition experienced such hardships that his men wanted to return home. According to legend, Pizarro drew a line in the sand with his sword and invited anyone who desired "wealth and glory" to step across and continue with him in his quest.
Thirteen men crossed the line and endured a difficult journey into what is now Peru, where they made contact with the Incas. After peaceful negotiations with the Incan leaders, the Spaniards returned to Panama and sailed to Spain with a small amount of gold and even a few llamas. Emperor Charles V was so impressed that he promoted Pizarro to captain general, appointed him the governor of all lands six hundred miles south of Panama, and financed an expedition to return to the land of the Incas.
Pizarro set sail for South America in January 1531 with 265 soldiers and 65 horses. Most of the soldiers carried spears or swords. At least three had primitive muskets called arquebuses, and twenty more carried crossbows. Among the members of the expedition were four of Pizarro's brothers and all of the original thirteen adventurers who had crossed their commander's sword line to pursue "wealth and glory."
Between wealth and glory stood an army of 30,000 Incas representing a century-old empire that extended 2,700 miles from modern Ecuador to Santiago, Chile. The Incas had assembled their empire by expanding outward from their home territory in the Cuzco Valley. They had forced defeated tribes to assimilate Incan traditions, speak their language, and provide soldiers for their army. By the time the Spaniards arrived, the Incas had built more than 10,000 miles of roads, complete with suspension bridges, to develop trade throughout the empire. They also had become master, stonemasons with finely crafted temples and homes.
About the time Pizarro landed on the Pacific Coast, the Incan leader, considered a deity, died, leaving his sons to fight over leadership. One of these sons, Atahualpa, killed most of his siblings and assumed the throne shortly before he learned that the white men had returned to his Incan lands.
Pizarro and his "army" reached the southern edge of the Andes in present day Peru in June 1532. Undaunted by the report that the Incan army numbered 30,000, Pizarro pushed inland and crossed the mountains, no small feat itself. Upon arrival at the village of Cajamarca on a plateau on the eastern slope of the Andes, the Spanish officer invited the Incan king to a meeting. Atahualpa, believing himself a deity and unimpressed with the Spanish force, arrived with a defensive force of only three or four thousand.
Despite the odds, Pizarro decided to act rather than talk. With his arquebuses and cavalry in the lead, he attacked on November 16, 1532. Surprised by the assault and awed by the firearms and horses, the Incan army disintegrated, leaving Atahualpa a prisoner. The only Spanish casualty was Pizarro, who sustained a slight wound while personally capturing the Incan leader.
Pizarro demanded a ransom of gold from the Incas for their king, the amount of which legend says would fill a room to as high as a man could reach--more than 2,500 cubic feet. Another two rooms were to be filled with silver. Pizarro and his men had their wealth assured but not their safety, as they remained an extremely small group of men surrounded by a huge army. To enhance his odds, the Spanish leader pitted Inca against Inca until most of the viable leaders had killed each other. Pizarro then marched into the former Incan capital at Cuzco and placed his handpicked king on the throne. Atahualpa, no longer needed, was sentenced to be burned at the stake as a heathen, but was strangled instead after he professed to accept Spanish Christianity.
Pizarro returned to the coast and established the port city of Lima, where additional Spanish soldiers and civilian leaders arrived to govern and exploit the region's riches. Some minor Incan uprisings occurred in 1536, but native warriors were no match for the Spaniards. Pizarro lived in splendor until he was assassinated in 1541 by a follower who believed he was not receiving his fair share of the booty.
In a single battle, with only himself wounded, Pizarro conquered more than half of South America and its population of more than six million people. The jungle reclaimed the Inca palaces and roads as their wealth departed in Spanish ships. The Incan culture and religion ceased to exist. For the next three centuries, Spain ruled most of the north and Pacific coast of South America. Its language, culture, and religion still dominate there today.
Battle # 5 Antietam
American Civil War, 1862
The Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in American history, stopped the first Confederate invasion of the North. It also ensured that European countries would not recognize the Confederacy or provide them with much-needed war supplies. While the later battles at Gettysburg and Vicksburg would seal the fate of the rebel states, the defeat of the rebellion began along Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862.
From the day the American colonies gained their independence at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, a conflict between the United States North and South seemed inevitable. Divided by geographical and political differences, and split over slavery and state's rights issues, the North and South had experienced mounting tensions during the first half of the nineteenth century. Finally, the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln in 1860 provided the spark that formally divided the country. Although Lincoln had made no campaign promises to outlaw slavery, many in the South viewed him as an abolitionist who would end the institution on which much of the region's agriculture and industry depended. In December 1860, South Carolina, acting on what they thought was a "state's right" under the U.S. Constitution, seceded from the Union. Three months later, seven other southern states joined South Carolina to form the Confederate States of America.
Few believed that the action would lead to war. Southerners claimed it was their right to form their own country while Northerners thought that a blockade of the Confederacy, supported by diplomacy, would peacefully return the rebel states to the fold. However, chances for a peaceful settlement ended with the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, on April 12-14, 1861. Four more states joined the Confederacy a few days later.
Both sides quickly mobilized and aggressive Confederate commanders achieved success against the more reluctant and cautious Union leaders. While warfare on land favored the Confederates, they lacked a navy, which allowed the U.S. Navy to blockade its shores. This prevented the South from exporting their primary cash crop of cotton, as well as importing much-needed arms, ammunition, and other military supplies that the meager Southern industrial complex could not provide.
In May 1862, General Robert E. Lee took command of what he renamed as the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee soon became one the most beloved commanders in history. Yet, while his men adored him, his critics noted his inability to control his subordinate leaders.
Despite his shortcomings, Lee outmaneuvered and out-generaled his opponents in his initial battles. He turned back the Union march on Richmond and then moved north to win the Second Battle of Bull Run near Manassas, Virginia, on August 30, 1862. Both Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis realized, however, that the South could not win a prolonged war against the more populous and industrialized North. To endure and succeed, the South would need war supplies and naval support from Britain, France, and possibly even Russia. While these countries were sympathetic with the Southern cause, they were not going to risk bad relations or even war with the United States unless they were convinced the rebellion would succeed.
Following their victory at the Second Battle of Bull Run, Lee and Davis devised a plan that would meet their immediate needs for supplies as well as their long-range goal of European recognition. They would take the war into the North. On September 6, the Army of Northern Virginia crossed into Maryland with the intention of raiding and gathering supplies in southern Pennsylvania.
Union General George B. McClellan paralleled Lee, keeping his army between the invading rebels and Washington, D.C., where Lincoln feared they would attack. On September 9, 1862, Lee issued Order Number 191, calling for half of his force to move to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to control the region's rail center, while the other half marched to Harpers Ferry to capture the town's gun factory and to secure lines back to the South. Four days later, a Union soldier discovered a copy of the order in a field, wrapped around three cigars. He kept the cigars, but Lee's order was shortly in McClellan's hands.
Even though McClellan now possessed the complete Confederate battle plan and his forces outnumbered the rebels 76,000 to 40,000, he remained cautious because his own intelligence officers incorrectly warned that the Confederates' force was far larger. On September 14, McClellan began to close on Lee's army only to be slowed by small forces in passes in South Mountain. The brief delay allowed Lee to form his army along a low ridge near Antietam Creek just east of Sharpsburg, Maryland.
McClellan finally attacked on the morning of September 17, but his characteristic hesitation and poor communications caused the battle to be composed of three separate fights rather than one united effort. The battle began with a murderous artillery barrage, followed by an infantry assault on the Confederate left. Attacks and counterattacks marked the next two hours, with neither side able to maintain an advantage. Meanwhile, at midmorning, Union troops assaulted the rebel center that stood protected in a sunken road. By the time the rebels withdrew four hours later, the depleted, exhausted Union force was unable to pursue past what was now known as the "Bloody Lane."
In the afternoon, still another Union force attacked the rebel right flank to secure a crossing of Antietam Creek. Even though the waterway was fordable along much of its banks, most of the fight was concentrated over a narrow bridge. After much bloodshed, the Union troops pushed the Confederates back and were about to cut off Lee's route back south when rebel reinforcements arrived from Harpers Ferry. Even so, the third battlefront, like the other two, lapsed into a stalemate.
On the morning of September 18, Lee and his army withdrew back to Virginia. Since he was not forced to retreat, Lee claimed victory. McClellan, overly cautious as usual, chose not to pursue, although it is possible that if he had done so he could have defeated Lee and brought the war to a quick conclusion.
Between the two armies lay more than 23,000 dead or wounded Americans wearing either blue or gray. A single day of combat produced more casualties than any other in American history--more dead and wounded than the U.S. incurred in its Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Spanish-American War combined. Casualties at Antietam even outnumbered those of the Longest Day, the first day of the Normandy Invasion, by nine to one.
The influence of Antietam reached far beyond the death and wounds. For the first time, Lee and the rebel army failed to accomplish their objective, and this provided a much-needed morale boost for the Union. More importantly, when France and England learned of the battle's outcome, they decided that recognition of the Confederate States would not be advantageous.
The battle also changed the objectives of the United States. Prior to Antietam, Lincoln and the North had fought primarily to preserve the Union. Lincoln had waited for the opportunity to bring slavery to the forefront. Five days after Antietam, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the Proclamation did not free slaves in Union states and, of course, had no power to do so in areas controlled by the rebels, it did advance the freeing of slaves as an objective of the war.
Prior to the battle and the Proclamation, European nations, although opposed to slavery, still had sympathies for the Southern cause. Now with slavery an open issue and the Confederate's ability to win in question, the South would have to stand totally alone.
While it took two-and-a-half more years of fighting and the battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg to finally end the war, the Confederate States were doomed from the time they withdrew southward from Antietam Creek. An improving Union army, combined with a solid refusal of outside support for the Confederacy, spelled the beginning of the end.
Antietam ranks as one of history's most influential battles because if the South had been victorious outside Sharpsburg, it is very possible that France, England, and possibly even Russia would have recognized the new country. Their navies would have broken the Union blockade to reach the cotton needed for their mills and to deliver highly profitable war materials. France, who already had troops in Mexico, might have even provided ground forces to support the South. Lincoln most likely would not have issued his Emancipation Proclamation and might have been forced to make peace with the rebels, leaving the country divided. Although future events, such as the two World Wars, would likely have made the former enemies into allies, it is doubtful that, in their state of division, either the United States or Confederate States would have been able to attain the level of world influence or to develop into the political, trade, and military power that the unified United States would become.
Battle # 4 Leipzig
Napoleonic Wars, 1813
The allied victory over Napoleon at Leipzig in 1813 marked the first significant cooperation among European nations against a common foe. As the largest armed clash in history up to that time, Leipzig led to the fall of Paris and the abdication of Napoleon.
After the Russian army and winter had handed Napoleon a nasty defeat in 1812, Europeans felt confident that peace would prevail after more than a decade of warfare. They were wrong. As soon as Napoleon returned to France from icy Russia, he set about rebuilding his army, conscripting teens and young men. He strengthened these ranks of inexperienced youths with veterans brought back from the Spanish front.
While Napoleon had been weakened by Russia, he believed that the other European countries were too distrustful of each other to ally against him. In early 1813, he decided to advance into the German provinces to resume his offensive. Just as he had done before, he planned to defeat each army he encountered and assimilate the survivors into his own force.
European leaders were correct to fear that Napoleon could accomplish his objectives, but they remained reluctant to enter into alliances with neighbors who were former, and possibly future, enemies. Karl von Metternich, the foreign minister of Austria, saw that neither his nor any other European country could stand alone against the French. Even though he had previously negotiated an alliance with Napoleon, he now began to assemble a coalition of nations against the French emperor.
Metternich's diplomacy, combined with the massing of the French army on the German border, finally convinced Prussia, Russia, Sweden, Great Britain, and several smaller countries to ally with Austria in March 1813. Napoleon disregarded the alliance and crossed into Germany with the intention of defeating each opposing army before the "allies" could actually unite against him.
Napoleon won several of the initial fights, even defeating the Prussians at Lutzen on May 2. He soon realized, however, that his new army was not the experienced one he had lost in Russia. More importantly, he had not been able to replace much of his cavalry lost in the Russian winter, limiting his reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering capabilities.
When Napoleon learned that armies were marching toward Dresden from the north, south, and east against him, he negotiated a truce that began on June 4. Metternich met with Napoleon in an attempt to reach a peace settlement but, despite generous terms that allowed France to retain its pre-war borders and for him to remain in power, Napoleon refused to accept the agreement.
During the negotiations, both sides continued to add reinforcements. On August 16, the truce ended and combat resumed. For two months, the Allies harassed the French but avoided a pitched battle while they solidified their plans for a major attack. Napoleon's army, forced to live off the land and to rapidly march and countermarch against the multiple armies around them, steadily became more exhausted.
In September, the Allies began a general offensive in which the French won several small battles. Yet the Allies forced them back to Leipzig in October. Napoleon had 175,000 men to defend the town, but the Allies massed 350,000 soldiers and 1,500 artillery pieces outside his lines.
On the morning of October 16, 1813, Napoleon left part of his army in the north to resist an attack by the Prussians while he attempted to break through the Russian and Austrian lines in the south. The battle raged all day as the front swept back and forth, but by nightfall both sides occupied the same positions as when the battle began.
Little action took place on October 17 because both sides rested. The battle on October 18 closely resembled that of two days earlier. Nine hours of furious combat accomplished little except to convince Napoleon that he could not continue a battle of attrition against the larger Allied force. The odds against him increased when the Swedish army arrived to join the Allies and a unit of Saxons deserted the French to join the other side.
Napoleon attempted to establish another truce, but the Allies refused. During the night, the French began to withdraw westward by crossing the Elster River. A single stone bridge, which provided the only crossing, soon created a bottleneck. Napoleon deployed 30,000 soldiers to act as a rear guard to protect the crossing, but they were stranded when the bridge was destroyed. A few swam to safety, but most, including three senior officers, were killed or captured.
Once again, Napoleon limped back toward Paris. Behind him he left 60,000 dead, wounded, or captured French soldiers. The Allies had lost a similar number, but they could find replacements far more quickly and easily than Napoleon. Other countries, including the Netherlands and Bavaria--which Napoleon had added to his confederation by conquest--now abandoned him and joined the Allies. On December 21, the Allies invaded France and, following their victory at Paris on March 30, 1814, forced Napoleon into exile on Elba.
Napoleon soon returned, but after only one hundred days he suffered his final defeat by the Allies at Waterloo on June 18, 1815 . Metternich continued his unification efforts and signed most of the Allies to the Concert of Europe, which provided a balance of power and a peace that lasted until the Crimean War in 1854. Most of the alliance survived another three decades until the ambitions of Germany brought an end to European peace.
The Battle of Leipzig was important because it brought Napoleon a defeat from which he could not recover. More important, however, was the cooperation of armies against him. This alliance is so significant that Leipzig is frequently called the Battle of the Nations. For these reasons, Leipzig ranks as one of history's most influential battles.
Leipzig also eclipses Waterloo in its influence. While the latter was certainly more decisive, a victory by Napoleon at Leipzig would likely have broken the alliance and placed the French in a position to once again defeat each of the other nation's armies. A French victory at Leipzig would have meant no defeat of Napoleon at Paris, no abdication to Elba, and no return to Waterloo.
Battle # 3 Stalingrad
World War II, 1942-43
Stalingrad was the last great offensive by the German Nazis on the Eastern Front. Their defeat in the city on the Volga River marked the beginning of a long series of battles that would lead the Russians to Berlin and Hitter's Third Reich to defeat. The Battle of Stalingrad resulted in the death or capture of more than a quarter million German soldiers, and denied the rich Caucasus oil fields to the Nazis.
Despite the lack of success by the German army to capture the cities of Moscow and Leningrad in their blitzkrieg offensive in the fall and winter of 1941, Hitler remained determined to conquer Russia in order to destroy Communism and gain access to natural resources for the Third Reich. With his army stalled outside the cities to the north, Hitler directed an offensive against Stalingrad to capture the city's industrial assets and to cut communications between the Volga and Don Rivers. Along with the attack against Stalingrad, German columns were to sweep into the Caucasus to capture the oil fields that would fuel future Nazi conquests.
In the spring of 1942, German Army Group A headed into the Caucasus while Group B marched toward Stalingrad. Initially both were successful, but the German army, depleted by the battles of the previous year, was too weak to sustain two simultaneous offensives. The Germans might have easily captured Stalingrad had Hitler not continued to redirect units to the Caucasus. By the time he concentrated the offensive against Stalingrad, the Soviets had reinforced the area. Stalin directed the defenders of the city that bore his name, "Not a step backward." Hitler accepted the challenge and directed additional forces against the city.
On August 23, 1942, more than a thousand German airplanes began dropping incendiary and explosive bombs. More than 40,000 of the 600,000 Stalingrad civilians died in the fiery attack. The survivors picked up arms and joined the soldiers in defense of their city. The next day, the Sixth German Army, commanded by General Friedrich Paulus, pressed into the edge of the town and assumed victory when they found it mostly in ruins. They were wrong. Soldiers and civilians rose from the rubble to fight back with small arms and even hand-to-hand combat as they contested every foot of the destroyed town.
Elements of the Soviet Sixty-second Army joined the fight. Clashes over the city's Mamaev Mound resulted in the hill changing hands eight times as the battle line advanced and retreated. Near the center of the city, the Stalingrad Central Railway station changed hands fifteen times in bitter, close infantry combat. German artillery and air power continued to pound the city, but the Russians maintained such close contact with their opponents that much of the ordinance exploded harmlessly to their rear.
By September 22, the Germans occupied the center of Stalingrad, but the beleaguered Russian soldiers and civilians refused to surrender. They provided Soviet General Georgi Zhukov time to reinforce the city's flanks with additional soldiers, tanks, and artillery pieces. On November 19, the Russians launched a counter-offensive against the north and south flanks of the Germans.
The two attacks focused on lines held by Romanian, Italian, and Hungarian forces who were allied with the Germans, rather than the better trained and disciplined Nazi troops. On November 23, the two pincers linked up west of Stalingrad, trapping more than 300,000 German soldiers in a pocket thirty-five miles wide and twenty miles long.
General Paulus requested permission from Hitler to withdraw prior to the encirclement, but he was told to fight on. Reich Marshal Hermann Goering promised Hitler that he could supply the surrounded Paulus with 500 tons of food and ammunition per day. Goering and his Luftwaffe failed to deliver even 150 tons a day while the Russians destroyed more than 500 transport aircraft during the supply effort. A relief column led by General Erich von Manstein, one of Hitler's finest officers, attempted to reach the surrounded army but failed.
The Russians continued to reduce the German perimeter. By Christmas, the Germans were low on ammunition, nearly out of food, and freezing in the winter cold. On January 8, 1943, the Russians captured the last airfield inside the German lines and demanded the surrender of the entire army. Hitler radioed Paulus, "Surrender is forbidden. Sixth Army will hold their position to the last man and last round. " He also promoted Paulus to field marshal and reminded him that no German of that rank had ever surrendered on the battlefield.
The Germans did not hold out to the last round or the last man. By January 31, their numbers had plummeted to 90,000, many of whom were wounded. All were hungry and cold. Units began to give up, and within two days all resistance ceased. Field Marshal Paulus surrendered himself, 23 generals, 90,000 men, 60,000 vehicles, 1,500 tanks, and 6,000 artillery pieces.
Of the 90,000 Germans captured at Stalingrad, only about 5,000 survived the harsh conditions of the Soviet prisoner-of-war camps. Those who were not worked to death died of starvation and disease. Paulus, however, was not harshly treated by his captors but remained under house arrest in Moscow for eleven years. He was allowed in 1953 to return to Dresden in East Germany, where he died in 1957.
The siege of Stalingrad provided sufficient time for the German Army Group A to withdraw from the Caucasus. The loss of Army Group B in the rubble of Stalingrad and the toll experienced by Army Group A before its withdrawal, however, weakened the German army on the Eastern Front to the point where it could never again mount a major offensive. More than two years would pass before the Red Army occupied Berlin, but Stalingrad opened the way to the future victories that led to Hitler's Bunker and the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Victory at Stalingrad did not come easily or cheaply for the Russians. Nearly half a million soldiers and civilians died in defense of the city. Almost all of its homes, factories, and other buildings were destroyed. But the Russians had won, and that victory united the Russian people, giving them the confidence and strength that drove them on to Berlin.
Stalingrad proved to the Russians and their allies that they could both stop and defeat the great German army. The battle was the turning point of World War II. Victory at Stalingrad for the Germans would have led to victory in the Caucasus Mountains. With the oil and other resources from that area, the German army would have been able to turn more of their power to the Western Front. If the German armies in the east had survived to face the British, the Americans, and their Allies in the west, the war definitely would not have concluded as quickly. Perhaps even the eventual allied victory might have been in doubt.
While Stalingrad was the turning point of World War II, and the valor of its defenders will never be in doubt, the Soviet brand of Communism in whose name the battle was fought has not survived. Stalingrad did not even survive to see the demise of the Soviet Union. In the purge of all references to Stalin after his death, the city was renamed Volgograd. Yet, the brave defenders of Stalingrad, who fought for themselves and their city, deserve recognition as fighting one of history's most decisive and influential battles.
Battle # 2 Hastings
Norman Conquest of England, 1066
The Norman victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 was the last successful invasion of England--and the first and only since the Roman conquest a thousand years earlier. Its aftermath established a new feudal order that ensured that England would adopt the political and social traditions of continental Europe, rather than those of Scandinavia. The single battle also gained the country's crown for the Norman leader William.
Prior to the Battle of Hastings, the Vikings ruled Scandinavia, Northern Europe, and much of the British Isles. Areas they did not directly control were still vulnerable to their constant raids. Earlier Viking victories in France had led to intermarriage and the creation of a people who called themselves the Normans. Other Vikings conquered the British Isles and established their own kingdoms. Royal bloodlines ran through the leaders of all of the monarchies, but this did not prevent them from fighting each other.
Claims of crowns and territories reached a state of crisis with the death of Edward the Confessor, the King of England in 1066, who had left no heir. Three men claimed the throne: Harold Godwin, brother-in-law of Edward William, the Duke of Normandy and a distant relative of Edward's and King Harald Hardrada of Norway, the brother of Harold Godwin.
Both Harald and William assembled armies to sail to England to secure their claims. Godwin decided that William presented more of a threat and moved his English army to the southern coast across from Normandy. Weather, however, delayed William, and King Harald's ten thousand Vikings arrived first. On September 20, the Vikings soundly defeated the local forces around the city of York and seriously weakened the English army in the region.
Hearing of the battle, Godwin turned his army north and covered the two hundred miles to York in only six days. At Stamford Bridge, he surprised the Vikings and soundly defeated them. The retreating Viking survivors filled only twenty-four of the three hundred ships that had brought them to England.
Godwin had inflicted the most decisive defeat on the Vikings in more than two centuries, but there was no time to celebrate. A few days later, he learned that the Normans had landed at Pevensey Bay in Sussex and were marching inland. Godwin hurried back south with his army and on October 1 he arrived in London, where he recruited additional soldiers. On October 13, Godwin moved to Sussex to take defensive positions along the Norman line of march on Senlac Ridge, eight miles northwest of the village of Hastings. He did not have long to prepare because William approached the next day.
Godwin possessed both advantages and disadvantages. He had the advantage of the defense, and his army of 7,000 was about the same size as that of the Normans. Only about 2,000 of his men, however, were professionals. These housecarls, as they were known, wore conical helmets and chain-mail vests and carried five-foot axes in addition to metal shields. The remaining Saxons were poorly trained militiamen known as fyrds, who were basically draftees levied from the shires. Many of the fyrds, and most of the housecarls, were exhausted from their march as well as from the fierce battle with the Vikings.
William's army contained about 2,000 cavalrymen and 5,000 infantrymen, equally armed with swords or bows or crossbows. Despite the lack of numerical superiority and an enemy defense that would only allow for a frontal assault, William attacked.
The Normans advanced behind a rain of arrows from their archers, but the Saxon shields turned aside most of the missiles. Several direct attacks by the infantry fared no better. William then personally led a cavalry charge but was turned back by marshy ground and the Saxon defenses. Defeat, or at best stalemate, appeared to be the outcome of the battle for the invaders. The Normans were further demoralized when a story swept the ranks that William had been killed.
When the Norman leader heard the rumor, he removed his visor and rode to the head of his army. His soldiers, seeing that he was alive, rallied and renewed the assault. William also ordered his archers to fire at a high angle rather than in a direct line in order to reach behind the Saxon shields. The battle remained in doubt until William's cavalry turned and wildly fled from the battlefield. Whether the cavalry was retreating from fright or as a ruse, it had the same results. The Saxons left their defenses to pursue, only to be struck by the Norman infantry. At about the same time, an arrow hit Godwin in the eye, and he was killed by the advancing infantry. The leaderless Saxons began to flee.
William, soon to be known as the Conqueror, pursued the retreating Saxons and seized Dover. With little resistance, he entered London on December 25, 1066, and received the crown of England as King William I. Over the next five years, William brutally put down several rebellions and replaced the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy with his own Norman followers. Norman nobles built castles from which to rule and defend the countryside. Norman law, customs, traditions, and citizens intermingled with the Saxons to form the future of England as a nation.
Later the adage would declare, "There'll always be an England." The fact remains that the England that eventually came to exist began on the Hastings battlefield, and 1066 became a schoolbook standard marking the expansion of English culture, colonization, and influence around the world.
Battle # 1 Yorktown
American Revolution, 1781
The Battle of Yorktown was the climax of the American Revolution and directly led to the independence of the United States of America. While others may have been larger and more dramatic, no battle in history has been more influential. From the days following their victory at Yorktown, Americans have steadily gained power and influence up to their present role as the world's most prosperous nation and the only military superpower.
The idea that a group of poorly armed, loosely organized colonists would have the audacity to challenge the massive, experienced army and navy of their rulers seemed impossible when the revolution's first shots rang out at Lexington and Concord in 1775. The rebels' chances of success seemed even more remote when the American colonies formally declared their independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776.
Despite the huge imbalance of power, the Americans understood that time was on their side. As long as George Washington and his army remained in the field, the newly declared republic survived. Washington did not have to defeat the British he simply had to avoid having the British defeat him. The longer the war lasted, the greater the odds that the British would become involved in wars that threatened their own islands and that the British public would tire of the war and its costs.
During the first year of the war, Washington had lost a series of battles around New York but had withdrawn the bulk of his army to fight another day. Many British commanders had unintentionally aided the American effort with their military ineptness and their belief that the rebels would diplomatically end their revolt.
Participants on both sides, as well as observers around the world, had begun to take the possibility of American independence seriously only with their victory at Saratoga in October 1777. The poorly executed plan by the British to divide New England from the southern colonies by occupying New York's Hudson River Valley had resulted not only in the surrender of nearly six thousand British soldiers but also in the recognition of the United States as an independent nation by France. The American victory at Saratoga and the entrance of the French into the war also drew Spain and the Netherlands into the fight against England.
By 1778, neither the British nor the Americans could gain the upper hand, as the war in the northern colonies had come to a stalemate. The British continued to occupy New York and Boston, but they were too weak to crush the rebel army. Washington similarly lacked the strength to attack the British fortresses.
In late 1778, British commander General Henry Clinton used his superior sea mobility to transfer much of his army under Lord Charles Cornwallis to the southern colonies, where they occupied Savannah and then Charleston the following year. Clinton's plan was for Cornwallis to neutralize the southern colonies, which would cut off supplies to Washington and isolate his army.
Washington countered by dispatching Nathanael Greene, one of his ablest generals, to command the American troops in the South. From 1779 to 1781, Greene and other American commanders fought a guerrilla-like campaign of hit-and-run maneuvers that depleted and exhausted the British. In the spring of 1781, Cornwallis marched into North Carolina and then into Yorktown on the Virginia peninsula flanked by the York and James Rivers. Although his army outnumbered the Americans two to one, Cornwallis fortified the small town and waited for additional men and supplies to arrive by ship.
Meanwhile, more than seven thousand French infantrymen, commanded by Jean Baptiste de Rochambeau, joined Washington's army outside New York, and a French fleet led by Admiral Paul de Grasse waited in the Caribbean, preparing to sail northward. Washington wanted de Grasse to blockade New York while the combined American-French armies attacked Clinton's New York force.
Rochambeau and de Grasse proposed instead that they attack Cornwallis. On August 21, 1781, Washington left a few units around New York and joined Rochambeau to march the two hundred miles to Yorktown in only fifteen days. Clinton, convinced that New York was still the rebels' primary target, did nothing.
While the infantry was on its march, the French navy drove away the British ships in the area at the Battle of Chesapeake Capes on September 5. De Grasse then blockaded the entrance to Chesapeake Bay and landed three thousand men to join the growing army around Yorktown.
By the end of September, Washington had united his army from the north with the rebel Southerners. He now had more than 8,000 Americans along with the 7,000 French soldiers to encircle the 6,000 British defenders. On October 9, 1781, the Americans and French began pounding the British with fifty-two cannons while they dug trenches toward the primary enemy defensive redoubts.
The American-Franco infantry captured the redoubts on October 14 and moved their artillery forward so they could fire directly into Yorktown. Two days later, a British counterattack failed. On October 17, Cornwallis asked for a cease-fire, and on the 19th he agreed to unconditional surrender. Only about one hundred and fifty of his soldiers had been killed and another three hundred wounded, but he knew that future action was futile. American and French losses numbered seventy-two killed and fewer than two hundred wounded.
Cornwallis, claiming illness, sent his deputy Charles O'Hara to surrender in his place. While the British band played "The World Turned Upside Down," O'Hara approached the allies and attempted to surrender his sword to his European peer rather than the rebel colonist. Rochambeau recognized the gesture and deferred to Washington. The American commander turned to his own deputy, Benjamin Lincoln, who accepted O'Hara's sword and the British surrender.
Several small skirmishes occurred after Yorktown, but for all practical purposes, the revolutionary war was over. The upheaval and embarrassment over the defeat at Yorktown brought down the British government, and the new officials authorized a treaty on September 3, 1783, that acknowledged the independence of the United States.
Yorktown directly influenced not only the United States but also France. The French support of the United States and their own war against Britain wrecked France's economy. More importantly, the idea of liberty from a tyrant, demonstrated by the Americans, motivated the French to begin their own revolution in 1789 that eventually led to the age of Napoleon and far greater wars.
The fledgling United States had to fight the British again in 1812 to guarantee its independence, but the vast area and resources of North America soon enlarged and enriched the new nation. By the end of the nineteenth century, the United States had become a world power by the end of the twentieth, it was the strongest and most influential nation in the world.
Before Yorktown, the United States was a collection of rebels struggling for independence. After Yorktown, it began a process of growth and evolution that would eventually lead to its present status as the longest-surviving democracy and most powerful country in history. The American Revolution, beginning at Lexington and Concord and drawing strength from Saratoga, culminated at Yorktown in the most influential battle in history.
Copyright 2005 Michael Lee Lanning All Rights Reserved
Michael Lee Lanning retired from the United States Army after more than twenty years of service. He is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, where he served as an infantry platoon leader and company commander. The 'Top Ten Battles' article presented here is from his latest book: "The Battle 100: The Stories Behind History's Most Influential Battles," illustrated by Bob Rosenburgh. Lanning has written fourteen books on military history, including "The Military 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Military Leaders of All Time."
Here's how 10 of the largest and most important naval battles in modern history played out
The U.S. Navy battleship USS New Jersey (BB-62) fires a nine gun salvo of 40.6 cm into a target Kaesong, Korea on 1, January 1953.
The waters of the Earth's oceans have seen as much violence and conflict as its land.
With this new type of warship, and with the advent of aircraft carriers decades later, naval battles saw a new level of intensity and importance, as they defined the course of wars.
Here are 10 of the largest and most important naval battles in modern history:
Battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898.
Though a battle that featured pre-dreadnought ships, the Battle of Manila Bay involved massive steamships with large turrets and guns that were the precursors of those that would be seen on battleships in WWI and WWII.
The first battle of the Spanish-American War, the Battle of Manila Bay saw the complete destruction of Spain's Pacific Squadron by the American Asiatic Squadron, led by commodore George Dewey.
Out of the 13 total ships in the Spanish squadron, eight were sunk — seven cruisers and one transport. Spanish forces suffered 77 dead and over 200 wounded.
US casualties were extremely low — only one US cruiser damaged, one sailor dead (reportedly due to heatstroke), and nine sailors wounded.
The battle showed that the US was a global power capable of taking on traditionally powerful European countries like Spain. It also enabled the US to occupy Manila which eventually led to Spain surrendering control of the Philippines to the US.
Battle of Tsushima, May 27-28, 1905.
Known in Japan as the Naval Battle of the Sea of Japan, the Battle of Tsushima saw the Empire of Japan, then a rising power, take on the combined forces of the Russian Empire's Baltic Fleet and Pacific Squadron.
Russia's Navy had prevented Imperial Japan from controlling the sea, and intended to swarm the Japanese Navy with their combined forces, hopefully ending the Russo-Japanese War.
The stakes were so high that Japanese Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō told his sailors just before the battle, "the Empire's fate depends on the result of this battle, let every man do his utmost duty."
The Japanese sailors would end up virtually destroying the Russian Navy. Two-thirds of Russia's fleet, some 21 ships, were sunk in the battle — with six more captured. Over 4,000 Russian sailors were killed and 5,000 more were captured.
Japanese casualties were just three ships sunk, over 100 dead, and around 530 wounded. Sir George Sydenham Clarke, a British officer and colonial administrator at the time, wrote that "the battle of Tsu-shima is by far the greatest and the most important naval event since Trafalgar."
Like the Americans at the Battle of Manila, Tsushima proved that the Japanese Empire was a major power. The Russians would concede defeat at the Treaty of Portsmouth four months later.
Battle of Coronel, November 1, 1914.
One of the first naval battles of WWI, the Battle of Coronel was fought between Britain's Royal Navy, and the German Empire's Imperial Navy. The battle did not take place in Europe or Asia, but in neutral South America, off the coast of Chile.
Germany's East Asia Squadron had retreated from its base in China after the British Navy and the Australian Navy overran the Pacific, and Japan entered the war on the side of the allies.
German Vice-Admiral Maximilian von Spee decided to use his ships as raiders to attack merchant ships off the coast of South America to disrupt commerce. Britain sent its West Indies Squadron, under the command of Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock to deal with von Spee.
Von Spee would end up crushing Cradock's squadron — two of its four ships were sunk, and over one and a half thousand sailors died, including Cradock himself.
The Germans had suffered no fatalities, virtually no damage, and docked in the Chilean port of Valparaiso before setting off to continue its raiding mission.
Battle of the Falkland Islands, December 8, 1914
A month after von Spee's victory at Coronel, the Royal Navy had its vengeance. The British Admiralty sent reinforcements to von Spee's only obstacle in the region — the naval base at the Falklands Islands, a small British colony.
Vice Admiral Sir Frederick Doveton Sturdee, the Chief of War Staff at the Admiralty, took personal command of the force, which numbered seven ships in total.
Von Spee, not expecting a large defense of the Falklands, decided to attack the naval base and set course for the islands. His squadron was virtually destroyed in the ensuing battle — four cruisers were sunk, and two were captured and scuttled.
Almost 2,000 German sailors were killed, including von Spee and his two sons. Those who survived were taken prisoner. British casualties were around 10 dead, and 14 wounded.
Von Spee had lived up to his words: "I cannot reach Germany. We possess no other truly secure harbor. I must fight my way through the seas of the world doing as much mischief as can, until my ammunition is exhausted, or a foe far superior in power succeeds in catching me. But it will cost the wretches dearly before they take me down."
Battle of Jutland May 31-June 1, 1916.
The Battle of Jutland was the largest naval battle of WWI, and one of the largest in History. It saw Britain's best ships, known as the Grand Fleet, face off against Germany's best ships, known as the High Sea Fleet.
The battle involved more than 250 ships and 100,000 men. The large numbers were because it was an attempt by Germany to break the blockade of its navy by the Allies, who made it almost impossible for Germany's to get its surface ships past Denmark.
The battle lasted over 36 hours, and was technically a stalemate. British casualties were much higher than Germany's 14 ships destroyed, over 6,000 men killed, and more than 600 wounded. Germany, on the other hand, lost 9 ships, over 2,500 men, and around 500 wounded.
Because of the higher British losses, the Germans claimed victory. Kaiser Wilhelm II told the sailors of the High Sea Fleet when they returned that "the English were beaten. You have started a new chapter in world history."
But the German High Sea Fleet was no longer seaworthy, and Royal Navy was still in better standing overall. The Germans failed to break the blockade, and its surface ships were forced to stay in German ports.
"Our Fleet losses were severe. On 1 June 1916, it was clear to every thinking person that this battle must, and would be, the last one," a German naval expert wrote in 1918.
Battle of Cape Matapan, March 27–29, 1941.
The Battle of Cape Matapan was an engagement between ships of the British Navy and the Australian Navy against Benito Mussolini's Regia Marina. Mussolini had long desired to throw foreign navies out of the Mediterranean so that Italy could dominate it.
But the British control over strategic points like Gibraltar, Malta, and the Suez Canal made that impossible. With the Vichy French fleet destroyed at Mers-el-Kébir, and the German Navy's surface ships blockaded like they were in WWI, Italy had to go it alone.
But Italy was having a very tough time. A number of naval battles with the British proved inconclusive, and the Royal Navy was able to achieve a number of victories that crippled the Regia Marina.
As Britain began to aid Greece during Italy and Germany's invasion, plans were drawn up to kick the British out of the Mediterranean once and for all. The Italians gathered a fleet of 22 ships and sent it to attack a British convoy around Crete.
But the British had intercepted Italian communications, and surprised the Italians with a fleet of their own. The British sank five Italian ships and heavily damaged two others. 2,300 Italian sailors were killed, and as many as a thousand were taken prisoner.
British losses were only three killed, four damaged cruisers, and one torpedo bomber. Italian hopes of turning the Mediterranean into an Italian lake were utterly destroyed.
Battle of the Coral Sea, May 4-8, 1942.
The Battle of the Coral Sea saw 27 ships from the US Navy and the Australian Navy square off against 53 ships of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
It was the first battle in naval history in which aircraft carriers engaged each other. In fact, most of the fighting was conducted by air.
The allies had two aircraft carriers with 128 aircraft and the Japanese had three carriers with 127 aircraft.
Just five months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese had decided to invade Port Moresby in southeastern New Guinea and Tulagi in the southern Solomons. Upon learning of the invasion fleet, the Allies sent an interception force.
After light skirmishes, the fleets found each other on the morning of May 7. What followed was a battle that was relatively inconclusive, but can be considered a strategic Allied victory.
Japanese aircraft managed to sink three ships, including the aircraft carrier USS Lexington. The other carrier, USS Yorktown, was heavily damaged, 69 aircraft were lost, and over 600 US servicemen were killed.
The Allies sank one Japanese carrier and four other ships. Three other ships were damaged, including the carrier Shōkaku. 92 aircraft were lost — so many that Japan's third carrier, Zuikaku, lost its entire air wing, and over 900 servicemen were killed.
The Japanese invasion force called off their invasion of Port Moresby, and three of their aircraft carriers were out of commission.
Battle of Midway, June 4-7, 1942.
One month after the Battle of the Coral Sea, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander of the Combined Fleet, determined that the US carrier fleet needed to be destroyed. The US Navy was numerically inferior, so Yamamoto needed to lure them out into a trap.
The Japanese had been planning to seize Midway Island to use as a base for future attacks against the US in Hawaii and the Pacific. Yamamoto decided to go ahead with the invasion, and destroy American reinforcements with a massive force.
What Yamamoto did not know, was that US intelligence had cracked the Japanese codes, and were fully aware of Japan's plans. They sent their own force of three aircraft carriers and prepared Midway's air component for battle.
The following battle was a massive loss for the Japanese. All four of Japan's heaviest aircraft carriers, Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu were sunk. The Japanese also lost one cruiser, 292 aircraft, and over 2,500 sailors and airmen.
The US lost the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown — which was repaired after it was damaged in the Coral Sea — a destroyer, and 145 aircraft. 307 US sailors and airmen were killed.
Crucially, the Japanese aircraft carriers that were lost or damaged in the Battle of the Coral Sea were not able to participate in the battle, an element that helped secure an American victory.
The battle proved to be a turning point. Japan had lost its largest aircraft carriers and best naval aviators, and the Allies went on the offensive in the Pacific, with the Battle of Guadalcanal starting two months later.
Battle of the Philippine Sea, June 19–20, 1944.
Despite their losses at Midway, the Japanese carrier fleet — and the Imperial Imperial Navy as a whole — was still a major threat.
But the Allies had made progress — they had launched an offensive at the heart of Japan's defense system. After the success of the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign, they headed for the Marianas, a group of islands vital to the defense of Japan.
The Japanese determined that the only way to win the war at this point was through total control of the sea. Mineichi Koga, Yamamoto's successor after he was killed in 1943, wanted to defeat the Americans in a single decisive battle.
To that end, the Japanese sent a massive force to destroy the US Navy as they approached Saipan. What followed was the largest "carrier-versus-carrier" battle in history, and the last major one between American and Japanese naval forces.
Japanese losses were high — three out of the nine aircraft carriers were sunk, as well as two oil tankers, 395 carrier-based planes, and over 2,000 sailors and airmen. American aviators described it as a "turkey shoot."
US losses were extremely light in comparison — one battleship damaged, 130 aircraft destroyed, and a little over 100 killed.
After the battle, the Japanese lost the bulk of its carrier force, something it was never able to fully recover from.
Battle of Leyte Gulf, October 23-26, 1944.
The Battle of Leyte Gulf is considered the largest naval battle of WWII, and, by some historians, the largest naval battle in history. With both sides combined, it involved over 300 ships and maritime craft, as well as over 400 planes.
The Battle of Leyte Gulf refers to a number of engagements fought between Imperial Japan and the Allies in the waters around the Philippine islands of Leyte, Samar, and Luzon. It was an attempt by the Japanese Navy to push back against the American invasion of the Philippines.
The Japanese Navy believed that the loss of the Philippines would essentially mean the loss of the South China Sea, and sent a massive naval force divided into three groups to lure the Allies out to sea and destroy them.
The following three days resulted in catastrophic losses for the Japanese that forever crippled their Navy. Twenty-six Japanese ships were lost, including all four carriers and three battleships.
Around 300 planes were destroyed — either by anti-aircraft fire or from kamikaze attacks — and over 10,000 Japanese sailors and airmen died.
American losses were six ships — three carriers, two destroyers, and one destroyer-escort. 200 planes were lost, and around 3,000 sailors and airmen were killed.
The Japanese Navy's surface vessels ceased to function as an effective force after the battle. Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai, the Minister of the Navy said of Leyte after the war, "I felt that that was the end."
The most significant military battles in history
One characteristic of some newer books on military history is that they tend to just present a narrative of what happened without a reflective analysis which shows the significance of what happened. This was a complaint I had with an otherwise excellent book that I purchased, The Encyclopedia of Warfare (Metro Books, 2013). More than 5,000 battles from the history of world civilizations are listed chronologically and described, but the reader struggles to develop a sense of which battles were the most significant ones for the course of world history. So let me try here to identify history’s most significant battles (not wars). From my biblical Christian worldview, the most significant battles will be ones that had the greatest effect on the place of true religion in the world.
There are many battles recorded in the Old Testament, and each was significant in its own way. Probably the most significant ones were Joshua’s conquest of Jericho in 1405 B.C. (Josh 2–6), followed by his defeat of a coalition of southern Canaanite kings (Josh 10) and his defeat of a coalition of northern Canaanite kings (Josh 11). It was Joshua’s providential victories in these battles that gave the Israelites possession of the land of Canaan, to which the nation of Israel has been tied ever since.
Many historians consider Marathon (490 B.C.) and Salamis (480 B.C.) to be the two most important battles in world history. In these battles, the Persian king Darius Hystaspes (in 490) and his son Xerxes (in 480) were soundly defeated by the Greeks. The presence of an unconquerable and vengeful foe on the western border of the Persian Empire made eventual conquest of Persia by the Greeks inevitable, which in turn resulted in the spread of Greek language and culture throughout the center of world civilization. It was largely the two battles of Marathon and Salamis that determined the future of Western civilization, and that indeed created the concept of a common civilization. These battles therefore largely shaped the biblical world of the New Testament and the early church—though, in truth, Marathon and Salamis were only the outworking of the predetermined plan of God, and were not determinative in themselves (see Dan 8:3-8, 20-22 11:2-4).
There is another battle which had nearly as great an impact on the course of world history as Marathon and Salamis, but which is much less famous because the victors did not celebrate the battle in literature, theater, or art. As Caesar Augustus expanded and consolidated the Roman Empire, he recognized the threat posed to Rome by the Germanic tribes, and he sought to conquer and annex Germania (Germany) for this reason. His invasion failed disastrously: three Roman legions, along with their auxiliary forces, were annihilated by a makeshift army of Germanic tribal warriors at the Battle of Teutoberg Forest in A.D. 9. Stung by this rout, the Romans contented themselves with establishing a strong defensive perimeter along the Rhine and Danube rivers. However Augustus’ failure to subdue Germania, like the failure of Darius and Xerxes to subdue Greece, portended a further disaster for some future day. It was the invasions of such Germanic tribes as the Visigoths, the Angles, the Jutes, the Saxons, the Franks, the Vandals, and the Ostrogoths which gradually weakened the Roman Empire and directly caused its fall. Germanic culture melded with Roman culture to form the culture of medieval Europe, and the influences of “barbarian” Germanic culture are still strongly felt in the Western world today.
Also deserving of mention is Constantine’s victory over Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge in A.D. 312, fought under the sign of the cross. This battle, which gave Constantine control over the western Roman Empire, had a profound effect on the history of Western civilization as a whole, and on the history of the Christian church in particular. Constantine’s Edict of Milan (313) freed the church from official persecution, and the later adoption of Christianity as the state religion led to the development of a distinctly Christian civilization. Constantine is also significant for moving the center of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople, and for convening the Council of Nicaea in 325.
The rapid conquest of the Middle East by Islamic armies created a grave crisis for the church in the early Middle Ages. In what has often been called one of the most significant battles in all of history, Charles Martel (“the Hammer”) and his Frankish army decisively defeated an invading Muslim army at Tours (Poitiers) in 732, driving the Islamic forces back from the heartland of Europe. Although the Muslims retreated south of the Pyrenees Mountains, they were not finally driven out of the Iberian Peninsula until 1492, the year Columbus discovered America. Martel’s force was the last Christian line of defense in Europe against Muslim expansion, and there can be no doubt that the hand of God was with him to preserve Europe as a bastion of Christendom in the Middle Ages.
The American Revolutionary War was one of the most important wars in the history of the world, for it created what has become the most powerful and prosperous country that the world has ever seen. More than any other entity, the United States has essentially shaped the world of the end times. The battle that led Great Britain to concede defeat was the Battle of Yorktown, where Lord Cornwallis surrendered a British force of 8,000 to General Washington on October 19, 1781. However, Yorktown would not have been possible without earlier American victories—especially at Saratoga, where the surrender of 5,000 British soldiers on October 17, 1777 convinced France to enter the war on the side of the fledgling United States.
Surely World War I and its sequel, World War II, were two of the most significant wars in the history of the world. They vastly reshaped world civilization, altered the balance of power in the world, reshaped world economic structures, gave rise to totally new types of weapons, and led to the establishment of the modern state of Israel. The key battle of World War I was the First Battle of the Marne, fought on September 5-10, 1914. This battle turned back the German advance on Paris and created a stalemate on the Western Front that was to last until 1918. The most significant battle of World War II was the Battle of Britain, which was fought in the skies above England in August–September 1940. The Royal Air Force won this battle by the narrowest of margins, thereby frustrating Adolf Hitler’s ambitions to invade the British Isles and forcing him to turn his attention to targets reachable by land.
The greatest and most decisive battle in world history is still to be fought—the so-called Battle of Armageddon. This battle will occur at the end of the seven-year tribulation period, i.e., seven years after Christian believers are removed from the earth at the rapture and a treaty between Israel and the antichrist takes effect (these two events evidently occur simultaneously). The first 3½ years of the tribulation period will witness some incredibly devastating wars and battles, the likes of which will make the carnage of World War II pale by comparison. But at the midpoint of the seven years the antichrist seizes economic and religious power over the world, and he conquers much of the world to control it politically, which results in relative political stability for a few years. However, at the end of the tribulation period, the Bible describes how armies from the north and from the east will march on Israel, which is where the antichrist has moved the center of his operations (Dan 11:44-45 Rev 16:12-16). These armies evidently come to Israel with the intention of fighting the antichrist for political power however, as the signs of Jesus’ second coming begin to appear, they decide to instead turn their firepower against the armies of heaven (Ps 2:2-3 Rev 16:14). But when Jesus actually appears they realize that they are infinitely overpowered (Rev 6:12-17), and they are killed simply by Jesus speaking the word: “Drop dead!” (Zech 12–14 Rev 14:17-20 19:11-20). The angels proceed to gather all remaining unbelievers out of the world to be judged (Matt 13:41-42), and Jesus establishes direct political control over a new earth, which only believers may enter (Isa 65:17-25). Armageddon is the most decisive battle in the history of the world, since it will result in the complete and permanent changeover of power in the world from human government to direct divine rule (Dan 2:44-45). There will be one final battle 1,000 years later (Rev 20:7-10), but this is essentially a failed rebellion, with all the casualties on the side of the losers.
The Bible also describes a war being waged in the heavenly realms which has a much more profound effect on world events than most people realize (see Dan 10 Eph 6:10-20). This war, and the most significant battles in this war, will be the subject of a future post on this blog.
Battle of Trenton
Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze
The Battle of Trenton was was fought on Christmas 1776. American forces surprised German mercenary forces (known as Hessians because they originated in the German state of Hesse) and after defeating them, captured almost everyone with very few losses. The Battle of Trenton was important in that it restored the American morale which was low following the massive defeats and evacuation of New York City.
Ten of the Most Important British World War II Events
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From 1939 to 1945, the world was thrown into a conflict begun by fascist regimes that wanted to impose their will on other nations. At the forefront of the fight against the Axis Powers was the United Kingdom, which entered the war shortly after Nazi Germany invaded Poland. As one of the major Allied Powers throughout the war, Britain had its share of important moments. The ascension of leaders, forming of vital alliances, and winning of battles led to victory and freedom for the world. With so many key historical events during the war, we’ve identified ten of the most important to share in chronological order. Of course, this list is not exhaustive, so you can share what you believe are the most important British World War II events in the comments.
Invasion of Poland and Declaration of War
Six years prior to the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, the Nazis came to power in Germany and Hitler began retaking land that had once been part of Germany including parts of Czechoslovakia. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s government helped negotiate the Munich Agreement, which many saw as a policy of appeasement to Hitler. Emboldened by the desire of Chamberlain and others to seek a peaceful resolution, Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland. On September 3, 1939, Britain and France declared war against Germany.
Winston Churchill Becomes Prime Minister
While Chamberlain has been roundly criticized for the Munich Agreement, he also worked to prepare England for the war ahead. However, the “Phoney War” in mainland Europe and a failure to foresee Germany’s invasion of neutral Norway led to a lack of confidence in Chamberlain’s leadership, and he resigned. Chamberlain advised King George VI to send for Winston Churchill to become Prime Minister who ultimately proved to be the leader that Britain and the world needed.
Battle of Dunkirk
After the Phone War ended, Hitler invaded France on May 10, 1940. Germany’s lightning-fast offensive strategy (known as the “blitzkrieg”) quickly drove back Allied forces until the British were driven back to Dunkirk, France by which time the UK forces planned to evacuate back to the British Isles. While there were not enough ships available to evacuate, many privately-owned ships volunteered to make the perilous trip across the English Chanel to bring soldiers home in what became known as “The Miracle of Dunkirk”. And while Dunkirk signaled a retreat from the advancing German war machine, Britain would return to those shores triumphant.
Battle of Britain
With Britain having retreated home, Germany began its plan to invade the United Kingdom, leading to the beginning of the Battle of Britain on July 10, 1940. The beginning of what Germany referred to as “Operation Sea Lion” was largely an air attack made by the Luftwaffe but valiantly resisted by the Royal Air Force. Continuing until October of the same year, the Battle of Britain proved effective at defending the UK in the air and sabotaging Germany’s plans for invasion, making the battle the first victory for Britain and the halting of Nazi advancement.
Unfortunately, that did not mean that Germany had given up. Overlapping with the end of the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe began bombing British industrial targets, towns, and cities from September 1940 to May 1941. The Nazis’ attempts to damage British industry and morale proved a failure due to ineffective German tactics and British resolve. The strength of the British character and defense would mark the beginning in a reversal of fortunes in World War II.
Also known as “An Act to Promote the Defense of the United States” the American policy supplied the United Kingdom and its allies with supplies, food, and equipment at a time when most of the American public was against getting directly involved. The program helped Allied Powers such as the United Kingdom to keep resisting the Axis while simultaneously strengthening the alliance between Prime Minister Winston Churchill and United States President Franklin Roosevelt months before the US joined the fight.
The United States Enters the War
Arguably one of the most significant events of World War II, the United States finally entered the conflict following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Due to the alliance of the Axis Powers, when America declared war on Japan a day later, Germany also declared war on the United States. While the United Kingdom and other nations had certainly held their own over two years, the US joining the fight brought in fresh troops, equipment, and resources that benefited the United Kingdom and other Allied Powers, helping to shift wartime strategy from defense to offense.
Second Battle of El Alamein
The Second Battle of El Alamein was a turning point for the Western Desert campaign that lasted from June 1940 to February 1943. The British-led forces in Egypt had held back German advance in the region in prior battles began to push back against the Nazis led by General Erwin Rommel. With the United States pressing against the Axis on the western front of North Africa and the British driving them back on the eastern front, the Nazis and Italians eventually retreated from the continent to mainland Europe. This British victory coincided with other allied wins in Stalingrad and Guadalcanal to mark some of the first significant efforts to defeat Germany, Italy, and Japan.
Bolstered by its victories in as many months, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States prepared for their invasion of Europe, known as Operation Overlord. Aerial bombings preceded the amphibious landings in Normandy, France that gave Britain and its Allies a foothold into Europe and the driving back of German Forces. Practically every Allied victory thereafter came about because of the success of this invasion.
VE and V-J Days
Marking the official end to the war Victory in Europe Day (May 8, 1945) and Victory over Japan Day (August 15, 1945) represented the days on which each respective aggressor nation formally surrendered. While VE day is simultaneous for the UK and US (marking the end of hostilities), Britain recognizes V-J Day on August 15 when Japan accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration by Emperor Hirohito while the United States recognizes the day on September 2 when Japan formally signed the articles of surrender.
About John Rabon
The Hitchhiker's Guide has this to say about John Rabon: When not pretending to travel in time and space, eating bananas, and claiming that things are "fantastic", John lives in North Carolina. There he works and writes, eagerly awaiting the next episodes of Doctor Who and Top Gear. He also enjoys good movies, good craft beer, and fighting dragons. Lots of dragons.