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 Attacking when outnumbered

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Giraffe
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PostSubject: Attacking when outnumbered   Tue 07 Feb 2012, 20:13

I have always admired the British attack of 1940, when less than 40,000 men attacked over 5-times their number of Italians, dug in to defensive positions, and routed them, taking 3 times their own number in prisoners, and advancing halfway across Libya.

Are there any military achievements in the past that you would consider equal, or better?

I would not count 'technical mis-match' battles, where (for example) western armies defeated huge armies of 'tribesmen', or some such massive advantage.
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Gilgamesh of Uruk
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Tue 07 Feb 2012, 20:18

Barossa takes some beating - especially considering the territorial position.
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Caro
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Tue 07 Feb 2012, 21:02

Quote :
I would not count 'technical mis-match' battles, where (for example) western armies defeated huge armies of 'tribesmen', or some such massive advantage.

Wasn't always that way round, Giraffe. Not a battle, but a shortish war was fought between the British and settlers, and Maori in Taranaki, NZ. The battles tended to have something like 3500 English and up to 1500 Maori (though usually they weren't all available to fight - had to tend crops etc). The end result was disputed (though the land sale that triggered it did not go ahead), but in some of the battles Maori definitely got the upper hand, through tactical use of their pa. James Belich quote Taranaki Punch of 7th November 1860: (if the language is wrong for here, Nordmann can presumably moderate it)

Sing a song of sixpence, A tale about the war, Four and twenty niggers, Cooped up in a Pa.

When the pa was opened Not a nigger there was seen Is not that a jolly tale To tell before the Queen.

And wikipedia talks of humiliating defeats. But in the long term it brought a wider war which Maori couldn't win.

Caro.
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Gilgamesh of Uruk
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Tue 07 Feb 2012, 22:06

Try Goose Green / Darwin in the Falklands Idiocy.
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Priscilla
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Tue 07 Feb 2012, 22:23

The Charge of the Light Brigade I suppose comes under this heading - and the cavalry charge by Polish officers against the might of the Third Reich - or did you mean successful attack and not just taking desperate measures - which come to think of it I should somehow make into my motto.
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Giraffe
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Tue 07 Feb 2012, 23:06

I really meant successful attacks, against superior or equal technology.

Barossa - wasn't that where the 87th captured the first French Eagle? (Royal Irish Fusiliers)
There is a 'tableau' about it in the local Military Museum in Armagh.
Sgt Masterson reputedly shouted 'Bejasus, boys, I have the cuckoo!'
I suspect something a tad less printable!

The charge of the Heavy Brigade (rather than the Light Brigade) at Balaklava would almost qualify - uphill, against a superior force of Russian horse.
But of course, it was not a disaster, so nobody in Britain has ever heard of it!
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Wed 08 Feb 2012, 12:32

Agincourt in 1415.... the English, outnumbered, hungry, wet, dispirited and on the run (and with the runs!) make a stand... (I can't really claim they attack as per the OP) against the full might and majesty of France... and the French playing a home match too!...

Hindsight can be a wonderful thing. But, on the eve of the battle I doubt that many of the humble English/Welsh archers in Harry's debilitated army, would have thought they would even hold off the French, let alone virtually wipe them out, and with such little loss to themselves.
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MadNan
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Sat 11 Feb 2012, 13:02

Retreating - with the runs - are you absolutely sure it was mud that caused a problem for the French?
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Nielsen
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Sun 12 Feb 2012, 05:09

@MadNan wrote:
Retreating - with the runs - are you absolutely sure it was mud that caused a problem for the French?



Oh, I seem to remember an old story line there - not quite proper, but a rather funny at that.
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Gilgamesh of Uruk
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Sun 12 Feb 2012, 13:02

Nielsen - You appear to have caught "early repeat syndrome" - probably from your time on the BBC Boards.

May I wish you a swift recovery?
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Nielsen
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Sun 12 Feb 2012, 13:34

@Gilgamesh of Uruk wrote:
Nielsen - ... May I wish you a swift recovery?



You may, Gil, you may!



It's just that I've just discovered that here I can do what I never found out how to on the BBC Boards so here I do. And I am pleased that it's very seldom that I feel attacked from Emoticonitis.



In stead I am listening to one of my favourite radio stations - the German WDR 4 - playing lots of solid German carnival songs, presently de Räuber with 'Schau mir in der Auge', heavily overdosing me with Oompa-pa. - You may find that on youtube if you so chose.



This is the kind of music and pictures that appeals much more to me than e.g. those of the Venetian carnival, which seems so much more uppity, than the low down, satire and self-ironic, and beer loaded German ones. Human beings and acknowleding that fact!

- Perhaps because I understand that lingo wheras Italian is beyond me.

- Which goes for the carnival in Rio as well, even if that one is more popular and somewhat nicer to look at, imho.



Phew, rant over - I hope.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Wed 15 Feb 2012, 10:32

I would imagine that history abounds with examples, Giraffe, since terrain and mobility (to mention just two recognised aspects to the analysis of asymmetrical warfare) contribute such a huge amount to the quality of an army's engagement on the day, regardless of the general quality it may or may not have otherwise. The classic(al) example of using terrain would be Thermopylae where the Persians' huge numerical advantage was rendered meaningless through the Greeks' simple strategy of engaging them while occupying a defile.

A less obvious example of the use of mobility perhaps, but effective nevertheless, would possibly be in naval terms and John Paul Jones' engagement with the British Navy throughout the War of Independence. His tactic of using small nippy vessels with disproportionately destructive ordnance began as part of a harrassment strategy but in time proved itself effective as a means of neutralising, containing and even reversing the enemy's capability significantly. The American forces actually scored some impressive victories during that campaign using the same tactic in what might be termed more conventional naval confrontation.

But then, as Hastings exemplifies, commandeering the best terrain and having a proven and impressive mobility do not guarantee success, even when one has both. So luck and good generalship can never be written out of the equation either.
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Sun 19 Jan 2014, 13:31

It seems Giraffe is really looking for examples not so much of people defending when outnumbered (there are plenty of those) but examples of people actually attacking when outnumbered - and then being successful. There aren't that many of these but the most obvious example would be Alexander the Great v the Persian Empire at the battles of the Granicus and Gaugamela etc.

Another example would be the Spanish Conquistadors such as Hernan Cortes who with 500 men conquered the Aztec empire in Mexico in 1520 and Francisco Pizarro who with only 200 men conquered the Inca empire in Peru in 1532.

A 20th century example would be the Six-Day War of 1967 in which Israel launched a pre-emptive strike against three neighbours Egypt, Syria and Jordan - and won.

The many battles and campaigns of the Swedish Empire during the 17th and 18th Centuries are also worthy of note - particularly those during of early phase during the reign of Gustavus Adolphus and his Lord High Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna when Sweden scored spectacular successes against Poland-Lithuania and the Holy Roman Empire.

In the later stages of the Swedish empire era, when the famous 'Swedish Meteor' Charles XII was king, Sweden scored a surprise victory over overwhelming Russian forces at Narva in Estonia in 1700. Despite his meteoric moniker, however, Charles XII's career against Russia would ultimately end in failure nine years later when he would overstretch himself deep inside Russian territory at Poltava where the whole Swedish army was defeated and surrendered. So maybe Narva doesn't count.
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Mon 20 Jan 2014, 13:45

The Battle of Chancellorsville during the American Civil War. Union general Joseph Hooker planned a pincer attack on the Confederate Army of Robert E Lee defending the line of the Rappahannock river in Northern Virginia. Despite being outnumbered around 2 to 1, Lee launched a pincer attack of his own, forcing the Union Army back over the Rappahannock after 3 days fighting.

http://civilwaranimated.com/ChancellorsvilleAnimation.html
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Mon 20 Jan 2014, 14:56

During the First Battle of the Marne in the first two weeks of September 1914 the French Army was being forced to retreat before a relentless German advance. I don't know whether the French were numerically out-numbered but they were certainly being rolled back by the Germans. Then in the midst of defeat Marshal Foch, having taken overall command just days earlier, is supposed to have declared:

"My centre is yielding. My right is retreating. Situation excellent. I am attacking"

Whether he actually said that is debatable but nevertheless he did manage to rally sufficient forces, counter-attack and successfully halt the German advance. Though not really a victory it is interesting to note that with the Germans stopped and so forced to abandon the Schlieffen Plan, General Moltke is said to have reported to the Kaiser, prematurely but prophetically: 

"Your Majesty, we have lost the war."

By the end of September 1914 both sides had dug in facing each other in positions that remained largely unchanged until 1918. The original German plan for victory had entirely depended on a very rapid capture of France's industrial heartland, the conquest of Paris and the capitulation of the whole country. Did Moltke, perhaps alone amongst the German high command, understand that with their advance stopped the war would largely become one of attrition ... and that this was now a war that Germany would be unlikely to win?
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Arwe Rheged
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Fri 24 Jan 2014, 19:59

I think I might have mentioned it before on this site, but I'd plump for the battle of Solway Moss in 1542.  The noble, firm-buttocked and chisel-jawed English were fully expecting a Scottish invasion and were waiting in strength in the North East, fully expecting the Scots to follow accepted practice and launch an attack across the Merse towards Berwick. 

However, someone in the Scottish army decided to tear up the rules and in a breathtakingly brazen piece of underhanded Celtic cheating, launched an army of up to 30,000 men across the Esk Sands towards Carlisle, some 80 miles to the west of where the English army were patiently waiting to administer the anticipated and much-deserved sound thrashing.

Things looked bleak for Cumberland, which was used to getting sacked about three times a week, but unfortunately for the Scots, the English West March Warden, Thomas Wharton, proved to be either a noble hero or, as his countrymen might have had it "a l'al bit radge in th' heed".  Rather than locking the gates of Carlisle and waiting for the Scots to go past, he decided to go out and face them.  He had 300 men at his disposal - basically, the sum of the Carlisle garrison - but border depredations were so commonplace that pretty much every farmer was a part time raider or policeman, depending on what day it was.  Once he had fired the beacons, he soon had a force of around 3,000 mainly irregular light horsemen - men who spent most of their leisure time as reivers, robbing one another's cows, burning one another's houses and engaging in monumentally pointless blood feuds if someone looked at their pint in a funny way.  

Wharton set off to meet the Scots.  Being English, he clearly felt that odds of 10:1 against were still too finely balanced, so when he arrived at the south side of the Esk Sands, he despatched only a portion of his men, who were known as "prickers".  They basically rode up to the Scottish lines, shot off their dags, took a swing at someone with their swords and buggered off again pronto.  Then repeated it.  Again and again. 

Of course, had the Scottish been in full battle order, this irksome rabble of Sassenach rob-dogs wouldn't have lasted five minutes.  But as it was, Wharton had picked his moment perfectly.  The vast majority of the Scottish army were trying to pick their way across the fords at the head of the Solway and most of them were either up to their waists in wet sand or were waiting patiently on the north side for their turn to get up to their waists in wet sand.  The battle was over before most of the Scots could even get into line, although the Scottish generals made sure of defeat by having an almighty bust-up about who was in charge at the same moment that those of their men who had crossed the sands were surrendering in droves.

Regards,

AR
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Fri 24 Jan 2014, 23:43

Like your style, AR - great post. We need of you in this place!
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Fri 07 Feb 2014, 15:57

The Battle of Montgisard, 25th November 1177.  The total numbers of troops involved is disputed, but a massively outnumbered army under King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem ambushed and obliterated a huge Saracen army under Saladin.

Crecy, 26th August 1346 - an English army under Edward III attacked and crushed a French army despite being outnumbered roughly 2-1.

On 3rd September 1650 an English army under Oliver Cromwell engaged a larger Scottish army under David Leslie.  Although the Scottish superiority in numbers was not enormous (about 1-1500 more men than the English), the Scots did have the high-ground, and the English were disease-ridden and half-starved.  Nevertheless, Cromwell was able to exploit a tactical blunder by Leslie and win a spectacular victory.
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Sun 13 Apr 2014, 13:07

The Korean admiral Yi Sun-sin pitted the 13 remaining ships of his navy, none of them without damage from previous encounters, against a 133 strong fleet of Japanese warships (backed up by 200 logistical troop-carrying vessels) during the Imjin War in October 1597. The Japanese were intent on invasion and Yi's hastily assembled "fleet" was all that was left of the once mighty Korean naval force. The Japanese knew that the annihilation of this remnant would guarantee them control of the Yellow Sea, but more importantly send a demoralising shockwave through the crumbling Korean defences. They decided, upon hearing that Yi had moored his ships at the end of the Myeongnyang Strait, to sail through the strait and finish the job.

But Yi had chosen his position well. Not only was the strait too narrow to allow the Japanese adopt a conventional naval attack formation but its waters he knew flowed at a fast pace, minimum 10 knots, meaning that once the Japanese entered its flow they were unavoidably pushed in almost single file along its chute with ships emerging at the end in sequence and right in front of a deadly hail of cannon from Yi's waiting vessels. There followed a sort of deadly "Space Invaders" game in which the Japanese, even when they realised their terrible mistake, could not manoeuvre out of the firing line. In fact in attempting it they made matters worse as their troop carriers, borne by the waters, became simply battering rams either sinking their own warships or pushing them inevitably into Yi's trap.

8,000 Japanese died in the battle which ended only when Yi's small fleet eventually ran out of ammunition. Yi lost 2 soldiers.

The Japanese were not to make the same mistake again and their vast naval superiority would eventually win them the war, the invasion of Korea eventually proceeding in the end. But the resistance they met and the casualties they encountered in doing so due to fierce Korean fighting were both down to Yi's victory having had precisely the opposite effect in terms of morale than they had envisaged when launching their "assault".
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Mon 21 Apr 2014, 12:41

This follows on from Nielsen's interesting recent post of the 'On the day' thread regarding the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Dybbøl during the Second Schleswig War. During the retreat from the Dannevirke to Dybbøl and in a wintry storm the Danes were outnumbered by more than 2 to 1 by the pursuing Austrians and Prussians. It was a bleak position indeed.

At Sankelmark, however, the Danish 7th Brigade suddenly turned and fought. The 1st Copenhagen Regiment under Colonel Max Müller charged the stunned Austrians in a bayonet attack of such ferocity that the whole Austrian-Prussian advance was temporarily halted allowing the rest of the Danish army to reach Dybbøl.

This small incident of heroism, however, went generally unrecognised as overall the retreat from the Dannevirke, the subsequent defeat at Dybbøl and the loss of the war and territory had a profound psychological impact on the Danish state.
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Mon 21 Apr 2014, 13:38

Thank you, Vizzer, I have just read what is in wiki on this subject.

Peculiarly enough, the German and the English version are much more elaborate than the meagre Danish article.

Perhaps this is one result of what you state in the last sentence inthe above.
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PostSubject: Re: Attacking when outnumbered   Tue 22 Apr 2014, 15:58

Yes - outside of Denmark, the Schleswig Wars are often overlooked. It could be because the decisive second conflict took place at the same time as the American Civil War in which there are more than enough tales of doomed gallantry.

Regarding the 'deep shadow' which 1864 has cast on Denmark ever since then, although this is true in essence, it does need to be qualified. For example there was some ebbing and flowing of Danish territory at the time of the First World War even though Denmark was neutral during that conflict. In 1916 the Danish Virgin Islands were sold to the United States. And that act would indeed conform with the “What’s lost on the outside must be won on the inside” ethos. However, only 4 years later in 1920 Northern Schleswig rejoined Denmark following a plebiscite and the 1864 settlement was thus altered. But maybe that's just semantics.

Far from being and 'unimportant country', the last 150 years of Denmark's history is a model lesson in how a formerly great power can re-invent itself and retain the respect and admiration of its neighbours and others around the world.
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