A reliable ally is one of the most valuable assets you can have when going into combat. Over the course of history, countless alliances have formed, ranging from brief attachments to bonds that lasted centuries. The Anglo-Portuguese alliance formed in the 14th century and is still active to this day. The French aid in the American Revolution was crucial, even if wasn't exactly built to last. While there is certainly no shortage of alliances that didn't work too well, there are also ones that more than proved their worth.
From the injured septuagenarian Prussian general who made a vital last-ditch intervention, to the enormous industrial output of the US during World War II, this collection salutes the very best allies in history - the ones you'd want to call upon in a pinch.
- 190 VOTES
Torii Mototada Sacrificed Himself To Buy Time For Tokugawa Ieyasu
During the tumultuous Sengoku period of Japanese history (from 1467 to between 1568 and 1615, depending upon the historian), reliable friends were hard to come by and worth their weight in gold. Tokugawa Ieyasu’s ascendency owed a great deal to the extreme loyalty of one of his longtime allies, Torii Mototada.
After the passing of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, supreme power was up for grabs, and after years biding his time, Tokugawa finally made his move. Forces loyal to Hideyoshi’s young son Hideyori were also on the warpath. In between Tokugawa and a large army of battle-hardened samurai lay Fushimi Castle, held by Torii and a modest garrison of 2,000 men.
In their emotional last meeting, Torii pledged to lay down his life for Tokugawa to buy his lord enough time to gather his forces. He sent a poignant message to his son to honor his memory and serve Tokugawa well. He ended the letter with a promise to perish in a manner befitting a proud warrior:
I will stand off the forces of the entire country here, and... die a resplendent death.
Hopelessly outnumbered, Torii and his men held off the attackers for more than 10 days and fought to the very last man. With the castle in flames, Torii committed seppuku rather than be taken prisoner. His noble sacrifice allowed Tokugawa to gather a gigantic army for the climactic showdown at Sekigahara in 1600.
Thanks to the selfless courage of his old friend, Tokugawa won the battle and established a dynasty that ruled Japan for 265 years.
- 2137 VOTES
The Anglo-Portuguese Alliance Is Still Going Strong After Almost 650 Years
When the English and Portuguese signed a treaty of "perpetual friendship" in 1373, they really meant it. Aside from the period where the crowns of Portugal and Spain were unified and the alliance was inactive, the English (later British) and Portuguese have been allies ever since. This has the distinction of being the world's oldest alliance.
As shifting rivalries with France, Spain, and the Netherlands made Anglo-Portuguese cooperation favorable, the alliance was invoked occasionally over the years. During the Napoleonic Wars, Portugal defied the French to continue trade with Britain, prompting an invasion by Napoleon's forces. In response, an army led by Arthur Wellesley (better known as the Duke of Wellington) was dispatched to Portugal. The Peninsular War of 1808-14 siphoned off French troops and resources from other fronts and helped to bring about Napoleon's first downfall.
The alliance continued into the 20th century. In World War I, Portugal sent troops to fight on the Western Front from 1917-18, although the fighting qualities of the "Pork and Beans" (as the British called them) were lightly regarded. The alliance wasn't formally involved during World War II, but the Portuguese did provide material assistance to the British by leasing the strategically useful Azores Islands to the Allies in 1943. The Portuguese once again offered the Azores to the British during the Falklands War of 1982.
The alliance continues to the present day, with both nations currently active members of NATO.
- 394 VOTES
France Made A Crucial Intervention In The American Revolution
It says a great deal about France’s antipathy toward Britain that the kingdom would bankrupt itself for the sake of getting one over on its hated rival. The sting of the loss of the Seven Years' War 20 years prior was doubtless part of the motivation for the French intervention in the American Revolutionary War.
French involvement was apparent right from the beginning, with the shipment of supplies to support the American effort from 1776. A formal alliance had formed by 1778 and the French began sending troops to support the colonists. A key American victory at Saratoga helped persuade the French to throw in with the Americans. The most notable French action came in the decisive Siege of Yorktown; French warships helped to cut off outside aid from the sea, while around half of the army laying siege was French.
Other military actions aside from the Americans and the involvement of Spain and the Netherlands stretched the British to the breaking point. Twenty years after being forced to sign a humiliating treaty with the British in Paris, the French oversaw the signing of a deal that broke the British grip on the Thirteen Colonies.
The alliance between France and the US soon disintegrated and even broke down to the extent that an undeclared war was fought at sea from 1798-1800. The alliance might not have lasted, but American independence undoubtedly owes a great deal to French assistance.
- 489 VOTES
The Polish Hussars Saved Vienna In 1683
The Ottoman-Habsburg rivalry lasted for 265 years and saw two of the early modern world’s most powerful entities clash in a series of skirmishes at land and at sea. On two occasions, the Ottomans got to the very gates of the Habsburg stronghold of Vienna. The course of European history could have been very different had the Turkic empire breached the city’s gates.
The first attempt was foiled by bad weather; the decision to lay siege came at the tail end of an otherwise successful campaign. The second campaign of 1683 was a more concerted attempt that the Habsburgs alone couldn’t handle. The city was on the brink of collapse when a multinational coalition led by the Polish king John III Sobieski arrived to lift the siege.
The Christian Coalition consisted of troops from the Holy Roman Empire, Hungary, and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. On September 13, the German infantry engaged the Ottoman forces in a hard-fought struggle outside the city’s walls. Just as the German troops were gaining ground, Sobieski played his trump card: the Winged Hussars. The elite Polish heavy cavalry smashed into the Ottoman ranks in the largest cavalry charge in history.
The victory was a turning point in history; it forever swung the balance of power away from the Ottomans and began the extremely long decline of the Ottoman Empire.
- 565 VOTES
The Prussians Saved The Day At Waterloo
Over the course of the Napoleonic Wars, seven coalitions were formed by the nations of Europe to put a stop to Napoleon. The alliances' composition shifted over time as the fortunes of war brought states in and out of French influence. The Sixth Coalition was victorious and sent Napoleon into a short-lived exile to Elba in 1814.
A few months later, the Corsican general was back in power and yet another coalition formed to settle the score once and for all. With so many foes closing in, Napoleon sought to quickly defeat each opponent separately before they could converge upon his army in vastly superior numbers. His final victory came just two days before the decisive Battle of Waterloo at Ligny.
A Prussian army led by 72-year-old Gebhard von Blücher was defeated by the French. von Blücher was badly injured when his horse was shot out from under him and only a quick-thinking staff officer prevented him from being captured by the enemy. The officer placed a cloak over the prone von Blücher to hide his face and rank from the French. Although beaten, the Prussians weren’t broken. They withdrew from battle in good order, ready to fight another day.
As the Prussians regrouped, Napoleon turned his attention to a coalition army led by British General Arthur Wellesley (the Duke of Wellington) at Waterloo. Wellesley's men held their ground with great tenacity over the course of the day. A badly injured von Blücher had shrugged off his wounds and led his tired men on a harrowing 30-mile march in a desperate bid to reach the British forces in time.
Ignoring the advice of his subordinates to withdraw, the elderly general drowned his pain in schnapps and an ointment made from rhubarb and garlic to urge his men onward and keep his word to link up with Wellesley’s army. He is quoted as saying:
Forwards! I hear you say it's impossible, but it has to be done! I have given my promise to Wellington, and you surely don't want me to break it? Push yourselves, my children, and we'll have victory!
As dusk approached, Napoleon sent his best troops into the fray: his elite Imperial Guard made one last push to win the day. The assault was beaten back, and just as Wellesley's forces were on the brink of collapse, the remaining Prussian army arrived. The French army was routed and Napoleon was finally defeated. His last battle would be about forming a lasting legacy during his final exile in distant Saint Helena.
- 671 VOTES
The Entente Cordiale: The Anglo-French Alliance Is Still In Place After More Than A Century
One of history's greatest rivalries came to a definitive end with the signing of the Entente Cordiale in 1904. After centuries of fighting, England (Britain after 1707) and France formed a lasting alliance in the early 1900s, with the pact of friendship becoming a formal military alliance including Russia in 1907. Few alliances in history have come close to the consistency and level of dedication shown in the Entente Cordiale.
There were earlier examples of military cooperation between Britain and France - the world's two foremost imperial powers had previously worked together to subdue the Qing Dynasty in the Second Opium War and helped the Ottomans prevail over Russia in the Crimean War. Although tensions weren't fully resolved, the last conflict between Britain and France was over by 1815. The Fashoda Incident of 1882 threatened war, but a peaceful resolution was found that paved the way to military cooperation.
France and Britain fought together in both world wars. In WWI, the French did the majority of the bleeding, but the British also paid dearly for the eventual triumph. The alliance was renewed in the wake of German aggression in the 1930s, and although the French were vanquished in the summer of 1940, underground and exiled forces continued the struggle.