People Are Sharing What They Think Are The Cleverest Military Moves In History

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Vote up the smartest tactical moves in military history.

Military engagements are a contest of brains as much as brawn. While victory often goes to the stronger side, or even the side with the most resources, wily stratagems play a key role in military success. 

Whether it be devising new tactics, deceiving the enemy, engaging in cunning diplomacy, or turning the weather into an ally, history is full of examples of canny commanders finding unorthodox ways to get the win.

  • From Redditor u/Kalle_022:

    [Korean Admiral Yi Sun-sin] at the Battle of Myeongnyang. The guy had only 13 ships against 300 Japanese ships.

    So he lured them in a narrow body of water known for its strong tide current. Then when the tide switched, he turned back [and] rushed into the fight, forcing the frontguard of the Japanese to temporarily withdraw.

    But because of the tide current, the following ships just crashed into the frontguard.

    Losses :

    31 Japanese warships destroyed, and 91 ships unsalvageable

    no Korean ship lost

    Oh, and did i mention that admiral made his career [in] (terrestrial) army, and had zero notions of naval warfare just a few years before the war?

    Context: Admiral Yi Sun-sin is a hero in Korea for his naval record. The Battle of Myeongnyang occurred in 1597, when Japanese forces tried to overtake Hanyang (modern-day Seoul) via sea. Not only did they cripple the Japanese navy, but Admiral Yi's victory emboldened other Korean forces that had been in hiding to join in on the fight.

    461 votes
  • Russia Deployed The Ultimate Fabian Strategy Against Napoleon
    Photo: Adolph Northen / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    365 VOTES

    Russia Deployed The Ultimate Fabian Strategy Against Napoleon

    From Redditor u/german_big_guy:

    I would say Russia during Napoleon's invasion.

    I mean they just avoided the fight and let Napoleon's army march until winter and burned down everything so the army couldn't get supplies from the land. They even let them conquer Moscow. Winter hits and [Napoleon's] grand army has to return home. Starvation, [desertion], the cold Russian winter and constant attacks by Russian troops just destroyed [this] mighty army, that conquered Europe and [defeated] the great powers of that time in Europe. Prussia and Austria.

    Context: Napoleon assembled a huge army to invade Russia in 1812. Adopting a “Fabian” strategy, in which their outnumbered forces avoided battle and traded territory for time, the Russians abandoned Moscow to invading forces and then let the Russian winter wear down Napoleon's men. Eventually, Napoleon was forced to retreat; the debacle had reduced his army of more than half a million to fewer than 100,000 men.

    365 votes
  • From Redditor u/badcgi:

    Everyone always talks about Hannibal and the Battle of Cannae, but let's talk about his great rival, the Roman who beat him, Scipio Africanus and the Battle of Ilipa.

    When Rome finally decided to take the initiative and strike back at Carthage in the 2nd Punic War, their strategy was to go to Spain and take the fight to Hannibal's home territory.

    The Romans had already taken the capital, Carthago Nova, and had beaten one Carthaginian army led by Hannibal's brother Hasdrubal. But now he faced a large Carthaginian relief force led by Hannibal's other brother Mago.

    When the 2 armies met, the 2 armies lined up for battle, Scipio organized his troops with the stronger, better trained Roman Legions in the centre and the weaker allies on the wings, and seeing this the Carthaginians did the same with their troops. However, Scipio would not advance his troops for battle, and the 2 armies would stand the whole day just waiting.

    This went on for a couple of days. Each army lining up, strong troops in the centre, weaker ones on the outside.

    Finally though, Scipio was ready. On the morning of battle, he ordered his troops to wake up extra early, and have their breakfast before dawn, and to do so quietly. Then he marched his troops into formation, but with one key difference, this time the stronger Roman troops were on the wings and the weaker ones in the centre. He sent his cavalry to attack the Carthaginians' outpost, to wake them up.

    The Carthaginians were surprised and quickly rushed into formation to meet the Romans, and like they did every other day, lined their troops with the strongest in the centre, thinking the Romans did the same. This would be their fatal mistake.

    The Romans kept close to the Carthaginian lines, preventing them from moving their troops around or giving them time to get breakfast. After a few hours, when the Carthaginians were hungry and tired, Scipio struck.

    The weaker Carthaginian wings were no match for the Roman Legions, and the Roman centre was able to hold on while the Roman lines wrapped around and enveloped the Carthaginian army, giving them a taste of what Rome felt at Cannae. Only a sudden thunderstorm prevented a complete massacre.

    This left Spain open to Roman conquest, and would set up a final showdown between Scipio and Hannibal at Zama, and the ultimate end of the 2nd Punic War.

    Context: The Battle of Ilipa occurred in 206 BCE during the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage. His victory here, as well as his defeat of Hannibal at Zama, earned Publius Cornelius Scipio (later Scipio Africanus) a reputation as one of the greatest generals in all of Roman history.

    395 votes
  • Themistocles Outwitted Xerxes And Set The Table For Persia's Defeat
    Photo: William Rainey / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    From a former Redditor:

    Themistocles of Athens, one of the greatest admirals of the ancient world.

    Xerxes of Persia had just burned Athens to the ground. The famous "last stand of the 300" had ended with 300 Spartans wiped out and barely a dent in Xerxes' vast army. The Greek naval alliance was led by Eurybiades, a Spartan who was quietly paid off by Themistocles. Most of the Greeks were scared out of their minds, ready to flee, but Themistocles was having none of it. He sent a secret message to the Persian high command, acting disgusted at the rest of the Greeks for abandoning Athens to burn. Effectively, it read "The Greeks are afraid and about to flee their stronghold in Salamis - block the exits and they are yours."

    The Navy was indeed holed up in Salamis, and as Xerxes' navy moved in, the Greeks rowed out in a single line across the mouth of the large bay to make it look like they were trying to rush the blockade. The Persians moved in - and the Greeks retreated... further and further, until they were practically up on the beaches... until they had surrounded much of the Persian navy coming in after them, at which point, the Greek ships stopped retreating and charged in, attacking from all sides.

    The initial surrounded-charge was bad enough, but there was a relatively small mouth of the bay, meaning the Persian ships rushing in to attack kept getting snarled and slowed down by damaged ships trying to retreat.

    The Persian imperial navy was effectively slaughtered that day, ending Xerxes' campaign.

    Context: The Battle of Salamis occurred in 480 BCE and marked a turning point in the second Persian invasion of Greece. Thanks to the foresight of the Athenian statesman Themistocles, a large fleet of triremes (an ancient Greek boat) was constructed, allowing the Greeks to combat the invading Persian fleet.

    333 votes
  • A British Ship Used White Paint To Hide From The Luftwaffe
    Photo: Ware C J (Lt) / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    377 VOTES

    A British Ship Used White Paint To Hide From The Luftwaffe

    From Redditor r/xanif:

    Convoy PQ 17 was the code name for an Allied Arctic convoy during WW2. The convoy was hounded by German aircraft, u-boats, and surface ships. At some point, after constant attacks, the convoy was ordered to "scatter." This left many ships without an escort while being relentlessly hunted.

    The [HMT] Ayrshire, while fleeing, got itself stuck in ice. With no escort and the Luftwaffe searching for them, the crew was desperate. Lucky for them, one of the things they were transporting was white paint. The crew covered the deck with white linens and painted the whole ship white.

    Not satisfied with only camouflage and worried about attacks from surface fleets, they moved some of the other items they were transporting into a more useful spot. Those other items were several Sherman tanks which were loaded and ready to fire if an enemy ship got into range.

    Their camouflage worked and they were able to hide from the Luftwaffe until they became dislodged from the ice. They made it to their port.

    Unfortunately, not everyone in the convoy was so lucky. Of 35 ships, only 11 made it to their destination.

    Context: Winston Churchill called the disaster of Convoy PQ17 “one of the most melancholy naval episodes in the whole of the war.” It was thanks to the efforts of Naval officer Leo Gradwell that the trawler HMT Ayrshire and several merchant ships were able to reach port safely.

    377 votes
  • From Redditor r/thuggishruggishboner:

    Tyre. Still there on google maps. I have to go look every once in a while cause i love it that much.

    Context: During his conquest of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, Alexander the Great made a detour to Tyre, an island city in Phoenicia (modern-day Lebanon), in 332 BCE. Tyre's leaders refused to let Alexander occupy the city, so he besieged it. Rather than taking the island by boat, Alexander had his siege engineers construct two “moles” (artificial land bridges) extending from the shore to the island, then marched his army over it and took the city. From that point on, Tyre has remained a peninsula.


    289 votes