Historic Underdogs We Can't Believe Actually Overcame The Odds

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Vote up the most impressive underdog tales.

In terms of military strategy, often the difference between winning and losing comes down to simple facts like numerical superiority. However, history is full of exceptions to the rule, when so-called underdogs managed to defeat the odds and come out on top. Dozens of conflicts throughout the ages have involved an army defeating a much larger opponent. These upsets occur for all sorts of reasons. 

Sometimes, it's due to the tactical savvy of individual commanders. Other times, it comes down to the training and professionalism of one army compared with another. It could even involve a simple tactical mistake, allowing the smaller army to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat

Here are 12 historic long shots and underdogs who overcame the odds and triumphed.


  • Lachhiman Gurung Took On 200 Soldiers With Only One Hand
    Photo: Gorkha Warrior / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
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    283 VOTES

    Lachhiman Gurung Took On 200 Soldiers With Only One Hand

    During World War II, Burma (present-day Myanmar) was a major battleground between the forces of the British Empire and the Empire of Japan. In 1942, the Japanese invaded the country, and although it controlled large portions of Burma, the forces fought to a stalemate for the next three years. 

    In 1945, a unit of Indian soldiers was sent to block a retreating Japanese force. During the maneuvering, an advance group of Gurkha riflemen got caught behind enemy lines. Two hundred Japanese soldiers attacked.

    One of the first Gurkha soldiers to make contact was Lachhiman Gurung. Shortly after the fighting began, an enemy grenade exploded near him, rendering his right hand inoperable and breaking his arm. He continued fighting with his left hand for four hours until the Japanese retreated. Gurung received the Victoria Cross for his valor. 

    283 votes
  • 2
    220 VOTES

    21 Sikh Soldiers Held Off 10,000 Afghans At The Battle Of Saragarhi

    In 1897, Saragarhi was a small outpost in the Samana Valley in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which was then part of India. It was created to provide heliographic communications for two forts that didn't have visual contact with each other, and was staffed by the Sikh 36th Regiment. 

    On September 12 of that year, an army of 10,000 to 12,000 Afghans attacked the Saragarhi outpost, which that day was manned by only 21 soldiers from the 36th. The Sikhs fought to the end and killed more than 600 enemies. All were posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit. It is considered one of the greatest last stands in military history. 

    220 votes
  • The Outnumbered And Exhausted English Finally Defeated The French At The Battle Of Agincourt
    Photo: Antoine Leduc, Sylvie Leluc et Olivier Renaudeau / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    122 VOTES

    The Outnumbered And Exhausted English Finally Defeated The French At The Battle Of Agincourt

    In 1415, King Henry V of England made his long-awaited play to capture French territory as part of the Hundred Years' War. He took the French city of Honfleur, but lost half of his 11,000 soldiers in the process to war casualties and disease. Trapped in mainland France, Henry had to make it to Calais to regroup with the English fleet. Along the way, they would have to fight the French army at Agincourt. The French army numbered 20,000, including many armored knights. 

    At the Battle of Agincourt, heavy rains made the battlefield muddy, which slowed the armored French knights' advance. English archers with longbows that could hit targets up to 250 yards away bombarded the knights. By the end of the conflict, the French had lost about 6,000 men, and the English won. 

    Henry V would go on to be named heir to the French throne and regent of France. 

    122 votes
  • The Knights Hospitaller Shattered The Ottoman Empire’s Perceived ‘Invincibility’ At The Siege Of Malta
    Photo: Mattia Perez d'Aleccio / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    133 VOTES

    The Knights Hospitaller Shattered The Ottoman Empire’s Perceived ‘Invincibility’ At The Siege Of Malta

    By the 1560s, the Ottoman Empire had been expanding westward for decades under the reign of Suleiman I (also spelled Suleyman). After winning the Battle of Djerba in 1560, the Ottoman Empire set its sights on the island of Malta, as capturing it would give the Ottoman Empire a means to invade mainland Italy. 

    However, in the five years it took for Suleiman's military to arrive, Knights Hospitaller Grand Master Jean Parisot de La Valette raised troops and strengthened the defenses. Even so, when the Ottomans arrived with 40,000 men, the Knights Hospitaller had 10,000. 

    The Siege of Malta lasted four months. In the end, the Knights and their allies defeated multiple Ottoman attacks and a bombardment of 130,000 cannonballs to hand the Ottoman Empire its first defeat in a century. 

    133 votes
  • A Small Group Of French Knights Routed The Allied Armies Of Toulouse At The Battle Of Muret
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    92 VOTES

    A Small Group Of French Knights Routed The Allied Armies Of Toulouse At The Battle Of Muret

    In the 13th century, the French nobleman Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester led the Fourth Crusade against the practice of Catharism in Languedoc, a region in southern France. He invaded the county of Toulouse and exiled its leader, Count Raymond VI, who responded by reaching out to his brother Peter II of Aragon, who amassed a large army of about 4,000 knights and 20,000-30,000 infantry to retake the county. 

    Simon's forces, meanwhile, numbered about 870, although they were well-armored and equipped. 

    At the Battle of Muret, Simon took advantage of a miscommunication between Peter and Raymond, attacked Peter's camp, and killed the Aragonian leader. The army of Toulouse retreated, and the county surrendered to Simon's army - although Raymond would retake it in 1217. 

    92 votes
  • 6
    117 VOTES

    Ethiopia Defeated Italy In The Battle Of Adwa - An African Nation Beating Back European Colonialism

    The Berlin Conference of 1884-85 was partly held for the various European colonial powers to make agreements about how to divide up Africa and occupy it. At the event, Italy was awarded Ethiopia as its future colony. 

    Five years later, the Italian military tried to take over the country. Italy and Ethiopia attempted to find a diplomatic solution in 1889 with the Treaty of Wuchale. But after Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II discovered that the Italian version of the treaty made Ethiopia into a protectorate, both sides went to war. 

    The Battle of Adwa began when a force of 100,000 Ethiopians surrounded an Italian fort, beginning a weeks-long siege. The Italian army finally attempted to break the siege with a surprise attack on the Ethiopian army, making its assault with machine guns and cannons. The Ethiopian army still defeated the Italian force, leading to the treaty of Addis Ababa, which ensured Ethiopia's independence. 

    117 votes