Startling Combat Numbers From History That Blew Our Minds
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They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes a simple number can be just as revealing. Military history is, after all, so often a story told in numbers. However, they aren't just the number of soldiers lost in a battle. Knowing how much a cannonball actually weighed can give a good idea of what a colossal pain moving it around would be - and of course how much worse it would be to get hit by a nearly 400-pound boulder. You're probably not going to walk that one off.
From how much money female munitions factory workers earned to how shockingly brief the shortest war ever was, this collection takes a look at some of those revealing numbers to offer a new perspective on historical combat across the ages.
- Photo: RIA Novosti archive, image #44732 / Zelma / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
The Battle of Stalingrad was arguably the most important moment of WWII. It was the ferocious battle for control of the Russian city on the banks of the Volga River that ultimately determined the course of the conflict. Who knows what might have transpired if the German 6th Army took the city? For the Soviet Union, no price was too much to keep Stalingrad from falling into German hands. The 37th Guards Division under Viktor Zholudev in particular bore the brunt of the German onslaught over control of a tractor factory in Stalingrad.
Of the 10,000 troops who went into combat, fewer than 500 made it out unscathed; the median survival rate for the guards in combat was less than 24 hours.
- 261 VOTES
6 Hours - How Long The German Invasion Of Denmark Took
Germany invaded Denmark and Norway at the same time on April 9, 1940. Adolf Hitler had previously signed a non-aggression pact with the Danes, but any treaty agreed to with Nazi Germany was effectively worthless.
With little hope of victory, the same Danish army offered little more than token resistance against the German onslaught. After just two hours, the Danish government ordered its forces to stand down, for fear of Copenhagen being leveled by the Luftwaffe. A few small pockets of resistance continued, but the whole thing was all over within six hours.
The British promptly seized the Faroe Islands and Iceland, provinces under Danish rule, to prevent them from falling into German hands. Another Danish possession, Greenland, fell under US protection and officially entered WWII alongside the Americans in December 1941.
- Photo: Richard Dorsey Mohun / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain342 VOTES
38 Minutes - How Long The Anglo-Zanzibar War Lasted
This 1896 war holds the record for the shortest conflict in history. A succession dispute in the British protectorate of Zanzibar (modern-day Tanzania) led to a stunningly brief battle. After a naval bombardment lasting 38 minutes, the Zanzibar sultanate surrendered. That was still enough time for 500 fatalities.
- Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain456 VOTES
22.8 - The Average Age Of Americans Listed On The Vietnam Memorial Wall
It's sometimes incorrectly stated that the average age of an American GI in Vietnam was just 19, thanks in part to a 1980s anti-war hit song by Paul Hardcastle. It's not feasible to work out exactly the average age of those who served, but the more manageable figures provided by the Vietnam War Memorial can offer some clues about those who never made it home.
According to the information on the Memorial, the average age of the 58,256 men listed on the wall works out to 22.8 years old. The youngest, Pfc. Dan Bullock of New York, lied about his age to enlist. He was just 15 years old.
- Photo: 300 / Warner Bros.
The ancient battle between a coalition of Greeks and the Persian Empire is best known for the presence and ultimate sacrifice of 300 Spartans. They held off a much larger Persian army for two days by using the narrow passes of the Hot Gates to nullify the Persian's numerical advantage. However, the Persians found a secret passage to surround the Greeks thanks to a tip from an unscrupulous local. The trapped Spartans fought to the bitter end - but they were not the only ones.
In truth, the Greek army was much more than a plucky band of Spartan warriors. The bold 300 took most of the glory, but they were but a contingent of a larger army about 7,000 strong. When the army was about to be surrounded, Leonidas and his men did indeed choose to stay behind to allow the others to escape, but there were also 700 Thespians and 400 Thebans, or at least what was left of them by that time. Not to mention the Helots who accompanied the Spartans to battle. They certainly don't mention that part in the movie 300.
- Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
Most people think of WWI as a senseless slaughter where thousands perished for just a few square miles of muddy land on the Western Front. While there's some truth to that popular image, it simply wasn't the case on other fronts. Things were quite different in the east. The vast openness of Eastern Prussia (now Poland) and Russia was simply too large for two opposing lines of trenches. Movement was still key, and while cavalry's days in warfare were clearly numbered, they were still a factor in WWI.
In 1916, with the Germans pummeling the French fortress of Verdun, the British and the Russians planned operations of their own to lift some of the pressure on France. The British launched a very costly incursion at the Somme, while the Russians advanced in the east. Aleksei Brusilov led what most thought would be a mere distraction but was actually the single most successful operation of the entire conflict. In just one day, his men smashed through the hapless Austro-Hungarian Army, taking 26,000 prisoners and advancing some 45 miles.
After three months, Brusilov's army took 15,000 miles of territory and eliminated or captured 1 million Austro-Hungarian troops. In practical terms, Austria-Hungary was finished as an effective fighting force.