11 Times People Disregarded Orders And Changed History

List Rules
Vote up the instances of insubordination that you most agree with.

The chain of command and obeying orders are two concepts that are essential to military success. But military history is still full of people who disobeyed orders. Armies are made up of individuals, and regardless of the time period or culture, there are always people who buck the system. 

The reasons soldiers have disobeyed are as varied as the world's militaries themselves. Many have refused commands that they personally found objectionable, like Col. Raoul Berube, the WWI commander who refused to fire on his troops for their perceived cowardice. With others, like Union General Daniel Sickles in the Civil War, their reasons had more to do with their own glory. And sometimes, soldiers have disobeyed because their orders were too cautious, as Australian Lt. Thomas Derrick did during the Battle of Sattelberg in 1943.

Here are some times people disregarded orders - and changed history along the way.

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  •  Stanislav Petrov Chose To Disregard A Missile Warning, Averting WWIII
    Photo: Queery-54 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    More than two decades after submarine officer Vasili Arkhipov avoided nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, another Soviet officer, Lt. Colonel Stanislav Petrov, again made the decision not to launch an attack that could have triggered a nuclear exchange. 

    On September 26, 1983, Petrov was stationed at the Serpukhov-15 bunker near Moscow, part of the Soviet Air Defense Forces. That day, the early warning system detected what appeared to be an incoming American Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. Petrov and his staff ultimately decided that it was a false alarm, and a later investigation bore this out: the system was triggered by the sun reflecting off clouds.

    By refusing to launch an attack, Petrov potentially averted hundreds of millions - if not billions - of deaths.

    • Age: 84
  • Soviet Sub Officer Vasili Arkhipov Kept The Cuban Missile Crisis From Escalating
    Photo: Olga Arkhipova / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    During 13 days in October 1962 known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States and the Soviet Union barely avoided a nuclear war that would have devastated the planet. But even though negotiations between President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khruschev were ultimately successful, the war still almost happened because of a confused Soviet submarine captain. 

    Along with three others, the Soviet submarine B-59 was stationed in the Caribbean. It was equipped with a nuclear missile with nearly the same destructive power as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The submarine fleet had orders to attack American forces if provoked, without needing approval from Moscow. When the American navy discovered the submarines and began dropping depth charges nearby, the commander of B-59, Valentin Savitski, thought that the war had begun and ordered the missile to launch.

    However, the fleet's commander, Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, was also on board. Arkhipov felt that the Americans were only trying to get the submarine to surface and that it wasn't in danger. Arkhipov talked Savitski down and averted nuclear war.

    • Age: Dec. at 72 (1926-1998)
    • Birthplace: Soviet Union
  • Lt. David Teich Sent Four Tanks To Help Another Unit, Defying Orders To Withdraw
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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    Lt. David Teich Sent Four Tanks To Help Another Unit, Defying Orders To Withdraw

    On April 22, 1951, the Chinese Army launched the Spring Offensive against American forces during the Korean War, sending 300,000 troops to attack American lines. Two days later, as American forces were being overwhelmed, a unit from the 8th Ranger Company was caught behind the advance. Its commander, E.C. Rivera, radioed for help, but the remaining American forces decided to retreat.

    Rivera and his 65 men would have been doomed if not for Lieutenant Dave Teich. Disobeying his captain, Teich sent four tanks to Rivera's position on Hill 628 and retrieved the stranded Rangers. 

  • Cpl. Desmond Doss Refused To Carry A Weapon But Became A Hero In Combat
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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    Cpl. Desmond Doss Refused To Carry A Weapon But Became A Hero In Combat

    Technically, Desmond Doss didn't break any rules when he registered as a conscientious objector for the US military during WWII - he was one of more than 72,000 individuals who joined the service as conscientious objectors.

    When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Doss was given the option for a draft deferment but chose to join up as an objector because he wanted to serve the country. Because he refused to take a life on religious grounds, he became a combat medic for the 77th Infantry and refused to carry a gun. This and his exemption from training on Saturdays were the sources of intense criticism towards Doss from his fellow soldiers. 

    However, when Doss was sent to combat, he earned the respect of his squadmates. He earned a Bronze Star for his heroism on Leyte, but he's best known for saving the lives of about 75 wounded soldiers under heavy gunfire at the Battle of Okinawa. Doss received the Medal of Honor for this, becoming the first and only conscientious objector in WWII to receive the honor.

    • Age: Dec. at 87 (1919-2006)
    • Birthplace: Lynchburg, Virginia
  • Aussie Lt. ‘Diver’ Derrick Said ‘Bugger The CO’ And Captured A Japanese Position
    Photo: Herald Newspaper / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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    6,267 VOTES

    Aussie Lt. ‘Diver’ Derrick Said ‘Bugger The CO’ And Captured A Japanese Position

    The 2/48th Battalion of the Australian 9th Infantry division was Australia's most decorated unit that served in WWII, and Lt. Thomas "Diver" Derrick was one of the battalion's most decorated and beloved soldiers. Derrick's best-known accomplishment came during the Battle of Sattelberg in New Guinea in November 1943. The 2/48th participated in the fight, but after a week of fighting their progress stalled and Derrick's commanding officer ordered a retreat. Derrick was quoted as saying, "Bugger the CO, just give me 20 minutes and we'll have this place."

    Derrick advanced on multiple Japanese machine gun positions, uphill through the jungle, while under covering fire from his squadmates. And he did it by himself. Altogether, Derrick cleared out 10 enemy positions, helping his unit accomplish their objective and receiving the Victoria Cross for his efforts. Unfortunately, Derrick perished late in the war, suffering grievous injuries at the Battle of Tarakan in May 1945 and succumbing the next day.

  • General Dietrich Von Choltitz Declined To Burn Paris As His Troops Evacuated The City
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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    6,010 VOTES

    General Dietrich Von Choltitz Declined To Burn Paris As His Troops Evacuated The City

    When the Allied forces successfully invaded northern France on D-Day on June 6th, 1944, and then pushed to take Paris in August, Hitler ordered local forces to burn down most of the city to keep it from falling into enemy hands. This included destroying bridges, important war-related facilities, and even Paris's iconic buildings like Notre Dame Cathedral and the Arc de Triomphe. 

    The commander of the First German Army, General Dietrich von Choltitz, refused to comply. In his 1951 memoirs, von Choltitz claimed that he felt the orders had no military value and that Hitler was mentally unwell. However, some French observers have argued that Choltitz merely lacked the troops to carry out the orders and that he later attempted to reframe the situation to salvage his reputation.

    • Age: Dec. at 71 (1894-1966)
    • Birthplace: Łąka Prudnicka, Poland