Weird History
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16 Historical Underdogs Who Came Out On Top

March 20, 2020 5.6k votes 1.4k voters 99k views16 items

List RulesVote up the underdogs you'd root for.

Winners, losers, heroes, villains - a lot of buzzwords are used to describe historical actors, events, and phenomena. Another common term used is underdog. Often applied to military engagements, sporting contests, and political campaigns, the identification of an underdog provides some context about the complexity of history itself.

Underdogs may win in spite of facing extraordinary odds. They can also stand up against injustice or oppression, if only briefly, to take a stand. Whether underdogs are victorious or simply representative of some other part of a historical tale, they can evoke sympathy, pride, reverence, and awe.

Reddit contributors have shared their thoughts on historical underdogs, offering the names of individuals and groups alike. Many underdogs remain relatively unknown; others are more common, but perhaps not often thought of as true underdogs. Redditors made their case for a host of true underdogs spanning historical and geographical boundaries, and we added some additional information to provide more context or fill in historical details. 

  • 1

    A Single Rifleman Fought Off Hundreds Of Japanese Soldiers And Survived

    From Redditor /u/:khoonirobo:

    Lachhiman Gurung, who singlehandedly fought off an estimated 200 Japanese soldiers during WW2. He survived.

    Here's What Happened:

    Records indicate Lachhiman Gurung, a member of the Indian Army, during WW2 held off a group of 200 Japanese soldiers attacking his position in Burma. In the early morning hours of May 13, 1945, the injured Lachhiman stood his ground for four hours. When daylight broke, the bodies of 31 Japanese soldiers were on the ground before him.

    Later awarded the Victoria Cross, Lachhiman said, "I was not brave. I saw all of my friends wounded and then I looked at my hand and I was very, very angry."

    True underdog story?
  • 2

    Finland Used The Weather To Resist The Red Army In 1939

    From Redditor /u/Thermal_Afternoon:

    Just in general, the Winter War is a personal favorite. A Soviet world-class army getting their [butt] kicked by a bunch of Finns hiding in the snow is amazing.

    Here's What Happened:

    The Soviet Union entered into Finland in 1939, the result of a long-standing border feud. According to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, the Finnish border needed to be pushed back in order to create a protection area around Leningrad. The Finns were unwilling to give in to Stalin's demands, and attempts at diplomacy failed, so Stalin invaded with roughly 500,000 men. 

    The Winter War was fought on Finnish soil, which gave Finland a definite advantage. By engaging in guerilla tactics, Finland used bunkers, trenches, and strategic fortifications to resist Soviet incursions. The first offensive by the Soviets launched on November 30, 1939, with the aggressors entering Finland from numerous locations during the following days. Air strikes inflicted heavy damage and loss of life on Helsinki, but over the following months, Finland used ski troops and snipers effectively against the Soviets. 

    In the end, Finland had to make peace with the Soviets, especially after a new round of bombings in February 1940. By the end of the conflict, the Soviet Union lost more than 300,000 men, while the Finns suffered about 65,000 casualties. 

    True underdog story?
  • 3

    One Korean Admiral Incapacitated The Japanese Navy With About A Dozen Ships

    From Redditor /u/ramsayes:

    Admiral Yi had many notable wins during the Imjin Invasion, wherein Toyotomi Hideyoshi entered into Korea to establish a launching point for a greater Chinese incursion as he had planned. Although the initial Japanese forces practically steamrolled through almost all of Korean territory, Admiral Yi's navy effectively cut all Japanese supply lines and rendered their military useless over time. His naval victories played a pivotal role in the conflict, but he had no experience in naval warfare before the incursion.

    Here's What Happened:

    The Imjin War refers to a series of Japanese incursions into Korea during the 1590s. Japanese leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi was able to push his forces numbering in excess of 150,000 men into Korea, capturing Seoul in 1592. The Korean navy, however, managed to hinder continued Japanese efforts. Admiral Yi and his kobukson, or turtle ships, featured covers that left them impervious to flames and incursions.

    The leader of the Korean navy, Admiral Yi Sun-shin, had a storied military career. After serving in both the army and the navy, he was dismissed from service twice due to accusations made against him by jealous rivals. He was imprisoned during the mid-1590s, something Korean officials reevaluated after suffering a major defeat at Chilchonryang in August 1597. The Korean fleet was nearly wiped out at Chilchonryang, but when Admiral Yi was put in charge of their 12 remaining ships, he refused to abandon them, instead insisting, "If we fight to the death, it is not impossible to defend against the enemy; I still have 12 warships under my command; as long as I live, the enemy will never look down on us."

    Admiral Yi took on over 300 Japanese ships at Myeongnyang with his 12 ships, out-strategizing and outmaneuvering the much larger fleet. According to some sources, Admiral Yi brought down more than 30 of the Japanese ships, damaging nearly 100 others. 

    True underdog story?
  • 4

    Twenty-One Sikh Fighters Resisted At Least 10,000 Afghans At Saragarhi In 1897

    From Redditor /u/Roviik:

    The 21 Sikh.

    I have to speak about these ultimate warriors.

    In a short description, 21 Sikh warriors who each chose to stay behind in their fort to defend against 10,000-plus incoming enemy soldiers. They used every bullet and fixed bayonets, and fought till the last breath in their lungs. There is way more to this legendary story and I beg you to look it up, Because of their actions that cost their lives, in September there is a holiday for them.

    Here's What Happened:

    On September 12, 1897, a group of 21 Sikh fighters manned the post at Saragarhi in modern-day Pakistan. Saragarhi, located between forts at Lockhart and Gulistan near the Afghanistan border, was one of several sites occupied by members of the 36th Sikhs Regiment. In the early morning hours, as the 21 Sikh fighters inside Saragarhi remained unaware of what was about to happen, Afghans surrounded the post, even digging under its walls. They set fires to block any signals coming out of Saragarhi, messages that would have brought them much-needed aid. 

    As the siege on Saragarhi continued during the day, Afghan fighters launched a full assault by mid-afternoon. The 21 Sikhs fought valiantly, defending Saragarhi until they were all killed. Newspapers later reported, "All perished. One gallant fellow defended the guard room single-handed, killing 20 of his assailants and was finally burnt at his post.” 

    Suffering hundreds of losses, the Afghan fighters then turned to Fort Gulistan, besieging it for days.

    True underdog story?