Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Five Greatest Ass-Kickings in Military History

Counting Down the Five Most Horrifically, Hilariously One-Sided Beat-downs in the History of Human Warfare

Obviously, I’m a huge history nerd. I mean, a big one. Of all the social sciences out there, I reckon history is my favorite, based on the central fact that, if you can understand historical events and movements, you can pretty much make sense out of everything else going on in the modern world. That’s not to say that stuff like philosophy, psychology or sociology aren’t important or beneficial for complete understandings of the human condition (because, clearly, they are), but if you wanted to simply comprehend the current direction of humanity, history, and history alone, gives you just enough insight to make heads and tails of the world you are experiencing.

That, and history is, additionally, pretty goddamn entertaining, too. We all like to think we know the grand narratives of history, but once you really get into the meat of matters - I mean, do some serious, heavy duty, getting’-sweat-on-the pages research - you come to a sudden epiphany about the Hegelian concept of history: namely, the fact that this stuff is some of the most hilariously, absurdly violent shit the human mind could ever dream up.

A lot of times, history plays out like the blackest comedy we as a species could fathom. For example, very few people are aware that the Castro brothers and Uncle Che staged their bloody Cuban revolution only after renting a boat from an elderly Floridian, nor are most people aware that the French kicked off the Vietnam War after they challenged what they thought was an unarmed Viet Cong to a valley showdown (the VC, by the way, decided to show up lugging Chinese heavy artillery through the hillside, which we can only assume led to the French forces attempting to hastily retreat in what must have resembled something out of a Jerry Lewis movie.)

While modern history gives us plenty of such examples of morosely humorous absurdity, it doesn’t have shit on the sort of military debacles that transpired prior to the French and American Revolutions. Throughout history, there have been military beat downs so hilariously one-sided - almost always initiated by incredibly backhanded tactics, of course - that you can’t help but laugh at the brazen treachery of it all.

We tend to reflect on military history as this glorious, vaunted system of honor and valor - but as we will soon see, a lot of times, that stuff gets thrown out the window in favor of school yard bully and pro wrestling bad guy tactics that, much to our shock as modern spectators, weren’t just effective, but monumentally, decisively so.

There have been tons of one-sided military drubbings in history, from the battle of Thermopylae all the way up to the U.S. invasion of Grenada, but the battles we’re discussing today aren’t just monumental ass-kickings, they are, without question, the absolute most awe-inspiring, all out mass battlefield annihilations in all of history. These aren’t just the equivalents of 12-0 footy routes, or 72-0 pigskin blowouts, these things are the historical equivalent of the Detroit Red Wings flying down to Illinois, beating the Blackhawks 30 goals to nothing, and then setting half of Chicago on fire, or the Atlanta Braves blanking the Phillies to the tune of 20 runs, culminating with Chipper Jones taking a dump inside the Liberty Bell.

Simply put, these are the most amazing, awesome and horrifically hilarious all-out ass-kickings in military history, proving once and for all that in the figurative battlefield of life, things like “honor” and “humility” pretty much always take a backseat to ruthless displays of both human cruelty and cunning.
The Battle of Yamen
(March 19, 1279)

Military Lesson Learned: Man, is it ever easy to defeat an entire navy, pending they're all puking from dysentery while you pretend to have a rave. 

It kind of goes without saying, but the head honchos of the Mongol Empire were some of the nastiest sons-of-bitches that ever lived. The Yuan Dynasty, which ruled over China up until the middle of the 14th century, were certainly worthy of their Mongol ancestry, as the Battle of Yamen – which officially ended the Song Dynasty of China in one afternoon of mass murder, exploding boats and the 13th century version of break-dancing – proves once and for all that you do not mess with people that claim the Khans as their forerunners.

At the time of the battle, The Song Dynasty was pretty much effed and hard before the fighting even began. Rather than do battle with the invading Yuan horde, the Song Court decided to just up and leave their capital city and turn the entire government into a wayfaring naval society off the coast of Guangdong. The fact that their reigning head of state was a nine-year-old probably didn’t help their chances against the Mongolians, either.

One fateful day in 1279, however, Zhang Hongfan decided to pay an unexpected visit to the Song Dynasty’s “Waterworld”-like community, which lead to Zang Shijie doing the only reasonable thing a military commander could do in such a situation: he ordered his troops to immediately burn down everything they had before the Mongols got a chance to.

Shijie, quite aware that his troops were ready to haul – err, steer ass – as quick as they could then ordered his troops to form a 1,000 warship convoy, with the emperor’s ship placed dead in the center, pretty much making the thing a bright, glowing red bull’s eye for the Mongol navy.

Although the Song merchants held off the initial Mongol attack, Hongfan’s naval blockade ensured that that Shijie’s troops would eventually run out of resources – and when they did, they resorted to drinking seawater, thus turning the entire naval force into a squad of diarrhea-stricken sitting ducks.

Hongfan than split his naval reserves into four squadrons, with three of the units completely flanking the Song armada. Then, in what may very well be one of the most awesome displays of psychological warfare ever, the Hongfan navy started playing festival music, lulling the Song into thinking that the Mongols were bored/drunk out of their minds, and thus, easy pickings. And then, in what had to have been one of the most hilariously horrific moments ever, a sizable army of Yuan troops leapt out of some strategically placed cloths as soon as Shijie’s troops initiated an attack.

Completely encircled, the Mongols then closed in on the Song’s convoy, and the rout, it was on. The end result? According to the Book of Song, a week afterward, the bay of Guangdong was choked with literally hundreds of thousands of corpses. The truly amazing feat wasn’t the fact that the Yuan slew so many damned people (easily 100,000 in one afternoon of battling, at the absolute least), but the fact that they managed to do so while absurdly disadvantaged: with only about 50 or so warships with no more than 20,000 people, the Mongols decimated more than 1,000 ships, completely obliterating a largely untrained combatant force of at least 200,000 people.

The Battle of Kulikovo
(September 08, 1380)

Military Lesson Learned: If you ever want to ward off a Mongol attack, just dress up your king in non-king-ish regalia, and the rout is on.

Alas, as every dog has its day, so doth every Mongolian. The Battle of Kulikovo is a historically important battle for several reasons, but most notably, because it spelled the beginning of the end of the "Golden Horde," while additionally serving as the vital first step to all of them Slavic principalities merging into what would ultimately become Russia (which, I hear, played a pretty important role in shaping 20th century history.) 

The Battle of Kulikovo is not only a major historic battle (signifying both the symbolic formation of the Russian Empire and the symbolic fall of the Mongols), but also one of the most balls-out super-heavyweight-battles in all of Eurasian lore. By the time the battle officially concluded, a good one-third of Dmitri Ivanovich’s troops (consisting mostly of warriors pulled from the numerous principalities of the pre-unified Russian countryside) were dead as shit, but in the process, they managed to basically wipe out the entire Golden Horde, uh, horde facing them, as before sundown on Sept. 8, 1380, the Don River was choked and clogged with at least 100,000 dead Mongol soldiers…no small feat, mind you, considering the Mongolians outnumbered the pre-Russians by a margin of at least 2-to-1

The Mongol-Russian hostilities began several decades earlier, when Golden Horde splintering resulted in the formation of independent, non-Mongol tribes in what is now modern day Russia. The Mongols, already on the decline as far as international influence was concerned, decided to stage a surprise siege of Moscow by sending Golden Horde general Mamai into the territory. The problem is, the dude camped outside Moscow for almost TWO YEARS waiting for a large enough Mongol army to join him, following the Tatar army getting their ass kicked at the Battle of Vozha in 1378. Not surprisingly, at some time during the waiting period, the leaders of the Moscow Duchy sort of noticed the inordinate number of troops just hanging out across the river...and thus, one fateful September morn, the unified Russian ranks decided to stage a surprise attack of their own. 

As customary, the battle began with the “champions” of both sides doing battle (with the Russians sending in, of all people, a monk to challenge the Mongolian ass-kicker extraordinaire Temir-murza), which resulted in a surprising double-death that nicely set the tempo for out and out bloodletting for the rest of the afternoon. 

The Russians were successful against the Mongols for two primary reasons; first off, they pulled one of the greatest low-budget battle tactic moves of all-time by dressing up Ivanovich as your standard, run of the mill-looking knight, with the Golden Horde chasing after some unfortunate peasant pretending to be the head general for most of the fighting. They followed that up with a double-pronged flank attack, which left the Horde completely encircled and completely S.O.L…and if you’ve ever played any of those “Total War” games on a PC, you know exactly what happens next. 

When it was all said and done, a good 20,000 Russian and Lithuanian forerunners had bitten the dust, at the expense of a Tataro-Mongolian body count at least five times as heavy. Needless to say, that was the last time the Golden Horde ever went camping alongside the Ugra River….

The Battle of Chibi 
(Winter, 208-209 A.D.)  

Military Lesson Learned: If your military opponent offers you several ships worth of "priceless treasures," and said ships sort of look like they're on fire as they come hurdling towards you, odds are, those boats probably don't contain treasure.

Historically, the Battle of Chibi symbolizes the death of the Han Dynasty and the birth of the Three Kingdoms age in China – unless, of course, we’ve all been lied to by a series of niche-market Super Nintendo games. Admittedly, we’re not really 100 percent sure what went down at the Battle of Chibi – occasionally referred to as the Battle of Red Cliffs – outside of the fact that it involved lots and lots of people dying somewhere close to the southern end of the Yangtze River a long, long time ago.

This much, however, we do know. At the beginning of the third century, China was split into three major provinces, with these guys named Sun Quan and Liu Bei running competing (but not combative) territories in the south, and this dude named Cao Cao ruling the northern plains with an iron fist…when he wasn’t writing limericks about turtles, of course.

After Cao Cao declared himself the Imperial Chancellor of Han in 308 A.D. (which is sort of like naming yourself “Master of the Universe” in the modern day), he decided that then was the time to unify his empire with the two provinces to the south…and by unify, I really mean “kill the shit out of.”

In a move right out of a James Bond movie, Cao Cao decided to “formerly” declare war against Sun Quan by sending a letter promising 800,000 troops at his doorstep in the not-too-distant future…to which Quan allegedly responded to by chopping his desk in half with a sword and declaring that anyone that even thought about surrendering would likewise get equally katana-ed. Shortly thereafter, Quan sent a good 20,000 troops to link up with Liu Bei’s armies in preparation for an all-out donnybrook against Cao Cao’s massive army – an army, by the way, which was really only about a quarter of the size Cao said it was in his letter to Quan. And if that wasn’t enough, almost one half of Cao’s standing military consisted of captured southern Chinese troops. Shockingly, this was a strategic oversight that Cao never seemed to mull prior to starting his campaign, which, of course, was destined to be an absolutely monumental failure from the start.

The battle (which went on for months, by the way), began with Sun-Liu troops engaging Cao’s troops…who, as fate would have it, had been marched into absolute fatigue by their leader, and thusly about as effective in battle as teats on a boar. Following a quick retreat, Sun-Liu strategist Huang Gai capitalized by sending Cao Cao a fake surrender letter, promising the northern leader boats and boats of treasures as a sign of graceful defeat. Of course, those boats were actually the third century equivalent of suicide bombs, as the Sun-Liu troops followed behind the decoy ships, which were then set ablaze and shoved right into Cao Cao’s armada. Much confusion (and even more people being broiled alive) followed suit, along with yet another Cao Cao retreat.

The retreat ultimately proved to be Cao Cao’sundoing, as his troops got caught in a ferocious rain storm that completely impeded their attempts to advance the Huarong Road. Doused in mud and festering with disease, the Cao forces were basically eradicated before they even made it to Jiangling. The end result?  The Sun-Liu brigade of no more than 50,000 troops absolutely decimated Cao’s 200,000 man plus forces, killing at least 100,000 of them over the course of just a few months.

The Battle of Fei River
(November, 383 A.D.)

Military Lesson Learned: Never EVER let a captured head of state go free so he can tell his countrymen that he has been captured, because odds are, he'll probably tell his military or something to attack you instead. 

Nobody does civil war quite like the Chinese, and the Battle of Fei River remains one of the most important – as well as amazingly one-sided – battles in all of history.

In 4th century China, the country was divided by two warring regimes, the Former Qin Dynasty in the north and the Jin Dynasty in the south. The Former Qin Dynasty was led by this guy named Fu Jian, who was one of those types that always felt the need to display his superiority by brute force. As such, he ultimately decided that the south needed to be absorbed into his empire, and plans were made to do battle with the smaller, albeit scrappier, Jin Dynasty in the spring of 383 A.D.

Although Fu’s troops were larger than those in the south, they were also poorly trained. Fu, in a statement that seems to encapsulate the failings of thousands of cocky military strategists, once remarked “My army is so huge that if all the men throw their whips into the Yangtze, its flow will be stopped.” The Jin troops, actually aware that they would be fighting in their own territory, quickly arranged for a quick advance-and-retreat model, which would not only lead to a decisive victory for the boys from the South, but led to one of the most monumental ass-beatings in the history of classical military warfare.

After Jin forces captured Shouyang in October of 383, Fu made the disastrous decision to free the captured Jin official Zhu Xu so he called go tell a fellow high ranking official to surrender. The thing is, instead of telling him to throw in the towel, Zhu told him that not all of Fu’s troops had yet to advance, thus giving the Jin troops an easy opportunity to stage a surprise counter attack back in Shouyang. When Fu ultimately made it into Shouyang, he made the fatal assumption that the Jin Dynasty troops were just as large as his, leading to a completely unnecessary strategic retooling that basically guaranteed his own ass-pounding.

Despite being told by his generals to not do it, Fu authorized his troops to make a fateful trip down the Fei River, were his ships were routinely ambushed by Jin forces. Zhu, a military genius a good 1,800 years ahead of his time, decided to bribe a number of Former Qin officials to disobey orders, culminating with Zhou just saying that the Qin had been defeated, and spreading the propaganda around China until the Former Qin troops and officials actually believed it. In other words? Zhu conquered a nearly one million man strong army, using what is tantamount to the Jedi Mind Trick.

With the Former Qin troops in absolute disarray, Zhu authorized an offensive that wiped out almost 80 percent of the standing Fu forces…which led to the Former Qin Dynasty absolutely imploding and falling into a civil war, while Zhu – the P.O.W. turned courier turned god of war – went on to have the greatest prestige imaginable attached to his namesake, with a long running “Dynasty Warriors” character being named in his honor.

The Drive-In Totals on this one? According to Jin Shu records, a humble force of no more than 80,000 Jin troops killed, at rough estimate, about 700,000 of the almost 900,000 invading Qin warriors.

Whether or not the real-life Zhu, at any point in battle screamed "I'm starting to work up an appetite!", however, has yet to be verified by historians.

The Battle of Salsu
(612 A.D.)

Military Lesson Learned: If you notice that the river you crossed to get into enemy territory is now missing, and you see several guys with axes standing atop a recently constructed dam...well, now's a good time to start doggy paddling.

There have been battles in history with fatter body counts than the Battle of Salsu. There have been battles that, qualitatively and quantitatively, were far more important, disastrous, and monumental, too. However, as an example of one force simply beating the dog snot out of its opposition, there is no denying this: the Battle of Salsu is, unquestionably, the single greatest ass-kicking in the history of human warfare...that is, if it actually took place, which, yeah, a lot of people are sort of skeptical about

The battle began with Chinese Emperor Yangdi of the Sui Dynasty attacking the Korean stronghold of Goguryeo, sending over a million troops to raze the countryside. The expertly trained Koreans managed to hold off the invading Chinese, even after Yangdi sent more than 300,000 soldiers into the capital city of Pyongyang. There, General Eulji Mundeok staved off months of Sui attacks, ultimately pushing the Chinese back into the countryside. Mundeok’s forces then managed to send the Sui attackers all the way back to the Salsu River, where the groundwork for the most amazing ass-kicking in military history was soon to be plotted by the Goguryeons.

Mundeok’s plan was deceptively simple, yet undeniably effective. You see, before the Chinese were able to retreat across the Salsu, he decided to dam up the river. For some reason, the Sui forces didn’t ask any questions as to where that one river they crossed to get into the country went, perhaps because they were too preoccupied with hauling ass out of Korea. And as soon as the Sui troops got halfway across the river basin, take a wild guess what Mundeok did to that dam he constructed? Go ahead, guess.

As a result, thousands upon thousands of Sui forces were drowned, and the unlucky few that managed to survive were soon assailed by Goguryeon troops from every conceivable direction, with the Chinese being chased all the way back to the Liaodong Peninusla.

Clearly, the Battle of Salsu was a decisive victory for the Goguryeons, who completely defeated the demoralized Chinese soon thereafter. The Sui Dynasty never really recovered from that fateful excursion, with the empire subsequently being replaced by the Tang Dynasty in short order.
Nobody is really certain how many Korean troops fought in the Battle of Salsu, but we’re pretty sure it was a lot less than the Chinese numbers. To quantify the sheer blistering the Sui troops received on their collective buttocks, take this downright unreal statistic into consideration: of the 300,000 plus Chinese troops that went into Pyongyang, only about 2,000 of them allegedly managed to survive beyond the Battle of Salsu.

And that, my friends, is THE definition of “a straight-up ass kicking” if I’ve ever heard one...regardless if the battle actually turned out the way most historians recollect it. 


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