In war, there are always the victors and losers. But sometimes, it’s also the victors of the war who suffer major defeat in a battle before attaining final victory (as happened to the US at Pearl Harbor).
Here are the greatest defeats in war of all time, ranked by you:
In 1565 the Ottoman Empire attempted to conquer the island of Malta. The Knights of Hospitaller, which controlled Malta at the time with more than 2,000 soldiers, were able to stop the Ottoman attack despite being greatly outnumbered. The Great Siege of Malta was a key battle in the quest for power over the Mediterranean. Before the battle, many throughout the region viewed the Ottoman empire as invincible. Christian alliances formed to stop the spread of the Islamic Ottoman empire into the region. The Siege of Malta was considered an important victory which emboldened the Christian forces. They would go on to defeat the Ottomans again six years later at the Battle of Lepanto in Greece, ultimately stalling further Islamic expansion into Europe.
The Battle of Gettysburg was fought was fought from July 1st to July 3rd 1863 in the town of Gettysburg Pennsylvania during the American Civil War. This battle between the Union Army and Confederate forces ended with the largest number of casualties in the entire war, with more than 50,000 soldiers killed in action. Confederate General Robert E. Lee was emboldened by his previous victory in Chancellorsville Virginia and headed north for another invasion into Union territory. Lee’s goal was to crush the Union forces at Gettysburg and ultimately discourage them from continuing their war efforts. At one point in the battle, more than 12,000 Confederate soldiers came over the ridge and charged towards enemy lines. Union Army General Meade had predicted this move and unleashed a barrage of artillery fire on the Confederates with disastrous results. More than half of those men were left dead on the fields of Gettysburg. The Confederate loss was a devastating blow to moral, ultimately leading to General Lee’s surrender and the end of the Civil War in 1865.
On December 7, 1941 the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service launched a massive attack against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. This attack pushed the United States into World War II, ultimately changing the course of history forever. Japanese leadership referred to the attack as the Hawaii operation, and its goal was to keep the US military from interfering in their campaigns throughout the pacific and southeast Asia. The Japanese sent 353 planes to attack the base, resulting in over a dozen ships sunk or damaged, more than 300 planes destroyed or damaged and more than 3,000 people killed or wounded.
The Battle of Thermopylae was an epic battle which took place between the Greek city states led by King Leonidas of Sparta and the Achaemenid Empire led by Xerxes. The battle took place over the course of three days in late 480 BC. Ten years earlier, the Persians tried and failed to invade Greece. Xerxes then began building a massive army and navy with the goal to capture Greece once and for all. The Greek’s defense plan was to seal off the narrow pass at Thermopylae with their army of 7,000 men, blocking the Persian forces from entering. The Persians arrived soon after with approximately 150,000 soldiers. Although they were greatly outnumbered, the Greeks fought bravely for two long days before the Persians discovered a goat path which gave them access to the rear of the Greek’s formations. King Leonidas realized the end was near, so he dismissed the rest of the troops and remained to fight along with his group of 300 Spartans. Leonidas and his men fought to their deaths while allowing the others to escape. The Persians defeated the Greek defenses at Thermopylae and pushed on to capture the city of Athens.
The Battle of Little Big Horn is commonly referred to as Custer’s Last Stand, or the Battle of the Greasy Grass by the Lakota and other plains Indians. It was a part of The Great Sioux War of the northwest United States in 1876. In June of that year, warriors of the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes banded together to fight the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army. The battle took place along the Little Big Horn River in Montana. The 7th Cavalry was led by General George Custer and he was assisted by Crow Indian scouts who lived in the region. The Indians greatly outnumbered the 7th Cavalry Regiment and the battle ended in disaster for the United States Army. 272 men were killed, including General Custer and two of his brothers, his nephew and brother in law.
The Battle of Hamburger Hill was a major battle during the Vietnam war, fought between the US Army along side the Army of the Republic of Vietnam against the People’s Army of Vietnam. It took place from May 10th to May 20th 1969 in the A Sau Valley in south Vietnam. This battle was bloody and controversial, causing push back from both the American troops and the public. The hill was heavily fortified and had little strategic value. Regardless, US ground troops stormed up the hill in a frontal assault. Their attacks were repelled by the north Vietnamese Army for days with all sides sustaining heavy casualties. The US lost 72 soldiers and was able to take the hill, only to abandon it shortly after. The debate over the battle reached all the way to the United States Congress where political and public criticism was growing for the bloody conflict in Vietnam.
The Philippines Campaign was a major battle that took place when the Imperial Japanese Army invaded the Philippines during World War II. The islands were fiercely defended by Filipino forces allied with the United States Army. Although the Japanese were outnumbered by a large margin, they still managed to overrun the main island of Luzon and capture it within the first month. The fighting continued for months leading to the deaths of approximately 23,000 American troops and 100,000 Filipinos. This devastating defeat is still considered one of the worst battles in US history.