So a few weeks ago asked this open question and we received lots of interesting answers. Here are some of them.
1-5 Interesting War Tactics Ever Performed
01. The Romans lit pigs on fire to scare Hannibal’s elephants. On the other hand, Hannibal had the balls to march across the alps with elephants. Ballsy all around. – Posted by Allie.
02. Flaming pigs were also used in seiges. You’d dig a tunnel under the castle, then herd a load of pigs set on fire in to the tunnel. They’d set fire to the supports and cause the tunnel to collapse, bringing down the castle with it. King John of England (of Magna Carta and Robin Hood fame) used this at the siege of Rochester Castle. – Posted by Allie.
03. At the battle of Cannae, Hannibal took on an army nearly twice the size of his (50k v. 85k), and using a genius battle formation, actually encircled the Romans, and for hours afterwards several hundred Roman soldiers were cut down every minute. The defeated army was literally driven insane by what was happening, being systematically killed by these madmen who crossed the Alps in winter, that some dug holes in the ground and suffocated themselves in them rather than wait for hours, packed in as the Carthaginians slaughtered their way inward, as their comrades died around them until the same inevitably happened to themselves. ‘Why wait, and delay my death an hour, or two, when I can escape from this right now?’ – Posted by Allie.
04. This is a tactic the Gurkhas used in Afghanistan (in the recent conflict there). If they were to attack a Taliban outpost, they’d sneak ahead and kill the outer perimeter guards. Then they’d cut off the guards’ heads, and reattach them with sticks.
When the guard change happened, the new guards would tap their friends on the shoulder and crap themselves as their friends’ heads would fall off. Generally they didn’t put up a fight after that – meaning the Gurkhas avoided having to do an assault that could cost lives. – Posted by Chapman
05. Julius Caesar’s victory at Alesia, after which Vercingetorix famously surrendered and all of Gaul (all of Gaul? no! …) became a Roman province, was actually pretty crazy.
The Gauls had been doing relatively well this far in the war and played to their strengths, but were finally cornered in a little fortified hill-top town called Alesia. Caesar knew that Vercingetorix would run out of supplies pretty quickly, so instead of attacking the town, he laid siege to it, by building a wooden wall, complete with towers and ditches and traps around the entire town, about 18km in total.
Vercingetorix, knowing he was fu*ked if he didn’t get help, managed to send messengers out to his allies. And soon enough, a Gaulish army outnumbering the Romans was marching on Alesia, and now it was Caesar’s turn to be fu*ked.
But instead of giving up on the siege, he ordered another wooden wall to be built around the entire first wall. So now he had the Gauls surrounded in Alesia, and was himself surrounded by more Gauls.
What followed were a couple of days of intense fighting, with the Gauls almost managing to break through the wall in several places. Marc Antony (who would go on to bang Cleopatra) led a charge to save one section, and Caesar himself took command of the last reserves, personally threw himself into the melee, and turned the tide of battle. Apparently he grabbed his own fleeing men by the collar and hurled them back into combat, and his personal bravery inspired his legions to endure.
Eventually the Gaulish reinforcements routed and fled the field, and Vercingetorix, out of supplies and still surrounded, threw his shield at Caesar’s feet.
I think the double circumvallation must be the craziest tactic that actually worked. – Posted by Judean
6-10 Interesting War Tactics Ever Performed
06. Cyrus the Great realized that Lydian horses were afraid of camels, so he routed their forces with camel-mounted warriors. – Posted by Alekosen
07. The Viking Harald Hadrade was one of the last great Viking war leaders. He lead a brutal conquest of Europe and at one point he even made it down to Sicily. When Harald and his Vikings got to the castle there, the walls were too thick and the castle was too well defended to rush. They besieged the castle and Harald demanded that his men catch every bird they found flying out of the castle. Once they had a vast number of birds, the vikings attached twigs to the birds with wax and sulfur then lit the twigs on fire and released all of the birds at once. The panicked birds flew back to their nests in trees and on the roofs of houses as well as other buildings. The nests, often made of many small twigs, made easy kindling and set trees and buildings all over the city ablaze in an instant. The fire grew exponentially and the people were forced to evacuate the burning walled cities into the open arms of the Vikings. Apparently Harald took pity on the citizens, though all of the details of the entire story are written in an epic poem so the accuracy is questionable. For more details and other details of Harald’s adventures written as an epic poem, check it out here. – Posted by Kevin
08. The British led raid on St. Nazaire during WWII. Codenamed operation “Chariot”, the allies felt it’d be necessary to destroy a dry dock located at St. Nazaire on the western French coast. The reasoning behind it was to prevent Tirpitz, Germany’s largest and most feared warship, from having a home base on the Atlantic seaboard, as St. Nazaire housed the only dry dock big enough to accommodate a ship of Tirpitz’s size. To accomplish this, the British utilized an old WW1 dreadnought, HMS Cambeltown, and turned it into something that is very reminiscent of the Trojan Horse. First off they crudely converted the ship to look like a Nazi Cruiser, and from a distance it looked pretty convincing. Up close it would be obvious that it was a hastily disguised ship, but that was not the highest priority. What was of utmost concern to the Royal Navy was what Campbeltown would be carrying. Engineers built a special concealed compartment in her hull and filled it with couple tons of explosives with time delayed fuses. When the boat was ready, she set sail for St. Nazaire along with 18 other smaller support boats, all of which were loaded with British Commandos. In the dead of night the convoy navigated up the narrow channel leading into the St. Nazaire estuary. A set of stolen naval code books provided answers to guard boxes stationed along both sides of the straight. While it is known that operators were suspicious, they bought the ships’ disguises and allowed the convoy passage. It was only when Campbeltown came within a quarter mile of the dry dock that the Germans realized what was going on. As all hell broke loose, Campbeltown was rammed up onto the dry dock gate. Simultaneously the Commandos disembarked from the vessel and began raising even more hell. Pump stations were destroyed, U-boat facilities were attacked, and anything that seemed of military significance was targeted by Commandos. Unfortunately many of the 18 boats that had been in the convoy were destroyed during the raid, and as they were a means of transportation home for Commandos, many found themselves to be SOL. Many were captured. But unbeknownst to the Germans at the time, they still had one surprise left. It wasn’t until early the next morning when Campbeltown blew up. It was reported that bits of the souvenir scavengers who had been scourging the ship were found over a half mile away. The blast absolutely decimated the dock gate. It was damaged so badly that it was not repaired until a few years after the end of the war. Subsequently Tirpitz was forced to spend much of the war hiding in a Norwegian fjord, and operation chariot has since been dubbed “The greatest raid of all time” – Posted by Cirv
09. Scipio Africanus used a great tactic against the Carthaginians at the Battle of Ilipa. The simplified version is that both the Romans and the Carthaginians had armies composed of their well-trained, homegrown soldiers and not-so reliable Iberian allies, roughly half/half for each. For a few days the two armies were camped close to each other and would come out during the day, form up, and dare the other to attack.
Scipio always put his legionnaires in the centre and positioned his Iberians on the wings. The Carthaginians were like ‘that makes sense’ and did the same with their army. So they stared at each other like that for a couple of days.
On the day of the battle, Scipio had his men eat well before dawn, get ready and form up outside the camp, but this time he reversed his formation and put the weaker Iberians in the centre and the legionnaires on the wings. Then he signaled for attack, and the surprised Carthaginians ran out of their camps and automatically formed up the way they had the last few days, assuming that Scipio was up to his usual shenanigans.
By the time anyone saw the change in tactics, it was way too late, and the legionnaires tore through the weaker Carthaginian wings and turned on the enemy centre before the Roman centre had even closed with its counterpart. The Carthaginians were all routing and surrounded before their generals could do anything to save the day.
Scipio Africanus went on to be the only general to defeat Hannibal in a land battle. – Posted by Olly
10. Flooding your own land, so that enemy can’t push forward. The Netherlands has done it for hundreds of years, until WW2. – Posted by Kirn
11-15 Interesting War Tactics Ever Performed
11. Project Fugo was a weird one. During WWII Japan launched 6000+ paper balloons attached to incendiary bombs, in hopes that they would float across a Pacific airstream and catch American forests on fire. Quite a few made it here (they found one in Canada in 2014), but they didn’t do a lot of damage. And it was kept very hush hush by the U.S. government so almost no one heard about it, except a few hundred people in the Pacific Northwest who spotted the mysterious “jellyfish in the sky” slowly floating by. One of them landed in Oregon and killed 6, leading to the only deaths from WW2 inside the contiguous United States. – Posted by MagicalWarlock
12. I’ve always been fond of inflatable tanks. They’re brilliant and silly at the same time. The best use of inflatable tanks has to be the Allies during their preparation for the D-Day Landings at Normandy. The most logical point for an attack on France was from Calais, however the Germans knew this and focused most of their defenses at this point. To convince the Germans they thought the same the Allies built a massive base there, but it was pretty much all fake. I’m on mobile, so I can’t fact check any of this while I’m typing, so I apologize in advance for any errors, but here’s a few of the tactics they used to throw the Germans off:
- They used tons of inflatable tanks and airplanes, as well as a bunch of wooden ones as well, painted to look like tanks, boats, and airplanes from the air.
- They also used some Hollywood set designers to build an elaborate looking military base, that was again totally fake.
- They slowly leaked information that would go along with having a military operation there, and not just the big stuff, there was tons of smaller pieces of information, like disciplinary notices for imaginary soldiers. The best example of this was when they took the body of a soldier, dressed him up as a high ranking officer, and filled his pockets full of fake orders, but also included a bunch of love letters and pictures from a fake girlfriend, and letters and pictures from a fake family, and then floated him out towards the Germans, hoping they would find him and think they got lucky.
- Patton was highly respected by the Germans was also reported to be in command of this ‘army’ in these fake communications. However, actually he had been suspended when he had struck a soldier under his command. The Germans didn’t believe that a General they had respected so much would be suspended for such a minor issue, so they thought the suspension was a smokescreen for him actually running this ‘base’.
Also, while I’m a history nut I’m not great with military terminology, so I apologize if I’ve used incorrect terms anywhere here. – Posted by Goombill
13. The UK air dropped matchbooks into enemy lines which contained instructions on how a soldier could fake illnesses to get sent home.
Once the Nazi leaders caught wind of this, they stopped sending their troops home who claimed to have said illnesses. Not only did this get healthy enemy troops sent home, it eventually ended with genuinely ill troops being sent back into combat spreading real disease amongst their ranks. – Posted by Tim
14. The Celts are said to have got into combat on a few occasions completely naked.
It’s freaky enough to face off against a large army of big, screaming men decked out in armor, waving swords. But it’d totally fu*k with your eyes/brain if they’re totally buck-ass nude. Just ask General Butt Naked, from the Liberian Civil War. – Posted by Francis
15. I like the Finnish defense against Soviet Union. By using snow shoes and skis, they outmaneuvered the large, immobile battalions for years and constantly cut off supply lines. Finland was small and nowhere near the military might of the mighty Soviets, but killed 15 enemies soldier for every one of their own and delayed their advancement for years. Knowing the environment, and being dressed for the occasion really helped.
Let’s not forget the Molotov cocktails. They invented it and called it Molotov because of the soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs at that time (Viacheslav Molotov or something). The Finnish lost that war because they simply started running out of manpower and ammunition. They couldn’t simply stand against such a big country. – Posted by Bob James Bob