Five Shocking Military Blunders



Five military mistakes that turned the tide of battle

Chelmsford at Isandlwana 

(c) National Army Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

When it comes to incompetence, nothing really matches Lord Chelmsford and the loss of the British column at Isandlwana 1879. The failure of Chelmsford to properly fortify his position, standard practice when fighting the Zulus during this period, led to the deaths of 1300 British servicemen at the hands of Zulu warriors. This was after repeated warnings from his senior staff and South African Boers that a Zulu camp was nearby and he really should look to his defences!

Custer’s last stand 


Hard nosed and legendarily arrogant, Custer thought that his crack force of US cavalry, the 7th, a decorated unit, would easily brush aside the native warhost assembled by Crazy Horse on the American prairie in 1876.  He ignored the advice of his scouts and scattered his forces, allowing Crazy Horse to sweep down with his warrior Braves and annihilate the Americans piecemeal. Custer died contemplating his blunder in an heroic last stand.

Gotcha! Sinking the Belgrano 

HMS Portland Sails Near Huge Glacier in South Georgia


The sinking of the Argentinian cruiser Belgrano was controversial for a number of reasons but mostly because the British submarine HMS Conqueror sunk her outside of the conflict zone during the Falklands War. On the other hand Captain Bonzo of the Belgrano, had been told of the presence of a British submarine in the area and had been briefed of it’s threat to the ageing cruiser. Instead of setting a zigzag course to throw off Conqueror or ordering hatches on board  secured to counter possible torpedo explosions, Bonzo set a straight heading for the Argentinian coast and allowed the ship to remain in a non-state of readiness. Allowing Christopher Wreford-Brown  to line up the Belgrano for a devastating torpedeo attack.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it’s a Japanese surprise attack! 


The failure of American Navy Command to properly identify incoming Japanese bombers on the 7th of December 1941 resulted in destruction and mayhem as the Japanese dealt a crippling blow to the US Navy  fleet anchored at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. The initial assumption was that the attacking Japanese squadrons were a flock of birds, then a flight of American B-17s returning to an American Air station, resulted in no American preparations for the incoming attack. It was only as the bombs were dropping that Navy command finally admitted that it was Japanese planes destroying the American fleet at anchor.

The Monty magic at Arnhem

Arnheim, britische Gefangene

Ego and pride would prevent Bernard Law Montgomery from thinking twice about allowing British Paratroopers to jump into Arnhem during Operation Market Garden 1944. Even though intelligence reports indicated that a resting German Panzer Division was nearby. What resulted was courageous defiance from the paras as they tried to fend off panzer tanks with rifles and handguns. In the end, most of British 1st Airborne was forced to surrender.