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Old 08-11-2019, 04:21 PM
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What was the most impressive military comeback from the edge of defeat?


I'm thinking more of the smaller scale tactical rather than strategic level but any good example is fine.

Maybe the landings at Inchon during the Korean War? Though that war was a series of advances and reversals by both sides before settling down to a stalemate. Better examples would be coming back from the edge of defeat to outright victory.

This question came to mind because I'm currently reading War and Peace and was mulling over at what point in a conventional conflict is it pretty much impossible to bounce back from approaching defeat to victory.

The reversal and victory has to be by military skill and not quirks of fate like the Mongol retreat from Europe due to the death of the Khan, or one side just giving up and going home for political reasons ie: both sides have to be doing their best to fight to win, though obviously at some point one side of the other is going to admit defeat.

Tanks in advance
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Old 08-11-2019, 05:59 PM
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The Battle of Mogadishu in 1993.

The Somali National Alliance conducted a planned operation against the typical raid tactics used by Task Force Ranger. They were initially highly successful and managed to isolate the raid forces in the middle of Mogadishu where they were surrounded and outnumbered. Then things got really ugly for the Somalis at the tactical level.
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Old 08-11-2019, 06:10 PM
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I'd say the evacuation at Dunkirk has to rank up there. For a long time it looked like Britain was going to lose most of its army, and they were just hoping to get as many out as they could. Instead, the Germans inexplicably let just about everyone escape back to England.
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Old 08-11-2019, 07:08 PM
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In 2001 the Taliban had conquered most of Afganistan and the Northern Alliance had been driven into a small section of the country and held less than 10% of its territory. Then 9/11 happened and, with U.S. troops now on their side, they were able, at least temporarily, to retake control of the country. Of course, now it may be the Taliban's turn to rebound from "certain defeat".

Last edited by whitetho; 08-11-2019 at 07:09 PM.
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Old 08-11-2019, 07:32 PM
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"French elan, when almost extinguished, flares up powerfully."

- German military leader commenting on Allied victory at the Battle of the Marne, 1914.
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Old 08-11-2019, 07:50 PM
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During the great siege of Malta, the Ottoman Empire came very close to taking the island. But the Knights Hospitaller prevailed!

Ernle Bradford's book on the subject is delightful. Reads like a suspense novel.

Last edited by Sefton; 08-11-2019 at 07:51 PM.
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Old 08-11-2019, 08:59 PM
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La Noche Triste, (The Sad Night), when Cortes's army was almost destroyed trying to flee Tenochtitlan after the death of Moctezuma. Cortes's forces had originally been invited into the city by Moctezuma, but became increasingly unwelcome. Cortes took Moctezuma hostage, but he was killed in a skirmish with attacking Aztecs.

Cortes decided to evacuate his forces at night over the narrow causeways that connected the island city to land, but they were attacked by the Aztecs and many were killed or captured and sacrificed. He had to battle his way with his remaining men to territory of his Indian allies, where he was able to regroup and return to conquer the city (and the empire).
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Old 08-11-2019, 09:11 PM
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I’m thinking Yom Kippur war, 1973 when Syria & Egypt attacked Israel and came within a whisker of pushing them into the sea. However Israel kicked the crap out of them instead. Land Israel has hung onto since iirc it’s the “west bank”
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Old 08-11-2019, 09:25 PM
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Land Israel has hung onto since iirc it’s the “west bank”
Israel took the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the West Bank from Jordan. (Gaza and the West Bank were being administered by those respective countries.) Israel returned the Sinai and has withdrawn from Gaza, but still retains/occupies the Golan Heights and much of the West Bank.

Last edited by Colibri; 08-11-2019 at 09:25 PM.
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Old 08-11-2019, 09:50 PM
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Fidel Castro's disastrous attempted invasion of Cuba aboard the Granma from Mexico is also up there. After a delayed arrival, the boat ran aground in mangroves about 15 miles from the intended landing spot. The force of 82 men that struggled ashore was almost immediately attacked by Batista's army and scattered. All but about 20 were killed or captured. But Castro and his key lieutenants were able to make it to the Sierra Maestra and begin the guerrilla campaign that eventually ousted Batista.
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Old 08-11-2019, 10:18 PM
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Arguably the USSR in WW2. They got their asses handed to them pretty quickly at first, then turned it around and went on the offensive.
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Old 08-12-2019, 08:12 AM
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Salamis. The Persians had pushed the Greek defenders literally into the sea before they came back and won.
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Old 08-12-2019, 08:53 AM
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Israel took the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the West Bank from Jordan. (Gaza and the West Bank were being administered by those respective countries.) Israel returned the Sinai and has withdrawn from Gaza, but still retains/occupies the Golan Heights and much of the West Bank.
Those things didn't happen in the Yom Kippur War, though.
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Old 08-12-2019, 09:23 AM
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Arguably the USSR in WW2. They got their asses handed to them pretty quickly at first, then turned it around and went on the offensive.
That was my first thought as well.

I'd also offer the Texans vs. the Mexicans in the 1836 Texas Revolution.

Texans get their asses handed to them at the Alamo and Goliad/Coleto Creek, engage in a long retreat, and manage a surprise attack against a Mexican army 1.5x the size of their own.

The Texans killed(650), wounded(208) or captured(300) 85% of the Mexicans facing them at a total loss of 11 killed and 30 wounded.

The results of the battle were equally spectacular- Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the President of Mexico was captured, and in subsequent negotiations, granted Texas freedom, which eventually led to US annexation, the Mexican-American war, and a huge chunk of the West becoming American.
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Old 08-12-2019, 09:28 AM
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Salamis. The Persians had pushed the Greek defenders literally into the sea before they came back and won.
Huh? Salamis was a naval battle. Of course they were in the sea.
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Old 08-12-2019, 09:40 AM
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If we're going for the strategic level, pretty much the Napoleonic wars. They do include some pretty impressive war actions of multiple types and might be considered WW0, based on the amount of land and people involved. I think at the largest and even restricting ourselves to the Old World, he controlled more land than the Roman Empire ever did.

Last edited by Nava; 08-12-2019 at 09:42 AM.
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Old 08-12-2019, 09:52 AM
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Huh? Salamis was a naval battle. Of course they were in the sea.
Yes, after the Athenians and allies got pushed into it, as already stated. The victory allowed them to get back onto land and defeat the Persians. That was a more impressive comeback than any by armies that only got nearly pushed into the sea.
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Old 08-12-2019, 10:09 AM
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Yes, after the Athenians and allies got pushed into it, as already stated. The victory allowed them to get back onto land and defeat the Persians. That was a more impressive comeback than any by armies that only got nearly pushed into the sea.
Oh, gotcha. I thought you meant that in the battle itself, the Greeks were nearly pushed into the sea, and was wondering how that was, since they started there.
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Old 08-12-2019, 12:24 PM
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I have the distinct impression that Harold the Saxon had fairly decisively defeated William at Hastings in 1066 until a lucky arrow fired nearly straight up came down and killed Harold whereupon his troops fled and William (now the Conqueror) took over England.
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Old 08-12-2019, 01:02 PM
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Battle of Breitenfeld (1631), part of the Thirty Years War. The Imperial Catholic forces, under Count Tilly, routed the Saxon left wing of the Protestant Army early in the battle, leaving the Swedish forces heavily outnumbered and outflanked. But the Swedes had Gustavus Adolphus and managed to swing around and meet the Imperials with better muskets and to capture their artillery, which was used against Tilly's forces. The Catholic defeat may have changed the course of the war (albeit it continued the suffering for the population of Germany for many more years...)
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Old 08-12-2019, 01:09 PM
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Battle of Cedar Creek (1864), American Civil War. The Union forces were surprised and driven from their camps by Early's Confederate Army, which did not follow upon their attack. Union General Sheridan came up and with other officers reorganized the Union forces and counterattacked, driving the Confederates from the battlefield.
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Old 08-12-2019, 03:52 PM
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I was down to 3 armies and just the two territories of Australia against 4 computer players, cashed in a set of cards, and pushed out and eventually won the game!

I love Risk!
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Old 08-12-2019, 10:19 PM
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I nominate the South at Chancellorsville. The South was outnumbered two to one and any sort of reasonable military tactics would have ended the war. Stonewall Jackson pulled out a miracle with his flanking maneuver which ultimately cost him his life.

Were it not for the Union incompetence, Gettysburg never happens.
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Old 08-12-2019, 11:54 PM
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Waterloo was, for Wellington at least, a damn close run thing. The British cavalry had been beaten into the ground over the course of the day, French cavalry was essentially unchecked beyond the immediate range of British musket fire, and the British infantry was trapped in square to fend off the same. The Prussians arrived under Blücher just as the French infantry was gaining the upper hand, pushing the advantage back to the coalition just in the nick of time and only then ensuring Napoleon's defeat.
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Old 08-13-2019, 11:38 AM
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Washington crossing the Delaware probably is a contender. The Continental army was in pretty bad straits and morale was low. They needed the raid to be successful, not only for the supplies, but to raise morale to the point where soldiers would be willing to re-enlist.
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Old 08-13-2019, 11:47 AM
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I have the distinct impression that Harold the Saxon had fairly decisively defeated William at Hastings in 1066 until a lucky arrow fired nearly straight up came down and killed Harold whereupon his troops fled and William (now the Conqueror) took over England.
AIUI, the battle was more or less a draw, because the Norman archers were just foiled by the Saxons using shields to block the arrows, and the Norman cavalry charges were useless, until near the end of the battle, when the Normans did a well-timed attack in which both arrows and cavalry converged on the Saxons almost simultaneously. That crashed the Saxon defenses.
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Old 08-13-2019, 04:08 PM
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In the early 7th century, the Sassanid Persians had overrun Byzantine Syria, Egypt and most of Anatolia and were besieging Constantinople. Emperor Heraclius managed a counter-invasion that lead to the disintegration of the Sassanid Empire (to the ultimate benefit of the Muslims, but that doesn't detract from his achievement).

Alfred the Great, at his low point, controlled no more than an improvised fort in the Somerset marshes; he was to mount a comeback, drive out the Danes and expand his kingdom.

Robert the Bruce, following the failure of his first attempt to take control of Scotland, controlled no territory at all and was being hunted through the heather with a handful of followers. He was able to rally support for a second attempt and ultimately defeat both the English and his Scottish rivals.

In the 20th century, you have the Miracle on the Vistula, when the Poles defeated the Red Army at the gates of Warsaw.
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Old 08-13-2019, 05:20 PM
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I have the distinct impression that Harold the Saxon had fairly decisively defeated William at Hastings in 1066 until a lucky arrow fired nearly straight up came down and killed Harold whereupon his troops fled and William (now the Conqueror) took over England.
There's some debate about Harold's death. The first account talking about taking an arrow in the eye was 14 years later. He is pictured taking an arrow in the eye on the Bayeaux Tapestry. Not all accounts mention the arrow. Some say that the claim Harold was felled by an arrow fired by William was an example of winner's writing history. [Cite]
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Others claim that the arrow in the eye story was actually added by the Normans after the 1066 battle to reinforce William’s claim to rule, and that the story is based on the death of Harold Hardrada by an arrow in the throat at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in September of the same year.
1066 was a bad year to be near arrows for people named Harold claiming the English throne. There's some other claims that Harold Godwinson was killed by Norman knights in hand to hand combat either before or after being wounded. There's even some claims he survived, heavily wounded, and went into hiding. Even if the arrow is accurate it would be hard to tell if that was the major turning point or just something that happened as the Saxon defense was already breaking/broken under the decisive Norman attack.

In any case, it's probably a stretch to say the Saxons were winning tactically at any point. Tactically they were holding in what was probably better described as a stalemate. That was all Harold needed for a strategic victory. He held the throne and could call for more troops and supplies. William needed to defeat Harold tactically. Harold just needed to engage and not lose badly at the tactical level. Tactically what we probably saw was a shift from an early stalemate to a decisive Norman victory. It's not till we expand the scope to the strategic level that the Saxons were ever winning.
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Old 08-13-2019, 05:52 PM
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I'd say the evacuation at Dunkirk has to rank up there. For a long time it looked like Britain was going to lose most of its army, and they were just hoping to get as many out as they could. Instead, the Germans inexplicably let just about everyone escape back to England.
It was the method of evacuation. They were going down in defeat trying to evacuate with naval ships which were easy targets that clogged up the shoreline when sunk. There was no plan B. They didn't have any airplanes capable of loitering over the battle area to protect the ships. Had the Mosquito been available they would have had the ability to defend the ships.

Churchill became PM on May 10th and he pulled the small boat evacuation out of thin air. It was launched May 26th with 800+ civilian boats. 16 days later. Think about that. They were going to lose the bulk of their entire army.
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Old 08-14-2019, 07:31 AM
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The OT is full of miraculous victories. Some examples:

Hezekiah's victory over the Assyrians. The Assyrians were a pretty major force and the people of Judah were holed up in fortified towns waiting for the inevitable. Then Yahweh did some smiting and that was it. The Assyrians went home.

Then there was Asa's victory over an Ethiopian army with one million men and 300 chariots. Compare to the largest battle of the Napoleonic wars: Leipzig with less than 400k total for both sides.
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Old 08-14-2019, 12:44 PM
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The OT is full of miraculous victories. Some examples:

Hezekiah's victory over the Assyrians. The Assyrians were a pretty major force and the people of Judah were holed up in fortified towns waiting for the inevitable. Then Yahweh did some smiting and that was it. The Assyrians went home.

Then there was Asa's victory over an Ethiopian army with one million men and 300 chariots. Compare to the largest battle of the Napoleonic wars: Leipzig with less than 400k total for both sides.
Wasn't there some siege or battle where the camp of the opponents of Judah got plagued with hemorrhoids?
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Old 08-14-2019, 01:58 PM
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The OT is full of miraculous victories. Some examples:

Hezekiah's victory over the Assyrians. The Assyrians were a pretty major force and the people of Judah were holed up in fortified towns waiting for the inevitable. Then Yahweh did some smiting and that was it. The Assyrians went home.

Then there was Asa's victory over an Ethiopian army with one million men and 300 chariots. Compare to the largest battle of the Napoleonic wars: Leipzig with less than 400k total for both sides.
Are these battles generally accepted as having occurred by a consensus of historians and archaeologists? Much less on the scale claimed?

Because, I mean, the rebellion's victory over the Empire (which is also purported to have occurred a long time ago) at Endor was a pretty stunning comeback.

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Old 08-14-2019, 03:24 PM
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Are these battles generally accepted as having occurred by a consensus of historians and archaeologists? Much less on the scale claimed?
The Asa stuff is clearly made up. There may have been some minor battles involving him but it's not clear who they tangled with in this case (and it probably wasn't Ethiopians).

The Hezekiah tale has some historical basis. What we know: Sennacherib (after taking down the Kingdom of Israel) went after Judah. The attack went as far as besieging Jerusalem.

Afterwards, Hezekiah agreed to a tribute and the Assyrians went home.

We just aren't sure what happened inbetween. Something convinced Sennacherib to take the money and run. The Assyrians don't say why which might imply things didn't go as intended. The Bible says divine intervention. Some conjecture a disease broke out in the Assyrian camp.

But Judah got to hand around for a while longer. Then Nebuchadnezzar showed up and had no problem successfully besieging Jerusalem.
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Old 08-15-2019, 05:52 AM
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The Battle of Warsaw, 1920, in the Polish-Soviet war. The Polish army, collapsing and retreating, managed a brazen counterattack with an army that didn't even have enough boots to go around, driving the Soviets from the field and claiming at least 65,000 prisoners.

It lead to major cult of personality being built around the general, Józef Piłsudski, and arrested the westward spread of the nacent Communist movement.

The Wikipedia article does it a lot more justice than I could hope to.
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Old 08-16-2019, 09:32 AM
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I’m thinking Yom Kippur war, 1973 when Syria & Egypt attacked Israel and came within a whisker of pushing them into the sea.
Syria may have come within a whisker of pushing Israel off the Golan Heights, which (as already noted) Israel took in the Six-Day War of 1967. And Egypt pushed Israeli forces a good ways back across the Sinai peninsula, also won by Israel in 1967. But Israel's control of Israel proper was never threatened in the Yom Kippur War; the Sinai and the Golan Heights did their job as buffers.
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However Israel kicked the crap out of them instead.
True.
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Land Israel has hung onto since iirc it’s the “west bank”
The West Bank was not involved in the Yom Kippur War. Israel took the West Bank from Jordan in 1967, but Jordan did not participate in the Yom Kippur War.
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Old 08-16-2019, 10:14 AM
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It may be overhyped, but I think a case can be made (and is made) that without the tactics (and heroics) of Joshua Chamberlain and his 20th Maine, Gettysburg might well have turned out to be a Union defeat.
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