Fighting to the last man

I an doing a little bit of research on battles that were fought to the last man for something I’m writing. For example, the Spartans at Thermopylae, Texans at the Alamo. The history sites are reasonable for this but I can’t find a general list of lost causes.

SO I put it to the dopers, any help is appreciated and the final product will be posted here.

Don’t forget Massada.

I don’t think Masada is quit the same as they chose suicide rather than death at the hands of the enemy or to live as slaves.

Well, in 1863, during the Battle of Camerone, about a dozen French Foreign Legionnaires attacked a couple thousand Mexican soldiers. Sort of a French–or at least a Legion–Alamo. Maybe this counts?

Come to think of it, a lot of the Legion’s famous big battles seem to be down-to-the-last-man affairs. Check out some of their misadventures in Africa or, during the 1950s, Indochina.

What about Custer’s Last Stand?

Or that WWII Battle in Bastogne? “Surrender: Nuts!” Gotta love the Airborne. They didn’t exactly all die, but it seems they would have were it not for Patton (at least in the Hollywood version).

Various parties in Afghanistan have fought almost all the way down to the last man, both in the current violence, and during the Soviet Union’s war there.

I’ve read about a few battles in Japan, both ancient and modern, that went down to the very last man, but I’m not sure which ones are historic and which ones are fiction–might be a direction in which to Google, though. I guess a few units held on to some of those Pacific Islands pretty tenaciously during WWII.

Is this the kind of stuff you’re after?

Well, anyway, good luck with your project.

Texan propaganda aside, there is some reliable that some of the defenders of the Alamo, including gasp Davy Crockett, were captured and executed.

Legend in the French Foreign Legion are the detachment that defended Camerone, April 30, 1863, during France’s incursion into Mexico.

No mater what your politico-historical leanings, Custer’s batalion of the Seventh Cavalry at the Little Big Horn, June 25, 1876, has got to count.

So does Isandhlwana in January, 1879, during the Zulu War.

Battle of Little Big Horn (US/Sioux)
The battle at Islandwana during the Zulu War (Brits/Zulu)
The battle for the Aleutian Islands during WWII (US/Japan)

How many survivors can there be before it’s not a fight to the last man? How big a battle must it be? For example, during the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War one or more units were entirely annhiliated in an effort to slow the advancing NVA.

Yeah yeah, it’s ISANDHLWANA. Spavined Gelding beat me to it anyway :stuck_out_tongue:

I checked that, but it wasn’t actually “to the last man”. According to
this source , there was 32 survivors (though all wounded). I found other sources indicating less than ten survivors, but since this one gives a detailled account of the battle, I assume it’s more reliable.

Well…I found a historical site (in french, so I don’t give a link) linked to by the foreign legion site, with an extremely detailled account of the battle. There would have been 31 prisonners, almost all wounded, and 19 of them would die later. The three last men still able to fight (though without ammunitions) would have surrendered after a last bayonet charge. So, it wasn’t exactly “to the last man”.

Exactly. The Texans did not bother to kill their wounded before the last battle since they did not know it was the last battle.

This tend to happen a lot. Many people are said to have died in the fighting even though they were killed soon after the fighting is over.

Are you looking for battles where they chose to fight to the last man? Or battles where one side was wiped out?

Thermopylae was of the former. Little Big Horn was of the latter. (In fact, Custer’s troops under Reno and Benteen survived, though badly chewed up. The “last man” scenario was only for the troops specifically accompanying Custer, and had there been a way out, there is no reason to believe they would not have tried it.)

The American West is filled with both sorts. The idiot Fetterman, in Wyoming, was wiped out because he disobeyed orders (and chickened out and committed suicide when it was clear he had gotten his men killed).

In New Mexico and Arizona, there were several groups of Indians who were trapped in caves or canyons who chose not to surrender. In California, there were several groups of Indians who were slaughtered without any opportunity to surrender.

The last few defenders at the Alamo may have surrendered–or they may have been subdued. They still get to be “last man” defenders because Santa Ana was fighting under a banner of No Quarter. Simply by staying for the fight they were expecting to die.

The British at Michilimacinac were wiped out, but it was a surprise attack–they didn’t make a decision to fight to the last man.

Lots of Japanese on lots of Pacific islands fought to the last man, deliberately.

So which variety of battle are you looking for?

(Regarding Fetterman, while the soldiers had no hope of survival after Fetterman did his “Let me charge the whole Sioux nation with 80 men” stunt, one of the cavalry sargeants was able to get himself up into some rocks with several weapons and quite a bit of ammunition and did make a “last stand” killing quite a few indians before he was slain.)

Man, I love you guys. To answer a few questions, I’m looking for battles where the choice was made to fight rather than surrender or flee. So Custer wouldn’t count, though it sounds as if Camerone might.

I’m not looking for people who got wiped out because the commander was a dumb ass, I’m looking for the long odds we’re probably gonna die anyway so better to die fighting kind of battles.

And thanks for all of the suggestions, I’ve got a lot of googling to do.

Here’s one with contemporary relevance: the British army’s retreat from Kabul in 1842. Around 5,000 troops and 12,000 camp followers set out for Pakistan. Harried by Afghan rebels all the way, and suffering from the winter weather, the column was eventually reduced to a single man, an army surgeon called Brydon, who made it, wounded, to Jalalabad after a series of adventures. All the others were captured or killed. The weak leadership of Elphinstone is most often cited as the cause of the disaster.

Before the failed coup and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese military commanders were planning on fighting to the last man, woman and CHILD if the allies invaded.

One of the possible alternatives had we not dropped th’ bomb. I’ve seen films of young girls training with bamboo spears. Scary to think they would willingly sacrifice everyone like that.

Some of the individual (German) unit actions around Stalingrad would fall into this category, as would the final battle for Berlin in 1945. Anthony Beevor has produced excellent books on both topics.

Didn’t like 3 Spaniards once wipe out something like 1,000 mexican natives (Incans?)? I can’t remember the exact incident but I know it was quite an impressive fight.

Once I was drinking in a bar with this guy who said he was in Saigon as it succumbed to the NVA in 1975. The U.S. and what remained of the ARVN forces was holding open a perimeter around the U.S. embassy, and this guy’s job (as a lowly captain) was to hold the perimiter for a long as possible while helicopters evacuated as many people as possible.

He said he had a few platoon-sized units (I think they were both Marine embassy guards and some Army troops). The NVA and VC were advancing all around him. (I think that the corridor to the airport had already been pinched by this time, but I’m not certain.)

Just as things were looking like the entire perimeter was going to collapse under the pressure, up marched about forty guys in kilts. The guy I talked to said he assumed that they were Black Watch Scotsmen from the British Embassy, but in all the confusion, he never found out who they were. Their commander put himself at the disposal of the Americans.

I’ll try to quote exactly what this fellow told me. He supposedly told this U.K. guy, “look, I can’t tell you what to do, and I can’t get you out of here, either, but if you really want to help you can try to hold the end of that block up there.” Then he said he recommended that they try to get the hell out of there instead.

He said this young guy looked at him and said, “have you ever heard of the thin red line?” And he and his troops advanced up the street, straight into the advancing Vietnamese.

This guy I was talking to said they advanced far up the street, and he could hear them fighting for a long time. Nobody came back when it came time to pull out, and though he said he had tried, he never discovered who they were.

I was able to help the guy out some by telling him about the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who had earned the nickname, “The Thin Red Line” at the battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. My later research showed that they still existed as a company-sized unit in the 1970s, but I could not place them in Saigon.

The phrase “thin red line” appears to have originated from a battle between about a thousand British troops against something like 40,000 Indian troops in a battle in the 1700s (which the British won). Unfortunately, the name escapes me.

Anyway, this incident seems to have happened sometime after April 25, 1975, when the British Ambassador split town, and probably more likely on April 29 or April 30. I’d sure like to know what happened to those guys. So would my drinking buddy, if I can ever find him again after all these years. Not only does it appear that they fought to the last man, but they were swallowed up by history itself.

Remember, there are few commanders in the Western tradition who have deliberately put a major unit in a suicide situation. With the exception of small units and outposts expected to slow up an attack at the sacrifice of their own lives (the essence of the line of first contact in a defense in depth) units are put in a ”last man to the last round in the last ditch’ position because some one badly misjudged the situation.

The defenders of the Alamo did not expect Santa Anna to march an army to San Antonio before the grass greened in the spring, and expected to be reinforced. Custer expected the Sioux-Cheyenne gathering to be much smaller than it was and for the Indians to run on the appearance of US troops. The Foreign Legion at Camerone essentially walked into a large Mexican force and was unable to disengage. The British at Isandhlwana expected disciplined musketry to defeat any tribal assault.

The experience of the Second World War in the Pacific was the product of a military and civic mindset that is alien to Western thought. Hitler’s orders to hold all ground at all costs were an aberration and were often ignored on the ground.

All of which reminds me of a song:

They sit at their desks
And they scream and they shout
And talk of the war they know nothing about.
Against the V.C. they’re not doing to well,
But if paper were cordite
We’d be all blown to hell.

Gordon at Khartoum?