Man Knowledge: Early 20th Century Battles Every Man Should Know

by Chris on December 15, 2009 · 77 comments

in Manly Knowledge, Travel & Leisure


It’s probably happened to you before.  In the midst of an in depth conversation on a manly topic (such as the great outdoors, history, literature, etc), someone looks to you for information that for whatever reason they assume you have.  After all, you’re sporting that sweet new Art of Manliness T-shirt and spent half the evening talking nineteen to the dozen about how great the new AoM book is, so surely your man knowledge is up to par.  More often than not, you end up having to dodge the question in an attempt to cover for your ignorance of the topic, or just sheepishly admit that you just don’t know.  We here at Art of Manliness want to fill the gaps in your man knowledge, thus preventing such a social tragedy from occurring again in the future.  In our new series Man Knowledge, we’ll catch you up on the basics of a given topic that we feel every man should be familiar with.

I believe that the more you know about the past, the better you are prepared for the future.

-Theodore Roosevelt

Historical topics seem the most likely candidates for a man knowledge refresher, since most boys often overlook the study of history while in school, only to spawn an interest in the topic later in life.  In this first segment of Man Knowledge, we’ll be looking at some of the most important battles of the First and Second World Wars.

German soldiers at Verdun

The Battle of Verdun

Date – February 21- December 18, 1916

Conflict – World War I

Participants – German Army vs French Army

Location – Verdun, France

Interesting Facts – Longest battle of WWI. One of the most devastating battles in human history. First recorded use of the flamethrower as a weapon (by German forces).

With the advent of trench warfare, achieving a clear cut victory on the battlefield became nearly impossible.  In the past, two opposing armies had merely faced off against one another, and the victor was apparent when the opposing force either retreated or was overcome.  In trench warfare, however, trenches and other fortifications slowed attackers significantly, which allowed defensive reinforcements time to arrive and strengthen the position, which very seldom allowed for attackers to make significant gains by capturing significant strategic positions.  In early 1916, the German High Command sought to take advantage of the constant French reserve forces pouring into German offensives by attacking a point that the French forces would sacrifice every last man to protect.  By attacking such a point, Germany created an opportunity to inflict massive casualties on French forces by forcing the French into a battle of attrition.  The point of attack chosen by German High Command was Verdun, a city built within a loop of the Meuse River.

After a slow start, the German force broke through the main French defensive line, capturing over 10,000 prisoners.  The initial onslaught of German artillery and manpower overwhelmed the French, and in several places the defensive lines collapsed as units broke rank and fled to the rear.  Increasing the French woes was the fact that there was only one supply route in and out of the city, and it was utterly inadequate.  French General Philippe Pétain immediately ordered the expansion of this route, drastically improving French supply lines.  As the Germans continued their offensive, the tide began to turn in favor of the French, now well supplied thanks to their new supply line.  When French General Robert Nivelle took command of French forces, the French took the offensive against the Germans for the first time.  Although the Germans gained ground again at several points, they lost their overall momentum and were eventually driven out of the city.  In the aftermath, casualties amounted to over 550,000 on the French side and 450,000 for Germany.

British Mark I Tank at The Somme

The Battle of the Somme

Date – July 1- November 18, 1916

Conflict – World War I

Participants – British and French Armies vs German Army

Location – Between the Somme and Ancre Rivers in France

Interesting Facts – One of the bloodiest battles in recorded history. Marked the debut of the tank on the battlefield. Among German troops on the defensive front was a young Corporal…Adolf Hitler

With Germany penetrating deep behind Allied lines and the Battle of Verdun well under way, it became apparent that the Allied forces needed to mount an attack on the Germans.  By doing so, they would allow themselves the chance to recover lost ground, as well as potentially draw German reinforcements away from their offensive in Verdun.  The Somme was a critical region for both sides, representing the German defensive front and lost ground that needed to be regained for the Allies.  Retaking it would be no easy task, however.  The German forces had long held control of the area, and had steadily been strengthening defensive armaments in the region.  To complicate matters, the offensive would require an uphill assault through muddy, barbwire ridden trenches while the German defensive positions enjoyed a clear view from above.

Following several days of Allied artillery bombardment, Allied forces mounted their assault.  The first day saw massive casualties for the allies, with nearly 60,000 men wounded or killed.  The German defensive positions were clearly too strong to attack head on, and yet the assault continued.  In the following weeks the Allied forces suffered unimaginable casualties while German forces remained relatively unscathed in comparison.  Faced with the indisputable truth that if they pulled out here the devastation would only be worse in Verdun, the Allied command chose to continue the assault.  It was not until the tank made its debut on the battlefield that Allied forces began to gain considerable ground.  Initially catching unsuspecting German forces off guard, the tank rolled right over the barbwire and mud holes that had slowed ground troops, allowing the Allies to push into the German lines.  The tanks were fraught with mechanical problems and were still prone to artillery fire, however, and were not enough to finish the job.  Although the Allied forces failed to break the German defensive lines, they succeeded in pushing the German army back and out of the Somme region, as well as in taking some pressure off the forces in Verdun.  Having sustained casualties of over 650,000, the German army never fully recovered from the assault.


The Battle of Britain

Date- July 10- October 30, 1940

Conflict- World War II

Participants- British Royal Air Force vs German Luftwaffe (Air Force)

Location- The skies over southern Britain

Interesting Facts- First major aerial battle in human history. First defeat of the German military under Hitler.

Following the fall of France to German forces in mid 1940, Hitler sought to end the war decisively.  For the conquest of the Allied forces to be complete, the German High Command knew that the United Kingdom must be invaded.  Thus, Hitler devised what became known as “Operation Sea Lion,” an amphibious invasion of the British Isles by German ground troops.  Before such an operation could be mounted, however, British defensive positions and the RAF needed to be removed from the equation.  Essentially, Hitler needed to own the skies of Britain before attempting to conquer the land below.  With that in mind, he ordered the Luftwaffe to begin aerial raids of Great Britain.

What was to follow would later become immortalized as the first great aerial battle in human history, with the RAF employing nearly 2000 aircraft and nearly 2400 pilots in defense against the Luftwaffe’s staggering count of over 4000 aircraft involved in the battle.  Initially, the German onslaught focused on coastal targets but eventually moved inland, conducting bombing raids on defenses and manufacturing facilities as the Luftwaffe fighters engaged the RAF in the skies above.  The RAF sustained heavy damages early on, but managed to keep the Luftwaffe from seizing an early victory and all the while inflicting devastating losses on the German force as well.  Frustrated with the loss of so many men and aircraft, the commander of the German air force, Hermann Göring, ordered a change in strategy.  The Luftwaffe would now focus not on military and manufacturing targets, but on civilian targets in an effort to crush British morale.  By mid-September, London was sustaining heavy damage as German bombs continuously bombarded all corners of the city indiscriminately.  In spite of the devastation on the ground, this turn of events yielded positive results for the RAF.  With the Luftwaffe occupied with bombing runs and less focused on aerial engagements, British pilots were able to move from defense to offense.

It soon became clear to German High Command that the conquering of the skies of Britain would not be as easily achieved as planned and Hitler conceded, cancelling Operation Sea Lion and effectively ending the Battle of Britain through the German withdrawal.  The outcome is considered to be a decisive victory for the British forces.


The Battle of Stalingrad

Date- July 17, 1942 – February 2, 1943

Conflict- World War II

Participants- Predominantly the German Army vs Russian Army

Location- Stalingrad, Russia (Soviet Union)

Interesting Facts- Turning point of World War II. First major defeat of Hitler’s ground forces. The bloodiest battle in the history of warfare. The largest battle (by manpower) in human history.

With his armies marching over much of Europe, Hitler turned his eyes east to Russia with the initiation of Operation Barbarossa.  Initially aiming to capture the Caucasus oil fields, Hitler eventually expanded the invasion to include the taking of Stalingrad.  While Stalingrad did represent a reasonable strategic target, it is widely believed that Hitler was more influenced by the opportunity to seize a city named after his nemesis, Joseph Stalin.  Also an incentive was the city’s large military manufacturing plants which supplied much of the Allied armored divisions.

The German Sixth Army soon arrived at the outskirts of Stalingrad.  When the initial invasion did not overtake the city as quickly as expected, however, Hitler again changed strategy by ordering an aerial bombardment of the city which left Stalingrad reduced to rubble.  Much to Hitler’s chagrin, the bombing did little to hamper the defensive capabilities of the Russian troops in the city, and the fighting continued.  In a historic example of bad timing, the German forces had just begun to gain considerable control of the city when a bitter Russian winter set in.  Ill equipped for such weather, German forces lost much of their momentum as both men and weapons froze in battle.   Meanwhile, a large Russian force was massing outside the city, waiting to attack the largely undermanned and weather-worn German flanks.  Bombarded by a lethal combination of the Russian army and Mother Nature, the German force suffered a decisive defeat.  The battle had been the largest and bloodiest to date, leaving over 1.5 million men dead and wounded.  The entire German Sixth Army was lost in the engagement, and the defeat signaled the end of Nazi domination in the war.


The Battle of Midway

Date- June 4-7, 1942

Conflict- World War II

Participants- Japanese Navy vs United States Navy

Location- Midway Atoll, Pacific Ocean

Interesting Facts- Most pivotal naval battle of World War II in the Pacific

In its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan had aimed to eradicate the U.S. Pacific Fleet.  While the damage at Pearl was catastrophic, it soon became clear that although the U.S. Navy was deeply wounded, it was still in the fight.  As if by a stroke of luck, not a single aircraft carrier sustained damage in the bombardment as they were all at sea at the time of the attack.  Now, six months later, the Japanese hoped to finish the job.

The Japanese command sought to create a conflict the U.S. Pacific Command would be unable to avoid.  The Midway Atoll, lying just 1150 miles from Hawaii, would be defended by the weakened American force at all cost and would therefore serve as the perfect trap to squash the American fleet.  What the Japanese did not count on, however, were the intelligence operations being carried out by the U.S. which had decrypted coded messages, tipping off the Pacific Fleet regarding the ambush.  Moving quickly, the U.S. Navy massed its forces at Midway in an attempt to gain the element of surprise.  As the Japanese naval force steamed towards Midway, confident that it was about to set a trap for the Americans, they were unwittingly sailing right into an American trap instead.

With the springing of the trap, a fierce naval battle ensued.  The larger Japanese force, including four of the six carriers which had months earlier bombarded Pearl Harbor, were caught off guard and was soundly beaten.  All four Japanese carriers were sunk, in contrast to the loss of only one carrier by the American forces.  The Japanese force failed to gain control of the Midway region, and with the loss of the majority of its carrier fleet, the Japanese Navy was never able to recover its full strength for the remainder of the war.

Normandy Invasion

The Battle of Normandy

Date-June 6, 1944 – July 1944

Conflict- World War II

Participants- Allied Powers vs Germany

Location- Normandy, France

Interesting Facts- Largest amphibious invasion to date. First successful opposed landings across the English Channel in over 800 years. Allied casualties were so high that some armies had to create a new category to describe them: “Double Intense.”

With most of Europe still under Nazi control, Allied commanders sought to retake the continent.  Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower selected Normandy, France as the targeted landing point, and preparations began.  While several factors played a role in the eventual Allied victory, manpower was the critical element.  With over 1,000,000 men engaged in various parts of the invasion, the Allies outnumbered the German force by nearly three to one.  Providing support for Allied troops were just under 7000 vessels and 12,000 aircraft.

Throughout the night before the invasion, paratroopers and gliders were dropped in behind the German defensive line. The beaches were bombarded by naval and air forces, although the onslaught did far less damage than had been hoped. Thus the landing force faced heavy resistance and substantial defensive fortifications along the beach and suffered substantial initial casualties. The struggle was mightiest on Omaha beach, a crescent shaped killing ground hemmed in by high, fortified bluffs. But with much persistence, lanes were opened on the beaches, and men and artillery were able to push inland. In the days that followed, the Allied forces established an offensive stronghold which allowed for substantial augmentation of their force, simultaneously pushing the German defensive line further inland. With the success of the Allied invasion, France was largely regained by Allied forces, and many consider this to be the beginning of the end of the war.

{ 77 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bryan December 15, 2009 at 10:01 pm

How do you miss Iwo Jima and Bellow Wood, how about Bull Run. Come on.

2 Brett McKay December 15, 2009 at 10:17 pm

The Battle of Bull Run was not a battle of the early 20th century. It’s always good to read the post before commenting.

Nice work, Hutch. I love the idea for the series and look forward to gaining more man knowledge.

3 Bill December 15, 2009 at 10:29 pm

What about the Battle of Chosin Resevoir?

The sad fact is that is that most don’t know enough history in general or military history in particular.

4 Dave F December 15, 2009 at 10:34 pm

Wow – loved this post. Great work, and keep ‘em coming. As a lover of WWI and WWII history, I think that you did a great job of picking out key battles.

FYI, Bryan, Bull Run was civil war (1861?), not 1900s, as is the focus of this post. It would be fun to do an 1800s battles post, though!

5 Bryan December 15, 2009 at 10:34 pm

good point but how do you miss Iwo Jima?

6 Brian December 15, 2009 at 10:58 pm

Glad to see Stalingrad on the list – the pivotal turning point of the war in the European theater. American students are taught a predominantly Anglo-American-centric view of World War II, and it’s not commonly understood that the vast majority of the fighting and dying in Europe happened on the eastern front.

7 Rajesh December 15, 2009 at 10:58 pm

Obviously there will be some key battles that are left out. It says “some of the most important battles”, not every single important battle in both world wars. Otherwise, this post would end up being a history book.

8 Chad December 15, 2009 at 11:06 pm

If you feel that Iwo Jima is absolutely necessary to the enjoyment of this article feel free to write a summary up and leave it in the comments. I for one was very pleased with the article. Keep up the great work!

9 Will December 15, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Excellent list. This continues to be one of my favorite blogs. The Stalingrad photo is actually a photo of Russian soldiers capturing the Reischtag in Berlin and is a famous historical example of photo alteration. Several looted watches were removed from the soldier’s arm, as it wouldn’t be seen as acceptable for a good communist soldier to be looting the spoils of war.

10 Dan December 15, 2009 at 11:27 pm

The write up was perfect. These are great examples of pivotal battles in both of those world wars. Amazing and refreshing. Well done! And by the way, you spelled Belleau Wood wrong. Good battle, but not a pivotal one, IMO, certainly not on par with the others mentioned.

11 Ryan Latvaitis December 15, 2009 at 11:42 pm

First off, excellent list.

I would, however, like to suggest one oft-overlooked battle (or rather series of battles) that warrants mention: the Battle of Kursk.

It was the largest armored clash in human history. It’s hardly mentioned in the States, because we tend to minimize the contribution of “Uncle Stalin” in WWII, thinking more about the Western Front. The Eastern Front was, if taken by itself, the largest conflict in human history, larger than the rest of WWII. And Kursk was the battle of battles in that theater.

Certainly more important as Iwo Jima. But we like to mention that one more because Americans died there, not Nazis and Pinkos.

12 Brett McKay December 16, 2009 at 12:20 am


Thanks for the correction. Hutch wrote this post but I inserted the pictures so I’m responsible for the mistake. But I appreciate the additional facts about the photo-very interesting!

13 Michael December 16, 2009 at 12:23 am

Good call on the photo being from the Reichstag Will, thats not very well known, not only is it from Berlin however, it was also staged (not unlike the American flag raising on Iwo JIma although that second flag raising wasnt for propoganda). The flag was originally hosted in the middle of the night, but the communists also being masters of propoganda didnt want to pass up on the opportunity, so they re-shot the scene the next day. (See German historian Joachim Fest’s “Inside Hitler’s Bunker, the Last Days of the Third Reich”. An easy and well thoughtout read on the fall of Berlin-or if you’re not up for the book, which isn’t even 200 pages I dont think, the movie adaptation is also excellent: “Downfall”)
All in all an excellent list, Im a big fan of this idea of historical man knowledge, as I myself am a history major. While Iwo Jima was a huge battle for the United States it is much more commonly known and it seems the aim of this post was to inform us of battles we may not actually know about. I mean, who doesnt know about Iwo Jima already? Not diminishing the battle by any means as I myself am a student of that specific battle in a very large way, merely saying that this list is very appropriate without it being mentioned.

14 Jared December 16, 2009 at 1:11 am

Great post Hutch.
Although D Day was the turning point to the Second World War, I would think the Battle of the Bulge during the Arden Offensive was almost as important to know. The same could be said of the Battle of Iwo Jima.

15 Andrew December 16, 2009 at 1:15 am

Who doesn’t know about Iwo Jima? Quite a few people, to judge from the responses this history major gets when discussing the Second World War with various folks (I do actually get asked about my major at social gatherings, oddly enough).

Belleau Wood would be a good one to show off the early manliness of the Marine Corps, as would Wake Island (“most important” doesn’t have to equate to “largest”, after all). I also recommend the action of the USN destroyers at Samar during the Battle of Leyte Gulf and the Siege of Tobruk in North Africa (as withstood by the Anzacs). Very manly.

16 e December 16, 2009 at 2:06 am

…how about the Battle of Suomussalmi?

17 Greg M December 16, 2009 at 2:24 am

“More often than not, you end up having to dodge the question in an attempt to cover for your ignorance of the topic, or just sheepishly admit that you just don’t know.”

It may just be me, but a man should never be afraid to admit what he doesn’t know.

18 Matthew December 16, 2009 at 3:06 am

Interesting article! If I may suggest a one more, Canadians in particular may be interested in the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

19 Radek December 16, 2009 at 5:14 am

I would suggest also The Battle of Warsaw (1920)
In fact that battle stopped the communist expansion for many years.

“Vladimir Lenin viewed Poland as a bridge to bring communism to Central and Western Europe, and the Polish–Soviet War seemed the perfect way to test Bolshevik strength. Bolshevik speeches asserted that the revolution was to be carried to western Europe on the bayonets of Soviet soldats and that the shortest route to Berlin and Paris lay through Warsaw.” – Norman Davies, “White Eagle, Red Star: the Polish-Soviet War”

20 Groover_1972 December 16, 2009 at 6:13 am

Since this is an article that describes “20th Century Battles Every Man Should Know“, an early 1940 Battle is The Battle of The Albanian Front between Greece and Italy. In 1940 Italy declared war on Greece and Greece not only responded with great courage and might stopping on the spot the outnumbered Italians, but advanced all the way through Albania, taking prisoners. Its a decisive battle because not only stopped an Axis advance in the Balkans but forced Mussolini (fascism’s leader) to seek help from Hitler thus delaying the Barbarossa plan for Russia…

21 Mark December 16, 2009 at 7:18 am

Very well done. If I could (in the manner of constructive criticism) add to the list, I would probably add one of the Pacific island battles – Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima or Okinawa – because of the sheer tenacity of the Japanese and the unbelievable courage of the Americans. The Battle of the Chosin Reservoir would be a good choice – read David Halberstam’s The Coldest Winter about Korea – but you might also consider Khe Sanh or the Tet Offensive from Vietnam.
Finally, since I am Canadian – I’d throw in Vimy Ridge from World War I or Dieppe from World War II (given its importance re: the later success at Normandy).

PS – Maybe you can do a “Battles of the 19th Century” and include Bull Run – LOL!

22 Pete December 16, 2009 at 7:31 am

I’d suggest Gallipoli in World War I, a very important battle in the formation of the Australian, New Zealand and Turkish national identities.

23 Ryan December 16, 2009 at 8:23 am

I dont know if you are taking suggestions, but a battle that is little known, yet I feel carries an interesting and powerful message is the Battle of 73 Easting from Operation Desert Sabre in 1991.

This was one of, if not the largest tank battles in the history of warfare and while it was decidedly lopsided, it showed with alarming clarity how effective advanced technology is when faced off against superior numbers of an inferior product.

24 Aakkosti December 16, 2009 at 8:42 am

I might be biased (and it was a war, not a battle) but the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union in 1939–1940 deserves a mention. The weather was exceptionally cold with temperatures of -40°C / -40°F. Outnumbered three to one in men, thirty to one in aircraft and a hundred to one in tanks the Finns were still able to hold out for 105 days.

25 Dan December 16, 2009 at 8:42 am

Great post.
A lot of the commentors are faulting the author for not writing about this battle or that battle. I didn’t see anywhere in the post where the author claimed this was a definitive list of battles. Of course it isn’t….. it missed Iwo Jima, El Alamien, Gallipoli, Israeli War of Independance, Gulf War 1 etc. This list wasn’t meant to be an definitive list, so just take it for what it is: a well-written synopsis of some of the big battles of WWI and WWII.

26 Kim J December 16, 2009 at 8:53 am

Thank you Andrew for the mention of the Battle of Lyte Gulf. Some unsung heroes of that battle and many others were the Merchant Mariners who kept the supply lines going. My father ( a very manly man who my teenage son looks up to) was on the SS Adoniranm Judson, they returned fire, sustained 56 bombings and received the Gallent Ship Award. Only 9 ships in that front recieved it. Rant alert-For this quiet bravery, the US does not recognize merchant mariners as miltary and they have been denied many veterans rights.
The whole article was amzingly informative-in the day of remote drone fighting, we should never foget what many others have gone through.

27 Michael K December 16, 2009 at 8:57 am

Glad to see Kursk added to the list, it’s actually Kursk battle that is considered to be a turning point of the war, and the final blow to the Nazi war machine, and major factor for the Allies to finally commit to the opening of the Second front.
After Kursk they lost they almost total dominance in the sky over the Eastern front too, not just their advantage in armour, and technology.

One should also mention blockade of Leningrad, although it was not technically a single battle, but rather a 872 days long siege of the city, that never been conquered.

I may be mistaken, but I think the first time Nazis had to retreat was actually after their assault on Moscow in 1941/42.

In the late 70-s there was a documentary made jointly by the Soviet TV by one of the best world documentary and fillmamkers – Roman Carmen from the WWII footage, it was written by NYT correspondent Harrison Salisbury, and narrated in English version by Burt Lancaster.

28 Wesley December 16, 2009 at 8:59 am

There are some great suggestions here, especially those along the Eastern Front and in the Pacific Theater. I would like to suggest the addition of a pivotal battle in the Mediterranean, Operation Shingle and the resulting quagmire at Anzio. It is a complex effort that was further complicated by the over-reaching effort of Churchill, the bureaucratic structure of Allied command, and the shortage of troops and supplies which were largely dedicated to the Normandy landings. It was a long stalemate that finally saw success with the capture of Rome just before the landings at Normandy and is therefore often forgotten. For a general overview, see the following Wikipedia link: For a more nuanced account, see D’Este’s great book, “Fatal Decision: Anzio and the Battle for Rome.”

29 Michael K December 16, 2009 at 9:02 am

Glad to see that Kursk was added to the list, but I think the first time the Nazis had to retreat was after their assault on Moscow in 1941/42.
There was also a 872 days siege of Leningrad, which is not technically a “battle”.
There was a documentary made in USSR by one of the best ever documentary fillmmakers – Roman Carmen, written by NYT journalist, and narrated by Burt Lancaster, called “Unknown War”. It was released in 1978 on British TV, here is more info about it: . It is made entirely of the WWII footage from soviet, american, and british archives, some of it never previosly seen.

30 Dave December 16, 2009 at 9:02 am

Excellent post.
Of course we could argue over what should be included in the list, but isn’t that the point? To get conversation started?
As a frequent traveler to St. Petersburg, Russia I would include the Siege of Leningrad as an important battle. Not so much militarily, as Hitler got target fixation and may have been able to bypass the city, but in terms of its continued impact on the psyche of the city.
BTW I own one of the Moisin-Nagant rifles used by the Finns against the Soviets in the Winter War, and it is the pride of my WWII collection. Incredibly accurate.

31 Uriah M December 16, 2009 at 9:07 am

While Stalingrad is pretty remarkable as an eastern front battle in WWII and did result in a huge loss for the Germans, I think that Kursk should have been mentioned.

I mean, come on. Until Desert Storm, there wasn’t a bigger tank battle, and even then, I’d still think that Kursk should get a nod. And what’s not manlier than tank armies hammering it out?

32 Steve C December 16, 2009 at 9:12 am


Knowledge of these battles is “manly” in that we should make every effort not to have to have wars again, I believe. If you do another one like this, you should consider Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade,” it is about a real battle in the Crimean War. (see
As much or more can be learned from military disasters as successes.

Thanks. Love the information on this site!

33 Luis Q December 16, 2009 at 9:18 am

Awesome post, thanks for this useful info.

34 Tim M December 16, 2009 at 9:32 am

I agree with Andrew about Leyte Gulf, especially the Battle off Samar. The story of how a handful of destroyers, destroyer escorts and escort carriers not only took on but drove off a Japanese task force of battleships and cruisers never gets old. By God, these were men!

35 lady brett December 16, 2009 at 9:42 am

what an excellent article! wwi has always fascinated me, and was my first introduction to the idea that history didn’t have to be dull – somehow it never seemed to get mentioned in class (“oops, the year’s over and we’re at 1900, let’s patch up with a quick discussion of wwii” ;)

anyhow, i don’t think most people are criticizing the author when they suggest other additions, it seems to me that theses suggestions allow us to expand our knowledge as we read through the comments as well as the article, if in less detail.

in that spirit, i would add the battle of passchendaele (or ypres), not as a militarily important battle, but as a shining example of some of the worst failures of the world war one. there is much more information here: but the anecdote that always stuck with me about that battle is that of the british commander, haig, receiving maps showing that the entirety of the fields where he wanted to start his offensive would turn to impassable mud pits upon heavy shellng. he sent them back with a not saying something along the lines of “don’t send me any more of this rubbish” and proceeded. it happened much like the maps said, but, of course, more gruesomely, as it was real.

36 Dustin | Engaged Marriage December 16, 2009 at 9:58 am

Thank you for an incredible post. I knew most of this information in the recesses of my mind, but it was definitely time for a refresher. Just amazing.

37 Anthony December 16, 2009 at 10:15 am


Do you know what kind of aircraft are in the Battle of Britain photo? They look something like Supermarine Spitfires, but they have a rear turret, which makes them some kind of light bomber.

38 Tim M December 16, 2009 at 10:54 am


It’s a Boulton Paul Defiant:

It was designed as a fighter, but ended up serving as an example of why fighters don’t have turrets.

39 Kevin Shook December 16, 2009 at 10:56 am

Great job on the article. For those interested in more info on Word War II, check out WWII in HD. Lots of great color footage from the War and goes into good detail about the battles in the Pacific. I’m sure that many of you have already seen it, but Band of Brothers is excellent.

40 Edward Martin December 16, 2009 at 11:13 am

What about the battle of Amiens? The battle of Amiens, August 8, 1918 was the first major battle using combined forces of infantry, tanks, and aircraft. It was basically the beginning of the end for Imperial Germany. Ludendorff called it “the black day of the German Army”. Tactically it set the stage for the rest of the century. One point I find amazing is that 4 Canadian Divisions (approximately 100,000 men!) were able to be moved to Amiens ready for the battle without detection by the Germans. A lot of them were stationed in caves dug in the ground. The Canadians continued to create French-Canadian radio traffic north in Flanders to help throw off the Germans.

41 Corey Armstrong December 16, 2009 at 11:19 am

Or the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, and if you have any beef with the manliness factor, take it up with Bernard Fall,

42 Kenneth December 16, 2009 at 12:28 pm

For those interested in Gallipoli, the documentary of the same name is very good.

43 sean December 16, 2009 at 2:00 pm

The planes in the top photo are called Fairey Battles. You read that correctly.

I agree that Passcchendaele should be included. It is one of the great nightmares of the twentieth century, the slaughter in the mud. It was only half as bloody as Somme or Verdun, but there is a bitterness about the battle one does not find in the other two battles. Somme is treated as a bloody mistake, but Passchendaele is seen as a crime. Fought just a year after the Somme, it showed that the British generals had learned exactly nothing. In addition to the story about Haig post above, there is also the story of General Kiggle, who was on Haig’s staff. He was taken to the front to view the battlefield. As the car he was in passed by a scene of total devastation, a muddy, battered moonscape, he was aghast and said: “Dear God, did we order men to fight in that?” To which his driver laconically replied: “It’s worse farther up, sir.” Kiggle broke down crying. The final word about Passchendaele belongs to Will Bird, who wrote of the battle :”After Paschendaele no man was ever the same, was more or less a stranger to himself.”

Being a Canadian, I would toss in Vimy to the list, along with one not well known: Drocourt Queant switch, where the Canadians punched through the German trenches, outflanking the entire German defensive lines and bringing an end to the trench warfare stalemate. I would also toss in Dieppe and Hong Kong from the second world war, but we concentrate on our disasters too much and should remember our successes from time to time, like the liberation of Holland.

44 Schmendrick December 16, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Might I add to the list the Siege of the Alcázar from the Spanish Civil War?

45 Shaun December 16, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Wow, great post, well written, and very informative. Now I’m late for work! :)

46 David December 16, 2009 at 3:32 pm

From a technical modernist warfare standpoint the 1899 (yes technically the previous century, but it was close being on 11 December 1899) Battle of Magersfontein in the Anglo Boer War is extremely important to military historians because of the many disastrous implications it held for Britain.

The Battle was between the Boers under General De La Rey and the British under Lord Kitchner.

In the battle General De La Rey came up with a brilliant defensive strategem because his only real defensive natural features were a set of hills, which would be obvious artillery targets, so he used trenches IN FRONT of the hills. When the red clad Highland Brigade marched against the Boers the next morning after their artillery had vitually flattened the hills behind the Boers they expected to be walking into a cleaning operation. The British infantry were tightly packed (shoulder to shoulder in the Irish battalion) and they were predictably decimated by the Boers (who were farmers renowned for being crack shots… using their smokeless Mauser rifles).

Three innovations played a huge part in warfare from later

1. Trenches. De La Rey’s brilliance was one of the reasons the British westwards march managed to stop Von Moltke Jnr’s unweighted western arm of the invasion of France in WW1. British trenches stopped the Germans cold.

2. Camouflage uniforms (the British quickly rid themselves of their red coats and replaced them with khaki) – an innovation the Germans and French had to learn about the hard way in WW1 – not trusting the British.

3. Irregular open order skirmish line attacks. The closed order Continental shoulder to shoulder or in line attack was found out by the crack marksmen of the Boers… the British changed their tactics to use a loose infantry attack formation called a skirmish line. This was another lesson the British taught the Germans in WW1 in 1914 as the German advance was savaged because troops still advanced in slow moving closely packed lines…

47 roentarre December 16, 2009 at 3:33 pm

This is an incredible write up and it will require me to follow up on the reading later on. Quite a bit to read.

48 Patrick Lee December 16, 2009 at 3:46 pm

Wondering how you missed what the eminent historian Samuel Eliot Morison called “the most remarkable of the Pacific war” The largest naval battle in the history of the world, the battle that changed the course of World War II in the pacific…The Battle of Leyete Gulf/Samar.

49 bob December 16, 2009 at 5:49 pm

Mikhail Gorbachev

Battled against dogma and warmongering. Gave the opportunity of freedom to millions. Dared to think differently. Gave peace a chance. Lots of people didn’t die. That’s a history we should all remember too.

50 Connor Murdock December 16, 2009 at 7:06 pm

Great idea for an article – could totally be expanded into a miniseries on each. As a Canadian, I’d have to suggest including the other D-Day beaches, including the Canadian beach – Juno, and I’d also include the legendary Battle of Ortona in 1943 during which Canadians fought building to building in hand-to-hand combat with Wehrmacht forces ordered expressly by Hitler to hold the eastern Italian city at all costs. I’d love to see more on this topic! :)

51 Alex December 16, 2009 at 8:37 pm

We need to add the Battle of the Bulge! Very key!

52 Mitch December 16, 2009 at 8:48 pm

Great Article! Keep them coming!

53 Rich December 16, 2009 at 10:38 pm


All in all a good primer for those who aren’t particularly savvy about history. Thanks for all the hard work you put in. I have two niggling points; however, I know you can’t cover everything:

1) The Battle of Iwo Jima deserved a spot in the WWII listings for a few reasons a) less than 1000 of the 23000 Japanese lived and of 70000 US Marines who fought there, about 26000 were casualties; b) Joe Rosenthal’s famous flag raising photo c) It allowed us to start the last phase against Japan by routinely bombing their home islands.

2) A nod to the “Banana Wars” of the 1920s & 30s where the US military fought in support of United Fruit Company and Standard Fruit Company in Central/South America. That’s where we get the term “Banana Republic”.

thanks again for this fine site.


54 Nick December 17, 2009 at 1:04 am

Good list, but a little short. No mention of Inchon or Dien Bien Phu? How about Ia Drang, the first use of air cavalry in combat?

55 mark December 17, 2009 at 1:30 am

as a side note – today (December 16th) marks the 65th anniversary of the start of the “Battle of the Bulge”. Don’t bother with the ridiculous eponymous movie on the subject – Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw et al. – watch the 6th (“Bastogne”) and 7th (“The Breaking Point”) episodes of the Band of Brothers miniseries. Then if you haven’t already – watch the whole miniseries – it’s worth it 100 times over.
Also watch for Pacific – from same production team I think – coming in spring 2010
very interesting contributions from other posters – I agree – not a criticism at all but just expanding the discussion

56 David Wright December 17, 2009 at 4:05 am

You appear to have forgotten that there were other nations involved in the Somme such as India, South Africa, Oz, Kiwis, Canada, Newfoundland. Twenty percent of the pilots involved in the Battle of Britain were from foreign nations, including some Yanks who broke the law to fight alongside the Poms.

57 John Pseudonym December 17, 2009 at 10:32 am

Hoping this continues with 19th and 18th century battles, as well. Every man should be able to wax poetic about the Boer War.

58 Tony December 17, 2009 at 12:27 pm

You all should check out the battle of Raatteentie in Finland. It is a battle of a small country defending itself against giant Russia. With a massive victory for Finland..

59 Doug Stewart December 17, 2009 at 1:06 pm

Don’t forget Simo Häyhä in your list of tremendously manly Finns…

60 Albert December 17, 2009 at 1:26 pm

That aerial photo of the Battle of Midway is amazing. I can’t seem to find it, anyone know where to get a print?

61 Kenneth December 17, 2009 at 7:45 pm

There is something disturbing in the glorification of war. It is not part of reaching a higher plane of existence. Violence does not equal enlightenment; it is one thing to be prepared for war it is another to glorify it. I notice that the perspective of the Somme neglects to point out that there were 40,000 casualties on the part of the allies because their HC did not change its tactics and sent wave after wave of young men to die like cattle at the slaughterhouse. That 40,000 was on the first day alone.

62 Stanley December 17, 2009 at 11:12 pm

A nice blog. What is FAR?

63 Doug December 18, 2009 at 1:17 am

I didn’t see any glorification of war in this post. It’s just a straight forward educational piece. And yes, while there is nothing lofty about war, it is also not laudable to be so sensitive, to so wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve, that one begins to see offenses where none exist.

64 R. Scott Buchanan December 18, 2009 at 2:39 am

I would add the evacuation of Dunkirk to the list (late May – early June, 1940). While it wasn’t the most impressive military feat ever (although the flotilla was an impressive display of resourcefulness), the symbolic victory of evacuating that many troops using mostly pleasure boats and fishing trawlers from all over the UK coast was a real boost to British morale at a time when spirits were close to breaking following the fall of France to the Axis. Still today one can get older Britons talking about Dunkirk when the mood is right, and there is a pride that is clearly felt that so many civilians managed to rescue so many Tommies when the great and the good in Whitehall were left praying for miracles.

65 James December 18, 2009 at 11:24 am

Wanted to throw in Operation Market Garden which was The Bridge Too Far movie. Pretty important battle and one that often comes up with WWII movie fans.

66 Bruce December 18, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Of late, new information has come to light about the Battle of Suriago Straight. Stunning sea battle, last battleship Vs. battlelship fight on earth.

67 Mike M. December 20, 2009 at 3:58 pm

A nice list, but incomplete.

For World War 1, add Gallipoli and Jutland. The former because it was a terrible demonstration of personal courage and command incompetence, the latter because it was THE naval engagement…and a battle in which there were NO strategic reserves. If Admiral Jellicoe had lost, the war would have been over.

For World War 2, the Ardennes offensive, Iwo Jima, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The latter, especially, merits study.

Post World War 2, the Six-Day War and First Gulf War are good subjects.

68 Carlos Infante December 20, 2009 at 10:54 pm

To expand a bit on the subject, over at in the audio section under old time radio there are alot of recordings from radio news prgrams that give first hand accounts of the events of WW II as they happend, some, but the most interesting ones are the complete day recordings of D-Day from both CBS and NBC, not only do you get the news reports but also their regular programing of that day.

69 Josh December 22, 2009 at 6:42 pm

I like articles like these. More military history would be appreciated.

70 Hugo Stiglitz December 31, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Great post. It is important to keep these battles fresh in the minds of men of all ages. Many in our country have taken the approach that “all war is bad,” which is a naive view of the world.

Also, like many other posters said, good job including non-American forces in the post. I look forward to more articles like this one!

71 Matt March 22, 2010 at 8:07 am

That was a good read!! Battle of the Buldge would have been a good one too

72 Brian April 2, 2010 at 11:15 pm

I really like the picture at the top of the page of the Bolton-Paul Defiants!

73 mark w mcandrew June 8, 2010 at 12:36 am

all military history is gold,gallipoli is a gruesome look at a war of attrition,what the US went threw at the islands pelillue,iwo jima , so on ,war is terrible ,lambs to lions,did we learn ? now we have 1st world countries dukin it out using 3rd world countries to test and use there new toys,ode to the soldier,my band of brothers,lets get with the program before ROME BURNS. LEST WE FORGET

74 Daniel December 2, 2012 at 4:55 pm

An interesting fact for the battle of Verdun: The mentionned General Philippe Pétain fighting against the Germans went on to become a Marshall… and the leader of German occupied France in WWII…

75 Miłosz March 23, 2013 at 3:29 pm

None of these battles were as important as The Battle of Warsaw in 1920. Actually most of them would never happen if we had lost.

76 Patrick May 25, 2013 at 5:03 pm

GUADACANAL!! Was there a longer battle besides Stalingrad? Both sides executed amphibious landings which is pretty rare. Both navy’s won and lost major engagements. Air superiority was gained and lost and won again. Marines were left on their own to eat Japanese rations. Both sides were gripped in a death struggle for 6 months. Don’t forget the jungle and all the disease. EPIC!!

77 Ben G August 13, 2013 at 7:44 pm

I know some Marines won’t like this, but the Battle for Iwo Jima pales in comparison to Stalingrad, Verdun, etc. “Only” about 25k American casualties at Iwo Jima, as opposed to hundreds of thousands in the other battles.

Don’t forget why Iwo was attacked too. It was used as a emergency landing site for bombers who were damaged during the bombing raids to Japan. Sure, it was important, but it didn’t alter the course of history by any means.

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