12 Military Deceptions that Changed the Course of History Forever
12 Military Deceptions that Changed the Course of History Forever

12 Military Deceptions that Changed the Course of History Forever

Khalid Elhassan - November 19, 2017

12 Military Deceptions that Changed the Course of History Forever
Macedonian phalanx attacking the Indian center in the Battle of the Hydaspes River, by Andre Castaigne, 1899. Wikimedia

Hydaspes River

At the Battle of the Hydaspes River in May of 326, BC, fought in what is now the Punjab between Alexander the Great of Macedon and the Indian king Porus, Alexander successfully carried out a brilliant military deception that wrong footed his opponent and caught him off guard, and set the stage for a complete Macedonian victory.

When Alexander marched into the Punjab, king Porus set out to intercept the invaders, and beating them to the Hydaspes river, which Alexander would have to cross to penetrate into Porus’ territory, the Indian king waited on the far bank with his army to prevent Alexander from crossing. When the Macedonians arrived, Porus set his camp across the river from Alexander, and shadowed the Macedonian’s movements from the opposite side, as the invader marched up and down the far bank in search of a safe crossing.

So long as Porus shadowed the Macedonians from the opposite bank, a crossing of the deep and fast-moving river could prove catastrophic if made against opposition, as the Indians would be able to strike the Macedonians at their most vulnerable mid-stream, or fall upon and overwhelm a portion of Alexander’s on the Indian side of the river, before the crossing was completed.

So Alexander set out to lull Porus by marching his troops up and down his side of the river each day. The Indians vigilantly shadowed those movements at first, but over time, became accustomed to them and grew complacent. Then Alexander quietly drew off the bulk of his army, leaving behind a contingent to make noisy demonstrations in order to keep the Indians fixated on them, while Alexander hurried to a crossing upriver and safely got his force across, unopposed. Once on Porus’ side of the Hydaspes, Alexander advanced to attack, and caught the Indians in a pincer between the main force under his command, and the smaller contingent left behind on the opposite side of the river to keep Porus occupied, which crossed the Hydaspes and fell upon the Indians’ rear and flank when they turned to face Alexander. The battle was hard fought, but the outcome was a total Macedonian victory.

12 Military Deceptions that Changed the Course of History Forever
Alexander the Great faking the Persian cavalry out of position at the Battle of Gaugamela. Quora


At the Battle of Gaugamela, October 1st, 331 BC, Alexander the Great’s army was outnumbered by that of the Persian king, Darius, who positioned himself at the center of his lines, with cavalry to either side, and chariots in front (see map above). Alexander beat him by pulling off one of history’s most successful battlefield tactical deceptions.

Alexander rode off with most of his cavalry, including his elite Companion Cavalry, towards the right of the field, accompanied by a scratch force of infantry, whom he interposed between his cavalry on that side of the field and the Persian chariots, to keep the chariots from striking the Macedonian cavalry’s exposed flank as he rode towards the right of the field. The Persian cavalry opposite Alexander shadowed him, riding parallel toward the right side of the map, to ensure he did not outflank the Persian line. That was what Alexander wanted: to remove as much of the Persian cavalry from their initial position as possible.

Alexander had a surprise for the Persian cavalry: while riding off toward the right, he had some light infantry keeping pace with him, but concealed from Persian sight by Alexander’s cavalry between the Persians and Alexander’s light infantry. The result was three parallel lines moving towards the right side of the map: the Persian cavalry, Alexander’s cavalry, whom the Persians could see, and Alexander’s light infantry, whom the Persians could not see and of whose existence they were unaware.

The Persian cavalry, shadowing Alexander as he moved to the right, eventually got ahead of him and outflanked what they assumed had been Alexander’s attempt to outflank them. Then, having gained the “advantage”, the Persian cavalry charged Alexander. That was precisely what Alexander had hoped they would do: in shadowing him and keeping pace as he rode to the right of the field, a gap had opened in the Persian line. A gap where the Persian cavalry had been at the start of the battle, and Alexander’s goal all along had been to draw the Persian cavalry out of position in order to produce that very gap (see map below).

12 Military Deceptions that Changed the Course of History Forever
Alexander the Great’s change of direction and charge at Persian king Darius III’s position. Quora

That was when Alexander’s concealed light infantry came into play: when the Persian cavalry charged, Alexander released the hitherto concealed light infantry to engage the Persian cavalry, and left them, along with most of his cavalry, to keep the Persian cavalry busy. Then, he neatly disengaged his elite Companion Cavalry from the fray, and turning direction, rode back at their head in a wedge formation, straight for the gap in the Persian line where the Persian cavalry had been at the start of the battle.

A gap where the Persian king, Darius, happened to be. It was a surgical strike that won the day. Seeing Alexander leading a furious cavalry charge straight at him, without enough cavalry of his own in position to ward him off, Darius panicked and fled the battlefield. The Gaugamela battle scene in the movie Alexander faithfully depicted this maneuver as it was described by contemporary writers in Alexander’s day.