When David Beat Goliath: 10 Small Armies that Defeated Large Ones
When David Beat Goliath: 10 Small Armies that Defeated Large Ones

When David Beat Goliath: 10 Small Armies that Defeated Large Ones

Michelle Powell-Smith - September 5, 2016

When David Beat Goliath: 10 Small Armies that Defeated Large Ones
The Conquest of Tenochtitlan. Image: By Unknown – http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/kislak/kislak-exhibit.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6893984

The Conquest of Tenochtitlan, 1519-1521

The conquest of the Aztecs by a small band of conquistadores, led by Hernan Cortes, is another example of a very small army that defeated a much larger one. The Cortes expedition set out in February 1519. Accounts vary of the intention of his expedition—the Spanish governor of the region may well have intended only trade and exploration; however, Cortes had distinctly different ideas.

When Cortes reached the Yucatan Peninsula, he began working to form alliances. Cortes had the support of many local tribes who opposed the power of the Aztecs and welcomed the Spanish. The war with the Aztecs began with a confrontation with Aztec forces at Cholula, resisting the oncoming Spanish. Cortes, accompanied by a small number of additional troops, successfully massacred many of the citizens of Cholula, including the nobility.

On November 8, 1519, Cortes and his forces reached the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, and were initially welcomed. The city of Tenochtitlan was, by the standards of the time, massive; records suggest that the population numbered between 60,000 and 300,000 people. Fairly quickly, Cortes took the Aztec emperor, Moctezuma, prisoner, while enabling him to continue to rule.

By the summer of 1520, the conflict between the two parties had escalated. A force of only 3,000 Spanish and native warriors eventually took the city of Tenochtitlan, aided by a plague of smallpox that decimated the population of the city.

When David Beat Goliath: 10 Small Armies that Defeated Large Ones
The Battle of Panipat. Image: By ẒahÄ«r ud-DÄ«n Muḥammad Bābur (1483-1530)It contains 30 mostly full-page miniatures in fine Mughal style by at least two different artists. – http://art.thewalters.org/detail/14445/the-battle-of-panipat/http://www.oldindianarts.in/2011/10/illustrations-from-manuscript-of.htmlBāburnāma, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17611786

First Battle of Panipat, 1526

The First Battle of Panipat marks the beginning of the Mughal Empire in India. Fought between the invading forces of Babur, a descendant of Genghis Khan, and the Lodi Empire, the battle was also one of the first instances of the widespread use of firearms.

Babur sought to take control of the Punjab, defended by the forces of Sultan Ibrahim Lodi. Ibrahim’s defending army numbered 100,000 soldiers and 1,000 war elephants. Babur commanded approximately 12,000 troops. Babur created a wall of carts, secured together by ropes, with gaps to allow horsemen to travel through the line of fortifications. The two armies faced one another for a week before the battle commenced.

Babur used the flanks of his forces to attack Ibrahim’s troops, eventually killing the Sultan and causing Ibrahim’s troops to retreat. While Babur did use artillery, his archers were credited with much of the victory over the Sultan. Accounts of the battle suggest that as many as 40,000 of Ibrahim’s troops were killed in the battle. Babur’s legacy would continue for nearly 200 years.

When David Beat Goliath: 10 Small Armies that Defeated Large Ones
Lacolle Mills. Image: By Pierre Bona – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11400402

The Battle of Lacolle Mills, 1814

In the War of 1812, the United States had suffered a significant defeat at the hands of the British at the Battle of Chrysler’s Farm. Following the defeat, U.S. Major General James Wilkinson retreated to winter quarters in French Mills, New York. Wilkinson’s failure was likely to lead to his removal from a position of command, so he made a plan to gain some victories and repair his reputation.

Near the border between Canada and the United States, along the Lacolle River, British forces maintained a small garrison at Lacolle Mill. Wilkinson attacked the outpost on March 27, 1814 with a large force of American troops, made up of 4,000 soldiers and artillery. The weather and conditions proved troubling, as artillery could not be moved near Lacolle Mill.

Wilkinson attacked the outpost, but the British successfully responded, using Congreve rockets. Additional British and Canadian troops heard the gunfire and responded. Wilkinson and his troops retreated that evening, having failed to defeat the small garrison of troops at Lacolle Mill. American losses totaled 154 men. The British and Canadians lost only 60 men to the battle.

When David Beat Goliath: 10 Small Armies that Defeated Large Ones
Finnish soldiers in the Winter War. Image: By Finnish Army personnel – http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/finland/fi01_05a.jpg – The Library of Congress, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=549346

The Winter War, 1939-1940

The Winter War was a war between Finland and Russia for some five months, between November 1939 and March 1940. The Finnish state was quite small, and maintained only a minimal peacetime army and small reserve forces, as well as very limited artillery. The Finnish forces were immensely outnumbered by the Russian army. Russia sent some 810,000 troops to invade Finland; however, Finland was intensely nationalistic and its troops knew how to operate in small groups in Finland’s heavily wooded landscape. Russia’s army was used to fighting on open ground, and could not operate independently.

The Finns were effectively able to pick off Russian tanks, and to take down Russian convoys by blocking the roads and attacking from the back and sides. The small Finnish force effectively controlled the war from November 1939 to January 1940 in a number of engagements.

While the small Finnish army won many of the battles of the Winter War, they did not win the war. The Winter War ended with a peace settlement, the Treaty of Moscow, in March 1940 after significant Finnish concessions.

When David Beat Goliath: 10 Small Armies that Defeated Large Ones
Israeli soldiers in the Six Day War. Image: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/1967toc.html

The Six Day War

The Six Day War was fought between June 5 and June 10, 1967, between the state of Israel and neighboring countries, including Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Also known as the June War, the Six Day War was one in an ongoing serious of tense interactions between Israel and neighboring states. Relations between these countries had not normalized following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

The relatively small Israeli state quickly gained the upper hand in the war by using air strikes. Israel attacked preemptively as tensions increased, effectively destroying most of Egypt’s military. This was followed by a rapid and effective ground offensive into the Sinai and Gaza Strip. Largely defeated, Egypt asked for assistance from Syria and Jordan.

Israel successfully seized East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan, then Golan Heights from Syria in the days that followed. In total, the land area under Israeli control tripled in the Six Day War. Israel succeeded in the Six Day War through the use of smart tactics, including the preemptive air strikes.
The Six Day War created a significant refugee crisis, and led to the expulsion of Jews from many Arab countries. The tensions that led to the Six Day War continue in Israel today.