David vs. Goliath: Round Two of the Little Guy Triumphs

David vs. Goliath: Round Two of the Little Guy Triumphs

Michelle Powell-Smith - October 27, 2016

In the story of David vs. Goliath, the little guy wins. These events, as in part one, are battles or a series of battles in which a small army defeated a much larger one, often through smart strategy and wits, rather than firepower.

Dear gentle readers, thank you so very much for all of your suggestions on the first round of David vs. Goliath. Some of them hadn’t made the final round, but were in my notes, and some were new to me (and I love learning new things, and have a new interest in 17th century Poland!). We’ve taken your suggestions to create a part two to David vs. Goliath, and were excited to see so very much discussion on part one. I’d like to note that we skipped the Battle of Britain here, simply because this site has a recent article.

David vs. Goliath: Round Two of the Little Guy Triumphs

Battle of Cannae

The Battle of Cannae took place on August 2, 216 BCE during the Second Punic War, between the Romans and Hannibal’s forces from Carthage. The battle took place in Apulia, in the southeastern part of modern-day Italy.

During the Second Punic War, Hannibal had made quick gains as he moved across the Pyrenees and Alps with his forces. The Roman response was an attempt to cut off his supply lines; however, Hannibal was able to use this time to regroup effectively. The Roman Senate responded by increasing the size of the Roman army to combat Hannibal and his forces. The Roman forces may have numbered as many as 86,000 individuals; however, estimates vary widely. It is, however, certain, that the Romans had amassed a massive force. Hannibal’s forces likely numbered around 40,000 to 50,000, drawn from a wide range of sources, with different weapons and skills.

In the spring of 216 BCE, Hannibal seized a supply depot at Cannae, limiting Roman access to supplies needed by the Roman army. In addition, Hannibal’s army was well-supplied, and had competent, skilled generals in command. As the Romans approached to regain control of Cannae, there were two Roman generals present; Varro and Paulus. Varro was overconfident, and Paulus more cautious.

Varro planned his army’s attack. He opted for a traditional Roman plan, with some increased depth; the infantry was in the center of the formation and the cavalry to either side. Varro believed he would force Hannibal and his troops back to the Aufidus River. Hannibal, on the other hand, was prepared to use the versatile skills of his forces.

During the course of the battle, Hannibal’s forces first eliminated the Roman cavalry, then by gradually retreating encircled the Roman infantry. Written sources vary on how many Romans were killed; however, later Romans widely accepted a figure of roughly 50,000 Roman deaths and 8,000 Carthagian deaths.

After the victory at Cannae, much of southern Italy allied with Hannibal. Hannibal offered peace terms to the Roman Senate; however, they were refused. The battle led to a significant change in the structure of the Roman army, but was also the first use of the brilliant double envelopment tactic in battle.

David vs. Goliath: Round Two of the Little Guy Triumphs

The Battle of Huan’erzui or Badger’s Mouth

In February 1212, the Mongol army of Genghis Khan decisively defeated the forces of Jin China. By 1211, the Mongols had reached the capital of the Jin dynasty in North China, forcing the emperor to choose a new capital, further south, but chose to retreat into the frontier of the Jin Empire.

The Mongols began a new offensive in early 1212. It is relevant to note that there were a number of battles in this general region, including the Battle of Wild Fox Ridge, that dramatically reduced the Jin forces. These battles were also excellent examples of times when the smaller Mongol force defeated a much larger one.

In response, the Jins dispatched a massive army, numbering several hundred thousand individuals, led by Heshilie Jiujin and Duji Qianjianu. Heshilie Jiujin sent a messenger to the Mongols to warn them of an impending attack. Many of the Kitan commanders under him favored a surprise attack, likely weakening the overall strength of the Jin forces. The Mongol army stopped their breakfasts and moved into fighting formation.

Genghis Khan’s cavalry, led by Muqali, charged directly at the Jin forces. The charge was unexpected, leading to disorder in the Jin troops. The remaining Mongol army was able to disperse the Jin, and eventually to pursue the retreating forces more than 30 miles.

Following the Battle of Badger’s Mouth, Mongol forces moved further into Jin China, reaching and taking the capital city of Zhongdu in 1215. After the conquest of China, the Mongols turned westward, continuing their path of domination through 1227.

David vs. Goliath: Round Two of the Little Guy Triumphs

Battle of Kircholm

While many of us know quite a lot about some of the major conflicts of the past, like the Thirty Years’ War, we often know much less about other wars. Poland and Lithuania were actively engaged in warfare with Charles IX of Sweden between 1600 and 1629, called the Polish-Swedish War. The conflict had grown out of an earlier dispute within Sweden; Poland-Lithuania had allied itself with the loser in that civil war.

In 1605, Charles IX was besieging the city of Riga, in Poland. He had approximately 14,000 men in his force at the siege of Riga. In September of 1605, he left only a token force of 3,000 at Riga and went on the offensive, going after a smaller force of Polish-Lithuanian troops led by Jan Karol Chodkiewicz. Chodkiewicz had only 3,600 men at his disposal.

The two armies initially met on a hilltop at Kircholm on September 27, 1605, but Chodkiewicz refused to attack. After a few minor skirmishes, he feigned a retreat. Charles ordered his men to advance on the retreating troops. While the hilltop had provided Charles with an advantage, the open field improved the chances for the Polish-Lithuanian forces.

The Swedish cavalry was quickly defeated, and the infantry separated into several distinct, and more manageable groupings. The hussars of Chodkiewicz’s army successfully defeated the Swedish infantry.

Records suggest that 9,000 members of the Swedish army perished that day, while Chodkiewicz’s lost only 100 men.

David vs. Goliath: Round Two of the Little Guy Triumphs

Battle of Hodow

The Battle of Hodow is sometimes called the Polish Thermopylae. Fought in June, 1694, the Battle of Hodow involved the forces of the Kingdom of Poland and the Crimean Khanate. Earlier that month, the Crimean Khanate, a force of Muslim Tatars had invaded Polish territory with the intent of pillaging. The Kingdom of Poland responded.

The Kingdom of Poland sent a small force of only 400 men, drawn from strongholds in Red Ruthenia, in the modern Ukraine. The Crimean Khanate had invaded Poland with a force numbering massively larger, perhaps as many as 40,000, but certainly at least 25,000. The Polish charged Tatar forces on fields near Hodow, leading to the withdrawal of the Tatar vanguard. The Poles continued to effectively resist the Khanate forces, eventually moving back and into the village of Hodow, creating a barrier using sturdy wooden fences left in past invasions, and using improvised arrows as ammunition when they ran out of their own.

The Polish force of 400 defeated the initial 700 troops in the Crimean vanguard, then continued to defend Hodow for the next six hours. In total, more than 1,000 cavalry and soldiers from the Tatar force were killed, and fewer than 100 of the Polish force.

Unable to defeat the small Polish force, the Crimean Khanate sent Polish-speaking Tatars to try to negotiate a surrender. This failed and the Crimean Khanate withdrew from Poland entirely. While the Crimean Khanate almost certainly could have, with their larger numbers, forced a victory, they did not pursue this goal.

The victory at Hodow provided the army of the Kingdom of Poland with a significant morale boost. The king paid for replacement horses for the forces at Hodow, as well as medical care for the soldiers, and ordered a monument commemorating the victory.

David vs. Goliath: Round Two of the Little Guy Triumphs

Greco-Italian War

Between October 28, 1940 and April 23, 1941, the states of Greece and Italy were engaged in active warfare as part of the Greco-Italian War. While this was a local war, it led directly to the Balkan Campaign of World War II, and the Battle of Greece in 1941.

In the spring of 1939, fascist Prime Minister Benito Mussolini annexed the state of Albania. This was only months before the beginning of World War II in September 1939. The Greeks began actively fortifying their own boundaries, expecting a potential invasion from Italy. In August of 1940, the Italians sank a Greek ship, the Elli, and in October 1940, the Italians demanded the Greeks freely give territory to the Italians, but the Greek state refused. The Italians invaded Greece on October 28, 1940, before the ultimatum to cede land came to an end.

The Italians invaded with a force of 140,000, poorly equipped and equally poorly led. Experts had warned Mussolini that an invasion would require a massive force and very long war; however, he attempted it within only a few short weeks. The territory was heavily mountainous, and quite difficult to navigate. While Italy had attempted to gain the support of Bulgaria, Bulgaria remained neutral, enabling the Greeks to put their entire available force to fight the Italian invasion. The Greeks were highly successful, repelling the Italian invasion entirely by mid-November with a combined Greek and Albanian force totaling around 20,000 men.

The Greeks began a strong counter-offensive, working to retake Albania from the Italians. The Italian army was completely unsupplied, lacking appropriate clothing, or even ammunition for their weapons. Mussolini visited the Albanian front in March, 1941 in an attempt to boost morale. The battle finally began that March.

Greek forces had captured an Italian officer with full battle plans. The Italian force, now numbering around 50,000 was decimated, with around 12,000 dead. Mussolini’s attempt had failed and failed miserably. Hitler referred to the situation as a “pig’s mess”. In addition, the Greeks were now clearly on the side of the Allies in World War II, and had opened their airspace to the British.

David vs. Goliath: Round Two of the Little Guy Triumphs

The Italian Invasion of Egypt

On September 13, 1940, Italian forces invaded Egypt. Italy had occupied Libya since 1912, and in 1935, began sending large numbers of Italians, primarily farmers, to settle in Libya. In 1936, to protect the Suez Canal, British troops were sent to Egypt and garrisoned there. Disputes between Hitler and Mussolini in the Battle of Britain led Mussolini to refuse German aid.

By September 1940, Mussolini believed that the German land invasion of Britain was imminent. He wanted to create his own Mediterranean land empire, in some ways hoping the recreate the ancient Roman Empire. Mussolini’s own generals advised against the invasion of Egypt; Italian air forces were minimal, and their reputation was largely falsified.

The Italian land forces were massive in comparison to the limited force available to the British in Egypt. Italian forces moved overland relatively slowly, at a pace of 10 to 12 miles a day. They initially met relatively little resistance. The Italians made camp around Sidi Barrani. The British initially opted for relatively minor operations, including air bombings on the camp. These were intended to cause a nuisance, rather than actively demolish the Italian forces.

By December 1940, the Italians had reinforced their forces with additional troops. On December 10, a small British force attacked. Over the course of three days, the British took nearly 40,000 Italian prisoners, then began to chase the retreating forces. By the end of January, more than 75,000 Italians had surrendered to the British.

On the third of February 1941, some 3,000 British troops took on a force of more than 20,000 Italians, gaining the surrender of the remaining retreating Italians. While the British could have continued on into Libya, the need for British troops in Greece led to the withdrawal of most British forces from North Africa.

David vs. Goliath: Round Two of the Little Guy Triumphs

Battle of Long Tan

Soldiers of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR) arrived in Vietnam in May 1966. Australian forces established a task force base at Nui Dat. By early August 1966, radio signals from Viet Cong forces indicated a strong Viet Cong presence in the area. On August 16 and 17, Nui Dat came under mortar fire, but there was no additional assault.

D Company left Nui Dat for the Long Tan rubber plantation late in the morning on August 18, 1966. Less than an hour after D Company arrived at Long Tan, the Viet Cong attacked. The Australians lacked adequate ammunition, and called for more to be helicoptered in. RAF choppers dropped blankets for the wounded and ammo for their guns.

Reinforcements arrived as the battle wore on, including New Zealand’s 161 Field Battery, two Australian Field Batteries, and an American Field Battery. Additional Australian troop reinforcements arrived by 7:00 P.M. that night. As they fought at the Battle of Long Tan, the troops had no idea how many Viet Cong they faced.

The next morning, Australian forces found 245 Viet Cong dead, and evidence that many more had been removed from the battlefield. Documents and information found after the battle suggested that as many as 2,500 Viet Cong. Only 18 Australians were killed and 24 wounded, nearly all from D Company, in the fighting.