A blunder – especially a military blunder that gets people killed – is terrible for the reputation of the doofus who made it. It is worse, of course, for the unfortunates who paid with their lives for somebody else’s screwup. Take the Crimean War (1853 – 1856) miscommunication that sent a British brigade to its doom when it attacked the wrong target. Or the Austrian army that wrecked itself in a friendly fire panic, without an enemy in sight. Below are twenty five things about those and other historic military blunders and screw-ups.
History’s Most Dramatic Military Blunder?
It is a given that good communication and attention to detail are vital to the success of any military plan. Recruits in basic training have that hammered into them from their first day in the armed forces. Unfortunately, nobody seems to have explained that to the British commanders in charge at the Battle of Balaclava on October 25th, 1854, in the midst of the Crimean War. That day, failures in communication, made worse by inattention to detail, led to a catastrophic blunder that became a byword in military screw-ups ever since. The disaster began when on the morning of that fateful day, a Russian attack chased away British-allied Ottoman soldiers from the Causeway Heights (see map, below) and captured some artillery pieces. From his vantage point on high ground, the British commander in chief, Lord Raglan, saw the Russians removing the guns back to their lines.
So Raglan ordered a cavalry charge to stop the Russians from taking away the captured artillery pieces. An order was issued to the British cavalry commander, Lord Lucan, which read in relevant part: “Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns“. Raglan wanted the cavalry to attack the Russians he saw moving artillery pieces on the Causeway Heights. Where Lucan was positioned, however, he could not see those guns. The only Russian guns Lucan could see where at the end of a valley, with Russians on the high ground to both sides. To attack those guns was obviously stupid, and both Lucan and his subordinate Lord Cardigan, commander of the Light Brigade, knew it was stupid. However, as seen below, they simply shrugged, and sent their men to their doom.