War is a serious affair, fought by enigmatic leaders who bark their orders at tough, grisly men who put everything on the line for the glory of their country. But sometimes things don’t go quite as planned. Amidst the thunderous roars of artillery fire, the shrieking whistles of incoming fire and the screaming of terrified comrades, logic can simply go out of the window. It’s one of the most chaotic situations anyone can find themselves in, and it can often provoke even the most rational individuals to lose all sense of control, freak the hell out, and do things that they would find unthinkable in any other situation. It is only when people’s true natures are revealed that the funniest stuff starts to happen, and in these situations the “seriousness” of war is completely forgotten.
Besides these antics that occur on the battlefield, it’s often the actual reason for fighting the war itself that is the most ridiculous. Hell, we almost launched nukes once because someone saw a flock of geese on radar readings and thought they were incoming missiles. War has been declared many times for reasons that even a drunk adolescent would see as not worth fighting over.
Some of these hilarious stories about military ineptitude are, well, hilarious. But it’s important to remember that people died during the course of many of these stories. The best way to view these amusing anecdotes is to reflect on the absurdity of war itself, as a concept and as an integral part of humanity’s self-destructive nature. Such is the power of humor.
10. The Vasa
The year is 1626. Sweden is in a fierce war with Poland and Lithuania. The king of Sweden decided to build the most heavily armed, most decked out warship he could imagine. This ship was called “The Vasa.” And it managed to sail an astonishing distance of 1,300 meters before it fell sideways and sank to the bottom of the ocean. It sank for a number of reasons, but mostly because the King had ordered the ship builders to slap more guns on the thing than the entire Canadian army is armed with today. I mean seriously, it was ridiculous and uncalled for- it was like a triple-decker gun sandwich of death. There was more gun than actual boat. Anyway, everyone in Stockholm was watching while it sank mere meters from the city, and it was generally a pretty embarrassing moment for everyone involved.
9. The Emu War of 1932
Never has the Australian Armed forces suffered greater humiliation that at the hands of their arch enemies- the Emus. In 1932, Emu forces were rampaging unchecked across most of Western Australia, eating crops, harassing farmers, and generally being a “bloody nuisance.” The Australian Military was called upon to vanquish the Emu forces and force them back into the void from whence they came, once and for all. If only it were that easy.
The Emus use guerilla warfare tactics from the get-go, easily thwarting attempts by the soldiers to herd them into a position where they could be shot down. By the sixth day of vicious battle, the Australian forces had fired 2,500 rounds, but only 50 birds had been killed. After one month, the Emus forced their foes to retreat back out of the warzone to resupply.
An Australian commander, driven mad by the unrelenting Emu fighting style, claimed the Emus showed signs of being bulletproof, and even compared them to tanks. After the Aussies had gotten more ammo, they were called back into the fray of battle. This time the Emus suffered heavy casualties- but there were simply too many Emus for the Army to handle, and they gave up shortly afterwards.
8. The French-Brazilian Lobster War
France will do anything to get its hands on some good quality lobster. Apparently this includes going to war with Brazil. You see, France was apparently allowed to fish off the coast of Brazil. The operative word here is “fish.” They then tried to claim that lobsters are a type of fish. Brazil’s Oceanography experts shot back with their side of the story, that “Lobsters cling to the ocean floor and are therefore part of the continental shelf.” The situation became critical when French fishing boats, which were stealing all of the lobster from the Brazilian fisherman, refused to leave the area. Brazil called in its navy. France called in theirs. An epic standoff ensued. Brazil was able to capture one French ship and scare the rest of the French into retreating, in typical French fashion.
7. The Cod Wars
Some wars are fought over resources. Some are fought over more resources. Others still are fought over pride. And some wars, well… some wars are fought over Cod. Iceland and England have been fighting over fishing rights since the 1400s, but the first official “Cod War” began in 1958.
This was truly a battle between David and Goliath; Britain had their entire Royal Navy, and Iceland had six patrol boats and a single plane. The Icelandic navy put up a good fight however. No one was seriously hurt during the first war, but the British Navy wasted half a million dollars on fuelling their warships, resulting in Icelandic victory.
The second Cod war began, and things started to get real. The Icelandic Navy brought out its secret weapon: the “net cutter.” Using this weapon, the Icelandic Navy revolutionized Cod warfare forever, dragging the net cutter behind them and slicing through English fishermen’s nets with reckless abandon. The British responded to this by ramming the smaller Icelandic patrol boats, resulting in the first death of the Cod War- an Icelandic engineer.
The second Cod war ended in Icelandic Victory again, after both participants signed an agreement that banned the British from fishing in Icelandic waters. This peace lasted only a few precious years before war broke out once again. The third and final Cod War was the worst. The Icelandic patrol boats began firing live rounds at its adversaries, ramming boats, and injuring the British Fishermen. Eventually, after suffering millions of dollars worth of damage to their Navy, the British backed off and decided messing with the Icelanders wasn’t worth it.
6. Operation Cottage
Losing a battle to an enemy who is defending a well-fortified position is always a tough pill to swallow. But losing a battle to an enemy who’s not even there? Now that’s just sad. A situation like this occurred in World War 2.
The Japanese were rumored to be occupying a small island near Alaska, and Canadian and US forces were tasked with destroying them. The only problem was that the Japanese were long gone by the time the Allies had arrived. This would no doubt result in a default ally victory, right? Wrong. Because of heavy fog, both US and Canadian forces shot at each other after incorrectly identifying each other as Japanese.
Their troubles were just beginning, as a US warship then hit a Japanese sea mine and exploded. Then the troops who were exploring the island ran into a ton of Japanese booby-traps, and at the end of the operation, the Allies had suffered more than 300 casualties.
5. The Dogger Bank Incident
Sometimes being trigger-happy can get you in serious trouble. There is an interesting psychological phenomenon called “Contagious Gunfire,” which occurs when one person decides to open fire and everyone else immediately decides to follow suit, even when no one knows quite what they’re shooting at. This is precisely what happened to the Russian “Second Pacific Squadron,” or Pacific Fleet.
During the Japanese-Russian war, the fleet was sailing in the North Sea when the fleet encountered a number of British Fishing boats. The British fishermen calmly signaled to the Russians that they were just regular guys- and in no way part of any armed forces. The Russians watched the signals carefully, thought about it, and decided they were dealing with several Japanese torpedo boats. They then opened fire with everything they had, filling the air with the clamor of every gun in the fleet. That was when things got crazy.
Wild rumors began circulating among the fleet that Japanese torpedoes had hit one ship, and that another had been boarded by the Japanese and was abandoning ship. When the smoke cleared, they realized they had been firing at each other.
4. The Baltic Fleet
The Baltic fleet at the time of the Russian-Japanese war really was a disaster in and of itself. After their little mistake in the North Sea, the British found out that their fishermen had been attacked and got pretty riled up. They sent their entire navy after the Baltic fleet, caught up with them and forced them to stop in Spain. They were then forced to apologize like little children and bribe Britain not to kill them all.
After sailing on to Madagascar, they were ordered to stay there until Russia could send them reinforcements that the fleet commander had already told them he didn’t need. After 2 months, most of the fleet had Malaria, and four ships had broken down due to sitting in port for so long. There were also three mutinies by the crewmen that were squashed.
In an effort to restore morale, the fleet commander decided to hold gunnery practice. This proved to be a bad idea. First of all, no one manages to hit anything, except for an innocent tugboat. After the practice is stopped, one of the ships starts sinking randomly. Because of all the Malaria, they decide to have a funeral at sea. But instead of using blanks, the guns accidentally use live ammo, and this time they actually hit something- one of their own ships (again). They then went on to lose the most important battle of the Russian-Japanese war.
3. The Battle of San Jacinto
This is a battle fought during the Texas Revolution in 1836, where the losing side was literally “caught sleeping.” The Mexican army was in a strongly fortified position, and they had worked hard putting up their defenses and preparing themselves for the enemy assault.
Because of their exhaustion, the Mexican commander ordered his forces to take an afternoon siesta, otherwise known as a short nap. The Texian Rebels took this opportunity to sneak through the tall grass and surround the Mexican Army, before getting their one cannon into position.
Firing their cannon once, they charged into the fray and took the Mexicans completely by surprise. In a short amount of time, over 600 Mexicans were killed, over 200 were wounded, and over 300 taken prisoner in what historians call one of the greatest military defeats in history. Eleven Texians were killed.
2. Operation Eagle Claw
During the Iran hostage crisis, the American people yearned for a way to free the Americans who were being held against their will in the overrun American Embassy. President Carter approved an ambitious plan by Special Forces to move in by helicopter and rescue the US citizens, and everything seemed OK on paper. But this rescue operation went down as one of the biggest failures in military history.
The plan was to move in to a part of the Iranian desert that was uninhabited. They would then board 6 helicopters to move in toward the Embassy, grab the hostages and get out. Things started to go wrong right from the get go. The desert was not uninhabited, as there was a road near to the landing site. Soon enough, a bus went by full of Iranians, which had to be stopped with the Iranians being taken hostage. Then an oil tanker drove by, prompting one trigger happy Special Forces soldier to fire a rocket at it, blowing it up and alerting everyone nearby to their presence.
They were still waiting for the 6 helicopters to arrive, but only 4 made it through a sandstorm. They needed at least 5 to carry all of the hostages, so they had no choice but to abort. The Rescue team then got back on the aircraft that brought them into the desert, and prepared to take off. This is when the real tragedy occurred.
One of the remaining helicopters crashed into the plane while taking off, causing a massive explosion and killing eight. The survivors backed away but the evidence of the US’s plan remained in the desert and was the cause of much humiliation for the US.
1. World War One
World War One was a huge disaster because so many people died due to the lack of a proper understanding of modern warfare. These armies were stuck in an archaic mindset- one where the army who fought the hardest was sure to win. This led to mindless charges across the battlefield at enemies who simply fired the newly invented machine gun, mowing them all down.
World War One commanders also relied too heavily on cavalry, when fighting on horseback had clearly become obsolete. But perhaps the greatest failure of World War One was the fact that those who were chosen to lead the men were not chosen based on their leadership qualities, they were picked out because of their rich families. This led to incredible amounts of incompetence in times when it mattered most.