Great Battles of History

Battle of Opis in 539 BC

The Persians under Cyrus the Great defeated the Babylonian army outside Babylon. This led to dominance of Persian Empire and end of Babylonian Empire. It also enabled Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem.

Battle of Alesia (52 BC)

Roman Empire under Julius Caesar defeated the Gallic resistance. This enabled the Roman Empire to control most of Europe, leading to the diffusion of Roman (and later Christian culture) throughout Europe.

Battle of Otumba (1520)

A relatively obscure battle but a key moment in the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. Led by Herman Cortes, the Spanish army defeated the Aztecs allowing Spanish control of Mexico.

Battle of Trafalgar October 21st, 1805

Despite being outnumbered in terms of ships, the British Admiral Horatio Nelson was successful in defeating the French fleet, asserting the dominance of British naval power for the next century. Lord Nelson died on board his HMS Victory.

Battle of Austerlitz December 2nd, 1805

Against numerical odds, Napoleon defeated the armies of Austria and Russia gaining control over the majority of Europe. Britain stood unconquered at sea, but without allies in continental Europe. Napoleon made Austria sign a humiliating peace treaty enabling him to redraw the map of Europe. His army appeared unconquerable

Battle of Borodino September 7th, 1812

After invading Russia, Napoleon had struggled to engage Russian troops. But at Borodino, the Russians were able to fortify their defences and await the attack of Napoleon’s troops. The battle led to enormous casualties on both sides but remained inconclusive. The Russian army left the battlefield to the French but were undefeated. The French were to continue their march towards Moscow before retreating under dreadful winter conditions.

Battle of Waterloo 18 June 1815

Napoleon’s last stand. After returning to power in 1815, England and allied powers such as Prussia decided to fight Napoleon’s army. At the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon attacked British lines but failed to break through. At the end of the three-day battle, allied troops broke through the French lines decisively beating the French troops. Napoleon was exiled, and Louis XVIII was restored to the throne.

Battle of Navarino October 20, 1827

An allied fleet of Russian, British and French fleets helped the Greeks in their fight for independence against the Ottoman Empire. Engaging Turkish ships in the Navarino Bay, Off Greece, the Allied ships decisively beat the larger Turkish Ottoman fleet. Within five years, Greece was recognised as an independent power.

Battle of Gettysburg July 1, 1863

In the spring of 1863, Robert E Lee’s Confederate army attacked the north. The advance of the southern armies was only halted at Gettysburg. In a bloody battle, over 8,000 were killed. Although casualties were roughly equal on both sides, the battle had exhausted the southern armies, and Lee led his army back south. It was also at Gettysburg that the US President Abraham Lincoln delivered his immortal “Gettysburg Speech” which helped define the moral justification for the war.

Gallipoli Campaign April 25, 1915

The Gallipoli campaign was a bold move to strike at Turkey and cut it off from its German and Austrian allies. If successful the invasion would enable the allies to open a second front against the ‘soft underbelly’ of the Central Powers. The invasion was defeated by the Turks causing one-quarter of a million allied casualties.

Battle of Verdun February 1916

The Germans attacked Verdun hoping to ‘bleed France’ dry and weaken the allies. It became a battle of attrition with both sides pouring huge reserves of men into a bloody battle. The Germans initially succeeded in gaining ground, but the attack petered out as the Germans got sidetracked by the British attack on the Somme. Nevertheless, the battle did undermine French morale, leading to a rise in French mutiny. It is thought the Battle of Verdun influence French attitudes to avoiding another prolonged war with Germany, and this may have been a reason behind the quick French surrender (ironically made by Marshall Petain – the hero of French resistance at Verdun.

Battle of Jutland May 31, 1916

In the major naval battle of the First World War. Britain suffered heavy losses, more than they had expected. But, despite the Germans claiming a victory they were unable to break the British domination of the North Sea and the Royal Navy were able to maintain a crippling blockade of Germany weakening their ability to keep fighting.

Battle of the Somme July 1 1916

The Battle of the Somme is often remembered for its sense of senseless slaughter as British troops walked into no man’s land to be machine-gunned by the Germans. In truth, the Battle of the Somme was a battle of great attrition, but, heavy losses were suffered on both sides. The land gained by the British attack was relatively minimal. The battle proved not to be decisive but did contribute to wearing down the German forces who were soon to be outnumbered with the entry of the US.

Blitzkrieg in Western Europe May 10, 1940

Breaking the neutrality of Belgium and Holland, German forces swept into the West in May 1940. The German advance was rapid soon taking the low countries then sweeping into France before the humiliating surrender in June 22nd, with British forces scarcely escaping at Dunkirk. The Nazi domination of Europe would last until 1945 when allied armies finally succeeded in liberating Europe.

Battle of Britain Summer of 1940

After the fall of France, Great Britain stood alone against the Axis threat. The Germans had drawn up plans for the invasion of Britain – Operation Sea lion. But, for the invasion to be undertaken, Hitler needed to gain supremacy of the air. During the summer of 1940, bitter dogfights between British and the Luftwaffe took place over the skies of South East England. Though the Luftwaffe were not defeated, Britain was able to maintain air supremacy, forcing Hitler to postpone invasion plans and switch to the bombing of London.

Battle for Singapore February 15, 1942

The humiliating capture of Singapore by weakened Japanese forces in February 1942 was an embarrassment for the British Empire and broke the myth of white supremacy in Asia. Churchill wanted a fight to the death, but, allied commanders surrendered, leaving 80,000 men prisoners of war, many who would not survive the awful conditions of Japanese POW

The Battle of Midway June 6th, 1942

The Japanese attacked Midway – the westerly island of Hawaii hoping to destroy its carrier fleet. But, with information forewarning of the attack, the Americans were able to successfully repel the attack destroying four Japanese aircraft carriers and 200 aircraft. After the battle of Midway, the American dominance of the Pacific continued to grow.

Battle of Stalingrad February 2, 1943

It was at Stalingrad that the seemingly unstoppable progress of the German army was finally halted. In one of the bitterest and bloodiest battles of human history, the Germans failed to take this major city which had become a battle of wills between the two dictators – Hitler and Stalin. Casualties were estimated at 750,000 on both sides. It was on Feb 2, 1943, when the sixth German army (against Hitler’s will) surrendered.

Battle of Kursk July 4, 1943

In one of the largest battles of armoured tanks, the German army tried to break through the Russian lines, in classic blitzkrieg style. But, the Russians forewarned of the German intentions dug in and managed to prevent a breakthrough. Using an unprecedented number of anti-tank guns they managed to show how Blitzkrieg could be stopped.

Battle for Normandy June 6th, 1944

In the ‘longest day’ of June 6th, 1944, the allies undertook the largest amphibious force in history as thousands of troops landed on the Normandy beaches before advancing through Western France to liberate the first areas of Occupied Europe.

Battle of Iwo Jima February 23, 1945

The American capture of Iwo Jima was a crucial moment in the Pacific War. It enabled the US to heighten its bombing campaign of Japan.

Related pages

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