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  • Writer's pictureKCStark

The Greatest Failed Military Campaigns: From Napoleon to Putin

One year ago today Russia's President Putin committed what may become the worst military decision since the Spanish Armada's attempted invasion of England in 1588: the invasion of Ukraine.

  • Putin's callus calculus has led to catastrophic failures of historic proportions.

Top 6 Failed Military Campaigns in History

  1. The invasion of Ukraine by Putin's Russia (2022-TBD)

  2. The invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union (1979-1989)

  3. The Battle of Gallipoli in World War I (1915-1916)

  4. The Spanish Armada's invasion of England (1588)

  5. The French invasion of Russia led by Napoleon (1812)

  6. The British campaign in the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783)

Russia's War in Afghanistan compared to Putin's War in Ukraine.

The devastating consequences of war are often measured in loss of life, resources, and destruction. The Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan from 1979 until 1989 serves as a stark example of this. Over 15,000 Soviet troops were killed, along with hundreds of aircraft and billions of dollars in other military machines. However, these figures pale in comparison to the Afghan men, women, and children who lost their lives in the conflict estimated to be between 562,000 and 2,000,000.

History appears to be repeating itself in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Since Putin's aggressive war began on February 24, the death toll of Russian soldiers has surpassed a staggering 111,760, with over 8,590 pieces of military equipment lost. The impact on Ukrainian civilians, infrastructure, and economy has been catastrophic, with widespread displacement and destruction.

These numbers represent more than just statistics; they are a sobering reminder of the human cost of war. As we consider the actions and decisions of leaders, we must not lose sight of the lives that are lost and the devastation that is wrought. The toll of war is too high a price to pay for any political or territorial gain.

The history of warfare is replete with examples of powerful empires launching failed invasions of other territories. Two such examples are Napoleon Bonaparte's failed invasion of Russia in 1812 and the Soviet Union's failed invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

These two military campaigns share a tragic irony that highlights the hubris and overreach of empires.

The invasion of Russia by Napoleon in 1812 was one of the most catastrophic military campaigns in history.

Napoleon, having conquered much of Europe, turned his attention to Russia, believing that he could conquer it and expand his empire. However, his campaign was plagued by a series of errors and strategic miscalculations. The harsh Russian winter, scorched-earth tactics, and the constant harassment of Russian guerrilla fighters weakened the French army.

Despite some initial successes, Napoleon's army was eventually forced to retreat, with only a fraction of the initial force making it back to France.

The Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was also a disastrous military campaign.

The Soviet Union, then one of the most powerful empires in the world, invaded Afghanistan to support a communist government that was threatened by Islamic militants. However, the Soviet military soon found itself bogged down in a costly and brutal guerrilla war. The Afghan resistance fighters, known as the Mujahideen, were supported by the United States and other Western powers, which provided them with weapons and training. The war lasted for a decade, causing immense suffering and loss of life, and the Soviet Union eventually withdrew in defeat.

The tragic irony that these two military campaigns share is that the empires that launched them were ultimately undone by the very tactics that they had used to conquer other territories.

In Napoleon's case, the scorched-earth tactics that he had used to great effect in his previous campaigns were used against him by the Russians. The destruction of crops, buildings, and infrastructure made it difficult for the French army to find food and shelter, leading to widespread disease and death.

Similarly, the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan was undone by the guerrilla tactics that it had used to support other communist regimes around the world. The Mujahideen fighters used hit-and-run tactics, ambushes, and IEDs to wear down the Soviet army, making it difficult for them to hold territory.

Another tragic irony that these two campaigns share is that the empires that launched them failed to learn the lessons of history.

  • The invading armies were unable to overcome the resilience and determination of the local populations.

  • The invading armies were overextended and were unable to sustain their presence in the territories that they had conquered.

The failed invasions of Russia by Napoleon and Afghanistan by the Soviet Union share a tragic irony that highlights the hubris and overreach of empires. The tactics that had enabled these empires to conquer other territories were ultimately used against them, leading to their downfall.

These military campaigns serve as a cautionary tale for any nation that seeks to extend its power and influence beyond its borders, reminding us that the costs of war are often far greater than any potential benefits.


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