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The most important battles in history [Part 2/2]

The history of wars is also a collection of battles which had a decisive impact on the history of a given region, country or even the whole culture. In 1851 historian Edward Shepard Creasy created a subjective collection of 15 groundbreaking battles, which in the 20th century was updated by British politician Edgar Vincent D’Abernon to three battles. In turn in 1964 an American Joseph B. Mitchell published his own list of 20 most important battles in the history of the world (15 Creasy’s + his own 5). Below we present all these battles with a short description, in chronological order.

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11. The Battle of Blenheim, 1704

England, Austria, Dutch Republic vs France & Bavaria

Autor: Robert Alexander Hillingford via Wikimedia Commons

The battle that ended the French hegemony in Europe, saved Vienna from the French and was a turning point in the war for the Spanish succession. Kiss Márton has already written more about Blenheim on our website.


12. Battle of Poltava, 1709

Sweden vs Russia

Obraz: Pierre-Denis Martin via Wikimedia Commons

The Swedish King Charles XII, after his march from the Baltic Sea to Ukraine, failed against the overwhelming forces of the Russian Tsar. The failure of the tired, starving and sickly Swedish army was the end of the Swedish era of military hegemony in northern Europe. The previously invincible Swedes never regained the strength they had shown until the beginning of the 18th century, and Russia has become the power it remains to this day.

We wrote more about the Battle of Poltava in the article about Charles XII.


13. Battles of Saratoga, 1777

United States vs Great Britain

Autor: John Trumbull via Wikimedia Commons

In Saratoga, American colonies’ forces defeated the well-trained and experienced British army, thus practically sealing American independence. Tadeusz Kościuszko, a Pole who designed fortifications near Saratoga, took part in the win.


14. Battle of Valmy, 1792

France vs Prussia & Holy Roman Empire (Austria)

Autor: Horace Vernet via Wikimedia Commons

The Battle of Valmy remained unresolved, but it stopped the coalition’s offensive to intervene in France ruled by the new revolutionary government. On the French side, the officer cadre was young and inexperienced, and the simple soldiers were largely volunteers. Some historians point to Valmy as one of the most important battles in history, both through its historical context and by calling civilians to arms, and because it used column arrays instead of linear ones, which was a major innovation at the time.


15. Battle of Waterloo, 1815

United Kingdom, Prussia & their allies vs France

Autor: Édouard Detaille via Wikimedia Commons

When Napoleon returned from exile to Elba, he soon gathered an army of 100,000 and marched towards Brussels, where there were still two armies of the last anti-French coalition: the Prussian, led by Field Marshal von Blücher and the British of Duke Wellington. At Waterloo Napoleon he first stood successfully against the British, but the arrival of the Prussians turned the defeat for the coalition into a great victory. The French army has ceased to exist, Napoleon’s rule has come to an end, and the Vienna Congress has set the agenda for a continent that was to last for the next century.

 

Three battles added by Edgar Vincent D’Abernon:

16. Battle of Sedan, 1870

Prussia vs France

Autor: Wilhelm Camphausen via Wikimedia Commons

During the Franco-Prussian War the Prussian army besieged Metz in the north-east of France. The 120-thousandth French army of Marshal Patrice Mac-Mahon tried to break the siege, but was encircled by the 200-thousandth forces of Field-Marshal Helmut von Moltke. After two days of bloody clashes, the battle ended with the capitulation of French Emperor Napoleon III. With the defeat on Sedan’s fields in France, the period of the Empire ended. At the same time, in 1871, the unification of Germany took place.


17. First Battle of the Marne, 1914

France & United Kingdom vs Germany

Brytyjski żołnierz pod Sommą, front zachodni. Autor: John Warwick Brooke via Wikimedia Commons

At the beginning of World War I, the Germans implemented a plan of instant warfare, i.e. an attempt to quickly eliminate France from the war. The German army quickly found itself to the east of Paris, but had to start the retreat because of the threat of a lap from the Allied army. The allied forces carried out a raid, which ended with the defeat of the German army on the river Marne, and thus saved the French capital. The western front stabilized along the trenches from Switzerland to the English Channel, and the First World War did not end until 1918.


18. Battle of Warsaw, 1920

Poland vs Russian SFSR

Polscy dowódcy w 1919, zbiór Centralnego Archiwum Wojskowego

During the Polish-Soviet war, the Polish commanders managed to stop the Soviets on the outskirts of Warsaw and then to lead out the counterattack which allowed them to take Soviet’s back. Additionally, the result of the war was influenced by the fact that the Poles managed to break Soviet ciphers. The naming battle is a “Miracle on the Vistula” because, according to many historians, the victory of the Polish army in the clash with the Red Army saved not only Poland but also a large part of Europe from the flood of communism.

 

Five battles added (to the original fifteen) by Joseph Mitchell:

16. Mississippi River campaigns, 1862 – 1863

Union vs Confederate States

U.S. Navy via Wikimedia Commons

The Mississippi Campaign is a collection of battles, both land-based and sea-based, that were fought between February 1862 and July 1863 by the states of the Union and the Confederates. Both sides wanted to take control of the river because of its easy communication and supply transfer capacity between north and south. In the end, the campaign ended with the conquest of the city of Vickersburg by the army of the Union, which is considered a turning point in the victory of the entire American Civil War by the North.


17. Battle of Königgrätz (Battle of Sadowa), 1866

Prussia vs Austria & Saxony

Georg Bleibtreu via Wikimedia Commons

In the Battle of Sadowa (sometimes referred to as the Battle of Königgrätz) against the well-trained and equipped forces of Prussia stood weakened by desertion and a moderately commanded army of Austria. Prussian victory ended Austria’s hegemony in the German Union and enabled Otto von Bismarck to take the position of Chancellor in the united Germany.


18. First Battle of the Marne, 1914

[The description of the battle was mentioned above]


19. Battle of Midway, 1942

USA vs Japan

U.S. Navy Photograph via Wikimedia Commons

For the United States, World War II began with a Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Since then, the Japanese army has continued to win a series of victories, pursuing further goals in Asia, from Dutch India to Malaya. The turn in the war in the Pacific occurred just near Midway, where the Imperial Fleet lost as many as 4 aircraft carriers and more than 3,500 people. Since then, the initiative has passed into the hands of the Americans, who have not given it away until the end of the war.


20. Battle of Stalingrad, 1942 – 1943

Soviet Union vs Germany & their allies

Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons

An incredibly bloody and devastating battle took place in Stalingrad, where the Red Army first defended the city itself, and then surrounded and destroyed the German 6th Army. Since then, it has been the Soviet Union that has taken the lead on the eastern front in Europe, and the Soviet march only stopped in Berlin three years later, ending World War II in Europe.

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