Here’s a collection of the bloodiest, costliest and most significant battles of all time.
The Battle Of Plataea (479 BC)
This battle was fought between the united Greek kingdoms against the Persian Empire during the Greco-Persian Wars. The Battle Of Plataea was counted among history’s most lethal battles, and one of the most important in early Western Civilization. An army of 10,000 Spartans and approximately 30,000 Greek soldiers faced the invading force of Persia, which was estimated as 120,000 strong (led by General Mardonius under King Xerxes I).
Although outnumbered, the Spartans and Athenians were more tactical, heavily armed, and had higher morale. In comparison, the Persian army had just suffered from a previous defeat and some inner conflicts and divisions. The Greeks slaughtered the Persians at Plataea and succeeded in driving them out of Greece. This event is important in the history of Western Civilization because, through the result of this battle, Greece escaped invasion. Thus Western culture, as we know it, was preserved.
The Battle Of Waterloo (June 18, 1815)
This battle was fought between the French army, led by Napoleon Bonaparte, and the English and Prussian forces, led by The Duke Of Wellington and Gebhard Von Blucher respectively. Napoleon took the initiative during the early parts of the battle, leading a force of 72,000 men against Britain’s 68,000. However, things began to go awry during the afternoon and evening, when the army suffered the effects of bad weather, blunders by some of the generals, ill fate, and the timely arrival of the Prussian forces (50,000 men).
After suffering heavy losses, Napoleon was forced to leave Waterloo and later surrender to the British. The Battle Of Waterloo was one of the most decisive battles in European history, ending the reign of Bonaparte as Emperor of the French. It also brought power back to most of the Western States that came under Napoleonic rule during the Napoleonic Wars.
The Battle Of Cannae (August 2, 216 BC)
A Carthaginian commander named Hannibal Barca humiliated the proud Roman Republic during the so-called Battle Of Cannae (during the Second Punic Wars). This battle is regarded as one of the greatest tactical military achievements in war history. Hannibal led a massive troop of Carthaginians, including hundreds or possibly thousands of war elephants, across the mountainous Alps, and took a backdoor entrance towards Northern Italy, the realm of the then-Roman Republic.
Using outstanding military tactics, the Carthaginians slaughtered the Romans at Cannae, killing 70,000 soldiers from the 87,000-men-strong Roman army. Some historians claim that the Battle Of Cannae holds the world record for the most number of people killed in a battle in a single day.
The First Battle Of The Philippine Sea (June 19-20, 1944)
The Battle of the Philippine Sea (also known as the Marianas Turkey Shoot) was fought on the Pacific Ocean, and is generally regarded as one of the most decisive naval battles in World War 2, and the greatest aircraft carrier battle in history. It was fought between the United States of America and the Empire of Japan. General McArthur planned to return to the Philippines, and part of his strategy was to dismantle the Japanese navy, which at the time was blockading the Philippine Islands.
In the end, the American forces succeeded, losing a total of 123 planes in the process. The Japanese, meanwhile, lost three carriers, two oilers, and approximately 600 planes. Six key ships were also heavily damaged. This battle was important because it paralyzed the Japanese air force and weakened their grip on Southeast Asia, paving the way for their impending defeat and the end of World War II.
The Battle Of Stalingrad (July 1942 to February 1943)
The Battle Of Stalingrad, the bloodiest battle in human history, was one of the major turning points of World War II. A few weeks before the battle, Hitler ordered a full German military invasion towards Russia. Aiming to capture Moscow, Hitler sent a mammoth troop of more than one million soldiers (this was known as Operation Barbarossa). This huge invasion was challenged by the Russians in the city of Stalingrad, and the Germans were kept from further penetrating into Russian territory.
Although the Russians won, their defense was very costly: Russia lost approximately 1,130,000 soldiers, 40,000 civilians, 10,321 air craft, and 4,321 airplanes. Germany, meanwhile, was forced to withdraw their siege and retreat back to Germany. (At the same time, the Americans were making progress with the Normandy Invasion). Approximately 150,000 German soldiers died in Stalingrad. This battle severely weakened Hitler’s forces and ended his dream of conquering the world.
The Invasion Of Normandy (June 6, 1944)
Better known as D-Day, this is one of the most important sea invasions of all time. The aim of the Allied Forces was to establish beach heads in France, and then slowly penetrate Germany and Hitler’s nest.
The Normandy Invasion was kept secret, but because of some leaks, the German troops were already expecting the Allied invasion. As a result, a bloody battle occurred on the Normandy beaches of Omaha, where 10,264 Allied troops died and approximately 9,000 Germans were killed or wounded.
The Battle Of Thermopylae (480 B.C)
In Western military tradition, the Battle of Thermopylae is a symbol of undying heroism and sacrifice. On the eve of the Greco-Persian wars, King Leonidas of Sparta decided to face the invading Persian troops on the beach heads of Greece, with only 300 soldiers (along with 3,300 Greek allies who were dismissed on the third day). The strategy was to hold the Persian force long enough until the Spartan and Athenian state could organize a much larger and stronger force. King Leonidas and his 300 men blocked the only narrow strait through which the Persians could pass.
This narrow strait was called Thermopylae. For the first three days of the battle, the Spartans gave the Persians a brutal taste of death and defeat, killing a total of 20,000 Persians. The Spartans only lost when one of their soldiers betrayed them and told the Persians about the secret passage that led to the rear of Thermopylae. Leonidas and his 300 men refused to surrender and died to the last man, but their sacrifice united Greece and paved the way for their victory in the Greco-Persian Wars.
The Battle Of Gettysburg
The Battle Of Gettysburg was the battle with the highest number of casualties during the American Civil War. It was fought between the Confederate troops, led by General Robert Lee, and the Union troops, led by General George Meade. The carnage at Gettysburg displayed the Confederate forces’ peak of power, and their quick decline afterwards.
One of the most dramatic moments in Gettysburg was the Pickett’s Charge, when 12,500 Confederate infantry charged in full strength and heroism towards the Union’s center formation. The attack was glorious and impressive, but it was repulsed by a flood of Union artillery, which caused great losses for the Confederacy. In the end, the Union side won, but lost a total of 23,055 soldiers. The defeated Confederate army lost 23,231 soldiers.