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Eight Bloodiest and Most Pivotal Battles in Human History

Here’s a collection of the bloodiest, costliest and most significant battles of all time.

  1. The Battle Of Plataea (479 BC)

    plataea

    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.

  2. The Battle Of Waterloo (June 18, 1815)

    waterloo

    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.

  3. The Battle Of Cannae (August 2, 216 BC)

    cannae

    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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. The Battle Of Thermopylae (480 B.C)

    thermopylae

    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.

  8. The Battle Of Gettysburg

    battle-gettysburg-1500

    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.

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  1. Shawny Nevill

    On July 31, 2008 at 6:08 am


    Nice topic, although I disagree that the Greek VS Persians deserves to be on there.

    And nothing from WWI? Why not?

  2. R J Evans

    On July 31, 2008 at 6:11 am


    Cool article, Verniel – this is the sort of article I love to read (yeah, History Channel junky here!). Of course, you know what is going to happen now….! You are going to get loads of comments about the battles you haven’t included! lol!

    So, I will get mine in first… Battle of Britain (1940) and the Battle of Hastings (1066). The first because without it Normandy would not have been possible and Europe could by now have been completely Germanised without it! Hastings because it was the first painful birth throe of the English language as we now know it!

    Anyway, uber cool stuff… keep it coming!

  3. Verniel Cutar

    On July 31, 2008 at 7:57 am


    haha..yes RJ..I guess a lot of people will ‘hate’ on me for not including a lot of battles. Although I would have loved to list ALL battles and history of bloodshed, that’s humanly impossible..lol

    Shawny Nevill, there are eight battles listed here, but it doesnt mean that there are only 8 pivotal battles in history..lol..Im sure there are hundreds of other battles out there (can you imagine how thick one history book is? some go as thick as 1,000 to 2,000 pages..lol). Who knows, we might tackle them in subsequent posts?

    I personally believe the Persian-Greek showdown at Plataea and Thermopylae deserves to be in this list. First, the death toll was substantial, and second, it was very important to the history of Western Civilization (if the Persians succeeded in conquering Greece, I guess the world today would be totally different as we know it).

    Anyway, Im rambling. lol..thanks for your comments. :-)

  4. Leo Reyes

    On July 31, 2008 at 9:28 am


    nice article.maybe there’s a need to do part 2 because there are other great battles in world history.

  5. nobert soloria bermosa

    On July 31, 2008 at 5:18 pm


    nice article about war, just for clarification-correct me if i’m wrong,if my memory serves me right,Hannibal had only less than a hundred elephants,as a matter of fact after crossing the Alps only 37 were left.
    i enjoyed reading this, good research,keep it up bro!

  6. Unofre Pili

    On July 31, 2008 at 10:06 pm


    I used to memorizing history stuff when I was in high school.This reminds me of those old days. Nice article;thank you kabayan.

  7. Verniel Cutar

    On August 1, 2008 at 2:36 am


    hi nobert..it’s good that you pointed that out. Hannibal only carried a total of 38 war elephants, and more than half of these elephants died during the winter march through the Alps. (my bad!)

    Maybe I got confused with the number of war elephants, and the cavalry. Hannibal commanded approximately 8,000 cavalry in Cannae.

    Thanks a lot. :-)

  8. Verniel Cutar

    On August 1, 2008 at 5:07 am


    thanks Unofre..mabuhay

  9. ione :)

    On August 6, 2008 at 9:18 am


    may paresponse2 kpang nllman ha verniel cutar!hehek.mabuhay pamo nuh..ehek.

    (cryus na)

    nice work!!! cooolLLL!!! :)
    keep it up.im ur gr8st fan! ^.^

  10. Pádraig Mc

    On November 7, 2008 at 10:39 am


    Good article, really enjoyable. But ya maybe could be added too. battle of the somme, hastings and of course maraton, for if the greeks lost, none of the others would ever have happened, plus no long distance running lol. good work.

  11. Semperlost

    On April 21, 2009 at 7:32 pm


    The battle of San Jacinto should be on there. The geographic and political consquences were enormous.

  12. Stickler

    On May 20, 2009 at 1:51 am


    The Battle of Stalingrad ended on Feb. 2, 1943. The Normandy landings took place on June 6, 1944. Not quite sure how not having landed yet qualifies a enough progress to justify saying, “At the same time, the Americans were making progress with the Normandy Invasion.”

    Also, there’s this puzzler: “Russia lost approximately 1,130,000 soldiers, 40,000 civilians, 10,321 air craft, and 4,321 airplanes.”

    Care to explain what the difference is between “air craft” and airplanes?

  13. Verniel Cutar

    On May 24, 2009 at 5:52 pm


    Hi Stickler, so maybe you’ll qualify to be a walking history book, don’t you think? let’s see…

    “Making progress with the Normandy Invasion” doesn’t necessarily mean that Stalingrad and Normandy happened at the same time. It simply means, that at this stage, (during the ‘Operation barbarossa’ that ended in the Stalingrad deadlock), the concept of a sea invasion was conceptualized by the Allied Forces.

    Do you think America and Britain simply gathered troops on June 5, 1944 and then invaded Normandy the very next day? No, it took lots of time..and months to consummate the plan. Because Hitler’s troops are concentrated on the Russian front, this gave birth to the idea that an attack on German soil (France as the landing point) is highly feasible. Thus, the Normandy Invasion happened a year later.

    And now, to answer your mystifying question. What is the difference between an aircraft and an airplane?

    Man, I thought you were smart.

    Of course, the SPELLING!

  14. DONGO

    On June 27, 2009 at 2:21 pm


    Great article the Somme and Ypres resulted in 65,000 british losses in one day. think that should be there..WW I was a really nasty war

  15. Cecasander

    On November 27, 2009 at 8:49 pm


    WW I was a very nasty war indeed. But one of its main characterists was that none of its immense week-long battles were anywhere near pivotal. The Germans and French/English didn’t loose or win the war – or even more than a couple of kilometers – from any of them. As I said, the lack of any pivotal battle made the WW I to what it was. Then again, the war itself was probably one of the most pivotal in modern history ;)

  16. John

    On December 17, 2009 at 11:27 am


    Hi

    nice article…Do you mean the Battle of Midway when you talk about the Turkey Shoot naval batte in the Phillipines?

  17. bruce

    On January 30, 2010 at 11:41 am


    You forgot about the Battle of Tours. Had it gone the other way, we would all have butts in the air and facing Mecca while speaking Arabic.

  18. Jacob Chang

    On February 10, 2010 at 11:34 pm


    thanks this really came in handy for a reference for a project on the Battle of gettysburg

  19. STM

    On March 17, 2010 at 5:04 am


    I realise you can’t get everything in but Verdun probably deserves to be there, perhaps in the same breath as the Somme as they were linked.

    But there actually WAS a pivotal battle in World War 1, and all historians know it … the beginning of the Allied Grand Offensive along the length of the Hindenburg Line in 1918 – and mainly the spearhead attack on the St Quentin Canal (The Battle of St Quentin Canal) by a combined force mainly of British and Australians but with two US divisions under British command in the main attack (not to be confused with the US attack in the Argonne, which was a part of the offensive and which was equally important but not pivotal), and which resulted in the first breach of the Hindenburg Line, a German retreat and the beginning of the end for Imperial Germany. To leave out the Grand Offensive and especially the first Hindenburg breach is a travesty in historical terms. It ultimately brought the carnage of WWI to an end. It was also an extremely bloody battle.

    Also, while Stalingrad was important and terrible, Kursk became THE pivotal battle on the eastern front during WWII. From that moment on, they were heading backwards.

  20. Rob

    On September 6, 2010 at 6:48 pm


    Not a great list. Most of these battles while important, are not that vital to how the world would turn out. Where is Hastings, which changed truly changed the course of history. Gettysburg? A big battle, but not even the most significant one in the Civil War. Cannae? How is this a pivotal battle. Carthage won that battle and lost the war. How about Pharsalus which ended the Republic and and set Rome on the irreversible path towards empire? Where is Yorktown, the battle which pretty much won the war for the US and really changed the course of modern history. The battle of the Marne is also missing. History would have been very different if WWI effectively ended in 1914.

  21. Verniel Cutar

    On October 5, 2010 at 12:45 am


    You’re wrong, Rob. The greatest battle in history happened in my backyard yesterday. It was an ant battle. Sorry you didnt see it. :)

  22. serge

    On April 9, 2011 at 6:41 pm


    German army invading USSR was more than 5 millions and operation Barbarossa started about a year before Stalingrad battle.

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