5 The Children’s Crusade
One of strangest, most ill-conceived and utterly catastrophic “invasions” in all of history purportedly took place in the year 1212. A careful study of history will show much of the popular narrative regarding the Children’s Crusade to be more fiction than fact, but for fun, let’s just say that a group of 30,000+ European kids, led by a French boy whom had been personally visited by Jesus Christ, set off on a march to the Holy Land intent on converting the Muslims there ensconced. The optimistic young crusaders apparently believed the Mediterranean Sea would part for them, allowing the youths to walk all the way to Jerusalem. Apparently most of the kids soon abandoned the “crusade” and went home. Those that pressed on toward the stubbornly not-parting sea either died of sickness, starvation or were captured and sold into slavery. Fail.
4 The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan
Perhaps America should have taken a cue from its old Cold War adversary and not attempted to invade Afghanistan. It’s just not a good place to invade, OK? And in fact, the Russians should have learned that by studying everyone from Alexander the Great to the 19th century British Empire. Nonetheless, in the Soviet forces went in 1979… and out they went a decade later, having suffered tens of thousands of casualties and achieved nothing more than killing lots of Afghans and destroying numerous villages, farmlands and their last shreds of international regard.
3 Napoleon’s Russian Campaign
Poor Napoleon Bonaparte, he just wanted to conquer the whole world so badly! But even great generals make mistakes sometimes, and sometimes those mistakes involve things like vastly overstretching supply lines while leading a massive invasion force deep into enemy territory while dangerously unequipped to face a savage winter. Oh well. Napoleon’s Grande Armée marched into Russia in the summer of 1812 with a force of more than 500,000 soldiers. When they limped out again in December, there were fewer than 30,000 able-bodied men left. Almost 400,000 had died and nearly a hundred thousand more had been taken prisoner by the armies of the Russian Emperor Alexander I.
2 The Bay of Pigs
What happens when you send an under-trained, poorly-armed group of paramilitaries off on a poorly conceived invasion without any reserve forces or reliable supply lines? Failure, that’s what! And thus it was that the infamous Bay of Pigs Invasion collapsed after just three days of fighting. A CIA-backed group of counter-revolutionaries bent on toppling Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba hit the beaches on April 17, 1961. The Cuban armed forces, led by Castro himself, trounced the invaders, putting many of those captured on public display and shaming America on the world stage.
1 Operation Barbarossa: Germany Invades the Soviet Union
Adolph Hitler and his commanders would have done well to heed Marx’s maxim that “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Invading Russia went rather poorly for Napoleon, after all. And so too was the case when the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa in the summer of 1941. The initial invasion involved more than four million men spread across a nearly 2,000 mile wide front. After a series of initial victories, the massive invasion ground to a halt, repelled both by the massive Red Army and then battered by the fearsome Russian Winter and bogged down by the muddy springtime. Fighting along the Eastern Front continued for years, with no significant territorial gains won by the Germans, who were soon pushed back to the very doorstep of their own capitol, Berlin.