Special Report

The Biggest Surprise Attacks in Military History

6. Battle of Pliska/Väƒrbitsa Pass
> Date: July 26, 811
> Location: Bulgarian countryside
> Combatants: Byzantine Empire, Bulgaria

Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros, tired of what he considered troublesome Bulgarian forces under their warlord Krum, marched into Bulgaria with 80,000 troops. Krum asked for peace but Nikephoros rejected the overtures and destroyed the Bulgarian capital of Pliska.

The Bulgarians plotted to ambush Nikephoros. As the Byzantine army marched south through the Väƒrbitsa Pass, a mountain passageway about 3,000 feet above sea level in the Balkan Mountains, the Bulgarians set traps and built walls to impede their advance, which was eventually blocked by a wooden structure. Other Bulgarians blocked the exit back to the valley. The Bulgarians killed almost the entire army, including Nikephoros.

Source: Illustratedjc / Wikimedia Commons

7. Battle of Stamford Bridge
> Date: Sept. 25, 1066
> Location: Stamford Bridge, England
> Combatants: Anglo-Saxons, Norsemen

Before he lost the Battle of Hastings to William the Conqueror, King Harold, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, thwarted an invasion from Norsemen. As Harold awaited the Norman invasion from the south, he got word that Norsemen had landed an army farther north. Harold had his army of 15,000 march 200 miles to Stamford Bridge. He completely surprised the Norsemen, who were unarmed when Harold’s troops arrived, and thousands were killed. Those that survived returned home in disgrace.

Harold’s victory was short-lived. Several weeks later, he was defeated by William the Conqueror, who claimed the English throne.

8. Battle of Montgisard
> Date: Nov. 25, 1177
> Location: Southeast of Jerusalem
> Combatants: Kingdom of Jerusalem, Ayyubid dynasty

The Battle of Montgisard was won by 16-year-old King Baldwin IV, ruler of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem, who overcame the forces of Saladin despite being afflicted with leprosy.

Saladin, the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria and founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, had amassed an army of 26,000 that marched toward Jerusalem. Baldwin planned to stop him even though his forces, which included the Knights Templar, were greatly outnumbered. Enroute to Jerusalem, Saladin allowed his troops to disperse and raid villages. That was a mistake. Saladin, underestimating Baldwin, didn’t think the young king would attack with inferior numbers, but in the early morning hours of Nov. 25, they set upon Saladin’s main force and defeated them. Saladin himself escaped to Egypt with just one-tenth of his army.

9. Battle of Medway
> Date: June 9, 1667
> Location: River Medway, England
> Combatants: England, Netherlands

The English and Dutch battled for maritime supremacy in the 17th century. In 1667, the Dutch were able to inflict a catastrophic blow to the Royal Navy in English waters in the Second Anglo-Dutch War.

Utilizing a plan designed by political leader Johann de Witt, the Dutch seized the English seaport of Sheerness, at the mouth of the River Thames. The Dutch fleet, aided by river pilots who had defected from the British, sailed through the difficult River Medway, then destroyed a protective iron chain that extended across the waterway. The Dutch then wrecked 13 Royal Navy ships anchored at the ports of Gillingham and Chatham.

England had been reeling from a plague and the Great Fire of London several years earlier. Those two disastrous events led to budget cuts that had left the English vessels vulnerable. To add insult to injury, the Dutch made off with two English ships, including HMS Royal Charles, the Royal Navy flagship.

Source: Hohum / Wikimedia Commons

10. Battle of Trenton
> Date: Dec. 25, 1776
> Location: Trenton, New Jersey
> Combatants: American colonies, England

By Christmas 1776, there was little to cheer about among American colonial forces fighting for independence from Great Britain. A series of defeats on Long Island and in Manhattan and Fort Lee, New Jersey, sent the colonials into a retreat south and into Pennsylvania.

General George Washington hatched a bold plan to attack Great Britain’s Hessian mercenaries garrisoned in Trenton. On Christmas night, the Continental Army crossed the Delaware River north of the city and attacked. After a brief battle, all of the Hessian troops were killed or captured. The outcome lifted the morale of the army and the new nation, though final victory would still be five years away.

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