Outnumbered and outgunned, the underdogs that defeat their enemies through strategy, cunning or pure luck often give us the most compelling stories. Although numerical strength and superior weaponry is usually the key to victory, there are throughout history some remarkable examples of tiny armies managing to see off much larger forces in a number of ways.
Using everything from the weather to the superior size of an enemy’s army to gain an advantage, here are four underdogs who won against all the odds.
The Battle of Morgarten
On the 15th of November, 1315, the confederates of Switzerland won a remarkable victory. The battle that preceded it saw no more than 1500 Swiss soldiers taking on an Austrian army of 8000 men. Vastly outnumbered, defeat would have been almost certain had the confederates met their opponents head on, but with a superior knowledge of the terrain and some cunning strategy, their chances of success were improved considerably.
Choosing their moment carefully, the Swiss waited until the larger Austrian force was on the move beside Lake Ägeri, with water on one side and steep forested slopes on the other. The road had been blocked with heavy wooden barricades, and with the Austrian troops stretched out and trapped on the narrow path, the confederates launched their attack.
Raining arrows and rocks down on their enemies from the slopes, the Swiss threw their enemies into disarray. By the time their soldiers had stormed down to the road to engage with the Austrians hand-to-hand, the invading army was collapsing in on itself. Soldiers found themselves crushed in the throng, or backed into the water where they were picked off by archers. Some of them managed to fall back along the road, but the army at large was decimated.
Battle of Salamis
While the heroic stand of Sparta’s 300 at Thermopylae has become perhaps the most well-known chapter in the wars between Greece and Persia, another instance of an outnumbered Greek force battling an enormous invading force occurred soon afterwards. In this case, the defenders actually won, despite the poor odds.
Subsequent to the annihilation of the 300 Spartans, several more engagements were lost and Athens was abandoned. The Greek forces fell back, while Persian emperor Xerxes pressed forward towards what looked to be a clear victory. However, the tides were about to turn. Despite their numerical inferiority, the Greeks planned another battle, this time on the sea. Luring the over-eager Persian ships into the Straits of Salamis, the small Greek force launched their attack.