How to Horribly, Epically Lose a Battle

I happen to really love history, especially military history. When on vacation, I drag my less-than-enthusiastic friends to obscure Civil War battle sites and get WAY too thrilled by accidentally stumbling across a house that was once used as a Civil War hospital.

Recently, I got my hands on a series of lectures about great military disasters. I’m talking about battles that went so horribly wrong that entire armies were wiped out and empires fell because of it. The losing side in some of the battles in the lectures had something like 80-100% casualties.

Interestingly enough, the SAME problems kept popping up in almost every battle that went horribly wrong. And, as a writer, I started paying attention. If I wanted to write a battle scene where the villain lost a battle in a horrific, defining way (or the hero, though this is more rare because battles that are lost this spectacularly are hard to recover from) , history gives LOTS of examples on exactly how that should be done.

Here it goes. A set of instructions on how to Horribly, Epically Lose a Battle.

Military disasters

  1. Be as Overconfident as possible. 

If you want to lose a battle as disastrously as possible, this is the number one thing to keep in mind. Almost every horrible, tragic defeat stems from this.

Overconfidence leads to a host of other errors such as underestimating the enemy’s intelligence and numbers (preferably coupled with a healthy dose of prejudice that the other side can NEVER be as awesome as your own men), ignoring basic military tenants (such as scouting the land and the enemy’s position before engaging in battle), not knowing when to retreat, pouring more resources into an already lost battle and thereby making the loss even worse than it would’ve been, and even ignoring your own orders (such as ignoring your own order to fortify your position when encamped in enemy territory and instead letting your camp sprawl out in all disorganized directions).

This number one error will ultimately cause a compounding of several errors and lead to an epically horrible defeat that will probably end your life or at the very least bring down whatever empire you were hoping to build.

2. Put People in Leadership Positions who Hate Each Other. 

If your commanders, especially your top commanders, cannot work together, you will be well on your way to a massive military disaster, especially if you’ve stuck to advice #1 and cling to overconfidence.

If your commanders hate each other, they won’t communicate on the battlefield, leading to mismanaged charges, missed opportunities, and strife within the ranks. They might even get so caught up in verbally fighting each other that they forget about actually fighting the enemy, or they will actually hinder each others ability to fight the enemy.

Better yet, make sure one or both of these commanders are incompetent as well as argumentative. Epic military disaster will ensue.

3. Make as Many Tactical Errors as Possible

Usually, these tactical errors will automatically arise from overconfidence, and that overconfidence will also prevent you from correcting them when they do occur.

Best blunders to make:

  • Not scouting the land or enemy position. This sets you up for getting your entire army trapped in an ambush and wiped out.
  • Fighting the current war with the tactics of the last war. This always has horrible consequences, especially when advances in technology have occurred. Even if no technological advances have happened, always using the EXACT SAME tactics in every battle usually gives the enemy a chance to figure out a way to counter them.
  • Having advances in technology, but not using it to its best effect.
  • Not sending in enough men to turn the tide of battle at the crucial moment.
  • Not retreating when the battle has already been lost. Even better, keep sending in men into a losing battle. This maximizes casualties and guarantees the worst possible outcome.
  • Sending out unclear orders to your commanders. This will send them into chaos and confusion, especially if they are arguing with each other.
  • Having unclear reasons for even engaging in that battle in the first place so that the cost of the battle, even if you won, would outweigh the benefit (such as using a whole army to capture an outpost that a small group of commandos could capture just as easily).

If you follow these three instructions and compound all of these errors one on top of another, you will lead you, your men, and your empire into a disastrous military defeat that will probably lead to your death.


All joking aside, while this list seems like a rather hyperbolic list, in the lectures I listened to on military disasters, this is exactly what happened through 23 major military disasters across thousands of years of history all over the world. Some of the mistakes that were made were so foolish, a writer would hardly dare have a villain make that mistake because they would appear too foolish to live (and that is usually exactly what happened in history). Some of the battles were hard to listen to knowing that much of the bloodshed was unnecessary.

Anything else you would add to this list?

Inspiration for Dare – World War II

Only THREE WEEKS until Dare releases! Crazy how fast time flies when you have a book releasing!

To celebrate the book release, I’m going to look at a few of the things that inspired some of the themes or storyline in Dare. Dare is fantasy, so it isn’t directly based on any real history. But I’m a history buff. I like to explore the things I see in history in my own stories, even if I’m coming at them from a different direction.

One of my inspirations for the themes in Dare is World War II, specifically World War II as experienced by the Netherlands. About a year before I started writing Dare, I researched and wrote a nonfiction narrative about my great-grandparents’ life in the Netherlands and their immigration to Canada. My great-grandparents lived in the Netherlands during World War II, so I did a lot of research about what life was like in the Netherlands during that time.

World War II tore the Netherlands apart in many ways. Some people supported the Nazis. Some actively resisted in various ways, including forming the many groups that made up what is collectively known as the Dutch Resistance. Others didn’t like the Nazis, but felt they were the government God put over them and they should obey it. Neighbors were divided. Churches were divided. A person’s greatest enemies weren’t the Nazi occupiers, but their former friends, neighbors, and even fellow Christians who might turn them in. Thanks to the geography of the Netherlands, those on the run, whether Jews or Resistance members, had very few places to hide.

My great-grandparents were some of those that resisted. They were forced to flee their home to live in a different part of the Netherlands because of it. At the end of the war, the dyke protecting their home was bombed, and they lost everything they’d been forced to leave behind in the resulting flood. Because they chose to resist, they lost all their worldly possessions.

 Flooded Wieringermeer Polder where my great-grandparents lived.

If you’re interested in learning more about this time in history, Corrie ten Boom’s book The Hiding Place tells the story of her family. Another book that I highly recommend is Liz Tolsma’s Snow on the Tulips. While fiction, the book is based on a true story and very historically accurate. I’m also partial to it because it is set in Friesland, the province in the Netherlands where my great-grandparents spent part of the war.

Have you researched World War II? What do you find fascinating about it?

The U.S. Navy & Corsairs

So why am I writing a post on history when this is a writing-centered blog?

I happen to love history. History is, after all, God’s Story. It is the biggest, most elaborate, craziest Story that has ever been written.

Take, for example, the founding of the U.S. Navy. Did you know our Navy was founded because of…pirates?


In the Revolutionary War, George Washington wanted the Continentals to found a navy to combat Britain’s navy. With the exception of John Paul Jones and a few others, this initial navy was a dismal failure.

After a few years once the U.S. Constitution was written and George Washington became the first president, the United States’ survival was still uncertain. Without the protection of the British navy, the ships and shorelines of the new country were vulnerable.

Cue the Barbary Corsairs.

The Barbary Corsairs were a group of pirates that operated out of the North African states of Tripoli, Algiers, and Morocco. They preyed on European shipping, raiding their ships and taking their crews captive to sell as slaves in Africa. The big powers, like France and Great Britain, paid massive amounts of money to these Barbary states to buy supposedly safe passage for their ships. When the United States had been a colony of Great Britain, their shipping had been protected by this tribute. As a separate country, the ships of the United States were now fair game for the corsairs.

So in 1794 President George Washington brought up the idea of starting a navy for the second time. Chaos ensued.

Finally, someone in Congress got the idea of a compromise. Congress approved the building of six ships as long as a treaty with the Barbary corsairs was also pursued. If a treaty was signed, then the work on the ships would stop. Late in 1794, a treaty with the corsairs was worked out where the United States would pay the corsairs a lot of money as tribute. The amount of tribute was so high it could have built sixty ships.

This treaty kind of worked for a while. The United States struggled to pay the tribute and even gave the corsairs a brand new ship as part of the payment (yes, let’s give the pirates a nice ship so they can attack us more). Work on the six ships the Congress had approved did eventually restart and they were finished in 1797 . The corsairs continued to raid U.S. merchant ships because they knew the U.S. couldn’t do anything about it.

By 1801 Mr. Anti-Navy himself, Thomas Jefferson, was President. Public outcry over the corsairs grew so bad that he declared the U.S. would no longer pay tribute. Tripoli promptly declared war, making them the first foreign power to declare war on the United States. Thomas Jefferson sent the U.S. Navy into its first, official war. While the Barbary War didn’t end the tribute, it did reduce it and give the sailors in the Navy valuable experience.

After the War of 1812 ended in 1814, James Madison decided to end the tribute to the Barbary corsairs once and for all. This time, the Navy had the confidence of surviving a war against Great Britain, the foremost naval power of the world at the time. It could handle a few pirates. By the time the U.S. Navy finished the second (brief) Barbary War, the Barbary States were paying the United States for damages. A few years later, Great Britain and France realized that if the upstart Navy of the United States could handle the Barbary corsairs, then their navies could too. They both attacked the Barbary States, ended their tribute, and basically ended the reign of the Barbary pirates for good.

From then on, the U.S. Navy has been a permanent part of the Federal Government. All because of a bunch of pirates. Crazy, huh?

What do you think? Would you have written a fictional world where a navy was founded because of pirates?