The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World



  • I remember I had read Sir Edward Shepherd Creasy’s book, “The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: from Marathon to Waterloo” years ago.  The book was written in 1851 and contains his choice of the 15 most decisive battles in world history.  What I want to do is discuss his choices, if you agree with them or not.  Also, since 150 plus years have passed since he wrote his book, what five battles would you add to the list?

    Here is Creasy’s list:

    1. The Battle of Marathon, 490 BC
              * Excerpt: Two thousand three hundred and forty years ago, a council of Athenian Officers was summoned on the slope of one of the mountains that look over the plain of Marathon, on the eastern coast of Attica. The immediate subject of their meeting was to consider whether they should give battle to an enemy that lay encamped on the shore beneath them; but on the result of their deliberations depended, not merely the fate of two armies, but the whole future progress of human civilization.
      2. Defeat of the Athenians at Syracuse, 413 BC
              * Known as the Battle of Syracuse.
              * Excerpt: Few cities have undergone more memorable sieges during ancient and mediaeval times than has the city of Syracuse.
      3. The Battle of Gaugamela, 331 BC
              * Also called the Battle of Arbela.
              * Excerpt: … the ancient Persian empire, which once menaced all the nations of the earth with subjection, was irreparably crushed when Alexander had won his crowning victory at Arbela.
      4. The Battle of the Metaurus, 207 BC
              * Excerpt: That battle was the determining crisis of the contest, not merely between Rome and Carthage, but between the two great families of the world…
      5. Victory of Arminius over the Roman Legions under Varus, 9 AD
              * Known as the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest.
              * Excerpt: …that victory secured at once and forever the independence of the Teutonic race.
      6. The Battle of Chalons, 451
              * Also called the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields or the Battle of the Catalun.
              * Excerpt: The victory which the Roman general, Aëtius, with his Gothic allies, had then gained over the Huns, was the last victory of imperial Rome.
      7. The Battle of Tours, 732
              * Also called the Battle of Poitiers.
              * Excerpt: the great victory won by Charles Martel … gave a decisive check to the career of Arab conquest in Western Europe, rescued Christendom from Islam, [and] preserved the relics of ancient and the germs of modern civilization…
      8. The Battle of Hastings, 1066
              * Excerpt: …no one who appreciates the influence of England and her empire upon the destinies of the world will ever rank that victory as one of secondary importance.
      9. Joan of Arc’s Victory over the English at Orléans, 1429
              * Known as the Siege of Orléans.
              * Excerpt: …the struggle by which the unconscious heroine of France, in the beginning of the fifteenth century, rescued her country from becoming a second Ireland under the yoke of the triumphant English.
      10. Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 1588
              * Excerpt: The England of our own days is so strong, and the Spain of our own days is so feeble, that it is not easy, without some reflection and care, to comprehend the full extent of the peril which England then ran from the power and the ambition of Spain, or to appreciate the importance of that crisis in the history of the world.
      11. The Battle of Blenheim, 1704
              * Excerpt: Had it not been for Blenheim, all Europe might at this day suffer under the effect of French conquests resembling those of Alexander in extent and those of the Romans in durability.
      12. The Battle of Pultowa, 1709
              * Also called the Battle of Poltava.
              * Excerpt: The decisive triumph of Russia over Sweden at Pultowa was therefore all-important to the world, on account of what it overthrew as well as for what it established
      13. Victory of the Americans over Burgoyne at Saratoga, 1777
              * Known as the Battle of Saratoga.
              * Excerpt: The ancient Roman boasted, with reason, of the growth of Rome from humble beginnings to the greatest magnitude which the world had then ever witnessed. But the citizen of the United States is still more justly entitled to claim this praise.
      14. The Battle of Valmy, 1792
              * Excerpt: …the kings of Europe, after the lapse of eighteen centuries, trembled once more before a conquering military republic.
      15. The Battle of Waterloo, 1815
              * Excerpt: The exertions which the allied powers made at this crisis to grapple promptly with the French emperor have truly been termed gigantic, and never were Napoleon’s genius and activity more signally displayed than in the celerity and skill by which he brought forward all the military resources of France…



  • For going beyond 1851, I would have to add Metz & Sedan in 1870 to the list. The Prussian victory united Germany, making them the most powerful nation of Europe. I guess we all know the eventual consequences.

    Also, the Marne in 1914. The stop of the advancing German army that began the 4 year stalemate that eventually undid the German dominance of Europe.



  • @polywog:

    For going beyond 1851, I would have to add Metz & Sedan in 1870 to the list. The Prussian victory united Germany, making them the most powerful nation of Europe. I guess we all know the eventual consequences.

    Also, the Marne in 1914. The stop of the advancing German army that began the 4 year stalemate that eventually undid the German dominance of Europe.

    I definately agree with those choices, especially the Battle of Sedan.  The unification of Germany disrupted the balance of power in Europe.



  • Probably not belonging on the same list, but important nonetheless: the Japanese defeat of the Russians at Port Aurthur and again at Tushima in 1904-5. It not only began the political destabilization of the Russian empire but also showed the world that it didn’t take a European power to be beat a European power.


  • 2007 AAR League

    Stalingrad for sure turned the tide of WWII on the Eastern Front



  • I too would have to add the Marne.  But I would also throw Midway onto that list as the #2 naval battle behind the defeat of the Spanish Armada.



  • I can’t think of much to add to the original 15, but I suppose if you’re Canadian, you’re probably thankful that Benedict Arnold got stomped in his horribly bad invasion of Quebec at the start of the revolution.

    Can you say “Northern United States”?



  • Top Five:

    1. Stalingrad (changed the tide of the European land war)

    2. Midway (did the same for the Pacific)

    3. The Marne (already mentioned)

    4. The Somme (first battle with tanks)

    5. The 1980’s arms buildup (a Cold War battle which ended Russia dominance)



  • Oops… major one that was missed…

    Gettysburg.

    Change the entire nature of the United States.



  • A good one to add after 1851 is the Battle of Gettysburg.  It was the turning point of the American Civil War, in which the Union broke the back of the Confederacy, thus allowing this country to be a Union again.

    Edit: Damn you Switch!  You beat me to it!!  :lol:



  • @Nukchebi0:

    Top Five:

    1. Stalingrad (changed the tide of the European land war)

    2. Midway (did the same for the Pacific)

    3. The Marne (already mentioned)

    4. The Somme (first battle with tanks)

    5. The 1980’s arms buildup (a Cold War battle which ended Russia dominance)

    I would actually list the Somme as one of the most indecisive battles of the world. Though it was the first use of tanks, the few that made it to the battle without breaking down had no effect on the battle’s already pointless outcome. Cambrai on the other hand, was the first effective use of tanks expolited by infantry breakthrough.



  • The Battle of Talas. 751 AD.
    Battle between the Chinese Empire and Arab Caliphate. A time in history where China had expanded its control of central Asia more than any other time. Also the time when the early conquests of the great Arab Caliphate was growing. The defeat of the Chinese army there ultimately led to Islamic dominion of central Asia and the middle east which has remained the strong holds of the Islamic faith ever since. A loss to the Chinese at this battle may have likely left the Islamic faith no central core of lands to proposer in and its impact on our world very different today. Who knows what long term Chinese dominion of these lands may have meant. Could be the Mongol Empire would have had no place to expand into initially and have never formed.

    The Battle of Baghdad. 1258 AD
    While not a well matched set of forces, the fall of Baghdad and the Mongol sacking of the city and the subsequent destruction of the irrigation canals and other infrastructure shattered this land and set a land of open trade, free knowledge and understanding into its own dark age. Civilization in the middle east suffered a set back that to this day it has failed to recover from economically and culturally.

    Battle of Samarkand (not sure if that is its proper name). 1220 AD.
    Ghengis Khan and the Mongols capture and sack Samarkand. This was one of the most difficult challenges faced by the young Mongol Empire and conventional wisdom suggested it could not be won. It was the last serious road block preventing the Mongols from going into arguably the most influential empire in history.

    Battle of Bun’ei (1274) and  Battle of Kōan (1281)
    Two massive efforts by the Mongol Empire to try and conquer Japan. Both efforts met disaster when significant ship loses happened due to unusually strong typhons allowing the Japanese to resist and defeat otherwise much larger armies.

    Just to toss out a few non Euro centric battles that have greatly influenced the shape of world history.

    Ryan S. Johnson
    Guild of Blades Publishing Group
    http://www.guildofblades.com
    http://www.1483online.com
    http://www.thermopylae-online.com


  • 2007 AAR League

    the battle of kulikovo.

    prince dmitri donskoi defeated a mongol army.  paving the way for later russian independence.  also paving the way for russia to be able to look westward towards europe.



  • Those are all good choices for pre-1851.  How about post-1851?  Nukchebi0 had a pretty good list, lets hear what others have to say.  😉


  • 2007 AAR League

    Battle of Britain

    If it had not been won by Britain the Nazis may have been able to invade Britain leading to one can assume an extremely different end of WWII



  • Germany would have had a horrific time trying to invade Britain anyways. Their landing craft weren’t sufficient to convey the large amounts of supplies necessary to sustain an invasion.

    Polywog is right. The Somme was horrendously indecisive. I would change the Somme to Antietam, which destroyed any chance the Confederates had of winning the Civil War. Having a divided U.S. would have influenced world events greatly.


  • 2017 '16 '15 Organizer '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    post 1865 list:

    1.Stalingrad
    2.Marne ( first one)
    3. Dunkirk
    4.Midway
    5.Verdun
    6.Tannenburg
    7.Inchon



  • I forgot Tannenburg.That was pretty crucial to hastening the Russian defeat in WWI, and ushering in the revolution.


  • 2007 AAR League

    post 1851……

    how about the battle at porth arthor?  b/w the russians and the japanese.  it showed that an asian army/navy can match a western style combination.  that was crucial to geo-politics and also helped begin to pave the way for revolution in russia, the decembrists used the loss to catapult their attempted coup.  ever since then, the russian tsar was just trying to hold onto power.  poor nicholas.

    and mech, may i add, that true your list is important for us in the west… how about battles that are more centered on maybe africa and india, china and the middle east, not forgetting s. america.  there is a lot that happened there.  i’ll think of some here soon.



  • Did any of these areas actually affect the geo-politics of the world greatly. Essentially: Would the world have been radically different with an opposite outcome?

    (The second part, China, S. America ect.)


  • 2017 '16 '15 Organizer '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    post 1865 list:

    1.Stalingrad–- obvious conclusions. Nothing is bigger than this battle for deciding the wars conclusion.
    2.Marne ( first one)— failure to win would have been a quick german victory in 1914 and not have caused ww2
    3. Dunkirk— if the brits failed to leave intact Hitler would have immediatly invaded and captured England and ended the war.
    4.Midway— The japanese would have lost one way or another but it ended the string of victorys up until then.
    5.Verdun— this meat grinder was supposed to totally sap the french of soldiers to fight… but it also sapped the strength of the germans buying the allies enough time to bring in the americans.
    6.Tannenburg— total reversal of the eastern front leading to collapse of imperial russia and cold war and many other things
    7.Inchon— created the present day situation with N Korea



  • @Imperious:

    post 1865 list:

    1.Stalingrad–- obvious conclusions. Nothing is bigger than this battle for deciding the wars conclusion.
    2.Marne ( first one)— failure to win would have been a quick german victory in 1914 and not have caused ww2
    3. Dunkirk— if the brits failed to leave intact Hitler would have immediatly invaded and captured England and ended the war.
    4.Midway— The japanese would have lost one way or another but it ended the string of victorys up until then.
    5.Verdun— this meat grinder was supposed to totally sap the french of soldiers to fight… but it also sapped the strength of the germans buying the allies enough time to bring in the americans.
    6.Tannenburg— total reversal of the eastern front leading to collapse of imperial russia and cold war and many other things
    7.Inchon— created the present day situation with N Korea

    Sedan in May 1940 - more important for the lack of any major fighting since the German crossing of the Meusse river nearly unopposed by large numbers of German tanks sealed the fate of the French army.



  • I was also going to note that the battles are very Euro-centric and pretty biased.  Look at what the guy has to say about Persians in just a few lines.

    I’ve got a book that highlights quite a few battles, all the way up to former Yugoslavia.

    The battles which stand out to me (I don’t know them all, even after cursory checking on the ones I’m not familiar with): Tours, Hastings, Spanish Armada, Saratoga, Valmy, and Waterloo.  Tours, Hastings, Armada, & Waterloo were all about stopping/reversing the flow of power; Valmy and Saratoga were integral in the US and French Revolutions and showed the power of a volunteer army.

    I would also include the suggestions of Metz/Sedan in uniting Germany, the First Marne for stalling a German victory, Tsushima for showing that war doesn’t mean the biggest gun (or boat) and rising power in Japan, Stalingrad (imagine if Hitler went for Moscow instead?), Midway, the entire Mongol Conquest (Japanese exception), Battle of Britain (ushered in Air Superiority for the Allies - which was an enormous strength).

    My suggestions are:

    Battle of Sekigahara - unified Japan and established the Tokugawa shogunate which ruled Japan for hundreds of years.  Its isolationist policies, which led to Western pressure, eventually gave way to the Meiji Restoration.  That, in turn, went on to form the power of Japan seen in some of the other battles listed here.

    Battle of Chi Bi - Besides being a pivotal battle in post-Han China (Three Kingdoms Period), it is said to be one of the most lethal, and involved naval and land forces.  The allied efforts of the Shu and Wu forces somehow overcame the far more numerous Wei forces, and allowed them to set up their own domains (Wei was far more dominant).  I also just found out that it’s being made into a movie by John Woo starring Chow Yun Fat.

    D Day - the sheer size of this naval invasion is impressive, not to mention the organization, collaboration with French Resistance, and the fact that it totally caught the Germans off guard.  It was inevitable, but I think it succeeded quite well.

    Pearl Harbor - Reinforced the importance of carriers, sneak attacks, and air power.  We were pretty lucky not to have our own carriers caught in the fight - if we did, the Pacific war would have dragged on a lot longer.

    Yorktown - Got the Brits to finally admit US sovereignty (uh oh, there goes the neighborhood).

    Okinawa - not only one of the most fierce and bloody battles in the Pacific War, I believe that it had a major influence on the use of atomic bombs.



  • As one poster pointed out, the original list of 15 decisive battles was decidedly Eurocentric.  (Although by no means the fault of the composer of the original post, who pulled the list from a book.)

    I would like to also point out that battles do not necessarily involve guns.

    I think the post should better be titled “Fifteen decisive armed conflicts”.

    Otherwise, I have some Super Bowls I could cite . . .



  • Oh yeah, I meant to come back to this thread.  Thanks for reviving it NPB.

    I was going to ask those that listed Pusan about their reasoning in that choice.  I read some on the Korea War recently, and I’d have to list the landing at Inchon as being more pivotal than Pusan (for both good and bad reasons).

    Unless you are talking about the Japanese Invasion of Korea in the 1500’s. Then I don’t know.


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