War strategists develop thorough plans to increase their chances of success in battle. However, no matter how detailed those plans are, some things still don’t go as expected. Sometimes these little things can ruin the whole strategy. In the history of warfare, it didn’t only happen once or twice, but multiple times. Here are three instances of plain old bad luck in war:
The Artillery Shell That Stopped the US from Taking Berlin
On April 11, 1945, the US 2nd Armored Division reached the Elbe River to take Berlin. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower ordered them to stop at the river as it was going to serve as the border between advancing U.S. troops from the West and Soviet troops from the East. The 2nd Armored wasn’t called “Hell On Wheels” for nothing and meeting only light resistance the division’s inventive and resourceful chief engineer fashioned a crude ferry for them using some steel cable so they could shuttle the soldiers and equipment back and forth across the Elbe. They would cross the Elbe and press on towards Berlin. Everything was going according to plan until they began moving the armor across the river. A German artillery shell landed and snapped the cable. The ferry was swept down the river, and the American soldiers were cut off on the east bank. What then followed was a desperate fight to get to the stranded American troops on the other side. It culminated in an engineer unit building a pontoon bridge under constant artillery fire for several days only to see it destroyed when they were just 25 feet short of reaching the opposite bank.
The Wind That Prevented the French From Invading England
In May 1545, the French assembled a large fleet to invade England located in a port especially built just for the invasion. Upon information about the upcoming invasion, King Henry and his Privy Council came to Portsmouth. The French had with them 150 warships, 25 war galleys, and over 30,000 troops ready to attack England. The French began their attack but were soon chased off by the English rowed barges, and little damage was done. The wind was calm initially, and the attack continued with the French using their galleys against the less maneuverable English ships. However, the wind picked up again late in the afternoon, which helped the English beat off the French galleys. Combined with the English’s preparedness due to frequent raids and invasions by the French, the war resulted in the attackers departing on 28th July because they did not have enough supplies or troops to successfully take the island.
Forgotten Cigars Ruined the Plan
This one was truly unfortunate due to negligence (or maybe forgetfulness).
Confederate General Robert E. Lee wrote their plan for the Antietam campaign near Frederick, Maryland. He detailed the routes and roads to be taken and the timing for the investment of Harpers Ferry. Adjutant Robert H. Chilton copied the plans, and staff officers distributed the copies to various Confederate generals. One of the general officers, Maj. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, in turn, copied the document for one of his subordinates, D. H. Hill. Hill decided that the best place to hide this confidential document was by wrapping it around his three cigars because how would someone forget his cigars, right?
Well, by noon, four days after the distribution of the Confederate plan, Corporal Barton W. Mitchell of the 27th Indiana Volunteers, part of the Union XII Corps, rested in a meadow outside of Frederick, Maryland. The meadow where the Confederates camped just a few days ago. He discovered a seemingly important document wrapped in three cigars lying on the grass. Looked like it was his lucky day. The plan was handed over to their Union commander George McClellan who, upon learning the Confederate’s plan, reportedly exclaimed, “Now I know what to do!”