Here in the West we learn history that is centric to events that shaped our own civilization going back thousands of years to the ancient Greeks. We know about the battles of the American Revolution and the Civil War, Waterloo, The Somme, Midway and the Battle of the Bulge. We may go back even farther to battles in European history like the battles of Agincourt, Hastings, and perhaps even Bannockburn. or the numerous battles fought by the Romans and Greeks, like Cannae and Thermopylae.

That being said, there are some very important battles that are not well-known to us, that shaped the history and cultures of other civilizations.

Here are some of the battles that not many know about but were definitely important.

The Battle of Yangxia That Ended 2,000 years of Dynastic Rule in China

The recurring food shortages and the increasing number of foreigners allowed to establish markets within China resulted in the steady decline of the Qing dynasty ruling in 1911. When they decided to nationalize China’s railroads and pass over the control to foreign banks, the revolutionaries, led by Sun Yat-sen, started the 1911 Revolution. Their goal was to overthrow the Qing dynasty and establish a Chinese republic finally. Although the Sun Yat-sen’s forces were poorly armed and trained compared to the military forces, they managed to capture the cities of Hanyang and Hankou, which inspired the others to join them.

At that time, the Qing dynasty’s emperor was just a child, the six-year-old Puyi. They had no choice but to ask General Yuan Shikai for help. Yuan was forced into retirement before when he formed the Western-style and powerful armed force called the Beiyang Army, and the Qing officials got concerned about Yuan’s growing power. However, this time, the Beiyang Army was Qing’s only hope of fighting off the rebels. And so they put Yuan in command and ordered him to retake the captured cities.

What ensued was the Battle of Yangxia, which lasted for 41 days. Yuan’s forces managed to retake Hanyang and Hankou, but the revolutionaries inspired more people in the provinces to declare independence from the dynasty. Yuan realized that the revolution was far from over, and he also did not want his role in the Qing to end, so he agreed to a ceasefire and entered negotiations.

The result of the peace talk was that he allowed Sun Yat-sen and his men to establish the Republic of China instead of asserting the dynasty to rule as long as he would be its president. In turn, the young Puyi was forced to abandon the throne, which ended dynastic rule in China after 2,000 years.

The Battle of Tsushima That Made Japan a Major Naval Power

We know very well about the Pearl Harbor Attack of the Japanese forces and how that brought the United States into World War II, but this would not be possible had the Battle of Tsushima not happened some 36 years before the attack.

In 1858, the instability of the Taiping Rebellion enabled Russia to take over a large portion of China in the northern part of the Amur River. This allowed them into the Pacific area, which then threatened the nearby countries of Korea and Japan.

The capture of the Russian prizes near Takeshima (Liancourt Rocks). (Uncredited Japanese artist, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

In Japan, all the while, Emperor Mutsuhito, who was established as Emperor Meiji in 1867, eliminated the long history of Japan’s feudalism and instead embraced a series of Western-style reforms that included a new education system and modernized military. All of these resulted in the country becoming a regional power with its own territorial ambitions against Korea and China. By the end of the 19th century, Russia and Japan were two giant forces set on a collision course.

In 1904, the Russo-Japanese war began with Japan launching a surprise attack on the Russian Port Arthur. Tsar Nicholas II responded by sending his trusted Baltic Fleet, confident that they could crush the Japanese forces. The fleet sailed halfway around the world toward the strait of Tsushima but unknown to them, the fleet of Admiral Togo Heihachiro was already there and waiting for their arrival. The encounter resulted in the destruction or capture of some 45 Russian ships, which sent a message to the world that Japan’s military forces were something to watch out for.

The Second Battle of Marne That Was the Beginning of the End of WWI

In 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution overthrew the Tsar and ended Russia’s participation in WWI. This gave German commander Erich Ludendorff the chance to pour all his forces onto the Western Front and plot an assault on Paris after their first failed attempt in 1914 when the French forces stopped them from advancing at the First Battle of Marne.

Ludendorff decided that the best path of invasion would be through the Flanders region if they wanted to capture the Marne River since America had just entered the war at that time. He knew the American forces could stop them.

The Second Battle of the Marne. (John Warwick Brooke, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

On the other hand, the arrival of the American Expeditionary Force amped up the Allied forces with 250,000 more men who joined the French command since they were new and inexperienced in the war at that time. French Commander Philippe Petain, aware of the incoming German attack, ordered the building of a series of decoy trenches.

In 1918, Ludendorff’s forces bit the dust and pounced on the fake trenches, only to find out that the Allied lines were, in fact, miles ahead of the position. The Germans had to attack the Allied lines, but of course, they were showered with artillery fire. They attempted to attack the Allied lines, but in the end, they surrendered after a few months.

The Second Battle of Marne not only marked the end of World War I but also gave the American forces a chance to show the world that they could compete against the strongest military powers.