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Battles- What would is the greatest retreat from battle?

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Initial post: Aug 28, 2011 9:03:51 PM PDT
Like Washington's retreat from New York- what would you say is the best retreat from battle?

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 6:06:15 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 29, 2011 7:56:55 AM PDT
B. A. Dilger says:
Captain Hubert Dilger, commanding the 1st Ohio Light Artillery battery, at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Facing Jackson's 25,000 Rebel's flanking attack, he saved the Union Army. Hooker's Union troops were almost routed by General Lee's and Stonewall Jackson's brilliant move. Captain Dilger stood with his battery, firing down the Orangeburg Turnpike at the Rebels until reduced to one cannon. The Union troops had time to form a new defensive line. Jackson was later shot and died by his own pickets while scouting the line.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 29, 2011 7:03:31 AM PDT
Laker Fan says:
Dunkirk. Or Chosin Reservoir.

Those are the only two I am familiar with. I look forward to learning much more from other posts.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 29, 2011 7:11:23 AM PDT
JR Fleming says:
Chosin is good. The US 15th Infantry at Chickamauga? They helped hold the Confederate army while Union froces retreated (retreated is being generous).

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 7:23:54 AM PDT
John76 says:
Chosin Reservoir-despite being surrounded, outnumbered 3-1, subzero weather conditions,and needing a bridge air-dropped to get over a mountain pass, the 1st Marine Division escaped with all their dead and wounded, more equipment than they started with (they picked up all the stuff the Army left behind), and inflicted massive casualties on their enemy.

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 7:34:55 AM PDT
While the attack south from the Chosin Reservoir along the MSR from Yudam-Ni to thru Toktong Pass to Hagaru, Koto-Ri and on to Hungnam cannot technically be termed a retreat although it is usually called one by most people except Marines. As a former Marine, Viet Nam, I subscribe to General O P Smith's alleged epitaph "Retreat Hell, we are just attacking in another direction". General Smith would have never used the word hell as he was never known to curse under any circumstances including Peleliu and Okinawa. Journalists borrowed the Retreat Hell bit from a Marine officer of the Fifth Marines who did in fact utter the words "Retreat Hell, we just got here" before the battle of Belleau Wood. General Smith made his pronouncement based on the fact that the First MarDiv was surrounded by upwards of 300,000 Chinese troops of the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army). The division successfully fought its way to the sea bringing out all its wounded, most of its dead and all of its equipment all the while destroying the Chinese Ninth Field Army that suffered tens of thousands of casualties and was unable to fight as an effective force for the most part of the next year. If you can call that a retreat with a straight face then it was certainly the greatest retreat in modern history. Marines have always referred to it as a victory of over 7 to 1 odds. In the ancient world this campaign can be compared to Xenophon's Anabasis during which he extricated 10,000 Greeks from an overwhelming Persian Army and regained their homeland after a campaign that extended into years.

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 8:10:08 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 29, 2011 8:13:20 AM PDT
B. A. Dilger says:
At Chancellorsville, one man and his cannon crew made a difference. By standing on the only road to the Union lines, Captain Dilger (a cousin) slowed Jackson's Calvary enough to gain time for an effective defense. It took a couple of decades but he did win the Medal of Honor. Probably one of the greatest rear-guard actions in US military history.

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 10:29:17 AM PDT
Retreat, or rear guard. The action at Chancellorsville would most accurately be called a rear guard action The artillery did no retreating until the last of their guns was put out of action, if then.

For a retreat, I would say Chosin, it has been rare for a modern, mechanized army to succesfuly retreat when completely surrounded and mostly cut off from resupply.

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 12:11:37 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 29, 2011 12:14:12 PM PDT
freedom4all says:
"Kelly's Heroes" the movie of 1970
Sgt. Oddball: 'my tank has been modified to go faster in reverse'

The most brilliant retreat would be the one that avoided all battle

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 12:49:42 PM PDT
IGS says:
Curiously, I would submit the German retreat back to Germany after July '43. Ultimately a failure, it inflicted more damage on the victor than any retreat in history. Red Army sustained over 20 million casualties inflicted, some 5:1 ratio. A catastrophic loss to be sure, but staggering resistance provided by and under-supplied, outnumbered, and over-matched opponent. The price that they made the Soviets pay is unequaled in world history. Also, Kesselring's defense of the Italian peninsula. Maybe I answered the wrong question.

Perhaps, the German retreat and counter-attack after Stalingrad is worth consideration as "single" battle. Rather shocking that the Army held together at all, let alone the blistering counterattack at Kharkov. a real gem by Manstein.

How can you not like the Chosin debacle.

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 1:10:32 PM PDT
briefcandle says:
Battle of the Marne 1914
Savaged in the battle of the frontiers 5 french armies and the BEF retreat 100kms , the left flank hanging in the air. Defensive battles at Charleroi, St Quentin, Mons and Le Cateau kept the allied left together, retreating with nothing but bootleather and insomnia as their resources.
And then the german I and II armies turn their wide flanking enterprise inwards to move toward the east of paris to envelop the left of the french line, believing the BEF had retreated on the ports. But no, the french had raised a sixth army of reservists and territorials in paris and counterattacked the german flank, taxis of the marne and all, and brought undone the german offensive , the schlieffen plan, and despite every indication managed to retrieve the campaign, and ofcourse the war.

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 1:28:52 PM PDT
Pat Answer says:
You have all beat me to the good ones!

If retreat means "extrication of an endangered army" I go with Xenophon(!), Washington after Long Island, and Dunkirk.
If retreat means "reculer pour mieux sauter" [counter-attack] I say Turenne's 1674-5 Turckheim campaign, Manstein after Stalingrad, and the Marne (though that one seems more fortuitous than the others).

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 3:10:02 PM PDT
IGS says:
Perhaps an interesting take, is those retreats that did not happen but made for stunning stands against incredible odds and slim or no chance of survival. Thermopylae and the stand of the 300 and their many allies (the Thebans in particular). The stand of Bromhead at Rourke's Drift. And my favorite of all, which may be more legend than truth ... the unnamed Viking at Stamford Bridge ... in California (and Mexico) we have an expression cojones. Maybe it's just a story ... but a good one.

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 8:31:54 PM PDT
Please relate story of unnamed Viking at Stamford Bridge-

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 9:20:01 PM PDT
Blackbeard says:
Got it in one...retreat of the Russian army in the War of 1812...not only did it save Russia from Napoleon , some 150 years later it saved Russia from the German's in WW II . Hitler was determined to avoid Napoleon's fate by destroying the Red Army rather then try to occupy the Russian capital . Most historians will argue that the correct strategy for the Germans at that time , due to the centralist nature of the Soviet Union , was the opposite , with the capital taken the army would fall to pieces , the commanders could/would not act without authorization from Moscow , that would won the war for the Germans !

Posted on Aug 29, 2011 11:53:24 PM PDT
I. Dunn says:
The most famous retreat in history is of course the march of Xenephon and the 10,000 greek mercenaries after the battle of Cunaxa in 401BC.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 30, 2011 2:57:56 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 22, 2012 7:00:19 AM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 30, 2011 4:41:46 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 30, 2011 4:45:57 AM PDT
Smallchief says:
Let's see.

(1) The German retreat from the Russians in WW II. They held out for more than two years despite being pummeled on all sides.

(2) The German retreat from the allies in Italy. ditto.

(3) The retreat (to the extent that you can retreat on an island) of the Japanese on Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

I may appear to be an admirer of WW II Japan and Germany -- but I'm not. However, their military performance in the face of overwhelming odds is pretty impressive.

I agree that the retreat from Chosin reservoir in the Korean War was one of the greatest. Like Dunkirk a defeat was turned into an inspiration.

On a small scale the retreat of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce seems comparable to me to Xenophon and his 10,000.

Oops, I see that I repeated mostly what Surfin already said. Well, genius loves company....

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 30, 2011 4:51:04 AM PDT
John76 says:
Chosin was Korea. Nice call though on the Nez Perce.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 30, 2011 8:31:15 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 30, 2011 3:08:42 PM PDT
IGS says:

"Please relate story of unnamed Viking at Stamford Bridge- "

I will try to keep it brief, but it is such a great story ...


A Viking army is being pushed back across Stamford bridge in disarray, the Saxon's pushing forward in victory while the Vikings were futilely attempting to reform on the opposite side. It was obvious they would not have time. Out of the chaos a hulking warrior pushes his way through his desperately fleeing countrymen. He is a large Viking, covered from shoulders to knees in chain mail, a metal helmet with nose guard on his head, and in his hands a long Danish style battle axe. He steps out toward the middle of the bridge. The bridge's width is enough for perhaps three men to stand abreast. His countrymen safely behind him, and attempting to mobilize their shield wall defense, he bravely faces the oncoming stream of screaming Saxon warriors.

This is the famous Battle of Stamford Bridge, where King Harold Godwinson fought to protect England from the Norwegian King, Harald Hardrada and his invading Northmen. The English Saxon army had marched 180 miles in 4 days to face the Vikings who were completely unprepared for the attack. Due to the surprise, most of the Vikings must fight without mail ... most. The battle was exceedingly desperate.

The King of England's brother, Earl Tostig was fighting with the Vikings because he was angry his brother had exiled him from England. In order to restore himself he convinced Harald to invade England. Before the battle commenced, King Harold Godwinson of England asked his brother to surrender and he would be made Earl of Northumbria. The Earl asked his brother what the King of Norway would get for his trouble. King Godwinson replied, "Seven feet of English soil, because he is known to be taller than other men." Earl Tostig refused surrender at that point and the King of England attacked. This is an indication of what was at stake in these wars.

During the battle King Harald Hardrada of Norway was said to fight like a man possessed. He was cutting down Saxons left and right. During the height of the battle a Saxon arrow took him right in the throat, and the great warrior fell like a giant redwood. At that point panic seemed to grip the Vikings, they began to run back across the bridge while Earl Tostig tried to rally them. The Earl was then cut down and the Vikings made flight across the bridge. All seemed lost. They would not have time to form the shield wall on the other side.

One solitary viking stepped onto the bridge to buy time with his life. Both the Viking and the Anglo-Saxon chronicles tell the story of this nameless Viking. It was said he stood on the bridge as the Saxons came upon him and swung his battle axe felling many, and shrugging aside arrows and all attempts to dislodge him from his defensive position. Finally a Saxon soldier climbed into a big barrel and floated under the bridge with a long spear and stabbed the viking up through the wooden slats, so ending his singularly courageous stand. By this time the Anglo-Saxon chronicles state that the viking had killed at least 40 Saxon troops. He is a real Hector.

It did not save the Vikings in the end, but nonetheless it stands as a monument of the one against the many, a frozen moment of human valor.

He stands at the pinnacle of the warrior-hero archetype that mythical heroes are supposed to be. To stand against such odds bravely, in the hopes that his death would save his brothers-in-arms, and then go unnamed in history seems a shame. If you have ever been a combat soldier, this is at the core of why you did it.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 30, 2011 10:23:28 AM PDT
When it comes time to go to the wall, I would hope all of us would have that level of courage.

Posted on Aug 30, 2011 11:25:30 AM PDT
D. Halliday says:
Mao's long march

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 30, 2011 12:43:28 PM PDT
Pat Answer says:
D Halliday,

I admit to a bias. I so hate to give Chairman Mao credit for anything: it makes me feel better to note that he was fortunate Zhou Enlai was there. (That's how history is sometimes; Octavian needed Agrippa too...) Deng Xiaoping was also there and wasn't that impressed.

Having said that, it probably does make the list. When you factor in desertion, Washington also lost close to 90% of his army in retreat in 1776. And ultimately came back to win.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 30, 2011 12:47:51 PM PDT
Pat Answer says:

Good recount.
I had a professor who wrapped up the story of Stamford Bridge with the observation that, after the battle, "a messenger reached Harold Godwinson with the one piece of news he did not want to hear": the winds in the Channel had shifted and Normans were ashore...

[That prof was a funny guy: I'll also never forget that "At the time of the Crimean War, Russia had the best eighteenth-century army on the planet."]

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 30, 2011 1:48:35 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 30, 2011 1:49:47 PM PDT
The most famous retreat in history is of course Napoleon leaving Russia. Like Blackbeard, I think it qualifies as the greatest. This was the greatest army the world had ever known. Like Vietnam, they won the battles but had to leave the country. The retreat took months and some 300.000 French soilders died, mostly due to the weather.

Ain't that the pits.
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Discussion in:  History forum
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Total posts:  32
Initial post:  Aug 28, 2011
Latest post:  Sep 4, 2011

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