Historical Debacles: 12 Humiliating Military Defeats from Ancient Times to the Modern Era

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French Defeat at Agincourt

The Battle of Agincourt (1415) during the Hundred Years War saw a French army of about 36,000 men, including thousands of armored knights suffer a humiliating defeat at the hands of a smaller English army of 6000 men, comprised of 5000 longbowmen and 1000 knights.

England’s king Henry V was marching through Normandy to Calais when his path was blocked by a French army that outnumbered his six to one. Henry picked a position where his flanks were protected by woods, and that limited French options to a frontal attack along a narrow front comprised of recently plowed muddy fields. He placed longbowmen on his flanks, his dismounted knights and more longbowmen in the center, had his men hammer pointed stakes in front of their positions, and waited for the French.

The French obliged, and their commander ordered his first wave of mounted knights to charge. However, the muddy fields, the weight of their heavy armor, the rows of sharpened stakes in their path, and the rain of arrows spelled trouble. The charge wallowed to a halt, and a throng of disorganized French milled about in front of the English positions. They were attacked, and within minutes, the entire first wave was killed or captured.

A second French wave attacked, but was beaten back. While this was going on, king Henry received mistaken reports that he was being attacked in the rear. Judging that he lacked the men to guard thousands of prisoners, Henry ordered the captives executed. By the time he learned the reports were mistaken and ordered a halt to the executions, about 2000 prisoners had been massacred.

The French sent in their third and final wave, but it was also repulsed. Henry then ordered his small contingent of knights to mount up and charge the French, who, thoroughly demoralized by now, were routed. Estimated losses were about 600 English killed vs 10,000 French dead on the field of battle, plus another 2000 executed prisoners.

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