In one of World War II’s biggest oops moments, a German pilot mistook Britain for France in 1942, and landed in a British airfield. That gifted the Royal Air Force with Germany’s then-most-advanced fighter, to examine its strengths and weaknesses at leisure. Following are thirty six things about that and other oops moments from history.
36. The German Fighter That Caught the British Off Guard
When the Luftwaffe’s Focke-Wulf Fw 190 first made its operational debut in France in August, 1941, it came as an unpleasant surprise to the RAF. Except for turn radius, the new German fighter was superior in just about every way to the RAF’s main frontline fighter at the time, the Spitfire Mk. V. Especially when dogfighting at low and medium altitudes.
The Fw 190 seized aerial superiority from the RAF for nearly a year, until the introduction of the vastly improved Spitfire Mk. IX in July, 1942, restored parity. In the meantime, the British were desperate to get their hands on an Fw 190 to examine what made it tick, and figure out how to best counter it. Aware of that, the Luftwaffe prohibited its Fw 190 pilots from flying over Britain, lest one get shot down and give the British the opportunity to inspect the wreckage. Then one of the biggest oops moments by a WWII pilot delivered an Fw 190 in pristine condition straight into the RAF’s hands.
35. Armin Faber’s Colossal Oops
The odds of an enemy gifting you with one of his most advanced weapons are pretty slim. Yet that is precisely what Oberleutnant Armin Faber did in the summer of 1942, when he landed his Fw 190A-3 at an RAF airfield in Britain, mistaking it for a German airfield in France. Adding to his embarrassment, Faber had only recently delivered written orders from Luftwaffe chief Herman Goering, prohibiting Fw 190 pilots from crossing the English Channel.
Faber’s oops moment began on June 23rd, 1942. Assigned mainly to administrative paperwork duties, he asked for and got special permission to fly a combat mission with an Fw 190 squadron. The squadron was scrambled to intercept British bombers sent to attack Faber’s home base, Morlaix Aerodrome in Brittany. Escorting Spitfires got into a dogfight with the Fw 190s over the English Channel, and during that aerial melee, Faber got disoriented.
34. Oops – Wrong Way
Armin Faber and his fellow Germans got the better of the Spitfires, shooting down seven for the loss of only two Fw 190s. During the fight, Faber a Spitfire got on Faber’s tail. To shake it off, he flew north, and ended up over Devon, in England. Eventually, Faber managed to turn on and shoot down the pursuing fighter. By then, he was close to the Bristol Channel, north of Devon and separating it from Wales.
Faber was thoroughly disoriented by his narrow escape from the Spitfire. He mistook the Bristol Channel separating Devon from Wales for the English Channel separating England from France. He also mistook north for south. Instead of flying south across the English Channel towards France, he flew north across the Bristol Channel to Wales. That was not even his biggest oops of the day.
33. Oops – Wrong Air Force
When Armin Faber crossed the Bristol Channel into Wales, he thought that he had crossed the English Channel and was back over France. He turned towards the nearest airfield, RAF Pembrey, and performed a victory roll to celebrate his aerial victory. Then he lowered his wheels and made a smooth landing in front of astonished British observers. Grabbing the only weapon at hand, a flare pistol, Pembrey’s duty pilot, a Flight Sergeant Jeffreys, jumped on the Fw 190’s wing as Faber taxied to a stop, and took the German pilot prisoner.
Realizing just how big an oops he had committed, a despondent Faber unsuccessfully tried to kill himself. He ended up in a POW camp in Canada. The RAF took full advantage of the airplane he had gifted them – the only Fw 190 fighter captured intact by the Allies during the war. It was flown by British pilots, and thoroughly evaluated to examine its strengths and weaknesses. The results gave the Allies valuable intelligence on how to best counter the airplane that had bedeviled them for so long.
32. The Music Industry’s Biggest Oops
On January 1st, 1962, Brian Epstein, the manager of an unheralded musical group, took his young talents to audition with Decca Records at their studios in West Hampstead, North London. After setting up, tuning and stringing their guitars, and clearing their throats, Epstein’s group performed about 15 songs before Dick Rowe, a senior Decca executive and the record label’s chief talent spotter. After the audition, Mr. Rowe decided to pass on signing the group, telling Epstein: “Guitar groups are on the way out”.
Epstein and his group left Decca’s studios, understandably dejected at starting the new year with a rejection. Not so Dick Rowe, who figured that his new year had started auspiciously. That same day, he had listened to another auditioning band and liked what he heard. So he signed Brian Poole and the Tremeloes to a deal with Decca Records. The band he passed on, however, would forever associate Dick Rowe and Decca Records with the music industry’s biggest oops.
31. You Took the Tremeloes Over Who?!
Signing Brian Poole and the Tremeloes was not a bad decision in of itself. The band had some success in the United Kingdom, and in 1963, they entered the UK charts with a cover of the Isley Brothers’ Twist and Shout. They followed it up with a UK chart-topping cover of the Contours’ Do You Love Me. A year later, they did a cover of Roy Orbison’s Candy Man that pleased the Brits, and a cover of the Crickets’ Someone, Someone, which made it to number 2 on the UK charts.
The bad decision was rejecting and declining to sign the other band that had auditioned the same day as the Tremoloes: The Silver Beatles, soon to shorten their name to The Beatles. Oops. The decision to pass on The Beatles in favor of Brian Rowe and the Tremoloes would make Dick Rowe and Decca Records synonymous with bad decisions and catastrophic commercial misjudgments.
30. Heroism Leads to Hilarious Death
Eleazar Avaran (died 162 BC) pulled off a heroic deed in battle, only for it end in a fatal oops moment. Eleazar was the younger brother of Judas Maccabeus, leader of the 167 – 160 BC Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. The revolt was caused by decrees from the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV, banning Jewish religious practices and ordering the worship of Zeus instead.
The father of Eleazar and Judas sparked a rebellion by killing a Hellenized Jew who sacrificed to Greek idols. He then fled into the wilderness with his five sons, and began a guerrilla campaign. After his death, his son Judah took over the revolt, and in 164 BC, he entered Jerusalem and restored Jewish worship at its temple – an event commemorated in the feast of Hanukah.
29. Marching Out to Meet the Seleucids
Eleazar Avaran’s end came at the Battle of Beth Zechariah in 162 BC. It took place two years after his older brother Judas Maccabeus had defeated Judea’s Seleucid overlords and entered Jerusalem. However, Jerusalem’s conquest was incomplete, as a Seleucid garrison retained control of a fortress inside the city, facing the Temple Mount.
Judas besieged that fortress, but a Seleucid army of 50,000 men, accompanied by 30 war elephants, marched to its relief. Judas lifted the siege and marched out at the head of 20,000 men to intercept the Seleucids.
28. A Heroic Battlefield Oops
Eschewing the guerrilla tactics that had won him victories and served him well so far, Judas Maccabeus formed his men to meet the Seleucids in formal battle. It was a mistake, as Judas’ forces proved no match for the Seleucid heavy infantry phalanx, professional cavalry, and armored war elephants. The latter were especially terrifying, and the Jewish defenders began to panic and break in fear of the pachyderms.
Eleazar Avaran sought to encourage his comrades by demonstrating the elephants’ vulnerability. So he charged at the biggest elephant he could find, got beneath it, and thrust his spear into its unarmored belly, killing the beast. He did not get to savor his success for long, however, because the dying elephant collapsed on top of Eleazar and crushed him to death. Oops. His comrades did not rush in to emulate him, and the courageous demonstration did not suffice to keep the Jewish army from breaking soon thereafter.
27. A Daring Demand
Napoleon dealt Prussia a heavy defeat at the twin Battles of Jena-Auerstedt in 1806. He then ordered a vigorous pursuit of the retreating Prussians and the rounding up of their garrisons. The once-proud Prussian army, less than two decades removed from its glory days under Frederick the Great, was thoroughly demoralized. It was against that backdrop that a French cavalry brigade under General Antoine Lasalle approached the Prussian port city of Stettin.
Lasalle had about 500 hussars under his command, and 2 light field guns. Stettin was a well fortified port city with a garrison of nearly 10,000 men, protected by 281 cannons. The city was well provisioned by the British Royal Navy, whose supply-laden ships sailed in and out of the port with no hindrance. Its commander, General Friedrich von Romberg, was a veteran with over 50 years’ experience. He had fought in the Seven Years War, under Frederick the Great. Undaunted, Lasalle sent a subordinate under a flag of truce on the afternoon of October 29th, 1806, to demand Stettin’s surrender, promising to treat its garrisons with all the honors of war.
26. A Prussian General’s Oops Moment
General von Romberg refused to surrender, vowing to defend Stettin to the last man. An hour later, Lasalle’s emissary returned, this time with a more ominous message: “If by 8AM you have not surrendered, the town will be bombarded by our artillery and stormed by 50,000 men. The garrison will be put to the sword, and the town will be plundered for 24 hours“. An alarmed von Romberg consulted with the town leaders, who urged capitulation. That night, the details of the surrender were negotiated and finalized. The following morning, the garrison marched out in perfect order, and filed past the French to throw their arms down at their feet in a steadily growing pile.
Von Romberg had his oops moment when he discovered just how tiny the French force he had surrendered to was. It was too late, however, and he had little choice but to stick to the negotiated agreement. Lasalle became a national hero, while von Romberg became a laughingstock. The Prussian general was court-martialed in 1809, convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment for surrendering without a fight. He died two months later.
25. The Russian Navy’s Oops Moment
In 1874, the Russian Navy commissioned the Novgorod, a monitor ship with a controversial design: it had a round hull. It did not take long for the Russians to go “oops”, as the Novgorod went on to gain a reputation as one of the worst ships in history. Compared to a floating soup dish for its clumsiness, the 2500 ton vessel had six steam engines that drove six propeller screws.
On the plus side, the ship was largely immune to ramming – a common naval warfare tactic of the day – because it featured a 9 inch armored belt. Its round shape also deflected strikes, and its vital components were well inside the hull. It sported a pair of 11 inch guns, which were powerful for the era. Its shape and flat bottom also gave the Novgorod a draft of only 12 feet, allowing it to operate close to the coastline in shallow waters. However, as seen below, the Novgorod’s advantages were outweighed by serious disadvantages.
24. Serious Defects
The Novgorod’s circular hull played havoc with the rudder’s ability to steer the ship or turn it around. In a storm, the ship was unsteerable, and even in calm weather, it took 45 minutes to make a full circle. Another oops caused by the design was the wide flat bottom. It made the vessel vulnerable in rough seas to pitching so severe that the propellers came out of the water. The blunt hull did not slice through water so as to reduce its resistance, but pushed large volumes of water out of the way by sheer brute force. That made the ship very fuel-inefficient, causing it to consume coal at a prodigious rate.
On top of the design defects, the Novgorod was plagued with many manufacturing defects as well. Low quality materials and poor workmanship led to persistent problems with the ship’s propulsion, from blades to shaft to drive, that lasted for the vessel’s entire career. Additionally, the Novgorod suffered from poor ventilation that no amount of troubleshooting could fix, even after installing ventilation cowls on the gun emplacements.
23. A Warship So Bad it Could Not Go to Sea
The Novgorod’s greatest oops had to do with its core function as a fighting platform. The ship’s two 11 inch guns had an exceptionally slow rate of fire, at 10 minutes per shot. The rotating mounts on which the guns were placed were also slow, taking 3 minutes to traverse 180 degrees. The problem was made worse by weak locks that caused the gun mounts to rotate on their own from the guns’ recoil. Worse, the guns’ firing caused the ship to rotate uncontrollably.
The flat bottomed vessel had no stabilizing keel to keep her in line and keep her guns pointed towards the target. The only solution was to moor the Novgorod in a fixed position. That transformed her from a ship to a floating fortress anchored in place, with her guns pointed seaward.
22. Oops – “A Dismal Failure”
The Novgorod and other round hulls were summarized thus by a naval historian: “they were a dismal failure. They were too slow to stem the current in the Dniepr, and proved very difficult to steer. In practice the discharge of even one gun caused them to turn out of control and even contra-rotating some of six propellers was unable to keep the ship on the correct heading.
Nor could they cope with the rough weather which is frequently encountered in the Black Sea. They were prone to rapid rolling and pitching in anything more than a flat calm, and could not aim or load their guns under such circumstances“.
21. Rome’s Richest and Greediest Man
Marcus Licinius Crassus (115 – 53 BC) was the Roman Republic’s richest man, and a giant of his era, whose life ended in an ignoble oops moment. As an ally of the dictator Sulla, Crassus started on the road to riches by buying the confiscated properties of executed enemies of the state in rigged auctions, for a fraction of their value. Crassus even had the names of those whose property he coveted added to the lists of those slated for execution and confiscation of property.
He continued to amass wealth and property after Sulla’s death, including a scheme involving a private firefighter company. Rome’s buildings were fire prone, so when one broke, Crassus would rush in and offer to buy the burning property then and there at a knockdown price – a literal fire sale. Soon as an agreement was reached, Crassus’ firefighters would spring into action to control the fire and rescue the property for its new owner.
20. A Rich Man’s Quest for Military Glory Sets the Stage for an Oops Moment
By the 70s BC, Crassus was Rome’s richest man. He leveraged his wealth into political power by sponsoring politicians such as Julius Caesar, whose political rise he financed. Eventually, Crassus entered into a power sharing agreement with Caesar and Pompey the Great. Known as “The First Triumvirate”, the agreement divided the Roman Republic between the trio.
However, the one thing Crassus wanted that his fellow Triumvirs had but he did not was military glory. Unlike Pompey’s and Caesar’s brilliant military records, Crassus’ only military accomplishment had been to crush Spartacus’ slave uprising, and that did not count for much in Roman eyes. As seen below, Crassus’ quest for military glory led him to an ignominious end and a final oops moment.
19. Moment of Truth Becomes an Oops Moment
To get himself some military glory, Crassus led an army of 50,000 to invade Parthia, a wealthy kingdom spanning today’s Iraq and Iran. He trusted a local chieftain to guide him, but the guide was in Parthian pay. He led Crassus along an arid route, until, hot and thirsty, the Romans reached Carrhae in today’s Turkey. There, Crasus had his oops moment when he and his army encountered a Parthian force of 9000 horse archers and 1000 armored cataphract heavy cavalry.
Although they outnumbered the Parthians 5:1, the Romans were demoralized by the rigors of the march and by Crassus’ uninspiring leadership. The mounted Parthian archers shot up Crassus’ men from a distance, retreating whenever the Romans advanced. As casualties mounted, morale plummeted. Crassus, unable to think of a plan, rested his hopes on the Parthians running out of arrows. The Parthians however had a supply train of thousands of camels loaded with arrows.
18. A Plutocrat’s Ignoble End
Finally, Crassus ordered his son to take the Roman cavalry and some infantry, and drive off the horse archers. The Parthians feigned retreat, Crassus’ son rashly pursued, and was slaughtered with all his men. The Parthians rode back to Roman army, and taunted Crassus with his son’s head mounted on a spear. Shaken, Crassus retreated to Carrhae, abandoning thousands of his wounded. The Parthians invited him to negotiate, offering to let his army go in exchange for Roman territorial concessions.
Crassus was reluctant, but his men threatened to mutiny if he did not go, so he went. Agreeing to meet the Parthians turned out to be Crassus’ ultimate oops moment. Things went bad, violence broke out at the meeting, and it ended with Crassus and his generals killed. Mocking his avarice, the Parthians poured molten gold down Crassus’ throat. The surviving Romans fled, but most were hunted down and killed or captured. Of Crassus’ 50,000 men, only 10,000 made it back to Roman territory.
17. The Spoiled Prince
William the Aetheling (1103 – 1120) was the heir and only legitimate son of King Henry I of England. He was also the Duke of Normandy in his own right. William was spoiled rotten, and according to a contemporary chronicler, he was pampered so much that it was clear he was “destined to be food for the fire“. That indulgence would have fatal consequences, when the young prince got himself killed in a silly accident.
In November, 1120, after a diplomatic visit to France, a fleet was assembled to transport King Henry and his court across the English Channel back to England. The 17-year-old prince William made plans to cross in a vessel known as the White Ship, the English navy’s proudest and fastest ship. William and his companions turned the affair into a wild party, and delayed the crossing while they got rip roaring drunk on shore with the ship’s crew. Then, in a state of high intoxication, the prince and his entourage, numbering about 300 people, boarded the White Ship to make a nighttime crossing. The spoiled prince was about to have a tragic oops moment.
16. Oops – Drunk Boat Race Turns Out to Be a Bad Idea
King Henry had already sailed hours earlier. The inebriated Prince William and his friends challenged the White Ship’s captain and crew to make a race of it, and catch and bypass the king’s ship before it reached England. Captain and crew were confident of the White Ship’s speed, and so accepted. Furiously rowing, fueled by copious amounts of wine while being cheered and urged by the drunk prince and his friends, the equally drunk crew set a good pace. However, in their plastered state, the crew failed to keep a good lookout. They mistakenly rowed into a hazardous stretch, where they struck a partially submerged rock. The White Ship was holed and quickly sank. Hundreds drowned, including the prince.
William was his royal father’s only legitimate male issue, and his early death led to a succession crisis. King Henry failed to sire another son, and so sought to designate his daughter, Matilda, as his heir. His barons reluctantly agreed. However, after Henry’s death in 1135, most of them backed the deceased king’s nephew, Stephen of Blois, when he claimed and seized the crown as the eldest male royal relative. The result was a civil war that tore England for decades.
15. France’s 1940 Oops Moment
France was traumatized by World War I, and by the massive devastation suffered by the parts of the country that had been fought over. So the French devised a plan to avoid a repetition: construct a powerful and well-nigh impregnable line of fortifications along the border with Germany. Designated the Maginot Line, the fortifications were intended to secure the Franco-German border to the south. In the meantime, the bulk of the mobile French army was stationed in the north.
If war broke out, the Maginot Line would hold the Germans in the south. While that was going on, the mobile French army in the north would advance into Belgium as soon as the Germans attacked, to fight as far forward and outside of France as possible. In one of history’s greatest oops moments, the French were about to discover that their plan was not nearly as good as they had imagined it to be.
14. The French Were Wrong Footed
The French had adequately fortified the south, and amassed enough mobile forces in the north to keep the Germans from bursting into France via that route. However, they ignored a stretch of wooded terrain in the center, the Ardennes Forrest. It was judged to be impassable for tanks, so it was not strongly defended. The Germans figured the Ardennes was actually passable, so they massed the bulk of their armor against that sector. The French high command had its oops moment when the Germans burst through the Ardennes, and raced to the English Channel to sever France’s armies in the north from the rest of the country.
The French were caught flat footed. Their mobile forces were advancing into Belgium, and couldn’t be turned around in time to stop the Germans pouring out of the Ardennes. They also lacked adequate reserves to send in and plug the widening gap. Collapse quickly followed. The same country that two decades earlier had fought the Germans for four bloody years and emerged victorious in WWI, capitulated and signed a humiliating surrender after just 40 days’ fighting in WWII.
13. The Ginormous German Tank
The Panzer VIII Maus was the heaviest tank ever built. It measured about 33 feet long, 12 feet wide, 12 feet high, and weighed almost 200 tons. Its secondary armament was a 75mm coaxial gun instead of a machine gun.
Its main gun was a 128mm monster capable of destroying any Allied tank at ranges of up to 2.2 miles. Even that was not enough for Hitler, who thought that the 128mm looked like a toy gun on the Maus. So he ordered the gun increased to 150mm.
12. Oops – Too Big
The Panzer VIII Maus’ huge size and heavy weight came at a correspondingly heavy price that made it nearly useless. The Germans had their first oops moment with the Maus when they realized that it was too heavy for most bridges. So the giant tank had to resort to crossing rivers either by wading through fords where available, or driving over the river’s bottom while using a snorkel for ventilation.
Additionally, simply getting the Maus moving was a problem. It was difficult to develop an engine and drive train that were powerful enough to propel 200 tons of metal on the ground at any appreciable speed, yet small enough to fit inside the tank. In the end, the maximum speed achieved during trials was a measly 8 miles per hour on a hard surface.
11. Oops – Forgot About Aerial Threats
The Panzer VIII Maus was intended to spearhead German attacks by smashing through any opposition and destroying all enemy armor it came across. In the meantime, it would be impervious to damage from any enemy tanks that got it in their gun sights. With 9.4 inches of turret armor, 8 inches of hull front armor, 7 inches of hull side armor, and 6 inches of rear armor, the Maus was largely immune from Allied tanks, whose shells would simply bounce off the behemoth.
However, the Maus was built in 1944. By then, the Allies not only had aerial superiority on both the Western and Eastern front, but well nigh complete aerial supremacy over the battlefield. It soon became clear that the Maus did not have sufficient armor up top to protect it from armor piercing bombs or rockets dropped or fired from above.
10. The Fuhrer’s Bigness Fixation Serves His Foes
Ultimately, the Maus was symptomatic of Hitler’s irrational obsession with big things and super weapons. The Fuhrer was indifferent to, or unable to understand, the concept of relative cost effectiveness.
Hitler was seemingly incapable of processing that it might be best to leave the super weapons alone, and focus on other “normal” weapons that could accomplish the same task at a fraction of the cost. Fortunately for mankind, Hitler’s obsession with big things and super weapons tied up scarce resources, that could otherwise have been more efficiently used to serve the German war effort and the Third Reich’s evil ends.
9. Monkey Business Dooms a King
King Alexander of Greece’s greatest oops moment led to his death at the hands (and teeth) of a monkey. Not Alexander the Great, mind, but a more recent King Alexander (1893 – 1920). Less imposing than the ancient’ world’s great conqueror, this Alexander, who reigned from 1917 until killed by a monkey three years later, is better known for the undignified manner of his death than for anything he did in life.
Alexander ascended the throne during WWI, in 1917, after the Entente forced his father to abdicate because he was too pro-German. Once Alexander ascended the throne in his father’s place, the pro Entente Eleutherios Venizelos became Greek premier. He dominated the young king and his government, and got Greece to join the war on the Entente’s side.
8. Grand Ambitions
After the war, Premier Venizelos and his puppet king were committed to a political platform called Great Greece. It consisted of capturing from the defeated Ottoman Empire, now reduced to modern Turkey, all the lands that had once been inhabited by Greeks, dating back millennia. So in 1919, with tacit French and British support, Greek armies were sent to invade Turkey and seize the Ionian coast.
The king never got to see the end of that adventure, however, because his own undignified end intervened. It began with a visit to the Royal Gardens on September 30th, 1920 – a turning point in Greek history. While walking his dog through the Gardens that day, king and pooch came across somebody’s pet Barbary macaque monkey. The dog attacked the monkey, which fought back. Alexander rushed in to separate the brawling animals. Unbeknownst to the king, however, the monkey had friends. King Alexander was about to have a great oops moment, and rue his decision to jump into the fight.
7. Oops – Should Not Have Stepped Between Fighting Monkeys and Dogs
As Alexander struggled to restore the peace between his dog and a monkey, another monkey rushed in to defend his pal. Seeing what appeared to be the king and a dog ganging up on his buddy, the newly arrived monkey joined the fray, and fell upon Alexander, biting him in the leg and upper torso several times. Oops. The king’s entourage came to his aid upon hearing the commotion, and chased away the monkeys. By then, however, the damage had already been done.
The monkey bites became inflamed, and the king developed a serious infection. Alexander’s leg should have been amputated, but none of the doctors wanted to take responsibility. So it was left until it was too late. By the time amputation was finally considered as a serious option, the infection had spread into the Greek monarch’s body. King Alexander died of sepsis three weeks after the monkey brawl, at age 27.
6. A Monkey Bite With Far-Reaching Consequences.
Far reaching consequences flowed from those monkey bites. Alexander’s death resulted in the restoration of his deposed father. The new old king was not as friendly to the military – who had supported his deposition – as his son had been. Drastic cuts in military spending, and serious reorganizations, followed his return to the throne. The pro Entente premier Venizelos was also ousted.
The changes in the political environment led the British and French to question Greece’s commitment to the campaign in Turkey. As a result, they made their own peace deals with the resurgent Turks. Between that and the military turmoil, the Greek invasion of Turkey ended in disaster and defeat. All because King Alexander and his dog messed with the wrong monkey.
5. The French Army’s Indochina War Oops
It did not take long for the French army to follow its WWII oops moment with another oops in the First Indochina War (1946 – 1954). As that conflict wore on, France’s grip on her Southeast Asian colonies was loosened by the increasingly assertive Viet Minh nationalist forces. The French had a massive advantage in firepower. However, they were unable to bring the lightly armed Viet Minh to offer the type of stand-up pitched battle in which superior firepower could prove decisive.
At wit’s end, the French hatched a plan to entice the guerrillas into massing for a pitched battle by offering them an irresistible lure. That lure would be French paratroopers airdropped into an isolated base, Dien Bien Phu. The Viet Minh, unable to resist the opportunity to destroy the isolated French, would flock to the area. The garrison, kept supplied by air, would resist, and draw in more and more Viet Minh into a battle of attrition in which they would be wrecked by superior French firepower. At least that was how the French thought it would go.
4. Things to Go From Bad to Worse for the French in Dien Bien Phu
French paratroopers were dropped into Dien Bien Phu, whose main feature was an airstrip in a valley encircled by hills. It was the start of a catastrophic oops moment. Things quickly turned sour, as many French assumptions were proven mistaken.
The French had assumed the guerrillas lacked anti-aircraft capabilities. However, the surrounding hills were soon studded by flak guns, forming a deadly gauntlet through which aircraft had to fly when taking off or landing from the airstrip. So many planes were shot down that the French were soon forced to rely on airdrops for supply, many of which missed their targets and landed within enemy lines, instead.
3. And From Worse to Catastrophic
French planners had also assumed that the Viet Minh would have no artillery. Their commander, General Vo Nguyen Giap, organized tens of thousands of porters into a supply line that hauled disassembled howitzers over rough terrain to the hills overlooking the French. There, the Viet Min ingenuously dug in their guns to render them immune from counter-battery fire, and kept them adequately supplied with shells.
The besieged French were bombarded nonstop, and began to run low and supplies and munitions. Relentless attacks reduced fortified positions one after another, and the defensive perimeter shrank steadily. Within two months, the French were forced to surrender. After losing 4000 dead and missing, and nearly 7000 wounded, the survivors, numbering nearly 12,000, were herded into Viet Minh captivity.
2. Roman Emperor Bites More Than He Could Chew
Emperor Valerian (circa 195 – 264 AD) ruled the Roman Empire from 253 to 260. His reign came to a humiliating end in an oops moment after he attempted an invasion of the newly established Sassanid Persian Empire. The result was a crushing defeat, with Valerian taken prisoner. He endured an undignified captivity, which came to an end with an undignified death.
Born into a patrician family, Valerian was a military man who became consul under Emperor Severus Alexander (reigned 222 – 235 AD), and rose to command various armies. In 253, amidst a period of chaos that came to be known as the Crisis of the Third Century, Valerian was crowned emperor. Realizing that it was impractical for a single emperor to oversee the sprawling empire, he appointed his son to command the western half of the empire, while he headed east to deal with the newly arisen menace of Sassanid Persia.
1. Oops – Should Not Have Taken That Meeting
Valerian assembled an army of about 70,000 men and marched to resolve the Persian problem. In 260, he fought an army commanded by Persia’s King Shapur I in the Battle of Edessa, and was decisively defeated. The remnants of the Roman army were besieged, and Valerian tried to personally negotiate a way out with Shapur. The peace talks turned out to be a trap, however, and Valerian was seized by Shapur when he showed up. Oops.
Shapur made the captured Roman emperor his slave, and subjected him to all kinds of humiliations. The Persian king took particular delight in advertising his victory and demonstrating his might by using the former Roman emperor as a foot stool to mount his horse. Valerian’s death was as ignominious and undignified as his captivity. It came after he offended Shapur by offering a huge ransom in exchange for his release. As punishment, and to show his disdain for the offer, Shapur forced Valerian to drink molten gold. The Roman emperor’s humiliation continued even after death: Shapur ordered Valerian’s corpse flayed, and had his skin dyed and displayed at a temple.