History's Great Military Blunders and the Lessons They Teach

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Human Error on the Battlefield As a long-retired infantryman, I finished each of the 24 lectures with the same thought, “Glad I missed that one ⸺meaning the battle, not the lecture.” Professor Aldrete does a fine job of explaining the circumstances preceding each of these disasters and, with the help of good maps, the tactical movements of the contending forces. My wife and I particularly enjoyed the lectures about battlegrounds that we had seen for ourselves in 2002 and 2014, respectively: Lecture 20 (Gallipoli: Churchill Dooms Allied Assault, 1915), and Lecture 11 (Cullodin: The Bonnie Prince Blunders, 1746). I was particularly impressed by Aldrete’s choice of a painting to illustrate Lecture 13 (Afghanistan: Khyber Pass Death Trap, 1842): Remnants of an Army (1879) by Elizabeth Southerden Thompson, Lady Butler (1846-1933), depicting the wounded William Brydon (1811-1873), assistant surgeon in the Bengal Army, arriving at the gates of Jalalabad in January 1842. He was the only member of an army of 4,500 men to reach safety at the end of the long retreat from Kabul. This striking painting is owned by the Tate Britain, London. Of the twenty-four military catastrophes described by the good professor, nine are blunders by British forces: Khyber Pass in 1842, Crimea in 1854, Isandlwana in 1879, Colenso in 1899, Gallipoli in 1915, the sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse in 1941, the loss of Convoy PQ17 in 1942, Dieppe in 1942 and Market Garden in 1944. Come the 4th of July, I resolve to be more considerate of my English friends’ feelings by playing Johnny Horton’s “The Battle of New Orleans” (1959) with some restraint regarding repetitions. Altogether, this course serves up an excellent selection of military mishaps. HWF & ISF, Mesa, AZ.
Date published: 2021-02-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good - but expected a bit more Prof. Aldrete is an excellent speaker. I LOVED his course on The Decisive Battles of World History, which is still one of my all time favorites. But, I have to admit - this lecture series was a bit of a disappointment. While interesting - the majority of most lectures didn't really seem to focus on the specific battle, strategy, tactics, etc. and there seemed to be a lot of extraneous information as prologue. If you like military history, I would still certainly recommend. It just wasn't the best.
Date published: 2021-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course, but I have some suggestions for TGC This is an excellent course. The material is interesting and the professor presents it very well. I have no complaints in that regard. However, as someone who has purchased over 70 courses from TGC, I do have two suggestions about the production of the course, just in case anyone at TGC reads these comments. First, this course could easily have been in audio form. From time to time there were some interesting graphics, but almost nothing would have been lost if you couldn’t see those. Years ago I took another course from Professor Aldrete on decisive battles. it was in audio form, and it was just fine. The reason I make a point of this is that the best time for me to listen to one of your courses is when I am driving, going for a walk, or riding my bike. Because of that, courses that are available only in video are a lot less appealing to me. Right now I have 5 video courses stacked up in my digital library, 3 of them for over a year. That is mostly because I don’t much want to sit at my computer to watch them, as interesting as they seem to be. My second, and related, suggestion is that I think the video aspects of this course could use some work. For example, at one point the professor was talking about the colorful armour of the samuri. How about a picture? He talked about the weapons Japenese soldiers carried. How about a picture? He often talked about the battlefields. How about some pictures? There were often graphics of the troop alignments, but they were pretty simple and static. How about a screen behind the professor where he could point to various units and explain how they moved, or maybe even some animation? Text on the screen that merely repeats what the professor is saying adds almost nothing. And please don’t get me started on the screen-in-screen graphics where the professor seems to be talking from a box. That effect that draws attention to itself and serves only to distract from the lecture. My larger point is that if I must take a course in video format, then please improve the visual aspects of the lecture so that watching it is worth it. Just watching someone talk with little more than Powerpoint projections to support them only makes me wonder why I am staring at the computer when I could be listening and going for a walk.
Date published: 2020-10-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from selected blunders but excellent excellent approach to a lot of stuff you may have heard about but didn't know background of. Some of it was sort of droll; OK, so they lined up across from each other and charged in to a trap; but overall the lectures were well planned, very logical approach, and fascinating. I love the TC's history courses and have listened to dozens of them, and this was very good.
Date published: 2020-10-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a brand! I think Prof. Aldrete has been able to brand himself into my appreciation. He is quirky, he is opinionated, and his analysis is not always unbiased, but he is consistently fun and informative. I think he picks subjects that can benefit from a high energy presentation instead of a meticulous scholarly investigation and does that very well. His approach is to survey a landscape, instead of charting a meticulous course from A to B. He exposes you to the subjects not carry you you through them. Because if that I have no quibbles with the organization of his courses.
Date published: 2020-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from good ad enjoy the course very informitive and entertaining
Date published: 2020-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Insights into History Changing Events Dr. Aldrete is an incredible presenter with an impressive wealth of knowledge. His lectures are well-modulated and the subject matter is clearly and comprehensively presented and infused with facts, statistics, biographies, and clear explanations of these critical events.
Date published: 2020-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Relive the past The course shows how military leaders have such big egos that they lead to disastrous results.
Date published: 2020-06-21
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History's Great Military Blunders and the Lessons They Teach
Course Trailer
Petersburg: Union Digs Its Own Grave-1864
1: Petersburg: Union Digs Its Own Grave-1864

Follow the chain of events that led to the Civil War's ill-fated Battle of the Crater, a notable example of what can happen in warfare when a plan goes awry due to poor leadership, last-minute changes, and other unclear objectives. Then, look at the phenomenon of military blunders and what they teach. ...

34 min
Syracuse: Athens's Second Front-413 B.C.
2: Syracuse: Athens's Second Front-413 B.C.

From initiating a second front with a new enemy to dividing supreme command among multiple generals, see how failures of decision-making and leadership spelled disaster for the Greek city-state of Athens in the outcome of the Peloponnesian War, fought with Sparta. ...

33 min
Carrhae: The Parthian Shot-53 B.C.
3: Carrhae: The Parthian Shot-53 B.C.

The Roman military suffered one of its most humiliating defeats at the hands of the smaller Parthian force at the Battle of Carrhae. Discover how this shocking defeat involved glaring intelligence failures, overconfidence, and poor decisions, as well as crafty use of terrain and exploitation of weakness. ...

30 min
Red Cliffs: Cao Cao's Bad Day-208 A.D.
4: Red Cliffs: Cao Cao's Bad Day-208 A.D.

Even outstanding commanders can have a bad day, as evidenced by one of the most celebrated conflicts in Chinese history: the battle of Red Cliffs. How did general Cao Cao get fooled by an obvious ploy that set his armada ablaze-particularly when he had previously used such tactics himself?...

33 min
Barbarian Gate: Adrianople-378, Pliska-811
5: Barbarian Gate: Adrianople-378, Pliska-811

Although waged 400 years apart, the battles of Adrianople and Pliska share a number of curious similarities. Explore how both defeats were triggered by the Romans' mistreatment of immigrant "barbarian" groups from the north-who might otherwise have been converted into allies-and overconfidence on the part of the Roman emperors....

31 min
Fourth Crusade: Byzantium Betrayed-1204
6: Fourth Crusade: Byzantium Betrayed-1204

Innocent III initiated the Fourth Crusade to recapture control of the Holy Lands from Muslim rulers, but Crusaders ultimately rampaged through Christendom. Learn what led to the brutal attack and looting of the city of Constantinople, a supposed ally of the Crusaders and the seat of the Greek Orthodox branch of Christianity....

31 min
Kalka River: Genghis Khan's General-1223
7: Kalka River: Genghis Khan's General-1223

More than 40,000 Russians were slain at the hands of the Mongols at the Kalka River, including six princes and 70 noblemen. Examine the factors that led to the allied army's defeat, from underestimating the Mongols to repeatedly allowing their leader, Subotai, to maneuver his opponents onto ground of his own choosing....

29 min
Courtrai: Knights versus Shopkeepers-1302
8: Courtrai: Knights versus Shopkeepers-1302

At the Battle of Courtrai in 1302, a French army of the finest knights equipped with the best available arms and armor was beaten by what many viewed as an undisciplined rabble of Flemish shopkeepers bearing improvised weapons. Delve into the battle and learn the mistakes leading to the knights' defeat....

29 min
Nagashino: Taking Swords to a Gunfight-1575
9: Nagashino: Taking Swords to a Gunfight-1575

The Battle of Nagashino was the culmination of a multi-generational conflict with some of the most memorable battles and colorful figures in Japanese history. Although both armies possessed guns, only one commander employed them to maximum effect. Delve into the battle and consider why mere access to a new technology isn't sufficient for victory-one must also understand how to use it effectively....

29 min
Cartagena: High Walls, Short Ladders-1741
10: Cartagena: High Walls, Short Ladders-1741

The most spectacular battle of the War of Jenkins' Ear was a massive amphibious assault launched against the Spanish port city of Cartagena, Colombia. Trace how this expedition began with great enthusiasm among the British but ended in failure and embarrassment, due primarily to the enmity that arose between Britain's top-ranking naval and army officers....

28 min
Culloden: The Bonnie Prince Blunders-1746
11: Culloden: The Bonnie Prince Blunders-1746

Prince Charles Edward Stuart disembarked a French warship onto the shore of Scotland intent on restoring the House of Stuart over England and Scotland. As you delve into the battle of Culloden, notice how his rivalries, poor decisions, and waffling led to failure against the firepower and professionalism of the British....

29 min
Russia: Napoleon Retreats in the Snow-1812
12: Russia: Napoleon Retreats in the Snow-1812

Napoleon made many mistakes in his campaign to invade Russia, a fatal miscalculation that led to his downfall and blemished his legacy as a brilliant general. Investigate his errors here, from appointing his inept brother to an important role to using unimaginative frontal assault tactics, which resulted in a bloodbath....

31 min
Afghanistan: Khyber Pass Death Trap-1842
13: Afghanistan: Khyber Pass Death Trap-1842

Propelled by paranoia about Russian plots, the First Afghan War was an unmitigated disaster for the British. See how their attempt to protect the East India Company's interests resulted in the entire Army of the Indus-16,000 soldiers and camp followers-being wiped out by Afghan tribesmen....

29 min
Crimea: Charge of the Light Brigade-1854
14: Crimea: Charge of the Light Brigade-1854

Although a minor incident, the Charge of the Light Brigade has gained a reputation as both a glorious moment in the history of warfare and one of the greatest military blunders of all time. Follow the disastrous chain of events that lead the British to attack the wrong target....

31 min
Greasy Grass: Custer's Last Stand-1876
15: Greasy Grass: Custer's Last Stand-1876

Military historians still argue over what happened and who was at fault in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Examine why this battle between George Custer's cavalry and the Lakota and their allies remains one of the most infamous in American history, and see how this rare victory for the indigenous tribes ultimately hastened their defeat....

30 min
Isandlwana: 25,000 Zulus Undetected-1879
16: Isandlwana: 25,000 Zulus Undetected-1879

How could an army accompanied by cannon and rocket artillery be wiped out by Zulu warriors wielding spears, clubs, and a smattering of outdated firearms? Find out in this account of one of the most shocking and humiliating British defeats from the Napoleonic Wars up to World War I....

31 min
Adwa: Italy's Fiasco in Ethiopia-1896
17: Adwa: Italy's Fiasco in Ethiopia-1896

Learn how overconfidence, miscommunication, and miscalculation were all displayed by the Italians at Adwa in Ethiopia, resulting in one of the greatest victories of a native people over an imperial power during the colonization era-a rare indigenous civilization that succeeded in establishing itself as an independent modern nation....

31 min
Colenso: The Second Boer War-1899
18: Colenso: The Second Boer War-1899

The Boer War's Battle of Colenso marked a turning point in military tactics, as the British forces clung to obsolete methods of fighting in the face of new weaponry and tactics. Explore how the stubborn determination of the British commanders to utilize outdated techniques resulted in a completely ineffectual attack....

30 min
Tannenberg: Ineptitude in the East-1914
19: Tannenberg: Ineptitude in the East-1914

The Battle of Tannenberg was a brilliant victory for the Germans-made possible by the many errors committed by the Russians. Discover how the Germans turned the tables on Alexander Samsonov, fragmenting and tearing apart his once seemingly invincible battalions, leaving them lost in a nightmarish landscape of forest and bogs....

30 min
Gallipoli: Churchill Dooms Allied Assault-1915
20: Gallipoli: Churchill Dooms Allied Assault-1915

With World War I bogged down in trench warfare, Britain attempted to break the stalemate-which had tragic results in the Gallipoli campaign, an infamous episode of military incompetence. See where the Brits went wrong, from poorly allocating resources to giving the Turks ample time to prepare....

31 min
World War II: Royal Navy Goes Down-1941-42
21: World War II: Royal Navy Goes Down-1941-42

Examine two of the worst naval disasters in the Britain's history, the causes of which include both grossly underestimating and overestimating the enemy: the sinking of the Royal Navy's most technologically sophisticated battleship by Japanese bombers in December 1941 and the destruction of merchant ships in Convoy PQ 17 by Germans in July 1942....

33 min
Dieppe Raid: Catastrophe on the Beach-1942
22: Dieppe Raid: Catastrophe on the Beach-1942

From conception to execution, the Dieppe raid was filled with unclear objectives and poor planning. Why did the Allies undertake such an ill-fated attack on this German-occupied French city? Find out here, along with a detailed account of what went wrong-from bad timing to overambitious strategies to unexpectedly difficult terrain....

29 min
Operation Market Garden: A Bridge Too Far-1944
23: Operation Market Garden: A Bridge Too Far-1944

Operation Market Garden is routinely listed among the great military mishaps of World War II. Investigate the Allies' numerous errors in planning, organization, and execution in this bold air/land mission, from underestimating the Germans' resistance to ignoring important intelligence to making unrealistic timetables....

29 min
The Great Blunders: Four Paths to Failure
24: The Great Blunders: Four Paths to Failure

Review the conflicts in this course to determine the major recurrent errors leading to such blunders. Then, turn to the final case study: a location and culture encompassing modern-day Afghanistan and Pakistan that has been the target of some of history's greatest conquerors and empires across more than 2,000 years....

33 min
Gregory S. Aldrete

As an ancient historian, my goals are to share the enthusiasm for and fascination with antiquity that I feel, and to show some of the connections between that world and our own.


University of Michigan


University of Wisconsin, Green Bay

About Gregory S. Aldrete

Dr. Gregory S. Aldrete is Professor of Humanistic Studies and History at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, where he has taught since 1995. He earned his B.A. from Princeton University and his master's degree and Ph.D. in Ancient History from the University of Michigan. Honored many times over for his research and his teaching, Professor Aldrete was named by his university as the winner of its highest awards in each category, receiving both its Founders Association Award for Excellence in Scholarship and its Founders Association Award for Excellence in Teaching. That recognition of his teaching skills was echoed on a national level in 2009, when he received the American Philological Association Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Classics at the College Level-the national teaching award given annually by the professional association of classics professors. The recipient of many prestigious research fellowships including five from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Professor Aldrete has published several important books in his field, including Gestures and Acclamations in Ancient Rome; Floods of the Tiber in Ancient Rome; Daily Life in the Roman City: Rome, Pompeii, and Ostia; The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Daily Life I: The Ancient World (as editor); Unraveling the Linothorax Mystery: Reconstructing and Testing Ancient Linen Body Armor (with S. Bartell and A. Aldrete) and The Long Shadow of Antiquity: What Have the Greeks and Romans Done for Us (with A. Aldrete).

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