6 Times the Weather Has Changed War History

The Eastern Front during Operation Barbarossa. Pinterest

Military strategy, leadership, and luck have all influenced the outcome of war. Sometimes Mother Nature has played her hand as well. Historically, the weather has had a surprising influence on the actions of armies, and the victor of battles. Harsh winters can decimate unprepared armies, and storms can start (or end wars).

Some of the most historical victories, like the defeat of the Spanish Armada, may be as much about the weather as they are about military strategy.

Destruction of the Spanish Armada

In 1588, England narrowly escaped an attack by Spain’s navy, commonly remembered as the Spanish Armada. While England had a remarkable navy, Spain had also prepared a substantial invading force. England’s navy was also suffering from lack of adequate funds. The ships didn’t have enough gunpowder or ammunition on board to fight the Spanish as needed.

A typical ship of the Spanish Armada. Ancient-origins

The Duke of Parma’s forces numbered around 27,000 in total on some 129 ships. Spain’s ships were slow and heavy, but their soldiers were skilled and believed that boarding plans would be effective. They had planned to land on the Kent coast, around Margate. These trained sailors and soldiers would have quickly reached London, and could have rapidly gained control of the city, and the government.

The invasion fleet had been prepared a year before the Spanish Armada, but a successful supply raid at the port of Cadiz by Sir Francis Drake slowed the invasion. When the Spanish sailed from Lisbon, they planned to gain control of the English Channel, then invade England.

During the nine days that the two navies met, only six Spanish ships were destroyed. Things were not, at that point, going well for England. It could have, in the late summer of 1588, been a world-changing invasion, if England had been seized by Catholic Spain.

On July 29, 1588, the fighting had intensified significantly, with eight burning ships sent into the harbor of Calais. While the fighting was intense; the efforts of the English navy were not solely responsible for the win.

The Spanish attempted to retreat, but were faced with a foe more frightening than the English; strong Atlantic storms. They were thrown off course, and between 50 and 64 Spanish ships were lost to the storms. Around 13,500 Spanish soldiers did not return home, some washing ashore in Ireland.

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  • Dave Lange

    That lead picture is obviously not from Operation Barbarossa. Barbarossa was the name for the initial invasion of the USSR, which took place from June to (generously) December 1941.
    The German troops in the picture are armed with Sturmgewehr (Stg) 44s, which weren’t fielded until 1944. Some units had the predecessor MP-43 in 1943, but still much too late for Barbarossa.

  • JonF311

    To add a bit to the story of the storming of the Bastille, the royal government was flat broke and was refused credit when it sought to buy grain on the market from abroad. The chief minister was the very wealthy and reform-minded Jacques Necker. He put up a large chunk of his personal fortune of collateral for the grain. That fateful summer of 1789 he was dismissed from office when he gave his support to the new National Assembly, and the people, remembering him as the man who had kept Paris fed, ostensibly rose in revolt and attacked the Bastille in his name. (Necker eventually had to flee the Revolution too and the Revolutionary government defaulted on the royal debt, so that his collateral money was forfeit to the creditors. His daughter spent decades pestering various French governments about the matter, and finally got the restored Bourbons to pay the money back shortly before her own death.)

    • disqus_C67ZJ9pNj6

      they were broke because they had loaned all their money the the Americans to fight the British in our revolution

  • Ash45

    I’m surprised they didn’t mention the two failed Mongol invasions of Japan, due to the massive Mongol fleets being destroyed both times by a typhoon first in 1274, and later 1281, which the Japanese later nicknamed “kamikaze”, or “divine wind”.

    And yes, this is also where “kamikaze” suicide attacks by Japanese pilots in WW2 got their names from.

    • Bob Ferrante

      The fog at Agincourt gave Henry V France.

  • Nick Tavares

    Someone didn’t do their research. Fat Man was a plutonium bomb

    • Bob Ferrante

      Didn’t both fat man and little boy both have plutonium cores?

      • Ted Smith

        THE LITTLE BOY HAD AN ENRICHED URANIUM CORE. THE FAT MAN HAD A PLUTONIUM CORE.

    • Josh Kampsen

      Every time I read an article on this site, there’s an error like the one you mentioned. Time to stop visiting

  • Foxstar

    I might have added the Battle of the Bulge. As the Germans were have amazing success the first few weeks. Why? because heavy fog prevented America’s air-core from joining the fight. At a time when Germany’s air-core was all but wiped out. Once the fog lifted, at the same time Germany started to run low on fuel … retreat was their only option.

    • RJ

      Weather helped the Germans, but they got more mileage out of surprise due to extraordinary communications security coupled with overconfidence by the Allies. Even if the Ardennes offensive had done what Hitler wanted and captured Antwerp, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the war. Patton even advocated allowing the Germans to push to Antwerp, so that the Allies could then pinch off the bulge and capture the whole army.

  • BravoKilo24

    Hitler didnt underestimate the winter but the Russian bear. I dont think he realized they would let so much land be captured and let his lines get over extended, as well as Russia scorching the earth. If Russia had fought and gave no quarter they would have been crushed, instead they used Russia’s massive landscape to their benefit.

  • Vlad Polchaninoff

    Napoleon’s defeat in the Russian campaign has been traditionally blamed on the Russian winter. This is a vestige of both the Cold War and the British custom of perpetuating a version of history, hostile to Russia. First of all, the retreat was ordered on 19 October. Hence, the war was ALREADY LOST in mid-autumn. Next, the Grand Armee hoped to take a southerly route home, but was forced back onto its original (and burned-out) path of invasion at the battle of Maloyaroslavets. Finally, the French crossed the Berezina river into Poland in late November – a crossing that cost them 25-40k casualties, in the battle that was met there.
    NOW … late November is NOT winter. The Berezina is a small river and had it been winter – would have frozen over, allowing the French to march across. But it wasn’t – the river was flowing and THAT is what cost Napoleon dearly. His army was decimated in Poland, Lithuania and Prussia – when winter actually DID set in.
    It wasn’t Russia’s “General Winter” that defeated Napoleon. He was beaten, fair and square, in a pointless invasion that was destined to fail.

  • slick3278 .

    The Tornado That Saved Washington during the War of 1812.
    Tornadoes are rare in D.C., which makes the 1814 incident even more amazing. Three struck that day in 1814 (they may have all been the same one, though) and only seven others have been reported since. The most recent occurred in 1995; it whipped through the National Arboretum. Damage was limited to uprooted trees. The British departed the city saving it and changing the War.

  • Larry Pelham

    The “Black Irish.”

  • ltc444

    One of the decisive battles, I do not remember which, was won by the summer heat. The British lost more men to heat stroke than they did in the actual battle. Even the troops which arrived at the battlefield where so disabled by the heat that they where ineffective.