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History's Great Military Blunders and the Lessons They Teach

Explore pivotal incidents of catastrophic failure in battle and consider how these errors changed the course of history in this fascinating 24-lesson series.
History's Great Military Blunders and the Lessons They Teach is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 109.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyed this course. A good take on the lessons from blunder
Date published: 2022-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very well done account of major military disasters This was quite interesting about military disasters over the last 2,500 years. The lecturer clearly presents the mistakes and problems run into by all the commanders of ill-fated battles. It is very good to know the types of mistakes and the common failures made.
Date published: 2022-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I'm a few lessons in, but very enjoyable. I've enjoyed the professor's descriptions of the battles and the material discussed. 9
Date published: 2022-05-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific Course! I am a big fan of Prof. Aldrete, having watched all of his other courses in the Great Course collection, and I think he has done his usual excellent job here by thoughtfully identifying and presenting those battles he contends are the greatest blunders in military history. He typically chooses one battle per lecture, and he does a very impressive job of providing historical context, describing the build up to the battle, the battle itself, and the battle's aftermath, and then explaining the lessons to be learned from the failure of the losing side to achieve success, all within thirty minutes. I think his choice of military blunders and his subject matter choices within each lecture are well made and defensible, and, at least to me, the few criticisms of this course on those grounds simply reflect differences in opinion. Prof. Aldrete has an easy and enjoyable lecture style, and he has pitched the course such that I think it will appeal to the expert and novice alike. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2022-04-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Well Done, but not everyone's cup to tea. Primary reason to acquire this series: You already know some Military History and want to listen to an expert's opinion on this specific topic. Primary reason not to listen/watch this series: You consider yourself well versed in Military History and think you have sufficient knowledge to criticize a PhD in his chosen field. OR: You don't think any aspect of Military History would be interesting. [If you are a total novice in Military History and think you might want to listen to something in this arena that might be interesting, I would recommend Dr. Aldrete's lecture series on Decisive Battles in World History.] Dr. Aldrete's speaking style is relaxed and enjoyable. The topic does not require any prior knowledge in order to understand and absorb the presented information. The lectures work well in an audio only version. Overall, I have found Dr. Aldrete's presentations to be of such quality that I fully intend to listen to some of his other series, although I would not have planned to do so in the absence of previously listening to a couple of his presentations. Therefore, if you haven't listened to any of Dr. Aldrete's lectures series yet and are not committed to this specific topic of lectures, I recommend that you listen to one of his series that definitely sound interesting to you, and then return to Military Blunders if you enjoyed his initial lecture series. I just didn't find this lecture series to be quite as interesting and enjoyable as his Great Battles of World History series. The following is a minor rant and can be skipped: The study of "military blunders and the lessons they teach" is arguably the single most important reason to study military history. Many individuals study military history as avid amateurs. I have actively read military history for over 35 years. It is my observation that military history enthusiasts not infrequently come to believe that they have sufficient knowledge to pass judgement on the writings, or lectures, of others in this field, including professional historians. Self-anointed expertise is not limited to military history. Consider the fields of teaching, medicine, religion, and politics. As such, when reading reviews that are critical of Dr. Aldrete's inclusion or exclusion of specific aspects of military history [or critical reviews of any lecture series], remember that he is presenting his choices and his analysis in the manner that he wishes, not in the manner that I or you wish. I have multiple books on WWII BECAUSE each author has a different approach to the topic; I learn something from each book, although I may not agree with all aspects of an author's analysis. I cannot find fault in Dr. Aldrete, or most other lecturers, because he has presented an analysis of his chosen topic which may be different than my analysis of the same topic. Occasionally, the lecture topic is such that the chosen method of presentation is distinctly suboptimal, and which can be criticized, such as a discussion on calculus that is audio only. I do feel fully justified in criticizing demonstrably false "facts," e.g., the earth is flat, or criticizing ad hominem attacks on a lecturer [which seem fairly common in reviews of the religion courses that I have perused]. I want to specifically say that I have seen no ad hominem attacks on Dr. Aldrete in reviews.
Date published: 2022-03-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from great military blunders As a Canadian, the Arnhem and Dieppe episodes were disappointing in such shallow coverage; in Dieppe, the politics behind it were fascinating but never mentioned, plus valuable radar and communications technology was stolen from the Germans and not mentioned. With a lot of the WW2 coverage, the Canadian efforts/participation are rarely mentioned. Alas, the story of our lives.
Date published: 2022-02-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Even the wrap-up was to remember. Full history of man's folly (war) and its biggest fools. Why do men follow them? Came for Culloden, stayed for the rest.
Date published: 2021-10-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Limited and Superficial The title explicitly states "the lessons they teach". To describe a major operation, assess reasons for failure, and teach lessons in a half-hour lecture is a difficult task, requiring decisive selection and maintenance of the aim. Most lessons, the lecturer doesn't come close. The lecturer does not display professional skepticism for the completeness and accuracy of modern records, let alone historical ones. The lecturer uses mostly British blunders rather than American ones, but never says why he thinks those teach better lessons. A few of the many questions that I thought of: Starting with Petersburg, Lesson 1, the racism and careerism is obvious. A deeper question is Why by 1864, was Lincoln still tolerating generals "known to be drunk and incompetent"? Why was Custer chosen, a tactical defeat of a minor force with no strategic impact? (For comparison, what were the US Army losses to disease and desertion in 1876?) The why of intelligence failures is not discussed. Where there was no tactical reconnaisance and screening, why? Was the money for light cavalry stolen by corrupt generals? If a nonentity was appointed to command, who else was offered the job and turned it down, and why No mention of disease or logistics failures, let alone assessing their influence on outcomes, (Adwa being only a a partial exception). Likewise, careerism is never mentioned. Market Garden- no mention of the 35 gliders used to land Corps Headquarters in the first wave on the first day. What was the HQ going to accomplish compared to 35 gliders of infantry at Arnhem? I find it difficult to believe the lecturer has ever worked in a headquarters, let alone coordinating operations on these scales. Of some value as an exercise to see if you can identify the underlying problem.
Date published: 2021-10-02
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Overview

Circle the globe to explore pivotal incidents of catastrophic failure in battle and consider how these errors changed the course of history.

About

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.

INSTITUTION

University of Wisconsin, Green Bay

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).

By This Professor

History's Great Military Blunders and the Lessons They Teach
854
The Decisive Battles of World History
854
The Roman Empire: From Augustus to The Fall of Rome
854
The Rise of Rome
854
A Historian Goes to the Movies: Ancient Rome
854
History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective
854
History's Great Military Blunders and the Lessons They Teach

Trailer

Petersburg: Union Digs Its Own Grave-1864

01: 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.

02: 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.

03: 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.

04: 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

05: 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

06: 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

07: 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

08: 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

09: 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