The internet is packed with YouTube videos, news stories, and Facebook pages dedicated to bizarre military blunders. Just a few months ago, Task & Purpose even reported about a British helicopter that created a literal shit storm by blowing down a row of porta-potties.
In most cases, if a military makes a mistake, people, cities, or multi-million dollar vessels become heart-wrenching examples of collateral damage. However, in these eight cases, while there are a few casualties, we are mostly left with embarrassing, funny, or just plain ridiculous stories.
1. That time British soldiers got too drunk to invade Spain.
After the British dissolution of the Parliament of 1625, the Duke of Buckingham wanted a naval conquest that would parallel the exploits of the raiders of the Elizabethan era. So they decided to attempt to invade Spain with a hundred ships and 10,000 men. Sir Edward Cecil led the fleet through the port city of Cadiz. They had not brought sufficient rations, so they raided the city, pillaging the locals’ wine supplies. The drunken troops then threatened mutiny. Cecil ordered them back to ships, and not a single shot was fired upon a Spaniard.
2. When the Brazilian Navy sank its own ship.
There are many stories of navies sinking their own ships, but the sinking of the Brazilian ship BZ Bahia takes the cake. On July 4, 1945, it sank itself during live-fire practice. Positioned in the Atlantic Ocean in between Brazil and Africa, the Bahia was meant to aid allied planes making transatlantic transfers between Europe and the Pacific. A gunner unintentionally shot down the kite, which hit a rack of depth charges, which in turn hit the ship’s fantail. It exploded, and the Bahia sank within three minutes. Half the crew perished. No one knew until four days later when its sister ship, the BZ Rio Grande do Sul, discovered its survivors.
3. That incident with tootsie rolls and the Marines Corps.
In 1950, during the Korean War, the 1st Marine Division was holed up in the Chosin mountain reservoir. This group of only 15,000 men was waged up against an encroaching Chinese force of 120,000. The conditions in the area were unbearable, with temperatures dipping nearly 30 degrees below zero, and their rations froze. At some point a call was put out for “Tootsie Rolls,” the codename for mortar shells. However, the person who filled the order took the request literally, so crate upon crate of Tootsie Rolls were airdropped to the division. Though it wasn’t artillery, the frozen candies were able to be melted with just body heat, so they became a replacement for the frozen rations. This strange mistake ultimately helped keep the group alive.
4. The time emus defeated the Australian Army.
After World War I, more than 5,000 Australian soldiers were given money and deeds to farm the western countryside. According to the blog War is Boring, in the 1930s a horde of 20,000 emus invaded their land and destroyed their crops. Armed with rifles and machine guns from their time in the service, they attempted to rid their farms of the highly-intelligent, pack-hunting birds. It proved unsuccessful, and the Prime Minister at the time ordered Maj. G.P.W. Meredith, who commanded the Royal Australian Artillery’s Seventh Heavy Battery , to lead a new charge. His campaign proved ineffective, and eventually, Parliament gave up on trying to civilize the west, conceding it belonged to the emus.
5. The toilet flush that sank a German submarine.
The German submarine, U-1206, met its untimely end with the mere flushing of a toilet. On April 14, 1945, it sank during its maiden combat voyage after Capt. Karl-Adolf Schlitt used the toilet incorrectly. It was designed to save cargo space by blasting waste it into the sea with compressed air, “sort of like a poop torpedo,” according to War is Boring. Schlitt’s engineer turned the wrong valve while attempting to help him flush, and he released sewage into the compartment. The waste then leaked down into the submarine’s giant internal batteries, which were located directly beneath the bathroom. The chemical reaction began producing chlorine gas, so the crew had to surface the submarine. Schlitt let it sink, and the crew was then picked up and held captive by nearby Scottish allied forces.
6. That time Hannibal started an avalanche.
The Carthaginian general Hannibal is known throughout military history as a brilliant tactician. He earned his place there by crossing the Alps to invade the Roman Empire during the Second Punic War, with his victory at Cannae setting him up as the father of military strategy. One of his lesser moments however, came just before that invasion. While cutting through the Alps, he accidentally killed roughly 18,000 of his 38,000 men, 2,000 of his 8,000 horses, and some elephants too. It happened when he tried to explain that a particular snowdrift was safe to pass through, and he did so by forcefully shoving a cane into the ice. This, however, proved his point wrong, and triggered an avalanche that wiped out more of his troops and cavalry than the Romans ever did in any battle.
7. When a rogue Soviet MiG-23 crashed in Belgium.
During a routine training flight in 1989, Soviet pilot Col. Nikolai Skuridin realized the afterburner in his MiG-23 failed during takeoff. As the engine began to lose power, he safely ejected. However, the aircraft did not crash. Instead, the engine continued to work, and the plane continued west on autopilot. It flew on through the Netherlands, and Dutch F-15 pilots reported there was no pilot aboard. These pilots were then instructed to shoot it down over the North Sea. However, over Belgian airspace, the MiG ran out of fuel, crashed into a house, and killed one young man.
8. The time a Japanese battleship flooded its own city.
During World War II, the Japanese took to building a class of heavy battleships known as Yamato. Each was able to displace 72,000 long tons (73,000 tons) at full load. Under this class, the Musashi, commissioned in 1942, became the second heaviest battleship in history. The entry of such a large ship into the water caused nearly a four-foot tsunami. Launched in the Nagasaki Harbor, the ship raised water levels all the way up the local rivers, flooding homes and capsizing small fishing boats. In addition, the behemoth ship did not survive the war.