Famous surprise attacks from history

We all know the tale of the Greeks sneaking into Troy in the belly of a giant wooden horse, so we thought we’d share three other surprise attacks from history that you may not have heard of…

Hannibal and his alpine elephants

In 218BC, the Carthaginian army (led by the notorious general Hannibal) made a bold move that no one expected. Driven by his ambition to conquer Rome, Hannibal marched his entire army, including cavalry and WAR ELEPHANTS, through Gaul and across the Alps to strike at Rome from the north. The Romans, having naturally presumed that the Alps were a good enough defence against northern invasions, hadn’t anticipated this and were caught on the back foot.

It wasn’t an easy journey for Hannibal, many of his troops and cavalry perished on the perilous mountain passes, but eventually he made it. Hannibal fought his way down through Italy, ravaging the land and attacking its citizens for a full 15 years, but was ultimately unable to conquer Rome itself. He finally met his match against Roman general Scipio Africanus in 202BC, who put an end to Hannibal’s ruthless campaign.

A decoy rebellion

Staying on the subject of ancient Rome… In 9AD, three entire Roman legions met their end when they were surprised by a ‘barbarian’ army whilst campaigning through Germany. Around 36,000 Roman soldiers were led into an ambush by a Germanic warlord named Arminius, who craftily spread rumours of a fake rebellion in the north-west of the country. Spurred on by the threat, Roman general Publius Quinctilius Varus marched the 17th, 18th and 19th Legions from their camp to Teutoburg Forrest to face the phoney rebellion. BUT the Germanic army was waiting for them on route, ambushing them and slaughtering up to 20,000 Roman troops. It’s said that Emperor Augustus was so enraged by the news that he head-butted the walls of his palace! As for the legions, the 17th & 19th were disbanded and never used again.

Harold in a hurry

In 1066AD, it was the turn of Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson to mount a successful surprise attack on a Viking army at Stamford Bridge. Harold’s forces had been positioned in the south ready to repel an expected attack by William of Normandy, but this was about to change. News arrived that 300 Norse ships had landed an army further north, so Harold quickly abandoned his post and raced up to meet them, covering nearly 200 miles in four days! When Harold’s army arrived at the edge of the Viking encampment, the Norse raiders were caught completely unawares. They’d wrongly assumed that Harold’s army would still be miles away and were kicking back before their raids really began. Harold’s army sprang into action, killing thousands of Vikings in the ensuing fight. The few survivors later sailed home aboard just 24 ships of the original 300.

Sadly for Harold, his success wasn’t long lived. Three days later, the army he HAD been expecting finally did show up. Shortly after Harold raced back down to meet the new threat, he was killed in the famous Battle of Hasting, his death now immortalised on the famous Bayeux Tapestry.