Following our article last week, here we continue, looking at more of the greatest ever military last stands:
Battle of Thermopylae – 480 BC
The sacrifice of King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans has been told and retold until it is now practically a cliché. Though there were many more Greeks present, including Arcadians, Thebans and Thespians, the Spartans have received credit for the spirited defense of the Greek army’s rear guard. The main Greek army, variously estimated from 5-7,000 held off a much larger Persian force for two days. While ancient chroniclers claim the Persian force at over a million, modern estimates are much lower, at most a few hundred thousand, still long odds. On the third day, with the Persians now outflanking the Greeks Leonidas, his Spartans and around a thousand others remained to act as a rear guard. They were slaughtered but entered the annals of military history where they are celebrated to this day.
The Swiss Guard During the Sake of Rome – May 6, 1527
Battle of Shiroyama – September 24, 1877
This battle marked the end of the Samurai and ushered in a new age for Japan. Takamori Saigo, the leader of a group of 500 Samurai which had been defeated earlier, took position on a hill named Shiroyama near the city of Kagoshima. The Japanese army of 30,000 equipped with modern weapons surrounded them and began a punishing artillery bombardment. By morning only 40 Samurai remained. Saigo had been wounded earlier and either died or committed ritual suicide. The last 40 warriors charged, sword in hand, only to be shot down. The battle was used as a general influence for the final battle scene in the movie The Last Samurai.
The Battle off Samar – October 25, 1944
With a large Japanese fleet bearing down on them, the destroyers, destroyer escorts and escort carriers of the US task force designated Taffy 3 made a desperate stand. Beyond them was the US amphibious force conducting landings at Leyte Gulf. If the Japanese battleships and cruisers reached them it would be a slaughter. Taffy 3’s sailors fought with such aggressiveness the enemy fleet was turned back, though at a loss of 5 ships sunk, including two of the tiny carriers, and 2,496 casualties. It is still lauded as one of the US navy’s proudest moments.
Battle of Arnhem Bridge – September 17-26, 1944
The most distant of the airborne attacks of Operation Market Garden, British paratroopers were able to seize this bridge over the Lower Rhine River in order to hold it for advancing British 2nd Army. That force was delayed by a stubborn German defense, leaving the paratroopers isolated and with little supply. After holding for 9 days, the survivors withdrew, leaving a large number of wounded to be taken prisoner. It was a dark day for the British Army despite the valiant performance of the airborne troops.