Worst British military defeats

Worst British defeat



How many wars has Britain won?

Britain was formed in 1707 by the Act of Union.

Since then they fought 84 battles with 21 defeats, 22 were inconclusive leaving 41 decisive victories.

During that time Britain became the biggest empire in the world, covering the globe.


In school we learn more about, then their defeats (apart from the American Revolution).

In this post, you get to learn some of the worst defeats Britain and England (pre-1707) have suffered.


Below is a summary of 8 worst military defeats experienced by Britain.


Battles British army Opposing army British losses Opposing losses Simple reason for defeat
Battle of Isandlwana 1,837 20,000 1,300 1,000-2,500 Outnumbered
Defeat of Boudica 230,000 10,000 80,000 400 Lack of fighting experience against an experienced army
Battle of Stirling Bridge 9,000 5,300 to 6,300 5,100 Unknown Adaptability and manoeuvrability of the Scottish army
Battle of Bannockburn 13,700-25,000 5,000-10,000 4,700-11,700 400-4,000 Greed and glory
English Armada 23,375 15,000 11,000-15,000 900 Gave the Spanish too much time to fortify
Battle of Singapore 85,000 36,000 5,000 1,714 Lack of defence and experience.
Battle of New Orleans 8,000 5,700 386 55 Future president Andrew Jackson
Battle of Cartagena de Indias 12,000 2,700 9,500–11,500 800 Bad weather



Here are the details:

1). Battle of Isandlwana

The worst British military defeat came from the Battle of Isandlwana. That was against the Zulu Kingdom in modern-day South Africa.

Battle of Isandlwana

People say the Zulu had 20,000 men fighting, compared to the British’s 1,300 men, a 15-to-1 advantage.

The Zulus would manoeuvre the British camp by encircling them in all directions. Although the Zulu won, they lost more men (around 1,500), than their British opposition.

Meanwhile, the British saw this as their worse defeat in modern history. It was rifles against spears and shields, after all.


How did the British lose the Battle of Isandlwana?

Initially, the British had 13,300 stationed in Isandlwana. Lord Chelmsford took matters to his own hand and took 12,000 men to the land of the Zulu to launch an attack. However, the Zulu army was nowhere to be found.


How did the Zulu war come about?

There was a dispute between Cetshwayo, the Zulu King and the Boers.



The Battle of Isandlwana was one of five battles in the Anglo-Zulu war. There was the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, the battle of Khambula, the battler of Gindlovu and the battle of Ulundi.

In the end, the British won and took the Zulu Kingdom.

To see a great depiction of the Anglo-Zulu war, watch the movie Zulu starring Michael Caine for £3.99 on Amazon’s prime.



2). Defeat of Boudica

The Romans sent troops to squash an English uprising in 61 A.D., they were facing against a female warrior named Boudica. She was the queen of the English Celtic Iceni tribe.

Defeat of Boudica

Despite having 230,000 men in her ranks, Boudica couldn’t beat Rome’s 10,000 men army.

The Roman’s commander, Suetonius has chosen his battleground. He set the battle in a narrow gorge and forest because it protects their flank and prevents an attack in the rear.

With that as insurance, the superior and well-equipped Roman’s army killed 80,000 Boudica’s men with the loss of 400 lives.


How did Boudica come to lead an army?

Married to Prasutagus, the King of Iceni, Boudica was the queen. After his death, his will states his wife would inherit his position. The Romans didn’t like that by flogging Boudica in front of his people.

Boudica took revenge against the Romans’ occupiers and won three battles against them. It was what led the Iceni tribe to belief in their queen.


Aftermath: That decisive victory meant Britain comes under Roman’s control.



3). Battle of Stirling Bridge

On 11th September 1297, the battle of Stirling Bridge is one of the most memorable events in British military history. The English got an introduction from fame Scottish warrior, William Wallace.

The Scots outnumbered (9000 English vs. 5,800 Scots), and less well-equipped won a decisive victory.


How did William Wallace become victorious at the Battle of Stirling Bridge?

There were several advantages William Wallace had in defeating the British, they were:

1). Fighting on home soil; – this means William Wallace’s men knew the land. They were able to manoeuvre and install guerrilla tactics against the English supply lines.

2). Other revolts; – The English had to deal with multiple uprising. The one at Irvine was critical because the leaders of the revolt drew time from the English while negotiating a peace treaty. It gave William Wallace time to prepare.

3). The English’s two inexperienced commanders, Earl of Surrey and Hugh Cressingham. They lack battle experience and coordination

4). No desire to fight; – the English army was made up of men that took up military service to pay their rent and criminals. They had no desire to fight to the very death and would desert the field of battle when given the chance.

5). Got the high ground; – William Wallace’s men have the high ground during this battle. They would wait until the English crossed the Stirling bridge before outflanking them to their defeat.


To see this battle in its glory, get the movie “Braveheart” for £7.49 at Blu-ray or £20 in 4k.


Aftermath: The lessons were in certain circumstances; infantry is better than cavalry.

A year later, King Edward, I took the battle to the Scots (again led by William Wallace) and won a decisive victory.




4). Battle of Bannockburn

The English army was attempting to lift the siege on Stirling Castle with 20,000 men. That led to a battle with the Scots.

For the Scots, they had fewer than 10,000 men and was able to a decisive victory. The aftermath led to a treaty between England and Scotland in 1328. That recognises Robert I as an independent king of Scotland.


What was the turning point during this battle?

England first BIG MISTAKE came from their vanguard’s leader, Humphrey de Bohun. Bohun wanted the glory and tries to kill Scotland’s leader Robert the Bruce. By charging in, Bohun got axed by Robert and died. His men fled the scenes of the crime and for their lives.

Secondly, Robert got his men digging holes so it would snap the horse’s legs off while waiting for the English in a ‘schiltron formation.’ It’s a formation where the Scot would stand in a defensive circle with long pikes sticking out.



5). English Armada

You heard of the Spanish Armada when Spain failed to conquer England. Now, it’s the turn for the English to experience some bad luck.

So, in 1589, the English’s three main objectives:

1). Burn all Spanish fleet.

2). Land in Lisbon and stir-up a revolt against Philip II, and;

3). Create a base in the Azores.


Despite outnumbering the Spanish by 8,000 men, along with 150 ships. The English lost 10,000 men in their defeat to disease and a further 5,000 killed by the Spanish. Spain lost 900 men.


There were a few things that led to the English’s defeat:

A). It took them a year to prepare, thus giving the Spanish ample time to fortified their ports and docks.

B). There was a lack of transport ships.



6). Battle of Singapore

It’s February 1942.

World War Two.

The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour a few months ago.

This gave the Japanese a MASSIVE advantage of taking over South East Asia.


Singapore, along with the British and Australia became their next target.

Comparing both sides armies, Britain got 85,000 men, compared to the Japanese’s 36,000.

The British have got this in the bag.


Battle of Singapore

Instead, it took the Japanese 8 days to take Singapore, by killing 5,000 Brits and capturing the rest.


There are several reasons for this defeat:

First, the men weren’t soldiers.

Second, the British lack anti-personnel artillery.

Third, the British RAF were decimated from earlier attacks which makes Singapore an easy target.



7). Battle of New Orleans

Did you think Britain would leave America alone after winning their independence?

Nope, I didn’t think so.


This time the Brits took the fight to the Americans in Louisiana. When they were on the receiving end, they went straight to negotiating a peace treaty with the United States.

When the Americans got a deal, the British went back on their words and launch a sneak attack.

Known as the Battle of New Orleans, the British had 8,000 men, compared to America’s 5,700.


That battle didn’t go to plan when the British charged towards the Americans’ defensive line. It set off their cannons, causing the Brits to lose 386 men, compared 86 Americans.

And leading the campaign was none other, Andrew Jackson (before he became President).  That victory played a huge role in him becoming president in 1828.



8). Battle of Cartagena de Indias

The battle of Cartagena de Indias was part of a larger battle called ‘War of Jerkins’ Ear’ between the English and Spain from 1739 to 1748.


Battle of Cartagena de Indias

In 1741, Britain’s aim was to capture Spain’s four ports. These were:

Vera Cruz, Mexico;

Cartagena, Colombia;

Porto Bello (now Portobelo), and,

Panama and Havana, Cuba.


These ports were important in their proximity. It would give the British an entry and exit routes into South American, thus a foothold into the Spanish’s South American empire.


The British outmatch the Spanish by 5 to 1.


And yet again, the British failed in their attempt losing over 10,000 men killed, compared to Spain’s 800.

That defeat took down Robert Walpole’s government and the Brits never got a chance to expand in South America.

It also led to King George II to withdraw support for Austria, thus allowing France and Spain to support Prussia.


How did the British got defeated?

They were kept out in the open sea because of heavy rain.

That led to dwindling supply, less comfort and disease.


The waiting gave the Spanish time to improve their fortifications. It makes the landing for the British difficult and encourages close-combat.

Close combat helps foster Yellow Fever, causing most of the deaths on the British side.



These battles were some of the worst defeats suffered by the British. Yet, it isn’t the number of battles a country won, it’s about winning the war. And Britain won the majority of these wars and gave them the greatest empire in the history of the world.


Thanks for reading the defeats that were humiliating to Britain or England.



Walter the content slayer

My professional background is analysing equities/shares for ordinary people in the UK. Now, I seek a different challenge. One that requires stealthily to find searchable topics that lack REAL CONTENT coverage.

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