Some of History’s Stupidest Invasions

History is full of dumb invasions, but some incursions stand out for their stupidity.

The invasions I list here are among the dumbest. How dumb were these invasions? They make the American invasion of Iraq, Hitler’s invasion of Russia, and Napoleon’s invasions of Egypt and Russia (all of which were imbecilic) seem intelligent in comparison.

Some of history’s dumbest invasions include:

The French Invasions of Mexico

The French launched two nonsensical invasions of Mexico in the 19th Century, yes Mexico. Both incursions were stupid and destructive and ultimately pointless.

The first French Invasion of Mexico, or Pastry War, is possibly the stupidest war in human history. The Pastry War began in 1832 when Mexican soldiers pillaged a pastry shop in the Mexico City suburb of Tacubaya.

Mexican authorities angered the shop’s owner; Monsieur Remontel, by offering just 1,000 pesos in reparations. Monsieur Remontel complained to French King Louis-Philippe. Six years later in 1838, French Prime Minister Louis-Mathieu Molé demanded the Mexican government pay 600,000 pesos in restitution to Remontel and the family of a French pirate Mexican authorities executed.

When Mexican Mexican President Anastasio Bustamante ignored Molé’s idiotic demands. Louis-Phillipe sent a fleet to blockade all Mexican ports on the Gulf of Mexico and seize the city of Veracruz. The action was an invasion, because Veracruz is the traditional landing spot for invasion of Mexico.

Conquistador Hernán Cortés landed in Veracruz in 1519. A United States Army under Winfield Scott landed in Veracruz in 1848 and captured Mexico City.

French forces withdrew from Veracruz on 9 March 1839 after the Mexicans agreed to pay the 600,000. They never paid the money. However, a Mexican army’s appearance at Veracruz made the French rethink their invasion.

In 1861 with Americans distracted by the Civil War, French, Spanish, and British forces landed troops at Veracruz to collect debts. The Spanish and British withdrew after the Mexicans promised to pay their debts.

This time, however, the French stayed. The French Emperor Napoleon III realized he could conquer Mexico; and possibly California’s goldfields, if the American Civil War continued. After a series of bloody battles French forces conquered Mexico City on 7 June 1864.

However, by 1863 Napoleon III had a problem, the Union was winning the American Civil War. The Emperor feared a war with the United States.

Hence, Napoleon III began backing Austrian Archduke’s Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph Maria von Habsburg-Lothringen’s dubious claims to the chimerical Mexican throne. The Archduke became Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico.

Maximilian’s presence justified Napoleon III’s invasion. French forces were no longer pillaging Mexico, instead they were restoring the country’s legitimate ruler. Many Mexicans, including President Benito Juarez, rejected the new Empire.

Moreover, Maximilian provided Napoleon III with a cover to withdraw his forces. With the French gone, Mexican Republican forces captured and executed Maximilian I on 19 June 1867. France and Mexico did not restore diplomatic relations until 1880.

Around 16.25%, or 6,654 of the 38,493 soldiers Napoleon III sent to Mexico died there. The French invasions of Mexico were stupid because they gained nothing. Furthermore, the Mexican government never paid the debts that were the pretext for the incursions.

The First British Invasion of Ethiopia

Harold G. Marcus describes the 1868 British invasion of the Empire of Ethiopia or Abyssinia as “one of the most expensive affairs of honor in history” in his book The life and times of Menelik II: Ethiopia, 1844-1913.

To elaborate, Her Majesty’s government sent a Lieutenant General, 13,000 British and Indian soldiers, 26,000 camp followers, and over 40,000 animals (including elephants) to rescue two diplomats and several missionaries. The Expedition to Abyssinia had to march over 400 miles (640 kilometers) to reach the fortress of Ethiopian Emperor Tewodros in Magdala.

The Expedition to Abyssinia was dumb because the British had no strategic or economic interests in the area. Instead, the only purpose for the expedition was to punish Tewodros for disrespecting the British Empire.

Tewodros disrespected the Empire by taking British missionary Henry Stern hostage. Stern’s “crime” was to mention Tewodros’ lack of royal blood in a book. In response, Tewodros ordered Stern’s servants beaten to death and Stern and his assistant chained and whipped.

When British representative Hormuzd Rassam came to negotiate for Stern’s release, Tewodros imprisoned him. Thus, the Emperor imprisoned a representative of the Crown, which did not amuse Queen Victoria. The Queen authorized a military expedition to Abyssinia on 21 August 1867.

The Expedition required 280 ships to reach Zula on the Red Sea from Mumbai. Once at Zula British engineers built a railroad, a port, and 63 miles of road to reach the interior.

It took the British Army three months to travel the 400 miles to the Emperor’s fortress at Magdala. There during the Battle of Magdala, British forces killed 700 to 800 Ethiopians and suffered just two fatalities.

On 13 April 1868, British forces overran the fortress of Magdala itself. Tewodros killed himself with a pistol that was a gift from Queen Victoria. With the Emperor dead, Ethiopian resistance ended.

British forces soon abandoned Magdala and returned to the sea. As they left, the British took so much plunder that they used 15 elephants and 200 mules to carry their loot. Within a decade the British abandoned their outpost on the Red Sea.

Thus, the British invasion of Ethiopia was among the most pointless military operations in history. The British seized no territory and made no political changes besides Tewodros’ death.

An Invasion that Made Sense

Interestingly, there was a second British invasion of Ethiopia during World War II that made sense. In 1935, Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini invaded and occupied Ethiopia to avenge the humiliating Italian defeat at Adwa in 1896.

By 1941, Mussolini had declared war on Britain to participate in his friend Hitler’s conquests. Ethiopia could serve as a base from which German and Italian forces could attack British colonies in Africa and British shipping the Red Sea. The Red Sea was an important shipping route because it led to the Suez Canal, the backdoor to the Mediterranean.

In January 1941, British and Indian troops invaded Eritrea, then part of Ethiopia from the Sudan. Another British force attacked from Kenya while British troops from Aden recaptured British Somaliland which the Italians overran in 1940.

The three armies linked up and with help from the RAF and Ethiopians drove the Italians back. On 5 May 1941, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie returned to his capitol at Addis Ababa.

The British defeated the last Italian troops in East Africa at the Battle of Gondar in November 1941. However, the Imperial War Museum reports a few Italians waged guerrilla warfare against the British in East Africa until September 1943, when Italy switched sides and joined the Allies.

The Chincha Islands War, Spain’s Second Invasion of South America

The Chincha Islands or Spanish South American War was stupid because it was literally fought for bird or bat shit.

In the 19th Century, Guano was a valuable resource. Guano is the accumulated feces of bats and seabirds. Guano is a highly effective fertilizer because it is rich in nitrogen, potassium, and phosphate. In addition, guano was a key ingredient in gunpowder and explosives.

During the 1860s, Peru was making enormous amounts of money from Guano mining in the Chincha Islands. After the death of a Spanish immigrant in a brawl, Spanish Queen Isabella II demanded reparations from Peru a former Spanish colony.

When the Peruvians refused, Isabella sent a fleet that seized the Chincha Islands. Guano prices were high because of the enormous demand for gunpowder the American Civil War, and conflicts in Europe, India, and South America created.

The seizure enraged South Americans, including Chileans. Tensions rose when Chile’s government refused to supply a Spanish gunboat with coal.

A few months later, Vice Admiral José Manuel Pareja started a war with Chile by demanding a 21-gun salute to the Spanish flag on Chilean National Day 18 September 1865. Five days later, the Chilean government declared war on Spain.

Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador then joined Chile in an anti-Spanish alliance. Thus, the Spanish provoked a war with the entire western half of South America over bird shit.

The war was stupid because Spanish ships had to sail halfway around the world to wage it. There was no Spanish base in the area. All the Spanish could do was to shell Chilean and Peruvian ports and burn merchant ships, because they had no troops with them.

The one Spanish attempt to seize a heavily defended port, Callao failed. After several indecisive naval battles, the Spanish abandoned the Chincha Islands and sailed away, never to return. The Peruvians reclaimed the islands and the valuable Guano. With the Spanish gone, the South American nations went back to fighting among themselves.

The one Spanish attempt to seize a heavily defended port, Callao failed. After several indecisive naval battles, the Spanish abandoned the Chincha Islands and sailed away, never to return. The Peruvians reclaimed the islands and the valuable Guano. With the Spanish gone, the South American nations went back to fighting among themselves.

Thus, the Spanish achieved nothing beyond a brief occupation of the Chincha Islands in the war. The war exposed Spain as a third-rate power and set the stage for Isabella II’s downfall.

So yes history is full of stupid invasions. However, these invasions stand out for their stupidity and their pointless waste.