Looking for the biggest and best battle stalemates that finally ended
May 29, 2015 7:04 PM   Subscribe

So I'm looking for examples of specific evenly matched battles (with armies) where the two sides were stalemated for an extended period until something broke and tipped the battle. Any era (Civil War, WW1, Revolutionary War) is fine but not looking for wars or general movements or campaigns but specific battles. Hill 35. The Battle of Verdun. Etc. Do you have any examples? Is there a kind of name for this kind of battle so I can search for them? And where would I look?
posted by rileyray3000 to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Germany's idea of using stormtroopers as a means of attacking WW1 trenches seems to have gotten its first real test by the Russia in the Brusilov Offensive.

If I remember correctly, there were a few occasions attacking troops suddenly found themselves well behind enemy trenches, where there wasn't a whole lot of defensive measures being taken (everything being concentrated in the trenches). The folks they surprised would assume that the line had been broken and would generally surrender to a handful of attackers. The tactic was refined heavily and re-used in WW2 as blitzkrieg.

I'd be looking for "broken stalemate," though you might also look for "decisive moments," though these would also capture those events that weren't necessarily occurring amid protracted stalemates (such as the 20th Maine's actions at Little Round Top or Pickett's Charge, both at Gettysburg).
posted by jquinby at 7:39 PM on May 29, 2015

Would something like the Siege of Leningrad count? If so, here are some lists of long sieges and what broke them.

It being the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, there have been a lot of stories in the news lately about how it was a very near thing.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:48 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Siege of Petersburg in the American Civil War. What ended it was that attrition there, and defeats elsewhere, had weakened Lee's forces and his sources of supply to the point where the defenders of Petersburg simply couldn't hold any longer.

The Korean War, starting from July 1951 until the Cease Fire was signed in 1954, basically, beginning at the time that MacArthur was relieved and Ridgway took over command. Ridgway fought the way he did (maintaining stalemate) because that's what Truman told him to do. (MacArthur was relieved because he wouldn't do it.) It was ended by the signing of the cease fire. (Which remains the situation to this day. Technically speaking, the Korean War never ended.)

Truman decided that actually winning in Korea carried too high a risk of nuclear escalation. So he told Ridgway to maintain stalemate in hopes that, eventually, the NK's and Chinese would decide that the price of continuing to fight was too great.

Ridgway had superior intelligence about Chinese moves, and had learned from experience that lower level Chinese officers (say, at or below colonel) were really good at following orders but not good at all at responding to unexpected challenges. So whenever his intelligence people told him that an attack was coming, he'd thin out his forces at the front. Once the attack began, the remainder would pull back. The Chinese would move forward (against minor or no resistance) until they reached the objectives they'd been briefed about and were standing around saying, "What now?". Then Ridgway would mount a major counterattack, which would disorder the Chinese and cause them to pull back again. After which Ridgway moved his forces back up again to exactly the positions they had previously occupied.

One side effect of this tactic was that the Chinese and NK's suffered drastically higher casualties than Ridgway's forces did.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:54 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

During the Peloponnesian War, Spartan forces laid siege to Athens for years. Athens and a surprisingly large area of farmland around it were surrounded by a wall, and Spartan forces never did breach the wall. Most of the war from that point forward was fought by Athens either at sea, or using sea power to transport ground forces. It ended in 405 BC when the Athenian fleet was destroyed. Food was short and disease was rampant, so Athens surrendered in 404 BC and became a Spartan vassal state.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:05 PM on May 29, 2015

The Gallipoli Campaign?
posted by slkinsey at 6:45 AM on May 30, 2015

The Battle of Anzio!
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:48 AM on May 30, 2015

Perhaps the Three Kingdoms period in China— overall from 200-280. I have an intro to this here.

The battle which established the tripartite situation, when the northern kingdom failed to conquer the other two, was Red Cliffs (208). The stalemate ended when the northern kingdom took a backdoor route through the mountains and captured the southwestern capital, Chengdu, in 264. (The southeast hung on for longer.)
posted by zompist at 1:38 PM on May 30, 2015

Military historians are divided on whether the The Western Front in WWI was a single battle or a series of highly interrelated battles. Either way, it was a stalemate. It was the Entente's (what most call the Allies or Allied forces) use of 500 tanks at the Battle of Amiens that broke the stalemate and started the Hundred Days Offensive that ended the war.
posted by Homer42 at 9:17 PM on May 30, 2015

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