History is full of important battles, but not everyone knows about entire campaigns. A military campaign is comprised of multiple battles, skirmishes, and other military actions within a specific area, so a campaign can take weeks, months, or even years to complete. Some campaigns stand out due to their importance and to the way they altered history; the following military campaigns helped shape the worlds in which their warriors lived.
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Hitler Conquers France
Much of World War II involved long, drawn-out military operations, but Hitler’s invasion of France in 1940 only took a couple of weeks. Against the advice of his highly intelligent staff, Hitler led a sneak attack through the thick woods of the Ardennes. The French military did not expect anyone to be able to make it through such dense foliage, yet Nazi forces got tanks through the Ardennes, splitting the French forces in two and taking Paris within a few weeks. The fall of France led to the hasty departure of British forces and opened the door for Hitler to conquer most of Europe.
Genghis Khan Conquers China
Genghis Khan’s military tactics were ahead of their time. He used siege techniques and a light mounted infantry to conquer much of China in 1218 and even made it over the Great Wall of China. Khan had originally decided to kill the Chinese he was conquering, but his men convinced him to make money instead by taxing them. The Mongols achieved great control over China, although the southern portion of China was not under control until Khan’s grandson completely subdued the Chinese in 1279.
Alexander the Great Conquers the Persian Empire
Some consider Alexander the Great to be the greatest military commander of the ancient world, and the Persian conquest was one of his earliest and best campaigns. Alexander the Great was only in his early 20s during the Persian campaign, which took place from 334 BC to 329 BC. The campaign included the legendary Battle of Guagamela in which Alexander the Great defeated 250,000 Persians with only 50,000 men. Alexander the Great tricked the Persian forces into committing to fight his troops in the center, after which he sent in his cavalry to destroy the Persian middle. Winning the Battle of Guagamela—and the Persian campaign—enabled Alexander the Great to press into India and beyond.
Julius Caesar Conquers Gaul
Ancient Rome was famous for its well-oiled military machine, and Julius Caesar knew how to efficiently use that machine better than anyone. In 58 BC, Caesar invaded Gaul with 50,000 men; he had great success by moving quickly and by choosing his battles wisely. This campaign included the famous battle for Alesia, which was the Gaulish town in which a couple of hundred thousand Gaulish troops were trapped. Caesar built a wall around the city, keeping the Gauls from leaving. Caesar learned of a relieving force of another couple thousand of Gauls heading his way, so he built a wall around his camp that the combined 400,000 Gaulish troops could not breach. He defeated the Gauls and eventually conquered Germany, Britain, and other countries.
Hannibal Marches across the Alps
Most people have seen the famous painting of Hannibal crossing the Alps on the backs of elephants in 218 BC. The Roman military never expected anyone to be able to cross the Alps, but Hannibal did the impossible in one of the greatest engineering feats of military history. Hannibal’s forces defeated the Romans at Cannae, dealing the Roman Army one of their worst defeats in their history.
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Glen Forester is a history professor and guest author at MilitaryDegreePrograms.org, a site with guides and information about top-rated military degrees.