A delaying action is a battle fought by a clearly outnumbered and out-gunned force to try and hold up a superior force. The aim is to buy enough time for other friendly forces to a) escape or b) [[TheCavalry arrive]].

This may involve a HeroicSacrifice, but ideally, you aim to perform a TacticalWithdrawal before being slaughtered. The military equivalent of either YouShallNotPass or holding a position until the BigDamnHeroes show up.

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!!Examples:

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[[folder:Film]]
* ''Film/ThreeHundred'', recounting the Spartans at Thermopylae (see Real Life below).
* The Battle of Hoth in ''TheEmpireStrikesBack''. The Rebels knew there was no way they could actually win: the Empire had better equipment (including heavy armor for which the Rebels had no viable counter) and too much of a numerical advantage. The ground forces and Rogue Squadron simply hoped to delay the Imps long enough to evacuate the base. The battle was considered an Imperial victory overall, though the Rebels technically achieved their objective. [[FridgeLogic Though did the walker speed ever really slow down at all?]]
* ''Film/WingCommander'' has a single carrier being asked to hold off an entire [[CatFolk Kilrathi]] fleet for 2 hours, while the main Confederate fleet gets into position.
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[[folder:Literature]]
* In ''Literature/TheThirdWorldWar'', {{NATO}} successfully delays Soviet forces long enough for reinforcements to arrive, then launches a decisive strike and turns the Soviets back around Krefeld.
* In ''Red Phoenix'', North Korea invades South Korea. US and South Korean forces essentially have to fight one big delaying action until reinforcements can arrive from the US.
* [[XWingSeries Rogue Squadron]] did this in ''[[TheThrawnTrilogy Dark Force Rising]]'', trying to buy time for Luke and Han to get into their ships and let [[DividedWeFall Fey'lya]] escape with his force. Fortunately for them, Fey'lya was steered into an EngineeredPublicConfession and his people [[ChangedMyMindKid went back to help the Rogues]]. This wasn't enough. Karrde's smugglers showed up. This wasn't enough. Then [[BigDamnHeroes Bel Iblis showed up]]. [[HopeSpot This was enough]] until a second Star Destroyer appeared, and it took two counts of RammingAlwaysWorks before the day was saved.
** [[TheCaptain Wedge]] [[FourStarBadass Antilles]] ''loves'' these, since his particular style of warfare makes them ''work''. Case in point: the [[NewJediOrder Siege of Borleais]]. All told, the siege involved an entire fake secret engineering project, an entire ''real'' secret engineering project, a planetary bombardment ''by the garrison defenders'', a Super Star Destroyer dropping into the middle of the enemy fleet... oh, and [[CrowningMomentOfAwesome the wholesale evacuation of the garrison]] before the final battle. Borleais cost two entire Vong fleets and a planetary garrison, and was a ''huge'' embarrassment to their command staff.
* In ''TheSilmarillion'', the Men of the House of Hador delay the forces of Angband long enough for Turgon's Gondolindrim to escape unfollowed. All but one of them die, and it only gets worse for the [[AndIMustScream survivor...]]
* ''Literature/HonorHarrington'':
** In the novel ''In Enemy Hands'', the heavy cruiser that Honor is on (as flag officer) jumps into a system to discover that the Havenites have already taken it and destroyed the local forces. Honor orders her ship to distract the attention of the enemy away from the point the convoy she was escorting would have jumped out of hyperspace, to give it the chance to jump back out. This done and the ship badly damaged, she orders the ship's captain to surrender the ship to the Peeps.
** In the earlier novel ''The Short Victorious War'', a large Manticoran fleet has been decoyed away from their home base at Hancock Station. A small task force left behind to protect the base has to delay the attacking Havenite fleet long enough to prevent them from either taking the station or retreating back over the hyper limit before the Manticoran fleet can return. Honor ends up [[YouAreInCommandNow in command of the task force]] during the course of the battle, although [[spoiler:her flag officer, Admiral Mark Sarnow, was only incapacitated, not killed, and shows up again in later books]].
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[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* In the final episode of ''Series/RobinHood'' [[spoiler: The outlaws, who have seized Nottingham, try a gradual retreat to delay the Sheriff's forces until forces loyal to King Richard can arrive. It turns out they're not coming and a change of plan is needed]].
* An episode of ''Series/LieToMe'' features [[spoiler:a CIA agent who'd went over to the Taliban redeeming himself by delaying them long enough for Lightman and the others to escape a bunker.]]
* The Battle of the Line, in the Series/BabylonFive prequel movie ''In The Beginning'':
--> '''President of Earth:''' "We have continued to broadcast our surrender and a plea for mercy. And they have not responded. We therefore can only conclude... that we stand at the twilight of the Human race. In order to buy more time for our evacuation transports to leave Earth, we ask for the support of every ship capable of fighting to take part in a last defense of our homeworld. We will not lie to you. We do not believe that survival is a possibility. We believe that anyone who joins this battle... will never come home. But for every ten minutes we can delay the military advance several hundred civilians may have a chance to escape to neutral territory. Though Earth may fall, the Human race must have a chance to continue elsewhere. No greater sacrifice has ever been asked of a people than I ask you now... to step forward one last time... one last battle, to hold the line against the night. May God go with you all."
* More than once in ''FallingSkies''.
* The Second Battle of [[StarTrekDeepSpaceNine Deep Space Nine]]. Against a Dominion-Cardassian Fleet, the station manages to destroy 50 ships before the Starfleet crew is forced to abandon it. Before leaving, Sisko reveals that while they had focused much of the Dominion's ships, a Starfleet-Klingon task force destroyed a major Cardassian shipyard.
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[[folder:TabletopGames]]
* Pretty much the only way to defeat Tyranids in Warhammer40K is to send a call for reinforcements (they have a psychic power that blocks off all interstellar communication) and then resist until the reinforcements arrive.
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[[folder:VideoGames]]
* The climactic Battle of South Moundtop in ''VideoGame/{{SaGa Frontier 2}}'' is all about stalling for time. Unlike most of the other battlefield campaigns where there is either parity or conditions heavily in the players favor, this battle is against an army vastly your superior. Everything must go perfect for you to survive the necessary turns and your allies to arrive to finish the battle off screen.
* Several times in ''VideoGame/{{Warcraft}} III''. At least once you're stalling until the cavalry arrives. The climactic battle is you stalling until your trap is set ([[spoiler: until sufficient Wisps can accumulate around the World Tree. When the demon lord Archimonde reaches and climbs it, they surround him and explode, killing him]]).
** A BonusLevel of the Frozen Throne has you prevent the humans from destroying the portal the Blood Elves are escaping through (though it's more of a TowerDefense). If you succeed, you get an extra hero for the next level.
* The 3rd Terran mission in ''VideoGame/{{StarCraft|I}}'' involves this, where you must hold off the Zerg until rescue arrives.
** The ExpandedUniverse novel ''Speed of Darkness'' stars a group of Confederate Marines who fought a separate delaying action that apparently drew a sizable quantity of Zerg away from the PlayerCharacter.
*** It wasn't so much their resistance but the fact that they had a [[spoiler:psychic beacon]] with them.
** Played with in the final Protoss mission in ''VideoGame/StarcraftII: Wings of Liberty''. It takes place in the BadFuture, and defeat is unavoidable, you're simply trying to take as many Zerg with you. An optional objective plays it straight, in that other Protoss are trying to FlingALightIntoTheFuture, you need to hold out until they're done.
* Happens by event during some battles in HeartsOfIron II and III. It slows the attacker down a bit and helps the defenders.
* The level "Revenge of the Empire" in ''RogueSquadron III: Rebel Strike''. Mirroring the Hoth example, Rogue Squadron is providing air cover to the evacuation of the base on Yavin IV.
* The entirety of ''VideoGame/MassEffect3'' is a delaying action meant to slow the Reaper assault long enough that the Crucible can be constructed.
* DawnOfWar: Winter Assault has a mission where the Imperial Guard agrees to ally with an Eldar force. Which of course triggers waves upon waves of orks to attack you culminating in a Squiggoth. Fortunately, the reinforcements you're waiting for include a [[TankGoodness Baneblade]].
* The opening of {{Steambirds}} includes the line "You cannot save the city, but you can stall the armada long enough for London's citizens to evacuate."
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[[folder:Real Life]]
* Hundreds of real-life examples, including:
** Part of the Battle of Gettysburg - specifically Buford's cavalry holding Seminary Ridge.
** Part of Dunkirk.
** The battle of Thermopylae... which makes this one OlderThanFeudalism.
*** Twice at least. A second battle during WWII took place but it was a withdrawal instead of a sacrifice.
** Battle of Saragarhi. Twenty-one Sikh warriors fought to the last man to delay TEN THOUSAND Pashtun tribesman who were launching a raid into then British India, which would have undoubtedly meant the deaths of many civilians. Their Havildar (sergeant) put it to a vote, and they all voted to stay. They defended the mud-walled post with bolt-action rifles, and delayed the invaders long enough that they were met with British reinforcements and heavy artillery at their next obstacle. All 21 Sikhs were awarded the Indian Order of Merit, the the highest medal they could receive, the modern equivalents being the Param Vir Chakra or Victoria Cross (which existed then, but was restricted to British forces).
* This was a massive part of {{NATO}} plans for a WorldWarThree in Europe. The aim was to trade ground for time to allow US forces to arrive. One must feel sorry for the West Germans in all this...
** Though with WestGermany's insistence on "forward defense", that their country be defended right up to the border with EastGermany, it was really more like trading lives for NATO Army Groups to mobilize their corps and the mentioned REFORGER reinforcements to arrive.
* A day or two before [[RememberTheAlamo the battle of the Alamo]], the commanding officer received a dispatch stating that reinforcements were on their way to him. Some historians now guess that the desperate defense of the fort there was not intended as a last stand, so much as a delaying action in hope that those reinforcements would arrive.
* Also the basic concept behind "defence in depth", where an attacking force is delayed and bled by the delaying forces along with supporting artillery, air power, etc. until the attack the attack peters out and either retreats, or is vulnerable to a counter-attack.
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