Cannon Fodder
At least the uniform is stylish.
"Whoever has the most liquor to get the soldiers drunk and send them to be slaughtered... he's the winner."

In most wartime shows that focus on Ace Pilots and other Military Mavericks, there will be a point when these are contrasted to "normal" foot soldiers who wear red shirts for standard issue uniform. They have weak weaponry, little to no armor, their only strength are their numbers, and their only available tactic is Zerg Rush. And, of course, they die en masse. It is the latter fact that almost certainly gonna cause tension between them and said ace pilots and mavericks (who, at the very least, receive Plot Armor, if not better equipment and training), ranging from alienation to open enmity.

We Have Reserves is a related trope but, as often as it happens to Cannon Fodder characters, it is different. We Have Reserves is there to establish a military commander as a particular villain by having him give an inhumane order where it could have been avoided. Cannon Fodder has no other option but get killed and hope the reserves come in time. And yes, even the good guys employ Cannon Fodder in battle, as sad as it may be for them.

The term Cannon Fodder itself originated in the endless assaults of the World War I Western Front, where there were no operational breakthroughs past the enemy's trench defenses and every battle consisted entirely of the hard-fought 'assault' phase (assault, breakthrough, exploitation). In this context of these huge battles in which trenches weren't taken faster than they could be dugnote , the infantrymen were said to be nothing more than fodder (a term usually used to describe horse feed) for the artillery. However, its French equivalent chair à canon (cannon meat) was used a hundred years earlier by Chateaubriand, this being a reference to artillery's fearsome killing power and pivotal role on the pre-rifle battlefields of the Napoleonic Wars. A similar term from times when artillery pieces were so expensive, rare, and heavy they were used almost exclusively for sieges and ships ("food for powder") dates back to the 16th century at least; it is used by Falstaff in Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 1.

New Meat and Redshirt Army are also similar but here, everyone in the unit is expected to die not for drama but just because of the unit's nature. Read more in the Canonical List of Subtle Trope Distinctions.

If you're liable to be on the receiving end of a Wannabe Diss, expect to be cast as this too.

Conscription is the Trope Maker for Cannon Fodder. If the commanding officer treats his troops like Cannon Fodder, it is We Have Reserves.

For the classic video game named Cannon Fodder, see here. Not to be confused the the punny trope Canon Fodder.


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  • In Now and Then, Here and There, King Hamdo does this to his army of Child Soldiers.
  • During the joint infantry-air operation in Simoun, the Ace Pilot Floe grows close to a simple rifleman, only to painfully discover the enormous gap between them.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann has the mass-produced Grappal Army as cannon fodder; the one-of-a-kind Ganmen and the Gurren Lagann, meanwhile, are the ones who do most of the ass-kicking. Gimmy and Darry, however, are Mauve Shirts and often receive Plot Armor.
    • And Kamina frequently shouted things such as "Outta the way, cannon fodder!!!" before destroying about a dozen beastmen gunmen with his drills.
  • Generally, this happens in most Humongous Mecha series; you know it's happening when the more important characters of the show are sporting unique mecha with customized specs or weapons and armor that outclass almost everything else. More regular, nameless forces will use mass-produced models that are destroyed by the dozen.
    • As with many other mecha tropes, Neon Genesis Evangelion turns this on its head, with the mass-produced models ultimately defeating one of the special prototypes.
  • In Naruto, Jiraiya sneaks into the Hidden Rain Village, and captures two people who come into the "bar" he sets up.
    Jiraiya: Judging from your seemingly low standards and mannerisms, you must be the bottom-most of the Fodder nins, right?
    • The whole of ANBU. Exceptions are named people such as Kakashi (former member), Tenzo/Yamato, Ibiki, Anko, Aoba, as well as Danzo, Sai, Fu and Torune from the Root.
  • The Pawn-ranked Chess Pieces from MÄR, unlike the higher ranks, wear identical outfits and masks, and are given very generic Arms to use. Only one in the entire series even gets named, and things go very bad for her.

  • This is referenced by name in Oh God Not Again! by the Sorting Hat. He was describing the Gryffindors.
  • In The Legend of Total Drama Island, Chris uses this term for the contestants whom he had expected to be eliminated early in the game. Subverted when Chris notes with mixed feelings that the "cannon fodder" is turning out to be more capable than he expected, for which he blames the profilers for not doing their jobs.

  • Mobile Infantry from the first Starship Troopers movie is easily the most recognizable example.
  • The Taliban soldiers that come after the Navy Seals in Lone Survivor (2014)
  • Discussed by Charlie Chaplin in the famous soliloquy that closes The Great Dictator.
    "Soldiers! Don't give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder."
  • The lowest-ranked battle droids in the Star Wars prequel trilogy and associated works are a combination of this and Butt Monkey. As robots go they're hilariously incompetent (almost acting sentient but in bad ways like forgetting orders or bickering with each other) and never present any real threat to the Jedi they fight, just minor annoyances before they're maimed and hacked to bits.

  • In Gordon R. Dickson's Childe Cycle series, the Friendlies provide this as their major export. Being a fundamentalist society and lacking any rare resources, the Friendlies could only serve as Mercenaries. However, the Badass Army market was already covered by the Dorsai, so the Friendly mercs' only advantage was that they were cheap and plentiful.
  • In Matched Aberrations are sent to the Outer Provinces as "decoys" to draw the fire of the mysterious Enemy.
  • The soldiers of the SPARTAN-III program introduced in Halo: Ghosts of Onyx are meant to be this. Their sole purpose is to take the suicide missions that are beyond the skill level of the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers but beneath the potential loss of the Spartan-IIs.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire gives us... the Freys (and their hapless retainers). There are a lot of them, and the House is at least rich enough to equip them all fairly well. There are also a lot of factions willing to wield armies in the field, most of whom they have tried to ally with. The family has, however, gone and made the strategic mistake of getting generally hated by all sides for various reasons just as they've ditched their habit of turning up more than fashionably late to wars. Guess who now has pride of place near the very top of the list of those chosen for the front lines when any given commander wishes to reserve their best, most loyal troops? Go on... guess.
    • More generally, the basic strategic practice in both Weseros and Essos is to send the sellswords in first — unless it's the Golden Company (they you can treat as solid retainers with skills, not simply liabilities making up the numbers). This is to try to get your money's worth, just in case they turn tail... or, because you hope to get away with just paying the deposit. Wise captains of sellsword companies look out for the second eventuality, and will jump ship and switch sides if they think they see it coming. Irony, much? The whole war around Meereen can basically be described as a mad advertising campaign and financial scrambling between two main factions (and a couple of minor ones)... and all the sellsword companies trying desperately to make a profit from any of them, while trying to avoid being turned into sudden mince. In short: not much serious fighting, even though the lines and loyalties are pretty fluid.
  • In Space Marine Battles the Space Marines themselves avert this, as each one of them is worth more than a planet, but they have nothing against herding the Imperial Guard to soften up the enemy.
  • One of the most chilling examples is All Quiet on the Western Front, where we are treated to scores of deaths of nameless individuals. The narrator, Paul, only bothers to give a handful of his comrades names, and Anyone Can Die. Paul shows less and less concern about dying soldiers as time goes on, showing ever growing indifference to the deaths of countless men. The novel may be the Trope Codifier for this trope, at least as far as modern armies go.
  • Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945 (non fiction) by Max Hastings. Hastings discusses how individual soldiers vary widely in competence, and quotes an American officer who said that he would rather fight with 40 men than 200, as long as he could pick the 40. Hastings goes on to say that the 40 wouldn't last very long without the "cannon fodder" to distract enemy attention and soak up the bullets.

    Live Action Television 
  • Played with in the opening scene of the first episode of Blackadder, when King Richard III and his nephew talk about Edmund at the banquet on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth:
    Richard III: You're not putting him anywhere near me, are you?
    Richard, Duke of York: No, Uncle. He will somewhere with the rabble.
    Richard III: Oh. Arrow fodder?
    Richard, Duke of York: Precisely.
  • In Roots (2016), slaves who tried to join the British Army become this during the American Revolution. Armed with only spears against the comparatively well-armed Continental Army, slaves who fight with the British are essentially being sent to be the first ones to die in battle. Needless to say, Kunta and Carlton decide to escape when things go as well as the viewer expects.
  • Invoked in Scream Queens (2015) during the second season. Chanel wants to ensure her survival by recruiting girls into the Chanels, whose jobs will mostly consist of being her minions and getting killed by the Big Bad, so the main Chanels can live. This ends up ultimately working, as five of the six Chanels end up being targeted and killed by the Green Meanies, while Chanels 1, 3, 5 and 6 and 8 survive.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Anything fielded by Orcs or Goblins in any tabletop game, including tanks and Humongous Mecha. Dem humies (stunties, skinnies) just rilly cawn't kil us ladz all, can dey?
  • Warhammer Fantasy:
    • Bretonnian Infantry, as Knights are actual Nobles while their infantry are made up of dirt poor peasants.
    • Skaven units are this, given their culture. Skaven Slaves are this in the actual game, as you can fire into melees where only they and the enemy are, making them literal cannon fodder.
  • The Imperial Guard from Warhammer 40,000.
    • And for them, first conscripted troopers which have less training and only the most basic equipment. Then the Planetary Defense Forces which usually are even less skilled and have even less equipment.
    • For a bit of perspective, in terms of point value a single Space Marine Terminator costs as much as 10 Imperial Guard Conscripts. He can take them all together too, and will probably emerge unscathed unless the Random Number God is grumpy. Nevertheless, every round they spend slaughtering expendable troops is a round they're not killing something valuable.
    • The Tyranids have basic troops called Rippers that are sent en masse to enemy lines, causing them to waste ammunition for when the real attack begins with larger and more intelligent troops. The Rippers don't even have digestive systems - after they've consumed all the biomass they can, they are unfit for combat and return to reclamation pools to be consumed for the biomass they contain.
      • Practically all of the Tyranid's basic troops are used like this this includes the gaunt breeds.
    • Tau have a habit of turning their enemies into this repeatedly, provided they can stay at a safe distance to do so. They also have the Kroot to be this to their Fire Warriors, battlesuits and other really shooty stuff to stop them being assaulted and defeated in melee.
    • Chaos Space Marines have Cultists, dirt cheap troops of similar stats and equipment to Imperial Guard Conscripts, meant to be disposable bodies and "hiding spots" for the elite marines and special characters. The Alpha Legion is uniquely the only Chaos legion which actually bothers to train their cultists and rely on them for something other than catching bullets, and one of the most successful ones, go figure.
    • The Orks have their Grotz who are at the very bottom of the Ork hierarchy, their basic roles are cannon fodder, as well as used to clear land mine fields, emergency rations, and even used for football.
      • Ork Boyz are only slightly less expendable. One of the defining traits of the average Ork Warboss is the ability to view everyone but himself as totally expendable if it leads to a good fight, and one of the defining traits of the Ork mentality is that this is a positive trait for a leader to have.
    • Come to think of it, all armies employ Cannon Fodder to a degree. Even the Eldar, but Eldar lives are far too valuable to be spent in most circumstances, nevermind wasted, and so the Eldar prefer to trick some other schmucks, like humans or Orks, into being the cannon fodder for them.
    • In the game, the concept of "ablative wounds" is the game mechanic of this; Most infantry squads only have a limited number of units that can be upgraded to special weapons or heavy weapons, while the rest are stuck with their stock equipment (which range from comically ineffective to just a tad inefficent, with very few exceptions). Thus the only use for these models is to absorb incoming shots to preserve the heavy/special weapon gunners from harm so they can make the most out of their gun. The most prevalent of these are Tactical Squads; they must be at full strength to take a Heavy Weapon in the first place, meaning you're stuck buying at least 7 generic members (the other two can be upgraded to be a veteran sergeant and a special weapons) who have no other options. Since the Heavy Weapon guy will be firing at stuff far out of the range of the generic ones, all they can do is take hits.
    • The Iron Warriors Space Marines were so noted for taking this approach to their attached Army regiments that pre-corruption Horus signed a specific order that Perturabo's troops could only be given control over expendable penal regiments and enslaved forces from recently conquered worlds. Was it in any way surprising that they ended up falling to Chaos? Falling to Chaos made them even worse.
    • The use of cannon fodder as a delaying tactic is known as a "tarpit", especially in melee. Cheap, expendable troops like ripper swarms or conscripts remain locked in combat unless they fail a morale save or you kill the bloody lot of them. Give them Fearless or at least a good leadership score with an attached character and the latter becomes the only option. You can tie up a truly scary unit for almost the entire game with half its point value worth of cannon fodder.
  • Paranoia is that rare example where the players themselves are the cannon laser fodder.
  • This is the role that mortals play in Exalted, because their world just sucks that much. It's even codified in the rules: "extras" — usually defined as anyone without an Essence rating — have only three health levels where everyone else has at least seven. A Fan Nickname for mortals in Exalted combat is "Ablative People Shields".
  • Pawns in Chess.
  • Most linemen in Blood Bowl. Orcs, for once, avert their usual tendencies, as their players are very hard to hurt and even their linemen can end up as Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder with a few (randomly awarded) MVP awards.
  • BattleTech's Clans, nations of caste-based warriors, treat their "old" (over 35) soldiers as cannon fodder. They are transferred into "Solahma" units, which are mostly assigned in garrison duty, and are also sent out as shock troopers in outdated and decrepit battlemechs, combat vehicles, or armed with nothing more than an assault rifle and a flak jacket, and are expected to die in battle.
  • In The Gates Of Hell (a Dungeons & Dragons fan expansion), Hell does seem to know the value of preserving troops, at least more than the demons do. However, the lemures (the lowest and nearly mindless rank of Devils) are not troops for them. They are defined as ammo.

    Video Games 
  • Often used in strategy video games for baseline infantry units, whose basic tactic is Zerg Rush or just to stand there, fire at the enemy, and keep reinforcements coming.
  • Cannon Fodder. Eponymous trope, eponymous pixels. War Has Never Been So Much Fun!
  • When Peasants are a combat unit, they will always be cannon fodder.
  • In Star Wars: Battlefront, the player that had the most deaths earns the title 'Bantha Fodder'.
  • In the Halo series, the Covenant military use the Grunts primarily as cannon fodder, giving them such glorious jobs as running across active minefields to clear the way for more elite troops. Their fighting skills are generally laughable at best, as their tactics are usually nothing more complex than taking potshots at the enemy and hoping it dies. They also tend to run away when their squad leader is killed. However, Grunts can also be surprisingly dangerous in large numbers; when the entire Grunt race rebelled against the Covenant, it took an Arbiter ordering a massive orbital bombardment of their homeworld to end their revolt. Additionally, some Grunts carry heavy weapons capable of instantly tearing the player apart, and the sticky grenades that all ranks love to throw make them a potential threat even when the player is in a heavy vehicle. They've also taken some levels in badass as the series progressed; from Halo 3 onward, Grunts can drive light vehicles and will sometimes attempt to suicide-bomb their foes instead of running away if things go south for them, and Halo 5: Guardians's Firefight mode gives us Grunts with recharging energy shields and Grunts piloting superpowerful Mini-Mecha.
  • Perhaps the most relevant example is Men of War: Condemned Heroes. The player goes into tough battles, in a series where you usually get a sufficient amount of men and vehicles, with nothing more than a squad or two - and usually with little ammo. The necessity of capturing enemy equipment is paramount to succeed. The game's producers, 1C, also added the original Orders No. 227, the famous 'Not one step backwards!' from Stalin, as well as a modern analysis of the use of penal battalions, pointing out that while they were brutally treated and suffered beyond heavy casualties, in the eyes of the contemporary Red Army, they were repaying their debt to the Motherland, either in heroism or blood.
  • The Cultists in Dawn of War are actually referred to as Cannon Fodder by their own unit description.
  • In the Strategy RPG iPhone Game Ravenmark, some battles sees you command Militiamen, in addition to your core Imperial Legion troops. Basically farmers and local constables with little to no training and basic equipment, pressed into service when an unexpected full-scale invasion stretched the imperial armies beyond capacity. Their most notable ability is that any enemy unit that kills a squad of them is slowed down to 1 move and low initiative in the next round. In other words, they're most useful when their piled-up corpses are impeding the progress of your foes. Of course, whether you use them as such, or try to keep them in reserve until things get truly desperate, is up to you.
  • In Xenonauts, it is a tactic happily employed by the aliens and sometimes the player too, to a certain degree.
  • In the XCOM series, it is the default modus operandi of the alien force. The reason: the aliens are effectively countless, they can be easily bred and they have little to no survival instinct.
    • XCOM: Enemy Unknown subverts this: the less-equipped aliens are still cannon fodder, but they're strategically-placed cannon fodder. The Etherial Faction, which rules over the other alien factions like a theocracy, is trying to find new forms of life, test and experiment on them, and determine their place in the hierarchy with the ultimate goal of finding a race that can surpass them - everyone in the hierarchy, Ethereals included, are considered failures by the Ethereals. You fight waves of Greys and Thin Men with ease in the beginning stages of the game because the Ethereals are testing to see if your race can survive their weakest, most inept soldiers. If so, great; have some more technology and harder enemies to fight. If not, get ready to beg and grovel before your current foes as their new thralls.
  • Pictured, a Tokay slave used as Cannon Fodder by the Labrynna Regime in Hyrule: Total War.
  • MechWarrior generally turns tanks, infantry, and aerospace fighters (all of which are deadly in the original material) into cannon fodder designed to waste your BattleMech's ammunition reserves upon before the enemy Battlemech force shows up. The only time they're dangerous in Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries, for example, is when the AI sics over 40 tanks onto your squadron. The trope is averted to a hilarious degree in Living Legends, where countless Mech 4 veterans were slaughtered by rampaging Demolisher mech-hunter tanks and angry battlearmor players swarming over their mech.
  • In Pinball Quest, the goblins of the third table simply stand immobile, blocking your way to the Goblin King.
  • Discussed in Mass Effect 3: Citadel between two CAT-6 mercs who've been ordered to slow Shepard down. One of them questions the Exact Words of the order, wondering if they're allowed to kill Shepard. The other suggests that they aren't expected to. Shepard is fully aware of this.
    Shepard: You don't have a squad, you have minions. And you're running out.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Exo Squad had an on-going conflict between the Humongous Mecha pilots and the jumptroopers (basically, light paratroopers) who die like lemmings when things get hot.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: All the soldiers from the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom except the Dai Li.
  • The Monarch from The Venture Bros. regards his henchmen as basically disposable pawns and often sends platoons of them to be butchered by Brock Samson while he directs them from the safety of his flying cocoon headquarters.
  • Captain Zapp Brannigan from Futurama makes no attempt to hide the fact that he sees everyone on his crew as completely expendable. His notable "victory" over the Killbots was achieved by feeding them wave after wave of his own men until they reached a pre-programmed kill limit and shut down. He has claimed that when he's in command, "Every mission is a suicide mission!", and he considers clogging the enemy's cannons with the wreckage of his own ships to be a viable combat tactic.
  • Both averted and subverted in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The clones are often viewed as this even admitting it themselves, but to the Jedi (with the exception of Pong Krell) they are invaluable friends and kept alive as much as possible, not that it helps the Jedi in the end.

    Real Life 
  • During World War II, Japanese infantrymen were called 'senrin' by their officers, referring to the price of mailing a conscription notice: one sen, one rin, or about 1/99th of a yen.
    • Several Japanese officers who fought on Guadalcanal went further, calling themselves and their men 'teppodama', literally "bullets" in being that expendable.
    • The initial wave of attacks during D-Day consisted of this almost exclusively. Several thousands of soldiers landed via boats at the beach and were simply ordered "run and take the hills". The purpose of this was a fairly literal invocation of Cannon Fodder, in that the soldiers were just there to take the bullets and keep the Nazis busy until they simply ran out of ammo. Estimates go that there were around 1000 Nazis dead, ten times as many as that died on the Allied side with 4,414 confirmed according to Wikipedia.
  • According to The Other Wiki, the first documented use of the term "cannon fodder" appears in an anti-Napoleonic pamphlet by French writer François-René de Chateaubriand, published in 1814. In it, Chateaubriand lambasted Napoleon's battle strategy, particularly his treatment of new recruits: "the contempt for the lives of men and for France herself has come to the point of calling the conscripts 'the raw material' and 'the cannon fodder'."
  • The ugly truth is that this has been the purpose of infantry since WWI in conventional warfare. While some armies have embraced it and some haven't, ultimately the infantry's job is to go first and locate targets for the artillery, aircraft, and armored vehicles. That this is frequently accomplished by losing a few of them to fire from a concealed position is an unfortunate inevitability.
    • Napoleonic armies were raised by conscription, and any conscription armies tend likewise to be Cannon Fodder. Equipment and weapons are expensive, human life is cheap.
  • Red Army staff officers sometimes referred to lost soldiers as "material" or "wastage". Euphemisms such as "how many pencils were broken today?" were common. This is actually something of a subversion: it was not simple callousness, but a coping strategy given the incomprehensibly massive casualties (twelve million dead and several million more crippled, more than every other combatant [including China] put together) the Soviets suffered in WWII. Given how much as been written about the "Red hordes" (most of it nonsense, based upon accounts by embittered ex-Wehrmacht personnel), this may come as a surprise to some.
  • There have been few better examples than the 100,000 men of Vasily Chuikov's 62nd Reserve Army. Based in the Stalingrad district, it was still being formed and had months of training, arming, and equipping still to go when the front lines ended up on their doorstep in early September 1942. In the next two months the 62nd Army was tasked with luring the German 6th Army close to the city through a series of relentless counterattacks, regardless of losses, to make it possible for Soviet mobile forces to encircle the entire army in a counter-offensive operation that November. They succeeded, luring a full 60,000 troops deep into the city and drawing another 120,000 German and 200,000 Italian and Romanian troops within a hundred kilometres of it. In doing so they lost 300,000 men and suffered another 300,000 wounded: this was a full thirtieth of the entire losses suffered by the Red Army in World War Two, or a full third of the Western Allies' total deaths in WWII. Some of the most extreme examples (counting wounded among the survivors) include the 112th Rifle Division, which had about 7k men at the beginning of the urban fighting in September and had 250 when it was evacuated on the 29th. The 37th Guards Rifle Division arrived as reinforcements for the 62nd Army on the 15th-16th September with at least 10k men, and had "a few hundred" left on the 15th of October. The 95th Rifle division arrived as reinforcements in late September with 7k men and the surviving 500 were evacuated on the 14th of October. And last but not least, the 193rd Rifle Division arrived on the 27th-28th September with 5k and by the 8th of October had 350.
  • This happened a lot in the American Civil War. When Pickett's Charge was repulsed at Gettysburg, the retreating survivors were taunted with shouts of "Fredericksburg!" In that earlier battle, it was the Army of the Potomac that suffered frightful casualties in failing to break a fortified line. Almost one year later, one soldier wrote in his diary: "June 3, 1864. Cold Harbor. I was killed." Which he was. Many other soldiers pinned nametags to their uniforms before this and other battles so they could be identified if they were killed; ironically, the author of the diary omitted his name in the book, and it has been suggested that the diary entry is apocryphal.
  • How many hordes there are in a Chinese platoon? A sarcastic joke amongst the UN troops during the Korean War. The constant nighttime infiltration-assault attacks of People's Liberation Army infantry Platoons (50-100 men) on UN infantry Squads (10 men), in the context of PLA Batallions (500 men) attacking UN Platoons (50-100 men) produced appalling casualties which broadly favoured the Chinese. The daytime UN artillery bombardments and infantry-supported tank attacks, on the other hand, produced even more apalling casualties which heavily favoured the UN. Despite their bravery and cunning in executing such a strategy the balance of losses still worked out very badly against the PLA, not least because of their lesser medical resources.