"Months earlier, when Siétamo was taken, the general commanding the Government troops had said gaily: 'Tomorrow we'll have coffee in Huesca.' It turned out that he was mistaken. There had been bloody attacks, but the town did not fall, and 'Tomorrow we'll have coffee in Huesca' became a standing joke throughout the army. If I ever go back to Spain I shall make a point of having a cup of coffee in Huesca."
So you're at war, and you're preparing for a big offensive that will finally turn the tide in your favour. You have A Simple Plan
for the whole affair, and your Redshirt Army
far outnumbers the Mooks
defending the city, bridge, fortress or whatever strategical MacGuffin
you're planning to seize. You are all but assured that the upcoming battle will be a Curb-Stomp Battle
in your favor... and you confidently announce, 'Nothing Can Stop Us Now
!' After all, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Quite a lot, actually. This trope is about overconfidence in a war situation, be it about the entire war or a specific attack – the point is that what is assumed beforehand to end in a quick and easy victory
will turn into a long and grueling battle (or even a quick and easy defeat
) instead. If it goes really wrong, it could end up as a Shocking Defeat Legacy
. This makes any statements
of confidence about the matter, such as "Tomorrow we'll have coffee in Huesca" in the page quote, a lot Harsher in Hindsight
Very often Truth in Television
. Compare It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time
- Discussed in the opening narration of A Bridge Too Far: 'The plan, like so many plans in so many wars before it, was meant to end the war by Christmas and bring the boys back home.' See below for Operation Market Garden, the Real Life example on which this film was based.
- In Stalingrad, one of the German soldiers says they'll take the city in three days. In three weeks, the city still won't have fallen. In three months, most of the soldiers will be dead.
- Lampshaded by Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind: "Poor devils. They were gonna lick the Yankees in a month."
- In the Discworld book Jingo, the Upper Class Twits leading the Morporkian army thought that they'd have a jolly good time teaching the Klatchians a lesson, that the enemy would run at the sight of their steel, and that they'd be home by Hogswatch. This despite the fact that they were badly armed, hopelessly outnumbered, and the Klatchians who actually saw their steel tended to start sniggering.
- Later in the book, one character bemoans that "We were going to sail into Klatch and be in Al-Khali by teatime, drinking sherbet with pliant young women in the Rhoxi," mirroring the confident statements of some WWII soldiers that "We'll be drinking coffee in Berlin by teatime."
- In The Short Victorious War, The People's Republic of Haven leaders decide to resort to war against Manticore. A short, victorious war, they believe, will both distract the proles from their current economic problems and allow them to use the riches of the Manticore system to prop up their welfare state. Needless to say, the war is a disaster for Haven and ends up lasting for almost 20 years.
- The page quote is a fine example from the Spanish Civil War, as recounted by George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia.
- "I'll Be Home For Christmas" by Bing Crosby is about a World War 2 soldier who writes to his family about how he'll be home by Christmas. At the end of the song he says "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams", admitting it's unlikely he really will be home by Christmas.
- The BattleTech universe certainly has seen its share of this trope. Two large-scale examples — smaller ones abound, but these are really just perhaps the two biggest ones in the entire history of the setting — would be the Reunification War (as initially viewed by the newly-minted Star League) and the Clan invasion of the Inner Sphere (from the original point of view of the Clans); needless to say, neither actually worked out that way.
- The final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth (the fourth and last Blackadder series, set during World War One) features characters making remarks like 'It's ice cream in Berlin in 15 days', 'See you all in Berlin for coffee and cakes', and 'We'll be sucking sausages in Berlin by teatime!' about the upcoming battle. Eventually Blackadder hangs a lampshade on this by snarking, 'I hope their cafés are well stocked; everyone seems determined to eat out the moment they arrive.'
- Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: during a two parter where a cast member's brother is being held hostage in Afghanistan, we see a Flash Back, during which the President of the network (who was only a VP then) opines that the war will be over in a month.
- The Battle of Serenity Valley in Firefly was assumed by Alliance command to be an easy victory. Though the Independents would ultimately lose the battle due to massive Alliance air support, the browncoats were nonetheless able to hold the Alliance for far longer than anyone thought possible (the fact that the Alliance had to call in the air support was a victory of sorts). Unfortunately, it's implied that the "victory" in the valley was ultimately disastrous for the Independents, who surrendered not long after.
- In the NCIS episode "One Shot, One Kill", a Marine recruiter tells a pair of nervous potential recruits, "What with boot camp, S-O-I, follow on schools... we're talking over a year and a half of training. Iraq will pretty much be over by the time you boys graduate." The episode aired in February of 2004, and Reality Subtext ended up putting that assertion squarely into this trope.
- In the opening scenes of the German miniseries Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter, five friends have one last drink in Berlin. Two of them are leaving for service in Operation Barbarossa, one of them has volunteered to be a nurse on the front, another is an aspiring singer, and the last one is Jewish. They leave, hoping that by Christmas, Russia will be crushed and all of them will be reunited in that bar. The war ends four years later, Germany is defeated, and two of the friends don't make it back.
- Deep Space Nine : The Dominion found it's hopes for a quick victory smashed by being cut off from reinforcements. Then after the Breen join, they again start to dream of a quick victory, but again the situation is turned around. On the other side of the battlefield, Gowron also kept thinking his incompetent tactics would lead to swift victory.
- Often happens in Real-Time Strategy or Turn-Based Strategy games when a player attacks another player or an AI opponent with an army which is slightly too small.
- The Covenant from Halo believed that their war against humanity would be a short venture. Instead, the war would drag on for another twenty-seven years with no end in sight for either side and would divide Covenant society to the point of Civil War (the opposite effect was true of the humans, whose many factions, after years of fighting amongst one another, generally agreed to unify against the common threat of genocide by the Covenant war machine, though there was still fighting between the groups as of 2552).
- The opening of Hogs Of War, as with any other War Tropes parodied, literally ends with this: "With some luck, it will all be over by Christmas". The obligatory Harsher in Hindsight part comes when, in the ending, we find out that the glasses-wearing soldier seen in the opening got dumped by his girlfriend and is now homeless due to his house having been destroyed during the war.
- As revealed by backstory fluff, the Taiidan Empire from Homeworld attacked Kharak in the belief that a short victorious war against the surviving Hiigarans, ancestral enemy of the empire, would have quelled the internal opposition by both finishing the job with their most hated enemy in history and showing the might of their all-powerful emperor. Not only the destruction of all life forms of Kharak triggered the revolution and civil war (as the people realized their ancestral Hiigaran enemies had forgotten the treaty forbidding them from using hyperspace technology ever again that they had broken), but some Kushan, the descendants of the Hiigarans, had survived, and would cause the collapse of the Taiidan Empire by killing the emperor in battle.
- In Dragon Age: Origins, Cailan is confident that his forces and the Grey Wardens will be able to stop the Blight in one epic battle at Ostagar. That...doesn't end up happening. The trope is also inverted by the end. Blights usually last for years or even decades — the first Blight lasted nearly two centuries because the Wardens hadn't yet discovered how to end Blights. The Warden and their allies end the Fifth Blight in less than one year.
- In the story "Heart of the Lion" from The Wulf Archives, the White Empire attempts to conquer the Veldt Lands in order to enslave the natives. This "quick campaign," led by an arrogant Upper-Class Twit by the name of Lord Heatham, fails miserably — less than half of the forces fielded actually make it to the battlefield due to adverse sea conditions and local diseases on land, and the battle with the Sholanti ends with everyone on the battlefield (except the protagonist) slaughtered to a man.
- At the start of The American Civil War, both sides assumed it would end in a quick victory. Confederate Secretary of War Leroy Pope Walker even predicted he would be able to mop up all the blood spilled with a handkerchief.
- In the same war, there was a battle in New Mexico Territory called the Battle of Glorieta Pass. When the two sides met, a Union soldier reportedly yelled out, "Out of our way, rebels! We'll take our dinner in Santa Fe!", to which one of the rebels replied, "You'll take it in Hell!" The Confederate soldiers actually won the battle, but were forced to withdraw back south after one of the Union leaders, Maj. Chivington, located and destroyed the rebel supply train.
- In 1903, on the eve of the Russo-Japanese War, V.K. Plehve, Russian Minister of the Interior, said: 'What this country needs is a short, victorious war to stem the tide of revolution.' The war was neither short nor victorious for the Russians, and the revolution came fourteen years later.
- The start of World War One is probably the most egregious example. All sides were confident that their soldiers would come home victoriously within months - as we all know, nothing of the kind happened, and the war lasted four years.
- The Central Powers' reasoning for an Aufmarsch II West-offensive was not as moronic as it sounds if one limits oneself to just their knowledge and logic - bar the bits about food-consumption, minimum troop numbers required for success, and just general odds of success. The German General Staff consistently favoured courses of action with the best possible outcomes, rather than those with the best chances of success - in their minds a plan in which Germany was sure to gain a slight strategic advantage (e.g. Aufmarsch II West Defensive, Aufmarsch I/II Ost Defensive) was inferior to a plan in which Germany had a slight chance of gaining a huge strategic advantage (Aufmarsch I/II West-offensive).
- Played straight and Subverted at the same time when Italy finally entered the war, even if on the opposing side. Politicians and patriots expected a quick and easy victory, with an almost immediate conquest of Trento and Trieste and maybe even a conquest of Vienna itself. The Alpini mountain troops (recruited on the same mountain border area where they would fight the Austro-Hungarians), on the other hand, knew they would fight for months and maybe years, and the Italian commander-in-chief Luigi Cadorna, while hoping that the Austro-Hungarian need to hold the Eastern Front against Russia would allow him to actually pull it off, had planned from the start for a prolonged war where the superior reserves of manpower of the Italian Army would gradually wear down the Austro-Hungarian forces to collapse.
- Later on in World War One, the Germans tried to force a breakthrough at Verdun. Their plan was to shell the French trenches empty (of live Frenchmen, that is), then rush in before the French could bring reinforcements to the scene. German troops were unpleasantly surprised when they found that a handful of French soldiers had survived the bombardment and fought back bitterly, holding out long enough for French reinforcements to arrive. The result was a long battle which came to be seen — especially in France — as one of the most definitive examples of War Is Hell.
- Later again, in 1917, Cadorna expected victory (or at least reaching the strategic objectives of occupying Trentino, Sudtirol, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and the Istria peninsula) before the end of the year, and with reason: the Austro-Hungarian reserves were completely depleted while Italy could, if necessary, deploy almost three hundred thousands young men (seventeen years old soldiers conscripted a year early but expected to not reach the front until 1918) and the Territorial Militia in a few days. Then, between the Russian collapse freeing some troops, Germany sending special troops and the abismal morale of the Italian troops (who had no idea they were about to win and were plagued by Cadorna's harsh discipline), the Austro-Hungarians broke through at Caporetto, and the war was prolonged by another year.
- And played straight in the same battle by the Austro-Hungarians, as, knowing of the abismal Italian morale, the Italians losing large quantities of materiel and over three hundred thousands men between fatalities, wounded and prisoners and that Italy's main weapon factories were dangerously near the frontline, they expected to knock Italy out of the war. The valley with the weapon factories was protected by a mountain garrisoned by over a hundred thousand men supported by a ludicrous amount of artillery, Italian morale suddenly rose at an all-time high due Cadorna having been replaced by the pupil of a legendary Four-Star Badass and the soldiers noticing the civilians were escaping from the enemy and deciding to defend them, the lost materiel was quickly replaced by both Italian production and Allied supplies (especially notable the American machine guns), and as for the human losses... Well, the last thing Cadorna did before being sacked was to deploy those three hundred thousand young men and part of the Territorial Militia to replace every single casualty and then some, and five French and British divisions and an American regiment were redeployed there as soon as Cadorna was confirmed as replaced. Needless to say, the Austro-Hungarians (whose German reinforcements had been redeployed in France) were less than amused.
- And completely Inverted in 1918. By October everyone knew the Entente would win, and the Central Powers' plan was for Austria-Hungary to negotiate a favourable peace and Germany to fight through winter to get good peace conditions. Then, exactly one year after Caporetto, the Italians launched an offensive that triggered the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and earned Italy free passage to Germany through its rump, forcing Germany to surrender immediately, before the German soldiers even realizing they had lost. This time they actually were home by Christmas.
- At the beginning of the Winter War, Stalin was expecting Finland to surrender in a couple of weeks - after all, it was a small backwoods country up against a world power - but the war went on for three and a half months and ended in a Pyrrhic Victory for the Soviets: they did force the Finns to concede their border territories, but at a huge cost in both lives and international prestige. In addition, this "victory" was the key reason Finland allied with Germany in World War II (the Finns even call it the "Continuation War").
- Subverted in the early stages of World War II, in that Germany really did conquer much of Europe without much effort. Both the Polish and Western campaigns were completed and won well before Christmas of their respective years. Even the USSR suffered blow after blow at first; what saved them was just how large the nation is. The Wehrmacht simply couldn't reach Moscow before the winter kicked in, and Russia still had two thirds of the country to retreat to. In addition, the Russians had wisely relocated much of their industrial base further east before the beginning of the war.
- Also played straight at the same moment, as Germans did not expect such a fierce, if incompetent, resistance. Without it, even the vast spans of land would do little to stop the Wehrmacht. The Blitzkrieg was essentially dead by the August, and the meat grinder settled in.
- Just before Operation Barbarossa started, Hitler told his generals, "All we have to do is kick in the door, and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down." Given how poorly the Red Army did against Finland, and how quickly Germany was able to do what took Napoleon several years, the rest of the world could not disagree with that sentiment.
- Played straight later on in the same war. The Allied high command were very confident about Operation Market Garden; however, they had not counted on the two German armour divisions who were resting up near Arnhem and Eindhoven, respectively. Warnings from the Dutch Resistance about the presence of these troops were disbelieved.
- Operation Market Garden had much more complex reasons for being initiated, as well. Eisenhower felt that he had to launch the operation to appease his superiors (the civilian politicians who wanted the war over as quickly as possible). He felt that a more measured approach, steadily winning ground from the Germans, would have been better, but he instead committed most of his forces to the operation in an attempt to secure a route straight to Berlin. In fairness, had the operation succeeded, the war would have been over by Christmas of 1944, possibly long before. The failure of the operation and the sheer amount of resources committed to it, which then tied up more resources in an attempt to save the men who were cut off from Allied aid, meant that the war would drag on until May 1945.
- Despite the many errors in both planning and execution, the sheer bravery and determination of the soldiers involved brought Operation Market Garden far closer to success than it had any business getting. But that didn't actually matter, because nothing less than total success could have made the operation worthwhile. In terms of the actual results, almost succeeding was no more useful than being utterly crushed from the start would have been.
- When Boris Yeltsin's popularity declined, he thought he needed a quick military victory to boost his prestige. The Chechen rebels would do nicely... or so he believed. The result was a long and bloody war which ended in humiliating defeat for the Russian army, ultimately doing little more than showcasing that the once-feared Red Army was not even a shadow of its former self.
- Things were much more complex really. The main reason for the First Chechen War was not so much a Yeltsin's wish for a prestige, as is was the attempt to avoid a further national decay. There were a lot of separatist movements in Russia at the time, and the Chechens, who were attacking civilians and engaging in their own ethnic cleansing campaign, were just most dangerous of them. The war wasn't also as much lost as it turned into a bloody quagmire The Government decided to wash its collective hands off of. See The War on Terror (well, the less favorable portrayals thereof).
- Before the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, one Arab general infamously claimed, "This time next week we will be eating lunch in Tel Aviv." Turns out, not so much.
- During the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese predicted that Shanghai would fall in three days. However, they were not prepared for the strength of their opposition, including a million of Chiang Kai-Shek's elite soldiers trained by German advisors. It took three long and hellish months involving fierce urban warfare before Shanghai finally fell.
- During the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur was quoted saying this almost word-for-word about the progress of coalition forces. Then the Chinese entered on the opposite side and the war was stretched out for a few more years.
- A complaint occasionally fielded about the American public during the War On Terror, especially in the early years, was that they expected this despite warnings from US military officials that they were in for a very long campaign. Blame for this is typically laid upon the surprisingly easy victory in Desert Storm, where the American-led coalition steamrollered over the Iraqi forces, and poor planning by civilian politicians, who expected to be greeted as liberators by the Iraqis. Then again, the Gulf War of 1991 was a very different sort of war from the wars the US would be fighting in the early 21st century.
- Cleverly averted when the Americans left Iraq, however. The time table was "by the end of the year", even though they were gone by Christmas. Genre Savvy General, perhaps?
- While no timetable was ever mentioned, American War Hawks at the beginning of the War of 1812 declared the conquest of Canada to be "a simple matter of marching." All invasion attempts ended in failure, though the Americans did succeed in burning York (now Toronto), the capital of Upper Canada.
- When Suleiman II began the first siege of Vienna in 1529, he sent a letter to the defenders saying that he'd have his breakfast within the city walls in three days. Three days later, the Viennese sent back another letter telling him that his breakfast was getting cold.