Shocking Defeat Legacy

In fiction (and in Real Life) during a great war there's a certain strategic loss that is very significant to the point of being demoralizing, shocking, and iconic in universe. One faction might be fighting an intergalactic war with Scary Dogmatic Aliens, but there's one place in the galaxy that has no chance in hell of falling at the hands of the enemy. Perhaps it's a planet that's fortified by surrounding Kill Sat, a squadron of Sun Crushers and an armada of Titan-class motherships, guarded by battalions of Voltrons and other Combining Mecha, SDF fleets and Valkyries.

But in the end, said planet falls, sending a chilling wave down the spines of The Federation. Sometimes it could be a turning point in the war, but not always. A faction can suffer these defeats and not necessarily be defeated. But it's still a crippling loss that'll at least slow them down significantly. Sometimes these defeats are due to surprise attacks. Could end up as a Pyrrhic Victory for the attackers. Sometimes it's described as a Noodle Incident in some stories. This is usually The Worf Effect, but for battles/wars (or even sports) instead of individuals. Usually to show how high the stakes is.

Usually overlaps with Hopeless War, Remember the Alamo, and Last Stand. Often can be a Decisive Battle, if the balance of power is dramatically shifted as well. See also the sub-trope Capital Offensive.

For the victors it could overlap with Pyrrhic Victory, and Was It Really Worth It?.


Examples

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     Anime and Manga  

     Film  
  • The Sorrow and the Pity: A documentary about the German conquest of France in 1940, the difficulties of the next four years under German occupation, and how French people are still having problems dealing with it 25 years after liberation. Director Max Ophuls also takes time to interview some of the German generals behind that attack and the latter, despite Denazification cannot help but gloat about their victory.
  • The Rebel Alliance from Star Wars blowing up not only the first Death Star, but the second one as well.
    • Arguably the beginning of the end for the empire was when Tarkin blew up Alderaan. Which caused a huge backlash that led to high rebel recruitment.
    • And again with the Battle of Jakku, which put the perverbial nail in the coffin of The Empire.
  • The destruction of Vulcan in the 2009 Star Trek. Not only was a massive loss for the Federation, but a signal to the fans that this was not going back to the status quo.

     Literature  

  • The Battle of Yonkers in World War Z. They threw everything but the kitchen sink at the enemy and still lost. Though that was actually a detriment in the end, as all their gear and defenses and tactics were based on fighting an enemy that obeyed no human nor life norms (no pain, no fear, no stopping...)
  • The Fall of Coruscant to the Yuzzhan Vong in the New Jedi Order series. Under the incredulous eyes of many of the surviving characters, the lights of The City That Never Sleeps go out for the first time in several thousand years.
    Han Solo: The end of the world. Whodve thought wed live to see it?
  • The Dropsite Massacre of Isstvan V from the Horus Heresy. Four noble space marine legions had suddenly turned traitor and fortified themselves on said planet (after burning Isstvan III and purging their own ranks of traitors), an overwhelming seven legions were sent to crush the rebellion before it could spread. Instead, four of those legions turned traitor too, and all of them caught the remaining three loyalist legions in a crossfire that saw hundreds of thousands dead. It went From Bad to Worse from there...
  • The Silmarillion: The Battle Of Unnumbered Tears. It begins as a noble effort of the Elves, Men, and Dwarves to finish Morgoth once and for all. It's the first coalition of all the races together to fight Morgoth, and the greatest army seen so far in the world outside of the gods. It gets crushed so badly and so many people die that Morgoth literally makes a hill out of the corpses. The worst part is that they never had a chance. And things get so much worse from there.
  • In Honor Harrington these were the Battle of Manticore for Haven and Grendelsbane disaster during the opening stages of the Second Havenite War and later the Operation Oyster Bay (though Manticorans didn't knew its official name) for Manticore, though both nations recovered from these pretty damn quickly, and with a vengeance.
  • Andrey Livadny's The History of the Galaxy series has the nuclear bombardment of the Dabog colony by the Earth Alliance strike fleet as the opening round of the First Galactic War. In fact, this trope was President Hammer's original plan. The fleet would show up without warning, nuke two major cities on the planet, and land troops to quickly rout any defenders. Unfortunately for them, they didn't expect the colonists to have very effective Real Robots that routed the invaders. The pissed-off admiral of the fleet has the planet nuked so thoroughly that 1000 years later it's still uninhabitable. In fact, even after a millenium, the mere mention of Dabog is enough to stop a fight. However, the destruction of the colony only serves to band the colonies together and, after decades of vicious fighting, take the fight to Earth itself.
  • In Codex Alera, the rampant destruction of the Vord War, epitomised by the obliteration of Alera Imperia, the capital city, and the death of Gaius Sextus, the First Lord, is certain to be seen as this in the future (though the end of the series means readers won't see it). However, while the Vord War was the worst disaster in Aleran history in terms of casualties and destruction, various characters think that the Aleran culture is likely to improve a great deal in the aftermath, as it shattered many of the prejudices and mindsets that kept Alera stable but stagnant for those that had power and miserably unjust for those that didn't, and the series ends on a decidedly hopeful note.
  • In The Dresden Files the fall of Archangel early on in the Vampire War. A White Council stronghold and home to one of the strongest Wizards in the world and foremost expert on vampires, who died fighting against the onslaught fell in the first few weeks of the war. Later on, it would become the Wizard's equivalent of the Alamo.
  • The Battle of the Azure Nebula in the Star Trek Novel Verse, the most one-sided battle in the franchise's history.
  • The Battle of the Blackwater in A Song of Ice and Fire: Stannis Baratheon, one of the greatest threats to the Iron Throne among all five of the kings fighting for it, besieges King's Landing itself with a huge army, and is only beaten off due to preparations made by Tyrion that hold him off long enough for an allied Lannister-Tyrell army to come in from behind and smash his army so badly that he only has around fifteen hundred men and is now sending out people to hire sellswords to bolster his numbers.

     Live-Action TV  

  • The Battle of Wolf 359 from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine provides a few:
    • The Dominion attacking and destroying New Bajor, and shortly after the Galaxy-class USS Odyssey. The writers invoked this trope to emphasize the Dominion threat - A starship the same class as the Enterprise stood no chance against this foe.
    • The loss of Betazed in the Deep Space Nine series to the Dominion.
    • The Romulan entry in the war. What happened is not shown, but before that the Dominion was winning the war and on the verge of invading Vulcan, and a couple months later every single Federation and Klingon system conquered by the Dominion was back in Federation and Klingon hands (many of them overran by the Romulans and turned over to their legitimate owners as soon as they could spare some ships), and the combined Federation-Klingon-Romulan fleet was threatening the Cardassian home territory.
    • The Breen attack on San Francisco. Not as damaging as some of the others on this list, but shocking in that they were able to stab at the heart of The Federation.
    • One was planned by the Dominion as the final act of the war. After defeating the Federation they planned to wipe out all life on Earth, believing the demoralizing effect would severely limit revolutionary activities.
      • In some Star Trek Expanded Universe books, this happened in the Mirror Universe after the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance defeated the Terran Empire. As punishment, and an example, they turned Earth into a lifeless rock, possibly Vulcan as well.
  • The Battle of Serenity Valley in Firefly, which was apparently the battle that lost the war for the Independents and sent Malcolm Reynolds over the Despair Event Horizon.
  • In Doctor Who, much of the Last Great Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks has only been explained through dialogue by the Doctor himself. However, we do have a definite shocking defeat that was said on the show: the Fall of the Cruciform, which was so shocking that it made the Master himself flee to the end of the universe.
    • There was another one. The Doctor himself mentions that he was at the Fall of Arcadia, and that he might be able to come to terms with it someday. In "The Day of the Doctor" it's revealed that Arcadia was the second biggest city on Galifrey, and its fall to the Daleks meant that the Time Lords were on the verge of annihilation. This ends up motivating the Doctor to destroy both races.
    • The Doctor inflicts the demoralizing side of this trope on Colonel Manton after temporarily gaining an edge at the Battle of Demon's Run, forcing him to bear the insulting nickname "Colonel Runaway" by giving his troops the order to run away as punishment for targeting people that he loves.
  • In the finale of Power Rangers Turbo, the planet Eltar falls, stripping the Rangers of their powers, forcing them into space to try and rescue their old mentor Zordon.
  • The fall of Winterfell in Game of Thrones severely costs Robb Stark in both morale and momentum, eventually culminating in the Boltons switching sides and betraying him.

     MMORPG  

  • In World of Warcraft there are numerous examples of this, as well as a couple of subversions, but given the name of the game, that's hardly surprising. There is the War Of The Ancients which led to the destruction of the Kaldorei kingdom and the world splitting apart. Then the Orcs almost complete annihilation of the Draenei on Draenor. After which, said orcs go on to invade the world of Azeroth and sack the human city of Stormwind. Later, they go on to enslave the Red Dragon Flight, with which, they almost reduce Quel'Thalas to burning ash. Later, Prince/Death Knight Arthas ends up killing every man, woman, and child in Stratholme. After that, he kills his father, several paladins, including another father figure, Uther, then sacks Quel'Thalas and Silvermoon City to use the Sunwell, which he then blows up. Oh yeah, at the end of that campaign, Archimonde comes around to completely demolish Dalaran. The Kaldorei lose their beloved demigod, Cenarius, in a battle with Grom Hellscream. Finally, the Kaldorei give up their immortality by blowing up the World Tree to kill Archimonde. Did I mention there were a lot of examples in this?
    • HOWEVER the killing of Archimonde, the whatever happened to Sargeras and Azeroth's ability to merely RESIST the Burning Legion are all pretty big. And implied to be bigger than anyone knows. Given this entails two cosmic horror like beings killed in a setting every (sane) person knows to be a cosmic horror story its kinda big.
    • Wrath of the Lich King introduced the battle of Wrathgate, where a united Horde and Alliance force was destroyed by treasonous members of the Forsaken. This set back the offensive aginast the Lich King by years and renewed the waning war between the two factions.
    • Mists of Pandaria begins with Garrosh Hellscream destroying Theramore, home to the peace-seeking Jaina Proudmoore. The leader of the neutral Kirin Tor is killed and Jaina nearly destroys Orgrimmar in return. Following these events, Jaina assumes leadership of the Kirin Tor with a decidedly anti-Garrosh mindset.
      • By this point, almost everyone is pretty much against Garrosh, who has decided that the Horde should be an orc-only force, kicking out all of his allies. A combined force of the Horde (minus Garrosh's force) and Alliance prepares to storm Orgrimmar to take care of Garrosh once and for all. Not a legacy his father would've approved of.
    • All throughout the game´s expansions, the Trolls are much of a subject of this: Confirmed to be one of the first races to even be in the World. They had vast Empires, one completely shattered into two tiny tribes by Night Elves, and another almost annihilated by the first Human/High Elf Alliance, yet another, later destroyed by The Scourge in Northrend. They try many, many, many desperately evil things to try and get by, but so far, they do not seem to be able to get a break unless they align themselves with The Horde. And even that does not work THAT well for them...!
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic contains two examples in one battle. First the Empire takes Corellia (a founding Republic world and major industrial center) out of nowhere; the shock is only enhanced when it's discovered that it wasn't totally a military conquest, and that Corellia's ruling body actually defected to the Empire. It flips around when the Republic rallies to take Corellia back, and in the process kills off half the Dark Council and a significant percentage of the Empire's military.

     Video Games  

  • Halo:
    • The UNSC has the Fall Of Reach, which was the equivalent of America's CENTCOM, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Fort Bragg, and Norad being taken out all at once. And that's not counting the civilian casualties.
    • While much of the Covenant fleet sent to Reach was also destroyed, it was their subsequent failure to prevent the Master Chief from destroying Alpha Halo that sent shockwaves across the Covenant, particularly since their commander, Thel 'Vadamee, was one of the Covenant's very best, having remained completely undefeated up until that point. The Prophets ended up laying the blame on him (despite the fact that his orders had been continually subverted by his overseeing Prophet) and declaring him Arbiter, starting a chain of events which eventually led to the dissolution of the Covenant itself.
    • When Flood overrun the Covenant capital of High Charity, it signals a massive loss for the Covenant, and the turning of the tide in favor of not only the Elites and their subordinates, but humanity's own continued survival.
    • After the end of the Human-Covenant War, humanity is one of the major powers in the Orion Arm. And then an entire city on Earth is wiped out in Halo 4 when the Didact uses a weapon that turns any sentient being into a mindless Energy Being soldier. It's only thanks to the Master Chief that he is stopped from doing that to all of humanity. The truth of the attack is completely covered up from almost all of humanity, but UNSC high command is rightfully spooked.
  • Deus Ex: the (French!) terrorist group Silhouette blows up the Statue of Liberty! Actually committed by MJ12 itself, conveniently framing Silhouette in the process.
  • Mass Effect has Shanxi, a human colony that was blockaded and besieged by the turians during the First Contact War until it was forced to surrender. The Bring Down the Sky DLC has Shepard narrowly avert one, preventing a devastating Colony Drop by batarian extremists on Terra Nova.
    • The Reapers plan for countless Cycles involved coming through the hidden relay inside the Citadel to wipe out galactic leadership and shut down the Relay network, allowing them to easily wipe out all galactic life system by system. Only the final act of defiance from surviving prothean scientists on Ilos prevented this from happening in the current Cycle, having altered the control signal that told the Keepers to open the Citadel relay.
    • In addition to the Reaper invasions across the galaxy, the fall of Thessia in Mass Effect 3.
  • EVE Online has the battle of Vak-Atioth, a Curb-Stomp Battle between the Jove and Amarr Empires, which sent the latter reeling into Vestigial Empire status. Later on, the Amarr reversed their fortune in the Battle of Mekhios, where they wiped out an entire Minmatar fleet and send the remnants of their forces packing.
  • Dragon Age: Origins has the Battle of Ostagar, in which the Player Character participates. Much of the Fereldan army, and all of the Grey Wardens but the Player Character and The Lancer Alistair, are killed after Teyrn Loghain's forces, The Cavalry, abandon the battlefield.
    • In Dragon Age II, after the fall of Lothering to the Darkspawn horde, Hawke's family became one of thousands of refugees that fled Ferelden to escape the Blight, eventually settling in Kirkwall in the Free Marches. Part of the backstory of a Warrior/Rogue Hawke, their brother Carver and Aveline Vallen is that they were all survivors of the King's Army at Ostagar and only narrowly escaped with their lives after Loghain's betrayal.
  • In The Elder Scrolls backstory, for all of their many victories, it was a Nord defeat that had perhaps the most profound impact on Tamriellic history. After centuries of domination and expansion out of Skyrim, their army, led by the Tongues (masters of the Thu'um), was annihilated at Red Mountain in Morrowind by a coalition of Dwemer and Chimer forces. This marked the farthest expanse of the Nordic empire and led to a drop-off in the use of the Thu'um as a weapon after Jurgen Windcaller, one of the defeated Tongues, created the Way of the Voice to use the Thu'um only to honor the gods. The after effects of the loss at Red Mountain could still be felt in the storylines to both Morrowind and Skyrim.

     Western Animation  
  • The Legend of Korra Book 4 sees Korra lose to Kuvira in an arranged duel over the fate of the city of Zaofu (whom Kuvira already amassed an army to take). Since she had previously had a 3-year long Convalescence after being physically and psychologically broken by the third book's finale, she loses. After she gets better and back into top form, she resolves to not let Republic City fall to Kuvira's conquest too.
  • The loss of the Homeworlds for the Terrans in Exo Squad, although the utter destruction of Mars late in the second season was an even more devastating blow to the Neosapiens. Phaeton built most of his anti-Terran propaganda upon it afterwards.

     Real Life  

Classical Antiquity
  • The Battle of Leuctra for Greece. Sparta was considered effectively invincible after centuries of reputation and their recent defeat of Athens. However, once Epaminondas applied this little thing called "proper tactics"... the conservative Spartans lost a thousand men in that single battle, their reputation and hegemony over Greece both shattered forever.
  • The Battle of the Allia for Ancient Rome. The Gaulish chieftain Brennus defeated the Roman army and sacked Rome itself. The Romans were determined never to allow this to happen again, and strengthened the city's defences, reorganised the army and, for generations afterwards, marked the anniversary of the defeat by sacrificing the city's guard dogs as punishment for their failure to alert the Romans to a night attack on the Capitoline Hill. The sacred geese that did alert the Romans were carried through the city on gilded cushions in the same ceremony.
    • Same thing would happen 800 years later in year 410, when the Visigoths under Alaric I sacked Rome. The Roman Empire remained as an independent nation and would live to 1456, but it was clear to everyone after the sack that Rome was at that point just a shadow of its former glory self, and the only reason why the Huns were not able to finish the job was because of Flavius Aetius (one of many people historians term "the last true Roman")' tactical genius and his alliance with the Visigoths.
    • Also for the Romans, the Battle of Teutoburg Forest on September 9, 9 AD. Three Roman legions were returning to camp when they were attacked by Arminius, a Germanic chieftain who had grown up in Rome. All three legions were wiped out, and eventually the Roman Empire withdrew from Germania. Emperor Augustus, when told of the disaster, reportedly banged his head against the wall, shouting "Varus! Give me back my legions!"
      • More recent research, e. g. the finding of the remains of a post 9 A. D. battlefield in the middle of Germania where the Romans conclusively defeated their Germanic foes, indicates that Rome continued to make successful incursions into Germania much longer than was hitherto believed and that the eventual withdrawal from there was not immediately preconditioned on the battle of the Teutoburg Forest.
    • Another great Roman disaster was the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, when the Seljuk Turks routed the much larger Roman army and captured Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes. While modern scholars don't consider it a "turning point" anymore, the disaster at Manzikert led to the loss of most of Anatolia (some parts of which irrevocably) and plunging the Empire into a series of civil wars. Until the end of the Empire in 1453 Manzikert was widely known as "that day" and considered one of the most shameful days of the Roman Empire.
  • Amazingly averted by the Roman Republic in the First and Second Punic Wars. In the first, the Romans lost two entire fleets in heavy storms, losing 280 ships and 100,000 men in 255 B.C. and a slightly smaller number in 253, yet they kept building new fleets and wrested naval supremacy from Carthage. In the Second Punic War, Hannibal and his army inflicted three terrible defeats on the Romans, but Rome continued to wage war until ultimate victory. When Hannibal sent the news of his greatest victory at Cannae (216 B.C.) to the Carthaginian senate, the senator Hanno asked: "Did the Romans ask for peace? Did one of the cities of Latium or one of Rome's colonies rise against the Romans?" When Hannibal's emissaries answered "no" to both questions, Hanno said: "Then the course of the war has not changed."

Middle Ages
  • Another real life example would be the Battle of Hastings, as England would've ended up an entirely different country without it. Yet another real life example (and an often fictionalised one) would be the Battle of Chi Bi in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, as it's widely believed that if the aggressors hadn't been defeated, the Three Kingdoms period might have ended then and there, which would have had a drastic impact on China's history.
    • Another example, although lesser known to Westerners, but with nearly as much impact on China's history is the Battle of Fei River. Had Jin lost, the Han Chinese could have lost control of China, however, Xie An (who was famous as a great administrator and had little military experience) decided he wasn't going to let Former Qin run wild and beat back a far more experienced army well over twice the size of his own. It was the single largest catalyst in the fall of Former Qin and just ten years later practically ceased to exist.
    • Hastings is a perfectly justified example, in that the King of England got an arrow to the head and his troops kept falling for fake retreats. Since few people really cared who was king at the time, William the Bastard Conqueror pretty much won by default.
  • The Battle of Hattin 1187 to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which wiped out almost the whole army of the kingdom. It led to the downfall of Jerusalem itself. Never again were the Franks on offensive at Outremer anymore after the defeat at Hattin.
  • The Mongols have done this a lot to others: they conquered China, decimated Persia, ravaged Russia, and nearly conquered Europe. But they also get the receiving end of this like in Vietnam.
  • Though the Turks didn't conquer Constantinople itself until 1453, a Turkish victory at Manzikert in 1071 was a significant blow to the Roman Empire, which continually lost territory in Anatolia to the Turks after that. This allowed the first few sieges on Constantinople, as well as the establishment of Turkish cities and military forces. By 1453, the "empire" barely stretched past the city itself (although the plague and Venetian Crusaders did damage to the city as well.)

Renaissance Era
  • The Loire Campaign in the Hundred Years War. Before it, everyone knew that English conquest of France was just a question of time, and the imminent conquest of Orléans would speed up things. Then the French, their courage restored by Joan of Arc, lifted the siege, launched the campaign and inflicted the English a series of defeats, the final of which, the Battle of Patay, being a Curb-Stomp Battle that crippled the English army for the rest of the war.
  • The Battle of Lepanto and the Siege of Vienna of 1682 for the Ottoman Empire: the near complete destruction of their fleet and the loss of all their experienced crews at Lepanto signaled the end of the Ottoman supremacy over the Mediterranean (the fleet was quickly rebuilt in terms of ships, but the crews weren't even half as competent as their predecessors, and the Ottoman fleet never recovered), and the defeat at Vienna marked the end of the Ottoman expansion in Europe and the start of their slow but inarrestable decay.

18th Century
  • The Battle of Quiberon during the Seven Years War effectively bankrupted the French government by causing a credit crunch (because financiers realized that the British could strike French trade at will). They still hadn't paid the debts off by the time of the Revolution, nearly fifty years later.

19th Century
  • Waterloo - So famous it's practically a synonym for defeat.
    • Although as with many battles, what gave Waterloo such a "knock-out blow" mystique was not the battle itself but the subsequent pursuit. Thus in 1815, unlike 1812/13 and 1813/14, Napoleon's army was not given time to regroup and replenish.
    • Subverted with the Battle of Bailén - the Spanish destroyed three French divisions. Unfortunately, it was so shocking...that Napoleon turned up to sort the mess out in person, and promptly sent Spain into retreat.
      • Double subverted, because although Napoleon sent the Spanish into retreat, it was the first clear defeat of a major French army since he came to power, which (along with the defense of Saragossa) encouraged his enemies to continue their fight. Thus not only did the French army find itself stuck in a bloody war on the Iberian Peninsula for the next six years, but Austria started another war in the following year (1809), leading to the first defeat of an Army led by Napoleon in person at Aspern.
  • The Battle of Jena-Auerstädt. The Prussian army had been considered the finest in Europe ever since the wars of Frederick the Great, its soldiers inculcated with 'corpse discipline'-should they be shot and killed, their corpse should continue to march, load, and fire regardless. While Napoleon pounced with his main force on a Prussian detachment at Jena, the Iron Marshal Davout threw back the Prussian main army with a single corps. The Prussian army had been shattered in a matter of hours, and the pursuit destroyed it and the Prussian state with it. In the wake of this defeat, Prussia was forced to accept the loss of half its population and restrictions on its military. The defeat was so extreme, the Prussians basically rebuilt their society to recover and defeat the French. In the military, the corporal punishment necessary for 'corpse discipline' was abolished, and the concept of a citizen army was embraced. The Prussians adopted the first modern general staff, allowing non-aristocrats to become professional staff officers. They even went so far as to abolish serfdom to make a society that could defeat Napoleon.
  • The Battle of Trafalgar became this for the Combined Navies in the Napoleonic Wars - the French and Spanish lost almost seven times as men as the British, and the majority of their active ships-of-the-line. Not only would they never challenge the British at sea again, it gave the British the ability to strike at will at French and Spanish trade, contributing directly to the collapse of both empires by slowly throttling their treasuries. Indeed, when Napoleon was presented with an embroidery of an Eagle strangling a Lion, he said that it should be the other way round. During the battle itself, the explosion of the Achille was what signaled the end of the engagement and convinced the Franco-Spanish fleet to run.
  • The entire First Opium War was this to China. China's capitulation and the total lack of any Curb Stomp Cushion in sight humbled the Chinese and marked the begining of a era of being forced to negotiate from a position of weakness, and ending one of China's nigh-complete superiority over her smaller neighboring nations, one of which would even join the Western Powers in imposing their will on China. They even came up with the term Unequal Treaty to describe the treaties that resulted from these losses. despite having forced unfair treaties favoring China onto her neighbors, and provoked the first of them by refusing to deal with Britain as equals, and seeing the British as a mere future Vassal State. The Western powers and Japan did proceed to carve Chinese territory up like pizza . To this day, Chinese Communist Propaganda brings up the "Unequal Treaties" whenever deals with a western power fail to favor China as heavily as they would like.
  • The Battle of the Alamo, which was a major defeat for the Republic of Texas.
    • Subverted and completely reversed in that the Alamo actually fulfilled its objectives. While a tactical defeat, it was a resounding strategic victory that not only severely bled out the Mexican Army and allowed the Texan Army to organize into a fighting force, but also provided substantial morale boost.
    • The men of the Alamo had actually been ordered by Sam Houston to leave—Bowie's men originally came to destroy the fort, but the defenders chose to stay. Perhaps a better example from that war is the Battle of San Jacinto, where the relatively ragtag and much smaller Texan army hid out in the swamplands near what is now Houston, and defeated Santa Anna's men in a completely unexpected attack.
  • While the Battle of Gettysburg is popularly considered the turning point of the American Civil War , many however actually see the Battle of Antietam as the real turning point of the war, because this was the last real chance the Confederacy had of not just temporarily carrying the war north (there was also a Southern offensive in the west at the time, while even if Gettysburg had been won by Lee, Vicksburg still would have fallen to Grant), but also to gain recognition from the major European powers. Gettysburg had essentially no impact on the long term reputation of Lee and his army; the Northern public and the South alike considered him undefeated when Grant began his offensive in 1864.
    • Even after Gettysburg, the South still had one last chance to win, or at the very least, get a negotiated peace that would leave the Confederacy intact. That would be by keeping Union forces stalemated in sieges until November 1864, when the Northern public, sick of a long, bloody war with no end in sight, would vote Lincoln out of office and elect George McClellan President, who was campaigning on a Peace platform. In the east, Grant's forces were held at bay at Petersburg while in the west, Sherman's forces were tied up in the siege of Atlanta. But Atlanta fell to Sherman's forces in early September, boosting Northern morale and resulting in Lincoln getting re-elected. When Atlanta fell, everyone knew the South had truly lost.
    • The fall of Petersburg caused the Confederacy to realize that their capital of Richmond would soon fall as well, which eventually lead the engagement at the Appomattox Court House and General Lee's surrender to Grant.

Early 20th Century
  • The disasters that were the Battles of Mukden and Tsushima were largely responsible for the Tsarist government to fold the Russo-Japanese War, despite the still enormous strategic advantage and intelligence reporting of the impending collapse of the Japanese economy. The sense of national shame still felt forty years later was one of the major reasons the Soviet Union agreed to join the war against Japan in the closing days of WWII, despite technically still being neutralnote .

World War I
  • Gallipolli for Australia and New Zealand. It's viewed in much the vein as Dunkirk for the UK, only more so.
  • During the Russian Civil War, Kolchak's defeat at Tobol was the turning point for the Whites to start losing. After that defeat, Kolchak's Eastern White army started a retreat that quickly escalated to panicked flight resulting in the fall of Omsk, the rebellion at Irkutsk and Admiral Kolchak's own demise. For Denikin's Southern White army, the failure of his Moscow offensive at the battle of Orel was such a defeat; after Tobol and Orel the Reds had a practically guaranteed win, and the rest of the war was basically cleanup of remnant Whites, Blacks and Greens.
  • The sinking of the SMS Szent István during World War I was this for the Austro-Hungarian Navy. Before that, the Austro-Hungarians had tried various times to break the Otranto Barrage. Then the Szent István, the flagship of the fleet, was sunk by two Italian torpedo boats that just happened to be in the area, and not only the attack the flagship was supposed to lead was canceled, but the Austro-Hungarian navy didn't dare to leave the ports anymore.
    • Not that there was much time left for another attempt - the Szent István was sunk on 10 June 1918, less than five months before the land battle of Vittorio Veneto which forced Austria-Hungary to sue for peace.
  • Subverted by the Battle of Caporetto of World War One. While 'Caporetto' is still synonymous with 'complete and utter defeat' in Italian and the Italian Army was forced to cede half of Veneto to the Austro-Hungarian invasion, the Italian soldiers, upon noticing the civilians were running from the invaders, rallied up at the Piave river and stopped any attempt to pass it for a year. One year later, the Battle of Vittorio Veneto was one for the Austro-Hungarians: while the Austro-Hungarian Army quickly recovered from being dissolved (as pretty much all fighting units had been dispersed and routed, but managed to reassemble fairly fast), the Austro-Hungarian Empire did not, and collapsed three days before the end of the battle (and two after begging for an armistice). Furthermore, the terms of the armistice (that included free passage to Germany through Austria) forced the German Empire to ask for armistice, as the plan to fight through the winter to get favourable peace conditions had been shot to hell by the threat of a million battle-hardened soldiers from the South.

World War II
  • The Battle of Midway became this for the Japanese, as their loss in the battle effectively halted their expansion and put them fully on the defensive for the first time. US Naval Supremacy was only a matter of time, however; the Empire couldn't stay lucky forever in the face of the Allies' overwhelming economic and industrial superiority.

  • In a sense, the Doolittle Raid counts as well. After Pearl, the Japanese appeared invincible, seizing island after island and colony after colony. By April 1942, they had all but swept the Allies from the Pacific. Then, sixteen B-25s were transported by carrier a few hundred miles from Japan and dropped light bombs on Japanese cities. Almost no infrastructure damage was inflicted, but it scared the crap out of the Japanese. This drove Admiral Yamamoto to fight much more aggressively, causing him to attack Midway in order to secure it and thus the Japanese defense perimeter would be complete. Then, at Midway, all four of Yamamoto's carriers were sunk...
    • The raid also had a vital strategic effect. Japan's home defense fleet was very weak, so they recalled a fleet that was heading for the Indian Ocean. This gave the Royal Navy a much-needed breather to regroup and regain its strength in the Pacific.
  • The Battle of the Philippine Sea, in 1944, became another one for Japan. After two years, they had finally rebuilt their carrier forces, brought their newest and most advanced carrier—the armored carrier Taiho—into play, they had a huge advantage in position, geography, and circumstances (a strong wind that would considerably bolster Japanese carrier attack ranges while reducing the Americans', air bases closer to the enemy to field additional and heavier aircraft as well as land carrier aircraft returning from an extreme range attack on the enemey, etc), and the Americans were in the middle of invading islands that would give America airbases within strategic bombing range of the Japanese home islands. They sent out attack wave after attack wave, considerably more aircraft than they had had at their disposal at Midway, and the wind advantage meant that they were seemingly beyond the range of American reprisal. Only for the Japanese to find out that their pilots, planes, doctrine, technology, and ships were horribly outmatched when the American forces absolutely annihilated wave after wave of Japanese aircraft (this coming to be known as "the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot"), with only minor damage on a battleship to show for it. Then American submarines sank two of their best fleet carriers—including the brand-new and pride-of-the-fleet Taiho, and the American counterattack still managed to catch up to and sink one more fleet carrier. The battle completely dashed any hope of the Japanese Navy turning the war around.
  • The Battle of Leyte Gulf, following the Battle of the Philippine Sea, was the Imperial Japanese Navy's final attempt to stop the US Navy. With its carrier forces utterly decimated and reduced to being nothing more than a decoy, the IJN sortied the vast majority of its remaining fleet. The Southern Force was summarily obliterated by a perfectly orchestrated night-time ambush, with a Japanese battleship being effectively executed by a firing line composed largely of the American battleships that had been sunk at Pearl Harbor (and then raised and repaired). The Northern Force, comprised of the decoy (as in, largely empty) carriers were all sunk by overwhelming carrier attack. The Center Force, where all of the true strength lay, received a golden opportunity after Halsey chased after the decoy force without so much as leaving a picket ship in the strait leading to his landing forces and escort carriers, stumbling upon Taffy 3: half a dozen slow, unarmored escort carriers and a few destroyersnote  that were in the middle of supporting landing operations and were completely astonished by Center Force's arrival. Cue the most mis-matched naval battle in history, with Taffy 3 actually fighting off one of the most powerful surface action groups ever assembled with nothing more than a few tin-can destroyers, planes armed with just machine guns and light bombs, and audacious, desperate courage. By the end, the Northern Force was decimated, the Southern Force was annihilated, and the Center Force had taken severe losses, with only one escort carrier, two destroyers, and one destroyer escorts sunk to show for it. The Japanese Navy was destroyed as a significant fighting force, its remnants scattering to various locations and being hunted down in detail by the US Navy.
  • Britain's 1940 retreat from Dunkirk marked a turning point in World War II, but is remembered in Britain more for the heroic rescue of stranded troops than as a defeat.
    • The "Fall of France" fits the trope name better. Dunkirk is more of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat (although Churchill was quick to point out that you don't win wars with retreats and that while it was great to save the troops, the Fall of France was still a major defeat for the Allies). France had been the major balancing power on the continent against a resurgent Germany; everyone, from the French to the British to the Russians to the German General Staff believed it would be a long and brutal slugging match. When, according to von Manstein's plan, Guderian's XIX Panzer Corps cracked through the thin French defenses at Sedan, there was nothing between the Germans and the Channel, and the grand strategic balance of the war had been destroyed at a stroke. The most powerful army in Europe had been neutralized and their country overrun in six weeks.
      • Also, they had to leave most of their heavy arms, fuel, ammunition, vehicles, and equipment behind (which was enough to supply eight to ten divisions), so it would take a while before they were in a condition to face the Wehrmacht in the field again. Granted, much of the equipment was old or obsolescent, but they still had to rebuild from the ground up.
  • The failed Rzhev offensive and loss of Sevastopol of 1942 were probably this for the Soviet Union. They were later overshadowed by the great victories of Stalingrad and Kursk, but these failures, which stemmed largely from overconfidence after the successful Battle of Moscow and generally crappy Soviet logistics, costed enormously both in lives and materiel, and later weighed heavily over Soviet morals and military thinking even late in the war and after it.
  • For the European colonial powers in general, and the UK in particular, the Fall of Singapore. It had been boasted that Singapore was the best-defended city in the world, the armour-piercing shells of her heavy gun emplacements capable of punching through any ship the Japanese had to offer. However, Singapore was besieged from the landward side, and their anti-battleship defenses were wholly ineffective at targeting infantry. Percival had 100,000 troops on paper, but they were in no shape to continue fighting. Realising that their situation was hopeless, he surrendered. Only to find that the Japanese only numbered some 30,000 and their supply situation had been even worse. It was this event (among others in Southeast Asia) that inspired the acceleration of the decolonisation process - the European colonists were not, and never had been invincible.
    • Churchill himself felt the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942 was the greatest defeat in British history.
    Winston Churchill:"I put the telephone down. I was thankful to be alone. In all the war I never received a more direct shock."
    • It's generally acknowledged that even had Percival pushed the issue, he felt that Pyrrhic Victory would not have been worth it.
  • The Battle of Stalingrad, for the German forces in the Soviet Union. The Sixth Army was one of the largest German field armies, and the battle became an intense clash of ideologies: Nazism vs communism, Hitler vs Stalin. When the army was cut off, the Nazis immediately put a lid on all media reports regarding Stalingrad. Finally, the last remnants of the Sixth Army surrendered in February 1943. Nearly 100,000 Germans were captured, out of an initial force of 250,000. The scale of the catastrophe was so great that even Goebbels could not camouflage the defeat as he had the numerous other setbacks on the Eastern Front. It was the first time that the Nazis publicly acknowledged a failure in the war effort, causing German civilians to begin doubting their promise of final victory.
  • The Second Battle of El Alamein, for the Axis forces in North Africa.
    • Despite the loss and withdrawal from El Alamein, the campaign in North Africa continued for another six months. When Rommel ordered the retreat, Montgomery did not pursue and thus allowed the broken German formations to withdraw, fortifying themselves within Tunisia. The loss of Tunisia occurred only a few months after the loss at Stalingrad, with a quarter of a million troops taken prisoner. Soon after, the loss of Sicily was so great that the Italians overthrew Mussolini.
    • Rommel probably thought he could regroup and attack again the following year after halting the British offensive. What made El Alamein ensure this would never happen was that not too long after, the Americans started landing in Morocco and Algeria.
    • After failing to break through to Alexandria and beyond in the First battle of El Alamein, Rommel would have had to retreat after the American landing in Morocco and Algeria in any case. Some people therefore see the Second Battle of El Alamein as having been fought to a large extent to build up British morale and prestige in a last chance to win a major battle without the American army helping...
  • The Night of Taranto during World War II. Before it, the mere threat of the Italian battlefleet stationed at Taranto was making the Royal Navy cower. After a carrier attack neutralized half of the Italian battleships (including the newly completed Littorio, the most powerful battleship in Europe, damaged and neutralized for five months), the balance of power was firmly into British hands, and the Italians never managed to win a decisive engagement.
    • Incredibly and unbelievably Subverted in the Italian revenge for that, the Raid on Alexandria, in which six frogmen with three manned torpedoes penetrated Alexandria's harbour and sank two battleships and damaged a tanker (plus a destroyer by accident: it was too close to the tanker when the mine placed on it by the frogmen exploded). In theory the Mediterranean Fleet had been neutralized, and the Italians were free to dominate the Mediterranean Sea until the battleships could be repaired or replaced... Except the Italian high command failed to find out: the frogmen had been all captured before they could report their success, and the British immediately raised the battleships (sank in shallow waters) and patched them up enough that air recon believed they had not been damaged. While the raid did mark the start of six months of Axis victories in the Mediterranean, had the Italians knew of it nobody knows what they would have done.
  • For the U-Boat Service, May 1943 became known as "Black May" when 41 submarines, a full quarter of the operational U-boat fleet, were destroyed. While the "Happy Times" had long since passed, and the British no longer made the same mistakes, this marked the decisive shift in the Battle of the Atlantic. The industrial and intellectual powerhouse of the United States was brought into full force, with ships being built faster than they could be sunk and U-boats being sunk faster than they could be built. All remaining U-boats retreated to their bases in France, and the Kriegsmarine immediately began outfitting all boats with the latest technology to improve operations. However, the loss of so many experienced crews already deeply impacted the force's morale, with crews wondering why they bothered venturing out anymore. Even flotilla commanders started to tell departing boats "Never mind sinking ships. Just come back, please."
  • The summer of 1944 effectively sealed Germany's defeat. First came the D-Day invasions, when American, British, and Canadian troops landed on the coast of Normandy. The short-sighted micromanagement of the German Army by Hitler caused vital Panzer divisions to not be moved to the battle, allowing the Allies to establish a firm beachhead that soon became impossible to dislodge. A few weeks later, the Soviets launched Operation Bagration, which smashed the Wehrmacht's Army Group Center in Poland and wiped out divisions that Germany could no longer replace. These simultaneous battles shattered German morale, leading them to realize that defeat was inevitable.

Vietnam War
  • In the prelude to the US involvement in Southeast Asia, the French attempted to reclaim control of their colonies in the area after World War II ended. Unfortunately their shockingly fast defeat against Germany early in the war shattered the illusion that the French military was invincible, and emboldened Ho Chi Minh's resolve to kick them out of Vietnam as well. Though the French managed to remain in control for a few years, their defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu marked the end of French control of the region.
  • Vietnam was the greatest military quagmire in United States history.
    • Within the war itself, the Tet Offensive can be considered this. The Vietcong attacked many cities simultaneously, notably claiming the US Embassy in Saigon. This was a major hit to the vision of American strength and hit their morale deeply, especially as nightly TV news had shown repeated US victories over the Vietcong militarily speaking. In reality, the Vietcong suffered heavier losses than the American troops and the attack itself devastated the Vietcong's ability to operate to such an extent the North Vietnamese Army took over operations in South Vietnam, but in terms of perception this drastically swayed the war in their favour.
      • It was one of a few times when a major victory for a country (the US) was treated as a defeat. The fact that the US had beaten the Vietnamese very, very badly during the Tet Offensive was secondary to the fact that the unpopular war was still going on and that the offensive convinced Americans that the war would continue for years at that point. The media did the military no favors in its reporting on the war, and this reporting helped to shape US public opinion. The lesson was not lost on the military, and all US wars since then have had considerably tighter control over what reporters can show.

Other Wars
  • The Six-Day War was this for the Arab world. Not only had several invading armies been beaten by the Israelis, but Israel ended up in control of eastern Jerusalem (with the holy sites sacred to all the Abrahamic religions) and the Sinai Peninsula. The fact that a small, outnumbered, and surrounded country could do this was considered a disaster by the Arabs. However, in the 1973 war, the Arabs (especially Egypt) gave a better account of themselves; while the Israelis managed to maneuver themselves into superior positions during the late stages, it could no longer inflict another catasphohe as the Six-Day War on their enemies, lessening the legacy of that defeat.
  • The 2003 Iraq War had a similar effect to Vietnam: America easily won militarily, but the task of rebuilding the country led to a long occupation with mounting casualties.

     Sports  

  • The 2004 Dream Team during the 2004 Olympic Games, who were soundly beaten by... Puerto Rico and Lithuania (the latter of whom came close to beating the squad 4 years prior!). And then, worse yet, were trumpled in the semifinals to Argentina, breaking a streak of three straight gold medals with NBA players. The media refused to let American basketball players forget, until they got it together for the Redeem Team run in 2008.
  • The New England Patriots are best remembered for their 18-1 season in 2007. They were undefeated heading into the Super Bowl, and they lost the game to the underdog New York Giants on a flukey catch.
    • New Yorkers proudly dubbed this season as "18 wins and one GIANT loss!"
  • The Miami Heat, led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, ran roughshod through the Eastern Conference in the 2011 playoffs, defeating even the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls in five games apiece. Entering the Finals against Dallas, the Heat led the series 2-1... before losing the next three games to the Mavericks. It especially stings when you consider LeBron saying that he'd win multiple championships with Wade and Bosh. The media, the fans and the internet never let the Heat live it down after that, and the loss was haunting enough that it sent LeBron past the Despair Event Horizon. (he lead the Heat to the title the following year winning basically every award in the process, but the legacy remains because he left Cleveland solely to finally get a title, only to fail again with a better team)
    • It didn't help that the Heat seemed on the cusp of seizing victory for the series in both Game 2 (which would have severely crippled Dallas' morale) and Game 4, only for Lebron to get a little presumptuous by celebrating with Wade next to the Dallas bench in Game 2, leading to the miracle comeback that was led by Dallas superstar Dirk Nowitzki. From there, the Finals were a hard-fought battle to the finish.
  • Speaking of Cleveland, their teams have plenty of this, helped by the fact that most of their notable defeats can be summed up with a single phrase (The Shot, The Fumble, The Drive, Red Right 88, The Slip). Two were even off-field: The Move, where the Browns were moved overnight to Baltimore (to add insult to injury, the renamed Baltimore Ravens would win their first Super Bowl just 5 years later, a victory that Browns fans still believe should rightfully have been thiers); and The Decision, where LeBron announced his departure.
  • The World Cup has at least three finals, 1950 (Brazil loses at home; 5 titles later, it's still a sore point), 1954 (Dark Horse Victory of Germany over the heavily-favored Hungary) and 1974 (Dark Horse Victory of Germany over the heavily-favored Netherlands... though not as unexpected as the previous one).
    • Previously, both the previous World Cup's champion and the host country of the upcoming World Cup were given automatic spots in the upcoming World Cup. Then France, winners of the 1998 World Cup, turned in an atrocious performance in 2002, earning only one draw in three group games and failing to score a single goal. Since 2006, only the host country gets a free pass.
    • In 2014, Brazil is the host nation, their first home tournament since their 1950 defeat (itself already a Shocking Defeat Legacy). With their new superstar in Neymar, Brazil was the heavy favorites for the World Cup - although it was nip and tuck a lot of the way. They made it to the semifinals, but they had lost Neymar to injury, forcing him to miss the rest of the tournament. As a result, Brazil gets utterly humiliated by Germany with a score of 7-1 in front of their own native fans, which is both Germany's greatest margin of victory and Brazil's greatest margin of defeat, as well as one of the most lopsided games in World Cup history. While Germany would go on to win the final against Argentina, Brazil would have to settle for a third place match against the Dutch... only to lose yet again 0-3. This will not ever leave Brazil's consciousness for quite some time. To the point it reached Memetic Mutation, with subsequent bad performances of the national team (or the country itself) having Brazilians react with "Germany goal!" and "7-1 wasn't enough!".
  • The Boston Red Sox emassed quite some in their 86 year drought. The Chicago Cubs's one also deserves mention.
    • Now that the Cubs have finally won their first series in 108 years, the title for longest drought in baseball now goes to the Cleveland Indians, who lost the title against the Cubs.
  • For most of The '80s and the first half of The '90s the New York Yankees were in a Dork Age (relatively speaking for a franchise now with 27 World Series championships), having not made the postseason between 1982 and 1993note . In the '95 season they made it as the AL Wild Card and seized a 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 series against the Seattle Mariners before dropping Games 3, 4, and 5 at the Kingdome, the latter on a 2-run double in the bottom of the 11th inning. With a tempermental owner in George Steinbrenner, the Yankees brought about large changes to the starting roster both from within (i.e., Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera) and without (i.e., trading for, among others, Tino Martinez, who was a member of those '95 Mariners), as well as firing manager Buck Showalter and replacing him with Joe Torre. With a new core in place, the Yankees would win four of the next five World Series.
  • Bill Simmons wrote a couple of articles about the Levels of Losing (first article from 2002, second one from 2007 following the New York Mets' September collapse in the NL East), with Level 1 being reserved as the sole domain of "That Game" (Game 6 of the 1986 World Series). Then the Brett Favre-led Minnesota Vikings choked away the 2010 NFC Championship Game to the New Orleans Saints (the batch of emails in the article conveys quite nicely the devastation on Vikings fans' psyche), and Simmons went back and made a list of tortured teams eligible for a loss of that magnitude.note 
  • During the early 90s, the Buffalo Bills were the best AFC football team in the NFL and went to four straight Super Bowls, only to lose them all. But it's the first Super Bowl loss that people remember the most. Buffalo had their full arsenal with Jim Kelly, one of the best quarterbacks of the 90s leading his team. Their opponents, the New York Giants, were a weaker team on paper. Not to mention they were led by their backup quarterback, Jeff Hostetler, who was at the end of his long career. What should have been a sure win for the Baffalo Bills, turned out to be a close, competitive game that ended in one of the most unforgettable, heartbreaking, field goal kick misses in NFL history, known as "Wide Right".

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ShockingDefeatLegacy