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Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder
Virus: Why did you choose us to do this, sir?
Schaefer: Several reasons. You have a history of making it out of impossible situations, no matter how often we try to ki— no matter what assignment we deploy you on.

A close relative of Reassignment Backfire, except this turns out rather well for the superiors. This is when your Ragtag Bunch of Misfits are a bunch of assholes or at least out of favour with high command, and their superiors are clearly deliberate in sending them off to their certain demises. The problem is that, through sheer luck, ruthlessness, or actual competence and skill, they keep returning, sometimes even accomplishing the impossible missions.

However, rather than get worried for their jobs, the superiors are actually quite pleased. Now they've got Cannon Fodder who are actually likely to get the job done, but whom no one is going to miss if they don't come back! Often the mark of Dangerously Genre Savvy superiors. See We Do the Impossible for the Super Trope.

Contrast Elite Mooks, who are actually intended to be elite, as well as One Riot, One Ranger where the superiors send out someone who is meant to be elite from the start.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime & Manga 
  • The Organization in Claymore has a standard practice of sending the warriors they deem unreliable (actually, all who come close to Awakening) on Suicide Missions, yet some like Miria and Clare manage to survive against all odds, resulting in a win-win for the Organization. This did eventually end in the Battle of Pieta, where all current undesirables are rounded up in one place and massacred to hold off an army of Awakened Beings until they could scramble to deploy their real weapon, which they did. Pieta, however, backfired again: seven Claymores survived and deserted, but until that point it had been quite nice for them.
  • Area 88 has many examples of this. The Area 88 mercenaries are meant to fly highly dangerous missions to take pressure off regular Asran forces, as Bowman observes in the OVA. Since many of the mercenaries are veteran soldiers, they're very good at warfare.
  • In Berserk, Gambino is shown tricking fresh recruits in his mercenary army into going on a suicidal charge in order to bait enemy archers into firing and revealing their positions. His adopted son, Guts, was no different, except that he made it back. Not missing a beat, he turns it into An Aesop about not trusting anybody.
  • Played for Drama in Deadman Wonderland. Yoh sends Shiro to attack the operations center as a distraction while he sneaks in through the sewers, fully expecting her to die. Then the operations center explodes. And bodies start raining from the sky...

    Comic Books 
  • The main premise of Suicide Squad. The entire group are expendable criminals sent on missions which are... well, suicidal.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Dirty Dozen
  • xXx: Xander has been chosen by the NSA to be their agent to infiltrated Anarchy 99, because he's a Genius Bruiser, he blends well with the people in it, and is considered expendable. But he later gets the job done, and stops them from initiating their plan.

    Literature 
  • Odd example in Ciaphas Cain in that the superiors may be completely innocent, but Colonel Mostrue often seems a bit too quick to call in artillery strikes close to where Cain is stationed during Cain's time with the artillery unit, and also frequently gets Cain sent off into dangerous situations. Cain suspects that Mostrue is aware of the fact that his first great triumph was really just a desperate attempt to get to safety and abandon the battery to its fate, but whatever Mostrue's intentions, Cain's repeated survival of adverse circumstances only adds to the double-edged sword which is his reputation.
  • Played completely straight in the Gaunt's Ghosts novels, however. Colonel-Commissar Gaunt has made his fair share of enemies in the higher echelons of Imperial command, and many go out of their way to find ways to kill him and his Ghosts off.
  • This is the entire point of the 13th Penal Legion. In the first book, Colonel Schaefer starts with a legion of four-thousand troopers, the scum of the Imperial Guard. Two years later, he's got a 'legion' of 8 soldiers and they can do things even a Space Marine cannot.
  • One last Warhammer 40000 example: subverted horribly in Fire Caste. The Arkhan Confederates succeed where countless other Guard battalions have failed, routing legions of turncoats and aliens, eventually pushing the Tau back to their base of operations, "The Diadem". This is the exact opposite of what the Sky Marshal wanted; the Arkhans turning out to be Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder does not benefit the Marshal at all.
  • In the The Shahnameh, Rostam frequently becomes this. Despite outliving generations upon generations of royalty and proving himself the most powerful warrior in the East, he still carries out missions or new kings well into his four hundredth year, right up until the day of his death. Admittedly, he is more frequently tasked with mentoring kings' offspring after a few hundred years, but the fact remains that he dies in combat.
  • Rincewind gains this status in Interesting Times, when Archchancellor Ridcully notes that while he is constantly getting into life-threatening situations, he has quite the knack for surviving them.
  • Klaus Hauptman knowingly invoked this trope in Honor Among Enemies. He convinced the Royal Manticoran Navy to offer Honor Harrington, a major thorn in his side, a return to RMN service as senior captain of a Q-ship squadron in Silesia fighting pirates (who happened to be threatening his shipping). He figured either she'd succeed and protect his interests, or she'd fail and likely be killed while doing it.
  • At the end of Harry Potter, Harry begins to think of himself as this, after learning of Dumbledore's manipulative plans. Whether or not this was the truth is up in the air.
    Of course there had been a bigger plan; Harry had simply been too foolish to see it, he realized that now. He had never questioned his own assumption that Dumbledore wanted him alive. Now he saw that his lifespan had always been determined by how long it took to eliminate all the Horcruxes. Dumbledore had passed of destroying them to him, and obediently he had continued to chip away at the bonds tying not only Voldemort, but himself, to life. How neat, how elegant, not to waste any more lives, but to give the dangerous task to the boy who had already been marked for slaughter, and whose death would not be a calamity, but another blow against Voldemort.
    • Dumbledore was not available for questioning during the climactic moment, but his behaviour both before and after suggests he hoped and intended for the individual in question to survive, but would have considered it an acceptable loss to defeat Voldemort.
  • In Belisarius Series Damadora's Rajput Army was assigned to a diversionary task. In the process it became the best army in the Malwa service and made Damadora The Emperor.
  • David himself (yes, the Trope Namer for the Uriah Gambit). He was sent by King Saul to bring back 100 Philistine foreskins (and therefore kill their previous owners) to prove himself worthy of marrying Saul's daughter. Saul intended for him to die, but David survived and brought back 200 foreskins.
  • In Andrei Livadny's Serv-Battalion, an Earth Alliance admiral seeks to increase his political power among his fellow admirals in the middle of the First Galactic War and plans a strike of a planet held by the Free Colonies. He sends in the 13th Serv-Battalion, a newly-created unit of serv-machines equipped with next-generation AI modules and piloted by young people who were secretly being chosen based on their performance in an online serv-machine simulator. The battalion's orders are to destroy an automated factory and several other key targets on the planet's surface in order to distract the colonial fleet in the planet's orbit, at which point the Alliance fleet would jump in and strike. However, the Alliance admiral's secret goal is to sacrifice the 13th Serv-Battalion to the colonial flagship cruiser, which he assumes will descend into the lower atmosphere to conduct massive carpet bombing of the area, wiping out the entire battalion but leaving the cruiser vulnerable to boarding by the Alliance ships (the cruiser would be unable to use its most powerful weapon, an Anti Matter Wave Motion Gun, for fear of hitting friendly ships). The Admiral wants to secure said Wave Motion Gun for himself (one of the few areas of technology where the colonists are ahead of the Alliance) to wield as a deterrent and to get him more political clout in the admiralty. While it would seem to be an obvious ploy, he knows his colonial counterpart will dismiss the notion as ridiculous, as no one in his right mind would sacrifice an entire battalion of extremely expensive serv-machines. Thanks to their experience on the online simulators and the more sophisticated AI modules, the pilots of the serv-machines manage to almost beat the odds and inflict great damage on the enemy. They're still killed in the end, when the cruiser finally takes the bait and bombs the whole area. While Alliance forces manage to capture the colonial flagship cruiser, the colonial admiral manages to activate the Wave Motion Gun's self-destruct, robbing his Alliance counterpart of his prize. Thanks to those same advanced AI modules, parts of the pilots' personalities manage to survive in the serv-machines, which are salvaged and repaired after the battle.

    Music 
  • Savoyard march song Gironfla, where the King of Savoy musters himself an army of 80 halberd-armed peasants, 4 cast iron guns and baggage train of 20 donkeys, puts a twenty-year old Ensign Newbie Cristopho de Carignan to lead it - and wins the French army sent against it. The song is based on Real Life historical events.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is pretty much the goal of a new party in Shadowrun: the Player Characters are specifically deniable assets, disavowed should they be captured, and oftentimes the Johnsons in question are specifically trying to get them killed somehow anyway. (Never trust a Johnson, especially if they also happen to be a dragon.) After a few good missions, they grow to be respected, if not feared, though the folks hiring them will often still send them on suicide missions.
  • The "Penal Legion" regimental option for Only War has this as the implicit expectation: you play a squad of troops in a regiment assembled from people who were sentenced of some crime, but whose skills were too useful (or for whom death would be too quick and painless to truly be recompense for their sin) to simply be subject to summary execution. Thusly they're given just enough gear, intel and support to successfully complete a Suicide Mission, emphasis on the suicide. Ostensibly, any PC surviving the first mission should probably be pardoned, but this being the unfair galaxy that is Warhammer 40K, you're more likely to just get shipped off to a slightly different meat-grinder.

     Video Games 
  • This is the entire premise of Star Wars Battlefront II, where you play as the 501st Legion, which "has a history of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat."
  • Xenosaga plays with this, with Ziggurat-8. Rather than someone else sending him on Suicide Missions, he sends himself on suicide missions, because he wants to die fully (but can't kill himself outright due to programming). The problem (for him), is that he's just too good to die, and ends up being recruited for a very important mission due to his skill.
  • Battlefield: Bad Company. This is the entire premise of the eponymous B Company. Command keeps sending them on Suicide Missions, they keep succeeding and surviving.
    • So much so, that in Bad Company 2, they are treated as super-elite soldiers, who are sent in BEFORE any other Spec Ops units.
    Sweetwater: Don't they have specially trained guys in the Army for that?
    Sarge: We're going in before them. They're too expensive to waste.
  • The Player Character in Ace Combat Zero starts off as this - his first true famous action in the war is defeating an elite squad of Belkan aces over the "Round Table", where he and his wingman have been sent without any support to distract the Belkans while the main attack commences somewhere else.
  • The player character in Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines for most of the game. You have no sire (because he/she broke the law in creating you), no standing in the Camarilla (because the Camarilla executed him/her for it), and the only person who claims responsibility for you is the city's prince (who passed the sentence: Popular opinion spared you from the same fate). Said prince repeatedly sends you off on Uriah Gambit missions because your continued existence is an eyesore to him, and you keep coming back with success stories. After two or three missions of this, said prince wises up and decides to send you on a mission that he expects you to come back from — if only because it's a planted murder scene and he wants you, the politically naive newbie whose word would be relatively more trusted, to be the Unwitting Pawn who implicates one of his political rivals.
  • The Arbiter rank from Halo plays with this. Basically, a highly decorated Elite who nevertheless has somehow managed to disgrace himself will sometimes be granted the title and sent on a highly important, if suicidal, mission, giving the Prophets a way to execute him for his crimes while making him do something useful in the meantime; if he lives, well, there are always more suicide missions that need to be done. Indeed, despite the nature of the rank, Arbiters are generally highly respected within the Covenant, with the authority to command entire fleets if need be. However, in the case of Thel 'Vadam, the current Arbiter, he's just too badass to die, so the Prophets finally order Tartarus to just murder him (as part of their greater plan to wipe out all the Elites). This still doesn't work.
    Prophet of Mercy: "The tasks you will undertake as the Arbiter are perilous! Suicidal! You will die, as each Arbiter has before you! The Council will have their corpse."
  • In Valkyria Chronicles, General Damon becomes jealous of Militia Squad 7's successes overshadowing the regular military and constantly sends them on insanely dangerous missions in hopes that they get killed off somehow. It doesn't help that he's always considered the Militia as Cannon Fodder. Fortunately, since Squad 7 is essentially a Badass Army with a Cool Tank, they manage to complete their missions successfully.
  • Can be pulled off in most Total War games due to the way character mechanics work. If you have an Inadequate Inheritor, you can send him with an army into enemy territory against highly unfavorable odds. If he fails, he dies, and someone more worthy becomes the new heir; if he succeeds, you've just wiped out a major enemy force and possibly taken a new province, and the target has likely gained some kind of trait that will actually make him more useful.

    Webcomics 
  • Exterminatus Now usually has the gang sent off to do some incredibly dangerous mission specifically because they're a bunch of frakkers whose backs no one would care to see. As a result, they frequently don't get the job done too well. However, their tenacity at surviving numerous operations where their command staff are explicitly trying to get them killed off means that Schaefer tends to go to them first if there is a genuine need for a group of inquisitors with a record for pulling off suicide missions.
    Rogue: Is there any reason this mission is code-named "Dead Men Walking"?
    • There's also the fact that they have a steadily increasing supply of blackmail images and videos they can use against their boss: they use this to extort an incredibly large base, some very impressive computers, and some very impressive hardware from their boss, but can't use it to keep from being forced to do their jobs. So, if they go out and get killed, Schaefer wins, and if they come back successful, the Inquisition wins. Perfect Win-Win scenario, as long as their failure doesn't doom the planet to dominion by the dark gods.
    Schaefer: You have a history of making it out of impossible situations, no matter how often we try to ki- no matter what assignment we deploy you on.
  • Arachne from Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic was there, done that. Reassignment Backfire happened much later.

     Western Animation 
  • In The Venture Bros., when the Monarch is asked why he always picks 21 and 24 on missions, he responds, "I know it sounds crazy, but they both have the rare blend of expendable and invulnerable that makes them the perfect henchmen."
    • Finally averted when 24 died, but that event caused 21 to become so badass he managed to take on Brock Samson in a straight up solo fight and live.
  • Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers: the Series Five team is hinted to be this in canon. Doc and Niko have mysterious pasts. Goose is the lone member of his failed Super Soldier project to stay loyal to his handlers. Even Zachary, a respected officer, has people from politicians to low-level security guards questioning his sanity. The Fanon merely makes it very explicit.
  • In the Sam & Max: Freelance Police animated series, they are described as (paraphrasing) "The best, most expendable guys we've got". They take it as a compliment.

     Real Life 
  • The WWII Soviet Black Sea Naval Infantry, aka The "Black Death". Got Romanians on your doorstep? Army getting pushed back on all other fronts? Give your sailors rifles, tell 'em to fight. Everyday sailors given a rifle and pressed into service as shocktroopers against the Germans, Italians and mostly Romanians. Manages to hold Sevastapol in the face of German invasion for months, even completed more paradrops during the war than the actual Russian paratroopers, some of World War 2's unsung bad asses
    • Soviet/Russian Naval Infantry in general. Military doctrine states that in a war situation, these guys will be sent in first to critical areas bordering the sea (like the Dardanelles Strait) to capture and secure them, without significant ground armor support, with high expected casualties necessitating swift reinforcement by other units. In the Chechen war, the rebels were apparently scared shitless of these so-called "Anchors", and some would rather jump out of windows than face Naval Infantrymen.
  • Polish soldiers had the unfortunate honor of being those multiple times in history. Napoleon used the "Polish Legions" in his army in this manner, most famous examples being the Battle of Somosierra. As a reward for their service he promptly...sent them to quell slave uprisings on Cuba. Few ever returned.
    • The Poles were similarly exploited by Prussia, Austria-Hungary (along with other suppressed nationalities) AND Russia in WWI.
    • WWII had the war in France, in which Polish soldiers in exile were used as cannon fodder, after being given outdated gear (yet their success led to the French exclaiming something along the lines of "If we had more soldiers like these, we would have won the war".) Similar to this was the fate of the First Polish Army under Soviet command throughout the war, sent into Berlin at the end of the war, sustaining high casualties. To a lesser degree, Polish forces were employed by the Western allies in France after D-Day and Italy (such as assaulting Monte Cassino along with the Canadians). In general, Polish soldiers were generally considered a highly effective but ultimately expandable force by whichever foreign force promised to help liberate their country, in a very straight win-win application of this trope.
  • The French Foreign Legion were this through much of their history. Many of their most notable battles involved them fighting over whelming odds. In many cases, they were not expected to win the battle, just buy time for other French forces to position themselves or to wear down enemy soldiers before an attack. In most wars, the Foreign Legion would generally become more and more elite, since Legionnaires that survive battles tend to keep surviving. This is generally helped by the fact the Legion has a history of recruiting mercenaries and soldiers from other countries.
    • The modern French Foreign Legion is no longer an example. Even if Legionnaires tend to get used for more dangerous assignments, they are not deployed consistently enough in the type of situations that would invoke this trope. Legionnaires also generally wouldn't be considered surprisingly elite anymore due to the high entry standards, intense training, and decent equipment, most of which was uncommon in the past. They still go to combat with cool (if not the ones that they're usually associated with) hats, though.


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