The Roman legend of Horatius at the bridge is one of the earliest examples of this trope, making it Older Than Feudalism. Horatius is sometimes referred to as "Horatio". Note that Horatius wasn't alone: with him there were two senior officers, Titus Herminius Aquilinus and Spurius Lartius (the latter a member of the Etruscan population of Rome), but he's the most famous because, when the bridge was almost demolished, convinced the other two to run and covered them.
In 1503, Pierre Terrail (a.k.a. seigneur de Bayard), a famous French knight, reportedly single-handedly defended a bridge against 200 Spaniards during the battle of Garigliano and survived.
French general Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, father of author Alexander Dumas, was known as "The Horatius Cocles of Tyrol" for single-handedly defending a bridge in Klausen, Northern Italy from a squadron of Austrian cavalry. For that, the Austrians called him Schwarzer Teufel, Black Devil, since he was half black.
On January 26, 1945, Audie Murphy (a real-life example of a One-Man Army if there ever was one) held off a German unit singlehandedly. He used his personal weapon until he ran out of ammunition, then climbed onto a burning tank destroyer to use its .50 caliber machine gun, and then used a field telephone to direct close artillery fire on the oncoming Germans. It should be noted that while he was doing this, he not only was wounded by enemy fire, he was still bandaged from an earlier wound received in combat against the Germans, and was also suffering from malaria at the time. Not to mention that he weighed barely over a hundred pounds. (He was also fighting in two feet of snow in temperatures that hovered around 14 degrees Fahrenheit.) He kept this one-man battle up for almost an hour before reinforcements arrived at his position. When the reinforcements finally did arrive, he organized them into a counter-attack, which he led, driving the Germans from the field. For being such a balls-out Badass, Murphy was awarded every US Medal, including the Medal of Honor, as well as French and Belgian medals. (This was just his most famous battle: he had already distinguished himself in action in North Africa, Sicily, mainland Italy, and France.) Wrote his autobiography, which was a bestseller. Then they made a movie of it, where only he was considered badass enough to play himself. He considered his actions too unbelievable, so he had them tone it down. Still made the highest grossing movie for about 20 years until Jaws. He did pay the price in bad dreams though, suffering from PTSD and using his considerable pull with Congress to get them to approve better mental health care for Vietnam vets. There's a reason why his is the second most visited grave in Arlington (after JFK).
The 101st Airborne Division got theirs during the Battle of the Bulge, when they held the town of Bastogne for seven days against an entire Panzer corps. When the Germans demanded his surrender, General Anthony McAuliffe sent a one-word reply: "NUTS!"
In World War II, during the Battle off Samar, also called the Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, the three destroyers and one destroyer escort of Taffy 3 threw themselves headlong at the more numerous and ridiculously stronger Japanese naval force (four battleships, one of which was the biggest in the world and outweighed the entire Taffy 3 force combined, as well as eight cruisers and eleven destroyers) off Samar in order to allow their escort carriers to withdraw and to protect the vulnerable transport ships in Leyte Gulf. Between the ferocity of the destroyer attack and heavy air assault by what were considered second rate pilots flying off of cheap-ass escort carriers, the Japanese commander in charge of the attack lost his nerve, thinking that Task Force 34 (which was off chasing a decoy fleet) had not taken the bait after all, and he was facing a full U.S. fleet. He called off the attack, and thousands of U.S. soldiers and sailors were spared. The determination of the American sailors during the battle is exemplified by a quote from the Captain of the destroyer USS Johnston. With his ship all but sunk and only one engine remaining, he spotted a Japanese cruiser attacking one of the escort carriers. His response was simply badass: "Fire on that cruiser. Draw their fire on us." When the Johnston was dealt its deathblow by one of the enemy destroyers, it is said by a survivor that its captain saluted the ship as it sank. Such respect from the enemy is testament to the determination of the crew. The destroyer escortnote which is only one step above a cargo ship USS Samuel B. Roberts, closed to point blank range with enemy ships; so close that the Japanese could not lower their guns far enough to target it. Over the course of the battle, the Roberts destroyed the rudder of one Japanese cruiser in one torpedo hit, and set fire to the bridge of another. It was only fatally wounded by a volley from the battleship Kongō, a battleship only outdone in tonnage by the infamous Yamato and Musashi. To this day, the Roberts is known as "the destroyer escort that fought like a battleship." Not to be left out, the pilots of Taffy 3, who were equipped with mostly depth charges (for submarines) and bombs meant for land targets, flew against the Japanese anyway, dropping any bomb they could be armed with. When bombs ran out, they strafed the enemy fleet with machine gun fire. When they were out of bullets, pilots continued flying dry runs in the hopes that they would draw fire away from the planes that still had ammo. An interesting note is that this battle was on the 90th anniversary of the infamous "Charge of the Light Brigade", and the 529th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, of "We few, we happy few" fame. As naval historian Samuel Elliot Morrison put it, "In no engagement of its entire history has the United States Navy shown more gallantry, guts and gumption than in those two morning hours between 0730 and 0930 off Samar." Some quotes from the battle:
Gullies Macbean held a gap in the wall alone against enemy troops trying to outflank the Jacobite army during the Jacobite uprisings and killed 13-14 men with a sword (they had guns) single-handedly including one Lord Robert Kerr. Some stories state that an officer tried to pull his men back to save him after seeing his bravery but he had already been mortally wounded.
The Polish defense of Hill 262, particularly in the final night and day.
The Battle of Pavan Khind was the Indian version of Thermopylae, with 300 Marathan warriors holding a narrow pass long enough for their king Shivaji to reach a defensible position against a superior force and almost dying to the man.
The Alamo, where 182-260 Texan revolutionaries held off 2400 Mexican soldiers for 13 days. During the final assault, its estimated that the Texans killed about one third of the attacking Mexican troops before losing all but two of their number.
Rorke's Drift. In the aftermath of the Battle of Ishandlwana, 139 British soldiers held off some 4,000 Zulu warriors. Before Ishandlwana, the Zulus were poorly armed compared to the British; mainly spears complemented by some flintlock muskets and old rifles. Ishandlwana was such a disaster for the British that there were in all likelihood far more modern rifles (taken from the fallen British soldiers) in the Zulu force than in the remaining, scattered British forces. However, Zulu marksmanship left much to be desired, and it's been said that the Zulu unfamiliarity with firearms led to their treating the range setting on the sights as a power setting for the round. This would cause bullets to miss wildly high at typical combat ranges. Thus the British still had some advantage during the long-range stage of the battle. During its climax, the fighting was mostly hand-to-hand and only the desperate gallantry of the redcoats saved them.
The Irish legend of Cú Chulainn had the legendary hero single-handedly preventing the entire army of Connaught from entering Ulster. While tied to a post and using one arm. That is what Bad Ass is. The reason he was tied to a post (a stone slab in some tellings) was his legs were severly damaged, and he was only using one arm was also severe damage.
At the Battle of Verdun in 1916 "They shall not pass" was uttered by General Nivelle. The Germans indeed did not pass. Verdun, by the way, was the site of one of the bloodiest and most horrible battles in all human history. Fittingly Tolkien, who provided the Trope Namernote well, almost: in the book it's "You cannot pass"; the immortal line is actually from the film, served in the British Army during that war.
It was used one year later by general Eremia Grigorescu of the Romanian army at the Battle of Marasesti (well, technically was something like: "One doesn't pass through here"). The Germans (and Austrians), again, did not pass. They also lost almost 47,000 men, while the Romanians lost about 27,000. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a massive Shoot the Shaggy Dog. The year after, the forces of the Central Powers did pass and conquered the other half of the country without a shot being fired. The Russian Revolution and the horrendous implosion of the Russian army meant that the defensive system the Romanians depended on collapsed because the Central Powers now surrounded them, and they had no choice but to surrender.
¡No Pasarán! ("They shall not pass") was a famous Republican (anti-fascist) slogan during the Spanish Civil War. Francisco Franco sent an army to capture the Spanish capital of Madrid. They planned to attack the city through the enormous city park Casa de Campo. The outnumbered, underequipped and poorly trained Republican forces fought them to a standstill when they had barely penetrated the city. Madrid would become the first major city to face aerial bombardment, but would stand unconquered until the very end of the war when all else of Spain had succumbed and the phrase "They shall not pass!" was answered by Francisco Franco's retort, ¡Hemos pasado!, "We have passed."
Kollaa kestää! (Kollaa will hold!) during the Winter War. It did.
"They Shall Not Pass" was the warcry of the anti-fascists at the Battle of Cable Street. The "They" was a British Union of Fascists parade led by Oswald Ernald Mosley, attempting to march through the mostly Jewish and Irish East End of London. Incidentally, they did not. In addition, the event spurred the creation of legislation requiring police consent for political marches and banning uniforms for political parties (the BUF were known as "Black Shirts" for a reason) which led to the decline of the BUF in the later 30s.
There's also Dian Wei, of Three Kingdoms China. When Cao Cao was doublecrossed and ambushed by Zhang Xiu, Dian Wei and his unit managed to get him out of the castle and cover his retreat. In the violent battle that ensued, Dian Wei's men were all killed, but he went on to fight with terrifying violence even though he was drunk and his weapons were stolen, first by bludgeoning an enemy barehanded and stealing his sword, then using that sword until it broke, then grabbing a couple enemies and using them as weapons. Allegedly, he was still cursing at the enemies as he died, and his body remained standing. His enemies were so terrified by the ferocity with which he fought, they didn't dare approach his body until they were sure he was dead, and that bought Cao Cao ample time to flee.
Oda Nobunaga's page, Mori Ranmaru, made one such stand at Honnouji's main gate when Akechi Mitsuhide betrayed Nobunaga. He failed to hold Honnouji's gate, but not for lack of trying, as Mitsuhide had to set the entire area on fire and thrown nearly a third of his army at him and his brothers to finally bring them down. It's more badass if you consider that up until then he was The Woobie.
Speaking of Feudal Japanese fighters, Saito Musashibo Benkei. He was a Warrior Monk who stood guard on a bridge and confiscated swords from passing samurai. He was able to defeat 999 of them before losing to warlord Minamoto no Yoshitsune. Benkei then decided to serve Yoshitsune as his retainer. When Yoshitsune lost the war against his elder brother and committed Seppuku inside a besieged castle, Benkei once again guarded the bridge leading to the castle's main gate so no enemy could interrupt his master's ritual suicide. No one who got near him was left alive, so the enemy decided to riddle him with arrows instead. He still stood tall blocking the way, buying enough time for his master to die a honorable death. When the enemy gathered enough courage to examine him a while later they found that he had died standing up.
Filipino general Gregorio del Pilar deserves a mention: when the regiment of President Emilio Aguinaldo was regrouping in Northern Luzon, pursued by the Americans, he was assigned protector of Tirad Pass. Despite being only with about 60 men and facing battalions, they stood their ground to the last man. Some historical documents, testimonies and interpretation, nonetheless, suggest that del Pilar was the first to be killed in the battle.
And of course there's the old joke about the professor bellowing this when he sets his students a mid-term.
Tank Man, a Chinese civilian who stopped before some tanks that were used against protesters. The fact that these tanks were on their way home does not make his act less impressive.
The "Backs Against the Wall Order" issued by Haig in 1918 at the moment when it looked pretty certain that the Germans were going to win.
The motto of the Soviet 62nd Army at Stalingrad was "There's no land for us beyond the Volga", and their commander Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov, upon being ordered to defend the city, summed his task as "We will defend the city or die in the attempt". They nearly died, but in the end the Germans didn't pass (as an army: the survivors passed as prisoners) and the 62nd Army was granted Guards status (basically the Soviet way to declare you a Badass Army) as the 8th Guards Army.
The British military has a history of this.
Rorke's Drift 1879, as mentioned above.
The sieges of Mafeking and Ladysmith in the Boer War, 1900.
The battle of Mons, 1914, where 2 British battalions held up four times their number of Germans. They passed, but only at great loss and after being greatly delayed - and in fact, it was the retreat of the French division on the British right that forced the British to withdraw or face being flanked and overwhelmed. Though only armed with bolt-action rifles, their rate of fire made the German forces believe that they were facing a large concentration of machine-guns.
The Battle of Britain.
Winston Churchill: "Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war."
The Island held, alone, for a whole year.
The sentiment is summed up best - of course - by Churchill himself, in these famous lines:
"We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."
The speech was issued at a time when Britain's prospects were looking particularly bleak, just after Britain had suffered some resounding defeats in campaigns, and the prospect of a German invasion was verging on the inevitable.
Operation Market Garden, 1944. The 1st Airborne hung on - against German tank divisions, no less, without any vehicles of their own - for ten days in Arnhem, when they were supposed to be relieved by the XXX Corps in four, and none of the supply drops had reached them.
The battle of the Imjin River, 1950. 4,000 men of the 29th Infantry Brigade inflicted 10,000 casualties on the advancing Chinese army and held them up two days before finally being overwhelmed. And even then, only because they'd fired every bullet they had.
British Royal Navy actions:
HMS Jervis Bay, converted cruise liner and sole escort of a 37-ship convoy in WWII. Before being sunk, held off the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer long enough for 32 of the ships to escape.
HMS Rawalpindi, converted passenger ship, encountered the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau as they attempted to break out into the North Atlantic in WWII. The ensuing battle was short, only 40 minutes before the Rawalpindi was sunk, but her radio report alerted the British Royal Navy and the battlecruisers were forced to turn back.
The British destroyer HMS Glowworm (1,450 tons) faced down the German heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper (18,000 tons) alone in the North Sea on 8 April 1940, and, when her torpedoes missed, rammed the larger ship in a last-ditch attempt to take it with her. The impact caused serious damage to the cruiser, and the Glowworm even managed to keep firing at point blank range when she was wrapped around the bows of the larger ship, before breaking off and sinking. The Captain, Lt Cdr Gerard Broadmead-Roope, received the Victoria Cross on the recommendation of the Hipper's commanding officer.
Another British example is the last stand at Saragarhi during the Indian frontier wars in 1897. 21 Sikh soldiers decided to sacrifice their lives to slow a force of 10,000-14,000 rampaging Pashtuns in order to buy enough time for the nearby forts to get reinforcements. That's deciding to stand against odds of ~500-1 compared to the Stand at Thermopylae of around 30-1 (figure varies wildly, based on modern estimates). Includes a moment when the commander of the Sikhs gives his men time to fall back by facing the enemy alone. They died to a man but slowed the advance for long enough to allow for the later fort attacks to be foiled and inflicted (at least) 180 kills plus many more injuries. All 21 were given the then-equivalent of the Victoria Cross.
Dr. Liviu Librescu, Romanian-born Holocaust survivor, scientist and academic professor. On April 16, 2007, Librescu was teaching a class at Virginia Tech when gunman Seung-Hui Cho entered Norris Hall and began shooting into classrooms. Librescu personally kept the door shut to prevent Cho from entering the classroom so his students could escape, saving the lives of all but one of them. It took five shots to take him down. Of course, he had a history, since surviving the Holocaust takes a Determinator in itself...
Another World War II example would be the battle of Henderson Field. Hell, the entire series of battles over Guadalcanal qualifies, with a small force of US Marines, Wildcat fighters, and PT boats holding out against disproportionate odds with little support. At one point, two American cruiserschose to fight two Japanese battleships to prevent another bombardment of Henderson Field. Two American admirals and one of the cruisers were lost, but the Japanese force was turned back. The Marine commander, who was earlier angry at how the Navy had abandoned them, would later say that this "You Shall Not Pass" moment did more to save Henderson Field than anything else — even more than God and his own marines.
The above pretty much all applies to the battle for Wake Island as well. Four Wildcat fighters and a detachment of marines held off an Japanese invasion force and sunk several ships in the bargain, infuriating the Japanese High Command so much they sent an entire carrier division to take the tiny island.
Another Marine example, during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, the 240 Marines of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines had to hold a hill overlooking Toktong Pass open so the other 8,000 Marines of the 7th and 5th Marines could consolidate behind them. They withstood continual attacks by a full regiment of 1,400 Chinese infantry for five days in subzero temperatures without any relief. Two-thirds of the company was wiped out, but not until they'd killed over 1,000 Chinese, and the rest of the Marines behind them survived to make the breakout.
A case of Villainous Valor, Japanese destroyer Hatsuzuki covered the escape of several other Japanese ships that were laden with rescued survivors from the Battle off Cape Engano from a US Navy force of 4 cruisers and 9 destroyers. They managed to hold them off for over 2 hours, allowing the ships plenty of time to escape.
Ironically, given the ultimate name of the engagement, Cornwallis's Retreat contained a fairly awesome one of these. Admiral Cornwallis (brother of the more famous and less Bad Ass Cornwallis who commanded at Yorktown) ran into a French squadron of twenty three warships (twelve ships-of-the-line and eleven frigates) when he had only seven (five ships-of-the-line, two frigates). Not surprisingly, he decided to leg it. However, poorly loaded holds on two of his battleships prevented him from legging it very quickly. After trying everything from jettisoning all non-essentials (including anchors), cutting holes in his stern planks so he could bear more cannons (he hacked so many holes in his own ship that the entire quarterdeck almost collapsed), two of his ships, Mars and Triumph, were in danger of falling to the French. This made Admiral Cornwallis very angry. So he turned his own ship, the 100-gun HMS Royal Sovereign around and engaging the entire French fleet on his own. Not a single British ship or sailor was lost.
During World War 2, the Polish 1st Armored Division was assigned to stop an entire German Army from fleeing from the "Falaise Gap". Outnumbered and outgunned, the Polish held their lines against incredible odds that resulted in the death or capture of countless German soldiers - including the bulk of seven Panzer Divisions. At one point, the Polish General told his troops "We are all exhausted, and the ammunition is running out. But there will be no retreat, and no surrender. Tonight we die."
Also the Battle of Wizna often called "The Polish Thermopylae", not without a reason... Hell, it got a metal song written for it, "40:1" by Sabaton (video)
Towards the end of the World War II, the Soviet grand offensive in Finland culminated in the Battle of Tali-Ihantala where the vastly outnumbered and outgunned Finnish forces (18th division and 5 battalions) were given an order of no retreat, and halted the advance of the Soviet armored battalion and two whole army corps while reinforcements arrived. The battle ended in a decisive victory for the Finnish army and is seen as the reason Stalin forsook the attempts to conquer Finland. The fight of the Finnish Air Force at skies above at the time would also qualify. The Soviet Karelian Air Army consisted of some 3,000 planes and pilots, while the Finnish Air Force had four front line squadrons (some 50 first grade fighters) to line up. To even up the situation, the overall training level of the Soviets was low, while that of the Finns was high. The result was that the Finns shot the hapless Soviets down like clay pigeons. The kill tallies of the aces rose spectacularly - Hans Wind (78 victories) shot down 30 Soviets in 29 days. In the mid-August 1944 the Karelian Air Army was destroyed and had less than 800 airworthy planes. The Finns had suffered some 30 planes lost. The losses were covered by supply of new aircraft from Germany. Despite being outnumbered, the Finns held aerial superiority to the end of the conflict.
World War One had Serbians pull this. Surrounded but unwilling to give up, the supreme command ordered a full retreat along with a lot of civilians and the king himself. Having no other choice, a large detainment of troops were forced to counter-attack Austro-Hungarian and German forces under a barrage of artillery to allow army, refugees and the king to retreat. A badass quote by Major Dragutin Gavrilović: "Exactly at three o'clock, the enemy is due to be crushed by your fierce charge, destroyed by your grenades and bayonets. The honor of Belgrade, our capital, must not be stained. Soldiers! Heroes! The supreme command has erased our regiment from its records. Our regiment has been sacrificed for the honor of Belgrade and the Fatherland. Therefore, you no longer need worry about your lives: they no longer exist. So, forward to glory! Long live Belgrade!"
Camarón, Veracruz, Mexico, 30 April 1863. An understrength French Foreign Legion company (less than 50 men) surrounded by over 2000 Mexicans. The captain of the company chose to keep fighting to distract the Mexicans from attacking an important French convoy. With no food, little water, and little ammunition, the Legionnaires held out for ten hours — and then the last six men able to fight, having run out of bullets, fixed bayonets and charged. Then they did it all over again at Dien Bien Phu. At least in the late 1930s the anniversary of Camerone was the Legion's sole real holiday. All year (though there was extra wine at Christmas). To this day, Camerone is the reason why all Mexican soldiers are required to salute members of the French Foreign Legion, regardless of their respective ranks.
In the U.S. Civil War, The 20th Maine was positioned on Little Round Top at the extreme left flank and ordered to "hold to the last". As they ran out of ammunition, Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain gave the order for bayonets and led a downhill charge that drove off the Confederates long enough for reinforcements to secure the flank.
On October 9, 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, Col. Avigdor "Yanosh" Ben-Gal, commanding the Israeli 7th armored brigade, which by that time was down to 17 Centurion tanks, was defending the Kuneitra salient against the Syrian 7th division, which consisted of over a thousand T-62 tanks and a comparable number of infantry-bearing AP Cs and artillery pieces. Ben-Gal refused to retreat, and told his men "They will not pass through. The fate of Israel rests on your shoulders. They will not pass." Even though the 7th brigade lost another ten tanks by nightfall, they managed to hold on, and Ben-Gal was made a general after the war.
There are seven battles of Thermopylae, most of which invoked this trope. (Apart from the original, most famous one: the Phocians in 353 BCE against Macedonnote planned but never executed, as Philip II managed to use treachery and subterfuge to deny his enemies the chance make a stand; the Greeks in 279 BCE against the Gallic Celts under Brennus; the Selucid Greeks against the Romans in 191 BCE; the Eastern Romans (in effect, Greeks) in 267 CE against the Heruli; the Greeks against the Ottomans in 1821; and then the ANZAC forces against the Germans in 1941). It was a pretty popular place to fight a holding battle, mostly because the terrain in that location was pretty much perfect for a defensive stand. Over the last couple of millennia however, the area has changed so that it no longer presents a good choke point that a small force can effectively control.
During the Battle of Waterloo, both Napoleon and Wellington seemed obsessed with defending a small farmhouse on the flank of the battlefield (Hougoumont). It has been theorised that both thought the battle would turn on this farmhouse, but for one reason or another, they poured men into it. Wellington had it for the entire battle, but early on it looked like Napoleon would take it, possibly winning the battle. One British sergeant held the gates to the Hougoumont closed on his own for several minutes while nearly a quarter of the French army was at the doors.
Done twice by the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea during the Korean War:
First was during the Battle of Yultong Bridge, where the the 10th Battalion Combat Team was sent to hold the bridge in question. This battalion was composed of around 900 troops, and they were facing several thousand Chinese soldiers of two army groups. The Filipino soldiers held the bridge, with total casualties (killed and wounded) numbering 50, with Chinese suffering 500 killed, 2 captured, and an unknown number wounded.
The second time was during the Battle of Hill Eerie, fought by a UN force composed of American and Filipino soldiers. After the Hill was taken by a Filipino platoon led by future Philippine president Fidel V. Ramos, the Filipinos found themselves having to hold the hill from Chinese attempts to retake it, which included an artillery battle. On the dawn of June 20, 1952, the Chinese had advanced sufficiently to engage in hand-to-hand fighting but the Filipino troops were able to hold the position. By morning, the artillery battle continued but the allied forces successfully defended Hills Eerie and 191. It was estimated that the Chinese forces suffered 700 casualties while the Filipinos only had 24.
During the War of the Revolution in the United States, as British General John Burgoyne was advancing down the Hudson Valley with his army, the New York State militia left him a note pinned to one of the trees along his axis of advance: "This far wilt thou go, and no farther." Cue the Battle of Saratoga, wherein the Continental Army and the New York militia handed the British one of the worst defeats in their history.
When the Japanese invaded Joseon Korea in the late 1500s, Admiral Yi Sun Shin stopped a Japanese armada attempting to secure an overseas supply route for their northward advance at Myeongdong Strait. The Japanese fleet numbered over 300. Yi had 13. Yi won. Decisively. Undersupplied, the Japanese retreated and eventually abandoned the peninsula. In the same war, the Japanese asked the fortress of Tadaepo to surrender, erecting a huge sign that said, "Fight if you want to fight. Or lay down your arms and let us pass." The message the fort's commander sent back was: "Fighting and dying are easy. But letting you pass I cannot do." The fortress did fall, however, despite a desperate defense.
The Battle of Kokoda could be considered this in a way. Virtually all of Southeast Asia had fallen to the Japanese, and all that lay between the as-yet undefeated Japanese forces and Port Moresby (the capture of which would likely have resulted in a total cutting off of Australia from the other allies) was a 60 mile track defended by inexperienced Australian militia. The Australians took massive losses, but managed to stop the Japanese advance in its tracks before launching a counteroffensive, handing the Japanese their first defeat of the war.
In The Korean War, the Battle of Kapyong was this, with Canadian and Australian soldiers defending the Kapyong valley from the invading Chinese. At one point in the battle, the Canadians called down artillery fire on their own positions because they were so overwhelmed. And when an Australian major called a US general for backup, the general thought that all the units were already wiped out. The battle ended with 32 Australians killed, 10 Canadians killed and over a 1000 Chinese killed.
A single Viking Berserker in the Battle of Stamford Bridge is said to have held off the Anglo-Saxon forces trying to cross said bridge killing 40 men in the process. He was only killed when a Saxon floated under the bridge and speared from below several hours after beginning to hold of the bridge. It's thought that the warrior, if this is true, probably wielded a Daneaxe, an early and rather large battle axe. If so, he would have probably been able to physically block the bridge by passing the head through a figure-8 motion in front and to the side of his body, smashing spears in half and preventing swordsmen getting close. Voila, one man meat grinder. This is why they had to find a barrel and float a guy downstream!
An anecdote about the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II: a tank destroyer was retreating from the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, and reached paratroopers digging fighting positions. One of the paratroopers, PFC Martin, 325th Glider Infantry Regiment, told the sergeant in the TD that if they were looking for a safe place, they should pull in behind his foxhole — "because I'm the 82nd Airborne, and this is as far as the bastards are coming."
At the Karelian skies 28 June 1944, Capt. Hans Wind and Nils Katajainen flew over the Finnish lines, and spotted a regiment (some fifty planes) of Il-2 Shturmoviks, escorted with another regiment of Soviet fighters, flying towards their lines. It was two against one hundred. What did they do? They attacked! (Both survived. Both received Mannerheim Cross, the highest Finnish military decoration.)
A few of the above examples involve Filipinos or the Philippines, but from an international relations standpoint, the Philippines itself did this for other countries during World War II. Japan opened a surprise attack on the Philippines on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and soon had total control over the sea and air territories of the country. The Japanese planned to completely take the Philippines by March and then proceed to the rest of Southeast Asia. The Filipino forces on land disagreed and fought against the Japanese's superior firepower and forces with nothing but limited ammunition, soldiers, civilian support, while their great ally, America, was busy fighting the Axis Powers in Europe and couldn't send sizable reinforcements to fend off the Japanese. Though they eventually lost to Japan’s superior forces and firepower, the Philippines was able to successfully slow down the Japanese forces, allowing the other South East Asian nations an additional month to prepare for the Japanese. The day the Philippines finally surrendered, April 6, is a public holiday known as the "Araw ng Kagitingan" ("Day of Valor"), not to celebrate a the inevitable loss, but to celebrate that the country held the line to the point that the opposing Japanese commander was disgraced and ashamed that their forces could not subdue the Philippines within the planned time frame.
Legend has it that when Philip II sent the message 'If I enter Laconia, I will raze Sparta,' the Spartans sent a one word reply: 'If.' Philip left them alone.
Henri Winkelman's defense of the Netherlands during World War II also qualifies. The Dutch, knowing they were outclassed by the Germans, planned to sacrifice most of the country and create a defensive perimeter within the Netherlands for the British or French to use as a beachhead. Although the Netherlands fell, Winkelman, leading a small and poorly-trained Dutch military, held the Nazis for four days and destroyed 500 German aircraft (the largest losses the Luftwaffe would experience prior to the Battle of Britain) in the process. These aircraft included 280 Ju-52 transports, along with 1500 German paratroopers. Despite the fact that the Netherlands eventually fell, the damage done to the Nazi air force was catastrophic, and would permanently damage the Luftwafte.
"The Defense of Fort McHenry" as written by Francis Scott Key (and later adapted into the "Star-Spangled Banner") describes the efforts of the aforementioned fort protecting Baltimore to hold back a British fleet sent to take the city. With the earlier destruction of Washington D.C., had Baltimore fallen, the United States would have had to ask for surrender terms in the War of 1812.
The Second Battle of Ypres in World War One. When the Germans unleashed the first poison gas attack in history, the French colonial troops facing them broke and ran. Despite the gas, First Canadian Division, only supposed to defend a few hundred metres of trenches, rushed everything they had to plug a 7 kilometre gap in the line with a few scattered French detachments that hadn't broke. For 48 hours, suffering over 33% casualties in facing a horror no soldiers until then ever had, they prevented the Germans from exploiting the attack.
The Second battle of Shipka Pass. The pass was defended by poorly armed Bulgarian volunteers and Russians troops, who managed to hold the pass against well armed Ottoman forces (who outnumbered them seven times) for five days until reinforcements arrived. When the defenders ran out of ammunition, they switched to throwing rocks. When they ran out of rocks, they used the bodies of their fallen comrades as projectiles.
The Siege of Dongnae during the Imjin war. Outnumbered six to one, he was sent a message by the Japanese, "Fight if you want to, or let us pass." His reply, "It is easy for me to die, but difficult to let you pass."
Much more recently, there have been cases of citizen militias forming to fight the drug cartels in Mexico. There was a case of one such group numbering under a dozen refusing to let the Los Zetas cartel take over their ranch. The cartel came to take it by force. It cost them two days and over fifty dead gunmen, including some of their more elite muscle, before they took the ranch. The house had been burned down during the fight. The resistors perished almost to a man.
Pulled by the Italian Army during World War I after the defeat at Caporetto: first the defenses on the Monte Grappa (a mountain that then Italian supreme commander Cadorna had transformed in a mountain-sized fortress with an absurd amount of guns and a road to supply it) halted the part of the Austrian offensive directed to the area of the main Italian weapon factories, and then, immediately after, the retreating Italian army redeployed on the Piave river and stopped three Austrian offensives.
In a nonbattle example, in American football, this is the point of a goalline stand. With one yard and four plays to get into the endzone, the team will usually put in extra 300+ pound lineman to stop the opponent from entering the endzone
Aníbal Augusto Milhais, a simple villager drafted into WWI, would received several high honors while gaining the nickname "Soldier Millions" by the allied forces. his achievement? During the "The Battle of La Lys" where a 26 division of 120,000 central power troops converged in that area. While a few fought bravely, the majority of the defenders collapsed, Yet, Milhais remained with a Lewis machine gun, and ended up holding back two divisions solo. His bravery under severe circumstances managed to convince the Germans that they were up against a fortified unit rather than just a single Portuguese soldier with a machine gun. Finally, the Germans decided to go around and Milhais found himself alone in the rear of the enemy lines where he stayed for three days almost without eating or drinking. In the third day, Milhais, still carrying his Lewis, rescued a Scottish major from a swamp and the two reached Allied lines. Milhais was warmly welcomed but did not say anything about his experiences. It was through the officer he had helped reporting the story to the British HQ and several other testimonies that his deeds become known. A few months later, Milhais again held back the Germans, standing alone with his Lewis gun and allowing a Belgian unit to retreat safely to a secondary trench without casualties. Both the British observers present in the scene and the Belgian commander included his action in their reports.
Simo Häyhä, a farmer and awarded Hunter, would become one of the most famous snipers in the world. His nickname would become "the White Death". During WWII Häyhä was credited with 505 confirmed kills of Soviet soldiers during the Winter War. A daily account of the kills at Kollaa was made for the Finnish snipers. Remarkably, all of Häyhä's kills were accomplished in fewer than 100 days – in other words, approximately five kills per day – at a time of year with very few hours of daylight and without the use of a vision scope. At one point, he had to stop acting as a sniper and ended up using a machine gun, having an additional estimated 200-250 unconfirmed kills. He became so effective that the the Soviet's began active efforts to kill Häyhä included counter-snipers and artillery strikes, but on March 6, 1940 Häyhä was shot in his lower left jaw by a Russian soldier. He was picked up by fellow soldiers who said "half his cheek was missing", but he did not die, regaining consciousness on March 13, the day peace was declared. (He lived for more than 60 years after being wounded, finally passing away in 2002 at age 96.) Although awarded a special Mosin Nagant, he never used one unlike popular thought. His actual weapon was a standard issue K31 rifle.
The battle of Cochin, nicknamed the 'Portuguese Thermopylae' had a small fleet of 140 Portuguese sailors and 5 ships against the Zamorin Raja of Calicut and his 57,000–84,000 men and 260 ships. Despite being outnumbered, outgunned, and virtually left by themselves over a few months, after the Portuguese allies were forced to flee, leaving them alone to protect one island, not only did they fight, they won virtually without casualties and inflicted over 5,000 casualties. Their success was partly due to intel from spies who warned them of the enemies' battle plans. The Portuguese forces even went so far as to do constant coastal raids against the enemy in order to gain supplies. Duarte Pacheco Pereira, the commander that led them, was always quite eager to go to the front lines. Duarte Pacheco Pereira also brought along a bastard son named Lisuarte, who was just a 20-year old squire who he personally had trained into becoming a knight. He was armed with what was described as a "Huge Broadsword" instead of a rapier and gun like his compatriots. Lisuarte earned his knighthood by charging into a line of 10,000 enemy troops, and engaging them in a melee by himself. Duarte had to charge in with his few men to rescue out of worry. When they charged, the enemy fled to everyone's surprise. It became apparent why though when they finally found Lisuarte. Despite fighting in the lines by himself for several minutes, he didn't have a single scratch. In fact, there were several severed limbs and corpses surrounding the guy, and one enemy soldier had been completely hacked in half from the shoulder to the hip. Duarte was unsurprisingly pleased. Lisuarte would continue these insane acts of courage for another 10 years until an arrow would pierce him in the temple.
During World War One, the 3rd US Infantry Division earned the nickname "Rock of the Marne" when they faced the brunt of a German attempt to cross the Marne River in July of 1918, stalling the Germans for most of a day until reinforcements arrived. Ultimately the Second Battle of the Marne would prove to be the last German offensive of the war.
Battles of Imphal and Kohima in early 1944. The British and Indian troops held their positions against vastly outnumbering Japanese troops. In the end the Japanese were routed, and the British Burma Offensive ensued soon, sweeping the Japanese out of Southeast Asia. Those battles are often referred as "Stalingrad of the East". Had the defenders fallen, Bengal might have been raided or even occupied by the IJA - a virtual death sentence for millions of Bengali.
The Italian Alpini mountain troops were formed after the Third Italian War of Independence to defend Italy's montainous north-eastern border in the next war with Austria-Hungary. Said war turned out to be the Italian front of World War I... And they did: the Alpini manned Monte Grappa (see above), and the Austro-Hungarians did not pass. Fittingly, the Alpini's motto is "Di qui non si passa!" ("Nobody passes here")!
On the opposite front, the Austro-Hungarians deployed the Tiroler Jäger-Regimenter, AKA the Kaiserjäger, to defend against the Italian offensive in the mountains (because, like in the previous wars, it was the Italians who attacked). While not mountain warfare specialists like the Alpini, the four Kaiserjäger regiments happened to draw most of their recruits from the Alpine region of Tyrol (the same idea the Italians had for the Alpini, as they were recruited from the populations living in the Italian Alps), and stopped the continuous Italian offensives for two years, resorting even to blow up pieces of mountains (to be fair, the Alpini did the same to them), until Caporetto put them on the offensive.