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Cannon Fodder

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At least the uniform is stylish.
"Whoever has the most liquor to get the soldiers drunk and send them to be slaughtered... he's the winner."
Union Captain, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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

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

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

If one Cannon Fodder character manages to outlive the others and get the job done over and over again, despite being expected to be killed in battles by their superiors, they may graduate into a Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder.

Those who were recruited through Lowered Recruiting Standards are liable to become this trope.

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

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

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

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


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Generally, this happens in most Humongous Mecha series; you know it's happening when the more important characters of the show are sporting unique mecha with customized specs or weapons and armor that outclass almost everything else. More regular, nameless forces will use mass-produced models that are destroyed by the dozen.
    • As with many other mecha tropes, Neon Genesis Evangelion turns this on its head, with the mass-produced models ultimately defeating one of the special prototypes.
  • The Pawn-ranked Chess Pieces from MÄR, unlike the higher ranks, wear identical outfits and masks, and are given very generic Arms to use. Only one in the entire series even gets named, and things go very bad for her.
  • In Naruto, Jiraiya sneaks into the Hidden Rain Village, and captures two people who come into the "bar" he sets up.
    Jiraiya: Judging from your seemingly low standards and mannerisms, you must be the bottom-most of the Fodder nins, right?
    • The whole of ANBU. Exceptions are named people such as Kakashi (former member), Tenzo/Yamato, Ibiki, Anko, Aoba, as well as Danzo, Sai, Fu and Torune from the Root.
  • In Now and Then, Here and There, King Hamdo does this to his army of Child Soldiers.
  • During the joint infantry-air operation in Simoun, the Ace Pilot Floe grows close to a simple rifleman, only to painfully discover the enormous gap between them.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann has the mass-produced Grappal Army as cannon fodder; the one-of-a-kind Ganmen and the Gurren Lagann, meanwhile, are the ones who do most of the ass-kicking. Gimmy and Darry, however, are Mauve Shirts and often receive Plot Armor.
    • And Kamina frequently shouted things such as "Outta the way, cannon fodder!!!" before destroying about a dozen beastmen gunmen with his drills.
  • Yakitori: Soldiers of Misfortune has the cannon fodder as point-of-view characters, and the trope is lampshaded by their human recruiter who makes no secret that the Trade Federation regard their human 'Yakitori' mercenaries as this. They're the tribute demanded from a Vichy Earth and are legally regarded as 'equipment', which actually gets them off the hook when the Trade Federation tries to use them as The Scapegoat in the Season One finale.

    Comic Books 
  • The Ultimates: There are two buildings filled by Chitauri, who pretend to be simple office buildings. Hawkeye and Black Widow demolish them and kill everyone inside.

    Fan Works 
  • Androgyninja's A Drop of Poison: After Sakura manages a Curb Stomp Cushion during a sparring session with Sasuke, he declares that civilian-born shinobi like her are nothing more than glorified cannon fodder. This serves as a major Cynicism Catalyst, as Sakura becomes convinced that the majority of Konoha's shinobi look down upon the civilian-born in this fashion and sets out to prove her worth by becoming a Master Poisoner.
    • She's also particularly worried that Kakashi agrees with Sasuke's assessment of her, convinced that she can't count on him to do anything to assist her if she gets into trouble on missions. Kakashi being a Sink or Swim Mentor who presents himself as laid-back and unbothered hardly helps, particularly when he refuses to step in while Sasuke is insulting or berating her further.
  • In The Legend of Total Drama Island, Chris uses this term for the contestants whom he had expected to be eliminated early in the game. Subverted when Chris notes with mixed feelings that the "cannon fodder" is turning out to be more capable than he expected, for which he blames the profilers for not doing their jobs.
  • This is referenced by name in Oh God, Not Again! by the Sorting Hat. He was describing the Gryffindors.
  • Star Wars vs Warhammer 40K: The Confederacy's Battle Droids are what you get when a bunch of merchants decide they want an army of Killer Robots for as cheap as possible. Budget cuts in Artificial Intelligence, armor plating, and redundant systems have made the standard B1s far inferior to their Clone Trooper or Imperial Guard counterparts, never mind the elite troopers like Jedi or Space Marines. Their only virtues are sheer numbers and the ease with which they can be replaced.
  • The Weaver Option:
    • Taylor creates entire Penal Legions filled with corrupt nobles and officials so she doesn't really care too much if they die by the thousands as her vanguard.
    • The rulers of Commorragh, faced with a completely unexpected invasion by the Imperium, conscripts millions of commoners and sends them into battle equipped with gear meant for lightning fast raids rather than actual combat. As a result they are easily slaughtered, though this does slow the Imperial advance.
    • Taylor uses her own version against the ruler of Commorragh by stealing control of their hordes of mega-insects and -arachnids. She can then throw them in waves against the defenders, forcing them to expend their limited stores of superweapons without risking any Imperial troops.

  • Edward IV viewed his Irish infantry as this in Braveheart.
    Edward I "Longshanks": Arrows cost money. Use up the Irish. The dead cost nothing.
  • Discussed by Charlie Chaplin in the famous soliloquy that closes The Great Dictator.
    "Soldiers! Don't give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder."
  • The Taliban soldiers that come after the Navy Seals in Lone Survivor (2014)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road: The War Boys are fairly competent, but they're brought up in a Martyrdom Culture, act as a Red Shirt Army (save for a few named members) and have "battle fodder" branded on their backs.
  • Mobile Infantry from the first Starship Troopers movie is easily the most recognizable example.
  • Star Wars:
    • The standard B1 battle droids in the prequel trilogy and associated works are a combination of this and Butt-Monkey. As robots go they're hilariously incompetent (almost acting sentient but in bad ways like forgetting orders or bickering with each other) and never present any real threat to the Jedi they fight, just minor annoyances before they're maimed and hacked to bits. That said, they were cheap and easy to produce in vast numbers, which allowed the CIS to keep up with the vastly superior Republic clone troopers. Much more effective battle droids did exist, such as the Super Battle Droid and Droideka, but these were always a minority of their forces.
    • TIE fighters are designed with only the absolute bare minimum equipment needed to function, essentially just a cockpit with an engine and two blasters. No armor, no shields, no hyperdrive, no torpedoes. They're just about the absolute weakest ship in all of Star Wars, only a threat due to sheer numbers and the Empire's willingness to sacrifice them in droves. Like with the battle droids, various superior TIE models did exist, but were much more rare.
  • Deconstructed in We Were Soldiers. The Vietnamese General An is A Father to His Men in every way, but also keenly aware that the only way he can effectively neutralize the American advantage in artillery and air power is to push them into borderline suicidal close combat.

  • Agatha H. and the Siege of Mechanicsburg: The Wulfenbach vanguard who led the first change into Mechanicsburg were made up the Empire's most troublesome and unsustainable forces. The official reasoning is that the Spark-created units would be more capable of dealing with whatever mad inventions the town had, but the clear subtext is that if someone was going to be transformed into balloon animals or the like then it best choice would be established scientific abominations and annoyances to the Baron.
  • One of the most chilling examples is All Quiet on the Western Front, where we are treated to scores of deaths of nameless individuals. The narrator, Paul, only bothers to give a handful of his comrades names, and Anyone Can Die. Paul shows less and less concern about dying soldiers as time goes on, showing ever growing indifference to the deaths of countless men. The novel may be the Trope Codifier for this trope, at least as far as modern armies go.
  • Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945 (non fiction) by Max Hastings. Hastings discusses how individual soldiers vary widely in competence, and quotes an American officer who said that he would rather fight with 40 men than 200, as long as he could pick the 40. Hastings goes on to say that the 40 wouldn't last very long without the "cannon fodder" to distract enemy attention and soak up the bullets.
  • In The Arts of Dark and Light, the goblin armies typically appear sort of like the stereotype of the Red Army in World War II, that often surrendered in huge droves and could only ever win through terrorizing their own troops and drowning the enemy with sheer numbers. This in contrast to the well-equipped and well-disciplined legions of Amorr, who hold firm against their mass tactics. At one point, it's suggested that this is at least in part a self-reinforcing stereotype: since the goblin soldiers know that their commanders treat them as expendable, it makes good sense that their morale is low.
  • In Gordon R. Dickson's Childe Cycle series, the Friendlies provide this as their major export. Being a fundamentalist society and lacking any rare resources, the Friendlies could only serve as Mercenaries. However, the Badass Army market was already covered by the Dorsai, so the Friendly mercs' only advantage was that they were cheap and plentiful.
  • The soldiers of the SPARTAN-III program introduced in Halo: Ghosts of Onyx are meant to be this. Their sole purpose is to take the suicide missions that are beyond the skill level of the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers but beneath the potential loss of the SPARTAN-IIs. However, they’re better-equipped, better-trained, and fewer in number (trained in groups of 300) than any other example; their purpose was to replicate the tactical and strategic successes of the SPARTAN-II Super-Soldier program minus the irreplaceability of the actual SPARTAN-IIs, which meant soldiers who were not only expendable but who also went as hard as (super-)humanly possible into missions that could and usually did kill all 300 of them.
  • In Matched Aberrations are sent to the Outer Provinces as "decoys" to draw the fire of the mysterious Enemy.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire gives us... the Freys (and their hapless retainers). There are a lot of them, and the House is at least rich enough to equip them all fairly well. There are also a lot of factions willing to wield armies in the field, most of whom they have tried to ally with. The family has, however, gone and made the strategic mistake of getting generally hated by all sides for various reasons just as they've ditched their habit of turning up more than fashionably late to wars. Guess who now has pride of place near the very top of the list of those chosen for the front lines when any given commander wishes to reserve their best, most loyal troops? Go on... guess.
    • More generally, the basic strategic practice in both Weseros and Essos is to send the sellswords in first — unless it's the Golden Company (they you can treat as solid retainers with skills, not simply liabilities making up the numbers). This is to try to get your money's worth, just in case they turn tail... or, because you hope to get away with just paying the deposit. Wise captains of sellsword companies look out for the second eventuality, and will jump ship and switch sides if they think they see it coming. Irony, much? The whole war around Meereen can basically be described as a mad advertising campaign and financial scrambling between two main factions (and a couple of minor ones)... and all the sellsword companies trying desperately to make a profit from any of them, while trying to avoid being turned into sudden mince. In short: not much serious fighting, even though the lines and loyalties are pretty fluid.
  • In Space Marine Battles the Space Marines themselves avert this, as each one of them is worth more than a planet, but they have nothing against herding the Imperial Guard to soften up the enemy.

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

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech: The Clans, nations of caste-based warriors, treat their "old" (over 30) soldiers as cannon fodder. They are transferred into "Solahma" units, which are mostly assigned in garrison duty, and are also sent out as shock troopers in outdated and decrepit battlemechs, combat vehicles, or armed with nothing more than an assault rifle and a flak jacket, and are expected to die in battle.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The dretch typically serve this function in demon armies. Being the lowest ranked of demon kind, and being rather weak and unintelligent, especially as individuals, they aren't useful for much else.
  • Exalted: This is the role that mortals play, because their world just sucks that much. It's even codified in the rules: "extras" — usually defined as anyone without an Essence rating — have only three health levels where everyone else has at least seven.
  • Game of the Generals: Subverted with Privates, who have the lowest rank, as they are essential to capturing Spies. No, the "honor" goes to junior officers from the Major down to the Sergeant. Of course, given Tactical Rock–Paper–Scissors, they can also serve to protect Spies/the Flag from Privates.
  • The Gates of Hell (a Dungeons & Dragons fan expansion): Hell does seem to know the value of preserving troops, at least more than the demons do. However, the lemures (the lowest and nearly mindless rank of Devils) are not troops for them. They are defined as ammo.
  • Paranoia is that rare example where the players themselves are the cannon laser fodder.
  • Turnip 28 goes so far as to refer to its core unit that comes with large numbers of weak troops as "Fodder". Notably, it's one of only a few units that can take a direct hit from the Grand Bombard without being completely annihilated. Other units that tend to get killed frequently include Rootlings (which automatically respawn) and the Uprising of the Louse's Rabble (more of which turn up when the enemy blunders an order).
  • Warhammer:
    • Blood Bowl: Most linemen. Orcs, for once, avert their usual tendencies, as their players are very hard to hurt and even their linemen can end up as Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder with a few (randomly awarded) MVP awards.
    • Warhammer:
      • Bretonnia's army is built around its noble knights, which fight exclusively as cavalry. Any infantry units are made up of levied peasants, the best-trained and -equipped of which can be described as "adequate" soldiers.
      • Gnoblars aren't expected to stay in battle for more than a while before routing or dying, much less achieve anything useful, and their main roles in battle are consequently to blunt the charge of enemy forces and to soak up missile fire. This is represented by their having the Beneath Contempt rule, meaning that Ogres (and other Gnoblars) won't receive morale penalties if Gnoblar units flee or are utterly destroyed — that's just what they expect will happen anyway.
      • Skaven units are this, given their culture. Skavenslaves even have a special rule allowing you to fire into melees where only they and the enemy are, making them literal cannon fodder.
      • Ungors are Beastmen with underdeveloped horns, which determine their status, and as such tend to be used to absorb missiles and blunt cavalry charges. They also get shoved to the outer edge of Beastmen encampments where they're most vulnerable to attackers and the cold, and forced to do demeaning jobs.
    • Warhammer 40,000 lets you choose which target your gun crews are shooting at, so it's hard to force your opponent to focus on your most expendable troops, but there's two ways you can evoke this trope. The first is the "tarpit" approach, where you lock up your enemy's most dangerous melee units in a long assault against cheap, worthless troops — that single Space Marine Terminator costs as much as ten Guardsmen, and will probably beat them in combat, but it's going to take a few rounds for him to do so, in which he's not earning his points cost back by killing something more valuable. Second is the "ablative wounds" note  approach, where you add additional soldiers to a squad to discard as casualties after taking fire. The more regular soldiers there are, the more likely the troopers carrying the plasma gun or missile launcher are to survive to use their more potent weapons. As for the individual armies and their designated Cannon Fodder units:
      • The Imperial Guard is this for the Imperium in general, but can field Conscript Platoons that are even more expendable than the average Guardsman. If you take the right special character, he can "recycle" dead platoons with his "Send in the Next Wave!" rule. Marshal Chenkov specializes in this, somehow winning despite tactics like storming fortresses with no artillery support or clearing a minefield by marching his regiment over it. He can't be said to be Armchair Military though, since he's on the frontline to "encourage" his men into facing the enemy.
      • The Tau tend to use their Kroot allies and other alien auxiliaries as this, but not to soak up enemy gunfire, rather to meet or counter-charge an enemy assault, since the Tau are miserable in close combat. The bullet-catcher role is instead given to their Gun Drones, which are inexpensive (both in lore and on the tabletop), reasonably well armed and, critically, infinitely more expendable than the living soldiers around them.
      • The Orks have Grots, which have actually had rules allowing Orks to use them as living cover, mine sweepers (by detonating them), or pathfinders (the Orks step on them for better footing). Other uses for Grots include ammunition, emergency rations, or sports equipment. Of course, even Ork Boyz are to some degree expendable - one of the defining traits of the average Ork Warboss is the ability to view everyone but himself as totally expendable if it leads to a good fight, and one of the defining traits of the Ork mentality is that this is a positive trait for a leader to have.
      • The Tyranids will employ their basic 'gaunt or Ripper breeds like this, hurling them at the enemy en masse just to force the Hive Mind's opponent to waste ammunition before the main assault. Some Tyranids are even born without digestive tracts because they aren't intended to survive their first battle - living or dead, they'll all be consumed by the Rippers as recycled biomass.
      • Chaos Space Marines have Cultists, dirt cheap troops of similar stats and equipment to Imperial Guard Conscripts, meant to be disposable bodies and "hiding spots" for the elite marines and special characters. The Alpha Legion is uniquely the only Chaos legion which actually bothers to train their cultists and rely on them for something other than catching bullets, and one of the most successful ones, go figure. The Iron Warriors meanwhile were so noted for taking this approach to their attached Army regiments that pre-corruption Horus signed a specific order that Perturabo's troops could only be given control over expendable penal regiments and enslaved forces from recently conquered worlds.
      • The only armies who really avert this trope are the Space Marines, an Elite Army, and the Eldar, a Dying Race that would much rather manipulate others into dying in their stead.

    Video Games 
  • Brothers in Arms has the Osttruppen, or Ost Battalions, from the first two games. Amongst the German infantry types encountered, they're the least competent, the most lightly armed, and are intended only to man static defensive positions located on or near the Allied invasion beaches. This is also Truth in Television, as the quality of these troops was so low that the German Army had no other use for them, and that their commanders were ordered to shoot them if they were to retreat.
  • Cannon Fodder. Eponymous trope, eponymous pixels. War Has Never Been So Much Fun!
  • The Cultists in Dawn of War are actually referred to as Cannon Fodder by their own unit description.
  • In Dungeons III, the Undead can turn dead or imprisoned heroes in Zombies or Skeletal Archers respectively. These creatures travel in packs and are pitifully weak but do not count towards your population limit. In short, they are suited for taking on heroes in melee and distract them from your stronger, more precious creatures.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
  • Halo: The Covenant military use the Grunts primarily as cannon fodder, giving them such glorious jobs as running across active minefields to clear the way for more elite troops. Their fighting skills are generally laughable at best, as their tactics are usually nothing more complex than taking potshots at the enemy and hoping it dies. They also tend to run away when their squad leader is killed. However, Grunts can also be surprisingly dangerous in large numbers; when the entire Grunt race rebelled against the Covenant, it took an Arbiter ordering a massive orbital bombardment of their homeworld to end their revolt. Additionally, some Grunts carry heavy weapons capable of instantly tearing the player apart, and the sticky grenades that all ranks love to throw make them a potential threat even when the player is in a heavy vehicle. They've also taken some levels in badass as the series progressed; from Halo 3 onward, Grunts can drive light vehicles and will sometimes attempt to suicide-bomb their foes instead of running away if things go south for them, and Halo 5: Guardians's Firefight mode gives us Grunts with recharging energy shields and Grunts piloting super powerful Mini-Mecha.
  • Pictured, a Tokay slave used as Cannon Fodder by the Labrynna Regime in Hyrule: Total War.
  • Discussed in Mass Effect 3: Citadel between two CAT-6 mercs who've been ordered to slow Shepard down. One of them questions the Exact Words of the order, wondering if they're allowed to kill Shepard. The other suggests that they aren't expected to. Shepard is fully aware of this.
    Shepard: You don't have a squad, you have minions. And you're running out.
  • MechWarrior generally turns tanks, infantry, and aerospace fighters (all of which are deadly in the original material) into cannon fodder designed to waste your BattleMech's ammunition reserves upon before the enemy Battlemech force shows up. The only time they're dangerous in Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries, for example, is when the AI sics over 40 tanks onto your squadron. The trope is averted to a hilarious degree in Living Legends, where countless Mech 4 veterans were slaughtered by rampaging Demolisher mech-hunter tanks and angry battle armor players swarming over their mech.
  • Perhaps the most relevant example is Men of War: Condemned Heroes. The player goes into tough battles, in a series where you usually get a sufficient amount of men and vehicles, with nothing more than a squad or two - and usually with little ammo. The necessity of capturing enemy equipment is paramount to succeed. The game's producers, 1C, also added the original Orders No. 227, the famous 'Not one step backwards!' from Stalin, as well as a modern analysis of the use of penal battalions, pointing out that while they were brutally treated and suffered beyond heavy casualties, in the eyes of the contemporary Red Army, they were repaying their debt to the Motherland, either in heroism or blood.
  • In Napoleon: Total War, when a region capital comes under siege by an army, the defending army may obtain, for the duration of the siege, several units of poorly equipped citizens named "Armed Citizenry" to defend the city. They are almost utterly useless, and may even be a hazard to the defending army in a regular line as they rout very quickly. Indeed, their only valuable use is as a meat shield to protect the regular army in ultimate we have reserves fashion, and even in that they may fail miserably.
  • Ogame has among ships the light fighter and among planetary defenses the rocket launcher and the small laser. While in early game both are the best (and only) available stuff, it does not take much time before they become just protection for much more expensive and better ships or defenses and in late game there're battles with millions of fighters and/or planets with hundreds of thousands of rocket launchers/small lasers, if not more.
  • In Pinball Quest, the goblins of the third table simply stand immobile, blocking your way to the Goblin King.
  • In the Strategy RPG IOS Game Ravenmark, some battles sees you command Militiamen, in addition to your core Imperial Legion troops. Basically farmers and local constables with little to no training and basic equipment, pressed into service when an unexpected full-scale invasion stretched the imperial armies beyond capacity. Their most notable ability is that any enemy unit that kills a squad of them is slowed down to 1 move and low initiative in the next round. In other words, they're most useful when their piled-up corpses are impeding the progress of your foes. Of course, whether you use them as such, or try to keep them in reserve until things get truly desperate, is up to you.
  • In Star Wars: Battlefront, the player that had the most deaths earns the title 'Bantha Fodder'.
  • Total War: Warhammer has units with the "expendable" trait, which means that non-expendable units don't suffer morale penalties from seeing them take horrible casualties and flee. That happening just means they're doing their job of soaking up charging enemies, missiles, literal cannon fire, or offensive spells in place of the units that matter. Naturally they're typically very cheap, with horrible combat statistics and an eagerness to flee the enemy. Some factions have units also typically used for this purpose but which lack the trait, such as zombies.
  • In the XCOM series, it is the default modus operandi of the alien force. The reason: the aliens are effectively countless, they can be easily bred and they have little to no survival instinct. This is also the default use of the players' rookies, since odds are good they'll just die attempting to fight anyway - Enemy Unknown can kill your troops the turn after they make contact with them, the original XCOM can kill them the moment they walk off of the Skyranger.
    • XCOM: Enemy Unknown subverts this: the less-equipped aliens are still cannon fodder, but they're strategically-placed cannon fodder. The Ethereal race, which rules over the other alien species like a theocracy, is trying to find new forms of life, test and experiment on them, and determine their place in the hierarchy with the ultimate goal of finding a race that can surpass them - everyone in the hierarchy, Ethereals included, are considered failures by the Ethereals. You fight waves of Sectoids and Thin Men with ease in the beginning stages of the game because the Ethereals are testing to see if your race can survive their weakest, most inept soldiers. If so, great; have some more technology and harder enemies to fight. If not, get ready to beg and grovel before your current foes as their new thralls.
  • In Xenonauts, it is a tactic happily employed by the aliens and sometimes the player too, to a certain degree.
  • A staple in every Warriors game. The common foot soldier poses virtually no threat against you and other named threats and are only there to occupy territory and pad out the number of kills for your One-Man Army. Even if you stand completely still, they'll hesitate to even attempt to strike you.

    Web Comics 
  • S.S.D.D.: Just before the army's aptitude test, the sergeant explains that while volunteers who fail the test will be sent home, conscriptsnote  who fail it still have a place within the army:
    Sergeant: And that position will be between our soldiers that are worth something, and the enemy, catching bullets!

    Web Original 
  • D-Class Personnel at the SCP Foundation. These are the people that they shove through doors into deep space in order to see what happens. To alleviate some of the moral issues, D-Class personnel are normally recruited from the ranks of prison inmates convicted of violent crimes, especially those on death row. However, if the Foundation is in need of a lot more D-Class Personnel, they enact Protocol 12 which lets them recruit from other sources: political prisoners, refugees...

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: While most soldiers from the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom (except the Dai Li) qualify, it's specifically Zuko's reaction against this tactic that causes his initial banishment. Two years prior to the start of the series, he attends a war council and openly challenges the plan to sacrifice a division of new recruits to draw out experienced enemies. He ends up having to duel against his own father for the insult, which results in his signature scar and kicks off his entire character arc.
  • Exo Squad had an on-going conflict between the Humongous Mecha pilots and the jumptroopers (basically, light paratroopers) who die like lemmings when things get hot.
  • Futurama: Captain Zapp Brannigan makes no attempt to hide the fact that he sees everyone on his crew as completely expendable. His notable "victory" over the Killbots was achieved by feeding them wave after wave of his own men until they reached a pre-programmed kill limit and shut down. He has claimed that when he's in command, "Every mission is a suicide mission!", and he considers clogging the enemy's cannons with the wreckage of his own ships to be a viable combat tactic.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Both averted and subverted. The clones are often viewed as this even admitting it themselves, but to the Jedi (with the exception of Pong Krell), they are invaluable friends and kept alive as much as possible, not that it helps the Jedi in the end.
  • The Venture Bros.: The Monarch regards his henchmen as basically disposable pawns and often sends platoons of them to be butchered by Brock Samson while he directs them from the safety of his flying cocoon headquarters.

    Real Life 
  • During World War II, Japanese infantrymen were called "issen gorin" by their officers, referring to the price of mailing a conscription notice: one sen, five rin, or about 1/99th of a yen.
    • Several Japanese officers who fought on Guadalcanal went further, calling themselves and their men 'teppodama', literally "bullets" in being that expendable.
    • The initial wave of attacks during D-Day consisted of this almost exclusively. Several thousands of soldiers landed via boats at the beach and were simply ordered "run and take the hills". The purpose of this was a fairly literal invocation of Cannon Fodder, in that the soldiers were just there to take the bullets and keep the Nazis busy until they simply ran out of ammo. Estimates go that there were around 1000 Nazis dead, ten times as many as that died on the Allied side with 4,414 confirmed according to Wikipedia.
  • According to The Other Wiki, the first documented use of the term "cannon fodder" appears in an anti-Napoleonic pamphlet by French writer François-René de Chateaubriand, published in 1814. In it, Chateaubriand lambasted Napoleon's battle strategy, particularly his treatment of new recruits: "the contempt for the lives of men and for France herself has come to the point of calling the conscripts 'the raw material' and 'the cannon fodder'."
  • The ugly truth is that this has been the purpose of infantry since WWI in conventional warfare. While some armies have embraced it and some haven't, ultimately the infantry's job is to go first and locate targets for the artillery, aircraft, and armored vehicles. That this is frequently accomplished by losing a few of them to fire from a concealed position is an unfortunate inevitability.
    • Napoleonic armies were raised by conscription, and any conscription armies tend likewise to be Cannon Fodder. Equipment and weapons are expensive, human life is cheap.
    • Some British commanders in WWI viewed the cost of armoring and healing soldiers as outweighing the cost of simply getting another soldier, right up until the point they realized just how few able bodies there actually were to throw in the war machine.
  • Red Army staff officers sometimes referred to lost soldiers as "material" or "wastage". Euphemisms such as "how many pencils were broken today?" were common. This is actually something of a subversion: it was not simple callousness, but a coping strategy given the incomprehensibly massive casualties (twelve million dead and several million more crippled, more than every other combatant [including China] put together) the Soviets suffered in WWII. Given how much as been written about the "Red hordes" (most of it nonsense, based upon accounts by embittered ex-Wehrmacht personnel), this may come as a surprise to some.
  • There have been few better examples than the 100,000 men of Vasily Chuikov's 62nd Reserve Army. Based in the Stalingrad district, it was still being formed and had months of training, arming, and equipping still to go when the front lines ended up on their doorstep in early September 1942. In the next two months the 62nd Army was tasked with luring the German 6th Army close to the city through a series of relentless counterattacks, regardless of losses, to make it possible for Soviet mobile forces to encircle the entire army in a counter-offensive operation that November. They succeeded, luring a full 60,000 troops deep into the city and drawing another 120,000 German and 200,000 Italian and Romanian troops within a hundred kilometres of it. In doing so they lost 300,000 men and suffered another 300,000 wounded: this was a full thirtieth of the entire losses suffered by the Red Army in World War Two, or a full third of the Western Allies' total deaths in WWII. Some of the most extreme examples (counting wounded among the survivors) include the 112th Rifle Division, which had about 7k men at the beginning of the urban fighting in September and had 250 when it was evacuated on the 29th. The 37th Guards Rifle Division arrived as reinforcements for the 62nd Army on the 15th-16th September with at least 10k men, and had "a few hundred" left on the 15th of October. The 95th Rifle division arrived as reinforcements in late September with 7k men and the surviving 500 were evacuated on the 14th of October. And last but not least, the 193rd Rifle Division arrived on the 27th-28th September with 5k and by the 8th of October had 350.
  • This happened a lot in the American Civil War. When Pickett's Charge was repulsed at Gettysburg, the retreating survivors were taunted with shouts of "Fredericksburg!" In that earlier battle, it was the Army of the Potomac that suffered frightful casualties in failing to break a fortified line. Almost one year later, one soldier wrote in his diary: "June 3, 1864. Cold Harbor. I was killed." Which he was. Many other soldiers pinned nametags to their uniforms before this and other battles so they could be identified if they were killed; ironically, the author of the diary omitted his name in the book, and it has been suggested that the diary entry is apocryphal.
  • How many hordes there are in a Chinese platoon? A sarcastic joke amongst the UN troops during the Korean War. The constant nighttime infiltration-assault attacks of People's Liberation Army infantry Platoons (50-100 men) on UN infantry Squads (10 men), in the context of PLA Battalions (500 men) attacking UN Platoons (50-100 men) produced appalling casualties which broadly favoured the Chinese. The daytime UN artillery bombardments and infantry-supported tank attacks, on the other hand, produced even more appalling casualties which heavily favoured the UN. Despite their bravery and cunning in executing such a strategy the balance of losses still worked out very badly against the PLA, not least because of their lesser medical resources.
    • The Soviet army also had its jokes along the lines of "an assault in small groups of 10 to 20 million people" during the period of border clashes with the PLA in the late '60s and '70s.
  • There was a saying in Song Dynasty China, invoking this trope: "Don't use good iron to make a nail, and don't use a good man to make a soldier."


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Ost Battalions

Hailing from various regions of Nazi-occupied Europe, these auxiliary soldiers serve only one purpose, to defend fixed positions against an Allied invasion. Their competence was so low, in fact, that their officers were ordered to shoot them if they tried to flee.

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Main / CannonFodder

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