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Delaying Action

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Soldier: Lord Juza, we succeded in stopping them for now.
Juza: Yep... How many days do I have to stop them for?
Soldier: Two days will be enough.
Juza: OK, then, two days...[holds his heavily bleeding wound] Looks like I have to sacrifice my life.

A Delaying Action is a battle fought by a clearly outnumbered and out-gunned force to try to hold up a superior force. The aim is to buy enough time for other friendly forces to a) escape or b) arrive.

This may involve a Heroic Sacrifice, but ideally you aim to perform a Tactical Withdrawal before being slaughtered. The military equivalent of either You Shall Not Pass! or holding a position until the Big Damn Heroes show up.

Compare Delaying the Rescue.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • A frequent tactic in Dragon Ball Z is for the relatively weaker heroes (basically, anyone but Goku and sometimes Gohan) to hold of stronger opponents until Goku can arrive and/or charge the Spirit Bomb. Used repeatedly on Namek: Krillin and Gohan have to hold out against Freeza and his minions until Goku arrives on the planet, and then again while Goku heals from those injuries, and then Goku gets in on it, battling Freeza to keep his attention while the others summon Porunga to evacuate the dying planet (though Goku, being Goku, decides to turn that one into a real fight even though he doesn't have to).
  • In Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, Commander Kugel attempts to do this to prevent the Hideauze from following their retreating forces into the wormhole after the Galactic Alliance is forced to retreat from the battle in the first episode.
  • Levi does this twice in Trinity Seven. The first is against Liselotte to buy time for Mira to scan their opponent's abilities and spells, and the second is when fighting Lugh to give Arata and the others more time to get back before it's destroyed.
  • In Goblin Slayer, when an inexperienced and naïve group of young adventurers decide to go into a cave inhabited by goblins, they are ambushed, and completely outnumbered. The goblins manage to kill 2 members of the group with ease, and only the priestess and fighter girl are left, the fighter girl begins fighting off the horde to give the priestess enough time to escape, knowing full well the horrible fate that awaits her, so this can also count as a heroic sacrifice. Interesting enough the fighter girl is able to hold her own, until a large goblin joins the fight and breaks her leg, leading to her getting gang raped, despite this she shouts for the priestess to continue her escape.

  • 300, recounting the Spartans at Thermopylae (see Real Life below).
  • The Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. The Rebels knew there was no way they could actually win: the Empire had better equipment (including heavy armor for which the Rebels had no viable counter) and too much of a numerical advantage. The ground forces and Rogue Squadron simply hoped to delay the Imps long enough to evacuate the base. The battle was considered an Imperial victory overall, though the Rebels technically achieved their objective, destroying some of the lead walkers and thus postponing the destruction of the shield generator.
  • Wing Commander has a single carrier being asked to hold off an entire Kilrathi fleet for 2 hours, while the main Confederate fleet gets into position.
  • In Kung Fu Panda, Master Shifu decides to stay and fight Tai Lung, despite knowing that his former student has become too strong for him, knowing that, as long as Tai Lung is fighting him, he will not attack the Valley of Peace, which is being evacuated by Po and the Furious Five.
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day is an entire film of Delaying Action. The T-1000 is so strong, Nigh-Invulnerable, and cannot be stopped. Each encounter with it is merely trying to slow it down and escape it for the time being.

  • Beware of Chicken: Despite being skilled enough to give Zang Li/Lu Ban a challenging fight, Bi De can't actually win, and he knows it. All the time they're fighting, though, his shadow clone is running to alert Jin, who then turns up and falls on Bi De's attacker like a pile of bricks the size of a mountain.
  • Book of the Dead (2021): Even Slayers as powerful as Magnin and Beory Steelarm can't forever resist the Cold-Blooded Torture inflicted on them via their magical branding when they disobey. But for the sake of their son, they intend to hold out as long as possible, giving him time to gather strength and survive.
  • In The Third World War, NATO successfully delays Soviet forces long enough for reinforcements to arrive, then launches a decisive strike and turns the Soviets back around Krefeld.
  • In Red Phoenix, North Korea invades South Korea. US and South Korean forces essentially have to fight one big delaying action until reinforcements can arrive from the US.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Dark Force Rising: Rogue Squadron did this, trying to buy time for Luke and Han to get into their ships and let Fey'lya escape with his force. Fortunately for them, Fey'lya was steered into an Engineered Public Confession and his people went back to help the Rogues. This wasn't enough. Karrde's smugglers showed up. This wasn't enough. Then Bel Iblis showed up. This was enough until a second Star Destroyer appeared, and it took two counts of Ramming Always Works before the day was saved.
    • New Jedi Order: Wedge Antilles loves these, since his particular style of warfare makes them work. Case in point: the Siege of Borleais. All told, the siege involved an entire fake secret engineering project, an entire real secret engineering project, a planetary bombardment by the garrison defenders, a Super Star Destroyer dropping into the middle of the enemy fleet... oh, and the wholesale evacuation of the garrison before the final battle. Borleais cost two entire Vong fleets and a planetary garrison, and was a huge embarrassment to their command staff.
    • X-Wing Series: Wraith Squadron's first real action was covering the evacuation of their training base when a Star Destroyer allied to Warlord Zsinj showed up. Things go from bad to worse when one of the transports is delayed in launching, but then we get a taste of what the squadron is capable of when a pilot wonders, "what if we gave them a juicier target to go after?" Cue an improv radio program where two Wraith X-Wings and two A-Wings pretend to be the Millennium Falcon suffering some engine problems.
  • In The Silmarillion, the Men of the House of Hador delay the forces of Angband long enough for Turgon's Gondolindrim to escape unfollowed. All but one of them die, and it only gets worse for the survivor...
  • Honor Harrington:
    • In the novel In Enemy Hands, the heavy cruiser that Honor is on (as flag officer) jumps into a system to discover that the Havenites have already taken it and destroyed the local forces. Honor orders her ship to distract the attention of the enemy away from the point the convoy she was escorting would have jumped out of hyperspace, to give it the chance to jump back out. This done and the ship badly damaged, she orders the ship's captain to surrender the ship to the Peeps.
    • In the earlier novel The Short Victorious War, a large Manticoran fleet has been decoyed away from their home base at Hancock Station. A small task force left behind to protect the base has to delay the attacking Havenite fleet long enough to prevent them from either taking the station or retreating back over the hyper limit before the Manticoran fleet can return. Honor ends up in command of the task force during the course of the battle, although her flag officer, Admiral Mark Sarnow, was only incapacitated, not killed, and shows up again in later books.
  • When a mission goes wrong in Invasion of Kzarch, and the rebel forces have to beat a fast retreat with the enemy right behind them, they're forced to use a sacrificial force, made up mostly of wounded, to buy time for the main force to break away. The sacrifical force is slaughtered to a man, but they get the job done (Salutes).
  • In Ark Royal, when an unexpected alien threat surfaces, and the modern Space Navies prove utterly incapable of dealing with them, the British Royal Navy sends in the obsolescent titular armored carrier to try to hold off the alien advance in the slim hope that her armor and railguns will allow her to survive and deal a blow to the enemy. The initial engagement is successful, and the Ark Royal ends up destroying several alien carriers, forcing a retreat. As a result, the ship is once again sent to confront the aliens, hoping to keep them away from Earth until the major space powers can design and build Ark Royal-type ships.
  • The Dresden Files fifteenth book Skin Game has Waldo Butters realize the bad guys are about to burn the house he is in, killing him, an incapacitated Harry Dresden, and the children hiding there. So, he chooses to rush out, knowing he will likely die, but hopes the Cavalry will make it in time to save everyone else. This act of faith against extreme odds, culminating with others choices, allowed Butters to reawaken a broken power and defeat the evildoers.
  • The Codex Alera third book has Acting-Captain Rufus Scipio having to hold a town and bridge against an invading force of 50,000 wolfmen, who are on average 8ft tall and some are powerful blood mages. If they take the bridge, they will have open access to much of Alera. He knows help isn't coming, but the civilians from the town are escaping still. He needs his men to hold until high noon, when he will have his own magic knights use telescope-magic, originally meant to allow people to see great distances, to create a magnify-glass-like section, intensifying the heat of the sun's rays onto a powerful fire-mage knight, who reflects it onto the wolfmen.
  • In the Star Trek novel Ship of the Line, the USS Bozeman is left patrolling a border area because of a malfunctioning warp drive, while the rest of the ships I the sector are rushing to a potential attempt at a border crossing by massing Klingon warships. But it's all a distraction. A Klingon named Kozara plans to take a heavy cruiser and destroy Starbase 12 and the thousands of people aboard. The cruiser is 5 times the size of the border cutter Bozeman and is blanketing the area around it with communication jamming. Captain Bateson realizes that they have no choice but to try to warn Starfleet while keeping the cruiser occupied. For his part, Kozara has no choice but to delay the attack long enough to destroy the Bozeman lest the Klingons' plan is foiled by a warning. They rig a comm buoy to transmit 30 minutes after launch and do their best to dodge disruptor shots. They spot a weird nebula and enter it to buy a few seconds. They come out and almost collide with another ship, the USS Enterprise-D. They learn that not only have they been catapulted into the future, but their actions have resulted in the original Enterprise driving off Kozara and saving the starbase. The entire crew is listed as dying heroic deaths, while the Empire was humiliated and Kozara dishonored. With no way back, they resolve to do the best they can in the 24th century. Several years later, Bateson uses his seniority and fame to maneuver himself into getting command of the newly-christened Enterprise-E on her shakedown cruise. Then the still-living Kozara reappears to avenge his dishonor and capture the new Federatiok flagship for himself with the help of a spy.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's science fiction novel The Vor Game a fleet of space mercenaries—5,000 people and a flotilla of relatively light warships—has to hold a "wormhole" against a full-fledged invasion by an interstellar empire until relief arrives in the form of a much more powerful group of warships sent by an alliance of multiple planets. That the nature of faster-than-light travel in the series naturally creates highly defensible bottlenecks—like a Thermopylae in space—is the only hope they have of success.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the season 2 cliffhanger of Blake's 7, the crew of the Liberator Hold the Line against an Alien Invasion from another galaxy until the Federation (ironically the same enemy they're rebelling against) arrive to fight them off.
  • In the final episode of Robin Hood The outlaws, who have seized Nottingham, try a gradual retreat to delay the Sheriff's forces until forces loyal to King Richard can arrive. It turns out they're not coming and a change of plan is needed.
  • An episode of Lie to Me features a CIA agent who'd went over to the Taliban redeeming himself by delaying them long enough for Lightman and the others to escape a bunker.
  • The Battle of the Line, in the Babylon 5 prequel movie In The Beginning:
    President of Earth: We have continued to broadcast our surrender and a plea for mercy. And they have not responded. We therefore can only conclude... that we stand at the twilight of the Human race. In order to buy more time for our evacuation transports to leave Earth, we ask for the support of every ship capable of fighting to take part in a last defense of our homeworld. We will not lie to you. We do not believe that survival is a possibility. We believe that anyone who joins this battle... will never come home. But for every ten minutes we can delay the military advance several hundred civilians may have a chance to escape to neutral territory. Though Earth may fall, the Human race must have a chance to continue elsewhere. No greater sacrifice has ever been asked of a people than I ask you now... to step forward one last time... one last battle, to hold the line against the night. May God go with you all."
  • More than once in Falling Skies.
  • The Second Battle of Deep Space Nine. Against a Dominion-Cardassian Fleet, the station manages to destroy 50 ships before the Starfleet crew is forced to abandon it. Before leaving, Sisko reveals that while they had focused much of the Dominion's ships, a Starfleet-Klingon task force destroyed a major Cardassian shipyard.

    Tabletop Games 
  • One special scenario in Warhammer's Storm of Chaos campaign was "Halting the Tide," based around an Empire-Kislev alliance battling against the overwhelming Chaos hordes of Archaon, Lord of the End Times. The attackers outnumber the defenders two to one, but the defenders are grimly determined to tie up the attackers for as long as possible, and are immune to Panic during the battle. Another twist is that victory depends upon how many units the Defender kills, so if the Attacker completely wipes out the Defenders but loses half of his own forces in the process, it's still a loss for him.
  • Several mission types in Warhammer 40,000 have an outnumbered defender trying to hold out against the attacker until their reserves come in.
    • In-universe, this is usually the role of a world's Planetary Defense Corps in the event of enemy attack, to hold out until the Imperial Guard is mustered to come to its aid. If that's not enough, the Imperial Guard gets to hold the line until the Space Marines show up.
    • Most engagements with the Tyranids seem to fall into this pattern, with a beleagured world trying to survive until a fleet of reinforcements arrives. Problem is, the Tyranids project a "Shadow in the Warp" that disrupts interstellar communication.

    Video Games 
  • The climactic Battle of South Moundtop in SaGa Frontier 2 is all about stalling for time. Unlike most of the other battlefield campaigns where there is either parity or conditions heavily in the players favor, this battle is against an army vastly your superior. Everything must go perfect for you to survive the necessary turns and your allies to arrive to finish the battle off screen.
  • Several times in Warcraft III. The final mission has your Night Elves and allied humans and orcs stalling Archimonde and the Burning Legion as they march on the World Tree, until Malfurion can gather enough Wisps to kill the demon lord when he tries to claim the tree's power.
    • A Bonus Level of the Frozen Throne has you preventing the humans from destroying the portal the Blood Elves are escaping through in a Tower Defense scenario. Succeed and you'll earn an extra hero for the next level.
  • StarCraft:
    • The 3rd Terran mission involves this, where you must hold off the Zerg until rescue arrives.
    • The Expanded Universe novel Speed of Darkness stars a group of Confederate Marines who fought a separate delaying action that apparently drew a sizable quantity of Zerg away from the Player Character. Though the fact that they had a psychic beacon with them might have contributed.
    • Played with in the final Protoss mission in Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty. It takes place in the Bad Future, and defeat is unavoidable, you're simply trying to take as many Zerg with you (and the achievements for that mission are based not on how long you lasted but how many Zerg you've killed). An optional objective plays it straight, in that other Protoss are trying to Fling a Light into the Future, you need to hold out until they're done.
  • Happens by event during some battles in Hearts of Iron II and III. It slows the attacker down a bit and helps the defenders.
  • The level "Revenge of the Empire" in Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike. Mirroring the Hoth example, Rogue Squadron is providing air cover to the evacuation of the base on Yavin IV.
  • The entirety of Mass Effect 3 is a delaying action meant to slow the Reaper assault long enough that the Crucible can be constructed.
  • Dawn of War: Winter Assault has a mission where the Imperial Guard agrees to ally with an Eldar force. Which of course triggers waves upon waves of orks to attack you culminating in a Squiggoth. Fortunately, the reinforcements you're waiting for include a Baneblade.
  • The opening of Steambirds includes the line "You cannot save the city, but you can stall the armada long enough for London's citizens to evacuate."
  • Modern Warfare
    • The first is the level "Heat", where Bravo Six jury-rigs the terrain they hold with explosives and uses the minigun from a crashed chopper to slow down the advancing OpFor troops. Their goal is to retreat to the top of a hill while an extraction helo can land there, but the helo ends up landing at the bottom of the hill just ceded to the enemy.
    • "Sins of the Father", the very next level, has the enemy trying to slow down Bravo Six while Zakhaev's son escapes.
    • "Game Over" ends its car chase on a bridge, with our protagonists failing to hold out on said bridge long enough for reinforcements.
    • From the second game: "The Washington, D.C. evac site is getting hit hard, and we need to buy 'em some time. Hooah?"
    • Also from the second game. Once General Shepherd realizes it's Soap and Price in his base killing his dudes, he merely orders a scuttling of all intelligence items and an evacuation, having successive fire teams delay the pair.
    • The third game revisits the car chase and bridge holdout of the first game in the mission "Iron Lady". Metal 0-1 is successful at it this time.
    • With "Scorched Earth" being the two sides racing each other to the objective, both factions are trying to delay one another. The Ultranationalists are victorious once they resort to dropping a goddamn skyscraper on advancing forces.
    • And finally, yet another villainous example. In "Dust to Dust", Price and Yuri are rampaging through Makarov's hiding spot, forcing the Inner Circle to barricade themselves in until the chopper arrives.
  • A common scenario in Ultimate Admiral: Dreadnoughts. Often light ships must fling themselves into the fray in the hopes that their sacrifice will buy enough time for a convoy to escape, and/or for heavy ships to come into range to demolish the attackers.
  • In Xenoblade Chronicles 3, when the prison break from La Gartia Prison is intercepted by N, M and a massive Agnian force, Ouroboros opts to stand and fight to buy time for the rest.

    Web Video 
  • World War II: Fought by the French and British Expeditionary Force to buy time for the evacuation of British and French forces at Dunkirk while surrounded by the German invasion of France.
  • Mahu: In "Second Chance" one of the Galactic Commonwealth's generals stays behind with some of his surviving forces while the rest are evacuated out of the planet...a planet which will be destroyed in only a couple of hours.
  • In the third episode of Clear Skies, Commander Mallozzi jumps his Carrier the Magellan in to attack the rebel fleet to distract attention away from the Cynosural Jammer which is preventing the Caldari fleet from jumping into the system, giving the crew of the Clear Skies a chance to sneak in and blow it up without enemy realising. Unfortuately, the Cyno Jammer is more heavily defended than they expected and Captain Rourke tells Mallozzi he needs more time... and Mallozzi stoically accepts that his delaying action is going to have to be upgraded to a Heroic Sacrifice...

    Western Animation 
  • The Dragon Prince: In "Heart of a Titan", time has run out for the Human expedition force to escape with their prize and they're being pursued by the Dragon King. To hold him off and buy the others the time to escape Xadia, Queen Annika and Queen Neha decide to face him, knowing full well that this would probably cost them their lives.

    Real Life 
  • Hundreds of real-life examples, including:
    • Part of the Battle of Gettysburg - specifically Buford's cavalry holding Seminary Ridge.
    • Part of Dunkirk.
    • The battle of Thermopylae... which makes this one Older Than Feudalism.
      • Twice at least. A second battle during WWII took place but it was a withdrawal instead of a sacrifice.
    • Battle of Saragarhi. Twenty-one Sikh warriors fought to the last man to delay TEN THOUSAND Pashtun tribesman who were launching a raid into then British India, which would have undoubtedly meant the deaths of many civilians. Their Havildar (sergeant) put it to a vote, and they all voted to stay. They defended the mud-walled post with bolt-action rifles, and delayed the invaders long enough that they were met with British reinforcements and heavy artillery at their next obstacle. All 21 Sikhs were awarded the Indian Order of Merit, the the highest medal they could receive, the modern equivalents being the Param Vir Chakra or Victoria Cross (which existed then, but was restricted to British forces).
    • The Battle off Samar had elements of this. Taffy 3, a task force commanded by Rear Admiral Clifton A. F. Sprague, consisted of a half dozen Escort Carriers, three Destroyers, and four Destroyer-Escorts. They ended up being surprised by Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita's Center Force, consisting of four battleships, eight cruisers, and eleven destroyers—the lead ship of Center Force, the battleship Yamato itself outweighed all of Taffy 3. Badly outmatched, Taffy 3's Destroyers and Destroyer-Escorts launched an attack on the Center Force, aided by aircraft launched by Taffy 3's carriers and those of nearby Taffys 1 and 2 (none of which carried bombs capable of damaging the armored heavy warships), in hopes of giving the escort carriers a chance to escape. However, Kurita was Wrong Genre Savvy, assuming that this intended to buy time for Admiral Halsey's 3rd Fleet to arrive, rather than allow the carriers to escape, and ordered a retreat. In return, Taffy 3 lost a third of their ships (including two Escort Carriers), and only two of their ships escaped damage.
  • This was a massive part of NATO plans for a World War III in Europe. The aim was to trade ground for time to allow US forces to arrive. One must feel sorry for the West Germans in all this...
    • Though with West Germany's insistence on "forward defense", that their country be defended right up to the border with East Germany, it was really more like trading lives for NATO Army Groups to mobilize their corps and the mentioned REFORGER reinforcements to arrive.
  • A day or two before the battle of the Alamo, the commanding officer received a dispatch stating that reinforcements were on their way to him. Some historians now guess that the desperate defense of the fort there was not intended as a last stand, so much as a delaying action in hope that those reinforcements would arrive.
  • Soon after the Japanese attacks on American forces in Hawaii and the Philippines, the US Asiatic Fleet and other Allied naval forces in the Pacific, making up the ABDAnote  Force found themselves in this situation due to their lack of any heavy-hitting forces note , compounded by poor peacetime training and the notoriously flaky American early-war torpedoes. They spent the first six months of the war harassing Japanese naval forces and attempting to disrupt landing forces, but were badly outnumbered. By the time US forces in the Philippines surrendered in May of 1942, the Asiatic Fleet had lost 19 out of 40 surface ships, with most of the rest retreating to Australia. The remnants of the Asiatic Fleet regrouped with the Pacific Fleet, and the Asiatic Fleet was never formed again.
  • Also the basic concept behind "defence in depth", where an attacking force is delayed and bled by the delaying forces along with supporting artillery, air power, etc. until the attack peters out and either retreats, or is vulnerable to a counter-attack.