Follow TV Tropes


Home by Christmas

Go To
The writing reads, 'Day trip to Paris' and 'See you on the boulevard'. Harsher in Hindsight, indeed.

"Months earlier, when Siétamo was taken, the general commanding the Government troops had said gaily: 'Tomorrow we'll have coffee in Huesca.' It turned out that he was mistaken. There had been bloody attacks, but the town did not fall, and 'Tomorrow we'll have coffee in Huesca' became a standing joke throughout the army. If I ever go back to Spain I shall make a point of having a cup of coffee in Huesca."

So you're at war, and you're preparing for a big offensive that will finally turn the tide in your favour. You have A Simple Plan for the whole affair, and your Redshirt Army far outnumbers the Mooks defending the city, bridge, fortress, or whatever strategical MacGuffin you're planning to seize. You are all but assured that the upcoming battle will be a Curb-Stomp Battle in your favor... and you confidently announce, "Nothing Can Stop Us Now!" After all, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Quite a lot, actually.

This trope is about overconfidence in a war situation, be it about the entire war or a specific attack — the point is that what is assumed beforehand to end in a quick and easy victory will turn into a long and grueling battle (or even a quick and easy defeat) instead. If it goes really wrong, it could end up as a Shocking Defeat Legacy. This makes any statements of confidence about the matter, such as "Tomorrow we'll have coffee in Huesca" in the page quote, a lot Harsher in Hindsight.


Very often Truth in Television. The idea of getting your troops "home before Christmas" was highly sought after by military forces, especially those fighting in the extreme latitudes; not only is it a great boasting point to get your boys home in time for turkey dinner and presents under the tree, it also served in a practical sense, as winter is a harsh and brutal time to be outside, and any army that marches in the snow is almost guaranteed to take significant losses from the cold alone. Compare It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time. Not to be confused with Hurrying Home for the Holidays, a plot where a character has trouble getting home for the holidays.



    open/close all folders 

    Fan Works 
  • Along Came a Spider: The Clans' leaders plan assumes that they'll require only a fraction of their forces to sweep across the Inner Sphere due to their superior training and weapons. It doesn't quite work out that way.
  • The Negotiations-verse fanfics usually have this as the disposition of Equestrians at the start of the war. The war proceeded to go on for far longer than that, and eventually humanity reverse-engineered magic enough to get the upper hand.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Discussed in the opening narration of A Bridge Too Far: 'The plan, like so many plans in so many wars before it, was meant to end the war by Christmas and bring the boys back home.' See below for Operation Market Garden, the Real Life example on which this film was based.
  • In Stalingrad, one of the German soldiers says they'll take the city in three days. In three weeks, the city still won't have fallen. In three months, most of the soldiers will be dead.
  • Lampshaded by Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind: "Poor devils. They were gonna lick the Yankees in a month." In an earlier scene, while everyone is boasting that they'll defeat the North in a single battle, Rhett correctly asserts that they won't be a pushover. The North has factories, shipyards, coal mines, and a powerful navy, while the South has "cotton, slaves, and arrogance."
  • General Hancock makes a similar comment from the Union perspective in Gettysburg.
  • In The Worlds Fastest Indian, which takes place in the mid-60s, Burt Munro picks up a hitchhiking American airman who's on leave. The airman describes how they're going to start using something called "Agent Orange" in Vietnam, and it should end the war in six months.
  • This happens in Troy with the Greeks being confident that the titular city will fall within days. Instead, it takes far longer than that, and many Greeks are killed before Troy falls. However, the condensed time frame omits the full ten-year-long conflict.
  • In Octopussy, Soviet General Orlov tries to convince the Politburo that the Red Army can win a conventional war against NATO within five days.
  • Discussed in Australian film The Lighthorsemen (1987). When a soldier snaps at the New Meat, "What do you know about war?", the man snarks back that at least he didn't think it would be over by Christmas.
  • They Shall Not Grow Old: Actual veterans of WWI recount in voice-over how they figured that a British soldier is worth 10 Germans and so the war would be over quickly. One veteran recalls how worried he was that Britain would win before he saw any combat.
  • 1917 has the characters bitterly acknowledging this, noting that their commanders claimed that they'd be home by Christmas—and now it's April, and they're still fighting. There's also rumblings that there's going to be another big push and this is going to be the one that finally breaks the Germans. They're half-right; the Battle of Arras happened two days after, and it did push the lines a fair bit further, but the war dragged on regardless.
  • The Resistance Banker. La Résistance are ordered by London to shut down the railway network with a national strike. They approach the man in charge of the Dutch national railways who assures them they have an emergency fund put aside to pay the wages of the striking workers for the few weeks to a month it will take the Allies to liberate Holland — this is in September 1944. The protagonists exchange a skeptical look and set about organising a more realistic fund, which unfortunately requires them to acquire millions of guilders.
  • Coming Home: In early 1968, Captain Bob Hyde is told by a superior officer that he is lucky to be gettinmg in on the combat in Vietnam while has the chance, because the Americans will soon be victorious and the war will be over. "Word is that Charlie's shot his wad."

  • Lampshaded in the Black Chamber novels by S. M. Stirling, which is set in 1916. A comment is made that the last time anyone thought that the Great War would be over and everyone home by Christmas was December 24th, 1914.
  • In the Discworld book Jingo, the Upper-Class Twits leading the Morporkian army thought that they'd have a jolly good time teaching the Klatchians a lesson, that the enemy would run at the sight of their steel, and that they'd be home by Hogswatch. This despite the fact that they were badly armed, hopelessly outnumbered, and the Klatchians who actually saw their steel tended to start sniggering. Later in the book, one character bemoans that "We were going to sail into Klatch and be in Al-Khali by teatime, drinking sherbet with pliant young women in the Rhoxi," mirroring the confident statements of some WWII soldiers that "We'll be drinking coffee in Berlin by teatime."
  • The Emigrants: The last book is set during the American Civil War. At the beginning of it, the Minnesotan settlers are optimistic that it will end in a few months with victory for their side. Instead the Union suffers defeat after defeat and the war drags on.
  • Goodbye, Mr. Chips has a scene set in 1914 where one of Mr Chipping's students asks him if he thinks the war will last long. Chips says he thinks the Germans are already beaten and just don't know it yet, and that the whole thing will be over by Christmas. He then jokingly asks if the boy was thinking of joining up, not knowing that by the time the war grinds to its conclusion the same boy will have joined up and died in action.
  • Greenmantle begins in December 1915, so even the most optimistic don't believe the War will be over by Christmas, but while traveling through Germany the protagonist overhears a soldier confidently asserting that it will all be over by next Christmas.
  • The page quote is a fine example from the Spanish Civil War, as recounted by George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia.
  • Honor Harrington: In The Short Victorious War, The People's Republic of Haven leaders decide to resort to war against Manticore. A short, victorious war, they believe, will both distract the proles from their current economic problems and allow them to use the riches of the Manticore system to prop up their welfare state. Needless to say, the war is a disaster for Haven and ends up lasting for almost 20 years. They even lampshade this with a quote from V.K. Plehve (see the Real Life section below), providing the Title Drop for the book in the opening epigraph, followed by a quote from Robert Wilson Lynd:
    "The belief in the possibility of a short decisive war appears to be one of the most ancient and dangerous of human illusions."
  • After the break-out from Normandy and a two-hundred-mile blitzkrieg that took British forces to the Dutch border against a disintegrating German Army, the tank crews of Mailed Fist felt they could well be home by Christmas 1944. This hope was dashed by Monty's Arnhem failure and shattered by growing German resistance.
  • In the opening chapter of Without Remorse, Colonel Zacharias has just finished his bombing run and is heading back to base, thinking that his tour will be over soon and he'll be home from Vietnam by Christmas. He promptly gets shot down and spends the next fifteen months as a prisoner of war.
  • Andrey Livadny's Dabog describes the start of what would become known as the First Galactic War (to be fair, though, the scale of the war is far from "galactic", being limited to a few dozen systems and involving only humans). Earth Alliance President John Winston Hammer decides to send a powerful strike fleet to perform a preemptive strike on Dabog, one of the more prosperous of the colonies, in order to show all the colony worlds that Earth is the center of human space. Hammer's goal is to force the colonists to accept the millions (if not billions) of people that need to be resettled in order to relieve the overpopulated Earth. At this point, the colonists don't even know about Earth Alliance (they're all Lost Colonies, who haven't yet regained contact with their homeworld). While the fleet is on the way, the troops boast about how they'll beat those "stinking" colonists silly for daring to hog their lands, while Earth is an overpopulated hellhole. The EA admiral is also confident that there's nothing the colonists can do against such an overwhelming force. The fleet arrives in Dabog orbit and "announces" itself by nuking two large cities on opposite sides and landing troops. Unfortunately for them, the Dabogans had to reinvent certain pieces of technology to handle the planet's harsh climate and large dinosaur-like predators. This includes developing Walking Tanks with superior mobility that turn out to far outclass the more traditional vehicles used by EA troops. After being forced off the planet by "a bunch of farmers", the furious admiral orders the planet sterilized with massed nuclear bombardment, hoping that the other colonies will see this as a valuable lesson. Instead, the other colonies band together and form a unified force that ends up resisting the EA juggernaut for nearly 5 decades and eventually takes the fight to Earth itself. On the one hand, Earth ends up being no longer the dominant force in human space, being replaced by the Confederacy of Suns, based in the colonies, on the other, Hammer's initial goal of reducing Earth's population ends up being reached, just not the way he intended. The massive casualties on both sides and the steady flow of people fleeing the technological destruction results in most of Earth's population either dying or leaving. Centuries later, Earth is populated by a few hundred million people with most of its cities are abandoned and overgrown. Meanwhile, the name "Dabog" stands for defiance in the face of overwhelming odds, and the still-radioactive planet remains the silent monument to the fallen.
  • Played for Laughs in the Nursery Crime novel The Fourth Bear. The QuangTech corporation has scheduled the opening of their World War One simulation theme park SommeWorld for Christmas, and construction is badly behind schedule, as is thematically appropriate.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth (the fourth and last Blackadder series, set during World War I) features characters making remarks like "It's ice cream in Berlin in 15 days", "See you all in Berlin for coffee and cakes", and "We'll be sucking sausages in Berlin by teatime!" about the upcoming battle. Eventually Blackadder hangs a lampshade on this by snarking, "I hope their cafés are well stocked; everyone seems determined to eat out the moment they arrive."
  • Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: during a two-parter where a cast member's brother is being held hostage in Afghanistan, we see a Flash Back, during which the President of the network (who was only a VP then) opines that the war will be over in a month.
  • The Battle of Serenity Valley in Firefly was assumed by Alliance command to be an easy victory. Though the Independents would ultimately lose the battle due to massive Alliance air support, the browncoats were nonetheless able to hold the Alliance for far longer than anyone thought possible (the fact that the Alliance had to call in the air support was a victory of sorts). Unfortunately, it's implied that the "victory" in the valley was ultimately disastrous for the Independents, who surrendered not long after.
  • In the NCIS episode "One Shot, One Kill", a Marine recruiter tells a pair of nervous potential recruits, "What with boot camp, S-O-I, follow on schools... we're talking over a year and a half of training. Iraq will pretty much be over by the time you boys graduate." The episode aired in February of 2004, and Reality Subtext ended up putting that assertion squarely into this trope.
  • In the opening scenes of the German miniseries Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter, five friends have one last drink in Berlin. Two of them are leaving for service in Operation Barbarossa, one of them has volunteered to be a nurse on the front, another is an aspiring singer, and the last one is Jewish. They leave, hoping that by Christmas, Russia will be crushed and all of them will be reunited in that bar. The war ends four years later, Germany is defeated, and two of the friends don't make it back.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Dominion found its hopes for a quick victory smashed by being cut off from reinforcements. Then after the Breen join, they again start to dream of a quick victory, but again the situation is turned around. On the other side of the battlefield, Gowron also kept thinking his incompetent tactics would lead to swift victory.
  • There are a few examples of this in early episodes of Enemy at the Door, with the Germans fresh from rolling over France. In "Steel Hand From the Sea", Reinicke expresses confidence that they will be in London before the summer's end.
  • Anne Frank: The Whole Story. When announcing the D-Day landings, the BBC assures those living in occupied Europe that "1944 will be the year of your liberation!"
  • In the TV movie Shackleton, one sailor says that surely World War I won't last past Christmas. Another says that might be too optimistic, but that it will surely be over by the time they get back from the Antarctic. Two years later when Shackleton finally reaches the settlement in South Georgia he asks who won, only to be informed that the war is still going on and millions have died in it.
  • Referenced frequently on M*A*S*H by the main characters. As the war dragged on, one episode actually has them celebrating the New Year and praying that the war will be over by the next New Year. One entire year later and they're still there.

  • "I'll Be Home For Christmas" by Bing Crosby is about a World War 2 soldier who writes to his family about how he'll be home by Christmas. At the end of the song, he says "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams", admitting it's unlikely he really will be home by Christmas.
  • Subverted in the anti-war Protest Song Stop the Cavalry by Jona Lewie - the line Wish I was at home for Christmas not only shows the singer realizes how unlikely it is but also ensures this song will be played year after year in winter.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The BattleTech universe certainly has seen its share of this trope. Two large-scale examples — smaller ones abound, but these are really just perhaps the two biggest ones in the entire history of the setting — would be the Reunification War (as initially viewed by the newly-minted Star League) and the Clan invasion of the Inner Sphere (from the original point of view of the Clans); needless to say, neither actually worked out that way. The Clans are a particularly noteworthy example in that they started out from a position of considerable strength, with significantly better equipment than the Inner Sphere powers and in theorynote  the ability to manufacture replacement equipment faster, but managed to completely squander that advantage through a mixture of Suicidal Overconfidence and Honour Before Reason and lose so spectacularly that their entire society and way of life came close to being destroyed. (Albeit mostly by the second war they started with each other over whose fault it was.)

    Video Games 
  • Often happens in Real-Time Strategy or Turn-Based Strategy games when a player attacks another player or an AI opponent with an army that is slightly too small.
  • Halo:
    • The Covenant believed that their war against humanity would be a short venture. Instead, the war would drag on for another twenty-seven years, and contribute to a series of events that would divide Covenant society to the point of Civil War.
    • In the opening cutscene of Halo Wars, Cutter notes that humanity themselves initially expected to easily retake Harvest from the Covenant. Instead, the Harvest campaign became "five years of Hell".
  • The opening of Hogs of War, as with any other War Tropes parodied, literally ends with this: "With some luck, it will all be over by Christmas". The obligatory Harsher in Hindsight part comes when, in the ending, we find out that the glasses-wearing soldier seen in the opening got dumped by his girlfriend and is now homeless due to his house having been destroyed during the war.
  • As revealed by backstory fluff, the Taiidan Empire from Homeworld attacked Kharak in the belief that a short victorious war against the surviving Hiigarans, ancestral enemy of the empire, would have quelled the internal opposition by both finishing the job with their most hated enemy in history and showing the might of their all-powerful emperor. Not only the destruction of all life forms of Kharak triggered the revolution and civil war (as the people realized their ancestral Hiigaran enemies had forgotten the treaty forbidding them from using hyperspace technology ever again that they had broken), but some Kushan, the descendants of the Hiigarans, had survived, and would cause the collapse of the Taiidan Empire by killing the emperor in battle. On a smaller scale, the fleet that laid waste to Kharak met with much more opposition than expected and was forced to withdraw before destroying the sleeper pods in orbit. The Kushan mothership ended up catching up to the damaged fleet and obliterated it in retaliation for Kharak.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, Cailan is confident that his forces and the Grey Wardens will be able to stop the Blight in one epic battle at Ostagar. That...doesn't end up happening, due both to King Cailan's stupidity and Loghain's treachery. The trope is also inverted by the end. Blights usually last for years or even decades — the first Blight lasted nearly two centuries because the Wardens hadn't yet discovered how to end Blights. The Warden and their allies end the Fifth Blight in less than one year.
  • The The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel series tends to be accurate in the timeline of these boasts, but wrong about everything else:
    • At the beginning of the second game, the rebels are certain that the war will be over within a month or so (to be fair, the surprise attack they launched at the end of the first game was so successful that they had good reason to believe so). A month later, the rebels have lost the war. Coincidentally, the war ended on New Year's Eve, so everyone was almost home by Christmas (though there is no explicit mention of that holiday in the game since Christianity doesn't exist in that universe).
    • In the fourth game, a new war with Calvard is announced, and the Erebonian government declares that they will have victory within three months. The war ultimately lasts two days, after which Emperor Eugent recovered from his injuries sufficiently to order the army to stand down, declaring that the man who shot him wasn't a Calvardian agent and thus there were no grounds for an invasion.

    Web Comics 
  • In Crimson Dark, at the beginning of the war, the CDF proudly proclaimed that it would be over in three weeks, because that's the time it takes to jump from Daranir space to the Cirin homeworld. It's been over a year since then.

    Web Original 
  • In the story "Heart of the Lion" from The Wulf Archives, the White Empire attempts to conquer the Veldt Lands in order to enslave the natives. This "quick campaign," led by an arrogant Upper-Class Twit by the name of Lord Heatham, fails miserably — less than half of the forces fielded actually make it to the battlefield due to adverse sea conditions and local diseases on land, and the battle with the Sholanti ends with everyone on the battlefield (except the protagonist) slaughtered to a man.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Simpsons episode "Tales from the Public Domain," Homer starts the Joan of Arc story by saying the Hundred Years War was originally called "Operation Speedy Resolution."

    Real Life 
  • At the start of The American Civil War, both sides assumed it would end in a quick victory. Confederate Secretary of War Leroy Pope Walker even predicted he would be able to mop up all the blood spilled with a handkerchief. The fact that Fort Sumter surrendered without any casualties from the shelling contributed to this idea. Instead, it killed more Americans than any war before or since.
  • In 1903, on the eve of the Russo-Japanese War, V.K. Plehve, Russian Minister of the Interior, said: 'What this country needs is a short, victorious war to stem the tide of revolution.' The war was neither short nor victorious for the Russians, and the first Russian Revolution came in 1905, immediately after the war, partly because of the war itself. Though the uprising was contained, discontent continued to fester until World War I came less than a decade later, bringing down the House of Romanov with it.
  • World War I:
    • Almost every major belligerent at the outset of World War I had some kind of plan that they thought would win the war in a short time, such as the so-called Schlieffen Plan of the Germans to capture Paris and knock France out of the war before turning to take on Russia, or Great Britain's scheme to make the German economy implode using their ability to manipulate international trade and financial markets. The general prediction was that the war would be bloody, decisive, and short. Indeed, they figured there was no way that a full-blown modern war between the great powers could last very long, because pretty soon one side or the other would burn through its manpower, ruin its economy, and incite revolution against the government from the sheer strain of keeping it up. Thus, they planned for a campaign lasting months rather than years. For example, they conscripted large numbers of factory workers away from the home front and didn't bother manufacturing large stockpiles of ammunition, thinking they needed to call up all their manpower at once for one do-or-die campaign, and that the fight would be over one way or the other before any investment in war production had a chance to bear fruit. Even the Ottoman leaders—who were the rare pessimists in recognizing that they weren't prepared for it—shared the assumption that the war would be short, which was the main reason they let themselves get pressured into joining by the Germans. Basically their plan was to find excuses to drag their feet and let Germany do most of the work, so that hopefully the war would be over before they needed to do much of anything.
    • As it happened, nobody’s plans succeeded as they hoped, and in the face of mass casualties from devastating firepower, the soldiers on both sides of the Western Front started to dig trenches for protection, which would eventually stretch from the Swiss border to the French coast. These early trench lines were built in a hurry and could have been broken through with a well-executed attack, but the problem was that everyone had already run out of manpower, ammunition, etc. due to the lack of preparation for a longer war, meaning that by the time they had rebuilt the capability for an offensive, the trench defenses had been upgraded to such a level where it was almost impossible to break through. Theaters other than the Western Front were less static, but these didn’t reach a quick conclusion either. The war would drag on for four years before an eventual Entente victory over the Central Powers. The funny things is that the complete demographic, economic, and government collapse described in the pre-war predictions is what finally brought down the main Central Power of Germany, but the prognosticators had disastrously underestimated how long it would take for this to happen.
  • At the beginning of the Winter War, Joseph Stalin was expecting Finland to surrender in a couple of weeks - after all, it was a small backwoods country up against a world power - but the war went on for three and a half months and ended in a Pyrrhic Victory for the Soviets: they did force the Finns to concede their border territories, but at a huge cost in both lives and international prestige; the Red Army griped, "We won just enough territory to bury our dead." In addition, this "victory" was the key reason Finland allied with Germany in World War II as Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt had refused to tell Stalin on behalf of the Finns to give up his ambition in the country, considering him too vital an ally (the Finns even call it the "Continuation War").
  • World War II:
    • On the morning of June 22, 1941 when the German invasion of the Soviet Union began, Adolf Hitler said to his colleagues, "Before three months have passed, we shall witness a collapse of Russia, the like of which has never been seen in history". To say that Hitler was wrong doesn't even come close to putting it.
      • Hitler and his generals were overconfident because France had previously been considered a more formidable opponent than Russia, going back to World War I in which Germany managed to knock Russia out of the fight, only to lose to France. This time, in stark contrast, they had completely outmaneuvered and overrun France in just six weeks, expelling the British Expeditionary Force in the process. If the Germans had just curb-stomped the enemy that had beaten them in the previous war, then surely they could knock out the country they'd defeated once already, right? The Soviet Union was still viewed by many experts around the world as a backward country lagging in economic and technological development. The Germans were further emboldened by the fact that the Soviet military had been weakened by Stalin's purges, and the Red Army had just performed rather incompetently in Poland and Finland. On top of all this, the Nazis were convinced that the Slavs were an inferior race of "Untermenschen" who could never match the German people's talent or force of will in battle, and that the "Judeo-Bolshevist" Soviet state was a degenerate, rotting structure which would collapse if they just kicked in the front door.
      • Having said that, the Germans were still afraid (just as they had been about Russia before World War I) that the Soviet Union with its superior population and resources might grow unstoppable if it were given a few more years to build up, meaning that they had to take it on now while it was still vulnerable. Meanwhile, Hitler saw capturing the farmland of the Ukraine and the oil fields of the Caucasus as the only hope for making his resource-devouring empire self-sustaining, and of giving Greater Germany the necessary resource base for what he saw as inevitable future wars against America and the other 'sub-human' races. The Germans put together the largest invasion force the world had ever seen to accomplish this task, including 3.8 million military personnel, over 6,000 tanks and other AFVs, at least 2,770 aircraft, at least 7,200 artillery pieces, 600,000 other vehicles, and 600,000 horses. The summer of 1941 was the last real opportunity if they were going to do it, since if they waited any longer they would no longer have the fuel reserves to support such a massive invasion. Their entire chance of victory depended on fighting as short a campaign as possible: they didn't have sufficient industrial power or population to win a war of attrition; they didn't want to still be fighting by the time the October rains or winter's cold set in; and since they had to conscript so many of their factory workers to participate in the invasion, the continued functioning of their war industry depended on them being able to defeat the Soviets and send the workers back home to the factories by the end of September. What the Germans were counting on to happen was that their three Army Groups (with the help of divisions sent by their various allies) would advance through the Soviet Union along a 2,900-kilometer-wide front, supporting each other on the flanks when necessary. They would destroy the greater part of the Red Army near the border in massive battles of encirclement, and by the time they captured Smolensk (702 km from their start point, and about two-thirds of their way to Moscow), they expected the Red Army and Stalin's regime to have totally collapsed, leaving them to march the rest of the way to Moscow virtually unopposed; they assumed that partisan activity and attacks on their lines of supply would be minimal. As they advanced they would capture the railways and use them to transport troops and supplies. They would occupy the Western Soviet Union, establishing a defensive line between Arkhangelsk and Astrakhan, and demobilize most of the invasion force.
      • Now, Operation Barbarossa and the whole concept behind it was fatally flawed because firstly, it was a plan whose timetable might have just barely worked if everything went according to the most perfect, best-case scenario, meaning that it could be crippled if one of any number of possible circumstances happened to set them back; and secondly, the Germans had no plan to fall back on in case this operation failed. Among the obstacles to success, the most obvious was the issue of distance and logistics. The Soviet Union was way bigger than France, and the Germans had never attempted to maintain and supply such a deep push into enemy territory. The farther they got away from the supply dumps at their starting point, the longer it would take for supplies to reach the front line and the more of their own supplies the trucks would have to consume to get there. Given the sheer distance, as well as rather primitive roads, the breakdown rate of both tanks and trucks was going to be ungodly. Railways offered a partial solution, but the Soviets used bigger trains and their rail gauge was wider than in Germany. The Germans intended for troops to advance along the rail lines to capture as much Soviet track and rolling stock intact as they could, and in order to use German locomotives, they'd have engineers reset the gauge as they advanced. If they failed to prevent the Soviets from destroying them first, the Germans would be in the unenviable situation of attempting a major construction project in the middle of an attempted Blitzkrieg. Operationally speaking, the panzer divisions were the mobile spearheads that would lead the charge, but eighty percent or more of the German army was not mechanized. The infantry divisions consisted of men on foot, accompanied by wagons and artillery drawn by horses, moving at essentially the same speed as Napoleon's army in 1812. The infantry would have to keep up a brutal pace, and the panzer divisions would have to periodically stop to wait for the infantry and additional supplies to catch up. Food supplies would be maximized by taking it from the population, and deliberately letting both civilians and POWs starve. Not only was this a crime against humanity, but because the people in many of these occupied regions could barely grow enough food for themselves, it wouldn't go a long way towards supporting the German army. Finally, German intelligence before the invasion was terrible and they didn't have an accurate idea of the full scale of what they were up against. They got the size of the Soviet forces on the border more or less correct but remained in the dark about the millions of trained reservists who were available to replace losses, whereas Germany had practically no reserves or replacements. They were also ignorant of dangerous new Soviet weapons systems such as the T-34 tank.note  Overall, the Germans were running the risk that a combination of worse-than-anticipated Soviet resistance and their own logistical hardships would cause the invasion to sputter to a halt before they dealt the knock-out blow to the USSR, leaving them occupying enemy territory, but stuck with a protracted war that they didn't have the resources to handle. It's as if the people in charge were either arrogant enough to think they didn't need a fallback plan because success was guaranteed, or else they didn't bother coming up with one because they recognized how screwed they would be if Barbarossa didn't work.
      • The invasion seemed like an overwhelming success at first. At that time, the Red Army was going through a complete overhaul of its equipment, training, and doctrine which aimed to turn it into an effective modern fighting force. Stalin was aware of his vulnerability during this transition but convinced himself that he could use his diplomatic skills to preserve the non-aggression pact with Hitler at least through 1941, so that when his intelligence sources tried to warn him an invasion was imminent he refused to hear it. Thus, the Red Army was not prepared to defend the border or counter a German Blitzkrieg. Soviet generals couldn't get up-to-date information about the reality on the ground as the Germans ran rings around their troops, leaving them with little choice but to keep throwing reinforcements into the meat grinder while they tried to figure out what to do. The Germans made huge territorial gains and captured hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops in giant encirclements, very much as they had hoped; in the ensuing months they captured Minsk, then Smolensk, and besieged Leningrad. By early October, some German newspapers were already declaring victory in the East. The British and American leaders, seeing the way things were going, agreed that the Soviet Union was probably doomed and started making contingency plans for their collapse.
      • However, Stalin kept a firm grip on power and the Red Army managed to soak up the damage as it stalled for time, drawing on the large reservist population to replace the loss of numerous divisions. The Germans inspired fierce resistance everywhere through their barbaric conduct: the war of annihilation the Germans had intended backfired on them by motivating the Soviet people to fight to the death since they wouldn’t be any better off if they surrendered. Despite seemingly low German losses overall, they were taking heavy casualties among the panzer troops who made up the spearhead, blunting their offensive momentum. Not to mention, they were facing outrageous mechanical attrition among the tanks and trucks, which was exacerbated by the lack of spare parts. The railways weren't working out either, as the Soviets were very efficient at destroying their rail systems as they retreated, and the Germans couldn't rebuild them fast enough. Because of this, the infantry had to keep marching non-stop for hundreds of kilometers, leading to some men collapsing or even dying from exhaustion! The inability of the infantry to keep up with the Panzers also led to holes forming in the German encirclements around the Soviets, allowing groups of them to slip through and threaten the Germans' rear echelons.
      • In July, the Germans were in the process of capturing Smolensk, while Leningrad in the north and Kiev in the south were still holding out. The German generals had thought that by this point the Red Army would be collapsing and that they would follow up with an easy March to Moscow. Instead, to their surprise and consternation, Soviet forces were still fighting back and forcing the Germans to do everything the hard way. During the battle of Smolensk, Hitler stunned everyone by decreeing that the advance on Moscow would not be allowed to proceed until Leningrad and Kiev had been secured and that the panzer forces of Army Group Center would be diverted to help Army Groups North and South with these objectives. The generals bitterly protested since they were laser-focused on capturing Moscow, but Hitler thought it too dangerous to advance in the center with the Soviets threatening the flanks, leading him to divert the panzers while temporarily halting Army Group center. Generals such as Guderian and Manstein would go on to write memoirs blaming Hitler for squandering their chance for victory, a claim which ought to be treated with a lot of skepticism. The Germans settled for besieging Leningrad instead of trying to capture it so that Army Group North could continue East, and Army Group South eventually succeeded in capturing Kiev.
      • Operation Typhoon, the effort to advance and capture Moscow, began on September 30th: Army Group Center, now returned to strength with assets from Army groups North and South, began to move again. By this time, the invasion had missed the original deadline for the completion of its objectives. The Germans had also used up their petrol reserves, leaving them with barely enough fuel to move one Army Group at a time. Once they were past Smolensk the overstretched German logistics chain hit its limits, and the continuous drive east was replaced by a stop-start rhythm as the panzer divisions waited for the infantry and additional supplies to catch up. The situation was the opposite for the Soviets, who had an increasingly easy time moving supplies, munitions, and reinforcements as the front line got closer to their factories and transportation hubs. In fact, this whole time the Soviets had been evacuating their factories and workers from western regions by loading them lock, stock, and barrel onto freight cars, and shipping them far behind the lines so that war production would continue despite the loss of those territories. The Germans were further hampered by the rainy season in October, with their wagons and vehicles getting hopelessly stuck in roads that had turned to mud, and it wasn’t until mid-November when the ground froze that wheeled vehicles could get some purchase.
      • By December, a small number of German units reached the suburbs of Moscow, where they could supposedly see the light reflecting off the roofs of buildings in the Kremlin. But the bulk of forces were not this far forward, and the tantalizing glimpse of victory would turn out to be a mirage: Germany’s soldiers were totally worn out, and in danger of freezing to death as the temperature plummeted because winter clothing couldn’t be transported from Germany to the front; the supply chain for getting food and ammo to the frontline troops had broken down; Moscow had by this time been heavily fortified against the anticipated attack; and the Red Army had finally succeeded in pulling itself together. When the Germans faltered, the Soviets launched a devastating counterattack that came close to destroying the overextended Germans outside of Moscow and inflicted the kind of mass casualties that the Germans had so far managed to avoid. Hell, even if the Germans somehow could have taken Moscow, there's no guarantee that the Soviets wouldn't have just withdrawn further East and kept on fighting. With the failure of Operation Barbarossa to meet its objectives, Germany got bogged down in the kind of attritional war which they had wanted to avoid at all costs, ultimately leading to defeat.
    • In 1942, the Nazi Propaganda Ministry created a series of posters with the slogan "Stalingrad is conquered!" in anticipation of their victory in the city. In January 1943, they began destroying these posters as it was becoming clear that the Germans would not take the city.
    • On the part of the Allies, the ill-fated Operation Market Garden that took place in mid-to-late 1944 turned out to be their folly in this trope. The plan itself was audacious, comprising of two phases:
      • Market, where three allied paratroop divisions would seize nine bridges to open a corridor that led straight to the German Border. The planned corridor was along Holland's A50 motorway at the terminus of which rested the Ruhr Valley in Germany, the industrial heart of the Third Reich. The airborne drop to kick off Market became known as the largest airborne operation in history, with more than 34,000 troops, utilizing both paratroopers dropped from planes and towed gliders to bring in heavy equipment. As part of the operation, the involved airborne divisions were reorganized and consolidated into the "First Allied Airborne Army", consisting of the American IX Troop Carrier Command and XVIII Airborne Corps (the latter of which controlled the 17th Airborne Division, 82nd Airborne Division, and the now-famous 101st Airborne "Screaming Eagles" Division), the entirety of British airborne forces including the 1st and 6th Airborne Divisions, the Polish 1st Parachute Brigade, and several other independent airborne units; of the six divisions consolidated, four were utilized in the operation proper. Once on the ground, the regiments would move to their assigned areas and take the key bridges, hopefully with little resistance due to the assumption that German forces in this area would consist of tired, battered conscripts whose hearts were no longer in the fight after four long year, but...well, see below to see how that turned out.
      • Garden, where, at least according to Monty, the real action would start: British XXX Armored Corps, using the seized bridges and A50 motorway as their ingress corridor, that would ride that corridor straight across the Rhine and punch into Germany to seize the Ruhr Valley, the loss of which would permanently and decisively cripple the Nazi war effort and destroy the last major obstacle between the Western Allies and Berlin itself. The ultimate goal of the operation was to establish the northern half of a massive "pincer" movement which would circumvent the heavily-defended German Seigfried Line; after which, another operation would see to the establishment of the pincer's southern half, surrounding the Seigfried Line and the Ruhr itself. Then, it would be a "simple" matter of "closing" the pincer and forcing the capitulation of the encircled German defenders, in a move that would hopefully spare the Allies from trying to push through the Seigfried Line itself as American General George S. Patton had wanted to do; Patton's plan, while less risky and more guaranteed to work due to sheer attrition, would surely cost more time and lives than Market Garden. It was also hoped that the German forces who, again, were assumed to be little more than weary, war-beaten troops who had barely if any mechanized support, would be too tied up with the paratroop regiments to effectively cut off the A50 before the XXX could make their drive, and, once surrounded, would either surrender immediately or focus more on trying to escape the pincer than to defend the Ruhr.
      • According to Allied command, if the operation succeeded, it was indeed thought that the War would be over by Christmas, something that, to Eisenhower, made it worth the risk since civilian leaders were already feeling the strain of the war and wanted him to end it as quickly and with as little loss of life as possible. Unfortunately, the plan fell apart almost right from the beginning. German forces, already expecting a push, wired several of the bridges to blow at the first sign that they could be captured; several times, paratroopers got within touching distance of their objectives only to watch as the bridges literally just exploded in front of them for seemingly no reason. Several regiments, most notably the British 1st Airborne, were caught by surprisingly heavy anti-aircraft defenses over their assigned city of Arnhem, resulting in missed or off-the-mark drops, scattering them and causing delays as they attempted to re-organize and retrieve their much-needed supplies, the drop zones of which had been overrun by the Germans. On top of this, instead of the expected non-mechanized conscripts, the paratroopers instead found themselves facing elite German Panzer Divisions, something that the Dutch Resistance tried to warn the Allied forces about, only to be ignored completely. For the XXX Corps, the A50 motorway turned out to have a glaring flaw: something that cut so deep into enemy territory in such a straight line meant it was incredibly easy for the enemy to set up artillery strikes and guerrilla-style raids against, and the A50 soon earned itself the ignominious name of "Hell's Highway". Even with Allied air support running airstrike missions almost constantly, the XXX's advance bogged down to a crawl. In Arnhem, the supplies-starved 1st Airborne managed to organize but were forced into brutal house-to-house fighting against hardened SS soldiers and armored units. Desperately, they clung to their positions at the bridgehead in Arnhem, their only hope being that the XXX, now heavily delayed, would arrive from across the river to relieve them and drive the Germans back. However, the XXX's momentum finally ran out as the operation ground to a halt in Nijmegen, facing stiff resistance from German anti-tank guns and armored units. For a week the Allies fought on doggedly from both sides but eventually, declaring Market Garden a failure, the Allied forces in Nijmegen fell back from the bridge and re-drew their frontlines there. Eight thousand souls would be left behind in Arnhem; barely 2,200 were able to be rescued across the river while the others were killed or captured by the German forces. World War II in Europe would continue to ravage the continent for another six months.
  • After the Hole in Flag, a bunch of Chechen rebels unilaterally declared independence from Russia, prompting Russia to intervene to restore order. Russia believed that the Chechens would be mopped up quickly. Instead, the war dragged on for nearly two bloody years, and, humiliatingly, Russia had to concede a self-governing status to Chechnya afterwards. When Russia decided that it didn't like the arrangement after all, another war followed, this time lasting over eight years, followed by another eight years of small-scale insurgency before Russia (barely) asserted control. Ultimately, it did little more than showcase that the once-feared Red Army was not even a shadow of its former self.
  • Before the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, one Arab general infamously claimed, "This time next week we will be eating lunch in Tel Aviv." Turns out, not so much.
  • During the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese predicted that Shanghai would fall in three days. However, they were not prepared for the strength of their opposition, including a million of Chiang Kai-Shek's elite soldiers trained by German advisors. It took three long and hellish months involving fierce urban warfare before Shanghai finally fell. Then there was the entire war itself; the Japanese were confident that they could take all of China in three months, or at least force a surrender in that time. Instead, China held on for 8 years, tying down half of the Japanese Army until Japan's surrender following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the prospect of a Soviet invasion of the home islands.
  • During the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur was quoted saying this almost word-for-word about the progress of coalition forces, despite Chinese troops having already crossed the border and successfully ambushing UN forces. Because the Chinese troops retreated after running out of logistics. MacArthur assumed the UN forces' massive advantages in firepower and air support would mean that his "Home-by-Christmas Offensive" would easily succeed. Instead, the Chinese army launched a second, even larger offensive that drove the UN out of North Korea and turned the war into a bloody stalemate.
  • A complaint occasionally fielded about the American public about The War on Terror was that the initial organizers vastly underestimated its length and complexity despite warnings from US military officials that they were in for a very long campaign. Only two months after the invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush declared that major combat operations had concluded in Iraq with his infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech. The Iraq War would actually continue for another eight years, following his successor Barack Obama into office. The greater War on Terror, begun in 2001, is still ongoing. Much of this is because America believed that Saddam Hussein was an unpopular ruler and all they had to do was take out Iraq's army (which had been written off as garbage since the Gulf War) and Iraq would happily reform into a democracy—unfortunately, while they were right about Iraq's army rolling over like a dead dog, they were only half-right about Saddam's popularity; while his brutal methods and regime meant he was by no means beloved, the one thing he did do right was keep a country as large and diverse as Iraq relatively stable in a region of the world that had been at war with itself for centuries. Once Saddam's regime toppled, so did the stability, as political and ethnic lines quickly began to deepen. With the American military being seen as outsiders at best, and invaders at worst, their mission to bring democracy soon bogged down as insurgents replaced the Iraqi army, bringing with them non-conventional tactics that a modern military force were simply not ready to handle.
  • A popular joke in the United States after 9/11 was "What is Osama bin Laden going to be for Halloween? Dead." Bin Laden escaped capture and lived for almost ten more years.
  • While no timetable was ever mentioned, American War Hawks at the beginning of the War of 1812 declared the conquest of Canada to be "a simple matter of marching." With capable commanders in Canada like Isaac Brock and Tecumseh, all US invasion attempts ended in failure, though the Americans did succeed in burning York (now Toronto), the capital of Upper Canada... which led to the British and Canadians burning Washington, D.C. in response.
  • When Suleiman II began the first siege of Vienna in 1529, he sent a letter to the defenders saying that he'd have his breakfast within the city walls in three days. Three days later, the Viennese sent back another letter telling him that his breakfast was getting cold.
  • After the Islamic State occupied Tikrit in July 2014, Iraq launched a counter-insurgency operation in March 2015, stating that it was going to "retake Tikrit from IS in a week." The battle for the city ended up lasting a month and a half.
  • In March 2015, Nigeria claimed that it would push out the militant Boko Haram, which had occupied northeastern Nigeria, in a month. The operation lasted for almost a year, while the insurgency continues to this day.
  • Subverted during the last leg of The Vietnam War. When the final offensive began in December 1974, the North Vietnamese declared that they would win the war by Ho Chi Minh's birthday (May 19). They captured Saigon, ending the war, on April 30, 1975. This was helped by how the South Vietnamese military completely collapsed during the early weeks of the campaign, beyond what the North had expected.
  • Inverted during The Gulf War. General Colin Powell famously told the press that the war wasn't going to be a one day affair and "it's not going to be over by the next commercial break." This was colored by the American experience in Vietnam, a very long, costly, and bloody war. However, once US troops went in after a six-week bombing campaign to weaken Iraq, the war actually ended up lasting just four days.
  • In March 2020, just as the COVID-19 outbreak was turning into a global pandemic, some claimed that it would be over within a month and wouldn't be any more dangerous than the seasonal flu...more than two years, it's still ongoing with over half a billion cases and more than 6 million deaths.
    • Likewise, many politicians have prematurely declared victory over the coronavirus only to see successive waves that proved to be worse than the previous ones. Most infamously, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi ended social distancing restrictions in February 2021, declaring that India defeated the pandemic...just 2 months later, the country was experiencing 400,000 new COVID cases per day.
  • On February 24, 2022, President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation announced a "Special Military Operation" in Ukraine, which was immediately followed by Russian armed forces invading Ukraine simultaneously from the north, south, and east. Russia planned to militarily depose the pro-European Ukrainian government; install a pro-Kremlin government in its place; disarm the country and keep it out of NATO; ensure the "independence" of the Russia-aligned Donetsk and Luhansk separatist states in the Donbas; and tighten its control over Crimea. This "Special Military Operation" was supposed to be a walkover, but turned into a grinding war of attrition.
    • Despite Russia not mentioning a specified timeframe in its public declarations, Ukraine would soon announce its capture of purported secret Russian plans dated January 18th, describing an operation to take over Ukraine that was supposed to last 15 days from February 20 to March 6. The execution of Russia's invasion certainly implies they thought it would be a lightning-fast Curb-Stomp Battle: it included elite paratroopers dropping in to capture airports, motorized troops racing ahead of their supply lines to capture territory, and a caravan of armored vehicles attempting to drive straight into the capital city of Kyiv. Russia probably thought their Decapitation Strike would topple the Ukrainian government within three days or so, and the rest would just be mopping up. They were so certain of their quick victory that they supposedly brought along parade uniforms for a victorious march through Kyiv's main Khreshchatyk Street, with awards for the "special military operation" already pinned to them.
    • At a glance, the Russian armed forces seemed to have the advantage with a larger defense budget, more modern equipment and a network of military bases and rail routes surrounding Ukraine on three sides. They had many times the number of fighter planes, a navy that could assist in assaulting the south, and various high-tech toys which they implied could be around the corner such as hypersonic missiles and the T-14 Armata tank. Putin and his advisers believed their own propaganda about Ukraine being a backwoods country with an inept government and citizens who are either unwilling to defend it or even willing to collaborate with the invasion, particularly in the East. Lastly, the war planners believed that the bickering Europeans and Americans would fail to form a united front against them, and that in any case the invasion would be wrapped up before any serious sanctions hit.
    • However, the invasion started to unravel before it even properly began. US intelligence cut through Russian obfuscation and determined they were about to invade, allowing US President Joe Biden to sound the alarm and causing the Russians to delay the invasion by four days. When the invasion did begin in proper, it wasn't the awe-inspiring success that many expected. The initial Russian missile and air strikes failed to disable key Ukrainian infrastructure such as power plants, cell towers, SAM sites, and fighter locations, squandering the element of surprise and allowing the Ukrainians to put together a real defense. The Russians Air Force was poorly equipped and inexperienced in precision bombing and suppression of enemy air defenses, preventing them from establishing air superiority. Meanwhile, paratroopers and mechanized forces spearheading the assault failed to secure forward bases and key infrastructure needed to springboard further offensives. Russia was caught off-guard by the Ukrainian people's will to fight, especially since President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and much of his government remained in Kyiv instead of fleeing, providing a major morale boost for the country. Even those who had been expected to collaborate turned against Russia.
    • The main ground invasion became plagued by fierce resistance from Ukrainian regular and irregular forces (who were equipped with state-of-the-art western Anti-Armor portable weapons, the Javelin missile most famously), weak supply lines that resulted in tanks running out of fuel, poor tactics that left formations vulnerable to ambushes (most infamously the 40-mile long convoy descending from Belarus got completely bogged down with nonstop strikes by mobile Ukrainian teams, artillery and drones), unsecured communications that let the Ukrainians spy on everything they were doing, and the inability to implement proper combined arms tactics such as close air support or infantry screening for tanks. Most telling, Russian troops were severely demoralized by the poor logistics, lack of early successes, heavy casualties, mistaken expectations to be welcomed as "liberators" and lack of direction (some even had no idea they were waging a war). The Russians were also hampered by the weather as the melting snow turned the passable fields of Ukraine into mud that bogged down Russian vehicles. Furthermore, Ukraine's success in saving Kyiv convinced the West to unite quickly for enacting sanctions against Russia and arming Ukrainian soldiers. Subsequently, while both sides took heavy losses, Ukraine was able to replenish its weapons with Western aid while Russia couldn't because of the sanctions. Although Russia was able to stabilize its economy somewhat, the sanctions prevented the import of material to replace destroyed equipment.
    • After a month of fighting, Russian forces abandoned their original goal of capturing Kyiv as they were too thinly spread throughout Ukraine and had nothing close to the local numerical superiority required to capture such a large city. Russian forces were instead redeployed to Eastern Ukraine to seize the region and subsequently claim a face-saving victory. Intelligence soon suggested that Putin would try to gain a decisive victory by May 9, which commemorates the Soviet triumph over Nazi Germany. However, the Ukrainians quickly stalled the advance in the east, and Putin's speech on May 9 did not include any announcement of military success or mass mobilization. In fact, Russia's eastern offensive went so badly that Ukrainians were able to retake major cities like Kharkiv and inflict heavy losses on Russian force (most notably at Battle of Siverskyi Donets that resulted Ukrainians wiping out an entire Russian battalion tactical group of over 400 soldiers). Subsequently, pro-war bloggers and pundits in Russia began doubting the war effort and publicly criticizing the Kremlin leadership.
    • What was expected to be a quick victory to demonstrate Russian might turned into a quagmire akin to the disastrous 1939-1940 Winter War or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. While Russia would've faced some negative consequences even if they had won quickly, at least then they would only needed to fight the Ukrainians. Instead, the conflict turned into a proxy war with NATO countries giving the Ukrainians as much war material as they want, indirectly killing and destroying Russian power without having to risk their own citizens. The war revitalized instead of curbing NATO, with Germany increasing its defense spending and formerly-nonaligned Finland and Sweden applying to join the alliance. And of course, Putin has only strengthened Ukrainian nationalism and hatred for Russia instead of bringing the country back into Russia’s sphere of influence. In summary, Russia’s larger war goals are permanently lost regardless of what happens on the battlefield from now on.


Video Example(s):


Cotton, Slaves, and Arrogance

Rhett Butler questions whether the Confederates will really win a quick victory in the coming Civil War

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / HomeByChristmas

Media sources: