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Quintili Vare, legiones redde! ("Quintillus Varus, give me back my legions!")
Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome's restrained reaction to the loss of the Battle of Teutoberg Forest.

In fiction (and in Real Life) during a great war there's a certain strategic loss that is very significant to the point of being demoralizing, shocking, and iconic in universe.

As an example: The Federation is fighting an intergalactic war against Scary Dogmatic Aliens, but there's one place in the galaxy that has no chance in hell of ever falling at the hands of the enemy: A planet-sized starship that's armed with weapons of mass destruction, fortified by thousands of automated defenses, an armada of the most powerful warships ever built, guarded by countless space fighters, mechanized infantry, and genetically bred elite warriors, all commanded by the most brilliant military genius in the galaxy and his handpicked staff.

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Said planet-ship falls anyway, sending a horrible chill down the spines of the Federation. Sometimes it could be a turning point in the war, but not always: any faction could suffer a defeat like this and not necessarily be defeated. Perhaps this defeat was due to a surprise attack. Could have been a Pyrrhic Victory for the attackers. Sometimes it's described as a Noodle Incident in some stories. What ever the reason, it's still an incredible loss, and no one will ever forget it. The defeat likewise can have terrible dramatic consequences because it sets a mentality for revanchism and trigger a factional fight among groups about who is responsible for the defeat and who do we scapegoat to make sure it doesn't happen again.

This is essentially The Worf Effect applied to an entire battle or war (or even a sport) instead of individuals, typically used to show how high the stakes are.

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This trope usually overlaps with A Taste of Defeat, Hopeless War, Remember the Alamo, and Last Stand. Often can be a Decisive Battle, if the balance of power is dramatically shifted as well. See also the sub-trope Capital Offensive. A Curb-Stomp Battle often is this for the losing side.

For the victors it could overlap with Pyrrhic Victory, and Was It Really Worth It?.


Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • End of Code Geass season one when the Black Rebellion fails spectacularly in the throes of what almost looked like their Finest Hour. History Repeats in season two when the Black Knights are AGAIN defeated, this time by Lelouch, amplified by the fact that it means he now rules the world with an iron fist. Which is then followed up by him being publicly assassinated by Zero - actually Suzaku in Zero's costume - at his apparent moment of triumph, in order to cement the final step of his Zero Requiem: making himself into an effigy of all the evils of the world and then dying, taking all the world's hatred with him.
  • The Backstory of the Lyrical Nanoha multiverse describes the loss of the Belkan Empire's homeworld as this.
  • In the later novels of Banner of the Stars, the fall of Lakfakalle, the Abh capital. Up until that point, the war had been pretty much going exclusively in the Abh's favor, and then their enemies turned the whole war around in a single, utterly disastrous surprise attack.
  • In spite of swiftly conquering Earth's standing militaries, the Muge Empire in Dancougar was faced with numerous resistance cells, with the most entrenched and well-supplied of them being in North and South America. The answer is made clear when the newly-defected Shapiro Keats informs the Empire of a massive weapons armory in Nazca, Peru, which housed an entire third of the world's remaining weapons and was the only such armory of its kind. The Empire immediately launches an all-out offensive to capture or destroy the armory, and in spite of Shinobu and Sara's best efforts, the Empire's forces succeed in the endeavor. In spite of the numerous small-scale victories that Dancougar scores in subsequent episodes, the armory's loss dooms the American resistance movement and by mid-series, the Dancougar team has to settle on just helping out in the other continents.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Magical Girl Crisis Crossover Shattered Skies: The Morning Lights, the total massacre of the TSAB's Dimensional Navy, done singlehandedly by Unison Reinforce, lets everyone know that Dead End is not screwing around with the whole multiversal destruction thing, and they've damn well got the firepower to pull it off.
  • A different weasel makes a difference has several, both in the human conflict and in the Second Long Night.
    • The Battle of Mud and Flame sees the Lannister forces devastated and Tywin left near dead. It marks the beginning of the end for Lannister cause, right until their utter defeat at the Second Battle for King's Landing.
    • The Reach is ultimately invaded by just about every other contender, so really nothing goes well for them, but the Field of Poison is the moment where they truly realize that they cannot defeat Euron without help.
    • The Great Battle for the Wall. The Wall falls, and many of the defenders die. The psychological affects are also extreme, the Wall was 700 feet long and had stood for 8,000 years. The idea that it could fall never occurred to many people, and when it did it was staggering.
    • The Battle of Ronnel's Pass, also known as the Battle of Frozen Tears, is widely seen as the greatest defeat humanity suffered in the war. One of Daenerys dragons is killed, the defenders are routed, and the attempt to prevent the Others from reaching heavily populated areas of the Vale failed.
    • Braavos actually sufffers two. First they badly lose the Battles on the Shivering Sea, proving they are no longer the ultimate naval power. Then there's the Battle of the Titan, which is arguably closer to a draw. The Others are unable to take Braavos, but many defenders die and the Titan itself falls into the strait. Aside from the psychological impact, this means the Bravavosi can't leave their own harbor, effectively removing them from the war.
    • Fortunately, the Others suffer a few catastrophic defeats as well, most notably at Winterfell and Bear Island.
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    Film 
  • Independence Day: The film is essentially a series of shocking defeats for the humans. First, the coordinated attack that kills a massive amount of the human race by destroying its most major cities in minutes. Second, the immediate failed counterattack which showed the aliens were completely impervious to the best conventional weapons Earth had to offer, inflicting overwhelming casualties on every military force the world's nations threw at them. Third, the news of the destruction of NORAD, proving the aliens could penetrate an entire mountain and that no defenses were safe, as well as debilitating North American military command and control capabilities. Fourth, the attempt to use nuclear weapons against the aliens which had no effect whatsoever other than presumably irradiating and destroying any survivors at the location of the target. Of course, the end must have been pretty shocking to any aliens that survived.
  • The Sorrow and the Pity: A documentary about the German conquest of France in 1940, the difficulties of the next four years under German occupation, and how French people are still having problems dealing with it 25 years after liberation. Director Max Ophuls also takes time to interview some of the German generals behind that attack and the latter, despite Denazification cannot help but gloat about their victory.
  • The destruction of Vulcan in Star Trek (2009). Not only was it a massive loss for the Federation, but a signal to the fans that this was not going back to the status quo.
  • The Rebel Alliance from Star Wars blowing up not only the first Death Star, but the second one as well.
    • Arguably the beginning of the end for the Empire was when Tarkin blew up Alderaan. It caused a huge backlash that led to high rebel recruitment.
    • And again with the Battle of Jakku, which put the proverbial nail in the coffin of the Empire.
    • The destruction of the Hosnian system and the fleet stationed there was the end of the New Republic.

    Literature 
  • The Battle of Yonkers in World War Z. They threw everything but the kitchen sink at the enemy and still lost. Though that was actually a detriment in the end, as all their gear and defenses and tactics were based on fighting an enemy that obeyed no human nor life norms (no pain, no fear, no stopping...) Even in-universe it's considered to have been an exercise in lethally stupid planning, and out of universe is even worse (see the long entry in Hollywood Tactics).
  • The Fall of Coruscant to the Yuuzhan Vong in the New Jedi Order series. Under the incredulous eyes of many of the surviving characters, the lights of The City That Never Sleeps go out for the first time in several thousand years.
    Han Solo: The end of the world. Who’d’ve thought we’d live to see it?
  • The Dropsite Massacre of Isstvan V from the Horus Heresy. Four noble space marine legions had suddenly turned traitor and fortified themselves on said planet (after burning Isstvan III and purging their own ranks of loyalists), an overwhelming seven legions were sent to crush the rebellion before it could spread. Instead, four of those legions turned traitor too, and all of them caught the remaining three loyalist legions in a crossfire that saw hundreds of thousands dead. It went From Bad to Worse from there...
  • The Silmarillion: The Battle Of Unnumbered Tears. It begins as a noble effort of the Elves, Men, and Dwarves to finish Morgoth once and for all (and to avenge the Elves' previous shocking defeat by Morgoth's forces in the Battle of Sudden Flame). It's the first coalition of all the races together to fight Morgoth, and the greatest army seen so far in the world outside of the gods. It gets crushed so badly and so many people die that Morgoth literally makes a hill out of the corpses. The worst part is that they never had a chance. And things get so much worse from there.
  • In Honor Harrington these were the Battle of Manticore for Haven and Grendelsbane disaster during the opening stages of the Second Havenite War and later the Operation Oyster Bay (though Manticorans didn't know its official name) for Manticore, though both nations recovered from these pretty damn quickly, and with a vengeance.
  • Andrey Livadny's The History of the Galaxy series has the nuclear bombardment of the Dabog colony by the Earth Alliance strike fleet as the opening round of the First Galactic War. In fact, this trope was President Hammer's original plan. The fleet would show up without warning, nuke two major cities on the planet, and land troops to quickly rout any defenders. Unfortunately for them, they didn't expect the colonists to have very effective Real Robots that routed the invaders. The pissed-off admiral of the fleet has the planet nuked so thoroughly that 1000 years later it's still uninhabitable. In fact, even after a millennium, the mere mention of Dabog is enough to stop a fight. However, the destruction of the colony only serves to band the colonies together and, after decades of vicious fighting, take the fight to Earth itself.
  • In Codex Alera, the rampant destruction of the Vord War, epitomised by the obliteration of Alera Imperia, the capital city, and the death of Gaius Sextus, the First Lord, is certain to be seen as this in the future (though the end of the series means readers won't see it). However, while the Vord War was the worst disaster in Aleran history in terms of casualties and destruction, various characters think that the Aleran culture is likely to improve a great deal in the aftermath, as it shattered many of the prejudices and mindsets that kept Alera stable but stagnant for those that had power and miserably unjust for those that didn't, and the series ends on a decidedly hopeful note.
  • In The Dresden Files the fall of Archangel early on in the Vampire War. A White Council stronghold and home to one of the strongest Wizards in the world and foremost expert on vampires, who died fighting against the onslaught fell in the first few weeks of the war. Later on, it would become the Wizard's equivalent of the Alamo.
  • The Battle of the Azure Nebula in the Star Trek Novel Verse, the most one-sided battle in the franchise's history. There are over 300 ships from the Federation, its allies, and even its rivals said to have enough firepower to take on ten Borg cubes. Then the wormhole in the nebula opened and over 7500 Borg ships came through. The allied force barely qualified as a nuisance, and only Voyager survived.
  • The Battle of the Blackwater in A Song of Ice and Fire: Stannis Baratheon, one of the greatest threats to the Iron Throne among all five of the kings fighting for it, besieges King's Landing itself with a huge army, and is only beaten off due to preparations made by Tyrion that hold him off long enough for an allied Lannister-Tyrell army to come in from behind and smash his army so badly that he only has around fifteen hundred men and is now sending out people to hire sellswords to bolster his numbers.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Battle of Wolf 359 from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Taking place relatively close to Earth, a single Borg ship crippled the Federation fleet by destroying every single one of the thirty-nine ships sent to stop it and left completely undamaged. By the time the Enterprise arrived and was able to destroy it, it had reached Earth's orbit. The battle very strongly established the threat of the Borg and had a lasting impact on the franchise, being particularly relevant to many characters and plots in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine provides a few:
    • The Dominion attacking and destroying New Bajor, and shortly after the Galaxy-class USS Odyssey. The writers invoked this trope to emphasize the Dominion threat - A starship the same class as the Enterprise stood no chance against this foe.
    • Enabran Tain, possibly the most brilliant director in the history of the Obsidian Order (he was the only one to live to retirement), a genius tactician and stunning power player, organizes a joint Order/Romulan Tal Shiar to destroy the Founders' homeworld. But for all his smarts, Tain missed the head of the Tal Shiar was a Changeling himself, leading to a trap that massacred the Cardassian/Romulan forces. In short, arguably the best leader the Order ever had is also responsible for its ultimate defeat.
    • The loss of Betazed in the Deep Space Nine series to the Dominion.
    • The Breen attack on San Francisco. Not as damaging as some of the others on this list, but shocking in that they were able to stab at the heart of The Federation.
    • One was planned by the Dominion as the final act of the war. After defeating the Federation they planned to wipe out all life on Earth, believing the demoralizing effect would severely limit revolutionary activities.
  • The Battle of Serenity Valley in Firefly, which was apparently the battle that lost the war for the Independents and sent Malcolm Reynolds over the Despair Event Horizon.
  • In Doctor Who, much of the Last Great Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks has only been explained through dialogue by the Doctor himself. However, we do have a definite shocking defeat that was said on the show: the Fall of the Cruciform, which was so shocking that it made the Master himself flee to the end of the universe.
    • There was another one. The Doctor himself mentions that he was at the Fall of Arcadia, and that he might be able to come to terms with it someday. In "The Day of the Doctor" it's revealed that Arcadia was the second biggest city on Gallifrey, and its fall to the Daleks meant that the Time Lords were on the verge of annihilation. This ends up motivating the Doctor to destroy both races.
    • The Doctor inflicts the demoralizing side of this trope on Colonel Manton after temporarily gaining an edge at the Battle of Demon's Run, forcing him to bear the insulting nickname "Colonel Runaway" by giving his troops the order to run away as punishment for targeting people that he loves.
  • In the finale of Power Rangers Turbo, the planet Eltar falls, stripping the Rangers of their powers, forcing them into space to try and rescue their old mentor Zordon.
  • Game of Thrones: Despite winning every battle, the fall of Winterfell severely costs Robb Stark in both morale and momentum, eventually culminating in the Boltons switching sides and betraying him. This fall of Winterfell and betrayal are now what his reign is remembered for. It's Robb's tragic fate that despite being a Young Conqueror and military genius, his reign resulted in the absolute Darkest Hour for House Stark and the North in its entire history.

    MMORPG 
  • In World of Warcraft there are numerous examples of this, as well as a couple of subversions, but given the name of the game, that's hardly surprising. There is The War of the Ancients which led to the destruction of the Kaldorei kingdom and the world splitting apart. Then the Orcs almost complete annihilation of the Draenei on Draenor. After which, said orcs go on to invade the world of Azeroth and sack the human city of Stormwind. Later, they go on to enslave the Red Dragon Flight, with which, they almost reduce Quel'Thalas to burning ash. Later, Prince/Death Knight Arthas ends up killing every man, woman, and child in Stratholme. After that, he kills his father, several paladins, including another father figure, Uther, then sacks Quel'Thalas and Silvermoon City to use the Sunwell, which he then blows up. Oh yeah, at the end of that campaign, Archimonde comes around to completely demolish Dalaran. The Kaldorei lose their beloved demigod, Cenarius, in a battle with Grom Hellscream. Finally, the Kaldorei give up their immortality by blowing up the World Tree to kill Archimonde. Did I mention there were a lot of examples in this?
    • HOWEVER the killing of Archimonde, the whatever happened to Sargeras and Azeroth's ability to merely RESIST the Burning Legion are all pretty big. And implied to be bigger than anyone knows. Given this entails two cosmic horror like beings killed in a setting every (sane) person knows to be a cosmic horror story, it's kinda big.
    • Wrath of the Lich King introduced the battle of Wrathgate, where a united Horde and Alliance force was destroyed by treasonous members of the Forsaken. This set back the offensive against the Lich King by years and renewed the waning war between the two factions.
    • Mists of Pandaria begins with Garrosh Hellscream destroying Theramore, home to the peace-seeking Jaina Proudmoore. The leader of the neutral Kirin Tor is killed and Jaina nearly destroys Orgrimmar in return. Following these events, Jaina assumes leadership of the Kirin Tor with a decidedly anti-Garrosh mindset.
      • By this point, almost everyone is pretty much against Garrosh, who has decided that the Horde should be an orc-only force, kicking out all of his allies. A combined force of the Horde (minus Garrosh's force) and Alliance prepares to storm Orgrimmar to take care of Garrosh once and for all. Not a legacy his father would've approved of.
    • All throughout the game´s expansions, the Trolls are much of a subject of this: Confirmed to be one of the first races to even be in the World. They had vast Empires, one completely shattered into two tiny tribes by Night Elves, and another almost annihilated by the first Human/High Elf Alliance, yet another, later destroyed by The Scourge in Northrend. They try many, many, many desperately evil things to try and get by, but so far, they do not seem to be able to get a break unless they align themselves with The Horde. And even that does not work THAT well for them...!
    • At the start of the Legion expansion there is the battle of Broken Shore, where the united army of both the Alliance and the Horde attempted to assault an island that the Burning Legion has taken over. the battle went well for the Alliance and Horde at first, but at the end they got overwhelmed by demons and were forced to retreat, losing a lot of soldiers and King Varian Wyrnn of the Alliance, and Warchief Vol'jin of the Horde.
    • Battle for Azeroth opens with a devastating loss for both factions. The Alliance successfully sieges Undercity and drives the Forsaken out of Lordaeron. Meanwhile the world tree of Teldrassil is burned down and the Night Elves driven out of Kalimdor.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic contains two examples in one battle. First the Empire takes Corellia (a founding Republic world and major industrial center) out of nowhere; the shock is only enhanced when it's discovered that it wasn't totally a military conquest, and that Corellia's ruling body actually defected to the Empire. It flips around when the Republic rallies to take Corellia back, and in the process kills off half the Dark Council (although most of them actually died in infighting) and a significant percentage of the Empire's military. This was largely due to a frankly ludicrous Gambit Pileup caused by all 8 class plotlines coming to a head at the same place and time.
  • In Guild Wars: Prophecies the Searing of Ascalon proved to be this for humanity as a whole. The unexpected devastation of Ascalon set off a chain reaction that led to the destruction of Orr and a severe weakening of Kryta. Between the first game and Guild Wars 2 humanity has only continued to lose territory with many in Ebonhawk still wishing to reclaim a land that now belongs to the Charr.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Battletech has multiple spread across the game's metaplot:
    • For The Taurian Concordat, their loss in the Reunification War came to dominate the Concordat's national character. Despite their loss being practically a Foregone Conclusion from day one (the Concordat had 56 worlds and was opposing the 1000+ world-sized Star League), the Concordat held on for 20 years and severely blooded a military force the size of their combined population. When it finally was forced to throw in the towel, this caused a severe blow to their national pride and the Protector who was forced to sign the peace treaty killed herself the next day. The Concordat would get its revenge some 200 years later when they helped Stephan Amaris put an end to the Star League, and would continue to exist in a state of Space Cold War with the Inner Sphere for the next five centuries.
    • The Kentares Massacre and its aftermath during the First Succession War became this to House Kurita and the Draconis Combine. After the assassination of the Combine's Coordinator on Kentares IV, the Combine responded by wholesale massacring the population of the planet. Not only did this sit extremely poorly with many of the traditionalist warriors of the Combine, but it inspired severe Revanchist elements in the owners of the planet, the Federated Suns. Inspired by the massacre the enraged Federated Suns would massively counterattack and drive the Combine from their territory.
    • For the Clans, the Battle of Tukayyid became the final nail in the coffin after several decisive setbacks during Operation Revival, and completely shattered the idea of Clan superiority. Having been offered a 'fair fight' by their own rules, the overconfident Crusader Clans gleefully threw their finest warriors at the entrenched ComStar forces, only to see all but three Clans humiliatingly defeated and only Clan Wolf succeeding at an outright win. Forced into a fifteen-year truce, Tukayyid essentially killed all chance of the Clans ever being a credible threat to the Inner Sphere.

    Video Games 
  • Halo:
    • The UNSC has the Fall Of Reach, which was the equivalent of America's CENTCOM, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Fort Bragg, and Norad being taken out all at once. And that's not counting the civilian casualties.
    • While much of the Covenant fleet sent to Reach was also destroyed, it was their subsequent failure to prevent the Master Chief from destroying Alpha Halo, an ancient megastructure that they consider holy, that sent shockwaves across the Covenant. Especially since their commander, Thel 'Vadamee, was one of the Covenant's very best, having remained completely undefeated up until that point. The Prophets ended up laying the blame on him (despite the fact that his orders had been continually subverted by his overseeing Prophet) and declaring him Arbiter, starting a chain of events which eventually led to the dissolution of the Covenant itself.
    • When Flood overrun the Covenant capital of High Charity, it signals a massive loss for the Covenant, and the turning of the tide in favor of not only the Elites and their subordinates, but humanity's own continued survival.
    • After the end of the Human-Covenant War, humanity is one of the major powers in the Orion Arm. And then an entire city on Earth is wiped out in Halo 4 when the Didact uses a weapon that turns any sentient being into a mindless Energy Being soldier. It's only thanks to the Master Chief that he is stopped from doing that to all of humanity. The truth of the attack is completely covered up from almost all of humanity, but UNSC high command is rightfully spooked.
  • Deus Ex: the (French!) terrorist group Silhouette blows up the Statue of Liberty! Actually committed by MJ12 itself, conveniently framing Silhouette in the process.
  • Mass Effect has Shanxi, a human colony that was blockaded and besieged by the Turians during the First Contact War until it was forced to surrender, serving as humanity's introduction to the galactic community at large. Humanity successfully dislodging the turians from the colony in the subsequent battle also established that despite being newcomers, humanity would not be a pushover.
    • The Reapers plan for countless Cycles involved coming through the hidden relay inside the Citadel to wipe out galactic leadership and shut down the Relay network, allowing them to easily wipe out all galactic life system by system. Only the final act of defiance from surviving prothean scientists on Ilos prevented this from happening in the current Cycle, having altered the control signal that told the Keepers to open the Citadel relay.
    • Before all this, the krogans' defeat during the Krogan Rebellions and the use of the genophage against them severely damaged their population and their psyche, with many of them adopting a resentful and fatalistic worldview that negatively affects them to the in-universe present day,
    • In addition to the Reaper invasions across the galaxy, the fall of Thessia in Mass Effect 3.
  • EVE Online has the battle of Vak-Atioth, a Curb-Stomp Battle between the Jove and Amarr Empires, which sent the latter reeling into Vestigial Empire status. Later on, the Amarr reversed their fortune in the Battle of Mekhios, where they wiped out an entire Minmatar fleet and send the remnants of their forces packing.
  • Dragon Age: Origins has the Battle of Ostagar, in which the Player Character participates. Much of the Fereldan army, and all of the Grey Wardens but the Player Character and The Lancer Alistair, are killed after Teyrn Loghain's forces, The Cavalry, abandon the battlefield.
    • In Dragon Age II, after the fall of Lothering to the Darkspawn horde, Hawke's family became one of thousands of refugees that fled Ferelden to escape the Blight, eventually settling in Kirkwall in the Free Marches. Part of the backstory of a Warrior/Rogue Hawke, their brother Carver and Aveline Vallen is that they were all survivors of the King's Army at Ostagar and only narrowly escaped with their lives after Loghain's betrayal.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • In the backstory, for all of their many victories, it was a Nord defeat that had perhaps the most profound impact on Tamriellic history. After centuries of domination and expansion out of Skyrim, their army, led by the Tongues (masters of the Thu'um), was annihilated at Red Mountain in Morrowind by a coalition of Dwemer and Chimer forces. This marked the farthest expanse of the Nordic empire and led to a drop-off in the use of the Thu'um as a weapon after Jurgen Windcaller, one of the defeated Tongues, created the Way of the Voice to use the Thu'um only to honor the gods. The after effects of the loss at Red Mountain could still be felt in the storylines to both Morrowind and Skyrim.
    • Another was the Sacking of Alinor by Tiber Septim's legions, with the aid of the Dwemer-crafted Numidium. The beautiful crystal city and its legions of Magic Knight defenders were crushed within an hour of fighting, leaving the Altmer (High Elves) under the rule of Men for the first time in their thousands of years of history. This only exacerbated their hatred of humanity and when opportunity arose after the Oblivion Crisis, they struck back hard under the leadership of the Thalmor.
  • The destruction of Racoon City in the Resident Evil franchise proves to be this for the Umbrella Corporation. Before it, nobody aside from STARS was aware of their awful experiments, they had the entire city in their pocket and they were untouchable. Following its destruction, they become pariahs worldwide, their actions lead to them being seen as monsters, and it ultimately results in the company collapsing because nobody wants to go near them.

    Webcomics 
  • In The Order of the Stick, the heroes are trying to protect the five Gates from Xykon. After two gates are destroyed (rendering them useless to Xykon, but also weakening reality), the heroes decide that Xykon is likely to target either Girard's Gate or Kraagor's Gate next, since Soon's Gate is in the well-defended Azure City, full of paladins. Thus, they don't even bother preparing for the possibility of Soon's Gate being targeted. So, of course, it is, and Azure City gets overrun, thousands die or are enslaved, and the heroes and their allies spend the next several story arcs split and mostly playing defense.

    Western Animation 
  • The Legend of Korra Book 4 sees Korra lose to Kuvira in an arranged duel over the fate of the city of Zaofu (whom Kuvira already amassed an army to take). Since she had previously had a 3-year long Convalescence after being physically and psychologically broken by the third book's finale, she loses. After she gets better and back into top form, she resolves to not let Republic City fall to Kuvira's conquest too.
    • Republic City itself borders on being this too. It is located on former Earth Kingdom territory that was lost to the Fire Nation's unexpected assault during the last great war. A century or so later, Kuvira and many other Earth Kingdom citizens still aren't willing to let that indignity go uncorrected.
  • The loss of the Homeworlds for the Terrans in Exo Squad, although the utter destruction of Mars late in the second season was an even more devastating blow to the Neosapiens. Phaeton built most of his anti-Terran propaganda upon it afterwards.
  • In the backstory of Steven Universe, the Diamond Authority suffered one when Pink Diamond's attempt to mine the planet Earth pushes Rose Quartz to start a rebellion that ends in Pink Diamond being shattered (at least, that is how it seems to have happened), infuriating her three Diamond siblings to the point of retaliation by Corruption Wave and leaving behind a gem cluster that would destroy the planet and all life on it. (Rose Quartz and Steven counter these two threats respectively.) Blue Diamond to this day remains in an extreme state of grief from Pink Diamond's demise. This is resolved however when it's revealed Pink Diamond was never shattered, since Rose Quartz and Pink Diamond were the same gem.

    Real Life 
Classical Antiquity
  • The Battle of Leuctra for Greece. Sparta was considered effectively invincible after centuries of reputation and their recent defeat of Athens. However, once Epaminondas applied this little thing called "proper tactics"... the conservative Laconians lost a thousand of their elite, irreplaceable Spartiates (peers of the realm and citizens, trained for war from birth, allotted a landed estate from the public treasury upon achieving the age of majority, and of which there were never more than 8,000 even at the zenith of Sparta's power) in that single battle, their reputation and hegemony over Greece both shattered forever.
  • From The Roman Republic and The Roman Empire:
    • The Battle of the Allia for Ancient Rome. The Gaulish chieftain Brennus defeated the Roman army and sacked Rome itself. The Romans were determined to never allow this to happen again, and strengthened the city's defences, reorganised the army and, for generations afterwards, marked the anniversary of the defeat by sacrificing the city's guard dogs as punishment for their failure to alert the Romans to a night attack on the Capitoline Hill. The sacred geese that did alert the Romans were carried through the city on gilded cushions in the same ceremony. As it happens, Rome would not be sacked again until 800 years later, the first time in 410 CE by Alaric I, then a second time in 455 CE, but at that time Rome had not been the capital of even the Western Empire for more than a 100 years (it was Ravenna, and before that it was Mediolanum).
    • The Punic Wars came close. In the first, the Romans lost two entire fleets in heavy storms, losing 280 ships and 100,000 men in 255 B.C. and a slightly smaller number in 253, yet they kept building new fleets and wrested naval supremacy from Carthage. In the Second Punic War, Hannibal and his army inflicted three terrible defeats on the Romans, but Rome continued to wage war until ultimate victory. Still the reaction to the loss of Cannae was desperate enough that Livy mentions that the Romans indulged in Human Sacrifice to the Gods: Two Gauls and two Greeks in male-female couples were buried alive in a stone chamber (normally used to bury alive as punishment Vestal Virgins who broke their vows of celibacy). So it was psychologically a huge blow, and it took a while for the Romans to come Back from the Brink.
    • Shortly after the Second Punic War came the destruction of Placentia, in no small part thanks to the Gauls doing so immediately after the Romans had deemed them pacified thanks to the defeats they had suffered late in the war for allying with Hannibal (in fact the Romans had just disbanded most of their northern army when the Gauls attacked). Then the Gauls attacked Placentia's twin city of Cremona to finish them off... And discovered they had just pissed the Romans off, with Cremona's defenses holding and the Roman reinforcements wiping the Gaulish army out.
    • The Lusitanian Wars brought the battle of Erisana, where the Lusitanian chieftain Viriathus humiliated Roman general Servilianus by pinning him down and forcing him to surrender in what had initially looked like the end of the rebellion. The additional fact that Viriathus compelled Servilianus to sign a peace treaty, which put an end to the war and elevated Viriathus to the diplomatic level of Hiero of Syracuse, was so humiliating for Rome that they called the subsequent peace period deformem pacem ("the abominable peace"). The situation got eventually solved when Servilianus's smarter brother Quintus Servilius Caepio bribed three of Viriathus's emissaries to murder him, but Rome never really got over the fact they had been forced to do through treason what they had failed to do on the battlefield. Most chroniclers abhorred Servilius's action, or at least pretended to, and some of them made up the Arc Words "Rome doesn't pay traitors" to make clear they would not have allowed it.
    • In the early imperial era, the most famous was the Battle of Teutoburg Forest on September 9, 9 AD. Three Roman legions were returning to camp when they were attacked by Arminius, a Germanic chieftain who had grown up in Rome. All three legions were wiped out, and eventually the Roman Empire withdrew from Germania. Emperor Augustus, when told of the disaster, as per Suetonius, banged his head against the wall, shouting "Varus! Give me back my legions!" went days without shaving in a Heroic BSoD and years after was known to mutter as a non-sequitur the same line, despite the fact that Varus had died in battle (mercifully since he didn't have to face Augustus in person). This defeat is often cited, especially in Romantic German nationalism as the real reason why the Romans never went further into Germania. Of course, the Romans did make excursions and expand there under Marcus Aurelius (a fact which The Philosopher King commemorates in a column showing him personally slaughter Germanic warriors) and there are some archaeological findings that suggest the Romans did try again but that defeat did endure in Rome's psyche.note 
  • The Battle of Adrianople in 378 AD was this for the late Roman Empire. Emperor Valens led an army of 20,000 Goths to put an end to the uprising that had plagued the region for two years, and decided to attack them immediately instead of waiting for the Western Roman Emperor Gratian, as he was jealous of Gratian's successes in the Western Roman Empire. The battle was a disaster, with Emperor Valens killed, two thirds of the Roman army destroyed, and the Goths free to pillage as they went. While Rome had suffered bad defeats before, the aftermath showed that Rome could no longer impose treaties on barbarians as they used to, as the Goths were given a de facto kingdom in Thrace and were never assimilated. As a result, many historians now believe Adrianople marked the start of the problems that would ultimaetly destroy the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century.
  • The real humiliating defeats for Rome came against the Persian Empires. Rome and the Parthians and later the Sassanians had a Forever War that lasted 683 years, the longest protracted conflict between two powers, and that ended when the Arabs came out of nowhere and took out the Sassanians.
    • The first and most humiliating one was the Battle of Carrhae, where triumvir Marcus Licinius Crassus (the guy who crushed Spartacus) invaded the Parthian Empire. He had a solidly equipped army and greatly outnumbered the Parthians, yet the latter's horse archers and kataphracts utterly outmaneuvered the Romans in the battle, who were forced to attack them in spite of the difficulty of catching them while mostly on foot due to the Parthians' gigantic baggage train constantly supplying them with more arrows. The Parthians brutally crushed the Romans with supposedly 60% of their forces being killed or captured, Crassus was murdered and depending on which account you believe, molten gold was poured into his mouth or he was beheaded and his head was used as a prop for a Persian production of Euripides's Bacchae (Crassus was apparently the head of King Pentheus in what we can assume was a rather intensely realistic production).
    • The Romans were especially upset that the Persians captured their Eagle standards and Julius Caesar planned to invade there to get it back, but he got assassinated. Mark Antony decided to launch the invasion later and he also got defeated, worse than Crassus (albeit not in the same numbers), and Augustus used Antony's defeat to forge a peace treaty with the Parthians and managed to get the Eagles back to Rome, which boosted his popularity. It was such a huge deal for him that he built statues to commemorate it. He also minted coins showing a Persian soldier kneeling submissively which needless to say didn't happen but obviously was important for the Romans to believe.
    • Then there was the famous incident where Emperor Valerian lost to them in the Battle of Edessa and ended up becoming the first Emperor to be captured alive and imprisoned by an enemy power. Valerian spent the remainder of his life in captivity and according to Roman legend was either made to serve as a footstool to King Shapur of Persia and/or given the Crassus-esque molten gold treatment. The Persians denied that they killed him however. Another one was the Emperor Julian the Apostate who led another invasion into Persian land, supposedly to imitate Alexander the Great. Julian had some successes early on and laid siege on the capital of Ctesiphon before being killed by a Persian spear (of if you believe Conspiracy Theories, fragged by one of his own Christian soldiers because they didn't like his pagan-revival policies). In either case, the death of the Emperor and Head of State with his army in enemy territory was a major embarrassment, and his successor Jovian more or less negotiated a sweetheart deal for the Persians to get himself and the army safe-passage, which made him so widely hated in Rome that his own uncle was lynched the day it was announced.
  • The Battle of Red Cliffs, as it's widely believed that if the aggressors hadn't been defeated, the Three Kingdoms period might have ended then and there, which would have had a drastic impact on China's history.
  • The Battle of Fei River. Had Jin lost, the Han Chinese could have lost control of China, however, Xie An (who was famous as a great administrator and had little military experience) decided he wasn't going to let Former Qin run wild and beat back a far more experienced army well over twice the size of his own. It was the single largest catalyst in the fall of Former Qin and just ten years later practically ceased to exist.

Middle Ages

  • For the English at least in later eras (when they started prattling about the "Norman Yoke" an utterly made-up concept) the Battle of Hastings came to be seen as this. Hastings is a perfectly justified example, in that the King of England got an arrow to the head and his troops kept falling for fake retreats. Since few people really cared who was king at the time, William the Bastard Conqueror pretty much won by default.
  • The Battle of Bouvines was another major defeat. The French King Philip II Augustus defeated a coalition of England, HRE and Flanders and King John of England's defeat was used by the Barons as a motivation for forcing him to sign the Magna Carta.
  • The Battle of Hattin 1187 to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which wiped out almost the whole army of the kingdom. It led to the downfall of Jerusalem itself. Never again were the Franks on offensive at Outremer anymore after the defeat at Hattin.
  • The Mongols have done this a lot to others: they conquered China, decimated Persia, ravaged Russia, and nearly conquered Europe. For Russians especially, the Mongol attack on Kievan Rus' is cited as one of the major reasons for why Russians are backward compared to Europe.
  • The Siege of Baghdad in particular comes to mind; contrary to popular belief regarding The Crusades, the Mongols actually harmed the Islamic world much worse than the Crusaders themselves by destroying their spiritual center and it was considered in the Shia view that no worse calamity since Huseyn's death in the Battle of Karbala has taken place. The city's resulting loss ended the Arabs' power as caliphs, reducing them to powerless figureheads and eventually vassals to the Turks, who filled the power vacumm left by their loss with the emerging Ottoman Empire.
  • The Byzantine Empire periodically came Back from the Brink after major defeats and setbacks, until of course they stopped doing that in the 1450s. One especially famous one was the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, when the Seljuk Turks routed the much larger Roman army and captured Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes. While modern scholars don't consider it a "turning point" anymore, the disaster at Manzikert led to the loss of most of Anatolia (some parts of which irrevocably) and plunging the Empire into a series of civil wars. Until the end of the Empire in 1453 Manzikert was widely known as "that day" and considered one of the most shameful days of the Eastern Roman Empire. The other is the Fourth Crusade but that isn't considered a defeat so much as appalling and disgusting treachery and sneak attacks on the part of the Latins and Venetian Crusaders (albeit inspired by their own anti-Latin and anti-Venetian policies).
    • On the European side of the Empire, the Battle of Pliska in 811 against the First Bulgarian Empire. The Bulgars had been more or less tolerated, since the Byzantines had their hands full with the Abassaid Caliphate. However, with the Abbassids in a civil war, Emperor Nikephorus I launched an invasion to reintegrate Bulgaria into the empire. After sacking the capital Pliska, Nikephorus delayed the army's march, allowing the Bulgarian Khan Krum to launch a surprise attack on the strung out Byzantine army in the mountain passes. Nikephorus I and his son was killed, the entire army was destroyed, and Bulgaria would remain independent for another two centuries. Pliska was the first time a Byzantine Emperor had been killed in battle since Emperor Valens at Adrianople, and the Byzantines would not cross the Balkan Mountains until the 970's when they had no other choice, and while Byzantium would suffer other severe defeats at the hands of the Bulgarians, none of them would shock the empire so profoundly as the debacle at Pliska.

Renaissance Era

  • The Loire Campaign in The Hundred Years War. Before it, everyone knew that English conquest of France was just a question of time, and the imminent conquest of Orléans would speed up things. Then the French, their courage restored by Joan of Arc, lifted the siege, launched the campaign and inflicted the English a series of defeats, the final of which, the Battle of Patay, being a Curb-Stomp Battle that crippled the English army for the rest of the war. Indeed, a major bone for contention in the Wars of the Roses and well in the early years of The House of Tudor was "Who lost France?" and when are they going to get their Angevin territories back. It wasn't until The French Revolution, where the English decided they hated radicalism more than the French King that they realized they should stop asserting their claim on the latter's crown, that they got out of The Remnant of that revanchism.
    • The Battle of Castillion, the final battle of the Hundred Years War in 1453, also fits the description. By 1452, England had been thrown out of France aside from Calais, and the main priority was to fortify that one region, and keep an eye over the channel. However, the people of Gascony, who had been part of England since 1154 because of the rise of the Plantagenet dynasty, saw themselves as English subjects and urged Henry VI to recapture the province. John Talbot was sent with an army in 1452, which took the French by surprise, having expected a possible invasion to come in Normandy. The following year, the English were utterly crushed by the French artillery, Talbot was killed, an entire army was thrown away, and the battle directly contributed to Henry's mental breakdown, directly resulting in the War of the Roses.
  • The Battle of Mohács in 1526. The battle saw the last attempt of the Kingdom of Hungary to keep the Ottoman Empire out of central Europe utterly crushed by Suleiman the Magnificent, with the death of the last Jagellion king of Hungary and an essential end of Hungary as an independent nation: The Kingdom was quickly partitioned between an Ottoman part and an Austrian part (and an Eastern Hungarian Puppet State of the Ottomans) and would go on to become a massive battleground between the House of Osman and the House of Habsburg for the next 300 or so years. The Hungarian saying "Több is veszett Mohácsnál" ("More was lost at Mohács") essentially means "things can always get worse than this".
  • The Battle of Chaldiran for Shah Ismail I of Persia. At just 14 years of age, he founded the Safavid Empire, established Shia Islam as Persia's state religion (which would continue to this day in modern Iran) and was considered an invincible conqueror. When he faced the Ottoman sultan Selim the Grim, not only were his forces defeated, but his capital city was pillaged and his favorite wife and entire harem were captured by Selim. Ismail's aura of invincibility was shattered and he retreated from any more military campaigns or any sorts of state affairs, becoming an alcoholic as result, despite it being forbidden in Islam, he just didn't care anymore. Ismail died at a relatively young age of 36 likely of a broken heart. It was believed by contemporary scholars that if he had won, the Turks would have been unable of conquering Mecca and Medina from the Mamluks and emerging as a caliphate of their own right. As Venetian ambassador Caterino Zeno claims:
    If the Turks had been beaten in the battle of Chaldiran, the power of Ismail would have become greater than that of Tamerlane, as by the fame alone of such a victory he would have made himself absolute lord of the East.
  • The Battle of Lepanto and the Siege of Vienna of 1682 for the Ottoman Empire: the near complete destruction of their fleet and the loss of all their experienced crews at Lepanto signaled the end of the Ottoman supremacy over the Mediterranean (the fleet was quickly rebuilt in terms of ships, but the crews weren't even half as competent as their predecessors, and the Ottoman fleet never recovered), and the defeat at Vienna marked the end of the Ottoman expansion in Europe.
  • The Battle of Ksar El Kebir in 1578 was this for the Portuguese Empire. With the empire already becoming stagnant, a massive fortune was then spent in amassing one of the largest and most well equiped land armies in Europe at the time, in an attempt by the young Portuguese king to expand their holdings in North Africa. However, they were met by the Moors and their Ottoman allies, who vastly outnumbered them. The Portuguese army fought valiantly, but was utterly crushed, the king missing or dead, and thousands of noblemen made prisoner. Another vast fortune was spent ransoming them back, and, since the king had disappeared without producing an heir, shortly after the country was taken over by the Spanish in a Personal Union, which lasted for sixty years, during which Portugal could only watch as they further lost a great amount of power, colonies, and influence. By the time they got their independence back, the other nations of Europe, with their superior economies and manpower, were well underway in their own discovery and colonisation efforts, and for Portugal there was no going back to their former glory.
  • The Deluge is this for the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Swedish Kingdoms unleashed a level of destruction there comparable to the Thirty Years' War, and completely destroyed 188 cities and towns, 81 castles, and 136 churches in Poland, and leading to the loss of 1/3rds of its population, the utter destruction of Warsaw and the permanent loss of several Polish cultural artworks. Moreoever, it was the end of Poland's status as the superpower of Eastern Europe, giving way to Sweden briefly. And a hundred years later, the Kingdom would be erased from the map.
  • The battle of Curalaba in 1598 was this for the Spanish Crown regarding the Arauco War. In December 21, a band of Mapuches ambushed and killed the Spanish Governor and all his peerage. News of this attack spread like wildfire among the mapuche population, leading to the Third Great Mapuche Rebellion that culminated in the Destruction of the Seven Cities where all the Spanish settlements founded south of the Bio-Bio River were burned to the ground. This dealt a fatal blow to Spain's effort of conquering the South of Chile, effectively marking the end the compaign. It was decided the best course of action was just to establish a frontier using the previously mentioned river as a natural barrier. Worth noting this wasn't the end of the war, as conflicts continued at irregular intervals during the Chilean War of Independence and the War of the Pacific. It wasn't until the Occupation of the Araucanía in 1883 that the conflict was brought to an end.

18th Century

  • The defeat and death of Carolus Rex in The Great Northern War was this for Sweden and others who keep lamenting For Want of a Nail had he not died. This was also the end of Sweden as a great power in Central-Eastern Europe, while it marked the rise of Russia under Peter the Great as the hegemon of Eastern Europe (a position it enjoys to this day).
  • The Battle of Quiberon Bay during the Seven Years' War effectively bankrupted the French government by causing a credit crunch (because financiers realized that the British could strike French trade at will). They still hadn't paid the debts off by the time of the Revolution, nearly fifty years later.
  • For the Scottish and the Jacobites, the Battle of Culloden was this. It was the biggest and largest Jacobite Rebellion with the largest ghost of a chance and the defeat led to a brutal campaign by the English in the Highlands.
  • The Mughal Empire never recovered from Nader Shah's invasion of India in the 1730s-1740s. It culminated in the sack of Delhi which led to the Persians stealing the Peacock Throne of the Emperor and the famous Koh-I-Noor diamond (which would then pass to the Afghanis, then to the Sikh Empire of Raja Ranjitsingh, and finally to the English who keep it to this day - to much gritting of teeth). Other defeats, like the Maratha Confederacy's loss at the Third Battle of Panipat, the 1757 Battle of Plassey which the East India Company won and defeated the Nawab of Bengal endure as marks of bitterness among Indians about the failure of local rulers to effectively mount a challenge against the English.

19th Century

  • During The Napoleonic Wars:
    • The Battle of Austerlitz. The armies of Russia and the Holy Roman Empire seemed to have Napoleon cornered, at the end of his supply lines, and overwhelmingly outnumbered. However, Alexander I of Russia decided to fight against everybody else's advice. Napoleon proceeded to absolutely crush the Third Coalition, destroying a quarter of the entire army, and leaving pretty much ending the War of the Third Coalition then and there. The battle marked the end of the Holy Roman Empire which had lasted for a whole millennium, as Francis I had no choice but to abolish it because the majority of its territories were in French hands. Furthermore, any chance of possibly undoing the liberal reforms of the French Revolution in the lands of Western Europe already under French control, such as Italy or Holland and some parts of Germany was now impossible, with many of these regions having experienced technical independence from their Austrian overlords for two whole decades, and Austria would find itself bogged down in several rebellions against these regions when they regained them a decade later.
    • The Battle of Jena-Auerstädt. The Prussian army had been considered the finest in Europe ever since the wars of Frederick the Great, its soldiers inculcated with 'corpse discipline'-should they be shot and killed, their corpse should continue to march, load, and fire regardless. While Napoleon pounced with his main force on a Prussian detachment at Jena, the Iron Marshal Davout threw back the Prussian main army with a single corps. The Prussian army had been shattered in a matter of hours, and the pursuit destroyed it and the Prussian state with it. In the wake of this defeat, Prussia was forced to accept the loss of half its population and restrictions on its military. The defeat was so extreme, the Prussians basically rebuilt their society to recover and defeat the French. In the military, the corporal punishment necessary for 'corpse discipline' was abolished, and the concept of a citizen army was embraced. The Prussians adopted the first modern general staff, allowing non-aristocrats to become professional staff officers. They even went so far as to abolish serfdom to make a society that could defeat Napoleon.
    • Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Russia. The French Grande Armée, with over 680,000 soldiers, was the largest army ever fielded at that point. Knowing that they couldn't take on such a large army directly, the Russians instead avoided engaging directly, instead retreating and relying on scorched earth tactics and guerrilla warfare to wear the French down and deny them supplies. Napoleon eventually took Moscow, but failed to destroy the Russian army, and with winter setting in, they were eventually forced to retreat. In the end, only about 27,000 French soldiers made it out, with Napoleon (and France's) reputation severely damaged.
    • The Battle of Trafalgar became this for the Combined Navies in the Napoleonic Wars - the French and Spanish lost almost seven times as many men as the British, and the majority of their active ships-of-the-line. Not only would they never challenge the British at sea again, it gave the British the ability to strike at will at French and Spanish trade, contributing directly to the collapse of both empires by slowly throttling their treasuries. Indeed, when Napoleon was presented with an embroidery of an Eagle strangling a Lion, he said that it should be the other way round. During the battle itself, the explosion of the Achille was what signaled the end of the engagement and convinced the Franco-Spanish fleet to run.
    • The Battle of Bailén - the Spanish destroyed three French divisions. Unfortunately, it was so shocking...that Napoleon turned up to sort the mess out in person, and promptly sent Spain into retreat. Even then, although Napoleon sent the Spanish into retreat, it was the first clear defeat of a major French army since he came to power, which (along with the defense of Saragossa) encouraged his enemies to continue their fight. Thus not only did the French army find itself stuck in a bloody war on the Iberian Peninsula for the next six years, but Austria started another war in the following year (1809), leading to the first defeat of an Army led by Napoleon in person at Aspern.
    • Napoleon's invasion of Russia followed by the Battle of Leipzig led L'Empereur to Abdicate the Throne, which thanks to Bourbon incompetence led to The Hundred Days, which ended with Waterloo. As with many battles, what gave Waterloo such a "knock-out blow" mystique was not the battle itself but the subsequent pursuit. Thus in 1815, unlike 1812/13 and 1813/14, Napoleon's army was not given time to regroup and replenish. Waterloo led to France being occupied by the Congress Powers for five years (the longest until World War II) and it would be the end of the Anglo-French Rivalry, decisively in favor of the English.
  • The entire First Opium War was this to China. China's capitulation and the total lack of any Curb Stomp Cushion in sight humbled the Chinese and marked the beginning of an era of being forced to negotiate from a position of weakness, and ending China's belief that it was the Middle Kingdom without a peer, with total hegemony over other nations. They even came up with the term Unequal Treaty to describe the treaties that resulted from these losses. Even in contemporary China, it's still invoked with anger as is the Six-Nation Army's sack and looting of China in the Boxer Rebellion and the defeat to Japan in the First Sino Japanese War.
  • The British retreat from Kabul during the First Anglo-Afghan War resulted in the loss of practically all their troops and accompanying civilians, with only a single British soldier and a handful of Indian sepoys making it back to safety in Jalalabad.
  • The Battle of the Alamo, which was a major defeat for the Republic of Texas. Subverted and completely reversed in that the Alamo actually fulfilled its objectives. While a tactical defeat, it was a resounding strategic victory that not only severely bled out the Mexican Army and allowed the Texan Army to organize into a fighting force, but also provided substantial morale boost. The men of the Alamo had actually been ordered by Sam Houston to leave—Bowie's men originally came to destroy the fort, but the defenders chose to stay. Perhaps a better example from that war is the Battle of San Jacinto, where the relatively ragtag and much smaller Texan army hid out in the swamplands near what is now Houston, and defeated Santa Anna's men in a completely unexpected attack.
  • While the Battle of Gettysburg is popularly considered the turning point of the American Civil War, many however actually see the Battle of Antietam as the real turning point of the war, because this was the last real chance the Confederacy had of not just temporarily carrying the war north (there was also a Southern offensive in the west at the time, while even if Gettysburg had been won by Lee, Vicksburg still would have fallen to Grant), but also to gain recognition from the major European powers. Gettysburg had essentially no impact on the long term reputation of Lee and his army; the Northern public and the South alike considered him undefeated when Grant began his offensive in 1864.
    • Even after Gettysburg, the South still had one last chance to win, or at the very least, get a negotiated peace that would leave the Confederacy intact. That would be by keeping Union forces stalemated in sieges until November 1864, when the Northern public, sick of a long, bloody war with no end in sight, would vote Lincoln out of office and elect George McClellan President, who was campaigning on a Peace platform. In the east, Grant's forces were held at bay at Petersburg while in the west, Sherman's forces were tied up in the siege of Atlanta. But Atlanta fell to Sherman's forces in early September, boosting Northern morale and resulting in Lincoln getting re-elected. When Atlanta fell, everyone knew the South had truly lost.
    • The fall of Petersburg caused the Confederacy to realize that their capital of Richmond would soon fall as well, which eventually lead the engagement at the Appomattox Court House and General Lee's surrender to Grant.
  • For Tsarist Russia, the Crimean War was this. It proved how backward Russia was from England and France and while that war was famed for incompetence on all sides and created many reforms in the armies of Western Europe, in Russia, it finally convinced the autocratic Empire to *gasp* abolish serfdom and tentatively go on the path to liberal reforms.
  • The Second Schleswig War of 1864 is this for Denmark, and would come to shape both the general Danish foreign policy and view on warfare for least the next century, if not still affecting it to some degree today. The Danish army was poised against the Prussian Army and the Austrian Army, which were superior in both manpower and technology. The leading Danish politicians knew that the war was likely, but was not overly concerned about it at first. They had thought that the Prussian Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, was personally uninterested in a war (but this was what Bismarck wanted them to think; in actually Bismarck wanted a war for internal political reasons), and even if it came to a war they were hopeful about the prospect to rallying either English or Swedish support to the Danish cause. But then Bismarck's diplomatic trap sprung and now the Prussian government were openly agitating for war, and England and Sweden declared that they had no interest in intervening, and as such the Danes were rather hopelessly alone in their fight. Though much of the country was ignited with Patriotic Fervor, the more pragmatic members of the Danish government more or less knew that that they had no real chance of actually winning the war, but had hoped to at least put up a successful enough defensive war to fight the Prussians and their Austrian allies to a standstill and eventually sue for a lenient peace deal. These hopes were eventually completely crushed when the Prussian forces won two definitive victories in the spring of 1864, first in the "Battle of Dybbøl" and then in the "Battle of Als". Denmark eventually had to limp to the negotiating table and accept a very harsh peace deal, ceding a sizeable chunk of the country, and was as a result thrown into a downright existential crisis as a nation. Denmark basically hit rock bottom, with the King even secretly entertaining the prospect of Denmark simply surrending its independence and becoming a part of Germany. Henceforth Danish foreign policy would be dictated by the view that Denmark simply could not muster an army large enough to successfully defend its territory, especially should it come to a war with Germany, and that armed resistance in such a scenario was only going to amount a needless waste of Danish lives. It also informed a view that warfare was simply not a viable political tool to enforce Danish ambitions, and that diplomacy and careful appeasement of Denmark's neighbors should be the way forward. The most tangible effect of the defeat was without a doubt the Danish government's decision to remain neutral throughout World War I, and to peacefully surrender to Nazi Germany when they invaded the country during World War II.
  • The Franco-Prussian War is what named the concept of revanchism. The Prussians' victory at Sedan, their capture of Head-of-State Napoleon III and them using the Palais de Versailles for the founding of Imperial Germany alongside the taking of territories of Alsace and Lorraine created kvetching like you can't believe. School-children were taught geography about missing territories and how when they grow up they are going to get it back. It also led to the Paris Commune which was brutally suppressed and more or less ended monarchism in France with even conservatives agreeing to be a Republic. It was the permanent end of France in favor of Germany as Continental Europe's great power.
  • For Italy's colonial ambitions in East Africa it was Adwa. Before, Ethiopia was considered doomed to fall and become an outright colony after their rebellion at being scammed into becoming a protectorate was suppressed in blood-and then the Italian invasion army was wiped out thanks to a combination of bad Italian leadership, Ethiopian numerical superiority and the Ethiopian best troops being actually better armed than the Italians through sheer cunning (before trying to take his country's independence back, emperor Menelik had used the credits he had thanks to his treaty with the Italians to buy weapons from Italy and got the latest models, while the Italian force was armed with weapons slated to be phased out soon). Italy would not make another attempt at Ethiopia until 1936, and they were still so shocked they started using chemical weapons the moment it looked the ailing Ethiopian forces were preparing a comeback.

Early 20th Century

  • The disasters that were the Battles of Mukden and Tsushima were largely responsible for the Tsarist government to fold the Russo-Japanese War, despite the still enormous strategic advantage and intelligence reporting of the impending collapse of the Japanese economy. The sense of national shame still felt forty years later was one of the major reasons the Soviet Union agreed to join the war against Japan in the closing days of WWII, despite technically still being neutralnote .
  • Italy's defeat at Gasr Bu Hadi in 1915 saw the Italians expelled from most of Libya and reduced to a few coastal cities, as now not only the rebels knew they could defeat the Italians in a pitched battle but, due the Italian commander's arrogance, had managed to capture thousands of rifles dozens of machine guns, and even some artillery, all with plentiful ammunition. On the long run it backfired on the entire Libyan population, as when they counterattacked the Italians first shattered the main rebel forces and then defeated the guerilla by taking in hostage most of the civilian population to isolate the rebels from support (also killing many civilians from starvation due the Italians not caring much of keeping them fed), but said counterattack was so ferocious because the Italians still felt the sting of Gasr Bu Hadi (and actually made a point of luring a rebel force there to annihilate it just to avenge that defeat), and it only came in 1923-one year after Benito Mussolini took over in Italy.

World War I

  • The Battle of Tannenberg is considered the worst Russian defeat in the war. Over 170,000 Russians were killed or captured, with their general choosing to commit suicide rather than have to face Tsar Nicholas over it.
  • Gallipoli for Australia and New Zealand. It's viewed in much the vein as Dunkirk for the UK, only more so.
  • During the Russian Civil War, Kolchak's defeat at Tobol was the turning point for the Whites to start losing. After that defeat, Kolchak's Eastern White army started a retreat that quickly escalated to panicked flight resulting in the fall of Omsk, the rebellion at Irkutsk and Admiral Kolchak's own demise. For Denikin's Southern White army, the failure of his Moscow offensive at the battle of Orel was such a defeat; after Tobol and Orel the Reds had a practically guaranteed win, and the rest of the war was basically cleanup of remnant Whites, Blacks and Greens.
  • The sinking of the SMS Szent István during World War I was this for the Austro-Hungarian Navy. Before that, the Austro-Hungarians had tried various times to break the Otranto Barrage. Then the Szent István, the flagship of the fleet, was sunk by two Italian torpedo boats that just happened to be in the area, and not only the attack the flagship was supposed to lead was canceled, but the Austro-Hungarian navy didn't dare to leave the ports anymore.
    • Not that there was much time left for another attempt - the Szent István was sunk on 10 June 1918, less than five months before the land battle of Vittorio Veneto which forced Austria-Hungary to sue for peace.
  • Subverted by the Battle of Caporetto of World War I. While 'Caporetto' is still synonymous with 'complete and utter defeat' in Italian and the Italian Army was forced to cede half of Veneto to the Austro-Hungarian invasion, the Italian soldiers, upon noticing the civilians were running from the invaders, rallied up at the Piave river and stopped any attempt to pass it for a year. One year later, the Battle of Vittorio Veneto was one for the Austro-Hungarians: while the Austro-Hungarian Army quickly recovered from being dissolved (as pretty much all fighting units had been dispersed and routed, but managed to reassemble fairly fast), the Austro-Hungarian Empire did not, and collapsed three days before the end of the battle (and two after begging for an armistice). Furthermore, the terms of the armistice (that included free passage to Germany through Austria) forced the German Empire to ask for armistice, as the plan to fight through the winter to get favourable peace conditions had been shot to hell by the threat of a million battle-hardened soldiers from the South.

World War II

  • The Battle of Midway became this for the Japanese, as their loss in the battle effectively halted their expansion and put them fully on the defensive for the first time. US Naval Supremacy was only a matter of time, however; the Empire couldn't stay lucky forever in the face of the Allies' overwhelming economic and industrial superiority.
    • In a sense, the Doolittle Raid counts as well. After Pearl, the Japanese appeared invincible, seizing island after island and colony after colony. By April 1942, they had all but swept the Allies from the Pacific. Then, sixteen B-25s were transported by carrier a few hundred miles from Japan and dropped light bombs on Japanese cities. Almost no infrastructure damage was inflicted, but it scared the crap out of the Japanese. This drove Admiral Yamamoto to fight much more aggressively, causing him to attack Midway in order to secure it and thus the Japanese defense perimeter would be complete. Then, at Midway, all four of Yamamoto's carriers were sunk...
    • The raid also had a vital strategic effect. Japan's home defense fleet was very weak, so they recalled a fleet that was heading for the Indian Ocean. This gave the Royal Navy a much-needed breather to regroup and regain its strength in the Pacific.
  • The Japanese invasion of the Philippines in 1941 is widely considered the worst military defeat in US history, with over 23,000 soldiers killed and 100,000 captured, who would go on to face more than three years of harsh treatment by their captors.
  • The Battle of Savo Island was the worst defeat suffered by the US Navy in history, and led to a number of operational and structural changes to prevent such a disaster from happening again.
  • The Battle of the Philippine Sea, in 1944, became another one for Japan. They had advantages in position, geography, and circumstances (a strong wind that would considerably bolster Japanese carrier attack ranges while reducing the Americans', air bases closer to the enemy to field additional and heavier aircraft as well as land carrier aircraft returning from an extreme range attack on the enemey, etc), and the Americans were in the middle of invading islands that would give America airbases within strategic bombing range of the Japanese home islands. They sent out attack wave after attack wave, considerably more aircraft than they had had at their disposal at Midway, and the wind advantage meant that they were seemingly beyond the range of American reprisal. Only for the Japanese to find out that their pilots, planes, doctrine, technology, and ships were horribly outmatched when the American forces absolutely annihilated wave after wave of Japanese aircraft (this coming to be known as "the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot"), with only minor damage on a battleship to show for it. Then American submarines sank two of their best fleet carriers—including the brand-new and pride-of-the-fleet Taiho, and the American counterattack still managed to catch up to and sink one more fleet carrier. The battle completely dashed any hope of the Japanese Navy turning the war around.
  • The Battle of Leyte Gulf, following the Battle of the Philippine Sea, was the Imperial Japanese Navy's final attempt to stop the US Navy. With its carrier forces utterly decimated and reduced to being nothing more than a decoy, the IJN sortied the vast majority of its remaining fleet. The Southern Force was summarily obliterated by a perfectly orchestrated night-time ambush, with a Japanese battleship being effectively executed by a firing line composed largely of the American battleships that had been sunk at Pearl Harbor (and then raised and repaired). The Northern Force, comprised of the decoy (as in, largely empty) carriers were all sunk by overwhelming carrier attack. The Center Force, where all of the true strength lay, received a golden opportunity after Halsey chased after the decoy force without so much as leaving a picket ship in the strait leading to his landing forces and escort carriers, stumbling upon Taffy 3: half a dozen slow, unarmored escort carriers and a few destroyersnote  that were in the middle of supporting landing operations and were completely astonished by Center Force's arrival. Cue the most mis-matched naval battle in history, with Taffy 3 actually fighting off one of the most powerful surface action groups ever assembled with nothing more than a few tin-can destroyers, planes armed with just machine guns and light bombs, and audacious, desperate courage. By the end, the Northern Force was decimated, the Southern Force was annihilated, and the Center Force had taken severe losses, with only one escort carrier, two destroyers, and one destroyer escorts sunk to show for it. The Japanese Navy was destroyed as a significant fighting force, its remnants scattering to various locations and being hunted down in detail by the US Navy.
  • Japan's defeat in World War II as a whole counts as this. Much of their post-WWII policy (most notably, their Constitution, which is mostly known for its ninth article, renouncing its right to declare war) and culture has been shaped by the country's experience during the war and its immediate aftermath.
  • Britain's 1940 retreat from Dunkirk marked a turning point in World War II, but is remembered in Britain more for the heroic rescue of stranded troops than as a defeat.
    • The "Fall of France" fits the trope name better. Dunkirk is more of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat (although Churchill was quick to point out that you don't win wars with retreats and that while it was great to save the troops, the Fall of France was still a major defeat for the Allies). France had been the major balancing power on the continent against a resurgent Germany; everyone, from the French to the British to the Russians to the German General Staff believed it would be a long and brutal slugging match. When, according to von Manstein's plan, Guderian's XIX Panzer Corps cracked through the thin French defenses at Sedan, there was nothing between the Germans and the Channel, and the grand strategic balance of the war had been destroyed at a stroke. The most powerful army in Europe had been neutralized and their country overrun in six weeks, a defeat which singlehandedly destroyed the reputation of France and turned them into the Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys laughing stock of the western world. In hindsight the conquering of France also marked the end of western Europe's dominance as colonial powers, with the downfall of one of Europe's biggest colonizers (other than Britain) sending out the message that white imperialists were not so high and mighty after all, leading to a rapid period of decolonization as various European-owned nonwestern territories fought for independence in the face of France's loss to Germany.
      • Also, they had to leave most of their heavy arms, fuel, ammunition, vehicles, and equipment behind (which was enough to supply eight to ten divisions), so it would take a while before they were in a condition to face the Wehrmacht in the field again. Granted, much of the equipment was old or obsolescent, but they still had to rebuild from the ground up.
  • The failed Rzhev offensive and loss of Sevastopol of 1942 were probably this for the Soviet Union. They were later overshadowed by the great victories of Stalingrad and Kursk, but these failures, which stemmed largely from overconfidence after the successful Battle of Moscow and generally crappy Soviet logistics, costed enormously both in lives and materiel, and later weighed heavily over Soviet morals and military thinking even late in the war and after it.
  • For the European colonial powers in general, and the UK in particular, the Fall of Singapore. It had been boasted that Singapore was the best-defended city in the world, the armour-piercing shells of her heavy gun emplacements capable of punching through any ship the Japanese had to offer. However, Singapore was besieged from the landward side, and their anti-battleship defenses were wholly ineffective at targeting infantry. Percival had 100,000 troops on paper, but they were in no shape to continue fighting. Realising that their situation was hopeless, he surrendered. Only to find that the Japanese only numbered some 30,000 and their supply situation had been even worse. It was this event (among others in Southeast Asia) that inspired the acceleration of the decolonisation process - the European colonists were not, and never had been invincible.
    • Churchill himself felt the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942 was the greatest defeat in British history.
    Winston Churchill:"I put the telephone down. I was thankful to be alone. In all the war I never received a more direct shock."
    • It's generally acknowledged that even had Percival pushed the issue, he felt that Pyrrhic Victory would not have been worth it.
  • The Battle of Stalingrad, for the German forces in the Soviet Union. The Sixth Army was one of the largest German field armies, and the battle was soon painted by propaganda as an intense clash of ideologies: Nazism vs communism, Hitler vs Stalin. When the army was cut off, the Nazis immediately put a lid on all media reports regarding Stalingrad. Finally, the last remnants of the Sixth Army surrendered in February 1943. Nearly 100,000 Germans were captured, out of an initial force of 250,000. The scale of the catastrophe was so great that even Goebbels could not camouflage the defeat as he had the numerous other setbacks on the Eastern Front. It was the first time that the Nazis publicly acknowledged a failure in the war effort, causing German civilians to begin doubting their promise of final victory.
  • The Second Battle of El Alamein, for the Axis forces in North Africa.
    • Despite the loss and withdrawal from El Alamein, the campaign in North Africa continued for another six months. When Rommel ordered the retreat, Montgomery did not pursue and thus allowed the broken German formations to withdraw, fortifying themselves within Tunisia. The loss of Tunisia occurred only a few months after the loss at Stalingrad, with a quarter of a million troops taken prisoner. Soon after, the loss of Sicily was so great that the Italians overthrew Mussolini.
    • Rommel probably thought he could regroup and attack again the following year after halting the British offensive. What made El Alamein ensure this would never happen was that not too long after, the Americans started landing in Morocco and Algeria.
    • After failing to break through to Alexandria and beyond in the First battle of El Alamein, Rommel would have had to retreat after the American landing in Morocco and Algeria in any case. Some people therefore see the Second Battle of El Alamein as having been fought to a large extent to build up British morale and prestige in a last chance to win a major battle without the American army helping...
  • The Night of Taranto during World War II. Before it, the mere threat of the Italian battlefleet stationed at Taranto was making the Royal Navy cower. After a carrier attack neutralized half of the Italian battleships (including the newly completed Littorio, the most powerful battleship in Europe, damaged and neutralized for five months), the balance of power was firmly into British hands, and the Italians never managed to win a decisive engagement.
    • Incredibly and unbelievably Subverted in the Italian revenge for that, the Raid on Alexandria, in which six frogmen with three manned torpedoes penetrated Alexandria's harbour and sank two battleships and damaged a tanker (plus a destroyer by accident: it was too close to the tanker when the mine placed on it by the frogmen exploded). In theory the Mediterranean Fleet had been neutralized, and the Italians were free to dominate the Mediterranean Sea until the battleships could be repaired or replaced... Except the Italian high command failed to find out: the frogmen had been all captured before they could report their success, and the British immediately raised the battleships (sank in shallow waters) and patched them up enough that air recon believed they had not been damaged. While the raid did mark the start of six months of Axis victories in the Mediterranean, had the Italians known of it nobody knows what they would have done.
  • For the U-Boat Service, May 1943 became known as "Black May" when 41 submarines, a full quarter of the operational U-boat fleet, were destroyed. While the "Happy Times" had long since passed, and the British no longer made the same mistakes, this marked the decisive shift in the Battle of the Atlantic. The industrial and intellectual powerhouse of the United States was brought into full force, with ships being built faster than they could be sunk and U-boats being sunk faster than they could be built. All remaining U-boats retreated to their bases in France, and the Kriegsmarine immediately began outfitting all boats with the latest technology to improve operations. However, the loss of so many experienced crews already deeply impacted the force's morale, with crews wondering why they bothered venturing out anymore. Even flotilla commanders started to tell departing boats "Never mind sinking ships. Just come back, please."
  • The summer of 1944 effectively sealed Germany's defeat. First came the D-Day invasions, when American, British, and Canadian troops landed on the coast of Normandy. The short-sighted micromanagement of the German Army by Hitler caused vital Panzer divisions to not be moved to the battle, allowing the Allies to establish a firm beachhead that soon became impossible to dislodge. A few weeks later, the Soviets launched Operation Bagration, which smashed the Wehrmacht's Army Group Center in Poland and wiped out divisions that Germany could no longer replace. These simultaneous battles shattered German morale, leading them to realize that defeat was inevitable.
    • The Battle of the Bulge was Hitler's final offensive against the Western Front, an attempt to divide the forces of the Americans, the British and the French in the Ardennes region of Belgium, an effort that ended in failure as the combined forces of the Western Allies broke what was left of the back of the Nazi war machine.

Vietnam War

  • In the prelude to the US involvement in Southeast Asia, the French attempted to reclaim control of their colonies in the area after World War II ended. Unfortunately their shockingly fast defeat against Germany early in the war shattered the illusion that the French military was invincible, and emboldened Ho Chi Minh's resolve to kick them out of Vietnam as well. Though the French managed to remain in control for a few years, their defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu marked the end of French control of the region. For the French military, it was such a major blow after World War II, that they overcompensated in the Algerian crisis and resorted to extra-brutal measures to prove they, a major European great power, won't suffer defeat from weak nations again.
  • Vietnam was the greatest military quagmire in United States history.
    • Within the war itself, the Tet Offensive can be considered this. The Vietcong attacked many cities simultaneously, notably claiming the US Embassy in Saigon. This was a major hit to the vision of American strength and hit their morale deeply, especially as nightly TV news had shown repeated US victories over the Vietcong militarily speaking. In reality, the Vietcong suffered heavier losses than the American troops and the attack itself devastated the Vietcong's ability to operate to such an extent the North Vietnamese Army took over operations in South Vietnam, but in terms of perception this drastically swayed the war in their favour.
      • It was one of a few times when a major victory for a country (the US) was treated as a defeat. The fact that the US had beaten the Vietnamese very, very badly during the Tet Offensive was secondary to the fact that the unpopular war was still going on and that the offensive convinced Americans that the war would continue for years at that point. The media did the military no favors in its reporting on the war, and this reporting helped to shape US public opinion. The lesson was not lost on the military, and all US wars since then have had considerably tighter control over what reporters can show.

Other Wars

  • The Spanish-American War served as this for Spain. The Spanish Empire had already been in decline for the last century or so, but the loss of the last remnants of their once-great empire came as a profound shock. This sparked the rise of the Generation of '98, a philosophical and artistic reevaluation of Spanish society.
  • The Six-Day War was this for the Arab world. Not only had several invading armies been beaten by the Israelis, but Israel ended up in control of eastern Jerusalem (with the holy sites sacred to all the Abrahamic religions), the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula. The fact that a small, outnumbered, and surrounded country could do this was considered a disaster by the Arabs. However, in the 1973 war, the Arabs (especially Egypt) gave a better account of themselves; while the Israelis managed to maneuver themselves into superior positions during the late stages, it could no longer inflict another catastrophe as the Six-Day War on their enemies, lessening the legacy of that defeat. Israel eventually returned the Sinai Peninsula back to Egypt, though it still keeps the other areas.
    • In the longer term, the Six-Day War has had a major repercussion on the Arab world's position regarding Palestine. Before the war, the Arab world was relatively united in its support of Palestine, thanks mainly to the efforts of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Afterwards, the support is more lukewarm, especially those from the wealthy Gulf Arab countries, which began to see the whole matter as a lost cause and frankly worthless (on account of the conflict's remoteness from their perspective and their interests lying more on trading with fellow rich countries than politics). A few countries even decided to make peace with Israel and exchanged ambassadors, something that would've been unthinkable before the Six-Day War.

Politics

  • Despite being First Lady of the United States from 1993 to 2001, Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013, and the first female candidate to ever win the presidential nomination of a major political party, Hillary Clinton will most likely be remembered for losing two presidential elections that she was heavily favored to win. Widely viewed as the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination in 2008, she lost a bitterly contested primary to then-Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, who went on to win the general election by seven points. She did win the nomination in 2016 despite an unexpected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and went on to face upstart businessman Donald Trump in that year's general election. While polls were somewhat volatile throughout the fall, a Clinton victory was almost universally expected. On election night, however, Trump won several swing states and defeated Clinton in the Electoral College to win the presidency. In a crippling (or hilarious, depending on your perspective) side note, she DID win the popular vote in both contests, but her inefficient delegate structure in both the 2008 primary and the 2016 Electoral College locked her out of the prize both times. As a result of these consecutive losses, Clinton's future as a major political figure was near-completely destroyed even among her supporters. Most political analysts nowadays have abandoned the prospect of her running again, and even if she did attempt another presidential campaign, it's highly unlikely she'd get anywhere near as far as in 2008, much less 2016. Her defeat as a relatively moderate Democrat in the general election also meant that support for further-left candidates like Sanders was only galvanized among younger, left-wing Americans.
  • The classical liberal / libertarian / liberal FDP had been in every German Bundestag since 1949 and a part of all governing coalitions from 1969 to 1998 (plus several between 1949 and 1966 as well as 2009 to 2013) so it came as a political earthquake when they failed to make it back into federal parliament in the 2013 elections, especially since they had had their best result in party history just four years prior and no party that lost federal representation once has ever made it back. The party basically retooled itself from a "tax cuts tax cuts tax cuts" party into one laying more focus on societal liberalism and party leader Christian Lindner. While their 2017 electoral results were impressive, some observers say that Lindner's theatralic gesture in letting coalition talks fail with the words "It's better to not govern at all than to govern badly" were seen as both lingering effects of their 2013 shellacking and a possible trigger for a further humiliation at the polls. Time will tell whether Lindner and his party drew the right conclusions.
  • The UK has the Portillo moment from the 1997 general election, when Conservative MP and outgoing Defence Secretary Michael Portillo, widely tipped as THE frontrunner for leadership of the Conservative Party after their inevitable loss, unexpectedly lost his seat of Enfield Southgate to Stephen Twigg, a relative political nobody. The defeat all-but-killed Portillo's political career - he would only run for the Tory leadership once, in 2001, and be eliminated on the third ballot, before retiring from politics in 2005. To this day, "Portillo moment" is used as a shorthand for shocking defeats of Cabinet ministers or other high-profile party figures, which Portillo himself lampshaded, saying "My name is now synonymous with eating a bucketload of shit in public."
  • While British prime minister David Cameron had long been a contentious figure, especially among the British left, the "leave" verdict of the 2016 Brexit referendum destroyed his standing among his supporters and shredded up all hopes of maintaining his goodwill among the British right. Cameron had opened the referendum as a publicity stunt and fully expected it to end in favor of Britain staying in the European Union; however, his failure to properly acknowledge growing discontent with the EU among right-wing Britons in light of the Euro crisis and the Union's controversial handling of the then-ongoing migrant crisis caused his shock at the "leave" verdict to make him look oblivious to crucial matters of international politics, resulting in Cameron ignobly stepping down as Prime Minister and being replaced with Theresa May. Cameron's public embarrassment has since acted as an albatross around the neck of the United Kingdom as a whole, with the country's government earning ridicule from residents of other countries for just how tits-up the whole affair went, and May's four-year futile attempt at securing a "soft Brexit" before her own resignation only exacerbated the issue, with both left-wing and right-wing critics viewing May's attempts at a compromise as spineless (among the left for not rescinding the referendum's verdict and among the right for not pushing it forward).

Entertainment

  • The market victory of the PlayStation over the Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn acted as a crushing and long-lasting humbling of both of Sony's competitors in the fifth generation console war.
    • Prior to Sony's entrance into the race, Nintendo and Sega were the two biggest names in gaming, with the 16-bit battle between the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis becoming to children what post-LBJ politics were to adults. However, when Sony managed to put out what would ultimately become the second-best-selling game console of all time against Nintendo and Sega, what were once the juggernauts of gaming in the early 90's became laughing stocks among the majority of gaming audiences, with Nintendo losing their dominance of the console market and having their reputation as a "kiddie company" galvanized, resulting in them having to prove that they could be shamelessly appealing to audiences beyond just kids even after the Wii and Nintendo Switch regained their footing in the home console race (the Wii U between them being an outright flop certainly didn't help), to say nothing of their continuing dominance in the handheld market. No matter how much they succeed nowadays, Nintendo will always be seen by a large contingency of gamers— including much of their own audience— as a bunch of out-of-touch boomers thanks to their loss against Sony in the late 90's, and their continuing poor grasp on online gaming and keeping older titles available only worsens matters.
    • Sega in particular was utterly curbstomped by Sony in the late 90's as a result of their own downright terrible technical and marketing decisions regarding the Saturn, which became something of a pariah outside of its native Japan and exacerbated the financial losses Sega was already suffering as a result of the Sega CD and 32X's market under-performance. By the time Sega released the Sega Dreamcast in 1998, they had acquired so much debt that there was no way they could realistically recoup it all, and the heavy overshadowing of their sixth gen system by the mere announcement of the PlayStation 2 left the writing on the wall: Sega would unceremoniously step down from hardware manufacturing in 2001, becoming a software-only third party developer for their former rivals, destroying any last shred of prestige they had in the industry.
  • For the Disney Animated Canon, this falls to the opening weekend of The Black Cauldron—the film had a massively Troubled Production and would have needed to do insanely well just to make its 44-million-dollar budget back, but instead, it became a Box Office Bomb that grossed less than half that. The moment that turned it into a truly shocking loss was that The Care Bears Movie, released the same year by a much smaller studio that spent less than a tenth the budget, slightly outgrossed it. The first time that Disney was actually beaten by a competing animated film, and it was Care Bears. The resulting restructuring was what allowed Jeffrey Katzenberg to take the helm, and ultimately led into the Disney Renaissance.

    Sports 
  • The 2004 Dream Team during the 2004 Olympic Games, who were soundly beaten by... Puerto Rico and Lithuania (the latter of whom came close to beating the squad 4 years prior!). And then, worse yet, were trumpled in the semifinals to Argentina, breaking a streak of three straight gold medals with NBA players. The media refused to let American basketball players forget, until they got it together for the Redeem Team run in 2008.
  • The 2007 New England Patriots are best remembered for being undefeated heading into the Super Bowl, only the second NFL team in the Super Bowl era to go undefeated until the championship game. Unfortunately for them, they lost the game to the massive underdog New York Giants.
    • New Yorkers proudly dubbed this season as "18 wins and one GIANT loss!"
  • The Miami Heat, led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, ran roughshod through the Eastern Conference in the 2011 playoffs, defeating even the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls in five games apiece. Entering the Finals against Dallas, the Heat led the series 2-1... before losing the next three games to the Mavericks. It especially stings when you consider LeBron saying that he'd win multiple championships with Wade and Bosh. The media, the fans and the internet never let the Heat live it down after that, and the loss was haunting enough that it sent LeBron past the Despair Event Horizon. (he lead the Heat to the title the following year winning basically every award in the process, but the legacy remains because he left Cleveland solely to finally get a title, only to fail again with a better team)
    • It didn't help that the Heat seemed on the cusp of seizing victory for the series in both Game 2 (which would have severely crippled Dallas' morale) and Game 4, only for Lebron to get a little presumptuous by celebrating with Wade next to the Dallas bench in Game 2, leading to the miracle comeback that was led by Dallas superstar Dirk Nowitzki. From there, the Finals were a hard-fought battle to the finish.
  • Speaking of Cleveland, their teams have plenty of this, helped by the fact that most of their notable defeats can be summed up with a single phrase (The Shot, The Fumble, The Drive, Red Right 88, The Slip). Two were even off-field: The Move, where the Browns were moved overnight to Baltimore (to add insult to injury, the renamed Baltimore Ravens would win their first Super Bowl just 5 years later, a victory that Browns fans still believe should rightfully have been theirs); and The Decision, where LeBron announced his departure.
  • The 2016 NBA playoffs had two involving the Golden State Warriors: the Western Finals where in spite of the Oklahoma City Thunder opening 3-2, the "Dubs" still won the series (leading Kevin Durant to bail them for those same Warriors in search of a championship ring, reducing the Thunder from a title contender to just a good team); and the finals themselves, where in spite of opening a 3-1 advantage over the same Cleveland Cavaliers they beat the previous year, suffered an epic comeback by the LeBron James-led Cavs (like the Patriots case above, a record-breaking 73 win regular season came to naught as it didn't result in a title).
  • The World Cup has at least three finals, 1950 (Brazil loses to Uruguay at home; 5 titles later, it's still a sore point), 1954 (Dark Horse Victory of Germany over the heavily-favored Hungary) and 1974 (Dark Horse Victory of Germany over the heavily-favored Netherlands... though not as unexpected as the previous one).
    • Previously, both the previous World Cup's champion and the host country of the upcoming World Cup were given automatic spots in the upcoming World Cup. Then France, winners of the 1998 World Cup, turned in an atrocious performance in 2002, earning only one draw in three group games and failing to score a single goal. Since 2006, only the host country gets a free pass.
    • 1954 had another consequence for Hungary, which went from one of the dominant football powers on earth to an afterthought, virtually overnight (didn't help that 2 years later, an uprising made some of their best players leave the country).
    • In 2014, Brazil is the host nation, their first home tournament since their 1950 defeat (itself already a Shocking Defeat Legacy). With their new superstar in Neymar, Brazil was the heavy favorites for the World Cup - although it was nip and tuck a lot of the way. They made it to the semifinals, but they had lost Neymar to a tournament-ending injury, along with defender\captain Thiago Silva to yellow cards accumulation. As a result, Brazil gets utterly humiliated by Germany with a score of 7-1 in front of their own native fans, which is both Germany's greatest margin of victory and Brazil's greatest margin of defeat, as well as one of the most lopsided games in World Cup history. While Germany would go on to win the final against Argentina, Brazil would have to settle for a third place match against the Dutch... only to lose yet again 0-3. This will not ever leave Brazil's consciousness for quite some time. To the point it reached Memetic Mutation, with subsequent bad performances of the national team (or the country itself) having Brazilians react with "Germany goal!" and "7-1 wasn't enough!".
  • The Boston Red Sox emassed quite some in their 86-year drought. The Chicago Cubs's one also deserves mention.
    • Now that the Cubs have finally won their first series in 108 years, the title for longest drought in baseball now goes to the Cleveland Indians, who lost the title against the Cubs.
  • For most of The '80s and the first half of The '90s the New York Yankees were in a Dork Age (relatively speaking for a franchise now with 27 World Series championships), having not made the postseason between 1982 and 1993note . In the '95 season they made it as the AL Wild Card and seized a 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 series against the Seattle Mariners before dropping Games 3, 4, and 5 at the Kingdome, the latter on a 2-run double in the bottom of the 11th inning. With a tempermental owner in George Steinbrenner, the Yankees brought about large changes to the starting roster both from within (promoting Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera up to the starting lineup) and without (trading for, among others, Tino Martinez, who was a member of those '95 Mariners), as well as firing manager Buck Showalter and replacing him with Joe Torre. With a new core in place, the Yankees would win four of the next five World Series.
  • Bill Simmons wrote a couple of articles about the Levels of Losing (first article from 2002, second one from 2007 following the New York Mets' September collapse in the NL East), with Level 1 being reserved as the sole domain of "That Game" (Game 6 of the 1986 World Series). Then the Brett Favre-led Minnesota Vikings choked away the 2010 NFC Championship Game to the New Orleans Saints (the batch of emails in the article conveys quite nicely the devastation on Vikings fans' psyche), and Simmons went back and made a list of tortured teams eligible for a loss of that magnitude.note 
  • During the early 90s, the Buffalo Bills were the best AFC football team in the NFL and went to four straight Super Bowls, only to lose them all. But it's the first Super Bowl loss that people remember the most. Buffalo had their full arsenal with Jim Kelly, one of the best quarterbacks of the 90s leading his team. Their opponents, the New York Giants, were a weaker team on paper and they were led by their backup quarterback, Jeff Hostetler, who was at the end of his long career. What should have been a sure win for the Buffalo Bills, turned out to be a close, competitive game that ended in one of the most unforgettable, heartbreaking, field goal kick misses in NFL history, known as "Wide Right".
  • 1.FC Nürnberg was one of the finest teams in German soccer and could at least at times hold its own on the European stage for most of the time between 1920 and 1968. They amassed 9 national titles in a time when noone could even get close to that number (FC Bayern would not get to that number until the 1980s). Then came the season after the ninth championship - they were relegated as reigning champions. Incidentally FC Bayern also won its second ever championship (after a 1932 fluke). Sure, Nuremberg was both by the paper form of its roster and by some measurables the best ever team to be relegated, but it took them ten years to come back to the first division and they haven't recovered since. And when it finally seemed they could catch a break by winning the DFB-Cup in 2007 they naturally got relegated the following year. There is only one German soccer team club that has managed to get relegated as either reigning champion or reigning cup winner. Nuremberg is that team.
  • Donovan McNabb was the best quarterback in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles franchise by almost every statistical measure. He holds the records for regular-season and postseason wins for the Eagles, as well as several other passing records. Despite his success in these areas, he is mostly remembered in Philadelphia for going 1-4 in the NFC finals, with three of those losses coming in games he was favored to win. Salt was rubbed in the wound in 2018 when the Eagles won their first Super Bowl with their backup quarterback, magnifying McNabb's struggles and helping to further cement his legacy as a quarterback who came up short in big games.
  • Wrestler Dan Gable had an incredible college career, going undefeated until the NCAA finals his senior year when he lost his last college match to Larry Owings. This defeat would motivate Gable to a tremendous post-college career, including a 1972 Olympic Gold Medal (where he dominated his bracket, not allowing a single point) and a superlative coaching run at the University of Iowa that saw his teams win an amazing 15 national championships.
  • Throughout the mid-2010s, the University of Virginia men's basketball team became infamous for dominant regular season performances, only to fizzle out during the NCAA tournament. The nadir was in 2018, when they became the first 1-seed to ever lose to a 16-seed; not even a close loss, but a twenty-point blowout to the University of Maryland–Baltimore County. But just one year later, Virginia went to their first Final Four in thirty-five years, then capped it off with their first ever championship victory.
  • Australian Rules Football
    • For the 2017 Australian Football League Grand Final, the Adelaide Crows were heavy contenders for the premiership, but were defeated by a 48-point margin by the Richmond Tigers, who had not won a Grand Final since 1980. This causes a turning point for both teams, with Richmond making the finals again over the next three years, and winning two more premierships, in 2019 against Greater Western Sydney, and in 2020 against Geelong. Adelaide never got over their loss, leading to a very poor performance in the following three seasons that ended with their first-ever wooden spoon in 2020useful notes .
    • Collingwood's "Colliwobbles" between 1958 and 1990, in which they lost eight consecutive Grand Finals, including some particularly famous ones — 1966, where St Kilda won their only premiership by a single point, 1970, where Carlton came back from 44 points down at half time to win, and the drawn grand final in 1977 against North Melbourne, where North won the replay.


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