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Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder

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Eastwood: You're saying it's our team's uniqueness that makes us so effective.
Simmons: No, I'm saying you have a seemingly endless reserve of sheer dumb luck, and I want to capitalise on it.

A close relative of Reassignment Backfire, except this turns out rather well for the superiors. This is when your Ragtag Bunch of Misfits are a bunch of assholes or at least out of favour with high command, and their superiors are clearly deliberate in sending them off to their certain demises. The problem is that, through sheer luck, ruthlessness, or actual competence and skill, they keep returning, sometimes even accomplishing the impossible missions.

However, rather than get worried for their jobs, the superiors are actually quite pleased. Now they've got Cannon Fodder who are actually likely to get the job done, but whom no one is going to miss if they don't come back! Often the mark of very cunning superiors.

Sub-Trope of We Do the Impossible. Contrast Elite Mooks, who are actually intended to be elite, as well as One Riot, One Ranger and Elites Are More Glamorous, where the superiors send out someone who is meant to be elite from the start.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Area 88 has many examples of this. The Area 88 mercenaries are meant to fly highly dangerous missions to take pressure off regular Asran forces, as Bowman observes in the OVA. Since many of the mercenaries are veteran soldiers, they're very good at warfare.
  • Berserk:
    • The Band of the Hawk fills this role for the Kingdom of Midland. When the nobles in the army object to Griffith's proposal to recapture Doldrey with only his own tiny band of misfits despite the number of elite troops Midland has already lost, Sir Laban points out that they have nothing to lose if Griffith bears the risk alone, and that the country will benefit if he pulls another miracle.
    • In a flashback to Gut's childhood in volume 37, Gambino is shown tricking fresh recruits in his mercenary army into going on a suicidal charge in order to bait enemy archers into firing and revealing their positions. His adopted son, Guts, was no different, except that he made it back. Not missing a beat, he turns it into An Aesop about not trusting anybody.
  • The Organization in Claymore has a standard practice of sending the warriors they deem unreliable actually, all who come close to Awakening on Suicide Missions, yet some like Miria and Clare manage to survive against all odds, resulting in a win-win for the Organization. This did eventually end in the Battle of Pieta, where all current undesirables are rounded up in one place and massacred to hold off an army of Awakened Beings until they could scramble to deploy their real weapon, which they did. Pieta, however, backfired again: seven Claymores survived and deserted, but until that point it had been quite nice for them.
  • Played for Drama in Deadman Wonderland. Yoh sends Shiro to attack the operations center as a distraction while he sneaks in through the sewers, fully expecting her to die. Then the operations center explodes. And bodies start raining from the sky. And he sees Shiro standing there, grinning.
  • Gundam:
    • Mobile Suit Gundam: At one point, the main characters wonder if General Revill sees them as this, since despite making sure they get resupplied even in enemy territory he also keeps sending them into the most dangerous battle zones. It's not hard to see why, though: despite being made up mostly of civilians forced into combat, by that point of the story the crew of the White Base have not only repelled the dreaded Red Comet Char Aznable on multiple occasions, they also managed to ambush and kill Garma Zabi, the supreme commander of Zeon's Earth Invasion force.
    • An episode of Gundam Wing had a disillusioned Zechs pair up with a pair of asshole soldiers to take out a few of the remaining Earth Sphere Alliance strongholds. The pair assign Zechs to make a very visible attack on the base's main defense (a large beam cannon), figuring that Zechs's conspicuous new mobile suit and high-profile reputation will make him a ripe target. Meanwhile they'll be free to sneak in unnoticed and take out the base themselves. Unfortunately, they greatly underestimated Zechs' skills, and failed to realize that the "conspicuous new mobile suit" was the Tallgeese. Zechs not only survived the encounter but is in perfect shape to fight when he discovers his partners killing soldiers who have already surrendered, and proceeds to deal with the situation accordingly.
  • Thorfinn serves as a one-man example in Vinland Saga. Askeladd, the commander he serves under, doesn't really care whether Thorfinn lives or dies (Thorfinn's honour won't let him leave Askeladd's band until he's killed the latter in a Duel to the Death) and thus he throws the younger man Straight for the Commander or uses him for other dangerous tasks like message-delivery to an unreliable ally or retrieving a hostage from a forest fire, using the promise of a duel to motivate Thorfinn. Thorfinn, on his end, despises Askeladd and is only too happy to stay alive out of spite until he's killed him.

    Comic Books 
  • During the '80s the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants was retooled into "Freedom Force", a team that was basically Marvel's answer to the Suicide Squad.
  • Marvel Comics had Combat Kelly and His Deadly Dozen, which was heavily inspired by The Dirty Dozen.
  • The basic set-up for "Hunter's Hellcats" in Our Fighting Forces from DC Comics. The Hellcats were a group of convicted felons sent on dangerous missions behind enemy lines during WWII.
  • The main premise of Suicide Squad. The entire group are expendable criminals sent on missions which are... well, suicidal.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Dirty Dozen: The basic premise was taking a group of twelve Death Row prisoners, training them for a mission and sending them to certain death to infiltrate a Nazi hideout in exchange for full pardons. Winning gives the Army a big war victory; losing just saves them execution costs. They win, but only one of the dozen actually makes it back to get his pardon, not counting the two commanding officers.
  • Down Periscope: The crew of the USS Stingray are assigned to be the aggressors in a naval exercise meant to determine if diesel submarines could be a threat to the US Navy, going up against modern nuclear attack subs. In addition to the entire crew up to Lt. Commander Dodge himself being a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, the Stingray herself is a World War II era diesel submarine, rather than a modern (and much stealthier) Diesel-Electric boat. It is worth noting that at least one key admiral considers the exercise a waste of time, and stack the deck for the Stingray to fail. With a bit of assistance from another admiral taking the whole thing more seriously, and a lot of Crazy Enough to Work shenanigans, they succeed in slipping past the nuke boats long enough to lay in their simulated attack.
  • What The Squad of Boxed Crooks, and especially their commander Tung Ming-sun (Sammo Hung), turn out to be in Eastern Condors. Originally sent in as a disposable distraction to cover a special ops raid, the squad are Trapped Behind Enemy Lines with little in the way of equipment when the special ops team is destroyed. With no other means of extraction, the team takes on the mission the special ops team was supposed to undertake and succeeds, although not without casualties.
  • In Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Lark who was later revealed to be a decoy, not the real Lark, and thus ultimately a nobody put up one hell of a fight against Ethan and Walker in the bathroom fight scene and would have been able to kill Ethan if Ilsa had not stepped in.
  • In the backstory to Star Trek: Nemesis, the Romulans create a clone of Picard for infiltration purposes, but abandon the project when a new government takes power. The clone is left to die amongst Remans, whom the Romulans used as cannon fodder during the Dominion War. This human clone led over a dozen successful engagements, overthrows the Romulan empire and cripples the Enterprise.
  • xXx: Xander has been chosen by the NSA to be their agent to infiltrated Anarchy 99, because he's a Genius Bruiser, he blends well with the people in it, and is considered expendable. But he later gets the job done, and stops them from initiating their plan.

  • In Belisarius Series Damadora's Rajput Army was assigned to a diversionary task. In the process it became the best army in the Malwa service and made Damadora The Emperor. However, the Rajputs are already among the Malwa empire’s finest soldiers — the problem is that Malwa’s rulers don’t trust them, and so keep them at the fringes and/or assigned to the worst missions.
  • Discworld: Rincewind gains this status in Interesting Times, when Archchancellor Ridcully notes that while he is constantly getting into life-threatening situations, he has quite the knack for surviving them.
    • The Watch are always a Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits, but they are also this trope in Guards! Guards!. With the rise of the self-regulating Guilds as the new power players in Akkh-Morpork, Lord Vetinari has deliberately allowed the Watch to dwindle down to a few no-hopers commanded by a drunk, so they don't cause trouble. The arrival of Carrot kicks some life back into the squad, and by the end of the book they have saved the city from a rampaging dragon.
  • At the end of Harry Potter, Harry begins to think of himself as this, after learning of Dumbledore's manipulative plans. Whether or not this was the truth is up in the air.
    ''Of course there had been a bigger plan; Harry had simply been too foolish to see it, he realized that now. He had never questioned his own assumption that Dumbledore wanted him alive. Now he saw that his lifespan had always been determined by how long it took to eliminate all the Horcruxes. Dumbledore had passed off destroying them to him, and obediently he had continued to chip away at the bonds tying not only Voldemort, but himself, to life. How neat, how elegant, not to waste any more lives, but to give the dangerous task to the boy who had already been marked for slaughter, and whose death would not be a calamity, but another blow against Voldemort.
    • Dumbledore was not available for questioning during the climactic moment, but his behaviour both before and after suggests he hoped and intended for the individual in question to survive, but would have considered it an acceptable loss to defeat Voldemort.
  • Andrei Livadny's The History of the Galaxy: In Serv-Battalion, an Earth Alliance admiral uses a unit of serv-machines as an extremely expensive diversion to capture a powerful Colonial flagship and its Wave-Motion Gun. The rookie pilots' training in simulations gives them a surprising edge and they inflict great damage on the enemy, but die anyway when the flagship takes the bait and bombs them. The serv-machines' AI modules do take on fragments of the pilots' personalities and survive the battles, however.
  • Honor Harrington: Klaus Hauptman knowingly invokes this trope in Honor Among Enemies. He convinces the Royal Manticoran Navy to offer Honor Harrington, a major thorn in his side, a return to RMN service as senior captain of a Q-ship squadron in Silesia fighting pirates (who happened to be threatening his shipping). He figures either she'll succeed and protect his interests, or she'll fail and likely be killed while doing it.
  • The Jackson Lamb books veer into this. The "Slow Horses" are incompetent, inconvenient or otherwise unwanted MI5 agents who've been reassigned to Lamb’s team at Slough House. They occasionally get drawn back into active duty, though - and in some of those cases they’re clearly seen as expendable. More than a couple of them get killed over the course of the series.
  • In The Shahnameh, Rostam frequently becomes this. Despite outliving generations upon generations of royalty and proving himself the most powerful warrior in the East, he still carries out missions or new kings well into his four hundredth year, right up until the day of his death. Admittedly, he is more frequently tasked with mentoring kings' offspring after a few hundred years, but the fact remains that he dies in combat.
  • Some examples from the Warhammer 40,000 Expanded Universe:
    • Odd example in Ciaphas Cain in that the superiors may be completely innocent, but Colonel Mostrue often seems a bit too quick to call in artillery strikes close to where Cain is stationed during Cain's time with the artillery unit, and also frequently gets Cain sent off into dangerous situations. Cain suspects that Mostrue is aware of the fact that his first great triumph was really just a desperate attempt to get to safety and abandon the battery to its fate, but whatever Mostrue's intentions, Cain's repeated survival of adverse circumstances only adds to the double-edged sword which is his reputation.
    • Played completely straight in the Gaunt's Ghosts novels, however. Colonel-Commissar Gaunt has made his fair share of enemies in the higher echelons of Imperial command, and many go out of their way to find ways to kill him and his Ghosts off.
    • This is the entire point of the 13th Penal Legion. In the first book, Colonel Schaefer starts with a legion of four-thousand troopers, the scum of the Imperial Guard. Two years later, he's got a 'legion' of 8 soldiers and they can do things even a Space Marine cannot.
    • Subverted horribly in Fire Caste. The Arkhan Confederates succeed where countless other Guard battalions have failed, routing legions of turncoats and aliens, eventually pushing the Tau back to their base of operations, "The Diadem". This is the exact opposite of what the Sky Marshal wanted. The planet is meant to be the site of a Forever War where problematic Guard regiments are sent as an unofficial form of mass execution. The Arkhans turning out to be Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder does not benefit the Marshal at all.

  • Savoyard march song Gironfla, where the King of Savoy musters himself an army of 80 halberd-armed peasants, 4 cast iron guns and baggage train of 20 donkeys, puts a twenty-year old Ensign Newbie Cristopho de Carignan to lead it - and wins the French army sent against it. The song is based on Real Life historical events.

    Myths & Religion 

    Tabletop Games 
  • The "Penal Legion" regimental option for Only War has this as the implicit expectation: you play a squad of troops in a regiment assembled from people who were sentenced of some crime, but whose skills were too useful (or for whom death would be too quick and painless to truly be recompense for their sin) to simply be subject to summary execution. Thusly they're given just enough gear, intel and support to successfully complete a Suicide Mission, emphasis on the suicide. Ostensibly, any PC surviving the first mission should probably be pardoned, but this being the unfair galaxy that is Warhammer 40K, you're more likely to just get shipped off to a slightly different meat-grinder.
  • This is pretty much the goal of a new party in Shadowrun: the Player Characters are specifically deniable assets, disavowed should they be captured, and oftentimes the Johnsons in question are specifically trying to get them killed somehow anyway. (Never trust a Johnson, especially if they also happen to be a dragon.) After a few good missions, they grow to be respected, if not feared, though the folks hiring them will often still send them on suicide missions.

    Video Games 
  • Ace Combat:
    • The Player Character in Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War starts off as this - his first true famous action in the war is getting sent out over the "Round Table" without any support beyond his wingman, as nothing more than a distraction while the main attack commences elsewhere, and defeating an elite squad of Belkan aces anyway. Come the end of the game, he has near single handedly obliterated the best the Belkan Air Force and the defectors to the cosmopolitanist terror organization A World With No Borders from both sides of the war, including his former wingman has to offer and essentially won the war single handedly.
    • Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown has player character Trigger assigned to a penal squadron. Despite flying clapped-out rustbucket planes only barely flying in an attempt to confuse the enemy and act as decoys, Spare Squadron (read: mostly Trigger) deliver some of the most decisive blows of the war. It turns out Trigger was falsely convicted and his extreme performance gets the penal squadron pardoned, with him and the second best in the group, Count, being transferred to a special forces wing where the trope no longer applies. Trigger goes on to destroy a rogue super submarine attempting to desrtoy Osea's capital nuclear weapons, something on the order of two massive fleets, several ground divisions and multiple air armadas, becomes the only person to shootdown possibly the only person who was better than the previous games protagonists and destroys two super drones in a Zeroth Law Rebellion.
  • Battlefield: Bad Company. This is the entire premise of the eponymous B Company. Command keeps sending them on Suicide Missions, they keep succeeding and surviving, so much so that in Bad Company 2, they are treated as super-elite soldiers despite not actually being such, who are sent in before actual Spec Ops units. Well, they already were, but for different reasons.
    Sarge: An important harbor. The Army's launching an offensive and we're gonna be the first ones in.
    Sweetwater: Haven't they got specially trained guys for that?
    Sarge: We're going in before them. They're too expensive to waste.
  • Dark Souls III: Gael is an old undead who used to serve as a Slave Knight, an expendable servant used as respawning cannon fodder in countless wars. Most Slave Knights were driven to madness by their never-ending duty, but Gael kept his sanity and has outlived his masters by what is implied to be millennia. He can be summoned for two battles in which the Ashen One is outnumbered and can stand his ground rather well. He also guides the Ashen One through the Dreg Heap, leaving messages that point out places where you can survive the long falls throughout the area, and at the end of the Ringed City he devours the blood of the Pygmy Lords for their Dark Souls, becoming the incarnation of the very Dark Soul itself.
  • The Arbiter rank from Halo plays with this. Basically, a highly decorated Elite who nevertheless has somehow managed to disgrace himself (or simply been unfortunate enough to be seen by the Prophets as a potential threat to their power) will sometimes be granted the title and sent on a highly important, if suicidal, mission, giving the Prophets a way to execute him for his crimes while making him do something useful in the meantime; if he lives, well, there are always more suicide missions that need to be done. Indeed, despite the nature of the rank, Arbiters are generally highly respected within the Covenant (given that they are usually selected from the best and brightest Elites), with the authority to command entire fleets if need be. However, in the case of Thel 'Vadam, the current Arbiter, he's just too badass to die, so the Prophets finally order Tartarus to just murder him after he successfully retrieves the Index (as part of their greater plan to wipe out all the Elites). This still doesn't work.
    Prophet of Mercy: The tasks you will undertake as the Arbiter are perilous, suicidal! You will die, as each Arbiter has before you! The Council will have their corpse.
    • This is the purpose of the SPARTAN-IIIs, or at least the Alpha and Beta companies of them. Unlike their predecessors, who were turned into Super Soldiers, the IIIs were turned into enhanced but disposable soldiers, meant to be spent on a single key mission. A number of them were later revealed to have survived their suicide missions, as well as there being a whole third company of SPARTAN-IIIs used as more standard super soldiers, of which some three hundred survived the war.
    • Halo Wars 2 reveals that the Covenant used one tribe of Brutes as cannon fodder, sending them into impossible situations to soften up human fortifications before the real attack. The problem was, one of them kept coming back, no matter how many times they tried to get him killed, even after ordering one of his own men to assassinate him. This Brute was the new Big Bad Atriox, and not only did this make him a cult hero to the other Brutes, it also made him hate the Covenant. When they tried to execute him to stop him from becoming a threat, he grabbed the energy sword that was supposed to kill him and slaughtered his executioners, founding the Banished as a new faction.
  • Happens in Jak II: Renegade during the first act of the game. Justified, since Jak (and Daxter) just joined La Résistance who regards him as lowly expendable grunt, and sends him to various dangerous missions that need to be done but that they'd rather not waste core members on. One mission then grants you the privilege of meeting with the leader of the rebels. After that, Jak is still sent on dangerous missions that need to be done, but now it's because he's guaranteed to get the job done. In the sequel this is more or less repeated due to the change of the setting with the new characters requiring you to earn their trust, and once you return to Haven City and reunite with your former allies, they treat you as the elite member you've become in the previous game.
  • In Starcraft II Dominion Troopers are the prime example of this. Despite their cheapness, lack of health, and initially unimpressive combat power, Troopers can construct defensive structures on the fly at breakneck speeds and be upgraded with much better weapons. Troopers can also turn into Dominion Laborers, Mengsk's basic worker units, via the "Call to Labor" ability so that they assist with resource gathering and base building. When necessary, the player can switch Laborers back into Troopers with the "Call to Arms" ability. A "Forced Conscription" calldown ability grants additional Dominion Troopers inside an extra Supply Bunker, which a Mengsk player can exploit alongside "Call to Labor" to clear out and saturate resource expansions in record time for an extremely early economic boost. Dominion Troopers/Laborers can also make artillery emplacements that they can enter to shoot across the entire map, meaning they have a way to attack with no return fire. As such Dominion Troopers have one of the highest kills-to-death ratios in the game, and it is possible to never lose a Trooper when going with massed artillery strategies - highly ironic considering they were designed to be thrown at the enemy in borderline suicidal human wave attacks.
  • This is the entire premise of Star Wars: Battlefront II, where you play as the 501st Legion, which "has a history of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat." They grow out of it though: By the end of the Clone Wars, the 501 is easily the most effective non-special forces unit in the entire GAR, serving as Darth Vader's own unit until they were disbanded following Vader and the Emperor's death in the Legends continuity.
    • In truth, this is the role of the Imperial Stormtrooper altogether in the Expanded Universe. They’re stripped of their identities, given a number and hidden behind a mask, and they’re treated as completely disposable. They are the designated cannon fodder of the Original Trilogy. And yet they’re actually highly trained Elite Mooks, with the actual Imperial Army still below them. The only reason our heroes cut through scores of them and come out unscathed is Plot Armor at work.
  • Can be pulled off in most Total War games due to the way character mechanics work. If you have an Inadequate Inheritor, you can send him with an army into enemy territory against highly unfavorable odds. If he fails, he dies, and someone more worthy becomes the new heir; if he succeeds, you've just wiped out a major enemy force and possibly taken a new province, and the target has likely gained some kind of trait that will actually make him more useful.
  • Tyrian lampshades this trope. In the words of Transon Lohk, "He's going to (chuckle) save the universe again. And you know what he's going to do after that? He's going to save the universe again, and again, and again! He'll do anything I want him to to help the universe, and I won't have to lift a finger to do anything except send him little messages like... oops."
  • In Valkyria Chronicles, General Damon becomes jealous of Militia Squad 7's successes overshadowing the regular military and constantly sends them on insanely dangerous missions in hopes that they get killed off somehow. It doesn't help that he's always considered the Militia as Cannon Fodder. Fortunately, since Squad 7 is essentially a Badass Army with a Cool Tank, they manage to complete their missions successfully.
  • The player character in Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines for most of the game. You have no sire (because he/she broke the law in creating you), no standing in the Camarilla (because the Camarilla executed him/her for it), and the only person who claims responsibility for you is the city's prince (who passed the sentence - popular opinion spared you from the same fate). Said prince repeatedly sends you off on Uriah Gambit missions because your continued existence is an eyesore to him, and you keep coming back with success stories. After two or three missions of this, said prince wises up and decides to send you on a mission that he expects you to come back from — if only because it's a planted murder scene and he wants you, the politically naive newbie whose word would be relatively more trusted, to be the Unwitting Pawn who implicates one of his political rivals.
  • Xenosaga plays with this, with Ziggurat-8. Rather than someone else sending him on Suicide Missions, he sends himself on suicide missions, because he wants to die fully (but can't kill himself outright due to programming). The problem (for him), is that he's just too good to die, and ends up being recruited for a very important mission due to his skill.

    Web Animation 
  • The Red and Blue armies from Red vs. Blue are a collection of washouts, trainees, outright lunatics, and other undesirables picked to run mock battle simulations for the agents of Project Freelancer to test their skills and equipment on before deployment. The two teams that get the most focus are even worse, yet through a combination of their own quirks and sheer dumb luck they manage to dismantle Project Freelancer, defeat and/or kill four Agents, and undo a massive False Flag Operation by Freelancer's rival, Charon Industries.

    Web Comics 
  • Exterminatus Now:
    • It usually has the gang sent off to do some incredibly dangerous mission specifically because they're a bunch of frakkers whose backs no-one would care to see. As a result, they frequently don't get the job done too well. However, their tenacity at surviving numerous operations where their command staff are explicitly trying to get them killed off means that Schaefer tends to go to them first if there is a genuine need for a group of inquisitors with a record for pulling off suicide missions.
      Rogue: Is there any reason this mission is code-named "Dead Men Walking"?
    • There's also the fact that they have a steadily increasing supply of blackmail images and videos they can use against their boss: they use this to extort an incredibly large base, some very impressive computers, and some very impressive hardware from their boss, but can't use it to keep from being forced to do their jobs. So, if they go out and get killed, Schaefer wins, and if they come back successful, the Inquisition wins. Perfect Win-Win scenario, as long as their failure doesn't doom the planet to dominion by the dark gods.
      Schaefer: You have a history of making it out of impossible situations, no matter how often we try to ki- no matter what assignment we deploy you on.
  • Freefall has the corporate version of this trope. Due to the policies of the new manager of the Pournelle/Niven Transfer Station, any new employees require an immense array of certifications and qualifications before they can even think of entering the lowest rung of the station's workforce.
  • Arachne from Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic was there, done that. Reassignment Backfire happened much later.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers: The Series Five team is hinted to be this in canon. Doc and Niko have mysterious pasts. Goose is the lone member of his failed Super-Soldier project to stay loyal to his handlers. Even Zachary, a respected officer, has people from politicians to low-level security guards questioning his sanity. The Fanon merely makes it very explicit.
  • In the Sam & Max: Freelance Police animated series, they are described as (paraphrasing) "The best, most expendable guys we've got". They take it as a compliment.
  • In The Venture Brothers, when the Monarch is asked why he always picks 21 and 24 on missions, he responds, "I know it sounds crazy, but they both have the rare blend of expendable and invulnerable that makes them the perfect henchmen."
    • Finally averted when 24 died, but that event caused 21 to become so badass he managed to take on Brock Samson in a straight up solo fight and live.

    Real Life 
  • The WWII Soviet Black Sea Naval Infantry, aka The "Black Death". Got Romanians on your doorstep? Army getting pushed back on all other fronts? Give your sailors rifles, tell 'em to fight. Everyday sailors given a rifle and pressed into service as shocktroopers against the Germans, Italians and mostly Romanians. Manage to hold Sevastapol in the face of German invasion for months, even completed more paradrops during the war than the actual Red Army paratroopers. They were among World War 2's many unsung badasses.
  • Polish soldiers have held the dubious honor of being these for many countries, including countries other than the Kingdom of Poland or the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
    • Napoleon created the Grand Duchy of Poland and fostered Polish nationalism to recruit the (west Slavic) Poles as allies against the Germanic Prussian kingdom, east Slavic Russian kingdom, and Germanic/south-Slavic Austrian empire. Napoleon's "Polish Legions" acquitted themselves well in several campaigns, most famously at the Battle of Somosierra. As a reward for their service he...sent them to quell slave uprisings on Haiti. Few ever returned. In fact, some voluntarily stayed in Haiti because seeing the plight of the Haitians, they saw who obviously had the more ńoble cause and switched sides.
    • Polish troops were theoretically cannonfodder for three of the combatants fighting World War I, but in practice they were never actually used in this capacity due to their tendency to surrender to the enemy. The Polish-Russian dual monarchy (commonly called 'Russia'), Austro-Hungarian dual empire, and German kingdom all fielded combat units composed largely or even entirely of ethnic Poles during World War I. However the German Polnische Wehrmacht (headed by the future national hero and authoritarian president of Poland, Joseph Pilsudski) and Austro-Hungarian Polnische Legion were only very small with the former never having more than 10,000 men and the latter no more than 60,000. While the Polish-Russian kingdom fielded as many as 200,000 Polish troops, including some with very good (in relative terms) training and morale, they were as unreliable as their German and Austro-Hungarian counterparts and were never used in combat if STAVKA could avoid it.
      • This is, of course, mostly due to the fact that due to the geopolitical situation of Poland at the time (partitioned and wiped off the map in the late 18th century, and the powers involved now on the opposite sides of the war) Poles a) couldn't give a shit about the side they were nominally fighting for and just hoped to carve out a country out of the whole mess; and b) could very well find themselves shooting at their own countrymen.
    • Polish troops were kind of cannonfodder for three different combatants fighting World War II, though in practice their treatment seems to have been little different to that of other forces - save the egregious lack of publicity recognition given to their efforts. This became particularly grating when other forces received greater thanks for their own efforts, sometimes despite them having actually contributed far less than the Poles. The French, British, and Soviets all fielded Polish veteran expats in combat units, in which many acquitted themselves very well. While the NKVD (predecessor to the KGB) did have those captured Polish Army Officers who refused to serve in the army of Communist Poland executed (in the 'Katyn' massacre of 1940, with as many as nine-tenths refusing and being killed), the volunteers seemed to have performed admirably against Nazi Germany. Indeed, it was a Polish Army force which finally liberated Warsaw in January 1945 (for a given value of 'liberation'). The British in particular were heavily reliant on their Poles' grit, guts, and experience to sway the outcome of several pitched trench-warfare battles including the Battles of Monte Cassino (Italian campaign, January-April 1944), the lack of recognition given for their part in that particular campaign being something of a sore point.
  • The French Foreign Legion were this through much of their history. Many of their most notable battles involved them fighting overwhelming odds. In many cases, they were not expected to win the battle, just buy time for other French forces to position themselves or to wear down enemy soldiers before an attack. In most wars, the Foreign Legion would generally become more and more elite, since Legionnaires that survive battles tend to keep surviving. This is generally helped by the fact the Legion has a history of recruiting mercenaries and soldiers from other countries.
  • During the American Civil War the African American troops used by the Union played this trope every conceivable way. In several battles recently freed slaves or Free Blacks were just used as expandable cannon fodder or for some rear guard operations that freed up white men to do the fighting (in a sense that's the only use the Confederates ever put their slaves to - keep working the fields while white men fight; the Confederacy could not have fielded nearly as many soldiers as it did had it not had slaves working the fields, building trenches and railroads and so on). In one rather famous instance, however, the reluctance to be seen as doing this actually led to the Union losing a battle. During the "Battle of the Crater" outside Vicksburg, the plan called for a mine to detonate below Confederate lines and one regiment that had been specifically trained for such a task to step into the breech, establish a beachhead and push the Confederates back, possibly even push them out of Vicksburg and thus open the way to Richmond. There was only one problem: Said regiment was black. When his subordinates argued the case, Ulysses S. Grant - despite being sympathetic to the plan and acknowledging in later testimony that the black soldiers really were the most qualified for the job - said that it would be bad optics to have the only black regiment in that particular military force mowed down in a frontal assault and thus ordered the plan to go forward with a different unit instead of the African Americans. Naturally said unit had not been trained on what to do, badly botched the assault (there were other issues like the problem that the troops literally had to climb out of their own trenches before reaching the enemy lines as footplanks and ladders had simply been forgotten) and ultimately the African American unit was sent in to save what could be saved, but by then it was too late and the officer who had suggested the assault (and the use of black troops) was sacked. In all however, African Americans had a lower rate of survival, received worse treatment in hospitals (as evidenced by their higher death rates) and were described frequently by comrades who had been rampant racists in 1860 as gallant and valiant and the best soldiers one could wish for while often being sent on missions as dangerous as they tended to be during the civil war, when some generals still thought in terms of Napoleonic charges against WWI style trenches.
  • The Tuskegee Airmen, also known as the Red Tails for their distinctive paintjobs were a group of black airmen recruited and trained by the US Army Air Forces during WWII. The US armed forces were still racially segregated, so entire units were formed with black pilots, maintenance crews, and even medical staff. Besides the airmen's great desire to prove their ability, they were subjected to much more stringent training than white pilots. The result was a corps of dedicated pilots who were quite literally the best of the best. Once deployed overseas, they proved themselves highly capable, and the Red Tails would become famous for their bomber escort missions, with a reputation of never losing a bomber to enemy fighters (not true, but it proved to be a very successful bit of wartime propaganda), including one battle where they shot down three German jet fighters over Berlin. By the end of the war, they would accumulate 3 Distinguished Unit Citations and 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses.
  • White blood cells are this for anybody not suffering from AIDS or some other immune disorder. As the body's first line of defense against harmful bacteria and other invaders, they are utterly disposable, only last about two days each even if they aren't wiped out fighting some germ and yet they'll still obliterate the vast majority of the pathogens your body comes in contact with before you even have a chance to feel the least bit sick.