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Spanner In The Works / Real Life

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  • World War II
    • Italian failures in their Theatre of the war diverted German troops from more pressing concerns at the Eastern Front.
    • Between May 10th and May 14th, the Dutch shot down 43% of German planes deployed over the Netherlands, including 51% (220 of the 430) Junkers JU-52 transport planes. This may or may not have influenced the Battle of Britain or a potential airborne attack on the UK. The Dutch proved to be a tougher nut to crack than the Germans imagined in general. The Germans expected the Netherlands to fall within a day, which caused Hitler to issue his 11th war directive which was "The resistance of the Dutch army is stronger than expected. It must be broken as soon as possible."
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    • Hitler himself. If he hadn't meddled with everything, thereby wasting resources (like the V2 — great for propaganda, useless in warfare), the Germans might actually have had a chance. And that's not even counting that brilliant idea of attacking Russia. Late in the war (1944-45) this became fairly explicit: The British cancelled plans to assassinate Hitler because they believed any replacement leader would be more effective, extending the war.
    • The Philippines. Even though bad luck and the Idiot Ball had ruined any chances the Filipino-American force had of successfully turning back the Japanese, the defense of Bataan and Corregidor ultimately fucked up the Japanese war plans by holding on much longer than any other Asian country aside from Nationalist China, almost FOUR whole months, from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the surrender of Corregidor. Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Dutch East Indies (which was 6x bigger than the Philippines) had capitulated earlier. And then, there's the various guerilla movements harrying the Japanese occupiers, providing the Allies vital intelligence and liberating all but 12 provinces from the Japanese.
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    • During the Battle of Midway, the first three Japanese carriers were lost because a group of lost dive bomber squadrons suddenly stumbled upon the Japanese carrier group while it was rearming all its planes, making them extremely vulnerable. This group wasn't even traveling together, it was three separate squadrons that all stumbled across the carriers almost at once, right after the Japanese fighters protecting the fleet had been drawn off by the (failed) attack run on the fleet by Torpedo 8, a squadron from the USS Hornet that had become separated from their fighter escort by poor visibility.
    • Taffy 3 at the Battle Off Samar. A small collection of destroyers, destroyer escorts, and escort carriers, due to their audacity, managed to stop a force of battleships (including the giant Yamato) and cruisers in their tracks. Yamato alone had a displacement exceeding that of the entire American defense force. By all rights, the Japanese should have crushed the American defenses, opening the way to the invasion beaches and defeating a crushing blow to the American invasion at Leyte. Instead, in one of the most lopsided battles in history, Taffy 3's desperate Last Stand was so ferocious that Kurita was left believing that he was tangling with the entire Seventh Fleet and withdrew.
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    • One possible ally to the Axis could have been Spain, but it decided to remain neutral, in part due to its close Relations to neighbour Portugal, which decided to also remain neutral. Therefore, by not doing anything, Portugal kept the Axis from gaining another ally in Spain. note 
    • Nazi's spy network fell apart due to a lot of spanners. The first German spies sent to Britain were poorly trained Eastern Europeans with little loyalty to the Nazi regime. These early captures told the British exactly how the Nazis contacted their agents abroad, and the British used that knowledge to capture and turn the more competent spies sent later in the war. For communication, the Germans developed the famous Enigma codes, which they thought could never be cracked as the codes were reset every day. The British developed computers at Bletchley Park that could decode the messages the same day they were sent. To speed up the decoding process, the British used messages that were consistently sent out every single day that had a known answer. For example, one German radio operator watching over the same bit of uncrossable desert would always send out the same message every single day, "Nothing to report."
  • World War I:
    • Germany intended to go through neutral Belgium in order to attack the French. It probably would have worked if not for the Belgian resistance delaying them.
    • In the long run, Britain, which had no intention of entering the war until Germany invaded Belgium. If Britain had remained neutral, it's likely the US would have, as well, and it's quite probable Germany and Austria-Hungary would have won if their only sizable enemies were Russia (which collapsed in revolution), France, and Italy.
      • Even Italy was a toss-up, as it effectively waited to see which side would give the best offer until 1915. Italian designs on Austrian territory probably gives the edge to the Entente, but without the British involved the Central Powers might have had a chance.
    • On a slightly lesser note, the Portuguese intervention in the War, on behalf of Britain, started with the taking of great part of the German fleet, which was stationed in Portugal. This meant that not only they could not properly attack Britain, they could also not protect themselves against the US.
  • Santa Anna's plan to finish off the Texas Revolutionaries at San Jacinto on April 22, 1836 was ruined by Sam Houston's decision to attack first a day earlier, despite the Mexicans outnumbering the Texans 1,400 to 900. Santa Anna also sealed his own fate by diverting too many of his soldiers and failing to post lookouts while his army rested — not to mention supposedly getting seduced by the "Yellow Rose of Texas" Emily Morgan. The Mexicans surrendered to Sam Houston's assault after just 18 minutes of fighting.
  • Developers of the perl programming language have stress-tested new versions by having it parse /dev/random as input. Bugs that had resulted in segmentation faults were discovered this way. Throwing shit at the fan and see what happens is a fairly common way of stress-testing, usually known as fuzzing.
  • A Canadian fraudster used a complicated scheme involving disappearing ink and forged cheques to embezzle thousands of dollars from the banks at which he held accounts. It's difficult to explain briefly, but it involved him writing a cheque to transfer funds from an account he held at one branch to the account he had at another bank. The scheme depended on his cheques being cashed at the first bank on a Friday, then the ink disappearing over the weekend, and processed at the second bank on Monday, which would give him more money in his first than was deducted at his second. Unfortunately, on one occasion the fraudster had the bad luck of dealing with a rookie teller who didn't know how the cheque was supposed to be cashed, and didn't start working on it until Monday. The boss noticed the discrepancy, accused the teller of writing the information wrong, and called the police on her. The police discovered that the check had actually been written partially in disappearing ink, and the fraudster was quickly nailed.
    • Another fraudster reprogrammed a bank's computers to periodically shave ten cents off every account and apply it to the account under the last name on the list alphabetically. All went well until a Mr. Zydel opened an account and got confused as to why his bank balance kept inexplicably increasing. Zydel did the honest thing and reported it to the bank, who investigated it and had the fraudster arrested.
  • "His Accidency", John Tyler. To explain: "He was a longtime Democratic-Republican who was elected to the Vice-Presidency on the Whig ticket" (from his description page). As this makes him a Whig In Name Only, one wonders about his drinking habits.
  • A couple of fraudsters decided to make large amounts of fake $20 bills, and in turns they bought food with those at McDonald's and other stores which worked so well they earned several thousands of dollars from the exchange money. Around half a year later they went to Las Vegas and gambled for a week without getting noticed... until one day a woman who had the weird habit of ripping the upper-left edge from the bills noticed the paper was white inside (they did not use enough ink). The couple wanted to leave but was quickly taken by security and in their apartment they had 4 four more boxes filled with fake money.
  • A version from The American Civil War: on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate General Lee devised a strategy to attack both flanks of the Union army simultaneously in hopes of overwhelming them before they could be reinforced by the center. General Sickles from the Union ignored orders and moved his corp out in front of his fortified position to engage the enemy, a move of staggering stupidity that got his corp massacred. However, this delayed the main Confederate assault on that flank by several hours, destroying any chance the Confederacy had of launching the attacks simultaneously. As a result the attacks went on separately, and were beaten back separately. This in turn led to Lee gambling desperately with Pickett's charge the next day, a disaster that effectively destroyed Confederate momentum in the war. While people often "what if" this battle, it is pretty generally agreed that Lee did not do a very good job of commanding the battle in general, and there were far, far more problems than this one.
  • Thomas Blood's plan to steal the British Crown Jewels failed only because the elderly caretaker's son came back on leave from the navy at precisely the right moment. Seriously.
  • Vanessa Williams thought she'd never be able to live down the nude photos that appeared in an issue of ''Penthouse'' and cost her her Miss America title. Then it was discovered that the centerfold was underage, and the issue was banned along with most of the centerfold's filmography up to that point (with the exception of Traci, I Love You) as well as the porn industry ostracizing the centerfold in question entirely. Williams was supposedly relieved to see all those nude photos of herself go bye-bye over an underage centerfold appearing in the same issue as said photos.
  • This happened to Tennessee in their 2010 college football match against LSU. UT had the game won when LSU stupidly didn't have a play ready for a third-and-goal with seconds remaining and no timeouts, resulting in a botched snap that looked to end the game. But UT trumped it with their own stupidity in a last-second personnel change that resulted in Two Many Volunteers on the field (four guys came on while three ran off, and then one of the three ran back onto the field). The illegal participation penalty forced the down to be replayed (American football games can't end on a defensive penalty), giving LSU time to settle down and organize the game-winning play. You can watch the last moments of the Dumbass Miracle here.
  • Related to sports, Bill Simmons' "Levels of Losing" have as the seventh "The Monkey Wrench", where a bad decision by either the coach or the umpire costs the victory.
  • Political parties in America are this, believe it or not. The government was set up so that all three branches (executive, legislative, and judicial) would be more or less in opposition to each other. The rise of political parties put an end to that in a hurry. Indeed most of the founding fathers were completely against political parties, but viewed them as a necessary evil that would naturally arise despite their best efforts.
  • In Major League Baseball, you have the Steve Bartman story. In 2003, the Chicago Cubs were a very good team whom many picked to win the World Series (and finally break the Curse of the Billy Goat). And during the National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins, it seemed like this would be a reality. The Cubs built a 3-0 in Game 6 and ace pitcher Mark Prior was retiring batters with ease, working a three-hit shutout through the first 7 1/3 innings. Then Marlins shortstop Luis Castillo hit a deep foul ball that sailed towards the edge of the stands, a ball that Cubs outfielder Moisés Alou had a shot at catching for the second out of the inning. Instead, a Cubs fan (Bartman) interfered with the play by reaching out his hand to catch the ball. This angered the Cubs (Alou was very visibly frustrated after the play), who complained to the umpire for a fan interference call. The umpire ruled against them, stating the ball had left the playing field when Bartman touched it (if it hadn't, Castillo would have been called out). The most upset was Mark Prior, who completely lost his focus and began giving up hit after hit. He was taken out of the game and replaced, but the relief pitchers, also unfocused, gave up nothing but walks and hits. The Marlins scored 8 runs in that single inning, and ended up winning that game, Game 7, and eventually the World Series that year.
  • The 9/11 attacks could have been much worse if not for a major spanner. Four planes were hijacked; the fourth, which never reached its target, was probably intended to crash into the White House. However, the terrorists did not take into account the possibility of passengers attempting to retake the plane. The aircraft crashed a hundred miles or so from its target, and although lives were lost, it would have been far worse if the White House had actually been hit.
    • Many indicators suggest the terrorists planned to hit every single target at the same time. But United Flight 93 was delayed in takeoff and thus was still en route when the other targets were hit, giving its passengers time to realize what was happening and make the decision to try and retake the plane.
  • Not Always Working (and sister sites)
    • These videogame store employees leave a PS4 box filled with stuff as a prank by the door, to see if anyone would attempt to steal it. Upon returning to work the next day, the manager sees the prank box is gone and laughs, telling the assistant manager about the joke. The assistant manager gets angry — turns out the assistant manager had told his friend to just take the box, believing it to be an actual PS4 system, and this little prank done out of the blue causing his little side-business to be revealed. The assistant manager was fired.
    • This jewelry store customer wants to buy a necklace, but the store needs to request another location send them the necklace. The next day, the necklace in question hasn't been sent because an employee had bought it. Some investigating proves that the other store's night supervisor has been purchasing jewelry with his employee discount, and then selling it to customers just above the discounted price to make money off of it. And has been doing so for five years, and only figured out because a customer happened to want his latest target.
    • This pizza delivery guy does some cleaning around the store and sees some disconnected cables, thinking he knocked them loose. He connects them and realizes it was the security cameras. Shortly after, the pizza parlor is supposed to be closed because of it not making enough money, only for the delivery guy to mention that the manager of the location had been Stealing from the Till. The manager had disconnected the security cameras and been stealing for years, but the owner had no physical proof. Until the delivery guy pointed out that he had connected the cameras, so there was now a week's worth of camera footage showing the manager stealing. The manager was fired and arrested for grand theft.
    • This sysadmin had been embezzling millions of dollars from his employer for years and retired early. When his successor joins the team, but fails to receive the fake inventory list the sysadmin had been using to justify his budget requests, the successor makes his own list and budget request that ends up a much lower amount than previously. Management became suspicious and began to investigate the matter, realizing the embezzlement.
    • This company refuses to pay their manager $10,000 in overtime, so he takes them to court. He ultimately loses the case, but the resulting investigation of the company uncovers a massive amount of various categories of fraud going on in the company, having to pay more than ten times the amount they owed the manager in fines, one of the execs' wife divorcing him and cashing her share of the company, and the company finally going bankrupt. All because they refused to pay a comparitively low amount to an employee that may or may not have been owed to him.
  • A security guard named Frank Wills was doing his rounds one night when he noticed a piece of tape on a door to prevent it from latching shut. He removed it and continued on his merry way. Later, he returned and saw that the tape had been replaced. He called the police, who caught burglars in the building. The building was the Watergate Hotel, and the burglars were caught bugging an office leased by the Democratic Party. The resulting investigation and coverup blossomed into the Watergate scandal that eventually forced President Nixon to resign, and added a new suffix to the English language.
  • The Communist dictatorship in the Socialist Republic of Romania might have had two of these towards its end:
    • By 1989 the Romanians were already very, VERY fed up with Nicolae Ceaușescu's government as a whole, his cult of personality and the terrible economy, so when the Hungarian-Romanian pastor and politician László Tőkés openly started criticizing the people in power on TV and the government threatened to kick him out, his parishioners from Timișoara tried to stand up in his defense... and the already pissed-off populace sided with him, pouring their long-repressed anger in their protests. In a short period of time the civil unrest spread from Timișoara to the rest of the country and especially to Bucharest, ultimately kicking off the Romanian Revolution of 1989.
    • The other one? The TV show Dallas. The Communist dictatorship at the time aired the show believing the show's theme of greed, excess and corruption would make the people disgusted with capitalism. Instead, it had the opposite effect: the people loved the show thanks to the main character, the greedy yet charming J.R. Ewing, wished to have the cool and rich things the Ewings had, wondered why couldn't they have same thing as well... and this eventually led to the overthrow of the Communist regime. The show was so popular in Romania that, when J.R.'s actor Larry Hagman visted the country in the 1990s, many people thanked him for freeing their country.
  • Many criminals have found their elaborate attempts to hide undone by viewers of TV shows like America's Most Wanted and Unsolved Mysteries. In one case of the latter, a criminal hiding his identity and working at a construction said to a co-worker, "I'll probably have some problems today," after a segment on him aired the previous evening.
  • A small research team at West Virginia University was very lucky and and got a grant to live-test diesel cars as part of a study. During road tests of Volkswagen vehicles, they noticed that the cars were producing more emissions than they were supposed to be. They published their findings and blew the lid on the Volkswagen Emission Scandal.
  • Some scandals can prove to be beneficial in the long term. Case in point: Wallis Simpson, King Edward VIII's American mistress who he gave up the crown to marry, ended up inadvertently sabotaging any Fascist influence Edward might have had on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
  • In 1980's Poland, a female crane operator named Anna Walentynowicz was fired from her work at Gdańsk's Lenin Shipyard for participating in a syndicate, less than a year before her retirement. The shipyard workers from Gdańsk, already known for strongly opposing the Communist rule in Poland, took Walentynowicz's side, went on strike... and soon became the first members of a certain union group named Solidarność/Solidarity, led by the then-electrician Lech Wałęsa, which would later be instrumental in the fall of Communism in Poland and the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc.
  • The Branch Davidian incident in Waco, Texas started because of this trope. Reporters were tipped off that a raid by the ATF was going down at the compound and were sent to cover it. One reporter got lost in trying to find it and was approached by a station wagon, the driver wanting to help. Unwittingly, the reporter told the person that they were looking for the compound and that a raid was happening. As it turned out, the driver of the station wagon was one of David Koresh's inner circle, who warned the others of the raid.
    • The ATF also lost the element of surprise when a dispatcher for American Medical Transport, the ambulance provider in Waco, notified the media after she received a request from the Feds for standby ambulances.
  • Rafael Leónidas Trujillo was the brutal dictator of the Dominican Republic, but he really fucked up his own dictatorship when he had three very popular female opposition leaders, the Mirabal sisters (Patria, María Teresa and Minerva)note , murdered. Even when he tried to Make It Look Like an Accident, the crowds immediately guessed the truth and began protesting, plus the USA government wasn't exactly happy either and stopped supporting him. In less than a year, Trujillo himself was murdered.
  • The November 5th, 2017 massacre at a southern Texas church could have been a lot worse had it not been for a concerned neighbor. He had heard the gunshots at the church, went to investigate, grabbed his own rifle and confronted the gunman, wounding him. He even gave chase when the shooter attempted to drive off.
  • Operation Merlin was a plan devised by the CIA under the Clinton Administration to slow down Iran's nuclear program. The idea was, through a defecting Russian scientist, give the Iranians a copy of a "fatally flawed" nuclear warhead design so that it would cripple their program. They chose the Russian TBA-480 Fire Set component to sabotage due to its highly advanced design. However, the entire thing fell apart when the scientist noticed flaws in the designs and went and corrected them, most likely accelerating Iran's nuclear program rather than crippling it.
  • Steve Bannon's endorsement of Roy Moore in the 2017 special election for Attorney General Jeff Sessions's Alabama Senate seat proved to be a prime example of the alt-right movement grabbing the Idiot Ball with its bare hands when his Democratic challenger, Doug Jones, became the first Democratic Senator from "reliably Republican" Alabama in nearly a quarter of a century. Even the Washington Post's resident alt-right-aligned journalist, Marc Thiessen, raked Bannon over the coals for the effort, calling what he did in Alabama, in a nutshell, nothing short of an objective Epic Fail.
    Marc Thiessen: Stephen K. Bannon and his alt-right movement have helped accomplish something no one in a quarter-century has been able to do: get a Democrat elected in the state of Alabama. Alabama is one of the most reliably Republican states in the country. The last time a Democrat was elected was in 1992, and no Democrat has won more than 40 percent of the vote in a Senate race there since 1996. The closest election in recent memory was in 2002, when Jeff Sessions won reelection by a razor-thin margin of 19 points. Sen. Richard Shelby has won his last three elections by 35 points, 30 points and 28 points, respectively. So it takes a special kind of stupid to pick a candidate who can lose to a Democrat in Alabama. Not just any Democrat, but an uncompromising pro-abortion Democrat.
  • The New England Patriots insist that Malcolm Butler was this for them for Super Bowl LII. Put simply, Butler was benched for a rules violation, and many fans believed that the Pats lost without his talent.
  • During the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix which was the finale for the 2008 Formula One season, Ferrari driver Felipe Massa would win the World Driver's Championship if he wins the race and his rival, Englishman and McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton finished sixth or lower. During the race, Massa basically just led the field while Hamilton barely fights for the title-winning position. Light rain came at the final stages and many drivers pitted in for intermediate tyres. After that, the rain gets heavier when it was 2 laps remaining and Massa was still leading while Hamilton was in sixth. Crucially, on said lap, Hamilton lost 5th place to the Toro Rosso driven by future 4-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. After Massa finishes the race in first, everything seems lost for Hamilton until both him and Vettel caught up to the Toyota of Timo Glock. Glock, who didn't made the stop earlier (he gambled for slicks, hoping for the conditions to stay dry enough for it to work), was running so slow that Hamilton passes him at the last corner in the final lap. Hamilton finishes fifth, just enough to win the title. Ferrari was still celebrating even after Hamilton passes Glock and only for the joy turned into disappointment after Hamilton finishes the race. That's right, if the rain doesn't gets worse, then Massa would be crowned as the Driver's Champion. It also gives us one of Formula One's most memorable commentary lines:
    Martin Brundle: Raikkonen's third, and... IS THAT GLOCK? IS THAT GLOCK GOING SLOWLY?
  • If it weren't for an accidental case of fatal food poisoning one fateful Fourth of July, the Civil War might have been averted. Zachary Taylor tried his entire sixteen months in office to prevent the slavery issue from splitting the country apart, with extremists from both sides of the issue in Congress, but before he could do anything about it he succumbed to acute gastroenteritis brought about by consumption of raw fruit and iced milk during a fund-raising event for the Washington Monument on the nation's birthday. Naturally, conspiracy theorists almost promptly went wild about the circumstances surrounding his death, alleging that his poisoning was a deliberate assassination attempt on the part of pro-slavery Southerners, and would continue to pass that theory around well into the 21st century; it doesn't help that, as of 2010, there still wasn't definitive proof that he was or wasn't a victim of assassination.
  • Marcos Perez, the title character of the Frontline/Independent Lens/Voces documentary "Marcos Doesn't Live Here Anymore", was deported on a traffic violation because his wife's cell phone ran out of batteries when the police contacted her about the violation.
  • At least one gun shop had filed for bankruptcy due to the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. A few shop owners bought into the hype created by the National Rifle Association that if Hillary Rodham Clinton was elected president, she and the Democrats would start taking guns away. Thus, they ordered a surplus of guns in the event that her election would lead to a surge of gun owners seeking to own guns before laws limiting them were enacted. Instead, Trump was elected and this left owners with too many guns to sell, leading to their dissolution.


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