7 Memorable Last Stands in Military History

Last stands can be a dramatic part of history. Often, they serve as a fevered attempt to hold off an advancing enemy. Sometimes, they can turn the tide of a war as a whole. Memorable last stands show the tenacity and grit of a soldier, as you’ll see in these gallant attempts to buy time.

Battle of Thermopylae

memorable last stands
This is the battle that made the Spartans into legends.©Jacob Abbott / Public domain – Original / License

Arguably one of the most memorable last stands in ancient history comes from the Battle of Thermopylae. The odds were stacked completely against the coalition of Greek forces gathered to blunt the advance of the Achaemenid Persians. 70,000 troops gallantly fought to the last man against a Persian force of 300,000. It would end in a Persian victory in the battle, but the Greeks were able to win the war.

Battle of the Persian Gate

memorable last stands
The Persians fought valiantly, but it was impossible to stop Alexander the Great.©British Museum / Public Domain – Original / License

A little over a century after Thermopylae, the Persian Empire would be faced with Alexander the Great’s Macedonian army. This is another of the most memorable last stands you’ll find, with Persian defenders holding back the Macedonians for over a month. Alexander would eventually prevail, being one of few generals to never suffer a defeat.

Fall of Tenochtitlan

memorable last stands
The fall of this great empire ushered in a new era for South America.©Unknown Author / Public Domain – Original / License

Not all last stands end happily for the defenders. The Aztec Empire’s capital of Tenochtitlan came under siege in 1521 by Spanish forces. This is one of the most memorable last stands in history not so much for the battle itself, but what happened after. South America would come under Spanish control shortly after the Aztec capital fell.

The Alamo

memorable last stands
After the Alamo fell, the United States would being the Mexican-American War in earnest.©Robert Jenkins Onderdonk / Public Domain – Original / License

Few last stands in American history are as memorable as the Alamo. Fought in 1836, the Battle of the Alamo was a 13-day siege that saw the defenders killed to the last man. While this was a Texan defeat, it would bring the full force of the United States of America into the fray against Mexico.

Battle of Gravenstafel Ridge

memorable last stands
Canadian forces repulsed the German offensive, holding the line where it counted.©Frank Hurley / PUblic Domain – Original / License

Not enough gets said about the ferocity of Canadian soldiers during both World Wars. During the Second Battle of Ypres, Canadian forces were caught in a last stand against the German Empire. Algerian and Moroccan forces were repulsed by a gas attack. The Canadian Expeditionary Force held on for 3 days against insurmountable odds, repulsing the German advance in the end.

Battle of Wizna

Poland’s armed forces valiantly resisted the German invasion, bloodying the Wehrmacht in fearsome battles.©Joachim Dohler / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE – Original / License

Germany’s shocking 1939 invasion of Poland resulted in many memorable last stands. Few have the same gravitas as the Battle of Wizna. Polish defenders were outnumbered 60 to 1 but held on for 3 desperate days. After days of furious fighting, the two standing bunkers were ordered to surrender against the encroaching German forces.

Siege of Bastogne

memorable last stands
Bastogne was ravaged by German forces, but it ultimately prevailed.©National Archives and Records Administration / Public Domain – Original / License

1944 saw Germany’s fortunes in war reversed, and they were on the back foot. The Siege of Bastogne is one of the most memorable last stands of the war and is the last true offensive German forces could wage on the Western Front. The 101st Airborne Division held out for 7 days in bitter cold and under constant threat of artillery. It resulted in an American victory that would see the final stages of the war begin.

The image featured at the top of this post is ©zef art/Shutterstock.com.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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