Would you believe us if we told you that the American Revolution was fought on the far southwestern tip of Europe—and no American forces were involved? How about way out in India? What if we said the American Civil War saw fighting thousands of miles from home, off the coast of France? Would you think we were lying to you about these tall tales?
Well, we’re not! Throughout history, many of the world’s most infamous wars involved battles that were fought in entirely unexpected places. Take the aforementioned Civil War: The Confederacy and the Union didn’t just wage war across the United States. And that was far from the only famous fracas that saw battle in a seemingly random location.
In this list, we’ll take a look at ten lesser-known battles that were fought in entirely unexpected places. From vicious fighting halfway around the world to a very unique online war of attrition, these ten skirmishes are far from what you’ve been taught to expect from the wars of history.
10 The Virtual Violence of B-R5RB
Battles are fought in the real world, right? With real humans, real casualties, and the real toll of war and death and destruction? Well, not all battles are like that. Even virtual battles can cause destruction—and cost big bucks.
In the realm of online gaming, one battle has historically stood out from the rest. Today, it is known as the Battle of B-R5RB. It took place back in 2014, and unlike real-world wars, this conflict occurred in a virtual space. However, it came with a hefty (real-world) price tag of $300,000 in actual currency. Yes, really!
The chaos began when a player group “lost” control of the star system B-R5RB in the multiplayer game EVE Online after failing to pay their monthly “rent.” This accidental oversight caused the space to be repossessed and made available for others to claim in the game. This unexpected turn of events sparked a frenzy among thousands of players worldwide. All over the globe, people aimed to seize control of the stars. The system held immense strategic importance as a staging area for a major in-game alliance.
What followed was an unprecedented battle witnessed by over 12,000 viewers through a live stream. Players joined forces in a time-sensitive effort to gain control of the abandoned sector. Lasting nearly 22 consecutive hours, this clash became one of the largest and most significant events in the history of online gaming. And yes, it cost players real money as they paid to acquire weapons and best their virtual foes. Who knew online gaming had such real-world consequences?
9 Americans vs. Aussies in WWII
The Battle of Brisbane was a lesser-known conflict during World War II. It unfolded in Brisbane, Australia, and shockingly, it was between Australians and their American allies. Yes, you read that right. Although not officially an armed battle, tensions escalated over a two-day period in November 1942. A riot turned into a full-scale fight—and a major headache for Allied leaders worldwide.
Initially welcomed by the Australians, American troops had been stationed in Brisbane for defense against Japan following the attack on Pearl Harbor. But by late 1942, many Aussies felt the Americans overstayed their goodwill. American General Douglas MacArthur then made derogatory remarks about the Australians’ hospitality and offerings. Soon, plenty of local Australians felt considerable resentment against the visiting American soldiers.
The spark that ignited the battle occurred on November 26, 1942. A misunderstanding turned into a verbal fight, and Australian soldiers began hurling insults at an American. Soon, that led to a confrontation involving a military police officer. He was subsequently punched, and the whole thing descended into chaos. In a matter of minutes, more than 3,000 soldiers clashed on the streets of Brisbane. An American MP then fatally shot an Australian soldier and wounded several others as the fight intensified.
Although temporarily subdued that night, the conflict reignited on the following day. Eventually, cooler heads were able to prevail a bit. And while it’s not an official “battle,” its effects were still felt in and around Brisbane for some time afterward. Countries that were nominal allies failed to come together, and the fracture reverberated across the Land Down Under for months.
8 A Revolutionary War Fight in… Spain?
Friends can be a crucial asset, especially during times of conflict. This was evident for the Americans in the Great Siege of Gibraltar. The battle was a significant event during the American War of Independence—and American involvement was completely absent. In the 1770s, Spain and France joined forces to seize Gibraltar from Britain. To do so, they disguised their actions as supporting the American Revolution. Secretly, they didn’t care much for our revolution. Instead, capturing Gibraltar was a crucial step toward their ultimate goal of invading Britain.
However, Britain had recognized the strategic value of Gibraltar, too. So they had dedicated considerable time and resources to fortifying its defenses long before the attack began. When Spain and France blockaded the region in 1779, the British were well-prepared to fight. They had ample supplies that even surpassed the expectations of their adversaries.
Despite facing overwhelming odds—including over 40,000 French and Spanish soldiers—a mere 7,000 British infantrymen valiantly defended Gibraltar. That war waged on for three years and seven months. But after precious little progress each way, finally, a truce was reached. The exact losses suffered by the Allied forces remain unknown. However, the British incurred just 333 casualties in battle and 536 due to diseases over that nearly half-decade period.
Ultimately, this protracted conflict exemplified the power of resilience and effective defensive measures. It also showcased the vital role of allies in combat scenarios. And it was (technically) a battle begun by the American Revolution—even though it took place thousands of miles away and without any Americans participating!
7 A Revolutionary War Fight in… India?
During the Revolutionary War, an unexpected final battle took place long after Yorktown. And it didn’t involve any American troops, despite being part of the show. Instead, it involved an ally seeking personal gain. In a different part of the world, India shared the Americans’ desire for freedom from Britain. There, the Kingdom of Mysore had been resisting British rule for years. When their sultan passed away, the British saw an opportunity to crush the resistance.
Sending soldiers to India, the British were met with opposition from both America’s ally, France, and the people of Mysore itself. In 1783—two years after Yorktown, which has often been seen as the war’s conclusion—the British and French armies clashed. Now, to be technical, this battle occurred only three months prior to the actual end of the war, which was the signing of the Treaty of Paris. But still, it was held long after American fighting ended. And for all intents and purposes, the newly-free Americans had moved on.
Besides, the conflict took place thousands and thousands of miles away from the main countries involved. It was a very fierce fight, too. The Anglo-Mysore War saw significant suffering for both sides. French assaults proved disastrous for the British there. Then, news of the imminent end of the war in America reached the British forces. In short order, that led to the cessation of the battle. But even so, the Revolutionary War’s conclusion was not confined to Yorktown. Unexpected fights like this one unfolded as allies sought their own gains—even if they were carried out half a world away.
6 German U-Boats in Canada
The Battle of the St. Lawrence was an unlikely naval clash during World War II. It was unlikely in that it unfolded in a Canadian river far from the Atlantic Ocean and thousands of miles away from the front in Europe. Far up the St. Lawrence River, German U-boats penetrated. By May 1942, they had reached as far as Montreal. Along the way, these Nazi submarines caused the destruction of 23 Canadian and Allied ships over several months. Additionally, Allied Forces suffered a loss of 70,000 tons of vital supplies.
The Canadian defense was ill-prepared for submarine attacks in their own waters at the time. Thus, they faced overwhelming odds against the Nazis, who were rapidly encroaching upon their homeland. And the U-boats weren’t just going after supply ships, either. Tragically, a ferry carrying women and children from Nova Scotia to Quebec also succumbed to the depths.
Initially, there was no aerial support or substantial defenses along the waterway. It had never been a military target before during the war, and the Canadians and Americans were caught off guard. Thankfully, defenses were eventually deployed. The Canadians fought back against the German attackers that had made it so deep into their waters. It took a toll on the Allies’ defense forces, but it was a very necessary move. Had the Canadians not made a stand in the St. Lawrence, who knows how far the Germans could have gotten.
5 A Mock Battle in Manila
The Battle of Manila Bay in 1898 played a crucial role in the Spanish-American War. Under Commodore George Dewey’s leadership, the U.S. forces triumphed over the weaker Spanish fleet. The win effectively concluded the war. Stranded in Manila, the Spanish fleet was unable to mount a substantial resistance against the Americans. But that wasn’t the end of the story in that faraway land.
Simultaneous to that big-time battle, a Philippine resistance leader named Emilio Aguinaldo rallied against the Spanish on land. There, he took to proclaiming independence for his people. Despite this declaration, both the Spanish and the Americans refused to recognize it. But the Spanish weren’t in a good spot. Land-locked soldiers found themselves trapped between the incoming American reinforcements at sea and the Philippine forces on land. So they had little choice but to resist yielding to Aguinaldo.
During negotiations facilitated by a Belgian consul, American and Spanish forces reached an agreement: a phony “battle” to dispel the Filipino resistance fighters. This led to the rise of Commodore Dewey as an American war hero. It earned him a promotion to Rear Admiral. And it also effectively preserved the reputation of the Spanish Governor-General in the region.
The staged “battle” took place on August 13, 1898, and it primarily served as a spectacle. The Americans “demolished” the remnants of the Spanish fleet. That resulted in the Spanish “surrendering” for good—the “Mock Battle of Manila.” In turn, it left Aguinaldo and his men demoralized and made them realize the war was, in fact, over. The Philippine forces were left unaware, and the United States took over Spain’s position of power after this second “surrender.” And that was that for Manila!
4 A Brutal Battle on American Soil
The United States hasn’t fought a foreign power on its mainland for centuries. Now, you might wonder about the Civil War, when the Union fought the Confederacy. And if you want a real foreign power—not a civil insurrection like that—foreign fighting on American soil goes back even further. Pearl Harbor doesn’t count, either, as the Americans in Hawaii on that fateful day in 1941 were merely trying to save themselves from an attack.
But During World War II, there was one far lesser-known fight that occurred on American soil. While most of the fighting occurred in Europe, there was one scary skirmish that happened on American land: the Battle of Attu. This battle took place in May 1943 on Attu Island, which is part of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands in the North Pacific. At the time, the island had a population of only 40 people.
The Japanese attacked the islands in June 1942. They intended to set up bases and advance further into North America from the north. After that, it took a year for the U.S. forces to reclaim Attu. On May 11, 1943, around 12,500 American soldiers were sent to the island. There, they engaged in a two-week-long battle against the Japanese forces. Despite the small size of the island, the fighting was fierce, and the terrain was harsh.
The battle took a toll on both sides. Over 1,700 American soldiers fell to enemy forces, and another 2,100 U.S. troops succumbed to diseases and non-battle injuries like frostbite, trench foot, fevers, and even starvation. The conditions became so dire that some soldiers resorted to throwing grenades into the sea to catch fish for food. When the Americans finally gained the upper hand, approximately 2,350 Japanese soldiers had died. Many of them had taken their own lives using grenades as a means of suicide. And yet the battle is not as well known as many World War II events, in part because of its unlikely location on American soil—and faraway, remote Alaskan soil at that.
3 A British Great Lakes Naval Skirmish
The War of 1812 remains one of America’s lesser-studied major conflicts. It involved a vicious fight against the British, of course. And several battles in that war occurred in unexpected outposts. Take one event in 1813 where six British ships were sighted in Lake Erie. They had been there to reclaim control from American forces.
Despite the British having better long-range weapons, the Americans possessed more ships armed for close combat. Initially hindered by unfavorable winds, the Americans eventually gained an advantage when the winds shifted in their favor. That enabled them to engage the British in battle in the Great Lake.
The American flagship, the USS Lawrence, suffered heavy damage. Another one of its ships, the USS Niagara, failed to make much headway in the fight. Stranded and defenseless, the Lawrence’s crew faced casualties and loss of firepower. And yet Captain Oliver Perry and a few of his crew members managed to navigate the Lawrence through British attacks and safely reach the Niagara. There, he assumed control of the sister ship.
Although the British initially seemed close to victory by severely damaging the Lawrence, the undamaged Niagara swiftly penetrated their ranks. With the assistance of smaller gunships, it surprisingly tore through the powerful British fleet. Four British vessels surrendered, while the remaining two were pursued and captured.
As a result, the British were compelled to abandon Detroit. That marked a pivotal turning point in the northwest campaign. And it all started with an American battalion crazy enough to seek a fight with the most powerful navy on earth in the last place you’d expect to find them.
2 The Misnamed Battle of Tannenberg
When it comes to battles, they usually get their names from the location or the cause. That would seem simple enough. And down throughout history, that’s (almost) always the way it’s been. However, the 1914 Battle of Tannenberg very much breaks that pattern. Surprisingly, it didn’t occur in the German city of Tannenberg at all. And yet it was named after the Battle of Tannenberg in 1410—out of pure spite!
In 1410, Slavic forces defeated the Teutonic Knights at Tannenberg. Basically, in that age-old war, the Germans lost to the Russians. Fast forward 500 years and a World War I battle between German and Russian forces took place in Allenstein, in what is modern-day Poland. The battle was (obviously) totally different from the one five centuries before it. Still, the Germans proved they had very long memories. Maybe too long of memories, in fact.
The Germans emerged victorious in the (second) Battle of Tannenberg. They inflicted a brutal defeat on the Russians, who lost 120,000 men in the brutal fight. To compensate—and to glorify German military strength—the battle was named for the earlier one. Even though Allentstein was located miles away from Tannenberg, it still became the (second) Battle of Tannenberg. You know how they say winners write the history books? That axiom really proved itself in this confusing case.
1 An American Civil War Battle Was Fought Where?!
The American Civil War was, of course, a conflict fought between the Union and the Confederacy. And it ought to be very well-known to those who have studied American history. However, during this war, an unexpected event took place: the Battle of Cherbourg. Located far from the North-South divide within the United States, Cherbourg is firmly across the pond in France. And yet the Americans duked it out off the coast there in a battle for domestic might. Yes, really!
This naval battle occurred in June 1864 between the Confederate vessel CSS Alabama and the Union ship USS Kearsarge. The Alabama had been seeking repairs in France at the time. There, the Kearsarge discovered its presence. After several days, the captains of both ships agreed to a duel in international waters. Unfortunately for the Alabama, it was ill-prepared for combat. Its ammunition was inferior for the fight. Many shells didn’t work; the ones that did weren’t enough to sink the Kearsarge. One shell even failed to explode after striking the enemy’s sternpost. Not great!
Ultimately, the Union ship proved victorious. It caused the Alabama to sink—again, in waters within sight of the French coastline. And though some crew members lost their lives, many were rescued by the Kearsarge and a British yacht. So at least the survivors had that going for them. Still, the Battle of Cherbourg serves as a remarkable episode that unfolded outside the United States during the Civil War. And it, as much as any fight on this list, highlights the unexpected encounters that can take place during a conflict!