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Examples of Zerg Rush/Real Life include:

Humans Edit

  • It may be surprising, but Lanchester's Square Law means that even marginally more numerous units can have dramatically improved survival rates in battle. The larger group inflicts more casualties, which makes it even larger comparatively, which means it causes even more casualties compared to the enemy, and so on. Larger units can also back each other up with cover fire and assist in taking down targets faster, possibly even denying the enemy a chance to retaliate. Seriously, when you're already facing someone with a machine gun, chances are you're not gonna notice the second guy aiming for you, or the third or fourth. And if you do notice, you're probably going to panic and shoot badly.
    • On the other hand though, that would make them an attractive target for an artillery strike...
      • If you're kind enough to stand very close together.
      • Artillery is already accounted for in Lancaster's Laws, which describe the relative strength of two forces with a purely theoretical model. With modern arms, the expected surviving number of a larger force wiping out a smaller force is proportional to the square root of the difference of the squares of the forces' headcounts. In other words, if 100 men attack 50, not only do the 100 men have twice as many chances to cause a casualty, but the 100 also are made less ineffective by receiving casualties. The ability to "hit more" and "soak more" snowballs. As the square root of (100 squared - 50 squared) is about 86, a force of 100 attacking 50 could expect to take 14 casualties in destroying the fifty. If you imagine the combat happening in hypothetical "turns" where both sides shoot and each man has a 10% chance to cause a casualty per turn, you'll find that that just about works out. (The real application involves calculus, but the simpler algebraic version above illustrates the point well enough.) Anything (morale, training, terrain, equipment, air support, intel, artillery, better command, etc.) which causes a deviation from Lancaster's Laws is considered a Force Multiplier, as in, it makes the force count for more than it's numerical strength. Conventional military thinking usually tones down Lancaster's Square Law to have an exponent of 1.5, not 2, but in principle it still works. So superior artillery is already accounted for as a force multiplier.
      • Given the destructive power and accuracy of modern artillery and air munitions, "standing very close together" can mean several hundred meters or more apart. Most tropers seriously underestimate the killing power of modern arms due to their familiarity with Hollywood Tactics. A small WWII era howitzer had a kill radius of 50m and a range of 14 kilometers. A modern cluster bomb's kill zone is the size of several city blocks.
    • Sweeping with a machine gun is effective when against waves. It also works against rushes, if you don't run out of ammunition or shit your pants at the sight of soldiers charging towards you.
  • There was once a military manoeuvre/unit known as the Forlorn Hope. These were the first men into a breached wall in a siege situation, so called because of their chances of surviving (also possibly a corruption of the Dutch for "Lost Company", Verloren Hoop). Anyone who did survive was automatically made an officer.
    • Among the French. While a British officer who survived the Forlorn Hope was promoted, for the men it was just the glory of having taken part and making it through.
    • A lieutenant became a captain and sergeants were promoted to ensigns. If anyone were to survive it'd be them...but it didn't happen very often...
    • And you had to lead it. Just being in it didn't guarantee promotion, one had to lead it from the front, and that person also carried the flag of his nation, showing everyone who to kill. See the Sharpe series for more info, as Bernard Cornwell gets it right.
  • The reason why Russia managed to win several battles against armies more organized than their own.
    • There's an Hungarian saying that goes along the lines of " many as the Russians". Hungary lost both the revolutionary war in 1849 and the anti-soviet rebellion in 1956 due to the enemy calling in Russian reinforcements, who employed this tactic.
      • In both cases it was a well-equipped and trained regular army against mostly Ragtag Bunch of Misfits rebels. There were no need to use human-wave tactics, so Hungarians version of the story is most probably simply a feel-better tale.
        • In 1944 and 1956 this was certainly true, but in 1848/9 the Hungarian Republic possessed an uncannily strong and well-balanced regular army, and the Honved did actually manage to defeat the Habsburg armies arraigned against them and pushed them almost all the way to Vienna before the Russians came in from the East and the Habsburgs came in from the West and effectively squashed them flat.
    • When the Soviets got back on their feet in WWII, the Zerg Rushes of 1941 and 1942 became much less common, instead relying on sophisticated maneuver attacks. After you lose 20 million men, there is not a whole lot of manpower to throw at the problem.
      • The use of Zerg rushes was mostly because of periods when an offensive was absolutely essential, but there simply wasn't enough resources to adequately arm all the required soldiers. There were a few incidents where only the forward-most troops had guns, and those behind had to grab the guns from their fallen comrades when they got to them. As bad as WWII in Europe was for the Western Allies, it was NOTHING compared to how brutal it was on the Russian Front.
      • Which is why Norman Davies notes that a better term for the European theater of World War II would be Soviet-Third Reich War, because the scale of the Eastern Front absolutely dwarfs anything undertaken by the Western Allies, by several magnitudes (and screwed over the countries the war was waged across).
        • By maybe two orders, if you stretch it. And considering how morally offensive such a moniker is, considering that the USSR was in bed with Hitler until 1941 (particularly for the Poles, who got attacked by both *in alliance*) and the Western Allies did most of the heavy lifting in the air and water and a respectable amount of it on's ready Flame Bait for a reason.
  • The Korean War had many examples of the Zerg Rush. North Korean and/or Chinese forces would sometimes attack in massive waves usually with inadequate armament. One example being a human wave of people carrying nothing but baskets of grenades. Another being human waves of men armed only with submachine guns, charging over clear terrain from far outside their weapons effective range, against Americans armed with long-range rifles. These moments were still tense for the Americans, but they also found that the closer the Koreans and Chinese got, the more effective their rifles got, as their bullets would start going through their attackers, and continue on to hit another person in the wave.
    • Other Wiki says "US Army historian Roy Edgar Appleman observed that the term "human wave" was a metaphor used by journalists and military officials to convey the idea that the American soldiers were assaulted by overwhelming numbers of enemies, but it had no relation to the real Chinese infantry tactics of the same period." However, Western Allied as well as Chinese combat records indicate that several times (Chosin, Spring Offensive, Hamburger Hill), the Chinese and their North Korean allies were forced to have everyone charge headlong into the Allied lines. This wasn't their preferred way of attacking (just as absolutely nobody on Omaha Beach wanted to HAVE to charge headfirst into a sea of German MG rounds), as this usually happened when they were caught out in the open by a spotter or a flare while planning a more traditional attack, when they were ordered to capture an objective at any cost, or when they were pressed on to attack by something even worse hammering them where they were (namely heavy support aircraft and artillery). However, while the Chinese were far savvier than most give them credit for, it's pretty much indisputable that the Chinese leadership were far more accepting of this sort of tactic than they should have been given its dismal results.
  • During the American Civil War, the Union generals who typically won more battles were unafraid to lose massive amounts of men. In particular, several politicians rallied for Lincoln to fire Ulysses S. Grant due to the massive casualty rates of his soldiers. However, since Grant was one of the few generals Lincoln could count on to strike hard at the Confederates, Lincoln kept him on.
    • The Federals also had a higher population density then the Confederates. Thus Federal units could be recruited as needed, while Confederate units were mostly local military fraternities. The Federals also made extensive use of the Scorched Earth doctrine, using their quickly assembled units to smash Confederate economy and thus fulfill the RTS definition of a Zerg Rush (though it's worth noting that the South did plenty of the scorching themselves, to prevent supplies from falling into the North's hands). However, while the Union did suffer (roughly) 60% more casualties, the KIA excess was only 10%. Considering that the Confederates usually enjoyed the defending position (in the later years of the war, at any rate), and that the Civil War constituted the early days of trench warfare, with the known results during World War I, the numbers don't exactly point to rash tactics and disregard of one's own troops. Politicians lobbying against Grant had more to do with politicking after they decided the war was as good as won, using casualties as a pretext, than concern for the troops or about the general conduct of the war.
      • Do note though, many of that those not KIA died later from the the dirty instruments used in surgery, and the fact most "surgery" was chopping off the wounded limb.
    • Bigger irony: while the casualties were terrible, the losses would almost certainly have been much lower if not for leaders trying hard not to get people killed or at least eager to avoid battle. McClellan essentially threw away the single most promising position of the war, with his troops in huge numbers and his guns available to pound Richmond and Johnson (later Lee). During Grant's campaign against Lee, he faced time and time again great advantages being ignored or lost by poor leadership at the Junior officer and even General officer level. The result was that the war was prolonged, eventually resulting in a shattered South and massive manpower losses - but also the complete destruction of slavery.
    • This is largely a myth that came about by Grant having the largest army in the war and fighting a lot of battles without stopping. He had a far lower casualty rate than RE Lee whenever you run the numbers Lee's casualty rate is somewhere between 19-23% depending on whose numbers you are using while Grant's is somewhere between 11-15%. Lee's bled the Army of Northern Virginia white with his overaggressive tactics.
    • It's also important to remember that throughout history right up until World War II more soldiers were lost to disease then battle. The longer the war drags on without resolution, the more soldiers you lose. Therefore, a zerg rush might wind up losing less men because it gets the battle over, rather than spending weeks fighting and losing more to disease.
  • World War I was particularly famous for the trench warfare of the Western front, a fighting style which both sides were totally unaccustomed to. Throughout the war, hundreds of thousands of men died as both sides tried to repeatedly use mass wave attacks to achieve a "breakthrough" of the other side's defensive line, despite the fact of continued failure. Because both sides had created such a long trench line, neither could outflank the other, forcing attacks to be frontal assaults, which were made woefully ineffective with the introduction of the machine gun.
  • During World War II, the German military made effective use of this tactic, which they called the Blitzkrieg (Lightning War). When they invaded Poland, France, and Russia, they used fast moving vehicles to rush the enemy and bypass areas of strong resistance while simultaneously separating enemy army components, and using their air force to bomb critical enemy logistics and military structure. After disrupting the enemies rear lines and throwing them into chaos, the regular Army sweeps in and destroys pockets of resistance in piecemeal.
    • Russia made very poor use of this tactic in their invasion of Finland, where guerrilla tactics inflicted severe damage on the Red Army. In particular, their tanks subscribed heavily to this tactic, but in doing so, they were often exposed to unconventional weapons, like Molotov cocktails. Then the distinguished but incompetent in modern warfare Civil War Era generals were dismissed and replaced by the younger, more relevant leaders, the tactics were adjusted, and in two months the Red Army rolled Finns flat.[1] But this came at enormous cost; while Finland suffered 26,000 men killed in the war, Nikita Khrushchev would later admit that the Soviets lost one million. One Red Army general is reputed to have said, "We have won just about enough ground to bury our dead."
  • In World War II tank combat, the US Sherman medium tank had mobility equal to the best German medium tank, the Panther, but inferior firepower and far inferior armor. The rule of thumb was that it would take four Shermans to match one Panther. Luckily for the Allies, they actually had more than eight Shermans to every Panther.
  • In the fallout after Iran's 2009 presidential elections, this strategy was on the protesters' side. These riot police don't seem too confident. Any sizable riot going up against riot police is essentially this trope.
    • Most attempts to control a population with force, even if it's just ordinary police patrols, have this problem. It is logistically impossible to have a police force that can take the rest of the population on if they are determined, or even come close. Most areas have more career criminals than police, never mind the law-abiding majority. The general rule is that it's not the rioters, but whether those with the heavy firepower will bring it out.
      • During many of the Communist collapses of the late 80's (Romania is particularly notable for this effect) the regime collapsed precisely because the military ultimately refused to slaughter the rebelling populace (largely because they no longer believed in the regime). This almost happened during the Tienanmen Square protests, but the Chinese government found a military force that was willing to slaughter the protesters, and held on to power. Similar situation happened in the USSR too, but there (unlike Romania, which was led by a real hardcase) even the leadership itself was reluctant to use force, and calling our for the army was more of a kneejerk reaction rather that the real intent, so everything just kinda petered out.
      • The same business occurred in the Arab Revolutions of 2011; the governments of Tunisia and Egypt fell more or less because their militaries refused to fire on protesters, and other techniques were useless because of the sheer number of protesters. Libya turned into a Civil War and Syria and Bahrain turned into bloodbaths because the government forces were willing to fire on the people; however, we should note that because the Libyan and Syrian militaries/security forces had similar demographics to the general public, defections to the protesting side kept the situation protracted, while the fact that the Bahraini forces (and the Saudi and Emirati forces they called in to help) were primarily Sunni and the protesters primarily Shia made defections less of an issue, and the uprising was crushed as a result. On the other hand, ever-Genre Savvy Morocco explicitly ordered its security forces not to fire on protesters no matter what they did, which is why the protests there never got that big and why the regime was able to get away with moderate reforms.
  • European warfare in the 18th century, after the devastation of 16th and 17th century total wars, had become a sort of song and dance with opposing generals actually meeting each other to mutually minimize their casualties, and to avoid destroying the actual resource they were fighting over. The rule of warfare was to wear brightly colored uniforms so that everyone knew just who was on whose side, and to use thin files so one row at a time could fire, then get out of the way while they reloaded. This was not a very effective way to win (or kill), but was (relatively) predictable, respectable (in context), and (relatively) civilized; it was generally agreed to because highly disciplined, professional soldiers in this form of warfare were expensive to train, keep, and equip. This system ended with the French Revolution; suddenly you have a French army five times its pre-Revolution size, much less trained as a whole, and directed by a government more encroaching on the general populace than the kings could ever manage and under attack by most of its neighbors (and then going on for the counter-attack), with generals who had none of these dainty sensibilities and qualms about where replacements for killed soldiers were going to come from or what the upper crust in snooty aristocratically-run nations would think....
  • Highland Charges in the 17th and 18th century. Unlike what happened in Braveheart, traditional Scottish tactics called for tight and disciplined blocks of infantry. When newer firearms made those tactics obsolete they switched to a screaming charge at the enemy line, which was extremely successful when their enemies would break ranks. When other armies started training their armies to defend against them, they got massacred.
    • Other factors, such as improved firearm drill, the invention of the bayonet and canister shot, also made the strategy obsolete.
  • The Spanish Civil War degenerated into this quite a bit, most infamously at the Ebro river, which mixed WWI trench warfare with RCW/WWII Eastern Front political persecution. Results were tragic but predictable.
  • Reportedly used by the passengers on United 93 to defeat the hijackers.
  • As a general rule the Zerg Rush does not work against a well-fortified position and concentrated fire. See Zulu Wars; Pickett's Charge; WW I...
    • Though in the case of the Zulu, the Rush (in a slightly more complex form) was in fact a fairly new and effective tactic by which the Zulu had come to dominate the region, the work of a military genius who was unfortunately dead by the time the Zulu met the British. Had someone like him been around at the time, the Zulu might've fared better, as shown on one occasion when they did manage to get hold of some artillery.
  • In the FAT32 filesystem, each file occupies a minimum of 16KB of disk space, even if its size in bytes is less than that. Thus, tons of tiny files can waste much more disk space than a few big files.
    • Similarly, Google Chrome. Unlike other browsers, each tab is its own thread (basically, each tab is run as it's own program). While this has benefits such as a small number of tabs running better and crash resistance (one tab crapping out won't cause others to), it also means that having a large number of tabs can end up taking up a disproportionately large amount of memory, even if all those tabs are simply blank pages.
  • The internet. Want to get quick results when someone stole your artwork? Got a conflict issue that you want to spread out quick and get support? Post somewhere prolific, with substantial proof. Now sit back and watch as the Internet Zerg Rushes someone's mailbox/account...
    • A Zerg Rush is the core element of less organized, 'invasion'-style denial-of-service attacks: If you can ram enough people's packet requests into a system, it can't dispatch answers fast enough and crashes.
    • Particularly nasty hackers not only launch denial-of-service attacks on a site they want to shut down, they'll hijack your computer to do it for them.
  • Non intentional use: Could you imagine this tactic with fangirls yelling and going Squee out of the blue? Well, this was actually the reason why The Beatles stopped giving concerts in 1966...
  • Hunter-gatherer societies tend to have taboos against having many children. Agrarian societies encourage large families. (Think about the ideal Chinese family, pre-Maoism: Three boys and three girls.) Obviously, the agrarian societies won.
    • This has nothing to do with combat, though. Hunter-gatherer societies tended to have fewer kids because their food source was unreliable; ergo, you wanted a minimum of mouths to feed because you never knew how much food you were going to have. Agrarian societies, on the other hand, have a steady, reliable food source, so the focus is on having enough hands to cultivate the food.
  • UNIX makes spawning processes trivially easy. A malicious user can easily create a fork bomb, a program that reproduces itself until it eats up all the process table entries.
  • You wouldn't think that this would be possible in sports, given the way that teams are normally balanced. Well, China has other ideas about that. Real Madrid football (soccer) club has played a game against a team made up of 109 Chinese children.
  • Soldiers of the Japanese 3rd Army in the battle and siege of Port Arthur during the Russo-Japanese War. Japanese soldiers hurled themselves against stout fortress defenses, dying by the thousand.
  • Famously subverted at the Battle of Thermopylae, which funneled the massive zerg rushing Persian army into a narrow corridor straight into Greek spears. Numbers counted for nothing.
  • Try entering "zerg rush" into Google's search bar. You'll be amused!

Nature Edit

  • Ants do this. It's called Marabunta. Everything is wasted. They are probably the inspiration from which human wave attacks are drawn.
    • Ant-termite wars are the epitome of this trope, as endless numbers of ants charge matching waves of termites. Every bit as epic as human battles, and casualties are predictably enormous.
    • One African species of ant actually invades the major orifices of its prey and bite at once, inside and out: witness this BBC documentary of a raiding party defeating a freshwater crab by crawling inside its wounds and eating it alive.
    • Driver ants (the siafu) use similar tactics for downing prey and are capable of blanketing a forest floor for miles around their nest. They even apply zerg rushes to physical obstacles, when they encounter an impassable barrier they use themselves as ramps.
  • In 2007, a massive ten square-mile pack of jellyfish swarmed a salmon farm, killing its entire population of about one hundred thousand fish. The water was so thick with jellyfish that the farm's boats could hardly even move, preventing the personnel from saving any of their salmon.
  • This defense mechanism employed by Japanese honeybees against a particular type of hornet. (European and, presumably, African honeybees haven't evolved that particular instinct.) Interestingly enough, it's not your typical "sting it 'til it dies" tactic you would expect from a hive of bees, because said hornets can apparently take it. Instead, these bees pile on top of the hornet and roast it alive by vibrating, their own tolerance for heat just barely higher than that of the hornet's.
  • Killer bees are KNOWN for doing this.
  • So are piranhas.
    • Watch this.. Now, remember that piranhas hunt in packs.
  • This is the main reason why Everything's Worse with Wolves.
  • Dromaeosaurs (or more commonly known as "raptors"), but especially Deinonychus, became famous for their hunting strategy which is extremely similar to that of wolves, and almost every depiction of these dinosaurs shows them savagely mobbing and overwhelming huge plant-eaters. But Science Marches On, and after people have realized this whole theory had been based on more wishful thinking than actual fossil evidence, it has gradually lost its credibility. Then someone claimed to have found support for the idea of pack-hunting among giant theropods, like tyrannosaurids...
    • Science Marches On back the way it came, however! There's at least one fossil trackway evidently made by deinonychosaurs that clearly demonstrates cooperative travelling, which means that the theory of pack-hunting raptors is still plausible. This article explains it all.
  • Bacteria. The Ur Example of "divide and conquer"....


  1. The war then ended with a negotiated settlement instead of the planned conquest of Finland, because of the threat of Britain and France joining the war on Finland's side. Which they actually were strongly considering.