I'm looking for documented antecedents that describe the use or abuse of alcohol in the historical context of battles. Not necessarily well known battles.

I remember watching (many years ago) a Discovery Channel special on pirates where someone took on some battles there where fought under the influence of alcohol... for some reason.

Also I've read some very interesting questions about the use and abuse of rum and other beverages by navies in the past:

Did pirates really drink a lot of rum?

Historical use of alcohol as a source of clean water

Why is rum naval?

But they focus mainly on the generalized drinking but not on a particular incident that might have taken place while or because people was under the influence of alcohol.

Just read about Dutch Courage which I suppose is very relevant to the subject... =)

  • 1
    I suspect that in ever battle in human history at least one participant on one side has had a little bit of liquid courage. (unless the Latter Day Saints fought the Puritans in a battle I don't know about).
    – MCW
    Commented Jul 5, 2016 at 19:09

5 Answers 5


One example, which I heard about in Dan Carlin's Hardcore History podcast (disclaimer, he's not a historian and sometimes prefers good story telling to historical accuracy and uncertainty), is from the siege of Münster (Germany, not Ireland) in 1534.

The story goes that the Prince-Bishop leading the siege planned to attack at sunrise on the morning of the 26th May. But the previous afternoon some of the soldiers were drinking heavily, and as the sun was going down they mistook the sunset for the sunrise, and thought they were going to miss out on their share of the loot in the pillaging of the city. So they charged the city walls. This precipitated a chain reaction that dragged the rest of the attacking army in to the fray in the darkness add the sun went down. The disorganised, impromptu (and accidental) attack, with the added confusion of darkness, was a total failure.

Consequently, rather than successfully storming the city on the 26th May, the siege dragged on for another few months.

(Spoiler alert: it didn't end well for the Münster Anabaptist rebellion).

A source for this can be found in "A History of the Münster Anabaptist" by Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, although there are probably earlier sources that he uses if you speak German (very little in English on this). See page 62, which you can find online at google book

  • 2
    I just heard this same podcast earlier this week, and was going to mention the same incident. I'll just have to settle for upvoting and adding some links. :-)
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 2, 2016 at 15:53
  • FWIW, that podcast is over four and a half hours long. Good listen, but if you just want to hear about this particular attack, a good place to zip in is about 2:35:00 (and lasts about 6 minutes of airtime)
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 2, 2016 at 16:34
  • In his defense, Carlin is consistently 100% upfront and honest about what his podcast is and isn't. And he is also pretty good about noting how good/flimsy his sources are.
    – DVK
    Commented Jul 2, 2016 at 23:51

It is well known that Russian front line troops were given 100 gram of vodka daily. Sometimes this norm was doubled. This was introduced by Stalin's personal order during the Finnish war 1940, and the order remained in force for the Soviet-German war. This resulted in many cases of alcoholism among the Soviet soldiers. The details can be found in Russian Wikipedia, for example Наркомовские 100 грамм in Russian.

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    I knew that there would be this answer the moment I saw the question. Commented Jul 3, 2016 at 9:45

It is rumoured that on the evening of June 15, 1815, Marechal Ney may have enjoyed too much of M. Dumont's Burgundy in Gosselies, and that his late start to Quatre Bras the following morning may be in consequence:

According to local tradition Ney's first care was to have a bed prepared 'with two or three mattresses'. Then he proceeded to do honour to his host's cuisine and fine Burgundy. During this time Napoleon had sent several messages to le Marechal enjoining him to advance at once. But Ney liked M. Dumont's wine, and as the bottles were emptied lined them up before him on the table. He resumed is march the next morning, but it was then too late, ....

Lest we judge le Marechal too harshly, note that Ney had spent most of the two preceding days in a goat cart catching up to le Grand Armee, finally doing so at Charleroi only a few hours earlier. At that point he had been rewarded by Napoleon with command of the left wing and an escort of the Imperial Guard Red Lancers. Undoubtedly Generals D'Erlon and Reille, Ney's divisional commanders, would have joined him for dinner that night along with their senior officers.


Liquor (sake) was an important ingredient of preparing Japanese soldiers for suicidal Banzai Attacks.

The most important of these took place in June 1944 on Saipan, which contained supplies, including liquor, for Japan's Pacific islands.


There is a (pejorative) French expression saoul comme un Polonais (drunk like a Pole).

This expression comes from the Somosierra battle in 1808 where Polish light cavalry won for the French, after what the survivors were presented to Napoleon. French generals were quite jealous and mentioned that the Poles were drunk.

To what Napoleon responded

  • version 1: So gentlemen, learn to be drunk like Poles
  • version 2: One must have been drunk like a Pole to accomplish this

Sourced from Wiktionary, see also Mediapart

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