Take it from Vizzini, the bald kidnapper in The Princess Bride: "Never get involved in a land war in Asia!" Or, at the very least, get out of Russia before winter. That's the lesson both Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolph Hitler learned during their failed attempts to attack the massive Eurasian country. True, these were pretty bad dudes and the world is better off because they lost; but the horrific suffering of their armies nevertheless made the invasions similarly "inconceivable!"
In June 1812 Napoleon assembled an army of 600,000 to invade Moscow and subdue his former ally, Czar Alexander I [source: PBS]. As he marched into Russia, it was typhus-carrying lice, not enemy soldiers, that began to take a toll on his forces. But despite typhus and trench fever, a weakened French army reached Moscow on Sept. 14, declaring victory in the largely vacated city [source: Knight]. On the return trip, however, temperatures plummeted to -22 degrees Fahrenheit (-30 Celsius), freezing the beleaguered soldiers' lips together and killing thousands of horses. Facing such harsh conditions with little food, as few as 10,000 men made it back home [source: Minard].
Fast-forward to 1941 as Hitler's army began its own June invasion of Russia, known as Operation Barbarossa. Believing victory would take only a few months — and despite owning several books about Napoleon — the Nazi leader sent his troops into battle ill prepared for the impending winter. Again, plummeting temperatures and a lack of warm coats and hats meant many returned home without ears, noses, fingers and even eyelids [source: Roberts].