10 Brave Individuals Who Ignored Orders And Changed History Forever

By: Stephen Thompson | Last updated: Oct 11, 2023

Since time immemorial, military personnel have avoided global armageddon by disregarding orders that went against their convictions. These soldiers saved countless lives and ensured worldwide peace through their obstinate yet compassionate rebellion. That’s why their names continue to resonate decades after their courageous acts.

Read on to discover who these heroes were and how their disobedience impacted history.

Oops! It Was Just the Sun

In 1983, a devastating third world war was averted by one man’s intuition. Soviet officer Stanislav Petrov refused to launch an attack on the United States, despite warnings from their missile detection system.


Source: Queery-54 / Wikimedia Commons

These warnings turned out to be false alarms that mistook sunlight for an incoming American intercontinental ballistic missile. The planet edged closer to a nuclear holocaust that day, but thankfully, Petrov proved smarter than a machine.


A Soviet Officer’s Temperament Saves the World

Here is another nuclear exchange between the Soviet Union and the US that was just barely averted. Relations between these countries soured following the 13-day Cuban Missile Crisis. The last straw was a confused Soviet commander’s attack on the American Navy.


Source: Olga Arkhipova / Wikimedia Commons

Valentin Savitski ordered a submarine missile launch based on alleged US Navy provocations. Thankfully, fellow sub-officer Vasili Arkhipov was on board, and he quickly prevented the attack.

The Captain Said "No," but Teich Said "Yes"

During the Korean War in 1951, the Chinese army attacked American lines with 300,000 troops. While many American forces fled, E. C. Rivera and his rangers were left stranded in enemy territory.


Source: Wikimedia Commons

The only soldier willing to defy orders and assist Rivera’s unit was Lieutenant Dave Tiech, who sent four tanks to their rescue. We can’t say a global holocaust was avoided that day, but Lieutenant Tiech is a hero nonetheless.

The Soldier Without Arms

Corporal Desmond Doss’s story proves that lives can be saved without violence. As a conscientious objector, Doss enlisted in the American army while opposing enemy slaying. This was due to his Seventh-day Adventist faith. Instead of fighting, he worked as a medic for the 77th Infantry.


Source: U/Uzuzahin / Reddit

His position garnered negative criticism from his fellow soldiers, but he remained obstinate in his beliefs. Eventually, he saved over 75 soldiers and was awarded a Medal of Honor for his heroism.

Lt. Derrick Showed Extreme Bravery

Lt. Thomas Derrick, an Australian soldier, was part of the 2/48th Battalion of the Australian 9th Infantry Division, one of the most decorated units that fought valiantly during World War II. His most notable achievement occurred in 1943 during the Battle of Sattelberg in New Guinea.

Source: Herald Newspaper / Wikimedia Commons

With no victory in sight, their commanding officer gave the order to retire. Nonetheless, Derrick showed extraordinary bravery and determination by asking for more time to fight. This single act not only helped the team win but also earned him the Victoria Cross.


General Dietrich Refused To Take Orders

After the invasion of northern France in 1944, the Allied Forces wanted to take Paris as well. In order to prevent this, Hitler ordered a huge part of the city to be burned to the ground. This brought about a lot of casualties and even destroyed some of Paris’ most iconic buildings.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Yet, General Dietrich von Choltitz refused to comply with this order. He claimed that the orders had no military value and that Hitler was mentally unstable.


Albert Speer Advocated For German Civilians

After his order to burn down Paris in 1944, Hitler issued a more extreme order known as the Nero Decree. The German leader was unconcerned by any impact such an order would have on his country’s vulnerable civilian population.

Source: Ullstein Bild Dtl/Getty Images

One of Germany’s ministers, Albert Speer, refused to follow these orders because he felt it would have a ruinous effect on the German people. In the end, the Nero Decree wasn’t carried out.


Raoul Berube Refused To Shoot His Men

During WWI, technological advances such as the machine gun forced armies to shift their tactics to trench warfare. However, commanders authorized charges against machine guns in the early stages of the fight. In March 1915, the French 336th Infantry Regiment was instructed to attack entrenched German machine gun positions.

Source: Review Le pays de France / Wikimedia Commons

The divisional commander ordered his artillery commander to fire on his troops after the 21st company refused to charge again. Four corporals were executed a few days later for failing to cut barbed wire. Reveilhac was awarded the Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor and retired with honors.


Crisis Following The Demise of Augustus

The Rhine Mutiny of 14 CE was famous for threatening the integrity of the entire Roman Empire. Veterans and formerly enslaved people were recruited to fill the gaps left by the Illyricum uprising, which caused the Roman army to incur casualties. By 14 CE, the Pannonian Legions were made up of soldiers who felt their rights were being disregarded.

Source: Till Niermann / WIkimedia Commons

But when Augustus passed away, the legions stationed along the Rhine River rebelled and murdered the commanders of their units. Thankfully, the son of the new emperor was able to put an end to the revolution.