Small Wars Journal

Russian warship, Go F**k Yourself – A Short History of Wartime Taunts

Fri, 03/25/2022 - 7:17am

Russian warship, Go F**k Yourself – A Short History of Wartime Taunts

By William Plowright

In the days following the launch of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, one particular event quickly went viral. In the story, on February 24th a Russian naval vessel radioed a group of Ukrainian soldiers stationed on the unpopulated Snake Island, ordering them to surrender or face death. Though vastly overpowered, the Ukrainian soldiers radioed back their simple response; “Russian warship, go f*** yourself.” According to the story, the small group of thirteen soldiers were obliterated by the firepower

The story was later amended, as more information became available. The group were actually border guards, and not soldiers. They all lived, and were taken prisoner by the Russians. But the story had already taken flight and gained its own meaning beyond the literal events of what actually happened. The Ukrainian Postal service adopted the phrase as its slogan, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy promised to award the highest possible honour – Hero of Ukraine – to all thirteen men.

All armies have their battle cry, from the cry of Clan Cameron of Scotland’s Western Highlands crying “Chlanna nan con thigibh a’ so ‘s gheibh sibh feòil! (“Sons of the hounds, come here and get flesh!” to the high-pitched Confederate “Rebel Yell” from the American Civil War of 1861 to 1965. Research has shown that battle cries are ubiquitous across human cultures in one form or another, and serve a variety of roles, from raising morale, to coordinating action, or to motivate combatants before launching an attack.

And they work. Fighting in Myanmar in the Second World War in 1943, Victoria Cross winner Halvaldar Gaje Ghale charged Japanese machine guns at the top of a hill, covered in blood from his wounds, screaming the Gurkha warcry “Ayo Gorkhali!” (“Here come the Gurkhas”), as he led his outnumbered men into a brutal hand-to-hand skirmish that they eventually won. The power of the battle cry can not be denied.


Come and Taken Them

The wartime taunt, is a slightly different variation of the battle cry, intended to poke humour at one’s enemy, to show confidence in the face of threat. Whereas a battle cry may be to rally troops, a war taunt is often a response, especially one to in the face of potential loss. No one seems courageous or noble when taunting a weaker opponent, but taunting a more powerful rival can be unifying. Humor has long been noted to be an integral part of military culture, including dark humor in the face of death or loss.

One of the most famous war taunts in history is undoubtedly that of Spartan King Leonidas, Battle of Thermopylae during the Second Persian Invasion of Greece in 480 BCE. When ordered by the Persian invaders to “Hand over your arms”, the Spartan King famously replied “come and take them.” The taunt in Greek (μολὼν λαβέ, or Molon Iabe) has such a place in history, that it has come to mean many things to many people. One example is the American pro-gun lobby, who splatters the phrase on t-shirts alongside MAGA slogans, supposedly in opposition to some elite that is planning to restrict their right to bear arms.



As technology has developed, war taunts have been spread over larger distance. The invention of the telegraph and radio fundamentally changed warfare, allowing not only greater coordination between opponents, but also allowing them to communicate with each other from distance.

In 1944 as the Allied forces advanced into Germany, they met resistance in the Battle of the Bulge, as the German offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge. The German commander sent a somewhat eloquent telegram for the American forces to surrender, saying: “The fortune of war is changing… There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town.” The American commanding officer Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe sent his response to the Germans in a single word; “Nuts.”

As we have entered the era of the internet, and social media online discourse has trended towards confrontation, and violent conflicts are fundamentally changing as confrontation moves from the battlefield to the Twittersphere.



In 2015, as the Islamic State rose to power in Syria and Iraq, the online hacktivist collective known as Anonymous declared war on the brutal insurgent group. This confrontation took place completely online, and Islamic State could have been rightly concerned about the effects that a massive international cyber attack could cause. The Islamic State, perhaps, unconsciously echoing Patton, tweeted their taunt to Anonymous’  announcement in a single word, “Idiots.”

Although the crisis in Ukraine is still relatively young, the narrative so far has been passionate Ukrainian resistance in the face of Russian aggression and incompetence. Few things sum this up as well as the slogan “Russian Warship, Go Fuck Yourself.”

But it is worth remembering what sometimes happens to those who lead with taunts. The Spartan soldiers were slaughtered in the Battle of Thermopylae. Leonidas himself was beheaded, and Persians did indeed take his weapons. The Islamic State’s confidence to stand up to the world seems arrogant and naive in retrospect, and their fate is well known. 

Whereas people all over the world may take solace in the Ukrainian response of “Russian warship, go f*** yourself”, it is worth remembering that stories about taunts to superior forces often end in tragedy and not comedy.  

March 28, 2022: A previous version of the article misattributed the “Nuts” quote to George S. Patton

About the Author(s)

I am currently a Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies at Durham University. I have also worked as an aid worker for the last ten years in Syria (during the Russian intervention), as well as in Afghanistan, DRC, Yemen, Palestine, Libya, CAR and others. I have published a book with Routledge on Armed Groups (based on research in Syria), with a second book coming out later this year. I have written for The Conversation.