Largest naval battle in history

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The title of "largest naval battle in history" is disputed between adherents of criteria which include the numbers of personnel and/or vessels involved in the battle, and the total tonnage of the vessels involved. While battles fought in modern times are comparatively well-documented, the figures from those in pre-Renaissance times are generally believed to be exaggerated by contemporary chroniclers.

The candidates[edit]

  • Salamis, September (28?) 480 BC. 371 Greek ships defeated 300-600 Persian ships in this decisive battle. Greek triremes had a crew of about 200 while their small penteconters had 50 oarsmen, which would suggest that approximately 200,000 sailors, soldiers and marines took part.
  • Battle of Cape Ecnomus, 256 BC. One of Rome's first major naval victories over its rival, the city of Carthage, in the First Punic War. The battle itself involved around 600 ships and 300,000 men from both sides, 24 Roman and 30 Carthaginian including 65 ships captured by the Romans, estimates could place the human losses of the battle around 10,000 Romans lost and 30,000-40,000 Carthaginians lost or captured.
  • Red Cliffs, winter AD 208. A decisive naval engagement between forces of Cao Cao and the allied forces of Liu Bei and Sun Quan resulted in the defeat of Cao Cao and confirmed the separation between southern China and northern China along the Yangtze River Valley. Either between 270,000 and 310,000 soldiers participated in the engagement or up to nearly 1,000,000 soldiers participated.
  • Lepanto, 7 October 1571. 212 Holy League galleys and galleasses against 272 or more Ottoman galleys, galliots etc. (484+ total). The forces of the Holy League inflicted a crushing defeat on the Ottoman fleet. This was the last major naval battle in the Western world to be fought entirely or almost entirely between rowing vessels, and one of the earliest for which there is a reliable count of ships and personnel involved. Around 150,000 personnel took part in the battle. The Turkish fleet lost more than 200 vessels and suffered at least 20,000 casualties.
  • Battle of Myeongnyang, on October 26, 1597, the Joseon kingdom's navy, led by Admiral Yi Sun-sin, fought the Japanese navy in the Myeongnyang Strait, near Jindo Island, off the southwest corner of the Korean peninsula. With only 13 ships remaining from former Admiral Won Gyun's disastrous defeat at the Battle of Chilchonryang, Admiral Yi held the strait as a "Last Stand" battle against a fleet of 133 Japanese warships and at least 200 logistical support ships. The Japanese ships were on their way to support their land army's advance towards the Joseon capital of Hanyang (modern day Seoul). Many Japanese warships were sunk and/or damaged during the battle. From this victory, Joseon naval forces regained the control of the sea.
  • Jutland, May 31–June 1, 1916. The largest battle in terms of tonnage of ships engaged and in terms of the total tonnage of ships involved in a single action. The largest surface action and the largest ship-to-ship action, in terms of the tonnage of the ships engaged. The Imperial German Navy's High Seas Fleet commanded by Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer and the British Grand Fleet under Admiral Sir John Jellicoe engaged in battle near Jutland, Denmark during WW1. The German fleet consisted of 16 dreadnought and 5 pre-dreadnought battleships, 5 battle cruisers, 11 light cruisers, and 61 fleet torpedo boats, was engaged by a numerically superior British fleet that was composed of 28 battleships, 9 battle cruisers, 8 armoured cruisers, 26 light cruisers, 78 destroyers, 1 minelayer, and 1 seaplane. The battle ended on a draw. Material losses were heavier on the British side, but the High Seas Fleet only narrowly escaped destruction and never again risked a decisive encounter with the Grand Fleet.[1]
  • Philippine Sea, June 19–20, 1944. The largest aircraft carrier battle in history, the largest single naval battle of World War II, and arguably the largest in history, involving 15 US fleet and light carriers, nine Japanese carriers, 170 other warships and some 1,700 aircraft. The US Fifth Fleet's Task Force 58 is (in terms of tonnage) the largest single naval formation ever to give battle.
  • Leyte Gulf, October 23–26, 1944. The largest in terms of tonnage of ships in the combined orders of battle, if not necessarily in terms of tonnage of the ships engaged. Also the largest in terms of the tonnage of ships sunk, and in terms of the size of the area within which the component battles took place. The United States 3rd and 7th Fleets, including some Australian warships, comprised 8 large aircraft carriers, 8 light carriers, 18 escort carriers, 12 battleships, 24 cruisers, 141 destroyers and destroyer escorts, many other ships, and around 1,500 aircraft. They won a decisive victory over Japanese forces, which consisted of four aircraft carriers, nine battleships, 19 cruisers, 34 destroyers and several hundred aircraft. The opposing fleets carried a total of about 200,000 men. Leyte Gulf consisted of four major subsidiary battles: Battle of Sibuyan Sea, Battle of Surigao Strait, Battle off Samar and Battle of Cape Engano, along with other actions. These are counted together by virtue of their all being caused by the Japanese operation Sho-Go, which was aimed at destroying the Allied amphibious forces involved in the invasion of Leyte. However, the individual battles were separated by distances as great as two hundred miles.

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ "The Largest Naval Sea Battles in Military History". Norwich University. Retrieved 30 September 2014. 

Bibliography

General
  • Fuller, J.F.C. The Decisive Battles of the Western World and their Influence upon History, 3 vols. (Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1954-6)
    • Volume 1: From the earliest times to the battle of Lepanto
    • Volume 2: From the defeat of the Spanish Armada to the battle of Waterloo
    • Volume 3: From the American Civil War to the end of the Second World War
      • A source for entries on Salamis, Actium, Sluys, Lepanto, the Defeat of the Spanish Armada, Trafalgar, Midway and Leyte Gulf.
The Battle for Leyte Gulf