- See Melee (disambiguation) for other uses
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Melee (// or /ˈmeleɪ/, French: mêlée [mɛle]; the French spelling is also quite frequent in English writing), generally refers to disorganized close combat in naval or armor battles fought at abnormally close range with little central control once it starts. The French term was borrowed into English in c. 1640 (a re-borrowing of a lost Middle English melle, but the Old French borrowing survives in medley and meddle)
The Battle of Trafalgar became a melee when the British ships broke the French and Spanish line, precipitating a ship-to-ship battle. In this instance, the melee was planned; Admiral Nelson used the superior fighting qualities of his crews to offset the greater French and Spanish numbers.
Until World War I the cavalry regiments of most European armies were trained in two forms of mounted combat: the charge which anticipated the clash of massed horsemen, armed with lances and sabers, and the mêlée. The latter was envisaged as a swirling mass of individual combats after the ranked lines of the charge had been broken up by the shock of initial encounter.
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