Largest naval battle in history

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The title of the "largest naval battle in history" is disputed between adherents of different criteria which include the numbers of personnel and/or vessels involved in the battle, and the total displacement 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.


  • Salamis, September 480 BC. 371 Greek ships defeated 600–900 Persian ships in this decisive battle. Greek triremes had a crew of about 200, and their small penteconters had 50 oarsmen.
  • Cape Ecnomus, 256 BC. One of Ancient Rome's first major naval victories over its rival, the city of Carthage, during the First Punic War. The battle itself involved around 680 ships and 300,000 personnel from both sides. Total casualties were about 40,000–50,000, of which roughly 10,000 were on the Roman side and the rest from the Carthaginian side.
  • Battle of Actium, September 31 BC. The crucial battle in the final war of the Roman Republic, between Mark Antony and Octavian, and one of the most critical naval battles of all time. Somewhere between 780-800 ships were involved in the battle. Antony had 350 quinqueremes (larger galleys) and 30-50 transports. Octavian had 400 ships, which were a combination of smaller biremes and triremes. The battle led to Octavian becoming known as Augustus and becoming the first Roman emperor.
  • Red Cliffs, in the winter of AD 208, a decisive naval engagement between the forces of Cao Cao and the allied forces of Liu Bei and Sun Quan, the battle resulted in the defeat of Cao Cao and confirmed the separation of China into northern and southern halves, the Yangtze River Valley as a border. Between 270,000 and 850,000 personnel participated in the battle.
  • Battle of the Masts, AD 654. The Battle of the Masts, or the Battle of Finike (Phoenix), was an engagement involving the Byzantine Empire, with 500 ships led personally by Emperor Constans II, and the newly-formed navy of the Rashidun Caliphate, commanded by Admiral Abu'l-Awar, with 200 ships. The Byzantines hastily attacked, resulting in a decisive victory for the Arabs. Emperor Constans II barely escaped with his life, and the battle marked the emergence of Arabs on the Mediterranean.
  • Yamen, 19 March 1279. The battle which completed the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty's conquest of Southern Song Dynasty. It is claimed that more than 1,000 Song dynasty warships were destroyed by the Yuan dynasty near Yamen, Guangdong, China.
  • Lake Poyang, 30 August – 4 October 1363. Claimed to be the largest naval battle in terms of personnel, with a reported 850,000 sailors and soldiers involved. A Ming dynasty rebel force, said to be 200,000 strong, commanded by Zhu Yuanzhang, met a Han rebel force, claimed to be 650,000-strong, commanded by Chen Youliang, on Lake Poyang, China's largest freshwater lake.
  • Lepanto, 7 October 1571. a fleet of the Holy League, led by the Spanish Empire and the Venetian Republic, inflicted a major defeat on the fleet of the Ottoman Empire in the Gulf of Patras. More than 150,000 people in 490 ships were involved, resulting in 50,000 deaths and more than 240 ships lost.
  • Jutland, 31 May – 1 June 1916. 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 World War I. The German fleet consisted of 16 dreadnought and 6 pre-dreadnought battleships, 5 battle cruisers, 11 light cruisers, and 61 fleet torpedo boats, while the numerically superior British fleet was composed of 28 battleships, 9 battle cruisers, 8 armoured cruisers, 26 light cruisers, 78 destroyers, 1 minelayer, and 1 seaplane carrier. Britain suffered more casualties and ships than Germany but the outcome was a strategic success for the British since it resulted in the successful containment of the German fleet. In terms of total displacement of ships involved, it was the largest surface battle.[1]
  • Philippine Sea, 19 – 20 June 1944. The largest aircraft carrier battle in history, involving fifteen American fleet and light carriers, nine Japanese carriers, 170 other warships and some 1,700 aircraft. In terms of displacement, the US Fifth Fleet's Fast Carrier Task Force (TF 58) is the largest single naval formation ever to give battle.
  • Leyte Gulf, 23 – 26 October 1944. The largest in terms of displacement of ships in the combined orders of battle, if not necessarily in terms of displacement of the ships engaged, was also the largest in terms of the displacement of ships sunk and in terms of the size of the area within which the component battles took place. The United States Third and Seventh Fleets (in total, Task Forces 38, 77, 78 and 79) 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 1 large aircraft carrier, 3 light carriers, nine battleships, 19 cruisers, 34 destroyers and several hundred aircraft. The opposing fleets carried a total of about 200,000 personnel. Leyte Gulf consisted of four major subsidiary battles: Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, Battle of Surigao Strait, Battle off Samar and Battle off Cape Engaño, along with other actions. They are counted together by virtue of 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, as well as several days time, from the first submarine action to the Japanese withdrawal.



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


  • 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.