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For other uses, see Melee (disambiguation).
Naval melee at the Battle of Sluys 1340 (BNF Fr. 2643, 15th century)
Battle of Lützen by Carl Wahlbom depicting a melee in which King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden was killed on 16 November 1632.
A melee during medieval tournament.

Melee (/ˈml/ or /ˈmɛl/, French: mêlée [mɛle]; the French spelling is also quite frequent in English writing, and as melée), generally refers to disorganized close combat in battles fought at abnormally close range with little central control once it starts.[1]

The French term was first used in English in c. 1640 (a re-borrowing of a lost Middle English melle,[citation needed] but the Old French borrowing survives in medley and meddle).[1]

In military aviation, a melee has been described as "[a]n air battle in which several aircraft, both friend and foe, are confusingly intermingled".[2]

Planning for a melee[edit]

In some situation a commander may plan to deliberately create a melee. Lord Nelson described his tactics for the Battle of Trafalgar as inducing a "pell mell battle", or a melee between the fleets, which he was sure would lead to a decisive victory, given the superiority of the Royal Navy.[3]

Melee and 19th century cavalry armour[edit]

During the Napoleonic war some continental heavy cavalry known as cuirassiers, wore armour, and it has been argued that such armour gave them an advantage in a Melee. For example at the Battle of Ratisbon in 1809 there was a heavy cavalry melee French and Austrian cuirassiers, they were similarly armed, but unlike the French the Austrians did not have a back plate and in the words of General Marbot "during the mélée, they were mercilessly stabbed from behind by the French, who, having nothing to fear in that way, kept up the work of slaughter, killing a vast number of the enemy, and losing few men of their own". Marbot estimated that, compared to the French, the Austrians suffered 8 to 1 wounded and 13 to one killed and concluded that "if their backs had been protected as well as their chests, their courage would have been the same, and ... at least they would not have been so unfortunate during the mélée, and their retreat would not have become a butchery".[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b OED 2015.
  2. ^ Kumar, DeRemer & Marshall 2004, p. 462.
  3. ^ Fremont-Barnes 2005, p. 38.
  4. ^ Roemer 1863, pp. 343–344.