Top 10: Greatest Naval Battles in History

It is easier to control the ground than the sea. Even the most powerful ones have never fully dominated it.

After all, there is no point in controlling the sea if the ground loses: the French fleet would have been practically useless to De Gaulle, without crushing the Reich.

And controlling the ground without having the sea is, nothing more than submitting to the good will of the enforcers of a lock, like Hamas learned in Gaza.


At the end of the day, what matters is that either the ground or the sea power implies: changing the view of priorities, the strategy, the way of fighting.

As noted Admiral Castex, when there is a casus belli of the ground against the sea, the weapons are different from each belligerent, as well as the techniques for using them.

10. Battle of Lepanto

Battle_of_Lepanto_1571

In the Naval Battle of Lepanto, a fleet of the Holy League, (Republic of Venice, Kingdom of Spain, the Knights of Malta and the Papal States), won the Ottoman Empire, on 7 October 1571, off the coast of Lepanto, Greece.

This battle represented the end of Islamic expansion in the Mediterranean.

In 1570, the Ottoman Turks invaded the island of Cyprus, then in the possession of the Venetian Republic. The Venetians, weakened by years of struggle against the Turks, were forced to ask for help, since the ownership of Cyprus would allow the Turks the mastery of the Mediterranean.

Pope Pius V assembled a squad of 208 galleys and 6 galleons (huge rowing ships with 44 cannons), marine of the Venetian Republic, the Kingdom of Spain, the Knights of Malta and the Papal States, under the command of John of Austria, forming the so-called Holy League.

This fleet faced 230 Turkish galleys off the coast of Lepanto, Greece.

The fight lasted only three hours. There were destroyed or captured 190 Turkish galleys, while the Christians lost only 12 ships.

Lepanto represented the end of Turkish maritime threat to Europe.

9. Naval Battle of Diu

Diu_map1729

The naval Battle of Diu took place on February 3, 1509, in the waters near Diu, India, which confronted the naval forces of the Portuguese Empire and a combined fleet of the Burji Sultanate of Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, the Zamorin of Calicut and the Sultan of Gujarat. The battle took on a character of a personal revenge to D. Francisco de Almeida, who lost his son Don Lorenzo in a disaster, in Chaul in 1508.

This battle marked the beginning of the European domain. As a result, the power of the Ottoman Turks in India was seriously shaken, allowing the Portuguese forces, after this battle, quickly conquered the ports and coastal towns on the margins of the Indian Ocean, such as Mombasa, Muscat, Ormuz, Goa, Colombo and Malacca.

The Portuguese monopoly in the Indian lasted until the arrival of the British (British East India Company), which was affirmed through the battle of Swally, near Surat in 1612.

In the battle of Diu, the Portuguese forces were composed of 18 vessels, about 1500 Portuguese men, and 400 Cochin and Cannanore 400 Malabar. The Muslim forces were composed of 12 vessels and about 80 galleys from Gujarat and Calicut. It is known that one of the wounded in battle was Ferdinand Magellan, the navigator who went around the world.

From the wreckage of the battle there were three royal flags of Mamluk Sultan of Cairo, which were forwarded to the Convent of Christ in Tomar (Portugal), spiritual headquarters of the Templar Knights, where they remain to this day.

The Battle of Diu, the most emblematic of the history of the Portuguese Navy, was one of the few naval battles where the losing army was totally annihilated.

However, in a tactical point of view, it represents a setback by the Portuguese, since they returned to give greater importance to approach to combating than the artillery combat.

From the strategic point of view, this was the factor that, above any other, created the conditions that allowed Afonso de Albuquerque conquering Goa in 1510, Malacca in 1511, by entering the Red Sea and forcing the Zamorin of Calicut to sue for peace in 1513, and definitely become lord of Hormuz in 1515.

8. Invincible Armada

Invincible_Armada

The Spanish Armada or Invincible Armada was a fleet assembled by King Philip II in 1588 to invade England.

The Naval Battle of Gravelines was the largest combat of the undeclared Anglo-Spanish War and the attempt of Philip II of neutralizing the English influence on the policy of the Spanish Netherlands and reaffirm hegemony in the fight for the seas.

The Armada consisted of 130 ships with artillery, manned by 8000 sailors, carrying 18,000 soldiers, and was destined to embark on yet another army of 30,000 infants. On command, the Duke of Medina-Sidonia travelled on a Portuguese galleon, the Saint Martin.

In the combat of the English Channel, the British prevented the shipment of troops on the ground, frustrated the plans of invasion and forced the Armada to return bypassing the British Isles.

On the return trip, due to storms, half the ships and their crews were lost.

The episode of the Invincible Armada was a major political and strategic loss to the Spanish crown and had great positive impact for the English National Identity.

This fleet consists of Spanish and Portuguese ships of which 600 were killed, 397 were captured, 1,000 were wounded and 3 sunken ships.

The English Fleet was commanded by Charles Howard and Francis Drake, and it was composed of 197 vessels (34 warships and 163 merchant ships), had 500 killed or wounded.

7. Battle of the Nile

Battle-of-the-Nile

The Battle of the Nile, known in France as the Battle of Aboukir, was an important naval battle of the French Revolutionary Wars between the fleet of the United Kingdom of Great Britain (UK predecessor of today), commanded by Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, and the French fleet under the command of Vice-Admiral François-Paul D’Brueys Aigalliers which took place at night and morning of 1 and 2 August 1798.

The French casualties were very high. 1700 men were killed and 3,000 captured, while the British casualties were quite low, with only 217 dead.

The French fleet had arrived in the Egyptian city of Alexandria on July 1st, two days after the English fleet Nelson had left in pursuit of the French.

French troops landed, and the city was taken. As it was difficult for ships entering the port of Alexandria, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the Vice Admiral Brueys, captain of the Orient, to drop anchor 13 ships, sand 4 frigates at Aboukir Bay, about 32 km east-northeast of Alexandria, while Napoleon and his troops marched in the Egyptian desert to conquer Cairo.

Meanwhile, the British fleet paced the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, until Greece was informed that the French had been seen four weeks before sailing on Crete for southeast bound for Alexandria.

On the evening of August 1, Nelson finally spotted the fleet of Brueys which was anchored in line in the shallow waters of the Bay of Aboukir with a long and dangerous sandbar at its rear. Brueys thought Nelson would not run the risk of attack until the next day, given the danger posed by trying to navigate the bay with no light.

This situation, however, calls for the ability of experienced sailors and unusual tactics, and it was precisely what distinguished and more excited Nelson.

Nelson’s ships went immediately to both flanks of the the anchored French fleet, but stopped in the middle of the line of ships, which ensured that half of French ships could not take part in the action because they were located downwind.

The French fleet had increased firepower: a ship of 118 guns, three ships of 80 cannons, nine ships of 74 cannons and 4 frigates.

However, this surprise attack of Nelson gave the English the tactical advantage of not losing any ships while the French fleet suffered huge losses: only two survived, others were captured or sunk, including the Orient, which caught fire and exploded during battle. Vice Adm. Brueys was hit and died on the deck of Orient.

Nelson took the win with a wide variety of honors and gifts from foreign powers who recognized him.
Became Baron Nelson of the Nile and began receiving annual pensions of both the English and Irish Parliament. Also received £ 10,000.


6. Battle of Trafalgar

Battle-of-Trafalgar

The Battle of Trafalgar was a naval battle between France and Spain against England on 21 October 1805, in the Napoleonic era, off the coast Trafalgar Cape on the Spanish coast.

The Franco-Spanish fleet was commanded by Admiral Villeneuve, while the English were commanded by Admiral Nelson, for many the greatest genius in naval strategy ever. France wanted to invade England by the English Channel, but first had to get rid of the English navy.

The Trafalgar Cape is in south of Cadiz, in the Spanish Atlantic coast. Between 7am and 8am on the morning of 21 October 1805, the two fleets was sighted near Trafalgar Cape, south of Cadiz.

The English side had 27 ships, not counting other frigates and smaller vessels, all equipped with a total of 2650 pieces of artillery. The opponent had 33 ships and 3150 guns. However, historians say, the outnumbered Nelson was not impaired. In fact, their cannons were lighter and allow more rate of fire. Apart from that its ships had greater amount of concentrated cannons.

At 11.45 am the first shot was fired. By 16h00 the fate of the battle was drawn, and at 18:00, the last shot sounded.

As for the number of casualties, the Spanish had in 2500, including 1,000 deaths.

The French lost 3700 men, suffering a total of 5200 losses.

The winners had lost 450 soldiers and 1700 casualties. The victory began the design of the strategy and organization. The Franco-Spanish fleet as it was classic, was prepared with all profiled boats, offering a barrier extensive and brutal fire. Instead of also form a similar alignment, Nelson opted to order the formation of two columns, and so fall upon the enemy line. The aim was from the alignment in three, weakening the opponent.

It was a risky technique for an obvious reason: while their boats did not arrive there, they could not fire any shots, being entirely at the mercy of the enemy fire. In this case, the enemy ships could not help each other. And so it was. Just five hours after the start of the battle, aboard the Victory was sung victory. Lord Nelson never knew how right their strategy was, since he was hit by a fatal shot fired from the French ship Redoutable.

The Battle of Trafalgar had a relative significance in what concerns the strategy of Napoleon. At the time, the Emperor saw his domains grow, with victories at Ulm and Austerlitz, so devalued defeat.

However, in the medium term, the importance of Trafalgar proved crucial, since it meant the end of the idea of Napoleon to invade England, due to lack of vessels that would ensure the transportation and security of the French soldiers in an eventual landing. The output was found to block the waterways of England. No luck…

From the Spanish point of view, the defeat of Trafalgar ended up being almost fatal. First, the Spanish were almost without fleet. Then, under the Napoleonic blockade, saw the British take care of business with America.

More than the political-military event, what really fascinates is the vision of a man whose strategy led to a crushing victory, with few human and material losses to is side.

Values as the organization and definition of strategy produced positive results. A lesson with countless examples throughout history. Lord Nelson had won the Battle of Trafalgar, but lost his life. His body was moved to Gibraltar and from there to London. He was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

5. Battle of Tsushima

Tsushima

The Russo-Japanese War of 1904/1905, marks the final emergence of Japan as a foreground power.
The sudden discovery of the ability of a country in the Far East defeat, with the same weapons, a powerful Eurasian power, caused a tremendous impact on world public opinion.

The balance of forces among Western countries and the rest of the world, was for the first time, clearly challenged.

The European hegemony on the other continents, of essentially colonial character, was decisively challenged.

It was the beginning of a long process that still continues today, which progressively reversed the balance of the existing power so far extremely favorable to the West.

The Russo-Japanese War was caused by intention to conquer Korea and Manchuria by the Russians and the Japanese. After the Treaty of Shimonoseki, the Russians forced the Japanese to restore Port Arthur. Russian troops occupied the territory and expanded by Manchuria. Several diplomatic agreements were tempted. Then the Japanese took possession of the harbor, confronted and defeated opponents.

This was the first time a European country was overcome by an Asian nation. This war served to exacerbate the Russian crisis in its Tsarist regime, and subsequently triggered the Russian Revolution in 1917.

The Battle of Tsushima, commonly known as the “Naval Battle of the Japan Sea” and as the “Battle of Tsushima Strait”, was the last and most decisive naval battle of the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905.
Was fought on 27-28 May 1905 (14-15 May in the Julian calendar in use in Russia then) in the Tsushima Strait.

In this battle, Japanese fleet under the command of Admiral Togo Heihachiro destroyed two-thirds of the Russian fleet, under the command of Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky. The Russian commander was captured by the Japanese. Historian Edmund Morris called it the greatest naval battle since Trafalgar. The Battle of Tsushima was the only sea battle in history where battleships had a decisive action within the army.

The battle demonstrated that large guns over long ranges were more advantageous during naval battles than mixed batteries of different sizes. In the naval battle, the Russian fleet was disadvantaged in relation to the Japanese; in terrestrial confrontation Japan had a large advantage in contingent of soldiers.

While the Russian army counted 80,000 soldiers poorly prepared, the Japanese had 270,000 trained and equipped soldiers.

On May 27, 1905, the Russians sent 38 ships to Japanese territory, 27 were destroyed. At the end of the battle the Russians had 4380 dead, 1862 wounded and 5917 prisoners, 117 killed and 583 wounded.
This was also known as the first great war of the twentieth century.

4. Battle of Jutland

Battle-of-Jutland

The battle of Jutland was the largest naval battle of World War I and the only full-scale clash of battleships that took place in that war. Through criteria activated is the largest naval battle in history.

The battle took place between May 31 and June 1, 1916 and naval forces fighting were the British and German fleets. The results were uncertain due to heavy losses suffered by both parties.

But from a strategic point of view, the British continued to dominate the sea. The fight began when the two fleets threw themselves towards each other, without, however, their admirals were aware of what was going to happen next. Each thought he would fight only with a part of the enemy force.

It was a exemplary case of failure of game theory, where ships of all two fleets faced each other. Never in the history of mankind, so many men and ships clashed in combat. Both naval formations cost more than the Gross Domestic Product of the two great powers. The British fleet consisted of 28 battleships, 9 cruisers, 8 heavy cruisers, 26 light cruisers and 77 destroyers and torpedo boats, and a seaplane. The German fleet consisted of 16 battleships, 6 cruisers, 11 light cruisers, 61 destroyers and destroyers, and 18 submarines.

The most important naval episode of World War I occurred in the waters of Jutland (Denmark) to 31 May 1916, between the large British fleet under the command of Sir John Jellicoe, and the German High Sea Fleet Admiral Reinhard Scheer, occurred in two phases, ending with the escape of the German fleet, although the British have lost 3 heavy cruisers, 3 cruisers, 8 destroyers and 6097 men, compared with 1 battleship, 1 heavy cruiser, 4 cruisers, 5 destroyers and 2545 men in the German part.

However, despite the British losses were superior to the German, the English became masters of the sea at the end of the battle, and during the rest of the war, the German surface fleet had to remain immobilized at their bases.

3. Battle of Java Sea

Battle-Java-Sea-Haguro

Battle of the Java Sea was a major naval battle that occurred at the beginning of the Pacific War during World War II, between the Japanese and the Allied naval forces, which suffered a major defeat off the coasts of Indonesia and New Guinea on 27 February 1942 and subsequent days, breaking down into smaller but big confrontation battles, as the Battle of Sunda Strait, which turned the episode in the greatest naval battle of surface so far occurred since World War I.

At the end of the battles around Java, the main combined fleet of the Allies had been destroyed, with the loss of 10 ships and 2173 sailors.

The battle also put an end to the Allied naval operations in Southeast Asia in 1942, culminating with the Japanese invasion of Java (Indonesia) on 28 February, causing the retreat of the few surviving planes of the U.S. Air Force and of the RAF still in the country.

For one week, British and Dutch troops in the islands still fought and resisted the attacker until the total surrender of the land to Japanese forces in March of that year. It was the only major battle between surface ships at the beginning of the Pacific War.

2. Battle of the Coral Sea

USS_Lexington_under_attack_at_Coral_Sea

It was a naval battle fought in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Luisíadas Archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, between 4 and May 8, 1942, between U.S. and Australian forces, by the Allies, and ships of the Imperial Navy of Japan.

This was the first battle of the war in which carrier aircraft from both sides in combat attacked the enemy carriers.

Coral Sea was the first time in the whole war, that a Japanese naval force was faced with serious opposition – and many weaknesses were revealed there. The Americans, though still inexperienced in naval combat and even suffering the loss of the USS Lexington aircraft carrier, sank the Japanese aircraft carrier Shoho and damaged two others, the Shokaku and Zuikaku, forcing them to return to Japanese shipyards for long repairs, being unable to participate in the Battle of Midway a month later.

The U.S. squad was composed of: 2 aircraft carriers, 9 cruisers, 13 destroyers, 2 tankers, 1 seaplane and 128 aircraft, having suffered two damaged aircraft carrier, one with gravity. 1 destroyer and 1 tanker were sunk, 60 planes lost and 656 dead.

The Japanese fleet was composed of: 2 aircraft carriers, 1 light aircraft carriers, 9 cruisers, 15 destroyers, 5 minesweepers, 2 minelayer ships, 2 submarines, 3 gunboats, 1 tanker, 1 seaplane, 12 vessels transport and 127 aircraft.

1 light aircraft carrier and 1 destroyer were sunk, as 1 carrier, 1 destroyer, 2 minor war vessels, 1 transport vessels. 92 aircraft were shot and 966 deaths suffered.

This was the first naval battle between Japanese and Americans in the Pacific War.

1. Battle of Midway

USS_Yorktown_hit-Battle-of-Midway

Battle of Midway was a naval battle in June 1942 in the Pacific Ocean between the forces of the United States and Japan during World War II, six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which marked the beginning of the Pacific War.

The result of the battle was a decisive and crucial victory for the Americans, being remembered as the most important naval engagement of the World War II.

It marked the turning point in the conflict causing loss to the Japanese of four aircraft carriers and a cruiser in its fleet, plus 200 naval pilots in the failed attempt to invade and occupy Midway Atoll, permanently weakening its ability to fight at sea and in the air and removing them the military initiative for the rest of the war. It was one of the largest naval battles in history.

Conclusion: It is a naval battle all fighting occurred in the seas, oceans, or other large areas of water such as large lakes and great rivers. The oldest record of a naval battle took place in 1210 BC, in the coast of Cyprus.


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  • Tim Daniel

    Respectfully, I ask, “Where are Salamis and the Battle of the Virginia Capes”? Also, when rolling up all of history there should be only one most important battle per war. Thus, I believe there should be only one WWII battle and one Napoleonic War battle. Also I believe the Spanish Armada victory is somewhat overrated. With no offense to Lord Howard, Drake and Hawkings, the Spanish were so disorganized they were not so formidable as rightfully feared, and in the end the most decisive damage was done by the weather, not the English fleet.

  • Michael Ch.

    The battle of Salamis should be at least at the top 3. And why are there so many battles from the pacific war, I guess an American wrote the article?

  • Lennard

    I ask of this, what of the Battle of Myeongnyang. That battle was 12 ships vs 133 ships, and the 12 ships won with no loss.