Largest naval battle in history
The title of "largest naval battle
Naval battle
A naval battle is a battle fought using boats, ships or other waterborne vessels. Most naval battles have occurred at sea, but a few have taken place on lakes or rivers. The earliest recorded naval battle took place in 1210 BC near Cyprus...

 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

  • Salamis
    Battle of Salamis
    The Battle of Salamis was fought between an Alliance of Greek city-states and the Persian Empire in September 480 BCE, in the straits between the mainland and Salamis, an island in the Saronic Gulf near Athens...

    , September (28?) 480 BC. 371 Greek
    Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

     ships defeated 1,271 Persian ships in this decisive battle. Greek trireme
    A trireme was a type of galley, a Hellenistic-era warship that was used by the ancient maritime civilizations of the Mediterranean, especially the Phoenicians, ancient Greeks and Romans.The trireme derives its name from its three rows of oars on each side, manned with one man per oar...

    s had a crew of about 200 while their small penteconters
    Penteconter (ship)
    The penteconter, alt. spelling pentekonter, also transliterated as pentecontor or pentekontor was an ancient Greek galley in use since the archaic period....

     had 50 oarsmen, which would suggest that approximately 200,000 sailors, soldiers and marines took part.
  • Lepanto
    Battle of Lepanto (1571)
    The Battle of Lepanto took place on 7 October 1571 when a fleet of the Holy League, a coalition of Catholic maritime states, decisively defeated the main fleet of the Ottoman Empire in five hours of fighting on the northern edge of the Gulf of Patras, off western Greece...

    , 7 October 1571. 212 Holy League
    Holy League (Mediterranean)
    The Holy League of 1571 was arranged by Pope St. Pius V and included almost all the major Catholic maritime states in the Mediterranean. It was intended to break the Ottoman Turks' control of the eastern Mediterranean Sea and was formally concluded on 25 May 1571...

     galleys and galleass
    The galleass developed from large merchant galleys.Converted for military use they were higher and larger than regular galleys. They had up to 32 oars, each worked by up to 5 men. They usually had three masts and a forecastle and aftcastle. Much effort was made in Venice to make these galleasses...

    es against 272 or more Ottoman
    Ottoman Empire
    The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

     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.
  • Jutland
    Battle of Jutland
    The Battle of Jutland was a naval battle between the British Royal Navy's Grand Fleet and the Imperial German Navy's High Seas Fleet during the First World War. The battle was fought on 31 May and 1 June 1916 in the North Sea near Jutland, Denmark. It was the largest naval battle and the only...

    , May 31–June 1, 1916. The largest battle in terms tonnage
    Tonnage is a measure of the size or cargo carrying capacity of a ship. The term derives from the taxation paid on tuns or casks of wine, and was later used in reference to the weight of a ship's cargo; however, in modern maritime usage, "tonnage" specifically refers to a calculation of the volume...

     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
    High Seas Fleet
    The High Seas Fleet was the battle fleet of the German Empire and saw action during World War I. The formation was created in February 1907, when the Home Fleet was renamed as the High Seas Fleet. Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz was the architect of the fleet; he envisioned a force powerful enough to...

     commanded by Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer
    Reinhard Scheer
    Reinhard Scheer was an Admiral in the German Kaiserliche Marine. Scheer joined the navy in 1879 as an officer cadet; he progressed through the ranks, commanding cruisers and battleships, as well as major staff positions on land. At the outbreak of World War I, Scheer was the commander of the II...

    , consisting of 16 battleships, 5 battle cruisers, 11 light cruisers and 5 pre-Dreadnoughts, was engaged by the numerically superior British Grand Fleet under Admiral Sir John Jellicoe
    John Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe
    Admiral of the Fleet John Rushworth Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe, GCB, OM, GCVO was a British Royal Navy admiral who commanded the Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland in World War I...

    , composed of 28 battleships, 9 battle cruisers, 8 armoured cruisers, 28 light cruisers and 78 destroyers. Material losses were heavier on the British side, but the High Seas Fleet only narrowly escaped destruction and was thereafter not prepared to risk another encounter with the Grand Fleet.
  • Philippine Sea
    Battle of the Philippine Sea
    The Battle of the Philippine Sea was a decisive naval battle of World War II which effectively eliminated the Imperial Japanese Navy's ability to conduct large-scale carrier actions. It took place during the United States' amphibious invasion of the Mariana Islands during the Pacific War...

    , 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
    Battle of Leyte Gulf
    The Battle of Leyte Gulf, also called the "Battles for Leyte Gulf", and formerly known as the "Second Battle of the Philippine Sea", is generally considered to be the largest naval battle of World War II and, by some criteria, possibly the largest naval battle in history.It was fought in waters...

    , October 23–26, 1944. The largest in terms of tonnage
    Tonnage is a measure of the size or cargo carrying capacity of a ship. The term derives from the taxation paid on tuns or casks of wine, and was later used in reference to the weight of a ship's cargo; however, in modern maritime usage, "tonnage" specifically refers to a calculation of the volume...

     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
    United States
    The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

     3rd and 7th Fleets, including some Australia
    Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

    n warships, comprised 8 large aircraft carrier
    Aircraft carrier
    An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations...

    s, 24 light
    Light aircraft carrier
    A light aircraft carrier is an aircraft carrier that is smaller than the standard carriers of a navy. The precise definition of the type varies by country; light carriers typically have a complement of aircraft only ½ to ⅔ the size of a full-sized or "fleet" carrier.-History:In World War II, the...

    /escort carriers, 12 battleships, 24 cruiser
    A cruiser is a type of warship. The term has been in use for several hundreds of years, and has had different meanings throughout this period...

    s, 141 destroyer
    In naval terminology, a destroyer is a fast and maneuverable yet long-endurance warship intended to escort larger vessels in a fleet, convoy or battle group and defend them against smaller, powerful, short-range attackers. Destroyers, originally called torpedo-boat destroyers in 1892, evolved from...

    s, many other ships, and around 1,500 aircraft. They won a decisive victory over Japanese
    Empire of Japan
    The Empire of Japan is the name of the state of Japan that existed from the Meiji Restoration on 3 January 1868 to the enactment of the post-World War II Constitution of...

     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
    Battle off Samar
    The Battle off Samar was the centermost action of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, one of the largest naval battles in history, which took place in the Philippine Sea off Samar Island, in the Philippines on 25 October 1944...

     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
    Battle of Leyte
    The Battle of Leyte in the Pacific campaign of World War II was the invasion and conquest of the island of Leyte in the Philippines by American and Filipino guerrilla forces under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, who fought against the Imperial Japanese Army in the Philippines led by...

    . However, the individual battles were separated by distances as great as two hundred miles.


  • 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.
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