Largest naval battle in history

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The title of "largest naval battle 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, September (28?) 480 BC. 371 Greek ships defeated 300-600 Persian ships in this decisive battle. Greek triremes had a crew of about 200 while their small penteconters had 50 oarsmen, which would suggest that approximately 200,000 sailors, soldiers and marines took part.
  • Battle of Cape Ecnomus, 256 BC. One of Rome's first major naval victories over its rival, the city of Carthage, in the First Punic War. The battle itself involved around 680 ships and 300,000 men 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.
  • Red Cliffs, winter AD 208. A decisive naval engagement between the forces of Cao Cao and the allied forces of Liu Bei and Sun Quan, this 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. Up to 850,000 men participated in this battle.
  • Lepanto, 7 October 1571. 212 Holy League galleys and galleasses against 272 or more Ottoman 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, May 31–June 1, 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 5 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. The battle ended in a draw. In terms of total tonnage of ships involved, this was the largest surface battle.[1]
  • Philippine Sea, June 19–20, 1944. The largest aircraft carrier battle in history, involving fifteen U.S. 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, October 23–26, 1944. The largest in terms of tonnage of ships in the combined orders of battle, if not necessarily in terms of tonnage of the ships engaged; it is 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 3rd and 7th Fleets, 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 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 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. However, the individual battles were separated by distances as great as two hundred miles.



  1. "The Largest Naval Sea Battles in Military History". Norwich University. Retrieved 30 September 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • 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.
The Battle for Leyte Gulf
  • Cutler, Thomas (2001). The Battle of Leyte Gulf: 23-26 October 1944. Annapolis, Maryland, U.S.: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-243-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hornfischer, James D. (2004). The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors. Bantam. ISBN 0-553-80257-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot (2004) [1963]. Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, vol. 12 of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Champaign, Illinois, U.S.A.: University of Illinois Press; Reprint edition. ISBN 0-252-07063-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sauer, Howard (1999). The Last Big-Gun Naval Battle: The Battle of Surigao Strait. Glencannon Press. ISBN 1-889901-08-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Woodward, C. Vann (2007) [1947]. The Battle for Leyte Gulf. Skyhorse Publishing. ISBN 1-60239-194-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>