Posted by: Jacqui Murray | December 10, 2009

Eleven Top Naval Battles

In the Influence of Sea Power Upon History, Thomas Mahan laid out his decisive argument for the impact of navies on a nation’s global position. Though written in 1890, its evidence is no less compelling today. Take a look at my list of the eleven most influential sea battles (taken from historians, military experts and other bloggers) and their impact on the countries involved.

Actium — 31 BC

The decisive confrontation of the Final War of the Roman Republic. Mark Antony lost his fleet (200 ships sunk or captured) and his army deserted in large numbers. This ultimately led to the death of Ark Antony and the suicide of Cleopatra.

Battle of the Atlantic — 1939-1945

The longest continuous military campaign of World War II  running from 1939 through to the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945

battle of the atlantic

Battle of Jutland

The largest Naval battle during WWI and the only full-scale clash of battleships in that war

Battle of Jutland

Battle of Lepanto–1571

It broke the Turkish navy, and buried their dreams of conquering the Mediterranean effectively halting the Turkish invasion of Europe.

Battle of Lepanto

Battle of Midway — 1942

Fought over and near the tiny U.S. mid-Pacific base at Midway atoll and represents the strategic high water mark of Japan’s Pacific Ocean war. Prior to this action, Japan possessed general naval superiority over the United States. After Midway, the two opposing fleets were essentially equals and the United States soon took the offensive.

Sinking of the USS Yorktown

Battle of Trafalgar

France vs. Britain. The victory of the British ships commanded by Admiral Lord Nelson was so complete that it confirmed the preeminence of the British navy over all others

battle of trafalgar

Bonhomme Richards vs. Serapis — 1779

The nascent United States vs. Britain in British waters, no less.  The outcome of the battle convinced the French crown of the wisdom of backing the colonies in their fight to separate from British authority. Best remembered for John Paul Jones infamous quote, We have not yet begun to fight!

Monitor vs. the Merrimack

one of the most revolutionary naval battles in world history. Up until that point, all battles had been waged between wooden ships. This was the first battle in maritime history that two ironclad ships waged war.

monitor vs. merrimack

Peloponesian War Naval Battles — 431-404 BC

When Athens, a Greek Naval power, lost to Sparta, it heralded the end of Athens maritime empire

Naval battle in the harbor of Syracuse--Spartan victory

Siege of Candia

The blockage of Candia, the then capital of the island of Crete, by the Ottoman Empire in the 1600’s, is widely regarded as the longest siege in history. The Ottoman’s began the siege in 1648, and finally took over the city after twenty one years of constant blockade.

Siege of Candia

Spanish Armada vs. the British Navy, the battle at Gravelines (off the Irish coast) — 1588

Spain lost the battle and suffered enormously from storms trying to return home (lost over 24 ships) which led to British control of the seas

Battle of GravelinesDo you agree? What did i miss?



  1. “Bonhomme Richards vs. Serapis” but no Salamis?

  2. Good one. Those ancient Greeks sure could fight.

  3. The Spanish Armada was defeated by the England and the English Royal Navy, not ‘Britain’ or the British Royal Navy. Neither the Union of the Crowns or the Act of Union had taken place by this time.

    • You are right, of course. Thanks.

  4. The Peloponesian War Naval Battles were in fact a stunning defeat for Athens who prided themselves in maritime control. The only way the Spartans won the naval engagements was because they boarded the Athenian ships and fought in close combat at which thay were supreme. Check out
    for more naval battles.

  5. Too early for the infamous Greek Fire. Thanks for visiting, historyjunkie88. Come back often.

  6. […] Eleven Top Naval Battles December 2009 6 comments and 1 Like on, 3 […]

  7. k it is like Eleven Top Western Naval Battles

  8. Please, help me find the sheme of “Merrimack”. I saw it’s impressive above water part and am very interested to see how deep it’s merged unger water.

    • I confess I have no idea. Let’s see if any other readers can help.

    • Plans I have seen indicate that the depth is similar to the height above the waterline, if that helps.

  9. […] Eleven Top Naval Battles–always at the top of the list […]

  10. i think you missed the battle of leyte gulf wich is actually the greatest naval battle in world war 2

    • Good one. After reading Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, I gained a real appreciation for that one. Thanks for mentioning it.

      • did you also know that the 2 largest battle ships in the world mushasi and yamato

      • is included in the battle of leyte gulf

      • It’s amazing that’s not more common knowledge. That, too, I learned in Last Stand. What an amazing testament to man’s bravery that battle was.

      • its amazing what the navy can you do with the uss enterprise too bad it dod not become a floating museum she was a great hero with a great crew by her side a solid combination

    • You-all have a lot to be proud of in that battle. What a time that was.

  11. thanks im a fillipino thats why i have something to be proud of as well as the americans

  12. its a shame not all filipinos know that

  13. […] Eleven Top Naval Battles–throughout history. The Greeks, Spartans, Americans–that’s a lot of battles. […]

  14. I think the most heroic one is the battle of hansan island where japanese’s 333 ships were crushed by the Joseon(Now korea)’s mere 13 ships.

    • How’d I miss that one? I’m off to Google it…

      • by bad it is actually called Battle of Myeongnyang.

    • Um. You are talking about two different battles. Battle of Myeongnyang is the 13 ships versus 333 (some say 133, but whatever, Korea was highly outmatched), and Hansan Battle is 50 ships versus 133 ships. Hansan battle was more “decisive”, because Korea managed to destroy over 60 ships with 9000 casualties while losing ZERO ship and 19 dead 400 wounded.

  15. […] Eleven Top Naval Battles–always at the top of the list […]

  16. Oh and obviously Oriental history is relatively harder to research in the West, but as mentioned before, But it’s obviously clear that the list is biased towards the West, when the Orient had comparable naval fleets prior to the Industrial Revolution, but yet there is not a single Oriental naval fight mentioned in the list. Battle of Hansan definitely needs to be in the list. It’s considered as one of the “top 4 greatest Naval Battles in History as chosen by the British Naval Academy”. The battle was led by Admiral Yi Sun-Sin with 50 ships against 133 ships of Japanese Daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who wanted to invade Korea and eventually China (Ming Dynasty) in the 16th century with invading forces of over 150,000 soldiers.The battle result: 59 Japanese ships sunk, 14 captured, with ~9000 people casualty. Korea: 19 people dead, No ship lost or captured. This made a turning point in the war (which is seen as the first Japanese attempt to become a global power) and has affected strong nationalism in Korea, Japan, and China, arguably the economic powers in the modern history.

    “It is always difficult for Englishmen to admit that Nelson ever had an equal in his profession, but we cannot deny that General Yi Sun-Sin is the greatest naval commander of Asiatic race.” – Ballard, G.A. (Head of British Naval Academy

    “You may compare me with Lord Nelson, but not with Yi Sun-Sin. Next to him, I am only a petty officer.” – Togo Heihachiro (Admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy).

  17. The Battle of Tsushima (Japan vs. Russia)

    Led by Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō, the Japanese fleet destroyed two thirds of the Russian fleet…

  18. […] Eleven Top Naval Battles–always at the top of the list […]

  19. You missed the battle of Cartagena de Indias, where 6 spanish ships led by Blas de Lezo defended the the port of Cartagena de Indias against an enormous British invading force of almost 200 ships during the 1740s.

    • Great addition. This is an older post. Were I to write it now, it would look quite different. Thanks for adding this one.

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