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The title of the "largest naval battle in history" is disputed between adherents of different criteria which include the numbers of personnel and/or vessels involved in the battle, and the total displacement 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 candidatesEdit

  • Salamis, September 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.
  • 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 personnel 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 of 208 AD. 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. Between 270,000 and 850,000 personnel participated in this battle.
  • Battle of the Masts, 654 AD. The Battle of the Masts, or the Battle of Finike (Phoenix), was an engagement involving the Byzantine Empire, with 500 ships and led personally by Emperor Constans II, and the newly formed navy of the Rashidun Caliphate, commanded by Admiral Abu'l-Awar, with 200 ships. The Byzantines hastily attacked, resulting in a decisive victory for the Arabs. Emperor Constans II barely escaped with his life, and this battle marked the emergence of Arabs on the Mediterranean.
  • Yamen, March 19, 1279. The battle which ended the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty's conquest of Southern Song Dynasty. It is claimed that more than 1,000 Song Dynasty warships were destroyed by the Yuan Dynasty near Yamen, Guangdong, China.
  • Lake Poyang, August 30–October 4, 1363. Claimed to be the largest naval battle in terms of personnel, with a reported 850,000 sailors and soldiers involved. A Ming rebel force, said to be 200,000 strong, commanded by Zhu Yuanzhang, met a Han rebel force, claimed to be 650,000-strong, commanded by Chen Youliang, on Lake Poyang, China's largest freshwater lake.
  • Lepanto, October 7, 1571. a fleet of the Holy League, led by the Venetian Republic and the Spanish Empire, inflicted a major defeat on the fleet of the Ottoman Empire in the Gulf of Patras. More than 150.000 people in 490 ships were involved, resulting in 50,000 deaths and more than 240 ships lost.
  • 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 6 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 carrier. Britain lost more ships and twice as many men as Germany, although ultimately the outcome was beneficial for the British as the battle resulted in the successful containment of the German fleet. In terms of total displacement 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. In terms of displacement, the U.S. Fifth Fleet's Task Force 58 is the largest single naval formation ever to give battle.
  • Leyte Gulf, October 23–26, 1944. The largest in terms of displacement of ships in the combined orders of battle, if not necessarily in terms of displacement of the ships engaged; it is also the largest in terms of the displacement of ships sunk, and in terms of the size of the area within which the component battles took place. The United States Third and Seventh 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 1 large aircraft carrier, 3 light carriers, nine battleships, 19 cruisers, 34 destroyers and several hundred aircraft. The opposing fleets carried a total of about 200,000 personnel. Leyte Gulf consisted of four major subsidiary battles: Battle of the 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, as well as several days time, from the first submarine action to the Japanese withdrawal.



  1. ^ "The Largest Naval Sea Battles in Military History". Norwich University. Retrieved 30 September 2014.


  • 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.