In the 1579 translation of Plutarch's Lives of the noble Grecians and Romanes, Sir Thomas North uses the term 'pelmel' to refer to a disorganized retreat. The phrase was later used in its current spelling in Shakespeare's Richard III, 1594:
March on, ioine brauelie, let vs to it pell mell, If not to heauen then hand in hand to hell.
In military aviation, a melee has been described as "[a]n air battle in which several aircraft, both friend and foe, are confusingly intermingled".
Lord Nelson described his tactics for the Battle of Trafalgar as inducing a "pell mell battle" focused on engagements between individual ships where the superior morale and skill of the Royal Navy would prevail.
The destroyer night action of the second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on 13 November 1942, was so utterly chaotic and the ships were so intermingled that an officer on USS Monssen later likened it to "a barroom brawl after the lights had been shot out".
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- Fremont-Barnes, Gregory (2005), Trafalgar 1805: Nelson's Crowning Victory, Osprey Publishing, p. 38 38, ISBN 978-1-84176-892-2
- Kumar, Bharat; DeRemer, Dale; Marshall, Douglas (2004), An Illustrated Dictionary of Aviation, McGraw Hill Professional, p. 462, ISBN 978-0-07-178260-9
- "mêlée n.", Oxford English Dictionary (online ed.), Oxford University Press, March 2015
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