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Melee aboard ships at the Battle of Sluys 1340 (BNF Fr. 2643, 15th century)
Battle of Lützen by Carl Wahlbom depicting a melee in which King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden was killed on 16 November 1632.

Melee (/ˈml/ or /ˈmɛl/, French: mêlée [mɛle]) generally refers to disorganized close combat in battles fought at abnormally close range with little central control once it starts.[1]

The French term was first used in English in c. 1640 (a re-borrowing of a lost Middle English melle,[citation needed] but the Old French borrowing survives in medley and meddle).[1]

In military aviation, a melee has been described as "[a]n air battle in which several aircraft, both friend and foe, are confusingly intermingled".[2]

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.[3][relevant? ]

The destroyer night action of the second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on November 13, 1942, was so utterly chaotic and the ships were so intermingled that an officer on the USS Monssen (DD-436) later likened it to "a barroom brawl after the lights had been shot out".[4]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b OED 2015.
  2. ^ Kumar, DeRemer & Marshall 2004, p. 462.
  3. ^ Fremont-Barnes 2005, p. 38.
  4. ^ Frank, Guadalcanal, p. 441.