Naval battle

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A sea ​​battle is the battle between larger fleets . The fight of individual warships or smaller groups of ships is called a sea ​​battle . Amphibious operations in which naval forces support a landing directed against land forces are a special case .


There are a number of significant naval battles that have gone down as crucial turning points in world history. The earliest sea battle documented in writing is that of 1200 BC. BC defeated by the Hittite great king Šuppiluliuma II against the "enemies of Alašija ". The sea ​​battle of Salamis , the sea ​​battle of Actium , the sea ​​battle of Lepanto , the sea ​​battle of Gravelines , the sea ​​battle of Trafalgar or the sea ​​battle of Tsushima are particularly known as momentous historical cuts . In such events, new shipbuilding and naval warfare techniques or tactical innovations often turned out to be the decisive advantages that decided between victory and defeat.

Due to modern reconnaissance and communications technology and extensive weapon systems , the clash of large naval units no longer corresponds to the current conditions of warfare. The prerequisites for major sea battles therefore no longer exist.

Destruction of the Spanish Armada in the Battle of Gravelines in 1588
Film recording of a sea battle during the Russo-Japanese War

Examples of major naval battles


In the battle of Salamis (September 23, 480 BC) the Greeks , here mainly the Athenians , defeated the Persians under the great king Xerxes under the leadership of Themistocles . This meant the end of the Persian expansion to the west and the salvation of Greek culture as the basis of western civilization. If the Persians had triumphed, the oriental influence might have displaced Greek culture, which could have influenced the cultural development of Europe to this day.

The most important military innovation was the ramming technique. Themistocles used clever tactics to lure the Persians into such a tight spot that their oars got wedged and the ships were no longer maneuverable. Then the Greek triremes stabbed the sides of the Persian ships and sank them with a pile-driver.

See also: Ancient Naval Warfare Tactics


At the Battle of Mylae in 260 BC BC the Romans under consul Gaius Duilius defeated the Carthaginians under Hannibal Gisko . With this victory the end of the Carthaginian naval rule in the Mediterranean was ushered in, Rome's way to world power was free.

Before the battle, the Carthaginians were considered to be the far superior sailors, while Rome was a pure land power. The decisive tactic of the Romans was to let their well-trained soldiers board the Carthaginian ships using a special device, the Corvus , and to defeat their seamen as superior fighters. The Corvus was a drawbridge that was dropped onto the enemy ship. She pierced the deck with a thorn, and then the soldiers could storm over the bridge. Significantly, the Romans gave up this tactic very soon after they had consolidated their naval power and their fleet had mastered the naval tactic.


The Battle of Actium on September 2, 31 BC. BC was an important naval battle at the end of the Roman Republic , through which Octavian, who later became Emperor Augustus , finally achieved supremacy in the Roman Empire . In this battle, with the help of Marcus Agrippa, he defeated his opponent Marcus Antonius and the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra VII .

The different types of ships of the opposing fleets played a role in the battle. While Antonius' ships were large, very heavily armed and quite cumbersome, Octavian had much smaller and more agile vehicles ( Liburnians ) and outnumbered the enemy. By tactical skill, his fleet commander Agrippa prevented the enemy from developing his strength and made optimal use of his own advantages. It is true that the Egyptians managed to get Queen Cleopatra and the war chest to safety by means of an escape maneuver; Antony lost most of his fleet due to the incendiary arrows that Octavian had used.

The Roman civil war was largely decided after the battle of Actium, and Antony and Cleopatra had to retreat to Alexandria . Based on the gods especially revered by Octavian and Antonius, the battle was presented in propaganda as the victory of Apollo over Dionysus : The victory of Rome over Egypt was considered the triumph of the West over the East, which was perceived as decadent. Until the relocation of the imperial capital Rome to the east by Emperor Constantine in 325, the aftermath of this dispute shaped the culture and politics of the Roman imperial period , which might have been significantly different if Antonius and with him the eastern, Greek-speaking half of the empire had prevailed in the civil war.


Battle of Lepanto

The Battle of Lepanto was the last great sea battle involving rowed galleys . On October 7, 1571, the fleet of the Holy League under Don Juan de Austria defeated the fleet of the Ottoman Empire under Kilic Ali Pascha . The fleet of the Holy League, an alliance initiated by the Pope against the “infidels”, consisted for the most part of Venetian ships and a smaller part of Spanish ships with the participation of the Knights of Malta. With this battle the Turkish expansion, perceived as a threat to the West since the fall of Constantinople in 1453, was contained. The European states were able to regain a foothold in the Mediterranean. The power of Spain, the empire where the sun never sets, reached its zenith.

The most important military innovation were the six Venetian galasses , which contributed significantly to the victory. These ships, unlike the rowed galleys, were high- sided sailing ships with a large number of heavy artillery on both sides. Their firepower was enormous compared to the galleys, which could only carry a few guns. Also, the galeas could hardly be boarded. Conversely, the Spaniards succeeded in successfully deploying their superior infantry in the boarding battles, where - similar to the Roman naval infantry at Mylae - they contributed significantly to the victory.


Only 17 years after Lepanto, in 1588, the Spanish Armada under Admiral Medina Sidona , previously considered the most powerful naval force in the world, was unable to convert its superiority into a victory in the Battle of Gravelines in the English Channel .

Spain sought success with the means that had still led to success in Lepanto. Like fortresses towered over the galleasses with their castles , the much flatter built British ships. Large guns and the infantry trained in boarding combat should defeat the enemy. The British ships were built lighter and lower and were only equipped with light cannons. However, they sailed considerably better and could easily outmaneuver the Spaniards. The British ships followed their commanders Charles Howard , Francis Drake , John Hawkins and Martin Frobisher in a keel line each and fired their broadsides one after the other at the enemy. This gave rise to the idea of ​​a ship of the line , which was characterized by its maneuverability and the firepower of its broadside. Until the Battle of the Skagerrak in 1916, ships of the line determined the character of the great naval battles.

Contrary to what has often been described, the Spanish Armada did not suffer a crushing defeat against the English, but was merely weakened. The battle ended in a draw with losses on both sides and only the circumnavigation of the British Isles led to the high Spanish losses. Nor did the rise of British naval power begin with this battle. The English fleet was clearly inferior to the Dutch in the first three Anglo-Dutch naval wars up to 1674, despite their uniform tactics. Only then did the rise, which led to the superiority over France, u. a. led in the Seven Years' War and enabled the emergence of the British Empire (often called "Empire").


In the Battle of Trafalgar , the British Royal Navy under Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson defeated a Franco-Spanish Armada under the French Vice Admiral Pierre Charles de Villeneuve on October 21, 1805 at Cape Trafalgar , which was supposed to break out of the port of Cádiz, which was blocked by the British to support a landing in southern Italy. One of the keys to success was the new kind of battle plan carefully prepared by Nelson, which provided for a concentrated break through of the enemy order of battle right from the start of the battle. The British captured or destroyed the majority of French and Spanish ships , including the unique Santissima Trinidad , while not losing a single combat ship themselves. In addition to the surprise effect, Nelson relied primarily on the more reliable artillery of his ships and the superior close combat training of his soldiers. Admiral Nelson himself fell to a musket ball in battle. A devastating storm shortly after the battle affected many of the heavily damaged warships and the British prize crews had to abandon some of the 17 captured ships. The loss of his fleet thwarted Napoleon's plans for an invasion of the British Isles for good and secured English supremacy at sea for many decades. It also indirectly contributed to Napoleon's defeat on mainland Europe, which began to emerge a few years later.


The sea ​​battle at Tsushima took place from 27./28. May 1905 in the Korea Strait between the Japanese fleet under Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō and a Russian squadron under the command of Admiral Sinowi Petrovich Roschestvensky . It ended with the devastating defeat of the Russian fleet and was decisive for the outcome of the Russo-Japanese War . It is considered the first modern sea battle in world history. Admiral Togo carried out the Crossing the T maneuver, among other things , and destroyed the Russian command ships with concentrated firepower. The military-strategic analysis of the battle made a significant contribution to the development of the so-called capital ships ( dreadnoughts ) and thus led to a new arms race of the European powers at sea, one of the causes of the First World War . In Russia , the defeat brought about internal upheavals ( Russian Revolution 1905 ), which led to the establishment of the Duma and prepared the domestic political terrain for the Russian Revolution of 1917.


The battle of the battlecruisers . Red: German reconnaissance forces under Franz von Hipper . Orange: German main fleet, the liners under Reinhard Scheer . Blue: English battle cruiser under David Beatty trying to focus fire on the first ships of the German main fleet ( Crossing the T )

The Skagerrakschlacht , known in English as the Battle of Jutland (= Battle of Jutland), was a battle between the Grand Fleet of the Royal Navy and the deep sea fleet of the German Empire in the course of the First World War . It took place from May 31 to June 1, 1916 and was the only battle between entire fleets of steam-powered capital ships. The high casualties among British battlecruisers , which ultimately led to the abandonment of the concept of heavily armed but weakly armored capital ships, were striking . The Battle of the Skagerrak was the only major naval battle of the last century that was fought during the day; the naval battles of the Second World War took place mostly at night, or there were significantly fewer units involved.

From a tactical point of view, the losses of the Royal Navy in the Skagerrak Battle were disproportionately high with greater strength or tonnage, but the German Navy could not make any strategic capital from it due to a lack of significant weakening of the Royal Navy, which is why the battle was rated as a draw overall. With the turnaround, the German high seas fleet managed to implement an antidote to the " Crossing the T ", which had hitherto been considered devastating . This battle was of no importance for the progress of the war, the British fleet was able to successfully maintain the naval blockade of Germany, and nothing changed on the land fronts. Another consequence of the Skagerrak Battle was the continuation of the unrestricted submarine war on the German side, through which Great Britain should be brought to its knees economically. A second, decisive battle planned by the German side did not take place after the Kiel sailors' uprising and with it the November Revolution had begun.


In the vast seas of the Pacific , north of the Midway Islands , strong Japanese and American naval forces met for the Battle of Midway from June 2nd to 5th, 1942 . The battle consisted of a series of air strikes by carrier aircraft on both sides. The enemy ships never saw each other and did not shoot each other. In the end, the Japanese fleet lost four aircraft carriers and the American one. On the Japanese side 3,500 men had died, on the American side 307. These figures seem small compared to the blood toll in other battles, but it was above all the loss of well-trained Japanese pilots that, combined with the loss of the porters, was to determine the further course of the war. Midway initiated the turning point in the Pacific War and sealed the fate of the Japanese aspirations for great power, which had been very successful with victories in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904/05 and in the First World War. The way was clear for the United States to establish itself as the world's first sea power, a position that it was able to expand even further after the end of the Cold War.

Midway also showed that the days of battleships , as the ships of the line had been called since the early 20th century, were over. The Japanese battleships did not get a shot, the USA had to do without battleships anyway after losing its battle fleet at Pearl Harbor . Naval warfare was no longer possible without aircraft , the age of the aircraft carrier had begun. Other technical innovations that influenced the course of the naval battles of the 20th century should not be forgotten. The most important are radio technology and radar and the possibilities for reconnaissance and guidance resulting from this technology.

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Sea battle  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Tassilo Schmitt : From the end of success. Reflections on the fall of the Mycenaean palace civilization. In: Gustav Adolf Lehmann , Dorit Engster, Alexander Nuss (eds.): From the Bronze Age history to the modern reception of antiquities , Syngramma vol. 1, Universitätsverlag Göttingen 2012, p. 121f.