Key point: Naval warfare is as old as time itself.
Fighting on the water for trade routes, territory or plain power and glory is as old a concept as there is when it comes to war.
Naval powers have also used various types of vessels to punish their enemies, from old wooden ships to the steel monsters of the battleship era of years past to aircraft carriers to the smaller but still dangerous cruisers and destroyers of today.
But if we were to survey history, what were the biggest, most important naval battles in all of history? And, if we wish to be more specific, what are the most important battleship battles as well?
Back by popular demand, we present two of our most popular pieces, authored by James Holmes and Robert Farley, packaged together in this one posting for your reading pleasure. What ships won the day? What vessels sunk to the bottom of the sea? What naval battles made the most history? Let the debate begin.
Ranking battles by their importance has been a bloodsport among military historians as long as there have been military historians. Creasy's classic Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World(1851) set the standard for the genre.
But what makes a battle decisive? And what makes one such test of arms more important than another?
Defining the term too loosely produces howlers like a recent US News catalogue of decisive battles of the American Civil War. By the US News count, 45 engagements qualified as decisive during that four-year struggle alone. Zounds!
The term must be defined less cavalierly than that to be meaningful. If every battle is decisive, no battle is. That's one reason I always ask students whether some legendary triumph—a Trafalgar, or a Tsushima Strait—was decisive, or just dramatic, or just featured the star power of a Nelson or Togo.