Special Report

The Biggest Naval Battles of All Time

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

6. The Battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898
> Casualties: 77 dead, 200 injured for Spain. 1 casualty for the US
> Location: Manila Bay, Pacific Ocean
> Conflict: Spanish-American War

The Spanish-American War began in April of 1898. Americans largely supported war after seeing Spain wage war on Cubans who were pushing for independence. It became even more popular when the USS Maine was sunk under mysterious circumstances in Havana. Soon into the war, Commodore George Dewey was called to lead American ships into another Spanish colony – the Philippines.

Dewey and the Americans surprised the Spanish fleet on May 1, firing on the fleet and receiving little fire in return. By the end of the battle, all of Spain’s ships were destroyed, whereas American ships were largely unscathed. The victory ejected Spain from The Philippines, and the U.S. took control of the islands. Spain surrendered on July 17, 1898 – less than three months after the war started. The defeat ended Spain’s time as a colonial power and established the U.S. Navy as one of the world’s best.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

7. The Battle of Tsushima, May 27-28, 1905
> Casualties: 4,000 Russian sailors killed and 5,000 captured. 100 dead and 530 injured for Japan
> Location: Tsushima Strait, Japan
> Conflict: Russo-Japanese War

The Russo-Japanese War began after the two countries were unable to divide conquered areas of Korea and China between one another. Japan launched a surprise attack on a Russian naval base in China in 1904.

Russia counterattacked, launching its fleet towards the Tsushima Strait, a body of water in between mainland Korea and Japan. Russia badly underestimated the capabilities of the Japanese Navy and was quickly crushed. Of Russia’s 45 warships, just 10 survived the battle. Thousands of Russian sailors were killed, and Russia was forced to sign a peace treaty, ceding significant land to Japan in the area. As a result, Russia was no longer a dominant power in the region, while Japan expanded the reach of its empire.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

8. The Battle of Coronel, Nov. 1, 1914
> Casualties: Half of British ships sunk and 1,500 sailors killed. No casualties for von Spee and the Germans
> Location: Coronel, Pacific Ocean
> Conflict: World War I

One of the first major naval engagements of World War I, the Battle of Coronel was a disaster for the British Royal Navy. German Admiral Maximilian von Spee planned to disrupt British shipping routes from the west coast of South America, threatening supplies of weapons and food. British Admiral Craddock and his fleet were ordered to stop that from happening, though they were significantly outnumbered.

Craddock hoped to receive reinforcements, but reinforcements could not get to the Chilean coast in time. The British and German navies engaged one another off the coast of Coronel on Nov. 1, 1914. Two of the four British ships were sunk and the other two retreated, while German ships suffered little damage. The British public was shocked by the defeat – their worst naval loss in a century.

9. The Battle of Falkland Islands, Dec. 8, 1914
> Casualties: German fleet destroyed and 2,000 sailors killed. 10 killed and 14 wounded for British
> Location: Falkland Islands, Atlantic Ocean
> Conflict: World War I

After the defeat at Coronel, the British Navy wanted revenge and to regain their strategic footing near South America. A squadron led by two battle cruisers sailed for the southern tip of the continent. The ships were much more powerful than the ones that had previously been lost.

The squadron caught the Germans and Admiral von Spee by surprise near the Falkland Islands. The Germans tried to flee but were unable to escape and turned to fight the British ships. Hopelessly outgunned, the Germans lost nearly 2,000 sailors, while the British lost just 10. The victory at the Falkland Islands provided a significant morale boost for the British public, as their ground forces struggled on the Western Front of World War I.

Source: twm_news / Flickr

10. The Battle of Jutland, May 31-June 1, 1916
> Casualties: 6,000 killed and 600 wounded for British, 2,500 killed and 500 wounded for Germany
> Location: North Sea, Atlantic Ocean
> Conflict: World War I

World War I’s largest naval battle took place in 1916 off the coast of Denmark in the Battle of Jutland. Prior to the battle, German cruisers bombarded English coastal cities to lure British ships into a confrontation, then sailed north where the rest of the German fleet lay in wait in the hopes of crippling the British fleet. However, British codebreakers learned of the plan, and readied their forces for the confrontation.

The two powers met on May 31, with over 200 ships and roughly 100,000 sailors involved in the fighting. The British struggled tactically, springing their trap too early for one of the squadrons to arrive in time for the beginning of the battle. Though the battle inflicted a heavy cost – the British lost 6,000 troops and 14 ships, compared to the Germans 2,500 sailors and 11 ships – it allowed the British Navy to maintain control over the North Sea and eventually implement its devastating blockade that would help defeat Germany.

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