Mankind has fought battles on the sea for more than 3,000 years. Even in the interior of large landmasses, transportation before the advent of extensive railroads was largely dependent upon rivers, canals, and other navigable waterways.
The latter were crucial in the development of the modern world in the United Kingdom, the Low Countries and northern Germany, for they enabled the bulk movement of goods and raw materials without which the Industrial Revolution would not have occurred. Prior to 1750, materials largely moved by river barge or sea vessels. Thus armies, with their exorbitant needs for food, ammunition and fodder, were tied to the river valleys throughout the ages.
The oceanic influences throughout pre-recorded history (Homeric Legends, e.g. Troy), and classical works such as The Odyssey underscore the past influences. The Persian Empire – united and strong – could not prevail against the might of the Athenian fleet combined with that of lesser city states in several attempts to conquer the Greek city states. Phoenicia's and Egypt's power, Carthage's and even Rome's largely depended upon control of the seas.
So too did the Venetian Republic dominate Italy's city states, thwart the Ottoman Empire, and dominate commerce on the Silk Road and the Mediterranean in general for centuries. For three centuries, the Northmen (commonly called Vikings) raided and pillaged and went where they willed, far into central Russia and the Ukraine, and even to distant Constantinople (both via the Black Sea tributaries, Sicily, and through the Strait of Gibraltar).
In the Battle of the Delta, the Ancient Egyptians defeated the Sea Peoples in a sea battle circa 1175 BC. As recorded on the temple walls of the mortuary temple of pharaoh Ramesses III at Medinet Habu, this repulsed a major sea invasion near the shores of the eastern Nile Delta using a naval ambush and archers firing from both ships and shore.
Assyrian reliefs from the 8th century BC show Phoenician fighting ships, with two levels of oars, fighting men on a sort of bridge or deck above the oarsmen, and some sort of ram protruding from the bow. No written mention of strategy or tactics seems to have survived.
Josephus Flavius (Antiquities IX 283–287) reports a naval battle between Tyre and the king of Assyria who was aided by the other cities in Phoenicia. The battle took place off the shores of Tyre. Although the Tyrian fleet was much smaller in size, the Tyrians defeated their enemies.
Ancient descriptions of the Persian Wars were the first to feature large-scale naval operations, not just sophisticated fleet engagements with dozens of triremes on each side, but combined land-sea operations. It seems unlikely that all this was the product of a single mind or even of a generation; most likely the period of evolution and experimentation was simply not recorded by history.
After some initial battles while subjugating the Greeks of the Ionian coast, the Persians determined to invade Greece proper. Themistocles of Athens estimated that the Greeks would be outnumbered by the Persians on land, but that Athens could protect itself by building a fleet (the famous "wooden walls"), using the profits of the silver mines at Laurium to finance them.
The first Persian campaign, in 492 BC, was aborted because the fleet was lost in a storm, but the second, in 490 BC, captured islands in the Aegean Sea before landing on the mainland near Marathon. Attacks by the Greek armies repulsed these.
The third Persian campaign in 480 BC, under Xerxes I of Persia, followed the pattern of the second in marching the army via the Hellespont while the fleet paralleled them offshore. Near Artemisium, in the narrow channel between the mainland and Euboea, the Greek fleet held off multiple assaults by the Persians, the Persians breaking through a first line, but then being flanked by the second line of ships. But the defeat on land at Thermopylae forced a Greek withdrawal, and Athens evacuated its population to nearby Salamis Island.
The ensuing Battle of Salamis was one of the decisive engagements of history. Themistocles trapped the Persians in a channel too narrow for them to bring their greater numbers to bear, and attacked them vigorously, in the end causing the loss of 200 Persian ships vs 40 Greek. Aeschylus wrote a play about the defeat, The Persians, which was performed in a Greek theatre competition a few years after the battle. It is the oldest known surviving play. At the end, Xerxes still had a fleet stronger than the Greeks, but withdrew anyway, and after losing at Plataea in the following year, returned to Asia Minor, leaving the Greeks their freedom. Nevertheless, the Athenians and Spartans attacked and burned the laid-up Persian fleet at Mycale, and freed many of the Ionian towns. These battles involved triremes or biremes as the standard fighting platform, and the focus of the battle was to ram the opponent's vessel using the boat's reinforced prow. The opponent would try to maneuver and avoid contact, or alternately rush all the marines to the side about to be hit, thus tilting the boat. When the ram had withdrawn and the marines dispersed, the hole would now be above the waterline and not a critical injury to the ship.
During the next fifty years, the Greeks commanded the Aegean, but not harmoniously. After several minor wars, tensions exploded into the Peloponnesian War (431 BC) between Athens' Delian League and the Spartan Peloponnese. Naval strategy was critical; Athens walled itself off from the rest of Greece, leaving only the port at Piraeus open, and trusting in its navy to keep supplies flowing while the Spartan army besieged it. This strategy worked, although the close quarters likely contributed to the plague that killed many Athenians in 429 BC.
There were a number of sea battles between galleys; at Rhium, Naupactus, Pylos, Syracuse, Cynossema, Cyzicus, Notium. But the end came for Athens in 405 BC at Aegospotami in the Hellespont, where the Athenians had drawn up their fleet on the beach, and were surprised by the Spartan fleet, who landed and burned all the ships. Athens surrendered to Sparta in the following year.
Navies next played a major role in the complicated wars of the successors of Alexander the Great.
The Roman Republic had never been much of a seafaring nation, but it had to learn. In the Punic Wars with Carthage, Romans developed the technique of grappling and boarding enemy ships with soldiers. The Roman Navy grew gradually as Rome became more involved in Mediterranean politics; by the time of the Roman Civil War and the Battle of Actium (31 BC), hundreds of ships were involved, many of them quinqueremes mounting catapults and fighting towers. Following the Emperor Augustus transforming the Republic into the Roman Empire, Rome gained control of most of the Mediterranean. Without any significant maritime enemies, the Roman navy was reduced mostly to patrolling for pirates and transportation duties. It was only on the fringes of the Empire, in newly gained provinces or defensive missions against barbarian invasion, did the navy still engage in actual warfare.
While the barbarian invasions of the 4th century and later mostly occurred by land, some notable examples of naval conflicts are known. In the late 3rd century, in the reign of Emperor Gallienus, a large raiding party composed by Goths, Gepids and Heruli, launched itself in the Black Sea, raiding the coasts of Anatolia and Thrace, and crossing into the Aegean Sea, plundering mainland Greece (including Athens and Sparta) and going as far as Crete and Rhodes. In the twilight of the Roman Empire in the late 4th century, examples include that of Emperor Majorian, who, with the help of Constantinople, mustered a large fleet in a failed effort to expel the Germanic invaders from their recently conquered African territories, and a defeat of an Ostrogothic fleet at Sena Gallica in the Adriatic Sea.
During the Muslim conquests of the 7th century, Arab fleets first appeared, raiding Sicily in 652 (see History of Islam in southern Italy and Emirate of Sicily), and defeating the Byzantine Navy in 655. Constantinople was saved from a prolonged Arab siege in 678 by the invention of Greek fire, an early form of flamethrower that was devastating to the ships in the besieging fleet. These were the first of many encounters during the Byzantine-Arab Wars.
The Islamic Caliphate, or Arab Empire, became the dominant naval power in the Mediterranean Sea from the 7th to 13th centuries, during what is known as the Islamic Golden Age. One of the most significant inventions in medieval naval warfare was the torpedo, invented in Syria by the Arab inventor Hasan al-Rammah in 1275. His torpedo ran on water with a rocket system filled with explosive gunpowder materials and had three firing points. It was an effective weapon against ships.
In the 8th century the Vikings appeared, although their usual style was to appear quickly, plunder, and disappear, preferably attacking undefended locations. The Vikings raided places along the coastline of England and France, with the greatest threats being in England. They would raid monasteries for their wealth and lack of formidable defenders. They also utilized rivers and other auxiliary waterways to work their way inland in the eventual invasion of Britain. They wreaked havoc in Northumbria and Mercia and the rest of Anglia before being halted by Wessex. King Alfred the Great of England was able to stay the Viking invasions with a pivotal victory at the Battle of Edington. Alfred defeated Guthrum, establishing the boundaries of Danelaw in an 884 treaty. The effectiveness of Alfred's 'fleet' has been debated; Dr. Kenneth Harl has pointed out that as few as eleven ships were sent to combat the Vikings, only two of which were not beaten back or captured.
The Vikings also fought several sea battles among themselves. This was normally done by binding the ships on each side together, thus essentially fighting a land battle on the sea. However the fact that the losing side could not easily escape meant that battles tended to be hard and bloody. The Battle of Svolder is perhaps the most famous of these battles.
As Arab power in the Mediterranean began to wane, the Italian trading towns of Genoa, Pisa, and Venice stepped in to seize the opportunity, setting up commercial networks and building navies to protect them. At first the navies fought with the Arabs (off Bari in 1004, at Messina in 1005), but then they found themselves contending with Normans moving into Sicily, and finally with each other. The Genoese and Venetians fought four naval wars, in 1253–1284, 1293–1299, 1350–1355, and 1378–1381. The last ended with a decisive Venetian victory, giving it almost a century to enjoy Mediterranean trade domination before other European countries began expanding into the south and west.
In the north of Europe, the near-continuous conflict between England and France was characterised by raids on coastal towns and ports along the coastlines and the securing of sea lanes to protect troop–carrying transports. The Battle of Dover in 1217, between a French fleet of 80 ships under Eustace the Monk and an English fleet of 40 under Hubert de Burgh, is notable as the first recorded battle using sailing ship tactics. The battle of Arnemuiden (23 September 1338), which resulted in a French victory, marked the opening of the Hundred Years War and was the first battle involving artillery. However the battle of Sluys, fought two years later, saw the destruction of the French fleet in a decisive action which allowed the English effective control of the sea lanes and the strategic initiative for much of the war.
The Sui (581–618) and Tang (618–907) dynasties of China were involved in several naval affairs over the triple set of polities ruling medieval Korea (Three Kingdoms of Korea), along with engaging naval bombardments on the peninsula from Asuka period Yamato Kingdom (Japan).
The Tang dynasty aided the Korean kingdom of Silla (see also Unified Silla) and expelled the Korean kingdom of Baekje with the aid of Japanese naval forces from the Korean peninsula (see Battle of Baekgang) and conquered Silla's Korean rivals, Baekje and Goguryeo by 668. In addition, the Tang had maritime trading, tributary, and diplomatic ties as far as modern Sri Lanka, India, Islamic Iran and Arabia, as well as Somalia in East Africa.
From the Axumite Kingdom in modern-day Ethiopia, the Arab traveller Sa'd ibn Abi-Waqqas sailed from there to Tang China during the reign of Emperor Gaozong. Two decades later, he returned with a copy of the Quran, establishing the first Islamic mosque in China, the Mosque of Remembrance in Guangzhou. A rising rivalry followed between the Arabs and Chinese for control of trade in the Indian Ocean. In his book Cultural Flow Between China and the Outside World, Shen Fuwei notes that maritime Chinese merchants in the 9th century were landing regularly at Sufala in East Africa to cut out Arab middle-men traders.
The Chola dynasty of medieval India was a dominant seapower in the Indian Ocean, an avid maritime trader and diplomatic entity with Song China. Rajaraja Chola I (reigned 985 to 1014) and his son Rajendra Chola I (reigned 1014–42), sent a great naval expedition that occupied parts of Myanmar, Malaya, and Sumatra. The Cholas were the first rulers noted to have a naval fleet in the Indian subcontinent; there are at least two evidences to cite use of navies. Narasimhavarman Pallava I transported his troops to Sri Lanka to help Manavarman to reclaim the throne. Shatavahanahas was known to possess a navy that was widely deployed to influence Southeast Asia, however the extent of their use is not known.
Some argue that there is no evidence to support naval warfare in a contemporary sense. Others say that ships routinely carried bands of soldiers to keep pirates at bay. However, since the Arabs were known to use catapults, naptha, and devices attached to ships to prevent boarding parties, one may conclude that Chola navies not only transported troops but also provided support, protection, and attack capabilities against enemy targets.
In the 12th century, China's first permanent standing navy was established by the Southern Song dynasty, the headquarters of the Admiralty stationed at Dinghai. This came about after the conquest of northern China by the Jurchen people (see Jin dynasty) in 1127, while the Song imperial court fled south from Kaifeng to Hangzhou. Equipped with the magnetic compass and knowledge of Shen Kuo's famous treatise (on the concept of true north), the Chinese became proficient experts of navigation in their day. They raised their naval strength from a mere 11 squadrons of 3,000 marines to 20 squadrons of 52,000 marines in a century's time.
Employing paddle wheel crafts and trebuchet's throwing gunpowder bombs from the decks of their ships, the Southern Song dynasty became a formidable foe to the Jin dynasty during the 12th–13th centuries during the Jin–Song Wars. There were naval engagements at the Battle of Caishi and Battle of Tangdao. With a powerful navy, China dominated maritime trade throughout South East Asia as well. Until 1279, the Song were able to use their naval power to defend against the Jin to the north, until the Mongols finally conquered all of China. After the Song dynasty, the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty of China was a powerful maritime force in the Indian Ocean.
The Yuan emperor Kublai Khan attempted to invade Japan twice with large fleets (of both Mongols and Chinese), in 1274 and again in 1281, both attempts being unsuccessful (see Mongol invasions of Japan). Building upon the technological achievements of the earlier Song dynasty, the Mongols also employed early cannons upon the decks of their ships.
While Song China built its naval strength, the Japanese also had considerable naval prowess. The strength of Japanese naval forces could be seen in the Genpei War, in the large-scale Battle of Dan-no-ura on 25 April 1185. The forces of Minamoto no Yoshitsune were 850 ships strong, while Taira no Munemori had 500 ships.
In the mid-14th century, the rebel leader Zhu Yuanzhang (1328–1398) seized power in the south amongst many other rebel groups. His early success was due to capable officials such as Liu Bowen and Jiao Yu, and their gunpowder weapons (see Huolongjing). Yet the decisive battle that cemented his success and his founding of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) was the Battle of Lake Poyang, considered one of the largest naval battles in history.
In the 15th century, the Chinese admiral Zheng He was assigned to assemble a massive fleet for several diplomatic missions abroad, sailing throughout the waters of the South East Pacific and the Indian Ocean. During his maritime missions, on several occasions Zheng's fleet came into conflict with pirates. Zheng's fleet also became involved in a conflict in Sri Lanka, where the King of Ceylon traveled back to Ming China afterwards to make a formal apology to the Yongle Emperor.
The Ming imperial navy defeated a Portuguese navy led by Martim Affonso in 1522. The Chinese destroyed one vessel by targeting its gunpowder magazine, and captured another Portuguese ship. A Ming army and navy led by Koxinga defeated a western power, the Dutch East India Company, at the Siege of Fort Zeelandia, the first time China had defeated a western power. The Chinese used cannons and ships to bombard the Dutch into surrendering.
In the Sengoku period of Japan, Oda Nobunaga unified the country by military power. However, he was defeated by the Mōri clan's navy. Nobunaga invented the Tekkosen (huge Atakebune equipped with iron plates) and defeated 600 ships of the Mōri navy with six armored warships (Battle of Kizugawaguchi). The navy of Nobunaga and his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi employed clever close-range tactics on land with arquebus rifles, but also relied upon close-range firing of muskets in grapple-and-board style naval engagements. When Nobunaga died in the Honnō-ji incident, Hideyoshi succeeded him and completed the unification of the whole country. In 1592, Hideyoshi ordered the daimyōs to dispatch troops to Joseon Korea to conquer Ming China. The Japanese army which landed at Pusan on 12 April 1502 occupied the whole area within a month. The Korean king escaped to the northern region of the Korean peninsula and Japan completed occupation of Pyongyang in June. The Japanese army, based near Busan, demolished the Korean navy in the Battle of Chilcheollyang on 28 August and began advancing toward China. The Wanli Emperor of Ming China sent military forces to the Korean peninsula. Chen Lin continued damaging the Japanese navy with 500 Chinese warships and remnants of the Korean navy. In 1598, the planned conquest in China was canceled by the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and the Japanese military retreated from the Korean Peninsula. On their way back to Japan, Chen Lin attacked the Japanese navy at the Battle of Noryang, but top officials Deng Zilong and Yi Sunsin were killed in a Japanese army counterattack, and all returned to Japan by the end of December. In 1609, the Tokugawa shogunate ordered the abandonment of warships to the feudal lord Law of vessel construction prohibition by the Tokugawa shogunate. The Japanese navy remained stagnant until the Meiji period.
In Korea, the greater range of Korean cannons, along with the brilliant naval strategies of the Korean admiral Yi Sun-sin, were the main factors in the ultimate Japanese defeat. Yi Sun-sin is credited for improving the turtle ship (Geobukseon). Turtle ships were used mostly to spearhead attacks. They were best used in tight areas and around islands rather than the open sea. Yi Sun-sin effectively cut off the possible Japanese supply line that would have run through the Yellow Sea to China, and severely weakened the Japanese strength and fighting morale in several heated engagements (many regard the critical Japanese defeat to be the Battle of Hansan Island). The Japanese faced diminishing hopes of further supplies due to repeated losses in naval battles in the hands of Yi Sun-sin. As the Japanese army was about to return to Japan, Yi Sun-sin decisively defeated a Japanese navy at the Battle of Noryang.
In ancient China, the first known naval battles took place during the Warring States period (481–221 BC) when vassal lords battled one another. Chinese naval warfare in this period featured grapple-and-hook, as well as ramming tactics with ships called "stomach strikers" and "colliding swoopers". It was written in the Han dynasty that the people of the Warring States era had employed chuan ge ships (dagger-axe ships, or halberd ships), thought to be a simple description of ships manned by marines carrying dagger-axe halberds as personal weapons.
The 3rd-century writer Zhang Yan asserted that the people of the Warring States period named the boats this way because halberd blades were actually fixed and attached to the hull of the ship in order to rip into the hull of another ship while ramming, to stab enemies in the water that had fallen overboard and were swimming, or simply to clear any possible dangerous marine animals in the path of the ship (since the ancient Chinese did believe in sea monsters; see Xu Fu for more info).
Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the Qin dynasty (221–207 BC), owed much of his success in unifying southern China to naval power, although an official navy was not yet established (see Medieval Asia section below). The people of the Zhou dynasty were known to use temporary pontoon bridges for general means of transportation, but it was during the Qin and Han dynasties that large permanent pontoon bridges were assembled and used in warfare (first written account of a pontoon bridge in the West being the oversight of the Greek Mandrocles of Samos in aiding a military campaign of Persian emperor Darius I over the Bosporus).
During the Han Dynasty (202 BC–220 AD), the Chinese began using the stern-mounted steering rudder, and they also designed a new ship type, the junk. From the late Han dynasty to the Three Kingdoms period (220–280 AD), large naval battles such as the Battle of Red Cliffs marked the advancement of naval warfare in the East. In the latter engagement, the allied forces of Sun Quan and Liu Bei destroyed a large fleet commanded by Cao Cao in a fire-based naval attack.
In terms of seafaring abroad, arguably one of the first Chinese to sail into the Indian Ocean and to reach Sri Lanka and India by sea was the Buddhist monk Faxian in the early 5th century, although diplomatic ties and land trade to Persia and India were established during the earlier Han dynasty. However, Chinese naval maritime influence would penetrate into the Indian Ocean until the medieval period.
The late Middle Ages saw the development of the cogs, caravels and carracks ships capable of surviving the tough conditions of the open ocean, with enough backup systems and crew expertise to make long voyages routine. In addition, they grew from 100 tons to 300 tons displacement, enough to carry cannons as armament and still have space for cargo. One of the largest ships of the time, the Great Harry, displaced over 1,500 tons.
The voyages of discovery were fundamentally commercial rather than military in nature, although the line was sometimes blurry in that a country's ruler was not above funding exploration for personal profit, nor was it a problem to use military power to enhance that profit. Later the lines gradually separated, in that the ruler's motivation in using the navy was to protect private enterprise so that they could pay more taxes.
Like the Egyptian Shia-Fatimids and Mamluks, the Sunni-Islamic Ottoman Empire centered in modern-day Turkey dominated the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The Ottomans built a powerful navy, rivaling the Italian city-state of Venice during the Ottoman–Venetian War (1499–1503).
Although they were sorely defeated in the Battle of Lepanto (1571) by the Holy League, the Ottomans soon rebuilt their naval strength, and afterwards successfully defended the island of Cyprus so that it would stay in Ottoman hands. However, with the concurrent Age of Discovery, Europe had far surpassed the Ottoman Empire, and successfully bypassed their reliance on land-trade by discovering maritime routes around Africa and towards the Americas.
The first naval action in defense of the new colonies was just ten years after Vasco da Gama's epochal landing in India. In March 1508, a combined Gujarati/Egyptian force surprised a Portuguese squadron at Chaul, and only two Portuguese ships escaped. The following February, the Portuguese viceroy destroyed the allied fleet at Diu, confirming Portuguese domination of the Indian Ocean.
In 1582, the Battle of Ponta Delgada in the Azores, in which a Spanish-Portuguese fleet defeated a combined French and Portuguese force, with some English direct support, thus ending the Portuguese succession crisis, was the first battle fought in mid-Atlantic.
In 1588, Spanish King Philip II sent his Armada to subdue the English fleet of Elizabeth, but Admiral Sir Charles Howard defeated the Armada, marking the rise to prominence of the English Royal Navy. However it was unable to follow up with a decisive blow against the Spanish navy, which remained the most important for another half century. After the war's end in 1604 the English fleet went through a time of relative neglect and decline.
In the 16th century, the Barbary states of North Africa rose to power, becoming a dominant naval power in the Mediterranean Sea due to the Barbary pirates. The coastal villages and towns of Italy, Spain and Mediterranean islands were frequently attacked, and long stretches of the Italian and Spanish coasts were almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants; after 1600 Barbary pirates occasionally entered the Atlantic and struck as far north as Iceland.
According to Robert Davis as many as 1.25 million Europeans were captured by Barbary pirates and sold as slaves in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire between the 16th and 19th centuries. These slaves were captured mainly from seaside villages in Italy, Spain and Portugal, and from farther places like France, England, the Netherlands, Ireland and even Iceland and North America. The Barbary pirates were also able to successfully defeat and capture many European ships, largely due to advances in sailing technology by the Barbary states. The earliest naval trawler, xebec and windward ships were employed by the Barbary pirates from the 16th century.
From the middle of the 17th century competition between the expanding English and Dutch commercial fleets came to a head in the Anglo-Dutch Wars, the first wars to be conducted entirely at sea. Most memorable of these battles was the raid on the Medway, in which the Dutch admiral Michiel de Ruyter sailed up the river Thames, and destroyed most of the British fleet. This remains to date the greatest English naval defeat, and established Dutch supremacy at sea for over half a century. The English and Dutch wars were also known for very few ships being sunk, as it was difficult to hit ships below the water level; the water surface deflected cannonballs, and the few holes produced could be patched quickly. Naval cannonades caused more damage by casualties to the men and damage to the sails than sinking of ships.
The 18th century developed into a period of seemingly continuous international wars, each larger than the last. At sea, the British and French were bitter rivals; the French aided the fledgling United States in the American Revolutionary War, but their strategic purpose was to capture territory in India and the West Indies – which they did not achieve. In the Baltic Sea, the final attempt to revive the Swedish Empire led to Gustav III's Russian War, with its grande finale at the Second Battle of Svensksund. The battle, unrivaled in size until the 20th century, was a decisive Swedish tactical victory, but it resulted in little strategical result, due to poor army performance and previous lack of initiative from the Swedes, and the war ended with no territorial changes.
Even the change of government due to the French Revolution seemed to intensify rather than diminish the rivalry, and the Napoleonic Wars included a series of legendary naval battles, culminating in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, by which Admiral Horatio Nelson broke the power of the French and Spanish fleets, but lost his own life in so doing.
Trafalgar ushered in the Pax Britannica of the 19th century, marked by general peace in the world's oceans, under the ensigns of the Royal Navy. But the period was one of intensive experimentation with new technology; steam power for ships appeared in the 1810s, improved metallurgy and machining technique produced larger and deadlier guns, and the development of explosive shells, capable of demolishing a wooden ship at a single blow, in turn required the addition of iron armour.
Although naval power during the Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties established China as a major world seapower in the East, the Qing dynasty lacked an official standing navy. They were more interested in pouring funds into military ventures closer to home (China proper), such as Mongolia, Tibet, and Central Asia (modern Xinjiang). However, there were some considerable naval conflicts during the Qing Dynasty before the First Opium War (such as the Battle of Penghu, and the conflict against Koxinga).
The insignificant naval effort that the Manchus/Chinese pitted against the more advanced British steam-powered ships during the first Opium War in the 1840s was sorely defeated. This left China open to virtual foreign domination (from European powers and then Japan) via spheres of influence over regions of China for economic gain. Although the Qing Dynasty attempted to modernize the Chinese navy, China's Beiyang Fleet was dealt a severe blow by the Imperial Japanese Navy in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895).
The famous battle of the CSS Virginia and USS Monitor in the American Civil War was the duel of ironclads that symbolized the changing times. The first fleet action between ironclad ships was fought in 1866 at the Battle of Lissa between the navies of Austria and Italy. Because the decisive moment of the battle occurred when the Austrian flagship the Erzherzog Ferdinand Max successfully sank the Italian flagship Re d'Italia by ramming, in subsequent decade every navy in the world largely focused on ramming as the main tactic. The last known use of ramming in naval battle was in 1879 when the Peruvian ship Huáscar rammed the Chilean ship Esmeralda. The last known gunboat equipped with a ram was launched in 1908, the German ship SMS Emden.
In the early 20th century, the modern battleship emerged; a steel-armored ship, entirely dependent on steam, and sporting a number of large shell guns mounted in turrets arranged along the centerline of the main deck. The ultimate design was reached in 1906 with HMS Dreadnought which entirely dispensed with smaller guns, her main guns being sufficient to sink any existing ship of the time.
With the advent of the steamship, it became possible to create massive gun platforms and to provide them with heavy armor protection. The Dreadnought battleships and their successors were the first capital ships that combined technology and firepower with a mobile platform. However, in the first half of the 20th century, the utility of air power in support of the fleet began to emerge.
World War I pitted the old Royal Navy against the new Kaiserliche Marine of Imperial Germany, culminating in the 1916 Battle of Jutland. The future was heralded when the seaplane carrier HMS Engadine and her Short 184 seaplanes joined the battle. In the Black Sea, Russian seaplanes flying from a fleet of converted carriers interdicted Turkish maritime supply routes, Allied air patrols began to counter German U-Boat activity in Britain's coastal waters, and a British Short 184 carried out the first successful torpedo attack on a ship.
In 1918 the Royal Navy converted an Italian liner to create the first aircraft carrier, HMS Argus, and shortly after the war the first purpose-built carrier, HMS Hermes was launched. Many nations agreed to the Washington Naval Treaty and scrapped many of their battleships and cruisers while still in the shipyards, but the growing tensions of the 1930s restarted the building programs, with even larger ships. The Yamato-class battleships, the largest ever, displaced 72,000 tons and mounted 18.1-inch (460 mm) guns.
The victory of the Royal Navy at the Battle of Taranto was a pivotal point as this was the first true demonstration of naval air power. Following 7 December 1941 when the United States came into World War II, the sinkings of the British battleships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse marked the end of the battleship era. Aircraft and their transportation, the aircraft carrier, came to the fore.
During the Pacific War of World War II, battleships and cruisers spent most of their time bombarding shore positions, while the carriers and their airplanes were the stars of the Battle of the Coral Sea, Battle of Midway, Battle of the Philippine Sea, and the climactic Battle of Leyte Gulf. Air power remained key to navies throughout the 20th century, moving to jets launched from ever-larger carriers, and augmented by cruisers armed with guided missiles and cruise missiles.
Roughly parallel to the development of naval aviation was the development of submarines to attack underneath the surface. At first these ships were only capable of short dives, but soon developed the capability to spend weeks or months underwater powered by nuclear reactors. In both World Wars, submarines (U-boats in Germany) primarily exerted their power by using torpedoes to sink merchant ships and other warships. In the 1950s the Cold War inspired the development of ballistic missile submarines, each one loaded with dozens of thermonuclear weapon-armed SLBMs and with orders to launch them from sea should the other nation attack.
Against the backdrop of these developments, World War II had seen the United States become the world's dominant sea power. Throughout the rest of the 20th century, the United States Navy maintained a tonnage greater than that of the next 17 largest navies combined.
The aftermath of World War Two saw naval gunnery supplanted by ship to ship missiles as the primary weapon of surface combatants. Two major naval battles have taken place since World War II. In the 1982 Falklands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom, a Royal Navy task force of approximately 100 ships was dispatched over 7000 miles from the British mainland to the South Atlantic. The British were outnumbered in theatre airpower with only 36 Harriers from their two aircraft carriers and a few helicopters, compared with at least 200 aircraft of the Fuerza Aérea Argentina, although London dispatched Vulcan bombers in a display of long-distance strategic capacity. Most of the land-based aircraft of the Royal Air Force were not available due to the distance from air bases. This reliance on aircraft at sea showed the importance of the aircraft carrier. The Falklands War showed the vulnerability of modern ships to sea-skimming missiles like the Exocet. One hit from an Exocet sank HMS Sheffield, a modern anti-air warfare destroyer. Over half of Argentine deaths in the war occurred when the nuclear submarine Conqueror torpedoed and sank the light cruiser ARA General Belgrano with the loss of 323 lives. Important lessons about ship design, damage control and ship construction materials were learnt from the conflict. In terms of casualties, the Indo-Pakistani Naval War of 1971 was the second major naval battle including the dispatch of an Indian aircraft carrier group, over 2000 dead on both sides, and the combined loss of a frigate, two destroyers, a submarine, and a number of smaller craft.
At the present time, large naval wars are seldom-seen affairs, since nations with substantial navies rarely fight each other; most wars are civil wars or some form of asymmetrical warfare, fought on land, sometimes with the involvement of military aircraft. The main function of the modern navy is to exploit its control of the seaways to project power ashore. Power projection has been the primary naval feature of most late-century conflicts including the Korean War, Suez Crisis, Vietnam War, Konfrontasi, Gulf War, Kosovo War, the War on Terrorism in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War. A major exception to this trend was the Sri Lankan Civil War, which saw a large number of surface engagements between the belligerents involving fast attack craft and other littoral warfare units.
An anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) is a military quasiballistic missile system designed to hit a warship at sea.
The ASBM's conventional warhead and kinetic energy may be sufficient to cripple or outright destroy a supercarrier with a single hit. However, unlike a nuclear warhead, this will require a direct hit to be effective. Thus, and unlike a typical ballistic missile, which follows a ballistic flightpath after the relatively brief initial powered phase of flight, an ASBM would require a precise and high-performance terminal guidance system, with in-flight updates or advanced sensors in order to hit its moving target.Bireme
A bireme is an ancient oared warship (galley) with two decks of oars, invented and used by Greeks even before the 6th century BC. Biremes were long vessels built for military purposes, had relatively high speed.Broadside
A broadside is the side of a ship, the battery of cannon on one side of a warship; or their coordinated fire in naval warfare. From the 16th century until the early decades of the steamship, vessels had rows of guns set in each side of the hull. Firing all guns on one side of the ship became known as a "broadside". The cannons of 18th-century men of war were accurate only at short range, and their penetrating power mediocre, entailing that the thick hulls of wooden ships could only be pierced at short ranges. These wooden ships sailed closer and closer towards each other until cannon fire would be effective. Each tried to be the first to fire a broadside, often giving one party a decisive headstart in the battle when it crippled the other ship.Commerce raiding
Commerce raiding is a form of naval warfare used to destroy or disrupt logistics of the enemy on the open sea by attacking its merchant shipping, rather than engaging its combatants or enforcing a blockade against them.
It is also known, in French, as guerre de course (literally, "war of the chase") and, in German, Handelskrieg ("trade war"), from the nations most heavily committed to it historically as a strategy.Line of battle
In naval warfare, the line of battle is a tactic in which a naval fleet of ships forms a line end to end. Its first use is disputed, variously claimed for dates ranging from 1502 to 1652, with line-of-battle tactics in widespread use by 1675.
Compared with prior naval tactics, in which two opposing ships closed on one another for individual combat, the line of battle has the advantage that each ship in the line can fire its broadside without fear of hitting a friendly ship. Therefore, in a given period, the fleet can fire more shots.
Another advantage is that a relative movement of the line in relation to some part of the enemy fleet allows for a systematic concentration of fire on that part. The other fleet can avoid this by maneuvering in a line itself, with a result typical for sea battle since 1675: two fleets sail alongside one another or on the opposite tack.
A ship powerful enough to stand in the line of battle came to be called a ship of the line (of battle) or line of battle ship, which was shortened to become the word battleship.List of privateers
A privateer was a private person or private warship authorized by a country's government by letters of marque to attack foreign shipping. Privateers were an accepted part of naval warfare from the 16th to the 19th centuries, authorised by all significant naval powers.
Notable privateers included:
Victual Brothers or Vitalians or Likedeelers 1360–1401
Gödeke Michels (leader of the Likedeelers) 1360–1401
Klaus Störtebeker, Wismar, (leader of the Likedeelers), 1360–1401
Didrik Pining, German, c. 1428–1491
Paul Beneke, German, born in Hanseatic City of Danzig, Pomerelia c. 1440s–1490s
Kemal Reis, Turkish, c. 1451–1511
Oruç Reis (Barbarossa), Turkish, c. 1474–1518
Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha, Turkish, 1478–1546
Turgut Reis (Dragut), Turkish, c. 1485–1565
Timoji, Hindu, 1496–1513
Murat Reis the Older, Turkish, c. 1506–1609
Sir Francis Drake, English, c. 1540–1596
Sir George Somers, English 1554–1610
Captain Christopher Newport, English, c. 1561–1617
Magnus Heinason, Faroese, c. 1568–1578 privateer in Dutch service under the Dutch revolt and 1580s, and privateer and merchant in Danish service on the Faroe Islands c. 1578–1589
Piet Hein, Dutch, 1577–1629
Alonso de Contreras, Spanish, 1582–1641, privateer against the Turks under the banner of the Order of Malta and later commanded Spanish ships
James Erisey, English, 1585–1590s
Peter Easton, England/Newfoundland, c. 1611–1614
Sir Henry Morgan, Welsh, 1635–1688
Jean Bart, French, 1651–1702
William Dampier, English, 1652–1715
Nicolas Baeteman, Dunkirker 1659–1720
Alexander Dalzeel, Scotland, c. 1662–1715
René Duguay-Trouin, French, 1673–1736
Kanhoji Angre, Maratha, 1698–1729
Lars Gathenhielm, Swedish, 1710–1718
Ingela Gathenhielm, Swedish, 1710/18–1721
Fortunatus Wright, English of Liverpool, 1712–1757
David Hawley, colonial United States, 1741–1807
Jonathan Haraden, colonial United States, 1744–1803
William Death, English, 1756
Alexander Godfrey, colonial Nova Scotia, 1756–1803
Jose Campuzano-Polanco, colonial Santo Domingo, 1689-1760
Etienne Pellot, aka "the Basque Fox", French, 1765–1856
Noah Stoddard, United States, 1755-1850
Robert Surcouf, French, 1773–1827
David McCullough, colonial United States, 1777-1778
Jean Gaspard Vence, French, –1783
Joseph Barss, Colonial Nova Scotia, 1776–1824
Jean Lafitte 1776–1854, French Louisiana hero in the Gulf of Mexico
John Ordronaux (privateer), United States, 1778–1841
Ephraim Sturdivant, United States, 1782–1868
Hipólito Bouchard, Argentina, 1783–1843
Louisa, ship, of Philadelphia United States, 1800s during Quasi-War with the French
Otway Burns, North Carolina, United States 1775–1850Main battery
A main battery is the primary weapon or group of weapons around which a warship is designed. As such, a main battery was historically a gun or group of guns, as in the broadsides of cannon on a ship of the line. Later, this came to be turreted groups of similar large-caliber naval rifles. With the evolution of technology the term has come to encompass guided missiles as a vessel's principal offensive weapon, deployed both on surface ships and submarines.
A main battery features common parts, ammunition, and fire control across the weapons which it comprises.Maritime patrol
Maritime patrol is the task of monitoring areas of water. Generally conducted by military and law enforcement agencies, maritime patrol is usually aimed at identifying human activities.
Maritime patrol refers to active patrol of an area, as opposed to passive monitoring systems such as sound-detection fixtures or land-based spotters. A patrol consists of a ship, submarine, aircraft or satellite examining the patrolled area and seeking out activities to be identified and reported. Maritime patrol is critical in wartime situations for navies to locate enemy forces to engage or defend against. Peacetime patrols are important for interdiction of criminal activities and for ensuring legal use of waters.
Maritime patrols can be conducted by surface ships and submarines, by aircraft (e.g. MPA) and other aerial vehicles, and even by satellites. Human spotting remains an important part of detecting activity, but increasingly electronic systems are used.
Several types of maritime patrol missions exist:
Military: Navies and air forces employ patrols to locate and identify enemy or potential enemy ships and submarines. The patrols report these findings to combat vessels which can then take appropriate action. Characteristics to identify are the numbers and types of vessels, as well as bearing and speed information to assist tracking the units. Anti-submarine patrols often deploy sonobuoys or other devices to assist with tracking. During peacetime, patrols are maintained by military forces for practice and to prevent surprise deployments by enemies.
Law enforcement: Countries with extensive coastlines are vulnerable to those entering or exiting the country undetected. In particular smuggling is often carried out over water. Law enforcement agencies often employ maritime patrols to assist interception of such activities.
Economic: Water areas, in particular those close to the coast, are areas of economic activity. Not only shipping but also fishing and even tourism are important economic activities to coastal countries. Patrolling these waters falls to maritime patrols. Such patrols may seek fishing vessels which are outside of prescribed fishing grounds (often from neighboring countries' fleets) or which are not adhering to regulations. Additionally, patrols may assist customs agencies by monitoring commercial shipping traffic in controlled waters.
Coast defence: Coast defence identifies and intercepts threats to coastal areas. This may include preventing infiltrations or discouraging enemy surveillance of coastal installations. Law enforcement patrols aim at preventing criminals from reaching the shoreline.
Rescue: Although not necessarily a primary mission of maritime patrol assets, they are often used to assist in maritime rescue operations, both for searching and often to extract survivors too.Medieval warfare
Medieval warfare is the European warfare of the Middle Ages. Technological, cultural, and social developments had forced a dramatic transformation in the character of warfare from antiquity, changing military tactics and the role of cavalry and artillery (see Military history). In terms of fortification, the Middle Ages saw the emergence of the castle in Europe, which then spread to Western Asia.Naval tactics
Naval tactics is the collective name for methods of engaging and defeating an enemy ship or fleet in battle at sea during naval warfare, the naval equivalent of military tactics on land.
Naval tactics are distinct from naval strategy. Naval tactics are concerned with the movements a commander makes in battle, typically in the presence of the enemy. Naval strategy concerns the overall strategy for achieving victory and the large movements by which a Commandant and commander secures the advantage of fighting at a place convenient to himself.
Modern naval tactics are based on tactical doctrines developed after World War II, following the obsolescence of the battleship and the development of long-range missiles. Since there has been no major naval conflict since World War II, apart from the Indo-Pakistani Naval War of 1971 and the Falklands War, many of these doctrines reflect scenarios developed for planning purposes. Critics argue that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent reduction in the size and capabilities of the Russian navy renders most such fleet-on-fleet scenarios obsolete.Naval warfare in the Mediterranean during World War I
There was sporadic naval warfare in the Mediterranean during World War I between the Central Powers' navies of Austria-Hungary, Germany and the Ottoman Empire and the Allied navies of Italy, France, Greece, Japan, America and the British Empire.Naval warfare of World War I
Naval warfare in World War I was mainly characterized by the efforts of the Allied Powers, with their larger fleets and surrounding position, to blockade the Central Powers by sea, and the efforts of the Central Powers to break that blockade or to establish an effective blockade of the United Kingdom and France with submarines and commerce raiders.Prize money
Prize money has a distinct meaning in warfare, especially naval warfare, where it was a monetary reward paid out under prize law to the crew of a ship for capturing or sinking an enemy vessel. The claims for the bounty are usually heard in a Prize Court.
This article covers the arrangements of the British Royal Navy, but similar arrangements were used in the navies of other nations, and existed in the British Army and other armies, especially when a city had been taken by storm.SEAL Team Six
The Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG), commonly known as DEVGRU (DEVelopment GroUp) or SEAL Team Six, is the United States Navy component of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). It is often referred to within JSOC as Task Force Blue. DEVGRU is administratively supported by Naval Special Warfare Command and operationally commanded by the Joint Special Operations Command. Most information concerning DEVGRU is classified, and details of its activities are not usually commented on by either the Department of Defense or the White House. Despite the official name changes, "SEAL Team Six" remains the unit's widely recognized moniker. It is sometimes referred to in the U.S. media as a Special Mission Unit.DEVGRU and its Army counterpart Delta Force are the United States military's primary counter-terrorism units. Although DEVGRU was created as a maritime counter-terrorism unit targeting high-value targets, it has become a multi-functional special operations unit with several roles that include hostage rescue, special reconnaissance, direct action, personal security, and other specialized missions.Saturation attack
Saturation attack is a military tactic in which the attacking side hopes to gain an advantage by overwhelming the defending side's technological, physical and mental ability to respond effectively. During the Cold War and after, the conventional saturation missile attack against naval and land targets was and is a much feared eventuality.Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command
The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), based in San Diego, is an Echelon II organization within the United States Navy and is the Navy's technical authority and acquisition command for C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance), business information technology and space systems. Echelon II means that the organization reports to someone who, in turn, reports directly to the Chief of Naval Operations. SPAWAR reports to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (RDA).
SPAWAR supports over 150 programs managed by the Program Executive Office (PEO) for Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I), as well as the programs of PEO for Enterprise Information Systems (PEO EIS) and PEO Space Systems. PEO EIS and PEO Space Systems are located in the greater Washington, D.C. area. SPAWAR Systems Center Atlantic, an Echelon III organization, is located in Charleston, SC, and also includes facilities in Norfolk, VA, New Orleans and Stuttgart, Germany. SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific is located in San Diego, and includes facilities in Japan, Guam and Hawaii. Effective February 18, 2019, the names of the systems centers will be changed to Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic and Pacific, respectively.Surface warfare
Modern naval warfare is divided into four operational areas: surface warfare, air warfare, submarine warfare and information warfare. Each area comprises specialized platforms and strategies used to exploit tactical advantages unique and inherent to that area. Surface warfare involves surface ships.Unrestricted submarine warfare
Unrestricted submarine warfare is a type of naval warfare in which submarines sink vessels such as freighters and tankers without warning, as opposed to attacks per prize rules (also known as "cruiser rules"). Prize rules call for submarines to surface and search merchantmen and place crews in "a place of safety" (for which lifeboats did not qualify, except under particular circumstances) before sinking them, unless the ship showed "persistent refusal to stop ... or active resistance to visit or search". During the First World War, the British introduced Q-ships with concealed deck guns, and armed many merchantmen, leading the Germans to ignore the prize rules; in the most dramatic episode they sank Lusitania in 1915 in a few minutes because she was carrying war munitions. The U.S. demanded it stop, and Germany did so. Admiral Henning von Holtzendorff, chief of the Admiralty staff, argued successfully in early 1917 to resume the attacks and thus starve the British. The German high command realized the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare meant war with the United States but calculated that American mobilization would be too slow to stop a German victory on the Western Front.Following Germany's resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare on February 1, 1917, countries tried to limit or even abolish submarines. Instead, the Declaration of London required submarines to abide by prize rules. These regulations did not prohibit arming merchantmen but having them report contact with submarines (or raiders) made them de facto naval auxiliaries and removed the protection of the prize rules. This rendered the restrictions on submarines effectively useless. While such tactics increase the combat effectiveness of the submarine and improve its chances of survival, some regard them as a breach of the rules of war, especially when employed against neutral vessels in a war zone.Warship
A warship or combatant ship is a naval ship that is built and primarily intended for naval warfare. Usually they belong to the armed forces of a state. As well as being armed, warships are designed to withstand damage and are usually faster and more manoeuvrable than merchant ships. Unlike a merchant ship, which carries cargo, a warship typically carries only weapons, ammunition and supplies for its crew. Warships usually belong to a navy, though they have also been operated by individuals, cooperatives and corporations.
In wartime, the distinction between warships and merchant ships is often blurred. In war, merchant ships are often armed and used as auxiliary warships, such as the Q-ships of the First World War and the armed merchant cruisers of the Second World War. Until the 17th century it was common for merchant ships to be pressed into naval service and not unusual for more than half a fleet to be composed of merchant ships. Until the threat of piracy subsided in the 19th century, it was normal practice to arm larger merchant ships such as galleons. Warships have also often been used as troop carriers or supply ships, such as by the French Navy in the 18th century or the Japanese Navy during the Second World War.
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