Naval Engagements in 1812-1813

Naval Engagements in 1812-1813

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In 1812, while American land forces were in nearly total disarray, some success was gained on the high seas:

  • The Constitution under Isaac Hull defeated the British ship Guerriere
  • Stephen Decatur, of Barbary pirate fame, led the United States to victory over the Macedonian, which was greeted with great fanfare as it was brought into the harbor at New London, Connecticut
  • American privateers successfully preyed upon British shipping.

In 1813, the tide turned against the American navy, notably after the defeat of the Chesapeake by the Shannon. The British managed to concentrate a greater portion of the fleet in the war against the United States and the American navy remained bottled-up for the duration.

Naval Engagements in the War of 1812

USS Constitution defeating HMS Guerriere in the War of 1812 US Navy History and Heritage Command

Naval combat in the Age of Sail, which lasted from the 16th to mid-19th century, may seem strange to the modern eye. Sailing ships were virtually floating villages, with the largest ships of the line armed with more artillery than some armies. Because of a ship’s dependence on the wind for propulsion, combat often resembled a deadly dance between combatants, which could disintegrate into a bloody close-range brawl.

It is important to understand the different types of warship that plied the waves during this period, which applies to both the American Revolution and War of 1812. The largest naval vessels were the ships of the line and often classified by the British rating system: first-rate, second-rate, and third-rate. These slow and heavily armed ships would form the core of a battle line and exchange fire with their similarly sized adversaries.

The third-rate formed the backbone of many navies, especially the British, and usually mounted seventy-four guns on three decks, with a crew of up to 700 men. The largest, first-rates, were massive in terms of size and firepower. The most famous example, HMS Victory, Admiral Nelson’s flagship at Trafalgar, mounted 104 cannon, firing a broadside weight of 1,148 pounds, and needed a crew of 800 to fight and sail.

During the American Revolution and War of 1812, the large fleet battles of Europe were rare, with combats between smaller Frigates, Sloops, and Brigs far more common. These ships were not designed to fight on the line, but were used as “cruisers” because of their speed, maneuverability, and range. They were often allowed to cruise independently, searching for enemy targets of opportunity, or attached to large fleets as scouts, pickets, and couriers. Many of the most famous actions of both wars were duels between these smaller, yet deadly, ships.

USS Constitution vs. HMS Guerriere, August 19, 1812, 400 miles SE of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

USS Constitution was one of the “original six” frigates ordered in 1794. Knowing that the fledgling US Navy could not match the European powers on the water, these ships were designed to be faster, hardier, and fire a heavier broadside than their European counterparts enabling them to overpower similarly sized ships and evade the larger ships of the line. Constitution, considered a heavy frigate, mounted forty-four guns with a crew of 450. HMS Guerriere, captured from the French in 1806, was a British fifth-rate frigate, with thirty-eight guns and a crew of 272.

On August 19, 1812 at two PM, early in the War of 1812, Constitution, with Captain Isaac Hull in command, sighted an unknown ship on the horizon and decided to investigate. Previously, the Constitution had tangled with the large British fleet, including Guerriere and her Captain James Richard Dacres, but managed to escape. Both ships recognized each other at the same moment, and cleared their decks for combat.

Initially, Guerriere fired a broadside that fell short, turned into the wind and ran, occasionally yawing to fire a broadside at the pursuing Constitution. During this forty-five minute chase, a cannonball bounced harmlessly off the Constitution, earning her the enduring nickname “Old Ironsides.” When Constitution closed the gap to a few hundred yards, Captain Hull ordered extra sail to quickly cover the final distance. Guerriere did not mirror this maneuver, and both ships closed to “half pistol-shot,” point-blank range, and began exchanging broadsides.

For fifteen minutes, both ships hammered each other, but the heavier guns and stronger hull of Constitution proved highly effective. Guerriere lost her mizzenmast, which fell overboard and acted like a large rudder, pulling the ship around. Taking advantage of Guerriere’s immobility, Constitution crossed to the vulnerable front of the enemy ship, and delivered a punishing broadside, raking Guerriere from stem to stern, causing the Guerriere’s mainmast to also fall. The Constitution came about and raked her foe again, but during this maneuver, both ships became entangled. Boarding parties were formed on both ships, but were unable to cross the tangled rigging and bowsprit in the heavy seas.

The ships remained tangled, exchanging cannon and musket fire, until they rotated and broke free. Guerriere attempted to set sail and flee, but her masts and rigging were so heavily damaged this proved impossible. Constitution managed to disengage briefly and make repairs to her rigging, before moving to bear down on Guerriere once again. Sensing that his ship would not survive another assault, Captain Dacres, who was wounded by a musket ball, signaled his surrender by ordering a cannon fired in the opposite direction of Constitution. Hull ordered a Lieutenant rowed to the enemy ship to investigate, who asked if Guerriere was surrendering, to which Dacres responded, “Well, Sir, I don’t know. Our mizzen mast is gone, our fore and main masts are gone – I think on the whole you might say we have struck our flag.”

On the American side, casualties and damage was light, with seven killed and seven wounded. The British, however, suffered dramatically, with fifteen killed, seventy-eight wounded, and the remaining 257 captured. Captain Hull refused to accept Dacres sword of surrender, honoring his gallantry and a battle well fought.

Hull attempted to salvage Guerriere and tow her to port, but, despite working all night to save the ship, the damage was too extensive and he instead ordered the sinking ship burned. Wanting to provide the Americans with a morale boost, Hull sailed to Boston to deliver the news, which was received with great enthusiasm.

USS United States vs. HMS Macedonian, October 25, 1812, near Madeira.

USS United States was the first of the “original six” commissioned under the Naval Act of 1794. She was a heavy frigate, mounting forty-four guns with a crew of 450. HMS Macedonian was a new addition to the Royal Navy, commissioned in 1810. She was a thirty-eight gun fifth rate frigate, and had a complement of 306.

United States, under the command of Captain Stephen Decatur, sailed from Boston in early October on a long Atlantic cruise searching for British merchant shipping and warships. At dawn on October 25, near the island of Madeira off the North African coast, the United States spotted a ship and identified it as Macedonian, with Captain John Surman Carden in command, en route to its West Indies station. Both ships cleared for action and closed the distance. Decatur wanted to keep the British warship at range, using his heavier twenty-four pounders to disable the ship before closing to finish the job.

Around 9 AM after exchanging initial broadsides, the United States’ second volley destroyed Macedonian’s mizzen topmast and gave the maneuver advantage to the American frigate. United States took up position on Macedonian’s rear quarter, a highly vulnerable area for the British ship, and proceeded to hammer the hapless vessel. By noon, the United States had reduced Macedonian to a dismasted, floating hulk. When Decatur closed for another broadside, Carden struck his colors and surrendered.

The aftermath revealed a one-sided battle, with the heavier guns and longer range of the American frigate proving devastating. Macedonian had over 100 round shot lodged in her hull alone, and suffered forty-three killed and seventy-one wounded: thirty percent casualties. The United States had seven killed and five wounded. United States delivered seventy broadsides, while Macedonian replied with only thirty.

The two former combatants lay alongside each other for two weeks so that Macedonia could be repaired to a sailing state. Decatur sailed back to the United States with his prize, arriving in Newport, Rhode Island, on December 4. HMS Macedonian was then bought and commissioned into the United States Navy, serving as USS Macedonian. Decatur and his crew were lauded for their spectacular victory, and praised by the public, congress, and President Madison.

USS Chesapeake vs. HMS Shannon, June 1, 1813, Boston Harbor.

With the War of 1812 progressing into its second year, the United States had acquired a string of naval victories, seriously damaging British morale and perceived naval superiority. With this in mind, Captain James Lawrence had finished refitting USS Chesapeake in Boston Harbor, and was eager to sail out and engaged the British. Chesapeake was smaller than her sisters Constitution and United States, rated as a thirty-eight gun frigate, with a crew of 379. Shannon, commanded by Captain Phillip Broke, was of the same size and armament, but had her crew reduced to 330 after capturing a number of merchantmen.

The Royal Navy’s crew’s had suffered during the Napoleonic Wars, and were not of the same quality that they used to be, with this in mind Lawrence expected to overpower Shannon despite their equal size and armament. The Shannon’s crew and Captain, however, were not average British sailors. Broke was a superlative officer, and a master of naval gunnery, who drilled his crew into an excellent force. Lawrence, on the other hand, had some experienced crewmen, but many had not fought together or onboard Chesapeake before.

Chesapeake sailed out to meet Shannon on June 1, 1813, and sighted her adversary around five PM. With the Chesapeake bearing down on them, Broke offered his simple gunnery philosophy to his crew, “Throw no shot away. Aim every one. Keep cool. Work steadily. . . . Don’t try to dismast her. Kill the men and the ship is yours.” After months at sea, Shannon was shabby compared to the newly refitted Chesapeake, which gave Lawrence even more confidence in his attack.

The two Captains opted to hold their fire until they could exchange broadsides, making the engagement as much a duel between gentlemen as a duel between warships. At six PM, at a range of thirty-five meters, both sides opened fire. Immediately the methodical, accurate, fire of the British crew took its toll on the American ship, with her forward gun crews suffering badly. The Americans, however, steadily returned fire and inflicted some damage.

Realizing that his ship was moving too quickly and would overtake Shannon, Lawrence ordered a reduction in speed. During this maneuver, the accurate British fire swept the Chesapeake’s quarterdeck, killing the helmsmen and disabling the wheel. The Chesapeake was able to land addition hits on the Shannon and swept her forecastle with carronade fire. Finally, a shot carried away Chesapeake’s topsail halyard, causing her to lose all forward momentum and leaving her dead in the water.

The Chesapeake’s rear left quarter was caught by the Shannon’s anchor, and the British lashed their ship to their adversary and prepared to board. Caught at an angle where her guns could not fire on the British ship, and where the Shannon could fire into her vulnerable stern and rake the ship, the Chesapeake was in grave danger. Sensing his opponent’s weakness, Broke ordered his men to board. At the same time, Lawrence also decided to board his opponent, but his order was lost in the maelstrom and only a few Americans followed their captain.

Before Lawrence could lead his men into the enemy ship, he was stuck by a musket ball and mortally wounded. As he was being carried below he called out the now famous, “Tell the men to fire faster! Don’t give up the ship!” With all but one American officer wounded the British faced little organized resistance when Brock led his highly organized crew aboard. While the Americans resisted, and even managed to push the British back at one point, there was little hope. Even though Brock himself was badly wounded by a cutlass to the head, and the British boarding party was stranded when the two ships separated, American resistance had effectively ceased. The close-range and brutal engagement had lasted a mere fifteen minutes.

Both sides suffered heavily, Chesapeake lost forty-eight killed, ninety-nine wounded with the rest captured, Shannon twenty-three men killed, and fifty-six wounded. In terms of gunnery, the Chesapeake had been soundly beaten. The British sailed their first major prize of the war to Halifax and were greeted jubilantly. USS Chesapeake was recommissioned HMS Chesapeake. Captain Lawrence was buried with full military honors, with six Royal Navy officers acting as pallbearers. Brock, though initially not expected to survive his wound, returned to Britain a hero, given a Baronet, and knighted. Though disabled, he continued his career as a gunnery instructor.

In terms of casualties compared to number of men engaged, the engagement between Chesapeake and Shannon had not only been the bloodiest in the War of 1812, but one of the bloodiest in the entire Age of Sail. For comparison purposes, Chesapeake and Shannon suffered more casualties in fifteen minutes than HMS Victory suffered during the entire Battle of Trafalgar.

Capture of USS President, January 15, 1815, New York Harbor

As the War of 1812 progressed, and the British realized the danger of the American heavy frigates, they dedicated more and more naval assets to blockading the American coast. In addition, the British strictly prohibited their ships from challenging the American frigates one-on-one. After numerous attempts to run the British blockade, Commodore Stephen Decatur transferred his command to President, one of the forty-four gun heavy frigates, which was trapped in New York by a British squadron of four ships commanded by Commodore John Hayes.

On January 13, with a blizzard raging that blew the British ships off their station, Decatur decided to break out of New York Harbor. Unfortunately, the harbor channel had not been well marked, and President grounded on the bar. For two hours, with high winds and heavy seas, President struggled on the bar, suffering heavy damage to her hull and rigging. The winds prevented Decatur from returning to port forcing the damaged President to sea.

After the storm cleared the British, realizing that the Americans may have attempted a breakout, took up positions to intercept any American ships. At dawn on January 14, British ships spotted President and immediately moved to engage. Decatur turned his ship downwind in an attempt to escape, even lightening President by throwing unnecessary items overboard, but the damage sustained in the harbor proved disastrous.

With the British frigates Majestic, Endymion, Tenedos, and Pomone all giving chase, a running battle ensued, with both sides trading fire and the British steadily closing. By nightfall Endymion was able to close the gap, and poured devastating fire into President’s vulnerable rear quarter. A quick maneuver by Decatur laid both ships alongside one another, trading broadsides. The Americans targeted the British rigging to hasten their escape from the remaining British vessels, while the British gunners pounded the President’s hull.

At 8 PM, Decatur struck his colors and Endymion stopped to make hasty repairs to her rigging. Seeing the British stopped but not launching any boats, none were seaworthy, Decatur hoisted his sails and attempted to escape at 8:30. Endymion was under sail by 9, and Pomone and Tenedos had caught up. Two rapid broadsides from Pomone finally decided the issue, and Decatur again struck his colors.

In the engagement President lost twenty-four men killed, fifty-five wounded and the rest of her crew of 447 captured, while the Endymion, the only British vessel to suffer casualties, lost eleven killed and fourteen wounded. Soon after the engagement the War of 1812 ended, thus ending the frigate duels of the Atlantic.

The War of 1812 & the U.S. Navy

Though it was not the first conflict that the still fledgling US Navy had taken part in, the War of 1812 would be the first real test of the Navy’s mettle.

The War of 1812 today tends to fall into a list of wars that are commonly forgotten by both Americans and British. More recent and much larger wars from the past century remain at the forefront of many when thinking of their nations’ military history. Even at the time of the war it was only on the periphery of the British public, whose main interest was in the massive Napoleonic Wars taking place across the English Channel. Most historians appear to also have avoided the topic, with relatively few books on the topic being published. Despite this lack of interest the War of 1812 was an important period for the US Navy, which performed well against an opponent regarded as the best in the world.

The US Navy was, much like the rest of the country, not prepared for the War of 1812. Thanks in part to the general mistrust of standing military forces during the years following the Revolution, the American Navy was still in its infancy during the War of 1812. Following the Revolution, the Navy had effectively ceased to exist. For nine years after the decommissioning of the USS Alliance, there were no active ships serving in the US Navy. Only with the passage of the Act to Provide a Naval Armament in 1794 would there be further naval shipbuilding. This act, designed to combat Barbary pirates engaged in the capture of American merchant vessels in the Mediterranean Sea, allowed for the construction of the famous six frigates, United States, President, Chesapeake, Constellation, Constitution, and Congress. These vessels were designed to be capable of taking on any pirate ship they might encounter. Each displaced over 1,000 tons, had a deck length over 175 feet, carried at least thirty twenty-four pound long guns plus varying numbers of carronades. [1] These ships, which could be considered as heavy frigates (or sometimes referred to as “super-frigates”), would form the backbone of the US Navy as the War of 1812 began. At the time of the war’s outbreak, the US Navy could count on the services of another eleven ships in addition to the heavy frigates.

This small force of seventeen ships was all that the US Navy could field against the Royal Navy, at that time the world’s largest navy. The Royal Navy enjoyed an overall superiority in numbers, with 657 ships in service in 1811. [2] In addition, the British could draw upon their enormous victory over the French Navy at Trafalgar seven years earlier. However, the Royal Navy which faced the Americans in 1812 was not the same force which had met the French in battle at Trafalgar. Most of the British ships were engaged in blockading the French fleet in their home ports as well as supporting British army operations on the European continent. These efforts had the effect of draining supplies and ships away from the Royal Navy’s American squadron, based out of Halifax and Bermuda. British historian Jeremy Black notes that the Royal Navy’s ships at Halifax were poorly maintained and their crews had not been drilling as often as they could have. [3] Finally, the Royal Navy’s decisive victory over the French at Trafalgar had given the service somewhat of an air of invincibility- the idea that a ship of the Royal Navy, the greatest force on the seas, could be defeated by anyone else was unthinkable.

Thanks to these problems, the US Navy was able to quickly achieve a string of victories during the months following the declaration of war on June 18, 1812. Within three days of the start of the war, multiple US warships had put to sea to search for British merchant ships to attack. The first engagement of the war occurred on June 23rd when the USS President opened fire on the HMS Belvidera, a 36-gun fifth-rate frigate. The Belvidera was hit several times but managed to escape thanks in part to a cannon misfiring and exploding on the President which killed several men. [4] Ten days later on July 3rd, the USS Essex, a fifth-rate frigate built for the US Navy by Salem, Massachusetts, became the first US warship to capture a British ship, the troopship Samuel & Sarah. July also saw the capture of the brig USS Nautilus on the 11th, the first US warship captured during the war, and also the near-capture of the USS Constitution, which just barely escaped from a British squadron after a three-day chase from Chesapeake Bay.

USS Constitution engaging and defeating the frigate HMS Guerriere on August 19, 1812.

The fall saw several ship-to-ship battles which have for all purposes become legend for the US Navy. On August 19th, the USS Constitution defeated the HMS Guerriere, a British fifth-rate, leaving her hulk to burn and sink. [5] On October 25th, the USS United States engaged and captured the British frigate HMS Macedonian. [6] The following day, the USS Constitution again found itself fighting a British warship, this time the HMS Java, another fifth-rate frigate, and won this fight as well. These engagements provided the American public with some of the only bright spots in a war which was not proceeding well for its Army. It also caused an uproar among the British public, who were furious that the upstart Americans were defeating Royal Navy warships. [7] In addition, the events aroused the concerns of the Admiralty, who quickly realized that the American super-frigates outclassed the fifth-rate frigates in use by the Royal Navy. On July 10, 1813, the Secretary of the Admiralty issued an order to all Royal Navy frigates explicitly forbidding them from engaging the American frigates in single ship combat. [8]

Following the first six months of the war, American ships were prevented from further successes in the Atlantic due to the increasing effectiveness of the British blockade. The North American squadron, which had not been in position in time to stop the first American warships venturing out on their commerce-raiding cruises, was able to post squadrons of warships just outside of American harbors, preventing the American super-frigates from venturing forth and keeping them bottled up for much of the war. Ships that did try to run the blockade were frequently captured- from March 30-July 22, the Royal Navy seized 138 ships, most of them American. [9] Additionally, the Royal Navy was able to defeat one of the American frigates in July, when the HMS Shannon successfully attacked the USS Chesapeake on July 10, taking her back to the Halifax. [10] The British would continue to experience success against US Navy warships, capturing or destroying 20 by December 1813. [11] As the war progressed, the British blockade took its toll on the American economy, dropping export profits from $45M in 1811 to just $7M in 1814. [12] By the time the war had ended in 1815, the Royal Navy’s blockade had seized or destroyed some 1,400 American vessels, a substantial portion of the merchant fleet. Most American warships which were not captured by the blockade spent most of 1813 and 1814 stuck in port. The chances of escape were slim enough that several warships were laid up in ordinary as a cost-saving measure. Only on rare occasions did US warships attempt to run the blockade. In January 1815 the USS President attempted to break out into the Atlantic for commerce raiding, only to be surrounded and defeated by a British squadron just off the East Coast. The following month, the USS Constitution engaged and captured the HMS Cyane and briefly the HMS Levant after having successfully run the blockade in December 1814. American privateers experienced a trend similar to the US warships, with a multitude of success during the first six months of the war followed by two years of sparser activity. Privateers did manage to account for some 1,600 ships over the course of the war, but as British historian Brian Arthur points out, that figure represented only 7.5% of the all British merchant shipping, and the overall size of the merchant fleet increased by 4.5% during the war, greatly lessening the effect of American commerce raiding. [13]

HMS Shannon escorts the captured USS Chesapeake into Halifax, June 1813.

American warships on the Eastern coast then, while achieving several high profile victories, were forced to reside in port for much of the war thanks to the very effective British blockade. Those losses that the US Navy and American privateers were able to inflict on the British were not so damaging that they endangered the British capability to wage war on the seas. The British blockade, on the other hand, caused critical economic damage to the US, calling into question not only it’s ability to fight but also its ability to simply continue functioning as a country. In the Part 2 of this article, I will discuss the battles on the Lakes and the War of 1812’s effect on the US Navy.

[1] Ian W. Toll Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy ( New York: W.W. Norton &, 2006)

[2] 30, Brian Arthur. How Britain Won the War of 1812: The Royal Navy's Blockades of the United States, 1812-1815. (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2011)

[3] 1, Jeremy Black. "A British View of the War of 1812." United States Naval Institute. Web. 25 Apr. 2013. (

[4] Xxviii, George C. Daughan. 1812: The Navy's War.(New York: Basic, 2011)

[5] 76-77, George C. Daughan. 1812: The Navy's War.(New York: Basic, 2011)

[6] 133, George C. Daughan. 1812: The Navy's War.(New York: Basic, 2011)

[7] 134, Ronald D. Utt. Ships of Oak, Guns of Iron: The War of 1812 and the Forging of the American Navy. (Washington, DC: Regnery History, 2012)

[8] 134, Ronald D. Utt. Ships of Oak, Guns of Iron: The War of 1812 and the Forging of the American Navy. (Washington, DC: Regnery History, 2012)

[9] 95, Brian Arthur. How Britain Won the War of 1812: The Royal Navy's Blockades of the United States, 1812-1815. (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2011)

[10] 191-194, George C. Daughan. 1812: The Navy's War.(New York: Basic, 2011)

[11] 103, Brian Arthur. How Britain Won the War of 1812: The Royal Navy's Blockades of the United States, 1812-1815. (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2011)

[12] 1, “A British View of the War of 1812”

[13] 199, Brian Arthur. How Britain Won the War of 1812: The Royal Navy's Blockades of the United States, 1812-1815. (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2011)

Top Five Naval Battles of All Time

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.

Even the masters of strategy, however, appear ambivalent about what constitutes decisive victory. Carl von Clausewitz supplies a working definition, describing a decisive engagement as one that leads directly to peace. This implies an action carrying not just tactical but strategic and political import. Such an encounter impels the vanquished to accept the victor's terms at the bargaining table, whether because he's no longer capable of fighting on, believes he stands little chance of turning the tables and winning, or estimates that victory will prove unaffordable. A decisive battle, in this expansive interpretation, is the chief determinant of a war's outcome.

So far, so good. But how direct must direct be for a battle to earn the lofty status of decisive? Must peace talks take place immediately following the clash of arms that precipitates them? Can a settlement come weeks or months afterward, so long as the cause/effect relationship is clear? What's the time horizon?

The great Carl is silent on such matters. It's possible he's too casual about them. Combat, methinks, can be decisive while achieving more modest goals than winning a war outright. To see how, interpret the word literally: something decisive decides something. (Admittedly, this is probably how the US News team got in trouble. Every action decides something in a tactical sense, no matter how mundane or inconsequential. If nothing else, it determines who holds the field of battle at day's end, or reveals that the fighting stalemated. This says little about its larger meaning, if any.) Armed clashes can yield decisive results on different levels of war. A tactical encounter could decide the outcome of a campaign or the fate of a combat theater without leading directly to peace. Right?

In short, it appears wise to define a decisive victory more three-dimensionally than Clausewitz does, namely as a trial of arms that lets a belligerent accomplish some positive or negative aim beyond mere tactical results. Winning the war would still qualify, obviously, but the broader view would allow historians to rate a Battle of Trafalgar as decisive.

Fought in 1805, Trafalgar scarcely brought about final peace with Napoleonic France. That took another decade of apocalyptic warfare. But it did settle whether the French could invade the British Isles and, through amphibious conquest, crush the offshore threat to French supremacy. The heroics of Nelson, Collingwood, and their shipmates decided the outcome of Napoleon's scheme while enabling Great Britain to persevere with the struggle. Trafalgar, then, directly accomplished the negative goal of keeping French legions from invading Britain. That must qualify as decisive in the operational sense.

Speaking of pugilism on the briny main, here's another wrinkle in this debate. Clausewitz says next to nothing about maritime conflict. Water barely exists in his writings. Fin de siecle historian Sir Julian Corbett, the best in the business of sea-power theory, doubts naval warfare is ever decisive by itself, except perhaps through gradual exhaustion. Close or distant blockades, however, grind down not just the enemy but your allies and your own businessfolk who rely on seaborne trade. They impose costs on everyone.

Like Clausewitz, Corbett thus seems skeptical about the decisiveness of any single engagement. Sure, a dominant seafaring state can and must make the sea a barrier to invasion and other direct assaults on its homeland. That's the Trafalgar model. At its bottom, though, maritime strategy is the art of determining the relations between the army and navy in a plan of war. It's ultimately about shaping affairs on land, which, after all, is where people live. But how do you rank a purely naval engagement on the high seas against an army/navy operation that unfolds at the interface between land and sea?

Tough question. So there's a lot to ponder in the seemingly simple question, what is decisive? To rank naval battles against one another, let's assign a pecking order among degrees of decisiveness. Derring-do, tactical artistry, or gee-whiz technology are not among the criteria. Nor are lopsided tactical results enough to lift an encounter into the upper echelon. That's why the Battle of Tsushima, which left wreckage from the Russian Baltic Fleet littering the Yellow Sea floor in 1905, doesn't make my list.

Topping my list are naval actions that decided the fates of civilizations, empires, or great nations. This is decisiveness of the first order. Such encounters stand in a category apart. Next come engagements that reversed the momentum in a conflict of world-historical importance. They set the endgame in motion, even if a long time elapsed between the battle and the peace settlement it helped set in motion. Direct needn't mean fast. And if battles meeting one of those standards don't exhaust the field—read on to find out—last come tests of arms that settled the outcome in a particular theater of war, helping set the stage for eventual victorious peace.

So, this leaves us with a rough hierarchy of sea fights. The more fateful and enduring a battle's ramifications, the higher it stands on the list. All of which is a roundabout way of getting to my Top Five Naval Battles in World History. In order from least to most important:

5. Lepanto (1571). The Battle of Lepanto stemmed the westward spread of Ottoman power across the Mediterranean Sea. With papal sanction, the Holy League, a consortium of Catholic seafaring states, assembled a navy to engage the main Ottoman fleet in the Gulf of Corinth, off western Greece. Lepanto was the last major all-galley naval engagement in the Mediterranean. The League put its advantages in gunnery and ship types—notably the galleass, an outsized galley bearing heavy armament—to good use against the Turkish fleet, which disgorged far less weight of shot. The Ottomans lost the bulk of their vessels to enemy action. More importantly, they lost experienced crews. They found that regenerating human capital isn't as easy as fitting out wooden men-of-war. Shipwrights soon built new hulls, letting the Turkish navy reassert its supremacy in the Eastern Mediterranean for a period. By 1580, however, the new navy was left to rot at its moorings. Galley warfare assured permanent European, not Ottoman, command of the middle sea. That's a decisive result by any measure.

4. Battle of Yamen (1279). Sometimes dubbed “China’s Trafalgar,” this clash between the Mongol Yuan Dynasty and the beleaguered Southern Song determined who would rule China for nearly a century. It was far more decisive than Horatio Nelson’s masterwork. Over one thousand warships crewed by tens of thousands of men took part in the engagement. Yuan commanders deployed deception and bold tactics to overcome at least a 10:1 mismatch in numbers. Most important, Yamen claimed the life of the Song emperor, clearing the way for Kublai Khan’s dynasty to take charge of Asia's central kingdom. The results of Yamen thus reverberated throughout Asia for decades afterward.

3. Quiberon Bay (1759). The year 1759 has been called a year of miracles for Great Britain. Land and naval operations determined whether Britain or France would emerge triumphant in North America. British troops under Wolfe subdued Montcalm's defenders at Quebec and Montreal, sealing the fate of New France. France stood little chance of recouping its fortunes because Admiral Sir Edward Hawke's Royal Navy fleet ventured into Quiberon Bay that November—in a westerly gale, no less—and put paid to the French fleet in its home waters. Having wrested away command of Atlantic shipping lanes, Britain could bar access to the Americas. Lesson: to score decisive victories, hire commanders with fighting names like Wolfe and Hawke. British exploits settled the destiny of a continent while setting a pattern for North American politics that persists to this day.

2. Spanish Armada (1588). This was the duke of Medina Sidonia's purportedly invincible fleet, ordered by Spain's King Philip II to cross the Channel and land in England. There Spanish forces would unseat England's Queen Elizabeth I. By installing a friendly regime, the expeditionary force would terminate English support for the Dutch revolt roiling the Spanish Netherlands while ending English privateering against Spanish shipping. The Catholic Philip sought and obtained papal approval for the enterprise against the Protestant Elizabeth. Weather, however, conspired with English seamanship and gunnery tactics to condemn the expedition. The Spanish host was unable to land. Instead Medina Sidonia found himself compelled to circumnavigate the British Isles under foul conditions to reach home port. The failed cross-Channel crusade heartened the English crown. Had the Armada replaced a Protestant with a Catholic monarch, it's conceivable that the British Empire never would have been founded—and certainly not in the form it actually took. How would Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Ocean history have unfolded then? The implications of that question boggle the mind—and qualify the Armada's defeat as decisive in the largest sense.

Approximately 70,000 U.S. Marines and 18,000 Japanese soldiers took part in the battle. In thirty-six days of fighting on the island, nearly 7,000 U.S. Marines were killed. Another 20,000 were wounded. Marines captured 216 Japanese soldiers the rest were killed in action.

In the beginning of World War II the Royal Navy was the strongest navy in the world, with the largest number of warships built and with naval bases across the globe. Totalling over 15 battleships and battlecruisers, 7 aircraft carriers, 66 cruisers, 164 destroyers and 66 submarines.

The first "Wolf Packs" (1812-1813)

The one obvious advantage the British possessed over the Americans at the outset of the war was mastery of the oceans. In June of 1812, the Royal Navy officially mustered up 145, 000 men and more than 700 warships, including approximately 125 ships of the line and over 100 frigates. Morale was high, especially after Trafalgar. Now that the French fleet was bottled up in its ports, there was little but a few French privateers or lone frigates to threaten England's sea lanes. Nonetheless, the Royal Navy was starting to suffer the consequences of the long and gruelling war with France and cracks were showing in the fleet's veneer. The efficiency of many British ships was deteriorating because of longer blockading duties and the lack of gunnery training most captains tried as best they could to remedy this situation but there was little time for exercises in such conditions. (9) Furthermore, the British were currently involved in a major refitting effort of their whole navy. “After Trafalgar, the British fleet, so assiduously built up between 1783 and 1793 was over age and worn out. Consequently, Britain replaced 50, 000 tons of battleships between 1805 and 1815.” (Lambert, 2000:183). This refitting – though well under way in June 1812 – combined with the blockade in Europe meant that there were less frigates available for patrolling duties on the high seas and that it took longer to assemble them into squadrons for action off the European coast. Notwithstanding these facts, as the war started, Britain remained convinced that it naturally owned the seas and that no nation could seriously challenge it while in this superior position.

Facing this formidable force was a skeletal and disorganized US Navy. It had no more than fifteen frigates and only a few dozen brigs and sloops-of-war. (10) The entire staff of the Navy Department consisted of less than ten people, including its Secretary. There were no reserve depots, no ordinary naval stores for provisions or ammunitions. Only one navy yard, located in Washington, was still in operation. The 700 gunboats which had been specially designed to protect the American coastline from British invasion were now laid up in ordinary (11) after years of drastic cuts in the Navy's operating budget: there was no gear, no weapons, no crews to man them. (12) More alarming perhaps was the fact that the Americans had no ships of the line to challenge the British if – or rather when – they imposed a blockade on American ports and coastal trade. With the prospect of facing the mightiest navy in the world, it seemed like a foregone affair. The London Courier even boasted that “two fifty-gun ships would be able to burn, sink and destroy the whole American navy.”

Indeed, at the start of the war, Americans could take comfort in very few things, but one of them was the fact that there were a great number of well-trained and experienced sailors to be recruited from now that the merchant navy was almost out of action. After years of taking British abuse on the sea, American sailors were keen on getting even with John Bull . Many civilian sailors with years of seafaring went right away to the decks of recently refitted American warships to receive military training. However, the true saving grace of the American Navy in 1812 was its command structure on the high seas. Unlike the Army, the Navy had good and capable leaders who could shape the new recruits and old sailors into an efficient fighting force. It was a young officer corps – most captains being in their late twenties or early thirties – but it nonetheless had experience in warfare at sea. In fact, many captains, officers and midshipmen in the US Navy in 1812 were veterans of the two previous engagements which their country had fought: the Quasi-War against the French (1797-1800) and the Tripolitan War (1801-1805). The first, although never officially declared – hence its name – was a sea contest mostly fought by privateers. It was during this war that the US Navy was officially born. Even though hastily built and put together, it proved its quality by capturing many French corsairs and by taking a few French frigates in the Caribbean Sea while clearing the American coast of enemy ships. Soon after, the Tripolitan War confirmed the US Navy as a capable fighting force when it destroyed all the pirates' nests along the North African coast, from Morocco to Libya, thus ending decades of looting and ransoming in the Mediterranean. Although few ship-to-ship actions took place during this last conflict, the Americans impressed many European naval officers who witnessed the relentless and bold war the US Navy carried out. Lord Horatio Nelson, himself one of their admirers, observed rather prophetically that “there is in the handling of those transatlantic ships a nucleus of trouble for the navy of Great Britain”.

In June of 1812, Madison had little to no naval ambitions for his country. There was never any doubt in his mind that, given time, the British would be able to make use of their clear naval advantage to blockade the whole of the Eastern seaboard of the United States. At best, the American government hoped that privateering might disrupt a bit of the English trade before a tight blockade could be put in place. Just like in 1797-1800, licenses were issued to private ship owners who armed vessels which started operating the moment the war declaration was announced. (13) As for the US Navy, Madison wanted it to slip out of harbour in order to find and escort back to safety homeward bound merchantmen. American captains – in a concerted effort – begged their commanders to be allowed to pursue a more offensive strategy: some even went to the President himself. Instead of only preventing the Royal Navy from grappling a few more American prize ships, they proposed an ambitious campaign. Their plan was “that the frigates be sent by ones or twos on long-range raids against English shipping. Not specifically stated, but certainly implied, was their strategic aim: England was a mercantile nation – Napoleon's “nation of shopkeepers” – dependent on foreign trade for its prosperity and even much of its food supply. Destroy enough of the merchant ships that carried that trade and England's economy would totter its great traders, manufacturers, and West Indies planters would howl for peace.” (Elting, 1991: 72) In short, American captains were proposing a kind of warfare which consisted of preying extensively and methodically on England's supply routes, attacking ships under inadequate escort against anything except French privateers. This brand of combined long-range naval operations based on systematic stalking and pounding of enemy shipping convoys was to later inspire – and with the same dire loss of human life – German U-Boat tacticians who created the concept of the submarine “wolf packs” which plagued the Allied convoys for so long during World War II. Pressured by their captains, Madison and his naval advisers reluctantly agreed to allow for the US warships already commissioned to put out to sea and soften up the British merchant fleet for a while. The order was signed on June 21, and within an hour of receiving it, the heavy frigates United States , President , Congress , Argus and Hornet were outward bound from New York harbour. Other squadrons of sloops and brigs soon slipped out of other ports along the East coast and made for the high seas, mostly at night so as to avoid any British detection. Although still officially engaged in a hunt to find American merchantmen and British unescorted convoys, all Navy captains were dreaming of a chance meeting with a British man-of-war.

It took weeks for the declaration of hostilities to get to London across the sea but it was only a matter of days before the unofficial – but eloquent – notification reached Halifax harbour, the Royal Navy Northern Atlantic station in Canada. It was delivered in the guise of the beaten up HMS Belvidera , a frigate which had been fairly active during recent years, inspecting a great number of merchantmen coming and going along the American coast and making herself a nuisance for US trade. It was an ironic fate that she became the first British ship to meet with the frigates now on the prowl in the Northern Atlantic. On June 23, two days after the Americans sailed out to sea, she barely escaped a hot pursuit off the New England coast due to her masterful sailing during the chase but also to the jettisoning of all of her boats, anchors and supplies of fresh water in order to distance her opponent, the 55-gun USS President . Her arrival in Halifax sent a clear message to the British admiralty that it now had a war on its hands.

Although not completely surprised, the British were somewhat taken off guard and rather unprepared for a war on two fronts. The Royal Navy had one ship of the line, six frigates and 16 schooners and brigs spread out between Halifax and the West Indies in June 1812: these were meagre resources for such a formidable and difficult territory to cover. There were a few patrolling ships off the American coast but not nearly enough to blockade it rapidly and tightly. It would take weeks, if not months to close down the whole coast of the United States. The delay was inevitable since British ships engaged off the European continent first had to be called back for refitting in England. Once this was done, they would then be dispatched across the Atlantic. The voyage westward – which could take, depending on the season, anywhere from a few weeks to two months – would usually end up with the arrival in Halifax of a storm-battered ship needing urgent repairs before being able to resume active duty. Thus, for the first few months of the war, the Royal Navy used its overstretched forces in a piecemeal effort and hoped to cut its losses. In late August, the British started blockading parts of the American coast and a few important harbours but there remained long stretches wide open for American ships to come and go as they pleased.

The Belvidera chase was just a prelude of Britain's troubles to come. Indeed, the situation quickly went from bad to worse for the Royal Navy. The Atlantic became a hunting ground for American privateers who captured and sunk dozens of bewildered British merchantmen who learned the hard way that war had come. US Navy “wolf packs” also raked in their share of prize ships as supply lanes between Canada, the West Indies and England were hit particularly hard in the first year. (14) But public morale in England was to suffer even more as news reached home of the first encounters between US and British men-of-war. The first of these took place on August 13 when USS Essex , a 46-gun frigate, was attacked by a British 20-gun sloop-of-war, HMS Alert . Disguised as a sloppily handled merchantman – her successive captains had heavily modified her over the years, giving her the looks of a slug – Essex lured the British into approaching her. As the British sloop pulled aside, the Americans needed to fire only one broadside: with her mast down and her rigging completely torn apart, Alert struck her colors and surrendered in surprising haste. As it turned out, the “handful of fir-built frigates manned by bastards and outlaws” described earlier by the London Times could put up a fight after all.

Less than a week later, on August 19, while cruising the Grand Banks south of Newfoundland, HMS Guerriere encountered USS Constitution . Upon going into battle, the British captain promised his crew a bonus of four months' pay if they took the American within a quarter of an hour. The fight lasted longer – 40 minutes in total – but instead of seizing the American ship, it was Guerriere that was battered into a complete wreck. In a fight that became the stuff of legend in the US Navy, all American shots hit their target. Witnesses on both sides later reported that British cannon balls were seen bouncing off the Constitution's hull, thus earning her a nickname that would endure: “Old Ironsides”. The British lost 78 men, dead or wounded, before giving up the fight. With all of her masts gone, her rigging and hull damaged beyond repair, Guerriere could not be sailed back to the United States, and was consequently scuttled on the next day. When news of this defeat reached England, the London Times changed its tone and echoed British disbelief and fretting at these first American successes: “It is not merely that an English frigate has been taken, […] but that it has been taken by a new enemy, an enemy unaccustomed to such triumphs and likely to be rendered insolent and confident by them.” Indeed, on October 25, the slugfest continued, this time about 500 miles south of the Azores, as the 44-gun heavy frigate USS United States engaged HMS Macedonian (38 guns) in the morning. Two and a half hours later, Macedonian surrendered. By that time, she had lost her wheel and masts and there were over 100 of her crew dead or wounded: after two weeks of repair at sea, she was taken back to the United States and refitted to be taken into the American Navy, a fact which no doubt aggravated the British. A little more than a month later, on November 29, USS Constitution once again came into action, this time with HMS Java off the Brazilian coast. Although the British frigate put up a good fight, she surrendered after 122 of her crew were killed or wounded. Other engagements and single-ship actions produced similar results in favour of the Americans during 1812 and well into 1813. Public outrage now flowed in the British press and elsewhere in England. With pressure mounting at home, the Royal Navy was promptly instructed by the government to put an end to these naval setbacks, and to do so with extreme prejudice.

These American successes can be explained by two main factors. Firstly, in 1812, the best and ablest of the Royal Navy were still in European waters blockading the French: the US Navy was thus in a position to take full advantage of Britain's scarce resources in the Western Atlantic and benefited from the fact that the British admiralty was nowhere near ready for all-out war on two fronts. The second factor to take into consideration is that, if the British could count on many more ships than their enemy, the Americans possessed a relative technical superiority in ship-to-ship actions. In fact, the Royal Navy discovered the hard way that their new enemy was better equipped than their previous European foes. US naval design and architecture were very much ahead of their time, and by far superior and more innovative than that of the British. American warships were, on the whole, bigger, sturdier and more highly elevated elevated above the water line than British ships in their class: this resulted in superior sailing and manoeuvring capabilities which made for faster warships than anything else on water in those days, a precious quality extensively used by American captains. To add to their efficient design, American warships were also equipped with more guns (the average 44-gun heavy frigate would in reality carry 52 to 55 guns) and carronades than their counterparts: (15) moreover, because they were using heavier calibre ammunition, their broadsides could deliver a mightier blow on their enemy, and at a longer range. Gunnery training was also very good in the US Navy, a fact eloquently proven by the number of precise shots on British masts and wheels during ship-to-ship actions throughout the conflict.

It was thus that, by the end of 1812, American military disasters in Canada were somewhat compensated by these unlikely and timely victories at sea. “These Navy operations were a mighty stimulant to the American war effort, even in New England. Faced with such jubilant public enthusiasm, the administration decided to let its naval officers continue with their own brand of warfare.” (Elting, 1991: 75) In January of 1813, the US government decided to launch a new naval program: three ships of the line and a number of new frigates were ordered into construction at the Washington Navy Yard which was reorganized accordingly. In early 1813, US men-of-war started operating in the North and South Atlantic as three distinct squadrons, each one nominally composed of a heavy frigate, a light frigate and a sloop-of-war. The first squadron was to roam the North Atlantic, the other the Azores/Madeira sector and the last the South Atlantic. These squadrons started acting independently and although not always up to strength, they represented enough of a menace that the British altered their tactics to meet with them. The superiority of the American frigates forced British ships of that class to operate in pairs or squadrons, which were sometimes backed by ships of the line. The problem was compounded by the fact that American warships “[…] could remain at sea for long periods. What supplies they required could be found in most minor seaports they could take on water at any handy river's mouth. A resourceful captain […] could even find an isolated island where he could careen his ship to scrape and recaulk her bottom. Consequently, commerce raiders could make long, destructive cruises, ranging widely from one choice “hunting ground” to another to avoid avenging British warships, resupplying themselves and even picking up new seamen from the ships they captured.” (Elting, 1991: 70).

In 1813, war spread to other oceans as US Navy captains and American privateers became bolder and more adventurous in their strikes. One light frigate, the USS Essex , left the Delaware River on October 28, 1812, and sailed for the South Atlantic under the command of Captain David Porter, a good seaman and a man of much energy. During his first three-month cruise, he had enjoyed success and brought ten prize-ships back to port. His new mission promised to bring in an even more interesting bounty. Porter was to sail out and meet with USS Constitution and Hornet off the Brazilian coast. The three ships were then to go as a squadron into the South Pacific to raid unsuspecting English commerce off Chile, Peru, and Mexico. Having missed the rendez-vous, the captain courageously decided to carry out his orders on his own. Essex rounded Cape Horn a few months later and, during the course of 1813, went on to virtually annihilate the whole of the British whale fishery in the South pacific. In October of 1813, Essex arrived in Nuka Hiva, in the Marquesas Islands. There, Porter refitted his ships (he now had two, having captured and transformed a British whaler into a gunship, which he had renamed Essex Junior ) and rested his crew. A few weeks later, he set sail and retraced his steps across the Pacific, back to Chile. Considering what lay westward of the Marquesas, Porter's decision seems like madness: with the damage he had done in the previous year in South Pacific waters, British warships would no doubt be looking for him along the coast of South America. Had Porter decided to sail to the West instead of going back, his unexpected arrival in the China Sea and the Indian Ocean would certainly have had a devastating effect on the ill-protected British convoys in the area but it would not be so. After a long and grueling voyage, Porter reached Valparaiso, Chile, where he was very soon after blockaded by two British warships dispatched – as expected – to hunt him down. On March 28, 1814, still damaged by the squalls encountered in the Pacific on her way to South America, Essex tried to slip out of Valparaiso but was attacked inside Chilean national waters and methodically wrecked by the British ships. The Americans lost 58 killed, 31 drowned, and 70 wounded. Three hours after the fight had begun, Porter ordered a last flag message to be hoisted up: it read “Free trade and sailors' rights”, the old slogan of the War Hawks. The captain then struck his flag and thus ended one of the boldest raids carried out by the US Navy during the War of 1812.

Six months into the war, the British Admiralty in London sent Admiral John Borlase Warren to Halifax to take command of the combined North America and West Indies Stations. The new Commander-in-Chief quickly assessed the situation and realized he did not yet possess the necessary means to seriously impede American coastal trade. “Therefore, Warren applied his available forces piecemeal against what he thought the most important areas, the Chesapeake and Delaware bays […]. Thereafter, as more ships dribbled in to join him, he extended his operations to cover Charleston, Port Royal, Savannah, New Orleans and Long Island Sound. Except for its naval base at Boston, New England was left largely unblocked in order to facilitate the treasonous and profitable trade in foodstuffs its merchants were carrying on with England and Canada.” (Elting, 1991: 77) Patrolling and escort duties were also increased out at sea but the shortages of warships – and more particularly the crying need for swift, small ships capable of running down American privateers and operating in shallow coastal waters – made Warren's task all the more difficult. Despite these new measures, enemy privateers and men-of-war still slipped out of harbour and avoided being detected as a result, American activity increased once again in early spring of 1813 with new attacks on British convoys and lone merchantmen.



Gordon Smith, creator of Naval-History.Net, died peacefully on 16 December 2016 aged 75.

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Naval Engagements in 1812-1813 - History

Timeline of Events


December 7, 1941 - Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Hawaii also attack the Philippines, Wake Island, Guam, Malaya, Thailand, Shanghai and Midway.
December 8, 1941 - U.S. and Britain declare war on Japan. Japanese land near Singapore and enter Thailand.
December 9, 1941 - China declares war on Japan.
December 10, 1941 - Japanese invade the Philippines and also seize Guam.
December 11, 1941 - Japanese invade Burma.
December 15, 1941 - First Japanese merchant ship sunk by a U.S. submarine.
December 16, 1941 - Japanese invade British Borneo.
December 18, 1941 - Japanese invade Hong Kong.
December 22, 1941 - Japanese invade Luzon in the Philippines.
December 23, 1941 - General Douglas MacArthur begins a withdrawal from Manila to Bataan Japanese take Wake Island.
December 25, 1941 - British surrender at Hong Kong.
December 26, 1941 - Manila declared an open city.
December 27, 1941 - Japanese bomb Manila.


Map of the Japanese Empire at its peak in 1942.

January 2, 1942 - Manila and U.S. Naval base at Cavite captured by the Japanese.
January 7, 1942 - Japanese attack Bataan in the Philippines.
January 11, 1942 - Japanese invade Dutch East Indies and Dutch Borneo.
January 16, 1942 - Japanese begin an advance into Burma.
January 18, 1942 - German-Japanese-Italian military agreement signed in Berlin.
January 19, 1942 - Japanese take North Borneo.
January 23, 1942 - Japanese take Rabaul on New Britain in the Solomon Islands and also invade Bougainville, the largest island.
January 27, 1942 - First Japanese warship sunk by a U.S. submarine.
January 30/31 - The British withdraw into Singapore. The siege of Singapore then begins.
February 1, 1942 - First U.S. aircraft carrier offensive of the war as YORKTOWN and ENTERPRISE conduct air raids on Japanese bases in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands.
February 2, 1942 - Japanese invade Java in the Dutch East Indies.
February 8/9 - Japanese invade Singapore.
February 14, 1942 - Japanese invade Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies.
February 15, 1942 - British surrender at Singapore.
February 19, 1942 - Largest Japanese air raid since Pearl Harbor occurs against Darwin, Australia Japanese invade Bali.
February 20, 1942 - First U.S. fighter ace of the war, Lt. Edward O'Hare from the LEXINGTON in action off Rabaul.
February 22, 1942 - President Franklin D. Roosevelt orders General MacArthur out of the Philippines.
February 23, 1942 - First Japanese attack on the U.S. mainland as a submarine shells an oil refinery near Santa Barbara, California.
February 24, 1942 - ENTERPRISE attacks Japanese on Wake Island.
February 26, 1942 - First U.S. carrier, the LANGLEY, is sunk by Japanese bombers.
February 27- March 1 - Japanese naval victory in the Battle of the Java Sea as the largest U.S. warship in the Far East, the HOUSTON, is sunk.
March 4, 1942 - Two Japanese flying boats bomb Pearl Harbor ENTERPRISE attacks Marcus Island, just 1000 miles from Japan.
March 7, 1942 - British evacuate Rangoon in Burma Japanese invade Salamaua and Lae on New Guinea.
March 8, 1942 - The Dutch on Java surrender to Japanese.
March 11, 1942 - Gen. MacArthur leaves Corregidor and is flown to Australia. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright becomes the new U.S. commander.
March 18, 1942 - Gen. MacArthur appointed commander of the Southwest Pacific Theater by President Roosevelt.
March 18, 1942 - War Relocation Authority established in the U.S. which eventually will round up 120,000 Japanese-Americans and transport them to barb-wired relocation centers. Despite the internment, over 17,000 Japanese-Americans sign up and fight for the U.S. in World War II in Europe, including the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated unit in U.S. history.
March 23, 1942 - Japanese invade the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal.
March 24, 1942 - Admiral Chester Nimitz appointed as Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific theater.
April 3, 1942 - Japanese attack U.S. and Filipino troops at Bataan.
April 6, 1942 - First U.S. troops arrive in Australia.
April 9, 1942 - U.S. forces on Bataan surrender unconditionally to the Japanese.
April 10, 1942 - Bataan Death March begins as 76,000 Allied POWs including 12,000 Americans are forced to walk 60 miles under a blazing sun without food or water toward a new POW camp, resulting in over 5,000 American deaths.
April 18, 1942 - Surprise U.S. 'Doolittle' B-25 air raid from the HORNET against Tokyo boosts Allied morale.
April 29, 1942 - Japanese take central Burma.
May 1, 1942 - Japanese occupy Mandalay in Burma.
May 3, 1942 - Japanese take Tulagi in the Solomon Islands.
May 5, 1942 - Japanese prepare to invade Midway and the Aleutian Islands.
May 6, 1942 - Japanese take Corregidor as Gen. Wainwright unconditionally surrenders all U.S. And Filipino forces in the Philippines.
May 7-8, 1942 - Japan suffers its first defeat of the war during the Battle of the Coral Sea off New Guinea - the first time in history that two opposing carrier forces fought only using aircraft without the opposing ships ever sighting each other.
May 12, 1942 - The last U.S. Troops holding out in the Philippines surrender on Mindanao.
May 20, 1942 - Japanese complete the capture of Burma and reach India.
June 4-5, 1942 - Turning point in the war occurs with a decisive victory for the U.S. against Japan in the Battle of Midway as squadrons of U.S. torpedo planes and dive bombers from ENTERPRISE, HORNET, and YORKTOWN attack and destroy four Japanese carriers, a cruiser, and damage another cruiser and two destroyers. U.S. loses YORKTOWN.
June 7, 1942 - Japanese invade the Aleutian Islands.
June 9, 1942 - Japanese postpone further plans to take Midway.
July 21, 1942 - Japanese land troops near Gona on New Guinea.
August 7, 1942 - The first U.S. amphibious landing of the Pacific War occurs as 1st Marine Division invades Tulagi and Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.
August 8, 1942 - U.S. Marines take the unfinished airfield on Guadalcanal and name it Henderson Field after Maj. Lofton Henderson, a hero of Midway.
August 8/9 - A major U.S. naval disaster off Savo Island, north of Guadalcanal, as eight Japanese warships wage a night attack and sink three U.S. heavy cruisers, an Australian cruiser, and one U.S. destroyer, all in less than an hour. Another U.S. cruiser and two destroyers are damaged. Over 1,500 Allied crewmen are lost.
August 17, 1942 - 122 U.S. Marine raiders, transported by submarine, attack Makin Atoll in the Gilbert Islands.
August 21, 1942 - U.S. Marines repulse first major Japanese ground attack on Guadalcanal.
August 24, 1942 - U.S. And Japanese carriers meet in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons resulting in a Japanese defeat.
August 29, 1942 - The Red Cross announces Japan refuses to allow safe passage of ships containing supplies for U.S. POWs.
August 30, 1942 - U.S. Troops invade Adak Island in the Aleutian Islands.
September 9/10 - A Japanese floatplane flies two missions dropping incendiary bombs on U.S. forests in the state of Oregon - the only bombing of the continental U.S. during the war. Newspapers in the U.S. voluntarily withhold this information.
September 12-14 - Battle of Bloody Ridge on Guadalcanal.
September 15, 1942 - A Japanese submarine torpedo attack near the Solomon Islands results in the sinking of the Carrier WASP, Destroyer O'BRIEN and damage to the Battleship NORTH CAROLINA.
September 27, 1942 - British offensive in Burma.
October 11/12 - U.S. cruisers and destroyers defeat a Japanese task force in the Battle of Cape Esperance off Guadalcanal.
October 13, 1942 - The first U.S. Army troops, the 164th Infantry Regiment, land on Guadalcanal.
October 14/15 - Japanese bombard Henderson Field at night from warships then send troops ashore onto Guadalcanal in the morning as U.S. planes attack.
October 15/17 - Japanese bombard Henderson Field at night again from warships.
October 18, 1942 - Vice Admiral William F. Halsey named as the new commander of the South Pacific Area, in charge of the Solomons-New Guinea campaign.
October 26, 1942 - Battle of Santa Cruz off Guadalcanal between U.S. And Japanese warships results in the loss of the Carrier HORNET.
November 14/15 - U.S. And Japanese warships clash again off Guadalcanal resulting in the sinking of the U.S. Cruiser JUNEAU and the deaths of the five Sullivan brothers.
November 23/24 - Japanese air raid on Darwin, Australia.
November 30 - Battle of Tasafaronga off Guadalcanal.
December 2, 1942 - Enrico Fermi conducts the world's first nuclear chain reaction test at the University of Chicago.
December 20-24 - Japanese air raids on Calcutta, India.
December 31, 1942 - Emperor Hirohito of Japan gives permission to his troops to withdraw from Guadalcanal after five months of bloody fighting against U.S. Forces


January 2, 1943 - Allies take Buna in New Guinea.
January 22, 1943 - Allies defeat Japanese at Sanananda on New Guinea.
February 1, 1943 - Japanese begin evacuation of Guadalcanal.
February 8, 1943 - British-Indian forces begin guerrilla operations against Japanese in Burma.
February 9, 1943 - Japanese resistance on Guadalcanal ends.
March 2-4 - U.S. victory over Japanese in the Battle of Bismarck Sea.
April 18, 1943 - U.S. code breakers pinpoint the location of Japanese Admiral Yamamoto flying in a Japanese bomber near Bougainville in the Solomon Islands. Eighteen P-38 fighters then locate and shoot down Yamamoto.
April 21, 1943 - President Roosevelt announces the Japanese have executed several airmen from the Doolittle Raid.
April 22, 1943 - Japan announces captured Allied pilots will be given "one way tickets to hell."
May 10, 1943 - U.S. Troops invade Attu in the Aleutian Islands.
May 14, 1943 - A Japanese submarine sinks the Australian hospital ship CENTAUR resulting in 299 dead.
May 31, 1943 - Japanese end their occupation of the Aleutian Islands as the U.S. completes the capture of Attu.
June 1, 1943 - U.S. begins submarine warfare against Japanese shipping.
June 21, 1943 - Allies advance to New Georgia, Solomon Islands.
July 8, 1943 - B-24 Liberators flying from Midway bomb Japanese on Wake Island.
August 1/2 - A group of 15 U.S. PT-boats attempt to block Japanese convoys south of Kolombangra Island in the Solomon Islands. PT-109, commanded by Lt. John F. Kennedy, is rammed and sunk by the Japanese Cruiser AMAGIRI, killing two and badly injuring others. The crew survives as Kennedy aids one badly injured man by towing him to a nearby atoll.
August 6/7, 1943 - Battle of Vella Gulf in the Solomon Islands.
August 25, 1943 - Allies complete the occupation of New Georgia.
September 4, 1943 - Allies recapture Lae-Salamaua, New Guinea.
October 7, 1943 - Japanese execute approximately 100 American POWs on Wake Island.
October 26, 1943 - Emperor Hirohito states his country's situation is now "truly grave."
November 1, 1943 - U.S. Marines invade Bougainville in the Solomon Islands.
November 2, 1943 - Battle of Empress Augusta Bay.
November 20, 1943 - U.S. Troops invade Makin and Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands.
November 23, 1943 - Japanese end resistance on Makin and Tarawa.
December 15, 1943 - U.S. Troops land on the Arawe Peninsula of New Britain in the Solomon Islands.
December 26, 1943 - Full Allied assault on New Britain as 1st Division Marines invade Cape Gloucester.


January 9, 1944 - British and Indian troops recapture Maungdaw in Burma.
January 31, 1944 - U.S. Troops invade Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands.
February 1-7, 1944 - U.S. Troops capture Kwajalein and Majura Atolls in the Marshall Islands.
February 17/18 - U.S. Carrier-based planes destroy the Japanese naval base at Truk in the Caroline Islands.
February 20, 1944 - U.S. Carrier-based and land-based planes destroy the Japanese base at Rabaul.
February 23, 1944 - U.S. Carrier-based planes attack the Mariana Islands.
February 24, 1944 - Merrill's Marauders begin a ground campaign in northern Burma.
March 5, 1944 - Gen. Wingate's groups begin operations behind Japanese lines in Burma.
March 15, 1944 - Japanese begin offensive toward Imphal and Kohima.
April 17, 1944 - Japanese begin their last offensive in China, attacking U.S. air bases in eastern China.
April 22, 1944 - Allies invade Aitape and Hollandia in New Guinea.
May 27, 1944 - Allies invade Biak Island, New Guinea.
June 5, 1944 - The first mission by B-29 Superfortress bombers occurs as 77 planes bomb Japanese railway facilities at Bangkok, Thailand.
June 15, 1944 - U.S. Marines invade Saipan in the Mariana Islands.
June 15/16 - The first bombing raid on Japan since the Doolittle raid of April 1942, as 47 B-29s based in Bengel, India, target the steel works at Yawata.
June 19, 1944 - The "Marianas Turkey Shoot" occurs as U.S. Carrier-based fighters shoot down 220 Japanese planes, while only 20 American planes are lost.
July 8, 1944 - Japanese withdraw from Imphal.
July 19, 1944 - U.S. Marines invade Guam in the Marianas.
July 24, 1944 - U.S. Marines invade Tinian.
July 27, 1944 - American troops complete the liberation of Guam.
August 3, 1944 - U.S. And Chinese troops take Myitkyina after a two month siege.
August 8, 1944 - American troops complete the capture of the Mariana Islands.
September 15, 1944 - U.S. Troops invade Morotai and the Paulaus.
October 11, 1944 - U.S. Air raids against Okinawa.
October 18, 1944 - Fourteen B-29s based on the Marianas attack the Japanese base at Truk.
October 20, 1944 - U.S. Sixth Army invades Leyte in the Philippines.
October 23-26 - Battle of Leyte Gulf results in a decisive U.S. Naval victory.
October 25, 1944 - The first suicide air (Kamikaze) attacks occur against U.S. warships in Leyte Gulf. By the end of the war, Japan will have sent an estimated 2,257 aircraft. "The only weapon I feared in the war," Adm. Halsey will say later.
November 11, 1944 - Iwo Jima bombarded by the U.S. Navy.
November 24, 1944 - Twenty four B-29s bomb the Nakajima aircraft factory near Tokyo.
December 15, 1944 - U.S. Troops invade Mindoro in the Philippines.
December 17, 1944 - The U.S. Army Air Force begins preparations for dropping the Atomic Bomb by establishing the 509th Composite Group to operate the B-29s that will deliver the bomb.


January 3, 1945 - Gen. MacArthur is placed in command of all U.S. ground forces and Adm. Nimitz in command of all naval forces in preparation for planned assaults against Iwo Jima, Okinawa and Japan itself.
January 4, 1945 - British occupy Akyab in Burma.
January 9, 1945 - U.S. Sixth Army invades Lingayen Gulf on Luzon in the Philippines.
January 11, 1945 - Air raid against Japanese bases in Indochina by U.S. Carrier-based planes.
January 28, 1945 - The Burma road is reopened.
February 3, 1945 - U.S. Sixth Army attacks Japanese in Manila.
February 16, 1945 - U.S. Troops recapture Bataan in the Philippines.
February 19, 1945 - U.S. Marines invade Iwo Jima.
March 1, 1945 - A U.S. submarine sinks a Japanese merchant ship loaded with supplies for Allied POWs, resulting in a court martial for the captain of the submarine, since the ship had been granted safe passage by the U.S. Government.
March 2, 1945 - U.S. airborne troops recapture Corregidor in the Philippines.
March 3, 1945 - U.S. And Filipino troops take Manila.
March 9/10 - Fifteen square miles of Tokyo erupts in flames after it is fire bombed by 279 B-29s.
March 10, 1945 - U.S. Eighth Army invades Zamboanga Peninsula on Mindanao in the Philippines.
March 20, 1945 - British troops liberate Mandalay, Burma.
March 27, 1945 - B-29s lay mines in Japan's Shimonoseki Strait to interrupt shipping.
April 1, 1945 - The final amphibious landing of the war occurs as the U.S. Tenth Army invades Okinawa.
April 7, 1945 - B-29s fly their first fighter-escorted mission against Japan with P-51 Mustangs based on Iwo Jima U.S. Carrier-based fighters sink the super battleship YAMATO and several escort vessels which planned to attack U.S. Forces at Okinawa.
April 12, 1945 - President Roosevelt dies, succeeded by Harry S. Truman.
May 8, 1945 - Victory in Europe Day.
May 20, 1945 - Japanese begin withdrawal from China.
May 25, 1945 - U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff approve Operation Olympic, the invasion of Japan, scheduled for November 1.
June 9, 1945 - Japanese Premier Suzuki announces Japan will fight to the very end rather than accept unconditional surrender.
June 18, 1945 - Japanese resistance ends on Mindanao in the Philippines.
June 22, 1945 - Japanese resistance ends on Okinawa as the U.S. Tenth Army completes its capture.
June 28, 1945 - MacArthur's headquarters announces the end of all Japanese resistance in the Philippines.
July 5, 1945 - Liberation of Philippines declared.
July 10, 1945 - 1,000 bomber raids against Japan begin.
July 14, 1945 - The first U.S. Naval bombardment of Japanese home islands.
July 16, 1945 - First Atomic Bomb is successfully tested in the U.S.
July 26, 1945 - Components of the Atomic Bomb "Little Boy" are unloaded at Tinian Island in the South Pacific.
July 29, 1945 - A Japanese submarine sinks the Cruiser INDIANAPOLIS resulting in the loss of 881 crewmen. The ship sinks before a radio message can be sent out leaving survivors adrift for two days.
August 6, 1945 - First Atomic Bomb dropped on Hiroshima from a B-29 flown by Col. Paul Tibbets.
August 8, 1945 - U.S.S.R. declares war on Japan then invades Manchuria.
August 9, 1945 - Second Atomic Bomb is dropped on Nagasaki from a B-29 flown by Maj. Charles Sweeney -- Emperor Hirohito and Japanese Prime Minister Suzuki then decide to seek an immediate peace with the Allies.
August 14, 1945 - Japanese accept unconditional surrender Gen. MacArthur is appointed to head the occupation forces in Japan.
August 16, 1945 - Gen. Wainwright, a POW since May 6, 1942, is released from a POW camp in Manchuria.
August 27, 1945 - B-29s drop supplies to Allied POWs in China.
August 29, 1945 - The Soviets shoot down a B-29 dropping supplies to POWs in Korea U.S. Troops land near Tokyo to begin the occupation of Japan.
August 30, 1945 - The British reoccupy Hong Kong.
September 2, 1945 - Formal Japanese surrender ceremony on board the MISSOURI in Tokyo Bay as 1,000 carrier-based planes fly overhead President Truman declares VJ Day.
September 3, 1945 - The Japanese commander in the Philippines, Gen. Yamashita, surrenders to Gen. Wainwright at Baguio.
September 4, 1945 - Japanese troops on Wake Island surrender.
September 5, 1945 - British land in Singapore.
September 8, 1945 - MacArthur enters Tokyo.
September 9, 1945 - Japanese in Korea surrender.
September 13, 1945 - Japanese in Burma surrender.
October 24, 1945 - United Nations is born.

The History Place - World War II in the Pacific - Selected Battle Photos

Copyright © 1999 The History Place™ All Rights Reserved

Terms of use: Private home/school non-commercial, non-Internet re-usage only is allowed of any text, graphics, photos, audio clips, other electronic files or materials from The History Place.

This was the only major naval surface engagement of World War I.

Battle of the Philippine Sea

Known as &ldquothe greatest carrier battle of World War II.&rdquo

The greatest naval battle of oar-driven vessels in the history of the Mediterranean.

Yuan commanders deployed deception and audacious tactics to overcome at least a 10:1 mismatch in numbers.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf is remembered as the biggest naval battle ever fought. It spanned more than 100,000 square miles of sea.

Ranked as one of the most decisive military engagements of all time. This was due to its impact on the emergence of Western civilization as a major force in the world.

A classic battle in Chinese history famous for the smaller and weaker defeating the bigger and stronger. The Battle of the Red Cliffs took place during China&rsquos Three Kingdoms period.

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Naval Engagements & Events

Robert Dodd. ". the Gallant Defense of Captn. Pearson in his Majesty's Ship SERAPIS, and the COUNTESS OF SCARBOROUGH Arm'd Ship Captn. Piercy, against Paul Jones's Squadron, whereby a valuable Fleet from the Baltic were prevented from falling into the hands of the Enemy. " London: John Harris, 1 Decr. 1781. Engraving by J. Peltro. 12 x 17 1/2. Early hand color. Trimmed to platemarks with a small margin added at bottom. Stable. Very good appearance. Not in Cresswell book but in dissertation #526. Olds, item 76 E. Newbold Smith, item 16 Trumpy, Beverley Robinson Collection, item 198.

One of a number of British prints showing the battle between John Paul Jones' Bon Homme Richard and H.M.S. Serapis. The title does not name Jones' ship and calls attention to the fact that Jones led a squadron against the single British war ship. Subsequent historians have agreed that the strategic victory went to Captain Pearson because he prevented the Baltic fleet from being captured. Statistics on either side of the text show that Jones had twice as many ships and twice as many guns as his adversary. American historians counter that fact with the assertion that British shot and powder was a better quality than that had by the poorly funded Americans. This scene, based on Dodd's famous painting, shows the moment when the Alliance, captained by a jealous and half-mad Frenchman, poured a broadside into both ships when the Bon Homme Richard and Serapis were bound together. This print is a re-engraving of an earlier one by Lerpiniere & Fittler which is larger. B.F. Leizalt used the same image to produce a vue d'optique print of this event. A classic image of an important sea battle. $1,800

A. Rooland. "De Schlagt tussen de Hollandse Fregatte en de Engelse Fregatte den 30 May 1781 op de Hoogale van de Caap St. Marie geschiet is." Augsburg: Georg Balthasar Probst, ca. 1781. 11 x 16. Engraving by G.M. Probst. Original hand color. Trimmed close to image and text. Some old creases and chipping expertly conserved and lined with rice paper.

Another naval vue d'optique print, this showing a sea battle during the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780-1784). On May 29, 1781, two Dutch frigates, the Castor and Den Briel , on their way to escort a Dutch fleet, ran into two English ships, the Flora and the Crescent . The Dutch ships ran off the British frigates, but the next day the British returned and engaged the Dutch in a fierce battle. The Castor was forced to surrender to the Flora , but this was followed by the Crescent striking to Den Briel , the only time during this war that a British ship lost a naval battle to the Dutch. This dramatic image was a popular print issued in Augsburg for those interested in the events of this conflict. $625

--> Robert Dodd. " the Gallant Defense of Captn. Pearson in his Majesty's Ship SERAPIS, and the COUNTESS OF SCARBOROUGH Arm'd Ship Captn. Piercy, against Paul Jones's Squadron, whereby a valuable Fleet from the Baltic were prevented from falling into the hands of the Enemy " London: John Harris, 1 Decr. 1781. Engraving by J. Peltro. 12 x 17 1/2. Early hand color. Trimmed to plate marks, mounted on old board. Stable. Very good appearance. Not in Cresswell book but in dissertation #526.

One of a number of British prints showing the battle between John Paul Jones' Bon Homme Richard and H.M.S. Serapis. In 1779, John Paul Jones was given command of a French ship, the obsolete East Indiaman, Duras, 40 guns. He rechristened her the Bon Homme Richard in honor of Franklin's highly popular Maxims of Poor Richard . Jones sailed for the English coast to await the Baltic fleet, where at dusk, off Flamborough Head on the Yorkshire coast, Jones sighted 41 merchant vessels, escorted by the Serapis, 44 guns. Jones proceeded to attack, in hopes of capturing the fleet. Lashed together most of the time, the ships pounded each other with fury. The captain of the Serapis called again and again for Jones' surrender, which elicited Jones' famous reply, "I have not yet begun to fight." It was only when the main mast on the Serapis threatened to fall that her captain decided to surrender.

The title of this British print does not name Jones' ship and calls attention to the fact that Jones led a squadron against the single British war ship. Subsequent historians have agreed that while Jones won the engagement, the strategic victory went to Captain Pearson because he prevented the Baltic fleet from being captured. The British Navy was able to use the supplies from the Baltic fleet to provision itself for the continuance of the war against Spain, France and Holland, as well as the American colonies. This scene, based on Dodd's famous painting, shows the moment when the Alliance, captained by a jealous and half-mad Frenchman, poured a broadside into both ships when the Bon Homme Richard and Serapis were bound together. A classic image of an important sea battle. $1,500

After Robert Dodd. "The Pearl Captn Montague taking the L'Esperance…October 1, 1780." London: John Harris, August 29th, 1782. [restrike 19th century]. 11 3/4 x 17 (image only). Engraving by Peltro. Appears to have been re-engraved 19th century. Partial hand color. Mat burn and time toning in margins outside plate mark, not affecting image. Else, very good condition. With decorative French mat.

This print depicts the naval action between the British ship Pearl and the French privateer L'Esperance off Bermuda on 1 October 1780. The L'Esperance, on the right of the image, appears to have sustained more damage. Her topsail and yard are gone, as is her entire mizenmast. Another small two-masted vessel can be seen in the distance.

This print is a restrike from the original plate. Not only is some of the lettering in the description of the print under the title faint in areas, the image itself appears to have been re-engraved. Otherwise, an excellent example of British naval prints of this period. $350

Prints from Barnard's New Complete and Authentic History of England . London: Edward Barnard, 1781-83. Engravings. On sheets 14 1/2 x 9. Some light stains, but overall very good condition, except as noted.

A series of historical prints from Edward Barnard's History of England . This delightful history was described on one of the prints as "A Work Universally Acknowledged to be the Best Performance of the Kind,-on account of It's Impartiality, Accuracy, New Improvements, Superior Elegance, &c." It was issued at the end of the eighteenth century in response to the growing demand for works on all subjects by a newly educated reading public in England. The history was full of prints on all aspects of English history, including a number of prints on British naval engagements.

  • Wale. "The Glorious Defeat of the Invincible Spanish Armada, by the English Fleet, between Dover & Calais, in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, 1588." Engraving by Hawkins. $45
  • Grainger. "The Celebrated Battle off Cape La Hogue, in which Admiral Rook burnt the French Admiral's Ship called the Rising Sun, with Twelve other large Men of War, May 20, 1692." Engraving by Grainger. $40
  • William Hamilton. "The Engagement of Captn. Pearson in His Majesty's Ship Serapis, with Paul Jones of the American Ship of War called the Bon Homme Richard: in which Action the former was taken, while the Countess of Scarborough was also captured by the Pallas frigate." Engraving by R. Collier. $350
  • William Hamilton. "A British Sailor offering a Sword to an Unarmed Spanish Officer to defend himself, at the Attack of Fort Omoa, which was taken by Escalade, on the 20 of Oct, 1779, under the Command of Capt. Dalrymple and Commodore Lutterell." [Battle of San Fernando de Omoa] Engraving by Thornton. $145
  • William Hamilton. "The French Admiral Count DeGrasse, Delivering his Sword to Admiral (now Lord) Rodney, (Being a more Exact Representation of that Memorable Event then is given in any other Work of this kind). On Board the Ville de Paris, after being Defeated by that Gallant Commander on the Glorious 12th of April 1782, in the West Indies." Engraving by Thornton. $145
  • William Hamilton. "A more Exact Representation of An Affecting Event (which deprived this Country of a brave Officer) than is given in any other History of England whatever. The Gallant and Right Hon. Captain Lord Robert Manners Mortally Wounded, on board the Resolution, in the Glorious Victory obtained over the French Fleet, the 12th of April 1782, in the West Indies." $145

Nicholas Pocock. "To Captain Sir H.B. Neale Bart, of His Majesty's Ship St Fiorenzo the Honble Captain Herbert of the Amelia. This Print representing their Engagement with Three French Frigates & a Gun Vessel aided by a Battery on the Shore, close in with Belleisle April 9th 1799." London: N. Pocock, February 12th, 1801. 16 1/4 x 23 5/8 (image). Aquatint by Robert Pollard. Original hand color. Two old tape stains in top margin not affecting image. Else, very good condition. With decorative French mat.

A view of the action between the British ships St Fiorenzo and Amelia and three French frigates and a gun vessel off Belle Île, April 9th, 1799 during the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802). On April 9th, 1799, two English ships the HMS St Fiorenzo and HMS Amelia sailed towards Belle Île, an island off the French coast of Brittany. The British vessels encountered the three French frigates. After a nearly two hour engagement, including the French shore batteries, the French broke away to take refuge in French ports.

The artist of this print, Nicholas Pocock (1740-1821), was one of the outstanding marine artists of his day and also made an important contribution to the recording of British naval battles of the early 19th century. The way in which he depicted his subjects reflects his knowledge of how these ships operated at sea. An excellent example of English naval prints of this period. $1,100

J.T. Lee. "Captain Ellison's Action off Guernsey with an Enemy Squadron." From The Naval Chronicle . London: J. Gold, 1808. Aquatint by Richards. Ca. 5 x 4. Minor foxing outside of image right hand side. Else, very good condition.

Between 1799 and 1818, The Naval Chronicle , was the preeminent maritime journal reporting news about the British navy. Issued twice a year, it was published during a period in which the British navy fought the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812, and came to "rule the waves." This wonderful journal included action reports, intelligence on various matters related to the British and other navies, and biographies of naval officers. Many of the reports were accounts by officers directly involved, such as Lord Horatio Nelson. Included with the articles were portraits, images of naval action, and views of the many ports in which the navy called. These are important, first-hand images of this turbulent period. $150
Go to page with listing of other prints from The Naval Chronicle.

M. Brown. "This Print of the CELEBRATED VICTORY obtained by the British Fleet under the Command of Earl Howe, over The French Fleet ON THE GLORIOUS FIRST OF JUNE, 1794 " London: Daniel Orme, Oct. 1, 1795. Engraving by D. Orme. 17 x 22 1/2. Some marginal repaired tears and wear, a few light creases in image, but overall condition and impression very good.

A striking and quite scarce engraving showing the British naval victory over the French on the "Glorious First of June, 1794." In early 1793 shortly after the execution of Louis XVI, Revolutionary France declared war on the alliance of the German Empire, Spain, Holland and Great Britain. The first naval battle of the war was fought on June 1, 1794 west of Ushant, off the Brittany Peninsula. A French fleet of 26 warships, under Admiral Louis Villaret de Joyeuse, was escorting a convoy of grain ships across the Atlantic when he was intercepted by a similar British fleet under Admiral, Lord Richard Howe. In this decisive action, six French ships were captured and one was sunk, giving the British a "glorious" victory, despite the fact that the supply ships were able to slip away into the harbor at Brest as the British fleet was too battered to pursue them. The British were quite frightened at the time of the entire Revolutionary movement in France, so the British public was exhilarated by this victory, to the extent that thereafter it was always known as the "Glorious First of June." This excellent engraving is after a painting by M. Brown, "Historical Painter to their R.H. the Duke & Duchess of York," and was engraved and published by Daniel Orme, "Historical Engraver to his Majesty & his R.H. the Prince of Wales." It was issued very shortly after the event and it was a celebration of the victory to be hung in prominent homes in England. $1,200

Nodet. "Conquête de la Flotte Hollandaise sur la Glace le 25 Nivose An 3 (14 Janvier 1795)" Paris: Chez Jean, ca. 1795. Engraving by Le Beau. 13 3/8 x 19. Repaired tear just to image at left small area with paper skinned on verso, but front surface intact. Very good condition.

A wonderful contemporary French print of a great victory by the Revolutionary Army over the Dutch Republic. In the late 18th century, the Stadtholders of the United Provinces were opposed by the democratically inclined "Patriotic" party. The Patriotic forces gained control for a while, but then the King of Prussia restored the Stadtholders to power. When the French Revolution broke out, France was able to conquer and annex the Southern Netherlands (now Belgium) and then moved against the United Provinces. Dutch power resided primarily in their unequalled fleet, but an extraordinarily cold winter ended up immobilizing their ships in ice, allowing the French army to attack across the frozen waters and conclusively defeat the Dutch. The French set up the Patriotic party in power, establishing the Batavian Republic along the model of the French Republic. This excellent contemporary French print shows this unusual and important battle. $575

P.J. de Loutherbourg. "Battle of the Nile, Fought August 1, 1798." London: James Fittler, 1801. 22 2/2 x 30. Engraving. Margins trimmed to plate marks. Otherwise, very good condition.

A dramatic naval print by Philipp Jakob de Loutherbourg of a 1798 English naval victory over the French. Loutherbourg (1740-1812) was a well established French artist who worked within the Romantic school at the end of the eighteenth century. In 1771 Loutherbourg moved to London where he eventually became a member of the Royal Academy and received a number of commissions for varied work. He was particularly known for his paintings of landscapes and animals, but this image establishes his ability to excel at naval scenes as well. In the foreground French seamen are depicted floating on debris awaiting rescue. The numerous figures on board the ships, engaged in fierce battle, combined with the smoke of the cannon and choppy seas, gives this print an immediacy that is most dramatic.

The Battle of the Nile was fought by the British fleet under Horatio Nelson and the French Revolutionary fleet at Abu Qir Bay, near Alexandria, Egypt. Napoleon ordered the French fleet to sail to Alexandria in order to disrupt British trade routes in Asia. The French fleet was able to elude the British fleet and reach Abu Qir Bay. Nelson discovered the French fleet at twilight and immediately attacked. During the all night battle, the British destroyed or captured all but two of the thirteen French ships. This victory secured British control of the Mediterranean. $2,100

P.J. de Loutherbourg. "The Landing of the British Troops in Egypt on the 8th of March 1801 " London: Anthony Cardon, 1804. 21 x 29 3/4. Stipple engraving. Margins trimmed to platemarks. Otherwise, very good condition.

In 1798, France invaded Egypt to pose a danger to Britain's position in the Mediterranean and India. The following year the French fleet was destroyed at the Battle of the Nile thus trapping the French Army in Egypt. In 1801, the British launched an invasion of Egypt under the command of General Sir Ralph Abercromby. Landing in Aboukir Bay, near Alexandria, the successful amphibious attack would lead to British victory in the Battle of Alexandria on March 21, in which British control of Egypt was guaranteed. $2,100

After Nicholas Pocock (1740-1821). "To the memory of Captain George Nicholas Hardinge. Actions. with La Piémontaise French Frigate, near the Island of Ceylon, 8 March 1808. " London: N. Pocock, September, 1809. 16 1/4 x 23 3/8 (image). Aquatint. Original hand color. Old mounting glue stain in top margin not affecting image. Else, very good condition. With decorative French mat.

A large and wonderfully detailed naval print showing the conclusion of the battle between the English frigate San Fiorenzo and the French frigate Piémontaise. On 6 March 1808, H.M.S. San Fiorenzo (38-gun Capt. George Hardinge) came across three small English merchant ships being pursued by the French frigate Piémontaise. The English frigate chased the French frigate for two days and on March 8th the two ships fought a fierce battle with the French ship surrendering. Captain Hardinge was among thirteen dead British, while the French lost forty eight.

The artist of this print, Nicholas Pocock (1740-1821), was one of the outstanding marine artists of his day and also made an important contribution to the recording of British naval battles of the early 19th century. The way in which he depicted his subjects reflects his knowledge of how these ships operated at sea. An excellent example of English naval prints of this period. $1,100

"Blowing up of the Fire Ship Intrepid commanded by Capt. Somers in the Harbour of Tripoli on the Night of the 4th. Sept. 1804." From The Port Folio . December 1810. Line engraving. 9 3/4 x 14. With folds as issued. Expertly repaired two inch tear into image. Backed with archival tissue. Else good condition. Ref.: E. Newbold Smith, American Naval Broadsides : 43, pl. 29 and Irving Olds, Bits and Pieces : 112.

The first Barbary War (1801-1805) was a result of President Jefferson's refusal to pay an increased tribute to Tripoli (now Libya) one of the Barbary States of North Africa along with of Algiers, Tunis and Morocco. These piratical states had been extracting tribute from the European powers since the eighteenth century, in order to ensure the safety of their vessels sailing in the Mediterranean. When the United States became independent, it was deemed prudent to take up this practice, and so the Americans began paying their own tribute in 1784. In 1801, the pasha of Tripoli demanded an increased tribute, to $225,000, from the new President. This Jefferson, who had long argued against the tribute, refused, and the pasha declared war on the United States on May 14, 1801.

The United States sent navy ships to blockade the Barbary ports and they had some success, though in 1803 the frigate USS Philadelphia ran aground in Tripoli Harbor and was captured. In February 1804, Lt. Stephen Decatur, Jr., led a small group into the harbor aboard a disguised USS Intrepid, and they managed to destroy the Philadelphia to prevent its use by their enemies. Later that year in the Americans tried to send the Intrepid, under Commandant Richard Somers, into the harbor again, this time as a fire ship to burn the enemy fleet. According to this print the ship were boarded by an overwhelming number of enemies before their plan could be carried out. Rather than be captured, enslaved, and lose the ship, Somers ordered that the magazine be explored, which killed both the boarders and the entire American crew. It is not clear that events took place in this way, for the ship may have been hit by enemy fire or perhaps blown up accidentally, but this version made for a stirring story, which promoted patriotism and increased the reputation of the U.S. Navy. Despite this set back, the continued American blockade and an overland expedition against Tripoli, led to a peace treaty on June 4, 1805. $650

"View of the action between the U.S. Frigate Constitution and the British Ships Levant & Cyane." From The Analectic Magazine. Philadelphia: 1816. 3 7/8 x 7 3/8. Aquatint by William Strickland. Repaired separation at fold and tear at right. Good condition.

In 1812, Philadelphia bookseller and publisher Moses Thomas purchased a monthly magazine entitled Select Reviews, engaged Washington Irving as editor, and renamed the publication The Analectic Magazine. Irving, his brother-in-law J. K. Paulding, Gulian C. Verplanck and, later, Thomas Isaac Wharton wrote much of the material, which concentrated on literary reviews, articles on travel and science, biographies of naval heroes, and reprints of selections from British periodicals. Illustration "was one of the magazine's chief distinctions. Not only were there the usual engravings on copper, but some of the earliest magazine experiments in lithography and wood engraving appeared here. The plates were chiefly portraits, though some other subjects were used." (Mott, A History of American Magazines) In this dramatic view, the U.S.S. Constitution is engaged in battle with H.M.S. Levant and H.M.S. Cyane. $175

M. Corne. "The Chesapeake & Shannon." From The Naval Monument, Containing Official and Other Accounts Of All The Battles Fought Between the Navies of the United States and Great Britain During The Late War . Boston: George Clark, 1836. Wood engraving. 2 3/4 x 6 7/8. Very good condition.

The most stirring and, for the United States, successful action during the War of 1812 were fought by the young U.S. Navy. With glorious victories on Lake Champlain, Lake Erie and on the high seas, the captains and ships of the U.S. Navy were the greatest heroes to come out of this war. The demand by the military and the public for information and illustrations of these battles and figures was satisfied by the publication, in 1816-shortly after the war ended-of The Naval Monument . This included descriptions of the naval battles fought during the war, along with twenty five illustrations of those battles, produced in both copper and wood engravings. These are some of the best contemporary images of these battles and this combined with the scarcity of these prints makes them most desirable. $175
Go to list of other War of 1812 prints from The Naval Monument.

S. G. Sebry. "The Naval Battle of Santiago." Boston: James Drummond Ball, 1898. 22 x 42. Chromolithograph. Large margins. Five inch tear, expertly repaired, into image on right hand side. Otherwise, very good condition. With portraits of American and Spanish captains in the bottom margin. With a photocopy of original advertisement for the print.

When war was declared against Spain in 1898, Spain's Caribbean Squadron had taken refuge in the harbor of Santiago, Cuba. United States was worried of this fleet raiding the North American coast or endangering the American invasion forces bound for Cuba. Under the Command of Maj. General Williams Shafter, 15,000 American soldiers landed near Santiago and fought the Battles of El Caney and San Juan Hill. With the capture of Santiago by the Americans, Admiral Pascual Cervera and his Spanish fleet were now within range of American artillery fire, and he considered their position in danger. On July 3 the Spanish squadron attempted to escape the harbor which was being blockaded by the American fleet commanded by Admiral Sampson. The Spanish fleet was no match for the Americans' five battleships and two armored cruisers. The campaign was a huge triumph for the modern United States Navy. This print, designed as a panorama to show the scope of the engagement, was issued not long after the battle. Names for both the American and Spanish ships are indicated. Below the image in the bottom margin are numerous oval portraits of the American and Spanish captains of the ships that took part in the battle. This print was originally issued in two editions. One, an Artist Proof which was offered on canvas and the other, a Regular Proof Edition. This print is the latter. A copy of the advertisement for the print accompanies this print. A dramatic and stirring view of the battle. $850

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