Top 5 Naval Battles of All Time

The former USS Iowa (BB 61) sits at anchor off Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach, Calif. The battleship is being prepared for berthing in San Pedro, Calif. as a floating museum.

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But what makes a battle decisive? And what makes one such test of arms more important than another?

You Sunk My 'Battleship': Top 5 Naval Battles of All Time

Why the rise of America didn't produce a cataclysmic naval war with the supreme sea power of the day is worth mulling over. But that, as they say, is a story for another day.

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?

(This first appeared in 2014 and is being reposted due to reader interest.)

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 triumpha Trafalgar, or a Tsushima Straitwas decisive, or just dramatic, or just featured the star power of a Nelson or Togo.

Even the masters of strategy, however, ap....

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