Ranking apples against oranges is always a slippery process. How does one maritime battle rise above others in importance? One benchmark is whether an encounter saw one fleet crush another. We could put Lord Nelson’s face on such a list. The Battle of Trafalgar (1805) delivered astounding tactical results. Yet the Napoleonic Wars raged on for another decade after Trafalgar, until Europeans finally banded together to put a stop to the little emperor’s marauding. It was indecisive. So why not rank battles by the magnitude of the issues they decided? Which sea fights yielded the most fateful results, reshaping the Asian order?
Herewith, my list of the Top 5 Naval Battles of the Asia-Pacific:
5. 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. It was far more decisive than Nelson’s masterwork. Over 1,000 men-of-war crewed by tens of thousands of men took part in the engagement. Yuan commanders deployed deception and audacious 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 rule for nearly a century.