The Biggest US Naval Battles of WWII

As geopolitical tensions continue to rise across the world, countries like China are building up their naval forces, while the U.S. Navy is constantly upgrading its fleet to maintain a level of preparedness. Navies, after all, have historically played important roles in war and will no doubt continue to do so.

Some of the largest naval battles were waged in World War II, which also WWII marked a turning point in naval warfare with the evolution of carrier-based combat. Using the cutting-edge technology of the time, world powers battled for superiority across the oceans. The United States played a crucial role in many of these battles, especially in the Pacific Theater. 

To determine the 15 biggest American naval battles of WWII, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed various historical accounts of naval battles during the war. Naval battles were ranked based on how many warships were engaged in each battle. Supplemental information on when and where these battles took place, notable ships involved, the size and battle order of each armada, and how many ships were sunk in each battle came from various sources.

Two significant encounters in the Pacific Theater include the Battle of Midway and the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The Battle of Midway, which took place from June 4 to 7, 1942, was a decisive moment in the Pacific Theater. The battle, which involved 130 warships, took place six months after the Pearl Harbor attack, with the United States seeking to avenge its losses and shift the tide of war in their favor. 

The Imperial Navy sent a large carrier force, while the U.S. Navy committed all its heavy aircraft carriers, reflecting the new emphasis on air power in naval warfare. Many supporting warships and submarines were involved as well. The United States successfully ambushed the Japanese fleet in this encounter, sinking four heavy aircraft carriers and destroying over 300 aircraft. The U.S. lost one aircraft carrier and nearly 150 aircraft. The victory marked the turning point in the Pacific Theater tilting the balance of power in favor of the U.S. (Today, these are the most expensive planes made for the U.S. Navy.)

Another significant battle on this list is the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which took place between October 23 and 26, 1944, and is considered the largest naval battle not only in WWII but in history. With the U.S. moving to reclaim the Philippines and the Japanese hoping to stop their advance, this battle, which involved 279 warships, proved critical in the final stages of the war. (See also, the most pivotal naval battles of all time.)

The Battle of Leyte Gulf was also infamous because the Japanese introduced a new tactic during this battle, the kamikaze, or suicide air attacks. Despite the impact of these attacks, the United States emerged victorious, sinking the four remaining Japanese aircraft carriers, thus crippling Japan’s ability to project naval power.

These encounters would ultimately shift the balance of power in favor of the U.S., leading to Japan’s eventual surrender. 

Here’s a look at the biggest American naval battles of WWII.

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