Since time immemorial, nations have built powerful navies to project their power and influence to all corners of the globe. In cases such as ancient Rome or the British Empire, the strength of their naval forces seemed disproportionate to the actual size of the country that launched them.
To identify the biggest navies in history, 24/7 Tempo reviewed sources like Encyclopedia Britannica, National Interest, World Atlas, Popular Mechanics, and other historical sources. While this list is not meant to be a definitive roll call of every large navy in history, it includes many of the most famous and historically significant fleets. The ancient Greek Navy obviously would be no match for modern fleets such as the U.S. Navy, but it earned its place on the list because of the prominent role it played in the destiny of Western Civilization.
When one thinks of military encounters that changed the course of history, names such as Thermopylae, Gettysburg, and Stalingrad come quickly to mind. However, the results of battles involving nations’ largest navies have had enormous historical consequences as well. (Here are the most pivotal naval battles of all time.)
Perhaps history’s most famous naval battle was the defeat of the Spanish Armada by the Royal Navy in 1588. By thwarting the invasion of England, the Royal Navy helped lay the groundwork for one of the world’s largest empires.
Though outnumbered by the Persian fleet, the Greek Navy routed the invaders at Salamis in 480 B.C. and preserved the nascent notion of democracy.
In 1940, the Royal Navy removed Italy as a maritime opponent in the Mediterranean Sea with a surprise attack on its ships in the Italian port of Taranto during World War II. The Japanese Empire took note. Its powerful navy steamed toward Hawaii in late 1941 and launched a dawn attack that crippled, but did not destroy, the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The attack brought the U.S. into WWII. (This is the U.S. Navy’s first warship.)
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