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Epic Ship-on-Ship Action

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"Whoever rules the waves rules the world."
Alfred T. Mahan

What's better than tanks slugging it out? How about a pair of warships duking it out. A tank can weigh up to about 70 tons at the most, but most warships can easily weigh 7000 tons, or more, and require many dozens of people to operate normally, let alone actually fight.

This trope comes into effect whenever a pair of warships start fighting one another, and it doesn't matter if the ships are wooden, steel, or made of some alien material, once General Quarters sounds, this trope comes into play.

Since the introduction of the aircraft carrier, this trope has become less and less common in Real Life. See Old-School Dogfighting for the air to air equivalent, Epic Tank-on-Tank Action for the ground equivalent, and Hot Sub-on-Sub Action for the submarine version of this trope. Any tale about Wooden Ships and Iron Men will feature this almost by definition.


Not to be confuse with the other kind of Shipping, which is about characters... erm... getting some action. Also has nothing to do with Ship-to-Ship Combat, where fans get into arguments over which characters should be getting some action with which. This is about multi-thousand-ton warships slugging it out. Also note, that this is just for battles taking place at sea, on a planet. Not in Space. A Standard Starship Scuffle, on the other hand...




  • Master and Commander: Has two such fights on screen. The first time, HMS Surprise is forced to retreat, while in the second fight she is able to live up to her name and defeat the French Frigate Akron
  • Battleship runs on this as the aliens are able to disable the high-tech radars and sensors that allow the USN/JMSDF ships to avoid this tropenote . Ultimately, the heroes are able to acquire the USS Missouri to destroy the last ship.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean:
  • The climax of Captain Blood involves Peter Blood and his pirate ship, having agreed to fight on behalf of the British against the French, attacking the French warship and winning.
  • Ben-Hur shows a fleet of Roman galleys going into battle against Macedonian ships. Since this was before guns were put on ships, the means of attack is to hurl flaming projectiles onto the enemy ship's deck, destroy their oars, and, of course, ramming.


Live-Action TV

  • Dogfights has two episodes focusing on the Bismarck and Yamato engaging against surface ships of the RN and USN, respectively. Both do not end well for them to differing degrees.

Video Games

  • World of Warships flat out runs on this trope. Players are able to command a wide variety of World War I, and World War II warships. Nations included include the United States, Imperial Japan, the Soviet Union, Germany, Great Britain, Commonwealth Nations such as Australia, Poland, France, Italy, and both the Republic of China and People's Republic of China.
  • War Thunder has this as a planned feature. Exactly when this will occur is still unknown, however, you can see AI controlled warships slugging it out on several of the maps.
    • As of March 2017, naval battles are in pre-beta test, but battleships have been ruled out for now, due to being difficult to design a fast paced game mode including these. Only ships about the size of torpedo boats are being used. You still can use, however, machine guns, cannons, rockets, naval guns and even tank turrets against ships and planes alike.
  • Battlestations Midway brings in more World War II naval combat action, with the single-player story focusing mostly on battles fought after Pearl Harbor, all the way to the Battle of Midway.
    • It's sequel, Battle Stations Pacific, focuses on the subsequent naval battles from Guadalcanal to Okinawa, of which more than half involve surface actions between warships of different sizes. It even includes a Japanese campaign with Alternate History versions of the same battles, plus several new ones entirely.
  • World of Warcraft: The opening cinematic of Mists of Pandaria has an Alliance and a Horde ship fighting and sinking each other with two survivors washing up on shore.
  • From the Depths: One of the first things players do is design a boat and fight other boats. The game is filled with surface naval combat action. Designs run the gamut from tiny dinghys with a single cannon, to double-masted broadsiding brigantines, to shielded laser-spamming submersible battleships, and everything in between.
  • The Naval Ops series is generally set on an alternate Earth circa 1940, with a starting tech level to match. The player starts with a single destroyer of the era and may eventually design UFO-launching carriers, catamaran battleships with decks full of 60cm guns, laser frigates, or whatever their heart desires to sink fleet upon fleet of enemy vessels.
  • Treasure Planet: Battle at Procyon is late 18th to mid 19th century naval combat only IN SPACE! The game also allows for very large naval battles, especially in certain open maps.
  • Pacific Fleet and Atlantic Fleet are turn-based games that allow players to pit different World War II warships against one another. Pacific Fleet allows you to see how an Iowa would fare against the Yamato, while Atlantic Fleet allows you to replay the Battle of the Denmark Strait and sink the Bismarck with the HMS Hood. Atlantic Fleet even includes two battleship classes that were never completed in Real Life (Lion for the Brits and H-39 for the Germans).
  • Empire: Total War and Napoleon: Total War allow you to engage in large-scale battles between sailing ships, while the Fall of the Samurai DLC for Total War: Shogun 2 moves the action to the late 19th century, with first wooden and then ironclad steamships duking it out (Napoleon also has steamships and ironclads, but those appear so late in the game they don't really matter).

Real Life

  • Let's just say there's a reason why the Battle of Trafalgar is often cited as the most important naval battle of all time.
  • Despite the dominance of the aircraft carrier in World War II, there were still plenty of gun-engagements during the war, such as the Battle of Guadalcanal (which is actually a series of naval engagements from the Battle of Savo Island in early August 1942 until the Battle of Tassafaronga in late November of the same year), the Battle of the Denmark Straitnote , and the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which was actually two different engagements around the same timenote .
  • One of the first battles, if not the first battle, between ironclad warships occurred on March 9th, 1862 between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia. The slug fest ultimately ended in a draw between the two ironclads as neither ship was able to defeat the other's armor (interestingly, both should have been able to penetrate the other's armor, but errors on both sides prevented this - USS Monitor's crew had not been properly drilled on the new cannons the ship used and were under the impression that their guns couldn't handle the pressure of being fired with their intended full powder charge, and thus fired with half charges, while CSS Virginia was intended to use armor-piercing shells that would have been able to defeat Monitor's armor, but the ship hadn't actually brought any as the odds of fighting an armored warship like Monitor were seen as negligible), but it was clear from that moment on: Wooden Warships were a thing of the past.
  • The largest engagement between big gun battleships was the Battle of Jutland during World War I, when the Royal Grand Fleet and German High Seas Fleet embarked on a campaign to either destroy the other or drive them away from their own shipping lines. The Germans ended up claiming a tactical victory as they sank more ships and lost fewer men, but overall it was a strategic victory for the British, as the German fleet would never be in a position to threaten the British like that again.
  • Many of the battles from the Second Anglo-Dutch War, in particular Lowestoft, make Trafalgar look like a skirmish. 212 ships in miles-long battle lines slugging away at each other, including one sequence where flagships Royal Charles and Eendracht got in a one-on-one duel.
  • This is, of course, Older Than Feudalism, as the Persians found out at the Battle of Salamis. Ramming and boarding was the order of the day then.

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