Today is the anniversary of the watershed battle of Salamis, in which the Greek States defeated a much larger Persian fleet in the congested narrows north of the island in the Aegean which bears the battle’s name. Mike Anderson’s very fine Ancient History Blog describes the action:
Thermistocles knew that the Persian fleet was much larger than his own (1200 ships to 400) so he decided to use geography to improve his chances. The Salamis Island occupies the center of the Saronic Sea near Athens. On the east side of Salamis sits a pointed peninsula called Cynosura. The waters north of this peninsula were quite narrow – too small for entire Persian fleet. Themistocles reasoned that his odds of winning would improve if he only had to fight a fraction of the Persian fleet.
He formed his fleet into a line and placed it running north to south against the eastern coast of Salamis Island. To oppose him the Persians were forced to create their own line on the Attican side of the bay. The Persians attacked early in a September morning but the battle quickly became a rout in favor of the Greeks. Many of the Persian ships were pushed back to Attica where they ran aground. Others, trying to escape to Phalerum (a bay near Athens) were cut off by an Aeginetan squadron and destroyed.
Outnumbered badly by the Persian fleet, Thermistocles lured the stronger enemy into restricted waters, where it could not bring its overwhelming power to bear, and was carved up piecemeal. Salamis was a turning point in the Greco-Persian wars. With that decisive defeat, and those at Plataea on land, and at Mycale, which involved an amphibious landing by the Greeks, the threat of Persian invasion was eliminated for good.
Two and a half millenia hence, combat in the littorals and the ability to project power ashore remain fundamental capabilities essential to any Naval power.
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