I have to agree with Symmetry on these two as Nominations:
#1 Battle of Trafalgar, and
(I did not know about the Counter-Armada of 1589)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Spanish Armada (Spanish: Grande y Felicísima Armada, literally "Great and Most Fortunate Navy") was a Spanish fleet of 130 ships that sailed from La Coruña in August 1588, under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia with the purpose of escorting an army from Flanders to invade England. The strategic aim was to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I and her establishment of Protestantism in England, with the expectation that this would put a stop to English interference in the Spanish Netherlands and to the harm caused to Spanish interests by English and Dutch privateering.
The Armada chose not to attack the English fleet at Plymouth, then failed to establish a temporary anchorage in the Solent, after one Spanish ship had been captured by Francis Drake in the English Channel. The Armada finally dropped anchor off Calais. While awaiting communications from the Duke of Parma's army, the Armada was scattered by an English fireship attack. In the ensuing Battle of Gravelines the Spanish fleet was damaged and forced to abandon its rendezvous with Parma's army, who were blockaded in harbour by Dutch flyboats. The Armada managed to regroup and, driven by southwest winds, withdrew north, with the English fleet harrying it up the east coast of England. The commander ordered a return to Spain, but the Armada was disrupted during severe storms in the North Atlantic and a large number of the vessels were wrecked on the coasts of Scotland and Ireland. Of the initial 130 ships over a third failed to return. As Martin and Parker explain, "Philip II attempted to invade England, but his plans miscarried, partly because of his own mismanagement, unfortunate weather, and partly because the opportunistic defensive naval efforts of the English and their Dutch allies (the use of ships set afire and sailed into the anchored Armada to create panic) prevailed."
The expedition was the largest engagement of the undeclared Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604). The following year, England organised a similar large-scale campaign against Spain, the Drake–Norris Expedition or "counter-Armada of 1589", which was unsuccessful and resulted in serious economic consequences and the loss of many English lives and ships.
Symmetry wrote:Got to be the defeat of the Spanish Armada, surely.
Or maybe Trafalgar?
Few naval encounters really become legendary- a part of a nation's own myth. I'd say that those two are pretty keyed in to the British psyche. Whether it's the might of Britain's navy; the idea of being the underdog vs an arrogant opponent; Protestantism vs Catholicism; technology vs tradition...
Any way that you look at those battles, you see that it's not just a matter of tactics and strategy. A great battle echoes down the ages.