Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I think Lake Champlain does hold the record

Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain, Oct. 11, 1776

I wondered a day or so ago if Lake Champlain held some sort of record for the largest naval battle on the smallest lake.
Some preliminary research suggest that it does. As a matter of fact, Lake Champlain was the site of TWO rather large naval battles.
Naval battle big enough to have a name are extremely rare on lakes, it turns out. I could find only a handful. It appears some very special circumstances are required and, in fact, the struggle for the lakes in the War of 1812 was to only campaign of its type ever that I could find.
It appears there have been roughly a half dozen major naval battles/campaigns on freshwater lakes in recorded history.
Three of those occurred on lakes considerably larger than Lake Champlain: Lake Erie in 1813. Lake Ontario in 1813-14 and Lake Tanganyika in 1915-1916.
There were, as I said, Two large naval battles on Lake Champlain: Valcour Island, Oct. 11, 1776 and Lake Champlain (also known as Plattsburgh) Sept. 11, 1814.
There's only one other candidate to threaten Lake Champlain's record, a battle or series of battles on Lake Poyang, China from Aug. 30-Oct. 4, 1363. This battle is sometimes regarded as the largest naval battle in history in terms of manpower, with several hundred thousand fighting men, but there doesn't appear to be an awful lot of confidence by historians in those numbers. In any case, there's also the question of the size of the lake. Lake Poyang is reported to be as small as 1,000 square kilometers in the dry season as compared to Lake Champlain's 1,130 square kilometers, so it's possible that Poyang edged out Champlain -- but the battle occurred during China's rainy season when Lake Poyang can be as large as 5,000 square kilometers. I think it's probable, then, that Lake Champlain securely holds the distinction of being the smallest lake to be the site of a major naval battle -- twice over.

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