True Stories The Most Epic Things the United States Navy Has Ever Done  

Richard Rowe
1.3k votes 338 voters 46.7k views 12 items

The U.S. Navy has been around about as long as the United States itself, and certainly has racked up its fair share of epic stories over the years. As you might expect, a few of them involve massive, apocalyptic battles involving ridiculously huge guns and lots of big things blowing up. It's sort of the thing most of us think of when we hear "Navy." But believe it or not, some of the best epic Navy stories are much smaller than that. Sometimes, it's a well-known SEAL team executing anything from the capture of terrorist leaders to impossible rescues, or impossible sniper shots. Other times, it's just one man, alone in the cockpit of a fighter-bomber, knocking out SAM sites. 

Epic stories come in all forms and scales: from clashing titans of steel and thunder, down to the steely resolve of a single person facing incredible odds. It might mean saving the world from an evil dictator, or helping in some small way to save it with a cool technological innovation. But for any organization that's been everywhere from the bottom of the ocean to the edge of space, epic stories are sure to abound.
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Naval Aviator Shot a LOT -- Returns to Battle, While Also on Fire. TWICE.

Naval Aviator Shot a LOT -- Re... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Epic Things the United States Navy Has Ever Done
Photo: U.S. Air Force/Wikimedia Commons

Naval aviators are some of the most badass pilots around - just ask them (they'll tell you). This story features Medal of Honor recipient Captain Michael J. Estocin - one of the many utter lunatics who flew those infamous "Wild Weasel" missions in Vietnam. 

Leading a three-plane group in an attack against two thermal power plants in North Vietnam, Estocin personally took out three surface-to-air missile sites with SHRIKE missile attacks. But not without cost, because his plane was badly damaged when one of them let of a last-second shot just before being hit. He could have justifiably left the target area; most people would have, and understandably so. But Estocin turned back around and flew headfirst back into intense antiaircraft fire to hit a few more SAM sites. Oh, and his wing was on fire the entire time.

And not for the last time, either. Just six days later, almost the exact same scenario happened again. Estocin attacked a heavily defended SAM site, and took another missile in the process. Despite being on fire (again), he turned around and launched his three remaining SHRIKE missiles at additional targets. Estocin made it back to the carrier - for the second time in a week - engulfed in flames and completely out of ammunition.
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"333" Achievement Unlocked: Three SEALs Kill Three Pirates with Three Headshots

"333" Achievement Unlo... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Epic Things the United States Navy Has Ever Done
Photo: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Megan E. Sindelar/Wikimedia Commons

The story of the Maersk Alabama hijacking reads like a video game special mission. "Location: 240 miles southeast of Eyl, Somalia. Mission Background: Pirates have seized the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, the first American-flagged ship to be captured by pirates since the Second Barbary War of 1815. The hijacking has failed due to the actions of the crew, but they're attempting to escape in a lifeboat with Captain Richard Phillips as a hostage. Objectives: Take out the pirates as quickly as possible to prevent retaliation, and secure Captain Phillips's freedom."

The lifeboat had been taken into tow by the U.S. Destroyer Bainbridge, which seems pretty endgame for the pirates. However, they were keeping Captain Phillips very close, with weapons constantly trained on him and fingers on the triggers. They felt fairly safe, all things considered. But the pirates were evidently unaware that those three gentlemen standing on the Bainbridge's fantail were expert marksmen. Marksmen from a certain, now very well-known SEAL team.

Under normal circumstances, a 40-yard sniper shot would be nothing for a SEAL. Except that these were far from normal circumstances. The Bainbridge slowly rose and sank in the sea, the lifeboat bobbed like a toy on the waves, and a constant wind blew in between them. Hitting a tiny moving target, from another moving platform, with mere inches to spare between the pirates and Phillips. The SEALs fired - and "whapwhapWHAP." Three Somali pirates dropped to the lifeboat deck, wordless as sacks of dead fish. The fourth pirate, watching his compatriots' last thoughts disperse as puffs of red mist, wisely surrendered. 

It wouldn't be the last time Seal Team Six made headlines, nor was it the only time their actions inspired a feature film - in this case, Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks in the titular role.
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The Greatest Carrier Battle in History

The Greatest Carrier Battle in... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Epic Things the United States Navy Has Ever Done
Photo: USN/Wikimedia Commons

Just prior to the greatest naval battle in history (Leyte Gulf), the U.S. Navy engaged in the biggest carrier-on-carrier fight of all time. The First Battle of the Philippine Sea, wasn't nearly the lopsided affair of the Second Battle (Leyte Gulf), where the Allies outnumbered Japan nearly four to one. But that's only because the First Battle had wiped out the largest part of their forces beforehand.

The U.S. showed up with seven fleet carriers to Japan's five fleet carriers, and eight light carriers to Ja'an's four. Battleships numbered seven to five, heavy cruisers eight to 13, light cruisers 13 to sox, and destroyers 58 to 27. But aircraft proved to be the decisive factor in this fight, since the ships by and large were too far away from each other for the battleships' big guns to reach. And at 956 aircraft for America and 750 to Japan (which also had heavy land-based resources), this fight was as close to even as any before or since. Submarines (numbering 28 and 24) also played an important role. 

Japan went hunting for the group, but underestimated how powerful it had become. Believing they had all the advantages, Japan engaged Task Force 58. The end result of a total of four incredibly intense engagements lasting two whole days? Three of Japan's five carriers were sent to the bottom, along with 645 aircraft. The victory was decisive, but more importantly, this battle fatally weakened Japan's Navy, and set up its final defeat at Leyte Gulf.
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Four SEALs Hold Off 40 Taliban Fighters

Four SEALs Hold Off 40 Taliban... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Epic Things the United States Navy Has Ever Done
Photo:  Youtube

Like all good military stories, this one found its way to film and 2012's Lone Survivor starring Mark Wahlberg is at least as accurate an account of this story as any of them. 

The movie follows a group of four SEALs who were dispatched as part of Operation Redwing, which was ostensibly intended to disrupt the activities of a local terrorist group led by Ahmad Shah. But that's putting it a little dryly - Shah was responsible for the deaths of at least 20 Marines in the area, and they wanted him real dead. Enter the SEALs.

It was never going to be an easy mission, but the four-man SEAL Team met with a far larger force than expected. Estimates range between 20 and 200, but the general consensus is that 30 to 40 Taliban fighters were involved - a 10 to one fight, being generous. If you're interested as to how that turned out, go watch Lone Survivor, though the film's title sort of gives it away.
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