What country had the largest navy in history

Haakbus

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
3,534
United States
#41
Okay so I know some more detailed figures for the Korean navy than I did four years ago.

The numbers for the fleets are probably on paper, but considering that during the times that Underwood gives figures for Korea was paying good attention to military affairs it's probably pretty close to the accurate amount.

The Korean navy at this time consisted several different ship types in the 17th and 18th centuries (these are based on a variety of records including the Annals of the Choson Dynasty, port garrison rosters, Kakson Tobon, etc.):
Three-province naval station flagship: ~120 ft long, ~24-26 guns, ~190-220 men
Naval station flagship (1-2 per province): ~100 ft long, ~24 guns, and ~180-210 men
Port command/average warship (chonson; "cheunson" in Underwood's work): ~70 ft long, ~24 guns, and ~160-200 men
Turtle ship: ~60-70 ft long, ~24 guns, and ~140-190 men
Single-decked squadron leader warships (pangson): ~50 ft long, ~10-16 guns, and ~80-100 men
Single-decked auxiliary warships (pyongson; "pyungson" in Underwood's work): ~50 ft long, ~2-10 guns, and ~20-50 men
Tenders ("small 4th class" in Underwood's work): unknown length, no guns, and <10 men

The Taejong-era ships were all single decked and had smaller complements than the later ships. They were standardized as large, medium, and small *maengson* (maingson in the text) in the 1460s, but had mostly been converted to two-decked designs by the late 16th century. So the 1675 reference to the crews of the maengson are inaccurate because they're using the 1460s numbers (which are somewhat unclear, btw).

So this would give more accurate figures:
early 1400s: 543 ships and an uncertain number of men
1675: ~538 ships and ~46,000-47,000+ men
1744: ~812 ships and ~40,000-41,000+ men

These complements are average, this doesn't mean that there weren't sometimes ships equipped better (such as those carrying around 300 men in the Hendrick Hamel reference).

The planking of Korean warships was fairly thin, generally around 4 inches but their artillery during the 16th century on was mainly guns equivalent in size to 5-, 9-, and 14-pounders.
 
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Oct 2018
1,209
Adelaide south Australia
#42
Just had a look at Kublai Khan's invasions of of Japan. A bit disappointed to learn his fleet fleet never exceeded 900 ships. I always assumed (bad idea) that his fleets were vast. I suppose they were fore for the thirteenth century.
 
Mar 2012
4,226
#44
Just had a look at Kublai Khan's invasions of of Japan. A bit disappointed to learn his fleet fleet never exceeded 900 ships. I always assumed (bad idea) that his fleets were vast. I suppose they were fore for the thirteenth century.
900 was only the amount mobilized on the Korean front. The Southern Chinese front mobilized some 3,500 ships. Furthermore, one should not just look at the number of the ships but also on their size.
 
Mar 2012
4,226
#45
Riverine navies are different in tonnage and role to normal oceanic navies, so a direct comparison with ocean navies is difficult as the ocean-going ships must be larger and much more costly. Within that context, the Yuan/Song war seems to have had by far the largest riverine forces assembled. In 1274 the Yuan navy was raised to some 2,800+ ships/junks strong, some 780 of which were oceanic ships, and the Song forces were much larger. At a position near the confluence of the Han and Yangtze Rivers, the Song stationed several thousand ships in a continuous battle line 10 miles long. The Song lost a thousand ships of their Yangtze navy near Yangluo and had 3,000 captured near Yozhou. The Song brought over additional forces from the Huai sector and assembled 5,000 ships at Dingjiazhou, but they suffered a large defeat and had 2,000 ships captured. They finally brought in forces their eastern ports, including their ocean navy, which supposedly numbered up to 10,000 ships, but still lost another battle at Jiaoshan. Even after these three serious defeats and further losses in raids, they still possessed 1,100 ocean-faring ships (many transports) at the ocean battle of Yaishan in 1279 three years later. The Yuan ocean-navy appears to only have numbered 300 warships at this battle. I don't have data on sizes unfortunately, and the Yuan ships seem to have unknown specs, so without more specifics. By 1276, the Yuan navy on paper was said to have 41 wings, each with a commander of ten thousand (obviously less due to attrition), numbering several hundred thousand personnel in all.
It's a lot easier to mobilize 10,000 if includes riverine fleets, as there are so many of them floating around. The Yuan itself led some 10,000 ships in the invasion of Shawukou. Matteo Ricci said that there were probably as many ships sailing in China (including river) as there were in the rest of the world combined in the late 16th century. Also, it seems Louise Levathes' estimate of Ming ships is rather conservative.

Gang Deng estimates that the Yuan standing fleet was more numerous than the Ming standing fleet with the former at 12,750 and the later at 5,500 (The reason the Ming had more soldiers might be due to the fact that the Ming had more large ships.)

Furthermore,

By the end of the thirteenth century, in the two coexisting navies of the Southern Song (over 13,500 warships) and the Yuan (17,900 warships), the total number of vessels reached 31,400. The corresponding approximation of aggregate tonnage of the Song and Yuan navies is 550,000 to 1,200,000 tons, assuming that they were 100-tonners because of their advantage of maneuvrability in sea battles. Thus, the present estimates are conservative.
For the Yuan-Ming period, the estimated total number of vessels owned by organizations for the purpose of defense and transportation is likely to have been between 10,600 and 21,800, with an aggregate tonnage of 1,250,000 to 2,800,000. Given that these two dynasties had stable territories and internal peace, the figures can be used as a reference point for some of the other main dynasties.


Gang Deng, Chinese Maritime Activities and Socioeconomic Development, C. 2100 B.C.-1900 p.71


The Yuan fleet seem to be less talked about than the Ming fleet, but it seems that Qubilai built even more ships than Yongle. In 1281, Qubilai had 3,000 ships built for invasions of Japan and a few years later with 2,000 more built.
However, in terms of projection, Qubilai sent a force of 20,000-30,000 to Java, whereas Yongle sent a comparable force of over 28,000 to the same region and to Calicut (and offshoot fleets to beyond). The Yuan sent much more ships, with around 900, but the Ming sent merely 62 large treasure ships (probably a small escort of smaller ships) that was capable of transporting the same amount of men. However, the Yuan did not seem to have establish regular depots in Southeast Asia, and in that the Ming was more successful in building a maritime empire there, with depots and stations built in Malacca, Sumadera, Palembang, and Luzon.

Outside of the Weisuo fleets, we also have a huge number of transportation fleets.

"In Yuan times, apart from the grain carriers, there were 5,921 courier ships in the nationwide Imerial postal system. It is also documented that in Quanzhou alone, there were 15,000 government-owned sea vessels. Second, in the first half of the fifteenth century AD, the count of government owned grain transport ships was 11,839. In addition, there was an Imperial transport fleet of 998 vessels, which made the total number of ships in the Ming transportation operation up to 12,837. In the early Qing Dynasty, the grain fleet had over 10,000 ships. Such a number declined in the mid-Qing period but was still maintained at the 7,000 level. Meanwhile, in the second half of the eighteenth century there were some 130,000 private transport ships on the tax records. "

Gang Deng, Chinese Maritime Activities and Socioeconomic Development, C. 2100 B.C.-1900 p.69
 
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Haakbus

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
3,534
United States
#46
I've looked over the article, it would appear that these are actually ships of a standing navy, rather than a temporarily assembled fleet or a private merchant fleet. If this is the case, Korea would have a larger standing navy than any contemporary European polity (also the Ottomans and any power in the Middle East) throughout the 15th and even the 16th century (probably even the 17th century). In all of Europe, only Sicily, Venice, and England had real standing navies, the rest only had temporarily assembled merchant fleets.
Frederic Lane estimates that the Venetians had around 300 vessels in its "navy". Citing Mocenigo, he gives around 45 galleys manned by 11,000 and 300 navi ships manned by 8,000. The total amount of men serving them would be around 19,000 (there are also around 3,000 small boats with around 17,000 men, but these appear to be private merchant ships similar in size to Sampans and I doubt these are included within the Korean fleet). Sicily and England seem to have no more than a few dozen ships. Henry the 5th was able to mount an invasion of France with 700-800 ships manned by 12,000 men, but its standing navy typically had little over 30 ships. Even France under Louis the 14th in the late 17th century only had around 40 ships and 19,000 men in its standing navy. In fact, I don't think any navy in the world outside of the Ming in the 15th and 16th century would have surpassed the Korean standing navy in size (if 28,000 crew in Zheng He's fleet is able to sail unopposed in the Indian Ocean and the South China Seas, none of the polities of the era had large sea going navies).
Yes Korea's navy was a standing one since the 1370s.
 

Haakbus

Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
3,534
United States
#47
In Haakbus post he said the Korean ships had in 1675 538, 80 240 man ships as the largest. Note that these ships were much smaller than the ships listed in the 16th century Anthony Roll, where the Harry Grace a Dieu had a crew of 700, which was more than a century earlier. Henry VIII may have had only 58 ships, but they were larger than the Korean ships a century earlier, at time when ship size were rapidly increasing. The largest Korean ships were also far, far smaller than the largest contemporary European ships. The largest Korean ships would have only ranked as high as a 3rd rate ship of the line. About 300 ships per side were involved in the First Anglo Dutch War. So while the Korean Navy exceeded the others in numbers of ships, it might not have surpassed them in tonnage, since European ships had much larger ships.



True before the 16th century, but by the 16th century not true. Spain, Portugal had standing navies and by the 17th century most major European powers had established navies. And navy sizes grew in the course of the 17th through 19th century. Numerically, European navies of the 17th or even 16th century had far fewer ships than Korean, but some much larger ships. Probably the total mass of Korean ships still exceeded that of any European navy even in the 17th century, but it is hard to add up a bunch of smaller to fewer but larger ships.

And note - in the 16th century, the main Korean ship was the panokseon, which used oars for propulsion. That meant the Korean ships in the 16th century had much larger crews for a given ship size. A 240 crew oar ship size be smaller than.240.crew sailing ship. I haven't found any information on late 17th century Korean ship design, so I don't know if they were still using oars or not.



Ships with only 10 to 20 men were included in the totals of the Korean 17th century fleet total of 538 ships, and there is not evidence that the Venetian ships were smaller than this size. If they were including small ships with 20 men crews in the late 17th century, then they were likely doing it earlier in the 15th century totals as well.



In the medieval period, the primary ship the coffee could easily be converted to a warship, so you didn't need as large a.stsnding navy. When warship designs started to be more specialized , then standing navies became larger, since you couldn't as easily convert a commercial ship to a warship. And France was not a naval power, a better comparison would be with the Dutch and English in the 17th century or even Portuguese.



Keep in mind, the Korean navy was primarily a coastal defense navy, and not really capable of projecting power long distances. It suited Korea"s needs, but you are comparing it to very different types of navies when you compare it to 16th and especially 17th century European navies, who sometimes sailed long distances to project to fight. The Korea ships were like a chieftain who had lots of war canoes at his disposal. He had more men, and in a battle against a couple of Birtish waships he likely would prevail due to numbers, but he would be unable to fight beyond his island . Technically, you could argue he had a larger navy, but how would it really compare to a Navy that had a few dozen ships with 50 or more cannons each that could sail around the world?

And I would like to point out a handful of Portuguese ships were able to able to sail to India unopposed as well, you didn't need 28,000 men to do it.
. How was created size detemined? And estimating tonnage through cres size has some concerns, since different types of ships have different ratios. Using the ratios for a commercial ship will greatly overestimate the tonnage when applying it to warships, which have much larger crews per ton. From what I have seen, the ratio of crew to tonnage seems a little higher than for European sailing ships of the same tonnage. Song Li Minster of Works in the Ming dynasty in the 15th century said that ocean going ships require 1 sailor per 2.5 tons of grain (burthen), while per the Anthony Rolls the Mary Rose was 700 tons and had 200 sailors, requiring 1 sailor for every 3.5 tons, and the 600 ton Mathews had 138 sailors , which was 1 sailor to every 4.4 tons.


Roman navy was no more coastal than the the Song navy, and I don't know any battles the Song navy conducted far from shore. The Romans had a fleet located in Britain, so they operated in more than just the Mediterranean. In one base alone, in what is now Naples, they probably had around 10,000 men, and as I said previously, Nero was able to pull 9,000 men from from the Roman Navy without gutting it, so the Roman navy may have bbeenas been as largd. While fighting Carthage is was larger, the Battle of Cape Eknomos had 330 Roman ships and 130,000 sailors and marines. The Roman fleet was greatly reduced after Octavian victory at the end of the civil wars, but it still played an active role I the empire. Similar to the legions, the the sailors in the Rooms navy signed up for a 26 year hitch, after which they received Roman citizenship ( most sailors were not Roman), and a sizable cash payment .



The primary leg of the US nuclear deterrence force is generally conceded to be the US ballistic missile submarines , and the US submarines fleet is probably as big as it has ever been, by displaced tonnage if not absolute crew numbers.

And British navy was key to it's Falkland's victory.
I was a little high about the crew numbers (since at the time I was estimating based on incomplete figures I had).

Note that the Korean ships of this period were all both sail and oar propelled.

And yes the Korean navy was highly tailored to Korea's uniquely rough coastal conditions. They wouldn't have done very well outside the territory they were designed to defend, but within that territory they would have had a number of advantages over deep-sea European vessels.

I believe the 15th century Korean ships (and probably those of the late 14th century too) were similar in size to those of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, but they were single-decked so could not hold as much equipment or as many men.

Also for the early 1400s Turnbull gives a figure of 170 ships armed with firearms, but as usual for him this claim is not sourced and I don't know where it came from.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,059
#48
I don't know where you are getting these numbers from, as they are not from Underwood's article, which divides Korean fleet into four classes of battleships.
I pulled them right from Haskbus earlier posting, which is what had been quoted.

Battle ship is an inappropriate name for these ships , since they are nothing like how the word is used else elsewhere in English, which is used primarily for the large armored gunned warships of the late 19th through 20th century. Warship would be a better term.

First class Cheunson averages 80-90 feet, and can carry 300 men. Large ones can carry as much as 900 men.
What is the source for that claim? Assuming it is Young, can can you give the page where to find the information?

Can you give a name of a specific ship that with crew of 900, not just some generic claim?

I ask, because the HMS Victory only carried 850, and it had a length of 227 ft (186 ft at the gun deck), a much bigger ship than any Chinese ship we actually have evidence for.

And the Tudor HMS Revenge had a length of 140 ft and a crew of 260, so a crew 300 for a ship a mere 90 ft seems rather high, but if these were oared ships, then the crew sizes would be higher , but it implies a smaller ship than the Revenge.

Even if the fourth class ships only carried 10-20 men, there were still only 150 of these fourth class ships, and minus them Korea would still have close to 400.
Where does that number come from? What pahe on Underwood's article, if that is the source?

The fact that the Korean navy had around 43,000 men means that on average, each ship had around 80 men. This is roughly comparable, if not larger than the contemporary European navies. The Venetian navy only had on average 26-27 men manning them, although they were probably undermanned, the average Navi ships were according to Lane, about 100 tons or slightly over. If Korean ships were designed similar to Chinese ones, then ships with 80 men should easily be over 100 tons.
I am curious what primary source was used to drive the number. What time soecific time frame of the Korean navyvare we talking about?

80 men per ship is much smaller than contemporary European ships of the 16th century. A 6th rate ship, the smallest one rated, typically had a crew of 140 to 160, and a 5th rate ship, the most common rated ship in the late 18th century, had cresws of 200 to 300.

And the most common ship in a line of battle in the 18 and 19th century was the 3rd rate ship which had crews of 500 or so. Rating system of the Royal Navy - Wikipedia


The Fuchuan here were roughly 300 tons according to estimate and the Shaochuan was just slightly smaller (~200 tons)
From Ming sources I have previouzly cited , it said that's ocean going ships had something like 1 man per 2.5 tons burthen for commercial ships, and warships would require more men. The 300 tons would be apply only for commercial non warships.

For warships, the ratio would be as low a 1 man per ton for Chinese warships, implying only 103 to 123 tons. Same for the other ships.

Lo Jung-pang in the early Ming mentioned some 700 liao (175 tons burthen) ships had crews of 400, around a man per half ton* So 1 man per 2.5 tons is likely far too high a ratio for Chinese warships, and the tonnages are smaller than you stated.

* " ZHENG HE: AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE PLAUSIBILITY OF 450-FT TREASURE SHIPS" Sally Church page 16. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40727457?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents.


This is over a century after the largest class ships were dismantled in the 15th century. The fleet under Zheng He sent to the Indian Ocean had 62 treasure ships weighing between 1,500 liao - 5,000 liao (~600-2,000 tons).
Some contemporary accounts imply that Zheng He ships were smaller than the 1250 tons you claimed. (The 2000 ton ia for displacement tonnage. Since you and I have been consistently using tons burthen for all the other tonnage of ships, we should be consistent, and not use dispacement, which gives a larger number, just for Zheng He ships. The old Chinese sources are always talking about capacity (burthen) when they give the figures.

Gong Zhen, who participated in Zheng He's voyages, said the crew sizes of the Zheng He treasure ships were only 200 - 300, which implies a tonnage of only 700 tons per previously cited Ming source Lo Jung-pang source. ("ZHENG HE: AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE PLAUSIBILITY OF 450-FT TREASURE SHIPS"" Sally Church)

The largest European carracks after 1420 were around 600-900 tons
This is not true. Henry VIII's Harry Grace Dieu in the Anthony Rolls was 1000 tons burthen, and it was built after 1420. Using the value implied by Gong Zhen account actually makes Zhen He ships smaller than the Harry Grace Dieu.

The 15th century Peter Von Danzig was 800 tons (htttps://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_von_Danzig_(ship) ) , so it wasn't just the Grace Dieu that was comparable or larger than the Zheng He Treasure ships

The early 16h century Scottish ship the Great Michael was 1000 tons burthen.


No it doesn't. The largest US aircraft carrier weighs 81,600 tons. The Zhejiang fleet, with their 83 Fuchuan alone would have around a total tonnage of 307,000 .
Again, way wrong. 83 Fuschans at. 300 ton each is 24,900 tons burthen , which works out to 39,840 displacement tons, no where near the 101,600 displacdmrnt tons of a Nimitz class aircraft carrier (not 81,000 as you claimed: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nimitz-clas_aircraft_carrier.

Further, I have shown that the 300 ton estimate is for too high based on crew size for a Chinese warship, 100 tons is more likely, so the actual ton displacement sould be closer to 13,280 tons. Since the Fuchans were the largest ships, the other ships should make smaller contributions, although I have not added them all up.

Anyways, that is only 1 Nimitz class carrier and the US has 10 of them (Gerald Ford is an essentially upgraded Nimitz).

Sally Church, using the Ming official Song Li's estimates, give about a displacement of one man per 2.5 ton.


"The standard num-ber of men on an ocean-going grain transport seems to have been 100, and the ratio of crew to capacity on these ships was one man per 10 liao, or 2.5 tons. Song Li’s statement makes clear that this ratio was different for river and canal boats, which could get by with one man for every 20 liao, or five tons. The larger crew for ocean-going ships was probably necessary because of their greater size, larger equipment (such as anchors and rudder), and more complicated rigging.".
I thought we were talking about ocean going craft.

The size of the ships indicate these were ocean going ships, the river boats being smaller. If these are river craft than then the crew ratio could be higher, but in an area not quoted the author discussed how military ships have lower crew ratios, as low as 1 man per half ton. And there is a question to why river craft have higher crews ratios than ocean going ships. It could be that loaded river boats could float down stream, then row or to a much lighter boat back. That would work for cargo but not military ships. In any case, military ships have to carry people involved in fighting. The Crew sizes imply smaller ships than you assume.

If we use such calculations, the Ming navy under Yongle, with some 300,000-400,000 soldiers, would have around 1 million total tonnage of warships in its standing navy.
Are the 400,000 solidiers land troops? Can you provide documentation that these 400,000 were all assigned to the navy as you claim? Also, the 2.5 ratio applies only to sailors not inovled fighting, since the numbers came from cargo.carrier ships. Per Sally Church , the ratio miltary craft were 1 man per ton or even 1 man per half ton in one example. So for 2.5 tons, we would have 2.5 men, and since we know sailors were 2.5 tons per man, the other 1.5 men must be the soldiers. So. 300,000 men would represent 500000 ton burthen or 800,000 tons displacement, even if every single man of the 300,000 was assigned to ships.

Where did the 300,000 - 400,000 number come up from?
 
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Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,059
#49
It's a lot easier to mobilize 10,000 if includes riverine fleets, as there are so many of them floating around. The Yuan itself led some 10,000 ships in the invasion of Shawukou. Matteo Ricci said that there were probably as many ships sailing in China (including river) as there were in the rest of the world combined in the late 16th century. Also, it seems Louise Levathes' estimate of Ming ships is rather conservative.
Ricci's comments were regarding commercial ships, not naval warships. You seem to be throwing numbers from Chinese commerical and maritine fleet with those of its navy, which is different. Throwing in in numbers from a maritine fleet falsely inflates the naval numbers. Naval refers to ships of the military, and the Navy is the military branch on water. Unless the ships are directly manned and controlled by the navy, they should not be counted.

Gang Deng estimates that the Yuan standing fleet was more numerous than the Ming standing fleet with the former at 12,750 and the later at 5,500 (The reason the Ming had more soldiers might be due to the fact that the Ming had more large ships.)

Furthermore,

By the end of the thirteenth century, in the two coexisting navies of the Southern Song (over 13,500 warships) and the Yuan (17,900 warships), the total number of vessels reached 31,400. The corresponding approximation of aggregate tonnage of the Song and Yuan navies is 550,000 to 1,200,000 tons, assuming that they were 100-tonners because of their advantage of maneuvrability in sea battles. Thus, the present estimates are conservative.
For the Yuan-Ming period, the estimated total number of vessels owned by organizations for the purpose of defense and transportation is likely to have been between 10,600 and 21,800, with an aggregate tonnage of 1,250,000 to 2,800,000. Given that these two dynasties had stable territories and internal peace, the figures can be used as a reference point for some of the other main dynasties.

Gang Deng, Chinese Maritime Activities and Socioeconomic Development, C. 2100 B.C.-1900 p.71
The figures you.present are not warships, but are cargo vessels or the most part.and are dishonesty inflating the Chinese numbers of ships. This is as.deceptive as referring to the Zheng He ships in tons displacement and European ships in the smaller tons capacity. Most of the transport ships discussed we're not involved in hauling military supplies or troops, and don't qualify as being included in a discussion of navies.

Furthermore, your assumption of 100 ton average is unjustified. River boats, as most of them would be, only were around 50 tons. Assuming 11,000 ships would give a tonnage of 550,000, and rounding up for a deal larger ships gives 600,000 tons, but that is mostly cargo (90%), not military related.

And if the Ming really did have such a huge fleet, the Chinese must rank as the most incompetent navy in the multi-verse, given their struggles with Japanese pirates.

Either we accept the Ming navy was incompetent not to be able to crush the Japanese pirates easily, or the numbers are greatly inflated. In reality, most of those ships were cargo ships not invovled in carrying military supplies, and really should not be part of this discussion.

The thread was on the largest navy, not the largest maritime fleet, which is different.

The Yuan fleet seem to be less talked about than the Ming fleet, but it seems that Qubilai built even more ships than Yongle. In 1281, Qubilai had 3,000 ships built for invasions of Japan and a few years later with 2,000 more built.
However, in terms of projection, Qubilai sent a force of 20,000-30,000 to Java, whereas Yongle sent a comparable force of over 28,000 to the same region and to Calicut (and offshoot fleets to beyond). The Yuan sent much more ships, with around 900, but the Ming sent merely 62 large treasure ships (probably a small escort of smaller ships) that was capable of transporting the same amount of men. However, the Yuan did not seem to have establish regular depots in Southeast Asia, and in that the Ming was more successful in building a maritime empire there, with depots and stations built in Malacca, Sumadera, Palembang, and Luzon.
A force to Java of 30,000 we with 900 ships implied that the average size of ships were small, only 33 persons each, and that Song dynasty ships were small, since that is where the Mongols would have gotten them. The Mayflower , which was a small ship, carried 102 passengers and around 40 crew members, was around 180 tons, so the typical Chinese ship was around 60 ton it would seem.

The Mongola used some 600 ships to transport some 39,700 men, for just just 66 men per ship, again implying Chinese and Korean ships were small, maybe 126 tons.

The Zheng He Treasuee ships may have been dedicated propose built ships, not typically used, and much larger than average.

Outside of the Weisuo fleets, we also have a huge number of transportation fleets.

"In Yuan times, apart from the grain carriers, there were 5,921 courier ships in the nationwide Imerial postal system. It is also documented that in Quanzhou alone, there were 15,000 government-owned sea vessels. Second, in the first half of the fifteenth century AD, the count of government owned grain transport ships was 11,839. In addition, there was an Imperial transport fleet of 998 vessels, which made the total number of ships in the Ming transportation operation up to 12,837. In the early Qing Dynasty, the grain fleet had over 10,000 ships. Such a number declined in the mid-Qing period but was still maintained at the 7,000 level. Meanwhile, in the second half of the eighteenth century there were some 130,000 private transport ships on the tax records. "

Gang Deng, Chinese Maritime Activities and Socioeconomic Development, C. 2100 B.C.-1900 p.69
The fact the ships are owned by the government does not make them naval ships. Naval ships are either warships ships or ships dedicated to carrying military supplies, and most of these ships were just carrying grain.

Given that the Ming were mostly using river crafts to transport grain, and Song Li of the Minister of Works indicates the river boats carried around 200 piculs, or 50 tons, the 12,839 ships is around 642,000 tons. But since a few ships would be larger, say 800,000 tons. But only a few of that ships could be called navy ships, and it is not a valid comparison when comparing to other countys' navies.
 
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Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,059
#50
Okay so I know some more detailed figures for the Korean navy than I did four years ago.

The numbers for the fleets are probably on paper, but considering that during the times that Underwood gives figures for Korea was paying good attention to military affairs it's probably pretty close to the accurate amount.

The Korean navy at this time consisted several different ship types in the 17th and 18th centuries (these are based on a variety of records including the Annals of the Choson Dynasty, port garrison rosters, Kakson Tobon, etc.):
Three-province naval station flagship: ~120 ft long, ~24-26 guns, ~190-220 men
Naval station flagship (1-2 per province): ~100 ft long, ~24 guns, and ~180-210 men
Those ships would rank only as 6th rate ship of the line, and would have been heavily outgunned by a 3rd rate ship, the mainstay of a British line of battld. If these are the largest Korean ships, then Korean ships were far smaller.

However, they were likely well suited for Korea needs, their smaller size better suited for manuevering in treacherous Korean waters

Port command/average warship (chonson; "cheunson" in Underwood's work): ~70 ft long, ~24 guns, and ~160-200 men
Turtle ship: ~60-70 ft long, ~24 guns, and ~140-190 men
Single-decked squadron leader warships (pangson): ~50 ft long, ~10-16 guns, and ~80-100 men
Single-decked auxiliary warships (pyongson; "pyungson" in Underwood's work): ~50 ft long, ~2-10 guns, and ~20-50 men
Tenders ("small 4th class" in Underwood's work): unknown length, no guns, and <10 men

The Taejong-era ships were all single decked and had smaller complements than the later ships. They were standardized as large, medium, and small *maengson* (maingson in the text) in the 1460s, but had mostly been converted to two-decked designs by the late 16th century. So the 1675 reference to the crews of the maengson are inaccurate because they're using the 1460s numbers (which are somewhat unclear, btw).


So this would give more accurate figures:
early 1400s: 543 ships and an uncertain number of men
1675: ~538 ships and ~46,000-47,000+ men
1744: ~812 ships and ~40,000-41,000+ men

These complements are average, this doesn't mean that there weren't sometimes ships equipped better (such as those carrying around 300 men in the Hendrick Hamel reference).

The planking of Korean warships was fairly thin, generally around 4 inches but their artillery during the 16th century on was mainly guns equivalent in size to 5-, 9-, and 14-pounders.
The Koreans had a bigger navy in the 15th century than any European power, but I am not so sure about later centuries. They had more ships, but their ships were all much smaller, the largest one would rank only as a sixth rate ship, and even the exceptions of a 300 man ship would would not even be a 3rd rate ship in the European navies. By the 18th century Korea certainly did not have the largest navy or anywhere near it.

In the late 18th century, before the Napoleonic war, the British had 71 3rd rate ships in commision with crews of 500 to 650, with 64 to 80 guns. Assuming an average crea size of 600, the British would have had 42,600 men in just their 3rd rate ships alone, as many as in the entire Korean navy in the 18th century. And it had 78 5th rate ships with crews of 200 to 300. Rating system of the Royal Navy - Wikipedia.

When it come to the 17th century, that is harder to say. European ships were larger, and European navies built up rapidly during the 17th and 18th century, so I think if you went by tonnage and manpower, the British anx Dutch naviez could possibly be larger, but I don't have figures dkr rhe total number of ships or numbers of sailors.

The ships and number of guns per ship were less in the 17th century. All I can find is that there were some 300 English ships involved in the First Anglo Dutch War, and if there were an average of 150 men per ship, that would given a total of 45,000 men, not far from the Korean total. But the estimate of 150 is likely too high. 17th century European ships were smaller than 18th century European ships.

In a May 5 1660 House of Commons act listing back wages owed, it discussed the wages owed for 40 ships stationed abroad with the crew sizes per ships ranging from a 3rd rate ships with 52 guns and 210 men to ships with 8 guns and 3 men, for a total of 3,695 men, which works out to 92 men per ship on the average, but it doesn't represent the larger 1st rate ships, which would bring up the average man per ship somewhat, maybe an average of 100.men per ship, and total of.30,000? So the British navy could have been larger but might have been smaller than the Korean navy in the 17th century.

You didn't give figures for the 16th century, so I assume they are similar to the 15th and 17th century, which would make them far more numerous than any European navy at the time, with more men, but its ships were still smaller. 16th ships like the Mathew and Mary Rose having crews of 400.
 

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