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Battle of Trafalgar 1805 - 2005

21st October 2005 marks the bi-centennial of the Battle of Trafalgar when Vice Admiral Lord Nelson beat the combined Spanish and French fleets and prevented the invasion of the United Kingdom. The battle marked the greatest day in the history of the Royal Navy. 

A Royal Navy fleet of 27 ships of the line under the command of Admiral Lord Nelson destroyed a combined French and Spanish fleet consisting of 33 ships of the line west of Cape Trafalgar in southwest Spain. The Franco-Spanish lost 22 ships either sunk or captured. The Royal Navy lost no ships but Nelson died in the battle, and became a national hero.. The British victory put an end to Napoleon's plans to invade Britain across the English Channel. Once the threat of invasion was removed, British troops could be used to fight on the European continent which was a major factor in Napoleon's ultimate fall.  After the battle, the Royal Navy remained unchallenged as the world's foremost naval power until the rise of Imperial Germany prior to the First World War, 100 years later.

                                                                         Nelson's Column Trafalgar Square London

 

The Battle

Nelson's plan for defeating the Combined Fleet had been discussed with his captains days before the battle. He intended to attempt to break the enemy line of battle with two or three columns in order to cut the centre and rear of the fleet from its van, and to then concentrate his forces on the ships in rear part of the line. Since the ships would be sailing downwind, it would be difficult for those in the van to sail back upwind and come to the aid of the rear. This is a similar tactic to that which Nelson had already used successfully at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent (1797), but here it was applied as a deliberate plan on a larger scale.

The battle progressed largely according to Nelson's plan. At 11:35, Nelson sent throughout the fleet the famous flag signal, "England expects that every man will do his duty". He then attacked the French line in two columns, leading one column in Victory; while Admiral Collingwood in Royal Sovereign led the other column. As the battle opened, the French and Spanish were in a ragged line headed north as the two British columns approached from the west at almost a right angle. Nelson himself led the north column from Victory, while one of his subordinates, Collingwood, led the south column, flying his flag on Royal Sovereign. Just before the South column engaged the allied forces, Collingwood said to his officers "Now, gentlemen, let us do something today which the world may talk of hereafter." Because the winds were very light during the battle, all the ships were moving extremely slowly and the lead British ships were under fire from several of the enemy for almost an hour before their own guns would bear. At 12:45, Victory cut the enemy line between Villeneuve's flagship Bucentaure and Redoutable. Meanwhile, Royal Sovereign had already engaged the Spanish Santa Anna. A general mle ensued, and during that fight, Victory locked masts with the French Redoutable. The captain of Redoutable had trained his crew to use their muskets to fire on enemy officers on the quarterdeck. A musket bullet fired from the mizzentop of the Redoubtable struck Nelson in the left shoulder, and passed through his body lodging in his spine. Nelson was carried below decks and died at about 16:30, as the battle that would make him a legend was ending in favour of the British. The British captured 22 vessels of the Franco-Spanish fleet and lost not one. As Nelson lay dying, he ordered the fleet to anchor as a storm was predicted. However, when the storm blew up many of the severely damaged ships sank or ran aground and a few were recaptured by the French and Spanish prisoners overcoming the small British  crews or by ships sallying out from Cdiz. 

HMS Victory

Launched in 1765 at Chatham Dockyard, the Victory was commissioned in 1778 and continued in active service for the next 32 years. In 1805 HMS Victory was the flagship of Vice Admiral Nelson during the Battle of Trafalgar. In 1812 the Victory was retired from frontline duty and anchored in Portsmouth Harbour, on the south coast of England. For the next 110 years the Victory remained at her moorings in Portsmouth Harbour fulfilling a combination of practical and ceremonial roles.

Today the Victory is a visitor centre but is also still a commissioned ship of the Royal Navy. You can the visit the ship at Portsmouth's Royal Navy Dockyard - see below for link. 

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard - www.flagship.org.uk/welcome.html

 

 

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