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Battle of Trafalgar


The Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 was the decisive final battle of the Napoleonic Wars. It established England's supremacy at sea for the next 150 years and thereafter allowed England to concentrate its efforts on controlling her far-flung Empire.

Napoleon Bonaparte had been working for years for the dominion of Europe. The only fly in the ointment was England, under the leadership of an unlikely Commander, the slightly built, one-armed Horatio Viscount Nelson, who was also blind in one eye.

The deciding battle was between the 27 British ships under Admiral Nelson, and 33 French and Spanish ships under Admiral Villeneuve, which were under a blockade in Cadiz by the British fleet.

Eventually Napoleon ordered his fleet out of the Spanish port to engage the enemy at the Spanish Cape called Trafalgar.

Although he had a greater navy, Villeneuve's undoing was the fact that he had been defeated just three months earlier by a smaller British fleet, and with 1,700 sick men on board ship, morale in the Franco-Spanish fleet was at a low ebb.

Both fleets were manned by sailors who had been press-ganged into service, as had Lord Nelson himself, but the English sailors were a formidable foe. When they received the message that the French and Spanish navy were under sail, despite being outnumbered, Lord Nelson was confident of victory for he had devised a new strategy.

Instead of meeting the enemy ships head on and fighting one on one, he divided the fleet into two groups to attack the enemy at right angles, breaking the lines then cutting off the retreat.

This tactic was later known as the "Nelson Touch" which changed future naval warfare forever. Nelson was in his flagship, the Victory, which is now an attraction at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Having made his will, Nelson hoisted his signal in flags "England expects that every man will do his duty", and battle commenced.

The first shot was fired by the Santa Anna at the English ship, the Royal Sovereign. Nelson headed for the French Admiral's ship, the Santissima Trinidad. His ship, the Victory, collided with the French Redoubtable and they locked together, both on fire.

In the midst of battle Lord Nelson was shot by a musket from the opposing marksmen and fell. Captain Hardy had Nelson carried down below deck while a further 40 officers and men were shot. The Redoubtable's forces tried to board the Victory, but the English retaliated and killed them all.

Later, when Hardy reported back to the dying Nelson, he assured him that 14 vessels had given in. Nelson's brave reply was that he had bargained for twenty, and then he died.

As the French ships tried to return to the safety of Cadiz, Nelson's fleet continued to successfully cut off their retreat.

As the sun went down on this memorable battle, the British losses were heavy with 449 sailors killed, 1,241 injured but no ships were sunk. Napoleon's dream was finished.

Trafalgar Square in London was built to commemorate the decisive battle and Nelson's column was erected to honour the great Admiral. It was named after the Spanish Cape, Trafalgar, where the battle took place. There is also a monument of this revered naval hero in the south transept of St Paul's Cathedral.

Battle enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to the Charleston Shipwreck Heritage Museum in Cornwall which has an impressive collection of Nelson memorabilia and artifacts including his medals and personal letters.

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