21 October, 1805

Battleline Map
French Report of Their "victory" at Trafalgar
English Newspaper Report of Trafalgar
Royal Navy Order of Battle
French Order of Battle
Spanish Order of Battle
Letter to Admiral Collingwood
Flags of Nelson's "England Expects" Signal
Naval Art of Paul Deacon

Documentary on the battle
Trafalgar 1805, Nelson's Crowning Victory
French Warship Crews 1789 to 1805

Trafalgar 200 website

By Richard Moore

This great deciding naval battle of the Napoleonic Wars took place between 27 British ships under Admiral Nelson and 33 French and Spanish vessels under Admiral Villeneuve.

Needing to clear the British from the English Channel to allow an invasion of his implaccable national enemy, Napoleon Bonaparte wanted his navy to escape the British blockade, draw it away from Europe to the West Indies and then, after joining up with the Spanish, returning to hold the narrow stretch of water long enough to allow the crossing of his army.

Surprisingly, Villeneuve did manage to slip through the blockade and a rare error by Nelson gave the French more than a week's head start. By the time he reached the West Indies the combined enemy fleet had begun returning towards Europe and safe harbour in Cadiz.

Determined to bottle up and destroy his foe, Nelson and his fleet prowled waiting for an opportunity and that came faster than expected.

Bonaparte, believing there was only a small blockading force outside Cadiz, ordered Villeneuve from port and into the Mediterranean.

To his horror, the French admiral found himself caught between Nelson's fleet and cut off from safety by the blockading squadron.

On 21 October, Nelson sighted his prey and gave the order "England expects that every man will do his duty."

After outlining a radical plan of attack to his captains, Nelson ordered the British fleet to head in two lines towards the in-line French and Spanish.

This would open up his vessels to enemy broadsides, but would split their formidable line, reduce the odds and then allow the better-trained British sailors to use their superior gunnery and sailing skills to destroy at close range.

The plan worked brilliantly and with the French vanguard cut out of the battle by the British slicing through the fleet, Nelson's men proceeded to take the enemy fleet apart.

Britain did not lose a ship, while 18 enemy vessels were destroyed. Some 14,000 French and Spanish sailors were lost, ten times the British casualties.

However, the most notable death at Trafalgar was Nelson who was shot by a sharpshooter as the Victory passed by the Redoubtable.

Mortally wounded, he died several hours later, but was safe in the knowledge he had won a massive victory.

Some thought must be given to his captured opponent Villeneuve who had been driven into Nelson's sights by Bonaparte's orders.

On his return to France, the humiliated Villeneuve killed himself with a dagger, unable to put up with the shame of defeat.

Trafalgar ended any chance France had of invading Britain and, from 1805 onwards, Bonaparte largely kept his military operations to terra firma.




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