October 21 - 200 years ago...


October 20, 2005, 10:37 PM
... one of the most important battles in naval and world history took place, which guaranteed the survival of freedom in Europe and shaped the course of that continent until the First World War. The Battle of Trafalgar is one of only a few events that can be said to be truly epoch-making.

From the Telegraph, London (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml;jsessionid=5YTRJUFXVDDQVQFIQMFSM54AVCBQ0JVC?xml=/news/2005/10/21/nelson21.xml&sSheet=/news/2005/10/21/ixhome.html):

200 years since Nelson did his duty

By John Keegan

(Filed: 21/10/2005)


October 21, Trafalgar Day, used to be marked by the hoisting on Nelson's column in London of Nelson's Trafalgar signal - England expects that every man will do his duty.

It made a brave display, the coloured bunting flapping against the grey stone column at Nelson's feet, and it was popular with Londoners, but it isn't to modern tastes.

Curiously, the signal nearly didn't appear. Nelson's first version was that "Nelson confides" but his flag lieutenant pointed out that those words were not in the code book and would have to be spelled out letter by letter, so he changed his mind. The signal provoked grumbles in the fleet from old salts who mumbled that they had always done their duty. Nelson, however, was on tenterhooks. He had been planning the encounter with the French - with whom the Spanish had recently become allied - for months. He was determined to win and to destroy the combined fleet in the process.

Only by a complete victory could he make England safe from Napoleon, who had filled every estuary and port on the Channel coast with invasion barges to carry his army, camped on the cliffs outside Boulogne, to England.

Little as he knew of naval warfare, Napoleon did recognise that he could not risk the Grand Army at sea while the Royal Navy was still intact and near at hand.

He had therefore charged his admiral Villeneuve to draw off the British squadrons which blockaded his fleet in its harbours. He rightly doubted that he could successfully challenge the British to action. The unfortunate Villeneuve found himself caught between two fires, the raging impatience of the Emperor and the massed guns of the Royal Navy.

He sought a middle way out. On March 30 he sailed from Toulon for the West Indies, hoping to draw the British Mediterranean fleet behind him, lose it somewhere across the Atlantic and get back into European waters, free to mount an offensive against whatever British ship remained to menace the invasion barges.

Villeneuve got to the West Indies but on arrival found Nelson attached as firmly to his tail as if he had been dragged behind. He could not break the attachment when he turned for home. Arriving in Spanish waters in August, he found Nelson still up with him, where he remained as summer turned to autumn. Villeneuve also found carping letters from Napoleon, accusing him of fearing to fight.

In the end Villeneuve decided to fight, but wrote to the French navy minister that he did not know what to do. Nelson knew exactly what to do. He had worked out a method of fighting a large scale naval battle and now fretted to put it into effect.

On leave at Merton, in what today is south London, he had his captains down to be instructed in the new tactics. He would brief them again when he saw them the day before the battle off Cadiz near Gibraltar.

Nelson's plan was to solve the problem of sailing down on the enemy with the wind, which always left the opponent with the option of sailing off when defeat threatened. Nelson now planned not to lay his fleet alongside the enemy on the windward side but to sail through the enemy line and lay alongside to leeward, thus putting the enemy between their opponents and the wind and trapping them so that they could be beaten down by the gunnery.

By the morning of Oct 21, his captains knew exactly what they had to do. They were assured of victory, as long as the Combined Fleet left port to accept battle. Villeneuve decided to do so, though with a heavy heart; he feared defeat but he feared even more Napoleon's disfavour if he did not fight.

The morning of Oct 21 1805 was calm with light winds scarcely strong enough to move the two columns of Nelson's fleet at more than walking pace. Nelson led the left-hand column, Admiral Collingwood the right-hand. Their ships were severely punished in the approach, Victory's foresails today on display at Portsmouth show 100 shot holes. The two columns bore on inexorably however and once through the enemy line turned to cut off its retreat. The gunnery battle then began in earnest.

British gunnery was greatly superior to the enemy's and, as the British succeeded in surrounding several clusters of French ships, the execution done was frightful. Victory was joined by several ships around the French Redoubtable, commanded by the tiny captain Lucas, less than five feet tall.

Lucas however was a fire eater and had crowded his tops with musketeers. It was one of these men firing down on to Victory's quarterdeck who shot Nelson. The bullet lodged in his spine and though the admiral survived long enough to learn that the Combined Fleet was beaten, died before the end of the battle.

The calm of the morning was succeeded by a violent storm, which drove many of the surviving enemy ships ashore, with terrible loss of life - 8,500 dead and wounded out of 50,000 present.

Only 16 of the 28 enemy ships survived. None of the 23 British ships was lost. Victory of course survives to this day. And if Britain has such a thing as a national shrine she is it.

At Trafalgar under Nelson's command, she and her sisters assured that Britain would not be invaded and that Napoleon would have to look elsewhere for a victory.

He kept on trying until 1815 when, at Waterloo, he was defeated on his own element, on land.

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October 20, 2005, 11:01 PM
And, apropos of Nelson's last request to his flag-captain, "Kiss me, Hardy":

From the Times, London, in a letter to the Editor (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,59-1835277,00.html):

Letters to the Editor

The Times October 21, 2005

From Captain Chris Craig RN (retd)

Sir, Some years ago I had the job of inspecting a Royal Navy destroyer in a simulated battle environment off Portland. As the ship’s command team were performing well, after hours of surface, air and submarine attacks, I resolved to increase the pressure by quietly inviting the commanding officer to feign taking a mortal wound — thereby leaving his young and inexperienced team leaderless.

Wholeheartedly emitting an anguished cry, he collapsed to the darkened deck of the operations room. The operations officer called for medical assistance, which appeared quickly in the form of a resolute first aid party.

As the sailors were about to administer assistance to the spreadeagled figure, a glacial and firm voice cut through the quiet: “Nobody . . . I repeat, nobody . . . is to kiss me!”



October 21, 2005, 01:04 AM


But the combined fleet was at last compelled to quit Cadiz; and the Battle of Trafalgar immediately followed. The brilliant conduct of Admiral Collingwood upon this occasion has been much and justly applauded. The French admiral drew up his fleet in the form of a crescent, and in a double line, every alternate ship being about a cables length to windward of her second, both ahead and astern. The British fleet bore down upon this formidable and skilfully arranged armament in two separate lines, the one led by Nelson in the Victory, and the other by Collingwood in the Royal Sovereign. The latter vessel was the swifter sailer, and having shot considerably ahead of the rest of the fleet, was the first engaged. "See," said Nelson, pointing to the Royal Sovereign as she penetrated the centre of the enemys line, "see how that noble fellow Collingwood carries his ship into action!" Probably it was at the same instant that Collingwood, as if in response to the observation of his great commander, remarked to his captain, "What would Nelson give to be here?" The consummate valour and skill evinced by Collingwood had a powerful moral influence upon both fleets. It was with the Spanish admirals ship that the Royal Sovereign closed; and with such rapidity and precision did she pour in her broadsides upon the Santa Anna, that the latter was on the eve of striking in the midst of thirty-three sail of the line, and almost before another British ship had fired a gun. Several other vessels, however, seeing the imminent peril of the Spanish flag-ship, came to her assistance, and hemmed in the Royal Sovereign on all sides; but the latter, after suffering severely, was relieved by the arrival of the rest of the British squadron; and not long afterwards the Santa Anna struck her colors. The result of the battle of Trafalgar, and the expense at which it was purchased, are well known. On the death of Nelson, Collingwood assumed the supreme command; and by his skill and judgment greatly contributed to the preservation of the British ships, as well as of those which were captured from the enemy. He was raised to the peerage as Baron Collingwood of Coldburne and Heathpool, and received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament, with a pension of 2000 per annum.

From this period until the death of Lord Collingwood no great naval action was fought; but he was much occupied in important political transactions, in which he displayed remarkable tact and judgment. Being appointed to the command of the Mediterranean fleet, he continued to cruise about, keeping a watchful eye upon the movements of the enemy. His health, however, which had begun to decline previously to the action of Trafalgar in 1805, seemed entirely to give way, and he repeatedly requested government to be relieved of his command, that he might return home; but he was urgently requested to remain, on the ground that his country could not dispense with his services. This conduct has been regarded as harsh; but the good sense and political sagacity which he displayed afford some palliation of the conduct of the government; and the high estimation in which he was held is proved by the circumstance that among the many able admirals, equal in rank and duration of service, none stood so prominently forward as to command the confidence of ministers and of the country to the same extent as he did. After many fruitless attempts to induce the enemy to put to sea, as well as to fall in with them when they had done so (which circumstance materially contributed to hasten hid death), he expired on board the Ville de Paris, then lying off Port Mahon, on 7 March 1810.

Lord Collingwood's merits as a naval officer were in every respect of the first order. In original genius and romantic daring he was inferior to Nelson, who indeed had no equal in an age fertile in great commanders. In seamanship, in general talent, and in reasoning upon the probability of events from a number of conflicting and ambiguous statements, Collingwood was equal to the hero of the Nile; indeed, many who were familiar with both give him the palm of superiority. His political penetration was remarkable; and so high was the opinion generally entertained of his judgment, that he was consulted in all quarters, and on all occasions, upon questions of general policy, of regulation, and even of trade. He was distinguished for benevolence and generosity; his acts of charity were frequent and bountiful, and the petition of real distress was never rejected by him. He was an enemy to impressment and to flogging; and so kind was he to his crew, that he obtained amongst them the honorable name of "father". Between Nelson and Collingwood a close intimacy subsisted, from their first acquaintance in early life till the fall of the former at Trafalgar; and they lie side by side in St Paul's Cathedral. As Admiral Lord Collingwood died without issue, his barony (like Nelson's viscountcy) became extinct at his death.


Thanks for the thread Preacherman. This era has been on of my personal fields of study for quite some time. Nelson had a lot of flash, but Collingwood had a lot of substance. I've always felt that history can teach lessons that apply today as well as they did in the Age of Sail. If only our younger generations would look to the character of these heros in the same way they look to musicians and athletes. :( On second thought, I wouldn't want my child emulating some of Neslon's antics (particularly with respect to adultery), but Collingwood would be a shining example to youth.


October 21, 2005, 07:53 AM
OK, but what happened on September 21, 1805?

See thread title.....

October 21, 2005, 10:14 AM
Thanks, 00 - typo! :D

October 21, 2005, 11:14 AM
i should like to note the 200th aniversary of Admiral Nelson and his fleets victory.

Vern Humphrey
October 21, 2005, 11:15 AM
The October issue of the National Geographic has a rather screwed up article on Trafalgar -- for example, they claim Nelson "crossed the T" of the Combined Fleet.:banghead:

October 21, 2005, 12:59 PM
Didn't he pierce the combined fleet with two columns?

Vern Humphrey
October 21, 2005, 01:03 PM
Didn't he pierce the combined fleet with two columns?

That's called "Breaking the Line." Crossing the T (a term not used in those days) is when one fleet presents its broadsides to the head of the other fleet's column(s).

Note your post -- he (Nelson) approached the Combined Fleet with two columns, and they (the combined fleet) presented their broadsides to Nelson.

In other words, they crossed his T, not the other way around.

October 21, 2005, 02:47 PM
Duplicate threads merged.

Greg L
October 21, 2005, 11:45 PM
Oh wow.

I didn't realize that John Keegan was still alive (& being too lazy to bother with Google....). No real point to this other than it brought up memories of a book I had to read back in college 20+ years ago by him (The Face of Battle iirc).

I thought that he was an old fart then :D .

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