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Nelson's final and most famous battle, fought off Cape Trafalgar with Nelson's 27 Sail-of-the-Line battle ships against the 33 of the French and Spanish combined fleet. 
Nelson's thorough planning with his officers, known as the 'Nelson Touch', the superior seamanship and gunnery of his men and the poor state of the Franco-Spanish fleet resulted in a decisive victory for the British. It gave Britain naval supremacy for the next century and was the last battle of its kind. Nelson's death, however, caused the whole country to mourn rather than celebrate it's victory.


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Nelson had formulated a plan long before the battle. During the weeks before-hand he had discussed it with his fellow officers and even asked their opinions about it, so that, when the day arrived, every captain would know exactly what to do. Even more importantly, he trusted his captains to use their initiative, believing in their ability and knowing they would not let him down. This would have strengthened his already good relationship with them.

The basic plan was for the fleet to be split and arranged into two columns, with Nelson in the Victory leading one, and Admiral Collingwood in the Royal Sovereign leading the other. Anticipating that the Combined Fleet would attempt to escape, Collingwood's division would break through and attack the rear of the enemy line, while Nelson's would do the same near the middle of the line, reducing the chances of escape, and causing the van of the enemy line to have to turn round in order to help the rest of the fleet, which would have taken time.
Once this was done, the captains were free to use their initiative and engage with individual ships at close quarters, resulting in a "melee" battle, in which the British superiority in sailing and gunnery could do it's worst to the French and Spanish ships, which were in bad condition and were housing mainly soldiers rather than seamen.
Stuck in the port of Cadiz for most of the Trafalgar Campaign, Nelson knew that they would have been ill-practiced and would be no match for the well-trained British seamen.

However, one draw-back of the plan was, as guns were placed at the sides of a ship, the inability to fire back at the Combined Fleet as they approached. Nelson was relying on the inferior French and Spanish gunnery, hoping that they wouldn't do too much damage before the British could return fire.

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The fleets sighted each other on the morning of 21 October at about 6.00 am. Every sail bent, they slowly approached their opponent.
11.25 am, Nelson hoisted the signal, "England Expects Every Man Will Do His Duty", which was received with cheers all around the fleet. Villeneuve had turned his fleet round to head for Cadiz and Nelson, anxious that the enemy would escape, sent the signal, "I intend to push or go through the end of the enemy's line to prevent them from getting into Cadiz." This, however, was not done in the end, once the Buccentaure, Villeneuve's flagship had been identified, and Nelson once again aimed for the centre of the line. At midday, Villeneuve signalled to his fleet to "Engage the Enemy", and the Fougeux fired the first shots at the Royal Sovereign, which had recently had her hull re-coppered and was considerably faster than the other ships in the fleet. She was the first into action at 12.20 pm.


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The Victory broke the enemy line and fired her first broadside, a stern rake to the Buccentaure at 1.30 pm. She came alongside the French ship, Redoubtable,whose captain had trained his men well. He intended to board, and, after a single broadside, his men, up in the rigging, began shooting down onto the Victory's quaterdeck. Eventually, the Temeraire came alongside to assist the Victory and the Redoubtable was brutally pounded by the two ships. She struck her colours at 1.55 pm, and would later sink in a storm that followed the battle.
 As more ships entered the battle, the middle and rear of the enemy line were completely overwhelmed, and the van sailed away when they realised they could not help their comrades.

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At about 1.15 pm, Nelson was shot through the shoulder while pacing the deck with Captain Hardy. Hardy reported that he turned to see the admiral on his knees, holding himself up with his one hand which soon gave way. He rushed to his friends aid to hear the ominous words, "they've done for me at last, Hardy... my backbone is shot through".
 He was taken below to the surgeon, and spent the remainder of the battle dying in agony.

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The French and Spanish fought bravely, but were no match for the superior British gunnery. The British lost no ships but managed to capture 10 French ships and 11 Spanish ships, including what was said to be the largest ship in the world, the Santisima Trinidad. One Spanish ship, the Archille, exploded. The battle ended at about 4.30 pm, with over 15,000 casulties.
 Nelson lived just long enough to hear that he had won. He asked his captain, Hardy, a close friend of his, to take care of his mistress and daughter and then to kiss him, which Hardy does twice. His lasts words are said to be, 'Thank God I have done my duty'.

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After the battle, a huge storm set in and wreaked havoc on the battle-worn fleets. It lasted for several days and many prizes that had been won, including the Santisima Trinidad, were lost in the storm. Only four prizes survived.

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After the battle, Britain was never seriously challenged at sea again. Nelson was given a hero's funeral, and his death completely overshadowed the victory at Trafalgar.
 Nowadays, the Battle of Trafalgar is still celebrated in some areas of the country. In Portsmouth, the Victory flies the signal, 'England Expects That Every Man Will do His Duty', and a dinner is held in the Great Cabin, where they toast the 'Immortal Memory' of Nelson.

 


Comments

22/10/2012 5:07am

Another great and informative post! Are there any Trafalgar Day celebrations in your area? If not, maybe you could start up some! I'm dying for a British Festival to come to my area, but I'm afraid the day has not yet come :-(

So does the Royal Navy hold the commemorative dinner in the Great Cabin on board HMS Victory, or some historical society, or what? It sounds like being a part of something like that would be quite an experience! A rather haunting one, really.

Best,
Pearl

Reply
22/10/2012 7:30pm

Yes, there's a Trafalgar Ceremony in the center of Birmingham at the statue. There'll be a post on that soon!

Sorry, I didn't make that very clear! The dinner is held by the admiral of the Victory inside the Admiral's cabin. I agree it would certainly an interesting experience!

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    Hi there! I am second in command here at HMSH!
     My name is Rae-Rae and and I live in Worcestershire in the UK.
     I am a teen Nelson enthusiast and my passion has lasted since I was only nine- over seven years!
     I aim (rather ambitiously!) to rekindle the love of Nelson and his Navy for the younger generations and make him a well-known hero again. I want his memory never to fade!
     Please do check my YouTube channel for any Nelson-related videos, as I do post on there from time to time!

    http://www.youtube.com/raeraeandbunty/

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