21.10.08

Battle of Trafalgar


Today in 1805, less than a year since the ogre proclaimed himself the Emperor of the French, a British Fleet under the command of Lord Horatio Nelson defeated the combined fleets of France and of Spain during the War of the Third Coalition (August-December 1805) of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815).

The British fleet of 27 ships of the line defeated a numerically superior force of 33 French and Spanish Ships of the line, the battleship of the 18th and early 19th century. Of the number if Franco-Spanish fleet an amazing 22 ships were lost during the battle without the loss of a single British man of war. The effect of this battle established British supremacy on the high seas until the end of World War I. In addition this battle ended for ever the dream of Napoleon to invade England, and turned his attentions to the east which culminated in the disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812.

Nelson's fleet adopted a different method of engaging in battle which heretofore had been ship in line of battle (hence "ship of the line") where each ship aligned itself with an enemy ship and by use of broadside disable or destroy the opposing force. In such a battle, the larger force would generally be victorious. Lord Nelson devised a tactic, first used a Trafalgar where his fleet would intercept the enemy at a right angle and attempt to pass through the Franco-Spanish fleet. Doing so he would be able to fire all his guns at the point of the opposition where the least protection and enemy return fire would be. This tactic was called crossing the "T". Additionally the habitual practice of the British fleet was to fire at the hull of the enemy. This practice and a severe storm which followed the battle contributed to the loss of the Franco-Spanish fleet as many where just too damaged to weather a storm.

The tactic of "Crossing the 'T'", would become standard naval practice swell into the 20th century with admirals attempting to emulate, but never quite doing so, the victory of Lord Nelson at Trafalgar.

Lord Nelson died on his flagship HMS Victory when he was hit by a musket bullet fired from the mizzentop of the French ship Redoutable by a sniper. It struck Nelson in the left shoulder and passed through his spine at the sixth and seventh thoracic vertebrae lodging two inches below his right scapula in the muscles of his back. Nelson exclaimed, "They finally succeeded, I am dead." He was carried below decks.

The French commander, Pierre-Charles Villeneuve, was captured, sent to England as a prisoner. paroled he returned to France. On 22 April he was found dead at the Hotel de Patrie in Rennes with six stab wounds in the chest and a verdict of suicide was recorded.(!) He was buried without ceremony.

The Spanish commander, Admiral Federico Gravina escaped with the remnant of the fleet, and succumbed months later to wounds he sustained during the battle.

Jhesu+Marie
de Brantigny

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