Battle of Trafalgar

The Battle of Trafalgar was a naval battle fought on 21 October 1805 during the Napoleonic wars (1803-1815). It was arguably the most famous naval battle in British history, and was fought against the combined fleets of the French Navy and Spanish Navy off the south–west coast of Spain, close to the Cape of Trafalgar.

Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson was born in 1758 and went to sea for the first time when he was 12 years old. He is best known for leading the British fleet during the battle of Trafalgar, but had a successful career in the navy over many years. He has rightly become Britain’s greatest naval hero. Nelson died during the battle having been shot by an enemy musketeer, knowing he had won a stunning victory. His last words were “Thank God-I have done my duty.”

HMS Victory was Nelsons flagship in the battle of Trafalgar and was the veteran of six previous fleet actions. She was 69 meters long, had three decks and was made from over 2,500 mature oak trees. She carried over 35 tonnes of gunpowder in her powder hold to supply over 100 cannons. In 1922 a fund was launched to restore her and you can still visit her today at her home in Portsmouth.

“Fighting instructions” were the recognised tactics of sea battles at the time. The idea was that ships should sail together in line and fire their broadside cannons at the enemy. At Trafalgar Nelson wished to see a conclusive win and decided to approach the enemy head on in two lines. This unorthodox tactic helped win the battle as enemy ships became isolated from their flag ship and could not see their signals. This tactic is credited for giving Nelson the advantage.

The new flag signal system was developed in 1803 by a gentleman called Popham. It was Nelsons secret weapon as it meant ships could communicate with each other using 2000 different orders and sentences in code. At Trafalgar Nelson issued the most famous flag signal in history which read “England expects that every man will do his duty.”

The Poop deck is a deck that forms the roof of a cabin at the rear of a ship. Usually the captain spent his time here as the elevated position was perfect for keeping an eye on the crew and observing the sails and surroundings.

The combined fleet comprised 33 French and Spanish ships including some of the largest in the world. The fleet was controlled by Admiral Villeneuve from his flag ship the Bucentaure.

The Bucentaure was the 80 gun flagship of the combined fleet. HMS Victory raked her less protected stern early in the battle which essentially put her out of the fight. In reality after 3 hours of fighting she surrendered to marines from one of Victory’s sister ships HMS Conqueror.

Admiral Villeneuve was a French aristocrat who was the commander in chief of the combined fleet during the battle of Trafalgar. He had correctly guessed Nelson tactics but did nothing to counter his prediction. His poor leadership lead one of his captains to exclaim “Our fleet is doomed. The French Admiral does not understand his business. He has compromised us all.”

Grog is a drink made with rum,water and sometimes lime juice.It was introduced into the British Navy by Vice Admiral Edward Vernon, whose nickname was ‘Old Grog.’