Napoleon defeated army after army on the Continent. The British because of the Channel and the Royal Navy were able to continue resisting him. Napoleon dearly wanted to invade Britain. To do so, he needed command of the Channel. Napoleon ordered the Brest (Atlantic) and Toulon (Mediterranean) fleets to join in preparation for a campaign aimed at seizing control of the vital English Channel. The combined fleet sailed into Cadiz joining with the Spanish fleet while the Royal Navy other Admiral Horatio Nelson concentrated its forces around the port. The combined fleets posed a serious challenge to the British. Nelson devised an innovative strategy, risky strategy for the battle that would take place at Cape Trafalgar. The British fleet was outnumbered. Instead of the expected massive battle in a standard line battle, Nelson lead the British fleet straight into the French and Spanish line. Nelson in Victory led one of the two lines of British ships--exposing himself to enemy fire. The resulting battle uterly destroyed the French and Spanish fleets. They lost 22 ships and 10,000 men. The British did not lose even a single ship. [Mostert] It was one of the most decisive naval engagements in history and there would not be a serious challenge to British naval dominance for a century. Nelson was killed by a French sniper.
Napoleon defeated army after army on the Continent. The British because of the Channel and the Royal Navy were able to continue resisting him. The Royal Navy in the 18th century had dominated the seas. Now it faced a major challenge to that dominance.
Horatio Lord Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson is widely seen as the greatest naval commander of all time. He was born into a middle class family in Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk (1758). He grew up in a form of genteel poverty. He was small and sickly. From an early age he desired to join the Royal Navy. This he managed though the influence of his uncle, Maurice Suckling. His talents were noted early. He rose rapidly through the ranks and benefitted by serving with leading Royal Navy commanders. He received his first command (1778). He became widely respected for inspirational leadership, an unsurpassed grasp of strategy, and most notably unconventional tactics. These led to a series of decisive naval victories over the French and Spanish during the Napoleonic Wars.
Nelson had gained two great victories over the French earlier. But not since the Great Armada had the Royal Navy faced such a massive naval forece. The British First Sea Lord appointed Admiral Lord Nelson as Commander in Chief of the British Fleet which was being assembled to engage the French and Spanish ships. Nelson selected His Majesty’s Ship Victory as his flagship. He sailed south towards the bastion at Gibraltar to organize the Fleet.
Napoleon dearly wanted to invade Britain. To do so, he needed command of the Channel. The allied French and Spanish Navies were preparing to gain control of the English Channel to clear the way for an invasion. The combined fleets posed a serious challenge to the British.
The British Fleet was commanded by Admiral Viscount Lord Nelson and Vice Admiral Collingwood. Nelson organized his fleet at Gibraltar. The Admiralty readied available ships and dispated them south to join Nelson's Fleet. Nelson eventually had 25 ships of the line. This mean multi-decked battleships. They were slow, but built strog enough to slug away in the standard contemporary battles. There were also four Frigates and smaller craft. Nelson divided his forces into two divisions. Nelson's Division included HMS Victory (Flagship), Temeraire, Neptune, Conqueror, Leviathan, Ajax, Orion, Agamemnon, Minotaur, Spartiate, Euryalus, Britannia, Africa, Naiad, Phoebe, Entreprenante, Sirius and Pickle. Collingwood's Division included HMS Royal Sovereign (Flagship), Belleisle, Mars, Tonnant, Bellerophon, Colossus, Achilles, Polyphemus, Revenge, Swiftsure, Defiance, Thunderer, Prince of Wales, Dreadnought and Defence.
The Allied fleet was commanded by Admiral Villeneuve of France and Admirals d’Aliva and Cisternas of Spain.
The Allied fleet consisted of 33 ships of the line in additiin to 7 Frigates and smaller craft. About 4,000 troops including riflemen from the Tyrol (renowned markesmen) were deployed on the French and Spanish ships. .
The combined fleet posed a serious challenge to the British. Napoleon ordered the Brest (Atlantic) and Toulon (Mediterranean) fleets to join in preparation for a campaign aimed at seizing control of the vital English Channel.
The French ships included: Bucentaure (Flagship), Formidable (Flagship), Scipion, Intrepide, Cornelie, Duguay Truin, Mont Blanc, Heros, Furet, Hortense, Neptune, Redoubtable, Indomitable, Fougueux, Pluton, Aigle, Swiftsure, Argonaute, Berwick, Hermione, Themis, Achille and Argus. The Spanish ships included: Santa Anna (Flagship), Santissima Trinidad (Flagship), Neptuno, Rayo, Santo Augustino, S. Francisco d’Assisi, S. Leandro, S. Juste, Monarca, Algeciras, Bahama, Montanes, S. Juan Nepomucano, Argonauta and Prince de Asturias.
The French fleet sailed into Cadiz to join with the Spanish fleet so they could fight the British as a combined fleet. Admiral Nelson concentrated its forces around the port. Admiral Villeneuve was not anxious to fight Nelson. Napoleon had assembeled his army in the Channel ports. He was furious that Villeneuve did not move to clear the Channel so he could invade. He personally rebuked Villeneuve, actually accusing him of cowardice. Villeneuve thus ordered his fleet to sail (october 19). Nelson had crefully kept his ships of the line far out to see and used fast, lihjtly armed frigates to blockade the Cadiz and observe the Allied fleet. This encouragd Villeneuve to conclude thzt Nelson and the powerful British fleet would fight the battle of Britain in the Channel. The British frigates observed the Allied fleet sailing from Cadiz. HMS Mars relayed the signal from the picket frigates that the Allied Fleet was sailing from Cadiz in line of battle (9:00 AM, October 19).
The battle of Trafalgar was fought off Cape Trafalgar located along the southwestern coast of Spain, just south of the key port of Cadiz (October 21, 1805). Nelson devised an innovative strategy, risky strategy for the battle.
The British fleet was outnumbered. Instead of the expected massive battle in a standard line battle in which oposing fleets formed parallel lines of battle and hammared away at each other, Nelson had planned an attack straight into the French and Spanish line. While the Allied fleet laid in Cadiz, Nelso had time to thoroghly brief his captains on his
plans. The British frigates provided Nelson details on the deployment of the llied fleet.
Admiral Nelson at dawn with a light wind from the West signalled his fleet to attack. Each British captain understood precisely what was expected. The Allied Fleet was sailing in line ahead forming an arc. The British Fleet attacked in two divisions in line ahead, but sailed into the Allied Fleet rather than forming a battle line.
Nelson was seeking to cut the Allied line of battle at a point one third along the line. Collingwood was to attack the rear of the line. Nelson in Victory led the Windward Division of British ships--exposing himself to enemy fire. The genius of Nelson's battle plan was that he attacked the Allied vessels with broadsides against the undefended bow and sterns of the Allied vessels. In addition the Allied ships at the head of line were essentially out of th battle.
In the light wind conditions on the day of battle, the vanguard of the Allied Fleet was unable to rapidly turn back and participate in the initial phase of the battle. The British proceeded to hammer away at the vessels further back in the line. Thus Nelso was able to concentrate his force in aay that overcame the Allied numerical superiority.
Collingwood’s aboard the Royal Sovereign led the Leeward Division fired its first broadside at Trafalgar into the stern of the the Spanish ship Santa Anna, devestating it. The British in the resulting battle uterly destroyed the French and Spanish fleets. Boarding continued to be was a major part of naval warfare. Before the battle, Nelson was advised not to wear his medals so as not to stand out. He insisted on wearing them. He was killed by a French sniper.
The resulting battle was a spectacular British victory. Nelson destroyed the combined French and Spanish fleet. It was one of the most decisive naval battles in history. The French and Spanish lost 22 ships and 10,000 men. The British did not lose even a single ship. [Mostert]
Trafalgar was one of the most decisive naval engagements in history. It made a French invasion of Britain impossible. Napoleonic was massing huge forces along the Channel Coast. Unlike the Frenh, Britain did not have a huge army. The British victory was so ovrwealming that there would not be a serious challenge to British naval dominance for a century when German Kaiser Wilhelm II began building a German High Seas Fleet before World War I. Nelson's stunning victory at Trafalgar and the resulting unquestioned British naval supremecy for a century and then in cooperation with America meant that the Anglo-Americans promoting democracy and capitalism would powefully shape the modern world.
Mostert, Noel. The Line Upon a Wind: The Great War at Sea (1793-1815).
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