The Battle of Trafalgar: October 21st 1805
Patrick Harris -Today marks the 207th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. 4:15 pm commemorates the approximate time at which Lord Nelson died on the orlop deck of HMS Victory. Way back in 1805, Napoleon was camped out with the Grand Armée at Boulogne. He was waiting for his navy (and their Spanish Allies) to distract the Royal Navy long enough for Napoleon to cross the Channel.
Admiral Villeneuve of the French Mediterranean Squadron managed to meet up with the Spanish, but failed to lift the blockade on the French Atlantic Squadron at Brest. The squeamish and pessimistic Villeneuve took refuge at Cadiz with the Spanish. The British closed in and maintained a blockade of Cadiz. Napoleon scrapped his invasion plans, and ordered another Admiral to take over from Villeneuve. Hoping to restore his honor, Villeneuve set sail.
On October 19th, the Franco-Spanish left Cadiz in an extremely disorganized manner. The 33 Franco-Spanish ships headed for Gibraltar. 27 British ships under Horatio Nelson gave chase. Near Cape Trafalgar on the morning of October 21st, Villeneuve turned back towards Cadiz. Nelson, unwilling to let the enemy escape him, formed his fleet into two columns and prepared to cut the Franco-Spanish Line. As the fleets closed, with the British ships under horific raking cannon fire in their slow advance, Nelson hoisted his famous signal.
"England Expects That Every Man Will Do His Duty"
Finally, the risks of Nelson's plan revealed their benefits. The Franco-Spanish ships were raked as the British passed through, and the battle soon became a number of isolated ship-ship actions, pell mell, just like Nelson wanted it. The battle was horrific. Single broadsides could kill 400 men. Aboard the Santisima Trinidad, the largest ship in the battle, a Spanish Officer described the scene aboard his ship as "Blood ran in streams about the deck...and through a thousand holes and crevices in her hull the sea spurted and began to flood the hold".
HMS Victory became entangled with the French Retoutable, whose rigging was swarming with sharpshooters. At 1:15 pm, one of these snipers shot Nelson, he would die three hours later. Victory was only saved by the HMS Temeraire, who savaged the Retoutable, and another French ship, the Fougueux, in the process. Both French ships struck to the Temeraire. The battle was playing out, hard fought single combat, with eventual surrender by the Franco-Spanish. In all 17 French and Spanish ships were captured, with one French ship, the Achille, exploding.
This battle spelt the end of French naval ambition. Their remaining ships of the line were hunted to extinction, and any countries fleets they may have allied with were destroyed as well (Denmark). British naval supremacy would remain unchallenged for almost a century.