Posted by: secretperson | October 21, 2008

Happy Trafalgar Day

Thanks to the PJC Journal as I hadn’t realised it was Trafalgar day.

Not one of the big celebrations in my calendar I must admit, but worth a mention.

Much as the RAF, in winning the Battle of Britain, gained the aerial dominance that meant an attempted invasion by Hitler would have been fruitless, the British navy’s victory in Trafalgar destroyed the French and Spanish fleets so badly that Britannia really did rule the waves, and the plans Napolean had for invasion were rendered irrelevent.

In the scope of the whole war the tactical blockade of Brest by Admiral Cornwallis was vitally important, and helped force the situation around Trafalgar. But it was the glory seeking Nelson, determined to destroy the French fleet once and for all who is remembered. He chased the French admiral Villeneuve accross the Atlantic and back trying to draw him into battle. Villeneuve, inexperienced and frightened by Nelson’s fearsome reputation, gained at the Battle of the Nile, amongst others, wanted anything but a battle.

Nelson abandoned the normal tactics of war at sea, where two opposing great lines of ships ran parallel to each other, and instead split his force in two and drove straight at the Franco-Spanish fleet intending to cut it in two.

Following this initial attack much chaos ensued. Individual ships fought together, the British ships often outnumbered (33 to 27 overall). For a full description see wikipedia, but I think it suffices to report that the British took 22 ships from the Franco-Spanish Allies, and lost none of their own. There were many tales of individual crews fighting on heroically against the odds and refusing to surrender while they waited for help to arrive.

In the fighting Nelson, aboard his flagship Victory was hit by a musket ball, and died after the battle had ended. His body was returned home for a funeral, and he was at the time, and remains to this day, well regarded as a heroic figure. As well as a great naval tactician, he was known for the way he inspired his men (“England expects that every man shall do his duty*) and even for caring for his men (by standards of the time) including support of a seafarer’s charity. He recieved a state funeral and was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

So on 21st October, Nelson’s life, and his victory at the Battle of Trafalgar are celebrated, and quite rightly so.

*he of course meant Britain! But those were different times.

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