The Battle of Trafalgar 200th Anniversary

Originally published February 10, 2012.

One of the most defining naval actions in history, the Battle of Trafalgar asserted the Royal Navy’s and Great Britain’s dominance of the seas.  Fought on the 21st of October 1805, off Cape Trafalgar between the combined French and Spanish Fleets against Britain’s Royal Navy.

Battle of Trafalgar Bicentenary Stamps Issued by Great Britain October 18. 2005

Under orders from Napoleon to attack the British fleet, Admiral Villeneuve and the combined fleets of France and Spain departed from Cadiz on the 19th of October.

French and Spanish Ships putting to sea from Cadiz

Under the Command of Admiral Horatio Nelson, the British Fleet abandoned orthodox tactics and attacked the combined Franco-Spanish Fleet head-on, in 2 columns,  in an attempt to split the enemy line into three groups.

British Fleet Attacking in Two Columns

This would in create  3 main advantages for the British fleet.  First, it would allow the fleets to close as quickly as possible reducing the chances of the enemy fleet withdrawing without fighting.  Secondly, it would allow for more ship to ship fighting where the British had a distinct advantage.  Lastly, it made more difficult for the combined fleet to come to its own defense and opened them up to British broadsides.

British Cutter Entrepreante attempting to rescues crew from French Achille

The battle was a huge success for British, two-thirds of the combined Franco-Spanish fleet was lost with no British ships being sunk.

The Cutter Entrepreante with dismasted Britsh Belle Isle

 

Casualty rates were tremendous on both sides.  The British had hundreds wounded and lost around 405 men among them Admiral Nelson.  Approximately 2,700 men were lost in the French and Spanish fleets.
 Wounded Adm Horatio Nelson on the deck of HMS Victory

As a result of the battle, the Royal Navy was never again seriously threatened by the French fleet.  It ensured British dominance of the world’s oceans well into the twentieth century.  It put into perspective the famous patriotic song Rule Brittania, specifically the lines “Rule Brittania, Brittania Rules the Waves”.

cutter and HMS Pickle

Sources:
Wikipedia, Battle of Trafalgar, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Trafalgar

Wikipedia, Order of battle at the Battle of Trafalgar, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trafalgar_order_of_battle_and_casualties

 

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