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Battle of Trafalgar
Part of the Trafalgar Campaign
Turner, The Battle of Trafalgar (1806).jpg
The Battle of Trafalgar, as seen from the mizzen
starboard shrouds of the Victory

by J. M. W. Turner (oil on canvas, 1806 to 1808)
Date 21 October 1805
Location Cape Trafalgar, Spain
Result Decisive British victory
United Kingdom United Kingdom France France
Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931).svg Spain
United Kingdom Viscount Nelson   France Pierre de Villeneuve  #
Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931).svg Federico Gravina  
33 Ships

(27 ships of the line and 6 others.)

41 ships

(France: 18 ships of the line and 8 others. Spain: 15 ships of the line)

Casualties and losses
458 killed
1,208 wounded

Total: 1,666[1]

7,000 captured,
21 ships captured,
1 ship destroyed

France: 2,218 dead,
1,155 wounded

Spain: 1,025 dead,
1,383 wounded

Total: 12,781

The Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805) was a sea battle fought between the British Royal Navy and the combined fleets of the French Navy and Spanish Navy, during the War of the Third Coalition (August–December 1805) of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815). The battle was the most decisive British naval victory of the war. Twenty-seven British ships of the line led by Admiral Lord Nelson aboard HMS Victory defeated thirty-three French and Spanish ships of the line under French Admiral Pierre Villeneuve off the south-west coast of Spain, just west of Cape Trafalgar. The Franco-Spanish fleet lost twenty-two ships, without a single British vessel being lost.

The British victory spectacularly confirmed the naval supremacy that Britain had established during the past century and was achieved in part through Nelson's departure from the prevailing naval tactical orthodoxy, which involved engaging an enemy fleet in a single line of battle parallel to the enemy to facilitate signalling in battle and disengagement, and to maximize fields of fire and target areas. Nelson instead divided his smaller force into two columns directed perpendicularly against the larger enemy fleet, with decisive results.

Nelson was mortally wounded during the battle, becoming Britain's greatest war hero. The commander of the joint French and Spanish forces, Admiral Pierre de Villeneuve, was captured along with his ship Bucentaure. Spanish Admiral Federico Gravina escaped with the remnant of the fleet, and succumbed months later to wounds he sustained during the battle.



Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, by Lemuel Francis Abbott

In 1805, the First French Empire, under Napoleon Bonaparte, was the dominant military land power on the European continent, while the British Royal Navy controlled the seas. During the course of the war, the British imposed a naval blockade on France, which affected trade and kept the French from fully mobilizing their own naval resources. Despite several successful evasions of the blockade by the French navy, it failed to inflict a major defeat upon the British. The British were able to attack French interests at home and abroad with relative ease.

When the Third Coalition declared war on France after the short-lived Peace of Amiens, Napoleon was determined to invade Britain. To do so, he needed to ensure that the Royal Navy would be unable to disrupt the invasion flotilla, which would require control of the English Channel.

The main French fleets were at Brest in Brittany and at Toulon on the Mediterranean coast. Other ports on the French Atlantic coast harboured smaller squadrons. France and Spain were allied, so the Spanish fleet based in Cádiz and Ferrol was also available.

The British possessed an experienced and well-trained corps of naval officers. By contrast, most of the best officers in the French navy had been either executed or dismissed from the service during the early part of the French Revolution. As a result, Vice-Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve was the most competent senior officer available to command Napoleon's Mediterranean fleet. However, Villeneuve had shown a distinct lack of enthusiasm for facing Nelson and the Royal Navy after the defeat at the Battle of the Nile.

Napoleon's naval plan in 1805 was for the French and Spanish fleets in the Mediterranean and Cádiz to break through the blockade and join forces in the West Indies. They would then return, assist the fleet in Brest to emerge from the blockade, and together clear the English Channel of Royal Navy ships, ensuring a safe passage for the invasion barges.

The Russian and Austrian armies were preparing an assault on France once the Grand Armée crossed the Channel. Napoleon, as a consequence of Villeneuve disobeying orders, was able to adjust his strategy by turning his armies from the invasion of England to attack the Russians and Austrians with surprising speed, defeating Britain's allies together at Austerlitz[citation needed].

West Indies

Early in 1805, Admiral Lord Nelson commanded the British fleet blockading Toulon. Unlike William Cornwallis, who maintained a tight blockade of Brest with the Channel Fleet, Nelson adopted a loose blockade in hopes of luring the French out for a major battle. However, Villeneuve's fleet successfully evaded Nelson's when his forces were blown off station by storms. While Nelson was searching the Mediterranean for him, erroneously supposing that Villeneuve intended to make for Egypt, Villeneuve passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, rendezvoused with the Spanish fleet, and sailed as planned to the West Indies. Once Nelson realised that the French had crossed the Atlantic Ocean, he set off in pursuit.[2]


Villeneuve returned from the West Indies to Europe, intending to break the blockade at Brest, but after two of his Spanish ships were captured during the Battle of Cape Finisterre by a squadron under Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Calder, Villeneuve abandoned this plan and sailed back to Ferrol. There he received orders from Napoleon to resume to Brest according to the main plan.

Napoleon's invasion plans for England depended entirely on having a sufficiently large number of ships of the line before Boulogne, France. This would require Villeneuve's force of 33 ships to join Vice-Admiral Ganteaume's force of 21 ships at Brest, along with a squadron of 5 ships under Captain Allemand, which would have given him a combined force of 59 ships of the line.

When Villeneuve set sail from Ferrol on 10 August, he was under orders from Napoleon to sail northward toward Brest. Instead, he worried that the British were observing his manoeuvres, so on 11 August he sailed southward towards Cádiz on the southwestern coast of Spain. With no sign of Villeneuve's fleet by 26 August, the three French army corps' invasion force near Boulogne broke camp and marched to Germany, where it would become fully engaged.

The same month, Nelson returned home to England after two years of duty at sea, for some rest. He remained ashore for 25 days, and was warmly received by his countrymen, who were nervous about a possible French invasion. Word reached England on 2 September about the combined French and Spanish fleet in the harbour of Cádiz. Nelson had to wait until 15 September before his ship HMS Victory was ready to sail.

On 15 August, Cornwallis decided to detach 20 ships of the line from the fleet guarding the Channel and to have them sail southward to engage the enemy forces in Spain. This left the Channel denuded of ships, with only 11 ships of the line present. However, this detached force formed the nucleus of the British fleet that would fight at Trafalgar. This fleet, under the command of Vice-Admiral Calder, reached Cádiz on 15 September. Nelson joined the fleet on 29 September to take command.

The British fleet used frigates to keep a constant watch on the harbour, while the main force remained out of sight 50 miles (80 km) west of the shore. Nelson's hope was to lure the combined Franco-Spanish force out and engage them in a "pell-mell battle". The force watching the harbour was led by Captain Blackwood, commanding HMS Euryalus. He was brought up to a strength of seven ships (five frigates and two schooners) on 8 October.

Supply situation

At this point, Nelson's fleet badly needed provisioning. On 2 October, five ships of the line, HMS Queen, HMS Canopus, HMS Spencer, HMS Zealous, HMS Tigre, and the frigate HMS Endymion were dispatched to Gibraltar under Rear-Admiral Louis for supplies. These ships were later diverted for convoy duty in the Mediterranean, though Nelson had expected them to return. Other British ships continued to arrive, and by 15 October the fleet was up to full strength for the battle. Nelson also lost Calder's flagship, the 98-gun Prince of Wales, which he sent home as Calder had been recalled by the Admiralty to face a court martial for his apparent lack of aggression during the engagement off Cape Finisterre on the 22nd of July.

Meanwhile, Villeneuve's fleet in Cádiz was also suffering from a serious supply shortage that could not be readily rectified by the cash-strapped French. The blockades maintained by the British fleet had made it difficult for the allies to obtain stores and their ships were ill fitted. Villeneuve's ships were also more than two thousand men short of the force needed to sail. These were not the only problems faced by the Franco-Spanish fleet. The main French ships of the line had been kept in harbour for years by the British blockades with only brief sorties. The French crews contained few experienced sailors, and, as most of the crew had to be taught the elements of seamanship on the few occasions when they got to sea, gunnery was neglected. The hasty voyage across the Atlantic and back used up vital supplies. Villeneuve's supply situation began to improve in October, but news of Nelson's arrival made Villeneuve reluctant to leave port. Indeed, his captains had held a vote on the matter and decided to stay in the harbour.

On the 16th of September, Napoleon gave orders for the French and Spanish ships at Cádiz to put to sea at the first favourable opportunity, join with seven Spanish ships of the line then at Cartagena, go to Naples and land the soldiers they carried to reinforce his troops there, and fight with decisive action if they met a British fleet of inferior numbers.

The fleets

British Franco-Spanish
First Rates 3 4
Second Rates 4
Third Rates 20 29
Total Ships-of-the-Line 27 33
Other Ships 6 7


On 21 October, Nelson had 27 ships-of-the-line. His flagship, HMS Victory, was one of three 100-gun first rates in his fleet. He also had four 98-gun second rates and twenty third rates. One of the third rates was an 80-gun vessel and sixteen were 74-gun vessels. The remaining three were 64-gun ships, which were being phased out of the Royal Navy at the time of the battle. Nelson also had four frigates of 38 or 36 guns, a 12-gun schooner and a 10-gun cutter.


Against Nelson, Vice-Admiral Villeneuve fielded 33 ships-of-the-line, including some of the largest in the world at the time. The Spanish contributed four first-rates to the fleet. Three of these ships, one at 136 guns and two at 112 guns, were much larger than anything under Nelson's command. The fourth first-rate carried 100 guns. The fleet had six 80-gun third-rates, (four French and two Spanish), and one French 64-gun third-rate. The remaining 22 third-rates were 74-gun vessels, of which fourteen were French and eight Spanish. In total the Spanish contributed 15 ships of the line and the French 18. The fleet also included five 40-gun frigates and two 18-gun brigs, all French.

The battle

Nelson's plan

The prevailing tactical orthodoxy at the time involved manoeuvring to approach the enemy fleet in a single line of battle and then engaging in parallel lines. Before this time the fleets had usually been involved in a mêlée with the fleets becoming mixed together. One of the reasons for the development of the line of battle was to help the admiral control the fleet. If all the ships were in line, signalling in battle became possible. The line also had defensive properties, allowing either side to disengage by breaking away in formation. If the attacker chose to continue combat their line would be broken as well. Often this latter tactic led to inconclusive battles or allowed the losing side to reduce its losses. Nelson wished to see a conclusive battle.

His solution to the problem was deliberately to cut the opposing line in two. Approaching in two columns sailing perpendicular to the enemy's line, one towards the centre of the opposing line and one towards the trailing end, his ships would break the enemy formation in half, surround one half, and force them to fight to the end. Nelson hoped specifically to cut the line just in front of the flagship; the isolated ships in front of the break would not be able to see the flagship's signals, hopefully taking them out of combat while they reformed. The intention of going straight at the enemy echoed the tactics used by Admiral Duncan at the Battle of Camperdown and Admiral Jervis at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, both in 1797.

The plan had three principal advantages. First, it would allow the British fleet to close with the Franco-Spanish fleet as quickly as possible, reducing the chance that it would be able to escape without fighting. Second, it would quickly bring on a mêlée and frantic battle by breaking the Franco-Spanish line and inducing a series of individual ship-to-ship fights, in which the British were likely to prevail. Nelson knew that the better seamanship, faster gunnery, and higher morale of his crews were great advantages. Third, it would bring a decisive concentration on the rear of the Franco-Spanish fleet. The ships in the van of the enemy fleet would have to turn back to support the rear, and this would take a long time.

The main drawback of attacking head on was that as the leading British ships approached, the Franco-Spanish ships would be able to direct at their bows a raking broadside fire to which they would be unable to reply. Nelson, however, was well aware that French and Spanish gunners were ill-trained, would probably be supplemented with soldiers, and would have difficulty firing accurately from a moving gun platform. The Combined Fleet was sailing across a heavy swell, causing the ships to roll heavily and exacerbating these problems. Nelson's plan was indeed a gamble, but a carefully calculated one.

During the period of blockade off the coast of Spain in October, Nelson instructed his captains, over two dinners aboard Victory, on his plan for the approaching battle. The order of sailing, in which the fleet was arranged when the enemy was first sighted, was to be the order of ensuing battle, so that no time would be wasted in forming a precise line. The attack was to be made in two bodies; one led by his second in command, Collingwood, was to throw itself on the rear of the enemy, while the other, led by Nelson, was to take care of the centre and vanguard. In preparation for the battle, Nelson ordered the ships of his fleet painted in a distinctive yellow and black pattern (later known as the Nelson Chequer) that would make them easy to distinguish from their opponents.

Nelson was careful to point out that something had to be left to chance. Nothing is sure in a sea fight, and he left his captains free from all hampering rules by telling them that "No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy." In short, circumstances would dictate the execution, subject to the guiding rule that the enemy's rear was to be cut off and superior force concentrated on that part of the enemy's line.

Admiral Villeneuve himself expressed his belief that Nelson would use some sort of unorthodox attack, stating specifically that he believed he would drive right at his lines. But his long game of cat and mouse with Nelson had worn him down, and he was suffering from a loss of nerve. Arguing that the inexperience of his officers meant he would not be able to maintain formation in more than one group, he chose not to act on his accurate assessment of Nelson's intentions.


The Combined Fleet of French and Spanish warships anchored in Cádiz and under the leadership of Admiral Villeneuve was in disarray. On 16 September 1805 Villeneuve received orders from Napoleon to sail the Combined Fleet from Cádiz to Naples. At first Villeneuve was optimistic about returning to the Mediterranean but soon had second thoughts. A war council was held aboard his flagship, Bucentaure, on 8 October. While some of the French captains wished to obey Napoleon's orders, the Spanish captains and other French officers, including Villeneuve, thought it best to remain in Cádiz. Villeneuve changed his mind yet again on 18 October 1805, ordering the Combined Fleet to sail immediately even though there were only very light winds.[3]

The sudden change was prompted by a letter Villeneuve had received on 18 October, informing him that Vice-Admiral François Rosily had arrived in Madrid with orders to take command of the Combined Fleet. Stung by the prospect of being disgraced before the fleet, Villeneuve resolved to go to sea before his successor could reach Cádiz. At the same time, he received intelligence that a detachment of six British ships (Admiral Louis' squadron) had docked at Gibraltar, thus weakening the British fleet. This was used as the pretext for sudden change.

The weather, however, suddenly turned calm following a week of gales. This slowed the progress of the fleet leaving the harbour, giving the British plenty of warning. Villeneuve had drawn up plans to form a force of four squadrons, each containing both French and Spanish ships. Following their earlier vote on 8 October to stay put, some captains were reluctant to leave Cádiz and as a result they failed to follow Villeneuve's orders closely. As a result, the fleet straggled out of the harbour in no particular formation.

It took most of 20 October for Villeneuve to get his fleet organised, and it set sail in three columns for the Straits of Gibraltar to the southeast. That same evening, Achille spotted a force of 18 British ships of the line in pursuit. The fleet began to prepare for battle and during the night, they were ordered into a single line. The following day, Nelson's fleet of 27 ships of the line and four frigates was spotted in pursuit from the northwest with the wind behind it. Villeneuve again ordered his fleet into three columns, but soon changed his mind and ordered a single line. The result was a sprawling, uneven formation.

Nelson's pre-battle prayer, inscribed on oak timber from HMS Victory

The British fleet was sailing, as they would fight, under signal 72 hoisted on Nelson's flagship. At 5:40 a.m., the British were about 21 miles (34 km) to the northwest of Cape Trafalgar, with the Franco-Spanish fleet between the British and the Cape. At 6 a.m. that morning, Nelson gave the order to prepare for battle.

At 8 a.m., Villeneuve ordered the fleet to wear together and turn back for Cádiz. This reversed the order of the Allied line, placing the rear division under Rear-Admiral Pierre Dumanoir le Pelley in the vanguard. The wind became contrary at this point, often shifting direction. The very light wind rendered manoeuvering virtually impossible for all but the most expert crews. The inexperienced crews had difficulty with the changing conditions, and it took nearly an hour and a half for Villeneuve's order to be completed. The French and Spanish fleet now formed an uneven, angular crescent, with the slower ships generally leeward and closer to the shore.

By 11 a.m. Nelson's entire fleet was visible to Villeneuve, drawn up in two parallel columns. The two fleets would be within range of each other within an hour. Villeneuve was concerned at this point about forming up a line, as his ships were unevenly spaced and in an irregular formation. The Franco-Spanish fleet was drawn out nearly five miles (8 km) long as Nelson's fleet approached.

As the British drew closer, they could see that the enemy was not sailing in a tight order, but rather in irregular groups. Nelson could not immediately make out the French flagship as the French and Spanish were not flying command pennants.

Nelson was outnumbered and outgunned, the enemy totalling nearly 30,000 men and 2,568 guns to his 17,000 men and 2,148 guns. The Franco-Spanish fleet also had six more ships of the line, and so could more readily combine their fire. There was no way for some of Nelson's ships to avoid being "doubled on" or even "trebled on".


Nelson's famous signal.
Nelson's famous signal, "England expects that every man will do his duty", flying from Victory on the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar

The battle progressed largely according to Nelson's plan. At 11:45, Nelson sent the famous flag signal, "England expects that every man will do his duty".

His Lordship came to me on the poop, and after ordering certain signals to be made, about a quarter to noon, he said, "Mr. Pasco, I wish to say to the fleet, ENGLAND CONFIDES THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY" and he added "You must be quick, for I have one more to make which is for close action." I replied, "If your Lordship will permit me to substitute expects for confides the signal will soon be completed, because the word expects is in the vocabulary, and confides must be spelt," His Lordship replied, in haste, and with seeming satisfaction, "That will do, Pasco, make it directly."[4]

The term England was widely used at the time to refer to the United Kingdom, though the British fleet included significant contingents from Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Unlike the photographic depiction, this signal would have been shown on the mizzen mast only and would have required 12 'lifts'.

As the battle opened, the French and Spanish were in a ragged curved line headed north. As planned, the British fleet was approaching the Franco-Spanish line in two columns. Leading the northern, windward column in Victory was Nelson, while Collingwood in the 100-gun Royal Sovereign led the second, leeward, column. The two British columns approached from the west at nearly a right angle to the enemy line. Nelson led his column into a feint toward the van of the Franco-Spanish fleet and then abruptly turned toward the actual point of attack. Collingwood altered the course of his column slightly so that the two lines converged at this line of attack.

Situation at noon as the Royal Sovereign was breaking into the Franco-Spanish line

Just before his column engaged the allied forces, Collingwood said to his officers, "Now, gentlemen, let us do something today which the world may talk of hereafter." Because the winds were very light during the battle, all the ships were moving extremely slowly, and the foremost British ships were under heavy fire from several of the enemy ships for almost an hour before their own guns could bear.

At noon, Villeneuve sent the signal "engage the enemy", and Fougueux fired her first trial shot at Royal Sovereign. Royal Sovereign had all sails out and, having recently had her bottom cleaned, outran the rest of the British fleet. As she approached the allied line, she came under fire from Fougueux, Indomptable, San Justo and San Leandro, before breaking the line just astern of Admiral Alava's flagship Santa Ana, into which she fired a devastating double-shotted raking broadside.

The second ship in the British lee column, Belleisle, was engaged by L'Aigle, Achille, Neptune and Fougueux; she was soon completely dismasted, unable to manoeuvre and largely unable to fight, as her sails blinded her batteries, but kept flying her flag for 45 minutes until the following British ships came to her rescue.

The Battle of Trafalgar, situation at 1300h

For 40 minutes, Victory was under fire from Héros, Santísima Trinidad, Redoutable and Neptune; although many shots went astray others killed and wounded a number of her crew and shot away her wheel, so that she had to be steered from her tiller belowdecks. Victory could not yet respond. At 12:45, Victory cut the enemy line between Villeneuve's flagship Bucentaure and Redoutable. Victory came close to the Bucentaure, firing a devastating raking broadside through her stern which killed and wounded many on her gundecks. Villeneuve thought that boarding would take place, and with the Eagle of his ship in hand, told his men, "I will throw it onto the enemy ship and we will take it back there!" However Admiral Nelson of Victory engaged the 74 gun Redoutable. Bucentaure was left to be dealt with by the next three ships of the British windward column: Temeraire, Conqueror and Neptune.

Nelson is shot on the quarterdeck of Victory

A general mêlée ensued and, during that fight, Victory locked masts with the French Redoutable. The crew of the Redoutable, which included a strong infantry corps (with three captains and four lieutenants), gathered for an attempt to board and seize the Victory. A musket bullet fired from the mizzentop of the Redoutable struck Nelson in the left shoulder, passed through his spine at the sixth and seventh thoracic vertebrae, and lodged two inches below his right scapula in the muscles of his back. Nelson exclaimed, "They finally succeeded, I am dead." He was carried below decks.

Victory ceased fire, the gunners having been called on the deck to fight the capture, but were forced below decks by French grenades. As the French were preparing to board Victory, the Temeraire, the second ship in the British windward column, approached from the starboard bow of the Redoutable and fired on the exposed French crew with a carronade, causing many casualties.

Bucentaure being fired upon by Temeraire at Trafalgar

At 13:55, Captain Lucas, of the Redoutable, with 99 fit men out of 643 and severely wounded himself, surrendered. The French Bucentaure was isolated by the Victory and Temeraire, and then engaged by Neptune, Leviathan and Conqueror; similarly, the Santísima Trinidad was isolated and overwhelmed, surrendering after three hours.

As more and more British ships entered the battle, the ships of the allied centre and rear were gradually overwhelmed. The allied van, after long remaining quiescent, made a futile demonstration and then sailed away. The British took 22 vessels of the Franco-Spanish fleet and lost none. Among the taken French ships were the L'Aigle, Algésiras, Berwick, Bucentaure, Fougueux, Intrépide, Redoutable, and Swiftsure. The Spanish ships taken were Argonauta, Bahama, Monarca, Neptuno, San Agustín, San Ildefonso, San Juan Nepomuceno, Santísima Trinidad, and Santa Ana. Of these, Redoutable sank, Santísima Trinidad and Argonauta were scuttled by the British and later sank, Achille exploded, Intrépide and San Augustín burned, and L'Aigle, Berwick, Fougueux, and Monarca were wrecked in a gale following the battle.

The Battle of Trafalgar, situation at 1700h

As Nelson lay dying, he ordered the fleet to anchor, as a storm was predicted. However, when the storm blew up, many of the severely damaged ships sank or ran aground on the shoals. A few of them were recaptured, some by the French and Spanish prisoners overcoming the small prize crews, others by ships sallying from Cádiz. Surgeon William Beatty heard Nelson murmur, "Thank God I have done my duty"; when he returned, Nelson's voice had faded and his pulse was very weak.[5] He looked up as Beatty took his pulse, then closed his eyes. Nelson's chaplain, Alexander Scott, who remained by Nelson as he died, recorded his last words as "God and my country."[6] Nelson died at half-past four, three hours after being hit.[5]

Battle of Trafalgar (1805) French and Spanish Casualties.
Battle of Trafalgar British Casualties
Data for this chart are in Trafalgar order of battle and casualties.
Blue = French (the two ships that took no casualties were both French.)
Red = Spanish
The number is the order in the line.
Data for this chart are in Trafalgar order of battle and casualties.
Yellow = HMS Africa
Green = The Weather Column, led by Nelson
Grey = Lee Column, led by Collingwood
The number, is the order in the column.


Nelson’s overwhelming triumph over the combined Franco-Spanish fleet ensured Britain’s protection from invasion for the remainder of the Napoleonic Wars.

Only eleven ships escaped to Cádiz, and of those, only five were considered seaworthy. Under Captain Julien Cosmao, they set sail two days later and attempted to re-take some of the British prizes; they succeeded in recapturing two ships, and forced Collingwood to scuttle a number of his prizes. The four van ships which escaped with Dumanoir were taken on 4 November by Sir Richard Strachan at the Battle of Cape Ortegal.

When Rosily arrived in Cádiz, he found only five French ships, rather than the 18 he was expecting. The surviving ships remained bottled up in Cádiz until 1808, when Napoleon invaded Spain. The French ships were then seized by the Spanish forces and put into service against France.

HMS Victory made her way to Gibraltar for repairs, carrying Nelson's body. She put into Rosia Bay, Gibraltar and after emergency repairs were carried out, returned to England. Many of the injured crew were brought ashore at Gibraltar and treated in the Naval Hospital. Men who subsequently died from injuries sustained at the battle are buried in or near the Trafalgar Cemetery, at the south end of Main Street, Gibraltar.

One Royal Marine officer was killed on board Victory, Captain Charles Adair. Royal Marine Lieutenant Lewis Buckle Reeve was seriously wounded and lay next to Nelson.[7]

The battle took place the day after the Battle of Ulm, and Napoleon did not hear about it for weeks — the Grande Armée had left Boulogne to fight Britain's allies before they could combine a huge force. He had tight control over the Paris media and kept the defeat a closely guarded secret. In a propaganda move, the battle was declared a "spectacular victory" by the French and Spanish.[8]

Vice-Admiral Villeneuve was taken prisoner aboard his flagship and taken back to England. After his parole in 1806 and return to France, Villeneuve was found in his inn room during a stop on the way to Paris stabbed six times in the chest with a dining knife. It was recorded that he had committed suicide.

Despite the British victory over the Franco-Spanish navies, Trafalgar had negligible impact on the remainder of the war. Less than two months later, Napoleon decisively defeated the Third Coalition at the Battle of Austerlitz, knocking Austria out of the war and forcing the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. Though Trafalgar meant France could no longer challenge Britain at sea, Napoleon proceeded to established the Continental System in an attempt to deny Britain trade with the continent. The Napoleonic Wars would continue for another ten years after Trafalgar.[9]


Detail from a modern reproduction of an 1805 poster commemorating the battle
A broadside from the 1850s recounts the story

Following the battle, the Royal Navy was never again seriously challenged by the French fleet in a large-scale engagement. Napoleon had already abandoned his plans of invasion before the battle and they were never revived. The battle did not mean, however, that the French naval challenge to Britain was over. First, as the French control over the continent expanded, Britain had to take active steps in 1807 and 1808 to prevent the ships of smaller European navies from falling into French hands. This effort was largely successful, but did not end the French threat as Napoleon instituted a large scale shipbuilding program that produced a fleet of 80 ships of the line at the time of his fall from power in 1814, with more under construction. In comparison Britain had 99 ships of the line in active commission in 1814, and this was close to the maximum that could be supported. Given a few more years, the French could have realized their plans to commission 150 ships of the line and again challenge the Royal Navy, compensating for the inferiority of their crews with sheer numbers.[10] For almost 10 years after Trafalgar the Royal Navy maintained close blockade of French bases and anxiously observed the growth of the French fleet. In the end, Napoleon's Empire was destroyed before the ambitious buildup could be completed.

Nelson became - and remains - Britain's greatest naval war hero, and an inspiration to the Royal Navy, yet his unorthodox tactics were only infrequently emulated by later generations. The first monument to be erected in Britain to commemorate Nelson was raised on Glasgow Green in 1806, possibly preceded by a monument at Taynuilt, near Oban dated 1805, both also commemorating the many Scots crew and captains at the battle.[11][12] The 144 feet (44 m) tall Nelson Monument on Glasgow Green was designed by David Hamilton and paid for by public subscription. Around the base are the names of his famous victories: Aboukir (1798), Copenhagen (1801) and Trafalgar (1805). In 1808, Nelson's Pillar was erected in Dublin to commemorate Nelson and his achievements (many sailors at Trafalgar had been Irish[13][14]), and remained until it was destroyed in a terrorist bombing by "Old IRA" members in 1966.[11] Nelson's Monument in Edinburgh was built between 1807 and 1815 in the form of an upturned telescope, and in 1853 a time ball was added which still drops at noon GMT to give a time signal to ships in Leith and the Firth of Forth. In summer this coincides with the one o'clock gun being fired. The Britannia Monument in Great Yarmouth was raised by 1819

London's famous Trafalgar Square was named in honour of his victory, and Nelson's statue on Nelson's Column, finished in 1843, towers triumphantly over it. The statue of Lord Nelson in Bridgetown, Barbados, in what was also once known as Trafalgar Square, was erected in 1813.

The disparity in losses has been attributed by some historians less to Nelson's daring tactics, than to the difference in fighting readiness of the two fleets[15]. Nelson's fleet was made up of ships of the line which had spent considerable amount of sea time during months of blockades of French ports, whilst the French fleet had generally been at anchor in port. However, Villeneuve's fleet had just spent months at sea crossing the Atlantic twice, which supports the proposition that the main difference between the two fleets' combat effectiveness was the morale of the leaders. The daring tactics employed by Nelson were to ensure a strategically decisive result. The results vindicated his naval judgement.

The Royal Navy proceeded to dominate the seas for the remaining years of sail. Although the victory at Trafalgar was typically given as the reason at the time, modern analysis by historians such as Paul Kennedy suggests that relative economic strength was a more important underlying cause of British naval mastery.

200th anniversary

Nelson on top of his column in Trafalgar Square

In 2005, a series of events around the UK, as part of the Sea Britain theme, marked the bicentenary. The 200th anniversary of the battle was also marked by six days of celebrations in Portsmouth during June and July, and at St Paul's Cathedral (where Nelson is entombed) and in Trafalgar Square in London in October (T Square 200), as well as across the rest of the UK.

On 28 June, the Queen was involved in the biggest Fleet Review in modern times in the Solent, in which 167 ships from 35 nations took part. The Queen inspected the international fleet from the Antarctic patrol ship HMS Endurance. The fleet included six carriers: Charles De Gaulle, Illustrious, Invincible, Ocean, Príncipe de Asturias and Saipan. In the evening a symbolic re-enactment of the battle was staged with fireworks and various small ships playing parts in the battle.

Lapenotiere's historic voyage in HMS Pickle bringing the news of victory from the fleet to Falmouth and thence by post chaise to the Admiralty in London, was commemorated by the inauguration of The Trafalgar Way and further highlighted by the New Trafalgar Dispatch celebrations from July to September, in which an actor played the part of Lapenotiere and reenacted parts of the historic journey.

On 21 October, naval manoeuvres were conducted in Trafalgar Bay, near Cadiz, involving a combined fleet from Britain, Spain and France. Many descendants of those men who fought and died in these waters, including members of Nelson's family, were present at the ceremony.

In popular culture

The Battle of Trafalgar by J. M. W. Turner (oil on canvas, 1822–1824) combines events from several moments during the battle
  • Trafalgar, a book about the battle of the same name, opens the series of novels Episodios Nacionales by Benito Pérez Galdós.
  • In the alternate history collection Alternate Generals, John W. Mina's short story "Vive l'Amiral" posits Admiral Nelson fleeing an English debtor's prison, ending up in France and leading Napoleon's navy to victory at Trafalgar.
  • Spanish writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte has published the novel Cape Trafalgar (Cabo Trafalgar, ed. Alfaguara 2004, in Spanish).
  • In the Horatio Hornblower series, by C.S. Forester, Hornblower is given the task of delivering false orders to Villeneuve. Since Hornblower speaks fluent French and Spanish, he is successful in his mission. Villeneuve sends his fleet out of Cadiz and to the destruction that takes place at Trafalgar. Even though Hornblower does not participate in the battle itself, he is put in charge of Admiral Nelson's funeral in England. These events take place at the end of Hornblower and the Crisis (or at least its outline, since this book remains unfinished) and at the beginning of Hornblower and the Atropos.
  • In the Lord Ramage series novel Ramage at Trafalgar by Dudley Pope, Ramage is commander of a frigate under direct command of Captain Blackwood. Pope notes "all the facts concerning Nelson and the Battle are true; only the events surrounding Ramage are fiction".
  • In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, Hornblower is mentioned as being the British commander at the Battle of Trafalgar (taking the position of the historical Nelson) and with "Hornblower's Column" being built in London to commemorate his role in the battle.
  • In the novel Honour This Day from the Richard Bolitho series by Alexander Kent, Bolitho's squadron is sent first to the West Indies with the task of intercepting a Spanish quota ship and, then, in 1805 to the Mediterranean, to prevent reinforcements from reaching the Combined Fleet at Trafalgar
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Best of Both Worlds", Captain Jean-Luc Picard discusses the traditions of touring a ship before battle with his bartender and confidant, Guinan, and mentions Horatio Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar. Guinan then points out that Nelson was killed in the battle, but Picard retorts that the battle was still won by the British. In the film Star Trek Generations, Picard reveals that one of his ancestors fought at Trafalgar (it was never made clear for which side, although Picard is originally from France).
  • In Louis A. Meyer's Under the Jolly Roger, the third Bloody Jack novel, the heroine, Jacky Faber, cross-dressing English-woman and Lieutenant in the British Royal Navy, is captured as a pirate by British forces on the eve of the battle. Her ship is destroyed, but she escapes from the brig in time to "man" the guns in grim action against the Redoutable.
  • In James Clavell's novel Tai-Pan, the Scots chieftan of Hong Kong, Dirk Struan, reflects on his experiences as a 5 year old powder monkey onboard HMS Royal Sovereign at Trafalgar.
  • In Paul Dowswell's The Adventures of Sam Witchall series, Battle Fleet presents Sam Witchall, the main character, as the flag officer's assistant midshipman on the HMS Victory.
  • In the first Temeraire novel by Naomi Novik, His Majesty's Dragon, Nelson survives the battle, though dragon fire melts his medals to his chest. However, the battle turns out to be a distraction by Napoleon, who is ferrying his army in large vessels hoisted by his dragons to Dover.


  1. ^ Adkin 2007, p.524
  2. ^ Admirals of the time, due to the slowness of communications, were given considerable autonomy to make strategic as well as tactical decisions.
  3. ^ Shoom, 1990, p.301-306
  4. ^ "England Expects". The Nelson Society. Archived from the original on 2005-03-24. Retrieved 24 March 2005. 
  5. ^ a b Hibbert. Nelson. p. 376. 
  6. ^ Hayward. For God and Glory. p. 63. 
  7. ^ Reeve's Naval General Service Medal with Trafalgar clasp and Muster List for HMS Victory are on show at the Royal Marines Museum, Southsea, England. "Hero's medal marks Trafalgar Day". BBC News. 2008-10-21. Retrieved 2009-01-06. 
  8. ^ A typical example appears in Volume the Fourteenth of the Naval Chronicle "Battle of Trafalgar - propaganda". The Archives and Collections Society. Retrieved 15 March 2009. 
  9. ^ Harding, Richard. "Naval Warfare 1453–1815". in Jeremy Black. European Warfare 1453–1815. Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillian. pp. 96–117. 
  10. ^ Richard Glover, The French Fleet, 1807-1814; Britain's Problem; and Madison's Opportunity, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 39, No. 3. (September, 1967), pp. 233-252.
  11. ^ a b England expects - on the trail of Admiral Lord Nelson Nelson monuments
  12. ^ Capital City - Tree for All Five of Nelson’s 27 captains of the Fleet were Scottish as were almost 30% of the crew
  13. ^ First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Alan West on Trafalgar 2005 reports recruitment English 53%, Irish 21%, Scots 7% though many more may have been recruited in England
  14. ^ "Poppyland Activity 1: Nelson's Crew at Trafalgar". Retrieved 2009-02-04. 
  15. ^ Nicolson, 2005, p.9-10


  • Adkin, Mark (2007). The Trafalgar Companion: A Guide to History's Most Famous Sea Battle and the Life of Admiral Lord Nelson. London: Aurum Press. ISBN 1-84513-018-9. 
  • Adkins, Roy, Trafalgar: The Biography of a Battle, 2004, Little Brown, ISBN 0-316-72511-0.
  • Clayton, Tim; Craig, Phil. Trafalgar: The Men, the Battle, the Storm. Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0-304-83028-X. 
  • Corbett, Julian S., The Trafalgar Campaign, 1910, London.
  • Desbrière, Edouard, The Naval Campaign of 1805: Trafalgar, 1907, Paris. English translation by Constance Eastwick, 1933.
  • Fernandez, Juan Cayuela, Trafalgar. Hombres y naves entre dos épocas, 2004, Ariel (Barcelona) ISBN 84-344-6760-7
  • Frasca, Francesco, Il potere marittimo in età moderna, da Lepanto a Trafalgar, 1 st ed. 2008, Lulu Enterprises UK Ltd, ISBN 978-1-4092-4348-9, 2 nd ed. 2008, Lulu Enterprises UK Ltd, ISBN 978-1-84799-550-6, 3 rd ed. 2009, Lulu Enterprises UK Ltd, ISBN 978-1-4092-6088-2, 4th ed. 2009, Lulu Enterprises UK Ltd, ISBN 978-1-4092-7881-8.
  • Harbron, John D., Trafalgar and the Spanish Navy, 1988, London, ISBN 0-85177-963-8.
  • Hibbert, Christopher (1994). Nelson A Personal History.. Basic Books. ISBN 0-201-40800-7. 
  • Howarth, David, Trafalgar: The Nelson Touch, 2003, Phoenix Press, ISBN 1-84212-717-9.
  • Huskisson, Thomas, Eyewitness to Trafalgar, reprinted in 1985 as a limited edition of 1000; Ellisons' Editions, ISBN 0-946092-09-5 — the author was half-brother of William Huskisson
  • Lambert, Andrew, War at Sea in the Age of Sail, Chapter 8, 2000, London, ISBN 1-55278-127-5
  • Nicolson, Adam, Men of Honour: Trafalgar and the Making of the English Hero (U.S. title Seize the Fire: Heroism, Duty, and the Battle of Trafalgar), 2005, HarperCollins, ISBN 0-00-719209-6.
  • Pocock, Tom, Horatio Nelson, Chapter XII, 1987, London, ISBN 0-7126-6123-9
  • Pope, Dudley, England Expects (U.S. title Decision at Trafalgar), 1959, Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  • Schom, Alan, Trafalgar: Countdown to Battle, 1803-1805, 1990, New York, ISBN 0-689-12055-9.
  • Warner, Oliver, Trafalgar. First published 1959 by Batsford - republished 1966 by Pan.
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

External links

Coordinates: 36°17′35″N 6°15′19″W / 36.29299°N 6.25534°W / 36.29299; -6.25534

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BATTLE OF. TRAFALGAR The British victory over the French off Cape Trafalgar, fought on the 21st of October 1805, was a sequel of the breakdown of Napoleon's great scheme for the invasion of the British Isles (See Napoleonic Campaigns: Naval). When Villeneuve gave up in despair the attempt to enter the Channel, he steered for Cadiz, and anchored in that port on the 10th of August 1805. He found three British ships of the line, under the command of Vice-Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, on the watch. Collingwood, resolved that the allies should not drive him through the Straits of Gibraltar without being compelled to follow, retired slowly, and at a short distance ahead of the ships sent to pursue him. They, not being willing to be drawn into the Mediterranean, gave up the pursuit. The British officer then resumed his watch off Cadiz. On the 22nd of August he was joined by Rear-Admiral Sir Richard Bickerton with four ships of the line, and on the 30th by Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Calder with 18. The allied fleet, consisting of 29 sail of the line which had come with Villeneuve, and five already at Cadiz, 34 in all, remained quiescent. The use to be made of it, or the measures to be taken for its destruction, were matters of urgent consideration to Napoleon and to the British government. On the 14th of September Napoleon gave orders that the French and Spanish ships at Cadiz should put to sea at the first favourable opportunity, join seven Spanish ships of the line then at Cartagena, go to Naples, and land the soldiers they carried to reinforce his troops then in that kingdom, and should fight a decisive action if they met a British fleet of inferior numbers. Two Spanish ships of the line were to be counted as equal to one French. Their final destination was to be Toulon. On the 15th he decided that Villeneuve, whose "excessive pusillanimity" rendered him incapable of vigorous action, must be replaced by Admiral Rosily. Rosily received his orders on the 17th and left for Cadiz. The British government, determined to confine the allies to Cadiz, or beat them if they came out, sent Nelson to take command and prepared to despatch reinforcements. Nelson left Portsmouth on the 15th of September, and reached Cadiz on the 28th, bringing three ships of the line with him. He gave orders that no salute should be fired for him lest the enemy should learn that reinforcements had arrived. The bulk of the fleet-23 sail - was kept well out at sea, and five ships of the line under Rear-Admiral Louis were appointed to cruise close to Cadiz as an inshore squadron. On the 5th of October Louis was sent to Gibraltar to renew his provisions and water, and the watch was left to two frigates. Between the 7th and the 13th of October Nelson 'was joined by six ships of the line, making a total of 34. But Admiral Calder, having been summoned home to stand a court-martial, took his flagship with him on the 14th, and on the 17th another line-of-battle ship had to be detached to renew her stores. As Admiral Louis could not return before the battle of the 21st, Nelson had at his disposal 27 ships of the line in all. Napoleon's order of the 14th of September reached Villeneuve on the 28th. He learnt also that Rosily was coming, but not that he himself was to be superseded. On the 5th of October he held a council of war of French and Spanish officers. They decided that the condition of their ships did not justify them in hoping for victory over the British fleet, but Napoleon's orders were peremptory, and they agreed that a sortie must be made. Easterly winds were needed to facilitate the sailing of a large and awkward fleet from Cadiz, and till the 14th the wind was hard from the west. Even when it fell the allies lingered. On the 18th of October Villeneuve heard that Rosily had reached Madrid, and of his own supersession. Stung by the prospect of being disgraced before the fleet, he resolved to go to sea before his successor could reach Cadiz.

The allies, aided by a light land breeze which blew from the east, though the wind at sea was westerly, began to leave Cadiz Bay on the 19th. Their movements were at once known to the British look-out frigates, and were transmitted by signal to Nelson, who was cruising some thirty miles to the west. During the period of blockade he had instructed his captains as to how he meant to fight the approaching battle. The memorandum in which his instructions were embodied was dated the 9th of October. It was drawn up in view of the circumstances which did not arise - that the enemy would come to sea with a strong easterly wind which would give him the weather gage; that he might be reinforced to a strength of over 50 ships of the line from Brest, Rochefort and Cartagena; that the British fleet might be raised by reinforcements to 40 ships. But the governing principles of the memorandum were independent of such details. They were that the order of sailing in which the fleet was when the enemy was seen was to be the order of battle; that no time was to be wasted in forming a precise line; that the attack was to be made in two bodies, of which one, to be led by the second in command, Collingwood, was to be thrown on the rear of the enemy, while the other, led by Nelson himself, was to take care that the centre and van should not come to the assistance of the ships cut off. Nelson was careful to point out that "Something must be left to chance. Nothing is sure in a sea fight beyond all others"; and he left his captains free from all hampering rules by telling them that "No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy." In short the execution was to be as circumstances should dictate, subject to the guiding rule that the enemy's rear was to be cut off and a concentration of superior force on an inferior sought for.

The uncertainties of naval warfare in the days of sailing ships were fully shown at Trafalgar. The allies, having left Cadiz on the 10th of October, were 33 sail of the line strong, one of the fleet having been left behind. They sailed in five squadrons. Three were nearer the land than the other two. The leading squadron of the three was commanded by the Spanish admiral, Alava; Villeneuve followed; and the French admiral, Dumanoir, commanded the rear. The other two squadrons of six ships of the line each, commanded by the Spanish admiral, Gravina, and the French admiral, Magon, were parallel with, and outside of the three. All headed for the Straits of Gibraltar in the westerly breezes, which had become very light. The British fleet of 27 sail in two divisions also headed for the Mediterranean. During the night of the 10th - Zest of October several movements were made to gain position, and there was an inevitable tendency to straggle among vessels which did not all sail equally well and were moving in light winds. On the early morning of the 2f st the allies were some twelve miles off Cape Trafalgar. The British fleet was some ten or twelve miles out at sea to the west of them. Seeing that a battle would now be forced on him, Villeneuve ordered his whole fleet to turn so as to bring their heads on Cadiz. He was painfully aware that the incomparably more expert British fleet would not be content to attack him in the old-fashioned way, coming down in a parallel line and engaging from van to rear. He knew that they would endeavour to concentrate on a part of his line. But Villeneuve was too conscious of the inexperience of his officers and men to think it possible to make counter movements with them. It has been said that the French and Spanish ships which had taken part in the late cruise to the West Indies and back must be considered as trained in the same sense as the British. But apart from the fact that these vessels formed little more than a half of the allied fleet, the comparison is childish. It could only have occurred to writers who, wishing to exalt the glory of Trafalgar, forget that the superior quality of the British fleet, the fruit of foresight, of good sense, and the strenuous work of a people, was itself the best of all claims to honour. A hasty cruise across the Atlantic and back was no equivalent for years of training. The blockades maintained by the British fleet had made it difficult for the allies to obtain stores and their ships were ill fitted. Their crews contained a minute proportion of men bred to the sea, and as they had to be taught the elements of seamanship on the few occasions when they got to sea, their gunnery was neglected. There was valour in the allied fleet, but there was neither skill nor confidence. Moreover the very light wind then blowing rendered manoeuvring all but impossible for the most expert crews. Villeneuve could do nothing more than order his fleet to turn so as to bring the ships' heads on Cadiz, to form the line, and await the enemy's attack. He, however, left his captains free to act for the best when the battle had begun, by telling them that whoever was not under fire was not at his post. The movement of conversion ordered at 6 o'clock a.m. was not executed till about Io o'clock, and it was ill done. The three squadrons nearest the shore turned first, the rear beginning, to leave room for the others. Thus Dumanoir now led the van and Alava followed Villeneuve.

The two squadrons of Gravina and Magon, which had been outside, fell in behind Alava. No accurate line was formed. The allies drifted rather than sailed into a curve of some five miles long, stretching from north to south, concave on the west side, and more pronounced at the southern than at the northern end. Their ships did not follow one another, but were in many cases two, and in some cases three, abreast in groups. To some extent this was to their advantage, as the effective range of fire of the artillery of the day was barely 1200 yds., and as the power of concentrating the fire of guns out of ports was limited, the danger to an assailant bearing down was not great during his approach. The peril was that he would be engaged with two or three enemies when he had broken into the line, and this risk was increased by the accidental group formation of the allies.

The confidence and promptitude of the British fleet presented a marked contrast to the passivity of the allies. When in the early morning the enemy was seen to the east, Nelson's fleet was in two divisions, somewhat scattered - his own of 12 sail of the line being to the westward and windward in the light breeze from W.N.W.; Collingwood's of 15' sail being to leeward and east. At 6.40 the signal was made to form the order of sailing and prepare for battle. The enemy's movement of conversion was already seen, and it was obvious that unless he were rapidly stopped he might reach Cadiz Bay in safety. A few minutes before 7 o'clock the signal to bear up, No. 76, was made by Nelson. Much discussion has arisen as to whether this was an order to bear up together, or in succession; the first if exactly executed would have caused the British ships to approach the enemy in a line abreast (side by side) since all would have turned at once; the second would have caused them to approach in a line ahead (one after the other) since they would have turned successively. The discussion is in reality futile, because the want of wind rendered it impossible to arrange exact formations, because it had been decided that no time should be wasted in dressing the line, and because Nelson's flagship, the "Victory" (ioo), and Collingwood's flagship, the "Royal Sovereign" (too), were quick-sailing vessels, and both admirals moved at the best attainable speed. The slow ships could not keep up with them. The two squadrons went down heading to north of east, Collingwood to the right and leeward, Nelson to the north and windward, in two bodies without exact formation, according to the speed of the ships. Collingwood headed for the centre, and the pronounced curve at the south end of the allied line caused the ships of his division to come into action in a close approach to a parallel with the enemy. The "Royal Sovereign" was the first British ship to break into the enemy's line, which she did about midday and astern of Alava's flagship the "Santa Ana." She was alone for a few minutes, but the ships of Collingwood's division, as they sailed into the curve, were mostly able, by steering to the right, to get into action very soon after their admiral. Nelson's division was headed by himself to cut through the enemy between his van and centre, and to bar his road to Cadiz. It was certainly in a nearer approach to a line ahead than Collingwood's. After making a demonstration at the allied van, he broke into their line astern of the "Bucentaure" (zoo), the flagship of Villeneuve.

The exact movements of all the ships engaged could only be given in a very detailed account of the battle, but the main lines of the action are already indicated. To the allies it appeared that the British fleet assailed them in two lines converging on their centre, and that it then carried out a concentration on this part of their line. Though this is too simple - or too bald - a statement of the case, it does not go far from the truth. The allied formation was broken in two, and though the rear part was kept well in play by Collingwood's division, the severest blows fell on the central sections.

The battle, which began at midday, was terminated about five. Eighteen of the allies were taken. Their van, after long remaining quiescent, made a futile demonstration, and then sailed away. The four van ships which escaped with Admiral Dumanoir were met and captured off Cape Ortegal on the 4th of November by a British squadron of five ships under Sir Richard Strachan. The stormy weather which followed the battle gave the enemy an opportunity to retake some of the prizes, and others were lost. Four only were carried into Gibraltar by the British fleet - three French and one Spanish. Only eleven of the allied fleet succeeded in finding safety in Cadiz. The fragment of the French squadron remained there under Admiral Rosily till he was forced to surrender to the Spaniards in 1808 on the breaking out of the Peninsular War. The loss of life of the allies cannot be stated with precision. In the British fleet the reported loss in killed and wounded was 1690, of whom 1452 belonged to 54 out of the 27 ships of the line present - the inequality of loss being mainly due to the fact that it was as a rule these vessels which came earliest into action. For the circumstances of Nelson's death see the article Nelson.


Accounts of the battle of Trafalgar are to be found in all the naval, and most of the general, histories of the time. The most essential of the original authorities are collected by Sir N. ' Harris Nicolas in his Despatches and Letters of Vice-Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson, vol. vii. (London 1844-1846). The controversy as to the exact method on which the battle was fought, and the significance of the signal to bear down, is fully worked out with many references to authorities in The Times from the 14th of July to the 21st of October 1905, both in a general correspondence and in a series of articles on "Trafalgar and the Nelson Touch," 16th, 19th, 22nd, 26th, 28th and 30th of September 1905; see also J. S. Corbett, The Campaign of Trafalgar (1910). (D. H.)

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Simple English

File:Turner, The Battle of Trafalgar (1806).jpg
The Battle of Trafalgar, painted by J.M.W. Turner in 1806-1808

The Battle of Trafalgar was a sea battle fought on 21 October 1805 between the navies of France and Spain on one side, and Great Britain on the other. The battle took place near Cape Trafalgar (a cape is a piece of land sticking out into the sea), which is in southwest Spain. The battle ended with a clear victory for the British forces. This allowed Britain to become the world's largest sea power for 100 years. The Battle of Trafalgar was the most important sea battle of the 19th century.

= Before the battle

= France and Britain had been at war for some time. France had built the strongest army in Europe, and controlled much of the land. Because it was an island, Britain had built a strong navy, and had used this to try to prevent French ships from leaving their ports. (This is called a blockade.) Because the French leader Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to invade (capture) Britain, he knew that he would have to sink the British navy first, otherwise it would be able to prevent his army from landing.

The British knew that France might try to attack them, and had placed ships outside the important French ports, like Toulon. The admiral (chief sailor) in charge of the British fleet was Lord Horatio Nelson. He had become famous in Britain for his victories over the French, such as at the Battle of the Nile in 1798.

But the French navy managed to avoid Nelson's fleet and leave Toulon during a storm and met up with a group of Spanish ships. Spain at the time was an ally (partner) of France. This small fleet first sailed to the West Indies, then returned across the Atlantic Ocean to the Spanish port of Cadiz. They wanted to join up with more French ships to make a stronger fleet. The British had chased them both ways across the ocean.

The battle

The French then learned that some British ships had been seen in Gibraltar, and thought this meant that the British fleet was not as strong as it had been before. So they decided that this was the best time to leave Cadiz.

The next day, the 33 ships of the French and Spanish fleet were met by the 27 ships of the British. Nelson had put his ships into two lines. Before the battle started, he sent a message which was to become famous: England expects that every man will do his duty.

The two British lines sailed through the French and Spanish line, splitting it, and was able to cause great damage to its ships.

Admiral Nelson, on board his ship HMS Victory, was however hit by a bullet fired from the French ship Redoutable. He was taken below the deck and died later, just before his forces won the battle. The French and Spanish had lost 22 ships, the British lost none. The bullet entered via his shoulder, into his lung and out through his spine.

After the battle

Because France was unable to invade Britain, British soldiers were able to fight on the European continent together with the armies of other countries against the armies of Napoleon. In the end, Napoleon was finally defeated in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo. With control of the seas, Britain was able to build up a large empire during the years that followed and its navy was the world's largest for over a hundred years.

Nelson's body was brought back to Great Britain and he was given a hero's funeral. In 1843 the famous Trafalgar Square and Nelson's Column were built in London to honour him.

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