Link #30: The British Navy Once Took 33 Ships Without Losing One!

Link #30: The British Navy Once Took 33 Ships Without Losing One!

Link #30: The British Navy Once Took 33 Ships Without Losing One!

The_Battle_of_Trafalgar_by_William_Clarkson_Stanfield
“The Battle of Trafalgar” by Clarkson Stanfield

In early human civilisations, naval excellence was crucial for countries to dominate a large region. It was the quickest way to travel, trade and land troops during war. This is why nations with long-term goals of domination always focused on their naval armies and their tactics.

As we explained in our last post, even ancient Romans practiced naval battles through naval games known as naumichae. You’ve no doubt heard how the British Navy was considered to be supreme in Europe in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Have you ever wondered about the reason for this or questioned if there is proof of this supremacy? If you have, then you need to learn about the Battle of Trafalgar which took place near Cape Trafalgar (hence, the name), off the coast of Spain.

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Why Is the Battle of Trafalgar so Special?

Horatio Nelson
Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, by Lemuel Francis Abbott

There is a reason the Battle of Trafalgar is considered to be so special. In this battle, 27 British ships took on no less than 33 enemy ships. What’s more, the British Navy managed to take out approximately 22 ships without losing a single one!

This was a great feat but how did they do it? They did it through the innovation of a single man – Admiral Horatio Nelson – who developed a strategy that was dubbed the Nelson Touch. He was considered to be a great navy admiral even before this victory. With this victory, he immortalised his name in the annals of British history.


What Was the Nelson Touch?

Trafalgar 1200hr
This map of the Battle of Trafalgar shows the approximate position of the two fleets at 1200 hours during the battle as the Royal Sovereign was breaking into the Franco-Spanish line. North is to the top, and Cape Trafalgar is 10 miles to the northeast. By Pinpin GFDL

Admiral Nelson achieved this by flouting established tactics and making his own. In those days, navy battles were almost always conducted on the basis of a manoeuvre known as broadside. In broadside, ships run parallel to each other so that they can fire at each other because the weapons are installed on the sides of the ship.

There were no weapons at the front and back which made this manoeuvre important. So, any ship approaching another ship perpendicularly would have to absorb attacks before it could close in on the enemy. And this is exactly what the Nelson Touch was all about.

The enemy fleet comprised 33 French and Spanish vessels controlled by Napoleon Bonaparte who was a king by then. The Napoleon fleet was arrayed in a single line because their commander, Admiral Pierre de Villeneuve, expected Nelson to attack with the orthodox technique.

So, Nelson split his fleet into two and approached the enemy ships perpendicularly. His plan was to split the enemy line of ships into three groups and take them out one by one. The plan, needless to say, was a huge success even though 1,500 British seamen lost their lives.


What Happened at the End of the Battle of Trafalgar?

Fall_of_Nelson
The Fall of Nelson, Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805. Nelson is shot on the quarterdeck of Victory. By Denis Dighton

At the end of the Battle of Trafalgar, the British Navy established its dominance over European seas. It took control of about 15 enemy ships that surrendered, but couldn’t keep them because of storms.

The fallout was that Admiral Nelson lost his life. He was shot by an enemy sniper in the middle of the battle. He stayed alive until the battle was won. Unfortunately, 15 minutes after he was told that the battle was won, he passed away.




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Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Trafalgar
http://www.britishbattles.com/waterloo/battle-trafalgar.htm
http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/battle-of-trafalgar
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/601812/Battle-of-Trafalgar
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/empire_seapower/trafalgar_01.shtml
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/interactive/animations/trafalgar/index_embed.shtml

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