TWO years after the battle of the Nile Lord Nelson returned to England, and on the first day of 1801 was appointed Vice-
In northern Europe a kind of union, under the name of Armed Neutrality, was formed by Prussia, Denmark, Russia and Sweden, This organization created suspicion in England, where it was believed to be only a preliminary to an alliance with the French. A fleet therefore was sent to Denmark. Lord St. Vincent was now First Lord of the Admiralty, and he sent Nelson as Second-
Nelson was not happy on this expedition. “I experienced,” he wrote, “in the Sound the misery of having the honour of our country entrusted to a set of pilots who have no other thought than to keep the ships clear of the danger, and their own silly heads clear of shot”. On April 2, 1801, an attack was made against Copenhagen, where the water is shallow, but after a daring fight —causing heavy losses on either side — every ship opposed to Nelson was destroyed, including six battleships. The victory of Copenhagen brought about a dissolution of the so-
Naval officers have often remarked that politicians and statesmen are too prone, by signing treaties, to give away all that has been won by hard fighting. The Peace of Amiens was a fair instance. With certain exceptions, the agreement made Great Britain restore her conquests, so that in effect it became rather an armistice — a state of suspended hostilities — giving the enemies of Great Britain time to turn round and renew schemes for aggrandizement. The Napoleonic scare, far from being dead, flamed forth with more activity.
Thus in May 1803 it was scarcely surprising that war had to be declared against France and Spain, but luckily the Commander-
Napoleon’s oriental plan had been killed once and for all by the battle of the Nile, and he had now reverted to his original idea of invading England. By this time, however, he had learned that command of the sea must first be won, or his army would be endangered as it had been in Egypt. If only he could have the English Channel free and secure for his transports, all would go well; the question was, how could he get rid of the British fleet? This he decided must be done by a clever feint. His plan was to divert Great Britain’s attention from the English Channel to the other side of the Atlantic, so that, with the country’s protection withdrawn, his troops might land on English soil in safety.
Napoleon planned to make a concentration of the French fleets and squadrons in the West Indies at Martinique, whence they were to return to Europe and proceed to the English Channel. Having enticed Nelson out of the way, Bonaparte hoped by the power of the Franco-
Thus the invasion operation pivoted on the fleet, and even during 1803 French flat-
The fleet, however, failed to provide the essential security, so that the invasion scheme collapsed. Villeneuve reached the West Indies, but he was not joined there by the Brest fleet. The British blockading forces made it impossible for the Brest fleet to emerge. The hoped-
In August of the memorable year 1805, which was to be his last, Nelson came home to England for a short while, though long enough to learn how much the country loved him. “I met Lord Nelson in August, 1805, in a mob in Piccadilly”, wrote Lord Minto. “I got hold of his arm so that I was mobbed too. It is really quite affecting to see the wonder and admiration and love and respect of the whole world”.
Less than a month afterwards, Captain the Hon. Henry Blackwood, R.N., brought to Nelson at Merton, Surrey, news of the Franco-
A BRITISH WARSHIP of a type that was superseded shortly after the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. H.M.S. Prosperity, of which a model is shown here, somewhat resembled, in her rig and the shape of her hull, the 64-
The climax of Nelson’s busy life was fast approaching, and he had now to prepare himself with his fleet for the heaviest of all tasks. At the end of September he was with his fleet and on board the Victory off Cadiz. From his correspondence we can see well into his mind, and understand his thoughts. “Day by day, my dear friend”, he wrote from his flagship to Alexander Davison,
“I am expecting the [Franco-
Only a fortnight before the battle Nelson wrote to another friend, “I verily believe the Country will soon be put to some expense for my account, either a Monument or a new Pension and Honours; for I have not the very smallest doubt but that in a very few days, almost hours, will put us in Battle; the success no man can ensure”.
Long before the battle he had formulated his plans, and we can picture him in his cabin writing that historic Memorandum on October 9. The original holograph draft of this document was for many years in private hands, but in 1910 it was secured for the nation and now remains in the British Museum. Its historical value is all the greater because Nelson’s death deprived us of that invaluable report which as Commander-
Nelson decided on the principle of placing his own fleet in two lines, with himself in command of one line and Collingwood in command of the other. Nelson intimated he would “probably make the Second-
Nelson's Last Letters Home
Two days before the event, having done all he could and still waiting for the hour of contact, being now 16 leagues west-
On this morning the Franco-
THE APPROACH OF THE FLEETS at noon on October 21, 3805. The British fleet was in two columns, headed by Nelson in H.M.S. Victory and by Collingwood in H.M.S. Royal Sovereign. Collingwood’s column engaged the enemy about twenty-
Fortunately in those slow-
At midnight of October 19-
According to an entry in the log of Thomas Atkinson, Master of the Victory, the enemy was to the eastward, distant ten or twelve miles, consisting of thirty-
The Enemy Opens Fire
The interval had now become only nine miles, and the British fleet was steering for the centre of the Franco-
At 11.30 the enemy opened fire on H.M.S. Royal Sovereign, which was the flagship of Vice-
Until the beginning of the nineteenth century ships of the Royal Navy were painted with bright yellow sides, blue upper works and broad black strakes at the water-
The Victory was already forty years old when Nelson took her into action, a length of service we should now consider impossible for any first-
A FRIGATE OF THE ROYAL NAVY during the time of Nelson and the battle of Trafalgar. H.M.S. Hydra distinguished herself on many occasions, such as when she captured the Confiante off Brest, France, on May 30-
The great warships of this period frequently caused their officers anxious moments. Unhandiness except in a hard wind was a great enough trial, but it is difficult to imagine the feelings of an admiral commanding thirty-
For some while they were without steerage-
Villeneuve had decided that if the British fleet were to windward, the Allied fleet would receive the attack in close line-
Both the French and British Commanders-
Villeneuve's Line Broken
The British fleet seemed to bring the wind along with it under a cloud of canvas, but the two columns did not maintain that rigid formation which is possible to-
The action began at noon. Nelson in the Victory leading the northern (weather, or van) column, and Collingwood in the Royal Sovereign, leading the starboard or lee column, broke through the enemy’s line. Nelson made his penetration at about the tenth enemy’s ship from the Allied van. Collingwood broke through farther down the line,, thus closely adhering to Nelson’s Memorandum, leaving Villeneuve’s van cut off and unsupported. The succeeding British units broke through astern of their leaders and engaged the enemy at close range. Collingwood cut off fifteen of the enemy, since three of them were to leeward of the line.
BREAKING THROUGH THE ENEMY’S LINE. This vivid illustration shows Nelson’s flagship, H.M.S. Victory, as she came up between the Bucentaure and the Redoutable (left). Astern of the Redoutable are H.M.S. Temeraire and the French 74-
It was not till twenty-
The first five ships in Nelson’s column were the Victory, Temeraire, Neptune, Conqueror and Leviathan. The Victory was only slightly ahead of the next two, the fourth and fifth were close astern. In his journal Collingwood wrote that the Royal Sovereign, after having opened fire on the twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth ships from the enemy’s rear, altered course to port at 12.15. In passing close under the stern of the Spanish three-
Assault on the “Victory”
When the Royal Sovereign had been steered sharp round Admiral Alava’s stern and luffed up nearer the wind, Collingwood had been able to pour into the Santa Ana the whole of a broadside, and this terrific concentration of every gun on the Royal Sovereign’s port side almost disabled the Santa Ana. It was because Collingwood’s flagship was the fastest sailer in the division that some minutes elapsed before other units followed this British admiral.
Then, as the Victory approached the enemy’s line, every enemy gun which could bear on the British Commander in-
The few minutes of suspense, caused by the weakness in the breeze, was impressive both for him and for Villeneuve. During this approach Nelson’s secretary was killed while speaking to Captain Hardy, and Hardy had another narrow escape as a shot passed between himself and Nelson. Splinters were scattered about, and one tore the buckle from Hardy’s shoe. Altogether the ship lost fifty men killed and wounded before reaching the opposing line, after having been under fire during fifteen exciting minutes.
THE THICK OF THE FIGHT. On the extreme right is Villeneuve’s flagship, the Bucentaure. Between her and H.M.S. Victory is seen the Achille, blowing up (in the background). H.M.S. Victory is engaging the Santisima Trinidad and (on her left) H.M.S. Temeraire is engaging a Spanish and a French vessel. On the extreme left is seen H.M.S. Royal Sovereign, with only her foremast standing, engaging the Santa Ana.
But now came the moment when disciplined patience was no longer demanded. In much the same manner as Collingwood had rounded up alongside Vice-
The climax of the battle was fast approaching and the Allies’ line was a series of ships hurled into confusion. The rest of Nelson’s column (after the manner of Collingwood’s) chose their individual opponents and lay alongside them. A series of desperate duels ensued. Thus from now onwards the Battle of Trafalgar became devoid of tactical value, and the decision rested largely on personal gallantry.
About an hour after the Victory had opened fire and had begun her fierce tussle with a ship on either side of her there entered into the matter that odd factor of luck. Up in the tops of the Redoutable were musketeers who looked down from a vantage point not only on to their own deck, but also on to that of the Victory, close alongside. They could see men toiling at guns and officers at their respective duties.
These snipers watched Nelson and Captain Hardy rapidly pacing the quarter-
Nelson had a strange foreboding that this battle would be the end of him, and some time before had made a remark to that effect; and now he said to his faithful Hardy, “They have done for me at last”. “I hope not”, came the answer, but the brave little admiral knew better. “Yes”, he insisted, “ my backbone is shot through”. As the sailors were carrying him in great pain below to the cockpit, he still thought primarily of his ship his men and his fleet It would never do to cast a doom over his people and let them become disheartened. His eagle eye noticed that the tiller ropes had been shot away, and he sent a message for Hardy to have these replaced. With his handkerchief over his face and stars to hide his identity, he was brought below, where already many of his men lay suffering and awaiting their turn at the surgeon's hands; but they recognized their beloved admiral and insisted that he should first receive attention. Another crowd of sufferers was brought in a few minutes later from the upper deck.
Nelson's Last Moments
So to the great drama being enacted above, there was now added that personal and poignant tragedy being enacted below deck. At times the issue of the battle hung in suspense. Every broadside discharged from the Victory’s hull made the ship shake till even Nelson’s brave body could scarcely endure the added pain. Frenchmen, Spaniards and Britons were all contending to the utmost of their powers. Although the Santa Ana had been ruined by the first broad-
But Villeneuve's flagship had struck, too. She never recovered from the broadside which the Victory had given her, and the Neptune and the Conqueror carried away her masts to complete the devastation. Amid all these happenings Captain Hardy’s duties kept him on deck, but in answer to Nelson's repeated messages Hardy descended with the news that at least a dozen of the enemy had surrendered, and that although others (hitherto unattacked) were bearing down upon the Victory, he had summoned some British ships for support and was confident of the result. Again anxious chiefly about his own fleet. Nelson asked. “I hope none of our ships has struck?” And after Hardy had reassured the dying leader, Nelson now thought of himself. “I am going fast, Hardy”, he said; “it will be all over with me soon”. He entrusted Hardy with affectionate messages to his friends in England, and then the anxious Captain, heavy with his sorrow, rushed back on deck amid the din and flash of battle.
HORATIO NELSON was born on September 29, 1758. He entered the Navy in 1770 and became captain in 1779 after having served in the West and East Indies, as well as in an Arctic expedition. In 1793 he commanded H.M.S. Agamemnon in the Mediterranean where he displayed great gallantry during the next four years. In 1797 he became a rear-
The responsibility for the fleet now devolved upon Hardy. Collingwood’s flagship had become out of control by the loss of two masts, so that she was being towed by Captain Blackwood in H.M.S. Euryalus. It was a serious situation for both flagships to be simultaneously in jeopardy, but the succour which the Victory so badly needed came with the arrival of six ships, led by the Royal Sovereign, whose guns were still able to make themselves felt.
The last stages of the battle almost coincided with the final moments of the British Commander-
The five headmost ships of the Allies’ van tacked and stood off to the southward, passing on the windward side of the British fleet. The British tried to thwart them and captured the stern-
No fewer than nineteen of the enemy’s thirty-
Admiral de Alava and Rear-
After Nelson’s death and the end of the battle, Captain Hardy went across to make his report to Collingwood, who had shifted his flag from the Royal Sovereign to the Euryalus. The whole fleet was now in what Collingwood considered “a very perilous position, many dismasted, all shattered, in thirteen-
Enemy Fleet Annihilated
In these circumstances the least desirable event would be an onshore gale, yet that is exactly what ensued. But the wind shifted a few points during the night and the danger was averted.
It was a keen disappointment that out of the nineteen prizes, one was accidentally burnt and that fourteen foundered or were recaptured, wrecked or destroyed, thus leaving one French and three Spanish ships to be sent to England. Their disabled condition made them of little ultimate value. Perhaps the greatest material reversal of circumstance after triumph consisted of the foundering of the French Redoutable, the stranding of the Bucentaure on the rocks and the recapture by the French of the Santa Ana.
Collingwood wrote home to his wife, “Our prizes you see are lost, but was there ever so complete a break-
The death of Nelson marks the end of the era of the logical development of Tudor naval thought. The age of steam and steel, the scientific study of naval warfare in all its applications, were to transform the Service during the nineteenth century, and after, so thoroughly that had Nelson been brought back to life on board a modern battleship, or gone below in a submarine to be shown a torpedo, he would have become as utterly bewildered as any eighteenth century landsman on board the Victory. His tactics at Trafalgar have been, during our own generation, criticized as “a mad, perpendicular attack, in which every recognized tactical card was in the enemy’s hand”; and “the risk he took of having the heads of two columns isolated by a loss of wind or crushed prematurely by the concentration to which he exposed them naked, almost passed the limits of sober leading. Its justification was its success”.
AFTER THE ACTION AT TRAFALGAR there was a strange and impressive silence. Every ship was badly damaged, and, to make matters worse, during the engagement a westerly wind had driven the opposing fleets to within eight miles of Cape Trafalgar. Fortunately the wind changed before the ships drifted ashore, although four dismasted enemy ships had to ride the storm at anchor close to the shore.