THE BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR
Summary: The French were attempting to invade England but needed to get past the English fleet.
Date: October 21, 1805
Combatants: The English Fleet versus the Combined French and Spanish Fleet
Location: Off the Cape of Trafalgar in Spain, Europe.
British Numbers: 33 Ships and 2,306 Cannons.
Combined Numbers: 40 Ships and 2,862 Cannons.
British Casualties: 0 Ships and 1,500 Sailors Dead and Wounded.
Combined Casualties: 20 Ships and 6,953 Dead and Wounded.
Outcome: The English fleet utterly demolished the Combined fleet, and put and end to Napoleon's hope of ruling the world.
Largest English Ship:
Casualties: 57 killed, 102 wounded
Displacement: 3,500 tons (3,175 tonnes)
Largest Spanish Ship:
Casualties: 205 killed, 108 wounded
Displacement: 4,950 tons (4490 tonnes)
- Napoleon -
In this story I would like to introduce a man to you, his name was Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Being the Emperor of France was not just something that just happened to him. Napoleon was born on the small island of Corsica, just after it fell to a French invasion, so as you can see, Napoleon was not really even a native Frenchman, he was Corsican.
Napoleon was educated in France and then graduated from a military school as an Sub-Lieutenant in the French Artillery when he was twenty-six years old. During one of the most horrible times in history, the French revolution, Napoleon rose to a high rank by brave fighting and strategical planning, very soon he became the most important and powerful person in the French Imperial Government, but his ambitions lay even higher.
Napoleon soon won great fame for himself in strategical conquests against Austrian and Egyptian armies, but Napoleon hated serving anyone, so in 1804 he crowned himself Emperor of France. Napoleon then plotted to slowly conquer the world.
While Napoleon was in Egypt 11 years earlier, his fleet had been attacked by an English fleet under a man named Rear Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, but you will read more about him later.
Ever since that attack, the countries of Great Britain and France were arch-enemies, but, because of his aggressive attitude, Napoleon soon found himself at war with the world-power countries Austria, Prussia and Russia. Incredibly, within two years, Napoleon had utterly defeated the Austrians (again), and crushed the massive Prussian and Russian armies.
Napoleon now found himself as the undisputed ruler of the European continent. The only thing that now stood between Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, and total victory, was Great Britain (England), Napoleon's arch-rival. Napoleon soon started making preparations for an all out invasion of Britain; he started raising a massive army as well as a huge navy.
To build a navy big enough to defeat the English sea-power, Napoleon asked his brother Joseph Bonaparte, the King of Spain, for help, Joseph of course abliged and between the two brothers they were able to create a massive Armada.
Most of the Irish people at that time, hated the English people because the England ruled over Ireland, and they would do anything to help Napoleon conquer Great Britain, so Napoleon decided that he would 'conquer' Ireland first, "Then," Napoleon thought to himself, "the Irish people themselves will help me to conquer Great Britain!"
- Before the Battle -
The Commander of the English Fleet, Rear Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, was looking out to sea from the deck of his magnificent flagship, the HMS Victory, the HMS Victory was the largest English ship with 101 cannon. He was searching the endless blue ocean for any sign of the French and Spanish ships.
The Franco-Spanish fleet, led by Admiral Pierre de Villeneuve, numbered 40 ships with more than 2,850 cannons in total, as opposed to the English fleet, with only 33 ships and a little over 2,300 guns.
Napoleon himself was not with the French fleet, for although he was a very good general, he was not such a good Admiral. However, as you read, the French fleet was far bigger in numbers than the English fleet, and the French fleet had bigger ships with more guns. In fact, the biggest Franco-Spanish ship had one-hundred and thirty-six cannons, while the largest English ships had just a little over one hundred guns.
Nelson had been sent by the Royal Navy (British Navy) to find and stop Napoleon's fleet. The French fleet had been staying in a protected port for a long time, and this eventually forced the English to go looking for them, although they had no idea where exactly the enemy fleet was.
After days of looking, one of the English lookouts cried out, "The enemy are in sight!" It did not take long for the rest of the English fleet to make out the French and Spanish ships, as they were sailing in a strong line.
- The Plan -
Nelson decided on a dangerous new plan. The idea was for the English ships to sail straight at the enemy lines, and to attempt to sail between the enemy ships, while firing both broadsides. By doing this, they would rake the enemy ships, hopefully with devastating effects. The plan was extremely dangerous, because, as the English ships approached the enemy line, the French and Spanish ships would be able to use their broadside to fire at the approaching ships. The English, on the other hand, would not be able to return fire until they were alongside the enemy ships.
- The Battle -
The small English fleet readied themselves to fight, in the hope that they would be able to make it to the French line. When the fleet was ready, Nelson gave a coded order and his words are still famous today, "ENGLAND EXPECTS THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY!"
Nelson then gave the order to attack. The English line moved forward, straight towards the French and Spanish ships. When the fast moving English ships were in range, the French and Spanish ships opened fire with their broadside. Some cannon balls thudded into the approaching ships. When the French fleet realized what the English were planning to do, they intensified their fire, hoping to rake the English ships before they reached the French line.
The English ships drew closer every second, but more and more cannon balls thudded into to the bows of their ships. Many of the English ships were badly damaged, but not one of them had been sunk.
All of a sudden the English ships were upon the French! As each English ship sailed past an enemy ship, it tried to rake it by firing both broadsides, with devastating effects. Chaos soon reigned, as the larger French ships fired their massive guns at the small English ships.
The English ships dodged in and out, firing their guns all the while. Meanwhile, in all the confusion, a French sniper looked out from his position on the French ship Redoubtable. The English flagship HMS Victory was not far away, and the sniper could see men scurrying around its deck. He aimed his gun and fired. A man on the desk staggered and fell, and was soon carried below decks. The sniper did not know it, but the man that he had shot was Rear Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, commander of the English fleet!
As the battle raged on, Nelson was lying below decks, mortally wounded. Still the outnumbered English fought on. Perhaps they knew that their leader had fallen, and were for this reason, fighting harder than ever, but whatever the reason, the English soon defeated the French and Spanish fleet.
- The Casualties -
The French lost half of their ships to English guns and unseen reefs, and the French commander, Admiral Pierre de Villeneuve, was captured by the English.
On the other side, around 1,500 English sailors had been killed or wounded in the battle, but amazingly, not a single English ship was sunk or captured!
Admiral Nelson died soon after the battle, but he did live long enough to see his fleet destroy both the French fleet, and Napoleon Bonaparte’s hopes of one day ruling the world.
If you should go to England today, you will be able to see the monument Trafalgar Square, which was built to commemorate England’s victory at Trafalgar.
Written and Researched By
Cody B. Mitchell