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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

BRITISH NAVY | Oct. 21–Trafalgar Won, Nelson Killed, 210 Years Ago

The Death of Nelson, 1805
This day in 1805 - 210 years ago - In one of the most decisive naval battles in history, the British fleet under Admiral Lord Nelson defeats a combined French-Spanish fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar, off the coast of Spain.

But Nelson is killed by the bullet of an unknown French sniper.

Nelson consistently out-maneuvered Napoleon Bonaparte on the water. A French friend told me that one reason for Napoleon's difficulties with his navy was that the pre-Revolutionary French navy required all officers to be quatre quarts noblesse - nobility among all four grandparents. When the Revolution killed or scared off the aristocrats, the French Navy lost all its officers.

Nelson’s last (because he died in battle) and greatest victory against the French was the Battle of Trafalgar. It began after Nelson caught sight of a Franco-Spanish force of 33 ships. Nelson divided his smaller fleet of 27 ships into two lines. Nelson signaled the attack with a famous message from the flagship HMS Victory: “England expects that every man will do his duty.”

Deviating from established practice, in which ships pass in front of one another in two rows, shooting away as in a jousting match, Nelson attacked the French-Spanish line broadside, picking off the front ships one by one in a manner reminiscent of Thermopylae when a small force of Spartans held off a huge Persian army by bottling them up a narrow pass.

In five hours of fighting, the British devastated the enemy fleet, destroying 19 enemy ships. No British ships were lost, but 1,500 British seamen were killed or wounded in the heavy fighting. The battle raged at its fiercest around the Victory, and a French sniper shot Nelson in the shoulder and chest. The admiral was taken below and died about 30 minutes before the end of the battle.

Nelson’s last words, after being informed that victory was imminent, were “Now I am satisfied. Thank God I have done my duty.”

Victory at Trafalgar meant that Napoleon never invaded Britain. Nelson was hailed as a savior and was given a magnificent funeral in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. A column was erected to his memory in the newly named Trafalgar Square. I have visited the HMS Victory, which is open to the public in the port of Portsmouth, opposite the Isle of Wight.