1805 - Review by Napoléon of his army embarking


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Naval History of Great Britain - Vol III
1805 Invasion Flotilla 317

the remainder. Every hour's delay would have brought fresh British vessels to assist in the general overthrow. Admitting, however, that a considerable portion of the flotilla overcame all these obstacles, and approached the British shore, was there nothing further to dread ? Were there really, as Napoléon fancied, " no fortifications, no army " ? The invaders would have made the discovery, to their cost, the moment they arrived within shell and shot range. As they advanced nearer they would have found the beach already occupied by the van of an army composed of soldiers, who, if they had not fought at " Lodi, at Zurich, at Héliopolis, at Hohenlinden, and at Marengo, " were then fighting in England.

But, in the event of a calm, would he not succeed ? was a question frequently asked, as well by those who wished, as those who dreaded, the invasion. Calms in the British Channel are very uncertain: they seldom continue more than 12 hours, and even then may prevail at one part of the coast and not at another. Admitting that a calm existed at Boulogne and the adjacent ports, some time would elapse ere, under the most favourable circumstances, the flotilla could make a start. It has done so, and the oars begin to move : by this time, a boat from every British ship that witnessed the preparation is half across the Channel with the intelligence, and the vessel herself, if less than a frigate, is sweeping with all her strength in the same direction. A fleet of 1200 or 1300 vessels must be rather awkward to manage ; particularly, when assembled together for the first time, and possessed, as these variously-constructed gun-vessels necessarily were, of different powers of progression. Against the prames sad complaints were raised ; and yet, as there were 17 of these vessels, armed each with 12 long 24-pounders, and carrying altogether about 2000 men and 840 horses, they must be waited for. All this would create confusion. Cross tides and partial currents would increase it. Signals would be necessary : they would, it is more than probable, amidst the many repeaters required to transmit them, be misunderstood. A part of the fleet stop, or pulls in a different direction. Delay ensues. Presently up springs a breeze; and which, in all likelihood, blows either up or down, and not across the Channel. In this case the weather wing of the flotilla begins first to spread its sails, and, without great care, presses upon the centre ; and that, in its turn, upon the lee wing. Meanwhile the breeze has not travelled without company, as is evident from the number of white patches that now skirt the windward horizon, swelling and gathering at every moment. Of the operations likely to follow, a slight sketch has already been given.

But, in truth, no attempt would have been made by the flotilla to cross over, even were the Channel clear of British fleets, and a calm, even a two days' calm, to prevail ; none whatever, unless a powerful French fleet lay off Boulogne, ready to afford its protection. In a note dictated by him at his return from

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