1805 - Battle of Trafalgar


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Naval history of Great Britain - Vol. IV
William James
1805 Battle of Trafalgar 27

of the preceding month, and required that the fleet should pass the Straits, land the troops on the Neapolitan coast, sweep the Mediterranean of all British commerce and cruisers, and enter the port of Toulon to refit and revictual. * Although in M. Villeneuve's instructions no mention is made of the Spanish fleet, it may naturally be supposed that the latter would desire to take advantage of the exit of a formidable French fleet, to effect its junction with the seven sail of the line hitherto so closely blocked up in the port of Carthagena. That, indeed, would be but the return of a similar favour, granted nine years before to the French Rear-admiral Richery. Every exertion was therefore made to fill up the complements of the six ships, which, in all other, respects, had been ready for sea ever since Vice-admiral Villeneuve's arrival. Of the two that had been present in Sir Robert Calder's Action, one, the Argonauta, had since been repaired and refitted ; but the damage done to the other, the Terrible, proved of so serious a nature, that she was disarmed, and her crew divided among the short-manned ships.

On the 9th or 10th of October, the French troops having re-embarked, the Franco-Spanish fleet, with the exception of one ship, the San-Fulgencio, 64 (for some unknown reason detained), moved to the entrance of the harbour, to be ready for a start at a moment's warning. From the 10th to the 17th hard gales from the westward continued to blow, with very slight intermissions. On the 17th, at midnight, the wind shifted to the eastward ; and on the 18th Admiral Villeneuve informed Admiral Gravina, of his intention to put to sea on the following day. On the same evening, as a preparatory measure, a strong force of gun-boats drew up in line across the entrance of the harbour ; and on the 19th, at 7 A.M., the Franco-Spanish fleet, by signal from the commander-in-chief, began getting under way, with a light breeze at north by east.

This and every other movement of the Franco-Spanish fleet was seen and reported by the British reconnoitring frigates. Owing to the lightness of the wind, 12 ships only succeeded in getting out, and these lay becalmed till early in the afternoon ; when, a breeze springing up from the west-north-west, the whole 12 stood to the northward on the larboard tack, accompanied, at the distance of not more than two or three miles to windward by the British frigates Euryalus and Sirius. At 8 A.M. the wind, still very light, shifted to south-west, and the course of the ships became north-west by west; the point of San-Sebastian at this time bearing from the Euryalus east half-south distant about four miles. At daylight on the morning of the 20th the remainder of the combined fleet in Cadiz harbour, consisting, with the ships already outside, of 33 sail of the line, five frigates; and two brigs, weighed and put to sea with a light breeze at

*  See p. 21

  See Vol. i, p. :310

  See p. 22

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