1805 - Battle of Trafalgar


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Naval history of Great Britain - Vol. IV
William James
1805 Battle of Trafalgar 30

the seamen are harassed by a two years' cruise" (alluding to the state of Lord Nelson's ships in January, 1805) ; "they are not more brave than we are, they have infinitely fewer motives to fight well, and possess less love of country. They are skilful at manoeuvring. In a month, we shall be as much so as they are. In fine, every thing unites to inspire us with hopes of the most glorious success and of a new era for the imperial marine". * The most remarkable feature in this plan is, that it persists in ordering the movements to be conducted in close line of battle, even while it admits that the enemy, in all likelihood, will adopt a different mode of attack, that of cutting off the rear of the line and making of it an easy conquest. Such, however, were the ancient rules of naval tactics ; and France did not yet possess a Rodney or a Nelson to be the first to break through them.

Shortly after the Franco-Spanish fleet had formed, as already mentioned, in five columns, one of the advanced frigates made the signal of 18 sail of British ships in sight. On this the combined fleet, still on the larboard tack, cleared for action and at about 5 P.M. tacked and stood towards the mouth of the Straits. Shortly afterwards the four British frigates approached, and were chased by the Argonauta, Achille, and a few other ships ; to which, as a reinforcement, and to serve also as a squadron of observation, were added the Principe-de-Asturias, Aigle, Algésiras, and San-Juan-Nepomuceno, under the command of Admiral Gravina, with orders to reunite with the main body before nightfall. At 7 h. 30 m. P.M. the Aigle made the signal of 18 British ships in line of battle to the southward ; and shortly afterwards the combined fleet wore and stood to the north-west.

A little before daybreak on the morning of the 21st, finding that the British were to windward instead of to leeward, and that their force, instead of being only 21 sail of the line, was nearly equal to his own, the French admiral abandoned his plan of restricting his line of battle to 21 ships, † and ordered the three columns composed of the latter, without regard to priority of rank among the ships, to form in close line of battle on the starboard tack, upon the leewardmost division, consisting of the 12 ships in advance under Admiral Gravina and Rear-admiral Magon, and to steer south-west.

The order, in which the French and Spanish ships (the latter we have distinguished by italics) ranged themselves, beginning at the van, or south-east extremity of the line, was, according to a credible French account ‡ as follows: Principe-de-Asturias, Achille, San-Ildefonso, San-Juan-Nepomuceno, Berwick, Argonauta, Montanez, Argonaute, Swiftsure, Aigle, Bahama,

*  For the original passages, see Appendix, No. 6

†  See p 29

‡  See Précis des Evènemens, tome xiii., p. 187.

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