Trafalgar Day: This Friday 21 October
This Friday marks the 217th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar 21 October 1805. I decided to find out a bit more about the battle. I was fascinated by Nelson’s strategy to attack the Franco-Spanish fleet.
I wonder, how would a war game around this engagement or any other naval engagement be designed? What do you think?
Napoleonic Wars 1801-1815
On the Atlantic Ocean, west of Cape Trafalgar in Spain, between Cádiz to the north and the Strait of Gibraltar to the south.
Cape Trafalgar (Faro de Trafalgar) is the northern limit, and Cape Espartel (Cap Spartel) in Tangiers is the southern limit of the Strait of Gibraltar. They form the leading line to the entrance of the Strait of Gibraltar, and hence, to the Mediterranean Sea.
Map showing the battle location (Curry, 2019).
Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) commanded a fleet of 27 British ships.
Admiral Pierre de Villeneuve (1763-1806) commanded a fleet of 33 ships (18 French and 15 Spanish)
Ordered to break into the Mediterranean and head for Naples, Villeneuve and his fleet departed Cádiz Harbour on 19 October. The departure was spotted by a British frigate watching Cádiz. Subsequently, Nelson ordered his fleet to pursue the Franco-Spanish fleet.
Early on 21 October, the British fleet was within 9 miles of the Franco-Spanish fleet. Forming two columns, the British fleet split the Franco-Spanish line and engaged at close quarters.
A tactical map showing Nelson’s strategy to split the French and Spanish lines (Curry, 2019).
Villeneuve surrendered at 13:45, and the battle was over by 16:30.
- Nelson was mortally wounded but died knowing the British had a complete victory.
- Villeneuve was captured and taken prisoner to England where he was soon released. He returned to France where he committed suicide.
- The Franco-Spanish fleet lost 23 of its 33 ships, the British 0.
- Approximately 5,000 Franco-Spanish were killed, and 4,000 were taken prisoner of war.
- Approximately 1,500 British were killed or wounded.
Miscellaneous Notes of Interest
- Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, was built in 1765 and dismasted in the 1830’s. The ship is now in dry dock at the Maritime Museum, Portsmouth.
- The cape was the site of a Roman Temple to the god Juno.
- Philip II (1527-1598) built a watchtower to defend against Berber pirates attacking the area. The archaeological remains can still be found.
- The current Trafalgar Lighthouse was built in 1860 and began operations in 1862.
- Divers can now explore the Battle of Trafalgar wreckage.
- In 2021, well-preserved Roman baths emerged from the sand dunes of Cape Trafalgar.
For More Information
Curry, P. (2018). 12 Facts About the Battle of Trafalgar. Available at: https://www.historyhit.com/facts-about-the-battle-of-trafalgar/
Jensen, N.D. (2019). Admiral Pierre-Charles-Jean-Baptiste-Sylvestre de Villeneuve. Available at: https://www.frenchempire.net/biographies/villeneuve/
La Prensa: Latina Bilingual Media (2021). Roman Baths Emerge from Sand Dunes of Southern Spain. Available at: https://www.laprensalatina.com/roman-baths-emerge-from-sand-dunes-of-southern-spain/
Reuters (1949). Divers Seek Ships Sunk in the Battle of Trafalgar. Available at: https://www.britishpathe.com/video/VLVAEF36C0E0NWVDYQA9UIKS0NBM3-DIVERS-SEEK-SHIPS-SUNK-IN-THE-BATTLE-OF-TRAFALGAR/query/trafalgar
Royal Navy (n.d. a) Horatio Nelson. Available at: https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/features/trafalgar-day/horatio-nelson
Royal Navy (n.d. b). Trafalgar Day. Available at: https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/features/trafalgar-day
The National Museum of the Royal Navy (2022). HMS Victory. Available at: https://www.nmrn.org.uk/visit-us/portsmouth-historic-dockyard/hms-victory
Yea, S. (2018). Battle of Trafalgar Wreckage and Much More! Available at: https://www.shaunyeophotography.com/post/2018/08/02/battle-of-trafalgar-wreckage-much-more#:~:text=Three%20miles%20out%20from%20the,Battle%20of%20Trafalgar%20in%201805