Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group

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)

Action Summary

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

HMS Victory

  • 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.

Cape Trafalgar

  • 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:

Jensen, N.D. (2019). Admiral Pierre-Charles-Jean-Baptiste-Sylvestre de Villeneuve. Available at:

La Prensa: Latina Bilingual Media (2021). Roman Baths Emerge from Sand Dunes of Southern Spain. Available at:

Reuters (1949). Divers Seek Ships Sunk in the Battle of Trafalgar. Available at:

Royal Navy (n.d. a) Horatio Nelson. Available at:

Royal Navy (n.d. b). Trafalgar Day. Available at:

The National Museum of the Royal Navy (2022). HMS Victory. Available at:

Yea, S. (2018). Battle of Trafalgar Wreckage and Much More! Available at:,Battle%20of%20Trafalgar%20in%201805








One Comment
  1. Peter Merritt

    There are loads of commercial systems for ‘generic’ Napoleonic naval warfare (assuming you mean ship-to-ship stuff), from the more detailed handling of one or a few, up to full fleet actions. As with other commercial wargame rules, some are better than others…

    Naval fleet actions pose some difficult problems gamewise, however. Post (say) the Spanish Armada period, a fleet *tended* to obey the single guy in charge – the extremely experienced captains under Nelson may be consulted but not voted, and would rarely just go off on their own (‘doing a Drake’); although managing the detailed actions of their ship would of course be down to them. Even this degree of lattitude dimishes as comms ability increases, so a WW2 version of Midway could not have each carrier player doing his own thing!

    As this is CLWG, however, perhaps you are interested in less ‘straight’ naval fleet games, but instead focusing on particular aspects? I think any ‘simulations’ are only of interest from an academic perspective – with Brit crews firing every 2 minutes or less, and Franco-Spanish ones 4-6 times this, it’s a mite one-sided as an artillery duel. Perhaps Paddy G might have tried a ‘cardboard simulator’ of gun crews as per his maddest period (water-pistols in the face of ‘surfaced’ U-Boats was a true low point), but it’s not how I wish to donate an afternoon of my remaining life.

    The strategic situation in 1804-5 is fascinating, however, as I suppose is the underlying politics, of which the naval moves are a major part. For me, the only naval bits in this period which interest me are the French moves against Ireland, and the mutinies plus reaction to them.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.