As dawn neared on October 21, 1805, one of the most momentous battles in European history began off Cape Trafalgar, Spain.
The combined fleets of France and its ally, Spain,
were ordered by Napoleon to leave the safety of Cadiz harbor and venture forth to confront the British fleet commanded by Lord Horatio Nelson.
Napoleon was determined upon invasion of England with his all-powerful army.
All that stood in his way were 27 ships of the Royal Navy.
Matched against them were 33 heavily-gunned French and Spanish ships of the line, including the biggest warship of the day, the 130-gun Santissima Trinidad
At 7 a.m., as the enemy fleet bore down, Nelson signaled "Prepare for battle", followed shortly by that immortal signal, "England expects every man to do his duty". Next came Nelson's standard command when challenged to fight: "Engage the enemy".
At the head of the British column, Nelson's flagship, H.M.S. Victory
, sailed directly into the center of the combined fleet to cut it in two, holding fire to conserve ammunition. Her steering was disabled, her sails were full of holes, and she was partially dismasted, but Victory came straight on. Only then did Nelson give the order to open fire while turning to run down the line of the French formation.
Victory slashed through the enemy's line of ships, taking great punishment, but leaving disaster in her wake. At one point she was locked alongside the French flagship, Redoubtable
, with both ships pouring volleys of 32 lb. cannon shot into each other. Sharpshooters were picking off crewmen on deck while marines used grappling hooks to climb over the sides. Nelson, waving his sword, was struck by a musketball in the back. Mortally wounded, he was informed that he had won a great victory, with 25 enemy ships already captured or sunk. He died with the words "Thank God I have done my duty".
When the news got back, bells pealed all over England to honor Nelson and give thanks for salvation.
Commissioned in 1778, H.M.S. Victory
had almost 30 years hard service under her keel at the time of Trafalgar. Yet she remained a fearsome fighting machine. She commanded the power of 102 cannon lining three decks. In a single devastating broadside, she could fire half a ton of iron shot more than a mile to smash through two feet of solid oak. She was a veteran of many hard fought naval battles.
She displaced over 3500 tons and measure 226 feet in length and 51 feet abeam. It took 2500 prime oak trees to plank her sides and deck. Her hull was sheathed in copper to guard against barnacles. In a stiff breeze, carrying 36 sails totaling four acres of canvass, she could plough the waves at 10 knots. Fair weather or foul, the Victory was a fortress city, stocked with 35 tons of powder and 120 tons of shot. She possessed the endurance to remain at sea for up to six months at a time.
Honored and preserved over the years, she rests now at Portsmouth, England, a never-to-be-forgotten symbol of loyalty, courage, and devotion to duty.H.M.S. Victory Links:
H.M.S. Victory: A Virtual Tour.
Lord Horatio Nelson.
HMS Victory (National Museum - England).
HMS Victory You Tube Walkthrough Tour.
You Tube: Battle Stations: HMS Victory (War History Documentary).