This is a rather rare example of a battle in which the winner died and the defeated survived. Admiral Horatio Nelson was killed by a French musketeer. The commander of the British fleet was on the bridge of his flagship, the Victory, with a full parade, and identifying him was not difficult. The bullet hit the admiral's shoulder and stuck in the spine. Nelson died in terrible agony. At the same time in the battle, the British fleet did not lose a single ship. The Franco-Spanish squadron was defeated, having lost either 18 or 22 ships. The Spanish admiral Federico Gravina received multiple injuries and soon died, the Frenchman Pierre de Villeneuve, who led the Allied forces, remained unharmed, but he was captured. The most interesting thing here is different. The battle itself was spontaneous. It was the result of slightly confused plans, both in France and in England.
The battle of Trafalgar is an important stage in the war of the Third Coalition. The initial plans of Napoleon were, excuse the expression, truly Napoleonic. Bonaparte planned a full-fledged invasion of Britain, knowing that on land France was much stronger. If Napoleon managed to land on Albion, he could seriously count on taking London. The trouble was that Great Britain had a tremendous superiority at sea. Between the Napoleonic army and London stretched the English Channel, in which stood a formidable British fleet, led by a living legend - Horatio Nelson. Nelson Bonaparte was afraid. The British admiral almost locked him in Egypt, during the famous march. In any case, while the English Channel is occupied by the enemy fleet, one could only dream of landing. Meanwhile, the plans were made up. Napoleon planned to transfer to Britain 150 thousand soldiers. Here are just the French barges were completely defenseless in front of British guns.
Then Bonaparte came up with a cunning plan - to divert Nelson's forces by maneuver. The French fleet took off its anchors and headed for the west, hoping that Nelson would chase the enemy. Here are just an Englishman thought Bonaparte's idea. Pierre de Villeneuve in vain went to the Caribbean, where he sank several oncoming British ships, and then returned to Europe. Here he connected with the Spanish squadron, and headed for the Mediterranean Sea. And here, on the way of Villeneuve, Nelson appeared, and with him 27 battleships. The French had a numerical advantage (33 battleships and 20 thousand people, as opposed to 16 thousand among the British), but Villeneuve did not want to risk. He ordered the fleet to turn around. At that moment, Nelson attacked him.
Could it be otherwise?
But this is unlikely. The French had a numerical superiority. On this their trumps ended. British sailors were both more experienced and more skilled. An important detail that influenced the outcome of the battle: one French-Spanish volley accounted for three British. Nelson's gunners reloaded their guns much faster, inflicting enormous damage on enemy ships. Many researchers have noted another factor that played into the hands of the British. Many French naval officers were executed during the Revolution, which caused personnel shortages. Villeneuve would not have commanded the French fleet in that battle if many of his comrades had survived the dictatorship of the Jacobins. And so the admiral simply survived and took the post that there was no one else to take.
The third factor that ensured the British victory was the tactical genius of Nelson. The admiral took into account everything: a favorable wind for him, a strange maneuver of Villeneuve, to break the line of the allies and, finally, the fact that the usual linear arrangement was not very suitable for this battle. Nelson arranged the ships in two rows, - such a formation is sometimes called a “battalion” - caught up with the enemy and attacked him, giving, according to legend, a signal saying: “England is waiting for everyone to do their duty.”
The British fleet wedged between enemy ships, methodically shooting them from cannons, and completed the matter with close combat. Most of the ships of Villeneuve were captured, the admiral himself surrendered. In fact, the French admiral had no chance to change the course of the battle. He could only do one thing, avoid the battle and lead his fleet away from the British guns. Here, however, the indecision of Villeneuve intervened. He pulled with a decision. Only half an hour after the French noticed the British, he gave a signal to turn. By that time, the French were very dangerously close to the British. As a result, Villeneuve only simplified the task for Nelson, breaking off his own line and taking a course that was very inconvenient for conducting combat.
What would have changed?
A lot of things. Entering Nelson in the host of national heroes of Great Britain is not the only outcome of the Battle of Trafalgar. More importantly, Napoleon, assessing the scale of his losses, forever abandoned plans to invade England. More Bonaparte did not think about depriving Britain of the status of the mistress of the seas. In the future, he focused on those opponents with whom he could fight exclusively on land - Russia and Austria. A month later, Bonaparte will smash the Allies at Austerlitz. But he forgot about the fleet forever.
Villeneuve spent a year and a half in British captivity, after which he was released. Deciding that Napoleon would not forgive his failures, the admiral committed suicide. Although there is a version that Villeneuve was killed. His victory could change a lot. If the French had destroyed Nelson near Cadiz, then the release of the Channel would be a matter of one to two months. The hands of Napoleon would have been untied, and the 150,000 troops would have moved to the British shores. Since the time of William the Conqueror, such operations have not been possible to anyone, Napoleon was very close to this. Distance is one battle. Occupation of the south and south-east of Britain, the seizure of London, one of the brothers on the British throne ... It's hard to imagine, but Bonaparte could have done this if, on October 21, 1805, Villeneuve managed to defeat Nelson.
- A. V. Sukhorukov. "Battle of Trafalgar. 200 years"
- Jurien de la Gravière. "The War of the Sea. The Age of Nelson".
- W. G. Trukhanovsky "The Admiral's Fate: Triumph and Tragedy."
- Images of the announcement and lead: Wikimedia Commons