Trafalgar, what was The Nelson Touch?

HMS Victory coming under fire at Trafalgar.

As HMS Victory‘s official log book clearly shows and the Admiralty Committee Report of 1913 agrees, at the moment shown here Victory was steering for the front third, the van of the Combined Fleet.

First Shots, detail, click for enlagement

First Shots, detail, click for enlargement.

After this moment men of HMS Victory cut away and abandoned her steering (studding) sails.

There was no time to take in the sails as would normally have been done.

21 st October 1805 was not a ‘normal’ day aboard HMS Victory

Before Victory reached the line of battle of the combined fleet HMS Victory made a 90 degree turn to starboard to sail down the line of the combined fleet, returning their fire.

Nelson’s intention by this ruse was to ‘freeze’, isolate the van of the line of battle of the combined fleet then to cut the line a little above half way, in order to concentrate his ships and their fire power on a small number of opponents and over whelm them before the van could tack (turn back) and support them; while ideally HMS Victory found and attacked the French flagship.

Thus His Britanique Majesty’s Ship Victory made a turn to starboard to sail down the Combined Fleet’s line of battle before making a final second 90 degree turn this time to port to break the Combined Fleet line in accordance with the “Nelson Touch” plan.

This maneuver very effectively paralyzed the front third of the combined fleet.

Their admiral was uncertain, fatally hesitant, exactly as Nelson planned, into remaining on station over long expecting imminent attack.

By the time the van were able to tack, further hampered by the very light wind, to respond to their flagships persistent signals to double back and give support; the battle was lost, it was too late.

Both sides wanted this fight that became The Battle of Trafalgar..

The French and Spanish fought very bravely, the proof of which was how badly damaged many of the British ships were.

The luckless French and Spanish were out Admiral’d, out maneuvered, over whelmed and out fought.

Added to their miss fortunes, the British ships were in many ways technically superior (more powerful gun power, flint locks on the guns and many other innovations) and certainly the men better trained.

Victory when she reached Gibraltar after the battle had over 650 cannon balls removed from her hull and that does not include those that swept her wrecking most of her upper deck, masts and rigging.

Despite the French and Spanish heroism, within two hours Nelson’s ships in that fierce action, had overwhelmed many of the unsupported ships astern of the van and the battle which rumbled on for another 2 and a half hours, was decided.

The Nelson Touch…

More by luck than judgement Victory took out the opposing flagship.

Accounts written by men from both fleets agree the line of battle of the combined fleet was heavily masked by gun smoke.

Nelson’s Captain, was Thomas Hardy who’s own account confirms this.

When HMS Victory did make her final turn and lunge at the Combined Fleet, more by chance than design, she forced her way through the line directly astern of the doomed French flagship.

Victory delivered at pistol shot range a devastating salvo into the unprotected stern of the hapless Beaucenture, raking at such close distance that the French ensign brushed the Victory.

Some accounts say that one blast killed 400 brave men and wrecked the beautiful 80 gun Beaucenture.

Napoleon who denied the significance of Trafalgar famously said, “don’t give me a good general give me a lucky one” – Nelson was both.

Less lucky for Nelson, next astern of the flag was Redoutable, Captain Lucas.

Victory could not have picked a tougher opponent out of the entire fleet.

The Redoutable men almost cleared the upper deck of Victory, even briefly boarded Victory and it was a shot from her mizzen top that ended the career and life of Horatio Nelson, see the study for “The Death Of Nelson, a French marksman’s view”.

It took the assistance of the 98 gun ‘Fighting Temaraire‘ to finally subdue the survivors aboard the Redoubtable.

Gordon Frickers has worked on the Nelson story since 1995, produced much original research.

His work appears in several authoritative books including one by Dr Sam Willis and 2 of the books by Peter Goodwin Keeper and Curator of HMS Victory and Gordon Frickers has given a series of 10 illustrated, interactive, evening talks on the subject of Nelson, a role model.

Some of his many sources are listed below, profit, enjoy.

HMS Victory, Trafalgar, ranging shots begin to reach her

HMS Victory, Trafalgar, ranging shots begin to reach her.

Marine art by Gordon Frickers this painting measures 76 x 121 cms (30″ x 48″), oils, available.

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Some Sources consulted included

Frequent visits to the ship HMS Victory and often listed on ‘Daily Orders’.

The original fore topsail of HMS Victory, preserved under the guidance of Mr. Peter Goodwin.
Peter Goodwin, I. Eng AMIMarE. Historical Consultant, keeper of HMS Victory, H.M. Naval Base, Portsmouth.
Royal Naval Museum, Heritage Area, including Dr Colin White
Liverpool Maritime Museum,
The Tate Gallery, Liverpool
Plymouth Library, Naval Reference section
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Naval base Museum, San Sebastian, Cadiz
Museo Naval, Paseo del Prado, 5 – 28071, Madrid,
Town hall, Cadiz
Universidad de Cadiz
Musee de la Marin,
Palais de Chaillot, Paris
Service Historique de Marine, Chateau de Vincennes, Armees.
Musee de la Marine, la Châteaux, Brest
Carpenters Stores Expenses, HMS Victory, October 1805, Museum ref 1064/83, record 2376
Report of the 1913 Committee

Log of George Almy, 2nd Master & Pilot, H.M.S. Pickle
Log of Robert Louthanean, Master, HMS Polyphemus
Log of Joseph Seymour, Master, HMS Conqueror
Log of HMS Conqueror
Journal of Lieut. John Barclay, HMS Britannia
Journal of Captain J.N. Morris, HMS Colossus
Journal of Captain Henry Digby, HMS Africa
Log of Thomas Webb, Master, HMS Agamemnon
Journal & Log of Captain Thomas F. Freemantle, HMS Neptune
Log of Thomas Atkinson, Master, HMS Victory
Quotes from journals of the day, various sources

The Line of battle, series editor R. Gardiner, Conway Maritime Press 1992 (ISBN 0 85177 561 6)

Sailing ships of War, Dr F. Howard, Conway Maritime Press (ISBN 0 85177 138 6)

Masts & Rigging of English Ships of War, James Lee, Conway Maritime Press (ISBN 0 85177 290 0)

The Wooden World, N A M Rogers, Fontana Press (ISBN 0 00 686152 0)

Manual of Seamanship, Vol 1, 1908, H.M. Stationary Office

The Trafalgar Campaign, The Naval Campaign of 1805, Vol 2, by Edouard Desbriere, Chef D’Escadron de Cavalerie Brevete Chef de la Section Historique de L’Etat – Major de l’Armee, translated by C Eastwick Oxford University Press 1933.

The Anatomy of the 100 gun ship Victory, John McKay, Conway maritime Press 1987 (ISBN 0 85177 444X)

Uniforms of Trafalgar, John Fabb & Jack Cassin-Scott, Batsford, London, 1977 (ISBN 0 7134 0218 0 (hardback), 0 7134 0219 0 (Paperback)).

Sir Home Popham’s telegraphic Code, 1803 version.

The Life of Nelson, The Embodiment of The Sea Power of Great Britain, second edition, Captain A T Mahan, DCL, LLD, United States Navy.

The Trafalgar and Nelson stories are awash with myths, legends and propaganda; rather like BBC reporting on the Middle east today.

~ ~ ~ ~

Additional:

Gordon Frickers guidance note on separating facts from fictions:

Most accounts of the Battle of Trafalgar story vary and they are full of errors, the majority of plans and paintings are equally misleading..

So, what happened?

Here are some places to start.

WE must ask ourselves the following questions:

  1. Are readers given a plausible explanation?
  2. Who is the source?
  3. Is he really in a position to know what he claims? Has the reporter provided enough background info on the source to help us make our own judgment?
  4. Why can’t he be identified for the story?
  5. What are the source’s possible motives and those of the reporter?
  6. Is they fudging anything?
  7. Could the info have been obtained on the record from somewhere else?

Gordon Frickers © text written 25.03.15, updated 09.09.2016

 
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