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Old September 23rd, 2010, 04:14 PM   #1
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Why did the british win at Trafalgar?


I haven't read any books about the battle at Trafalgar and only know what wikipedia says - that the french had a greater advantage in numbers and firepower. Why did then the british win the battle?
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Old September 23rd, 2010, 05:36 PM   #2

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Re: Why did the british win at Trafalgar?


It is true that the Combined Fleet had a greater number of warships - something like 32 to Nelson's 27 - and that several of their ships were larger than the biggest of Nelson's. However, the nature and conditions of the battle meant that these advantages in firepower were nullified to a degree.

The weather conditions, for starters, favoured the lighter, more manouverable ships. The light winds meant the bigger ships took an age to change direction - thus the leading French squadron took more than three hours to turn around and enter the battle. Secondly, the light winds also meant that once the ships were directly engaged it was extremely difficult for them to extricate themselves from the battle. This gave more time for the seamanship, morale and training of the British sailor to have a decisive effect.

The Combined Fleet also suffered from a lack of trained manpower, with many crews falling short of their full compliment. When there was a full compliment the numbers were frequently bolstered by the pressing of unskilled labourers from land with little experience of the sea. There is also some evidence that an epidemic had swept through Cadiz just prior to the battle which also contributed to the lack of experienced seamen.

Differences in training may also have contributed. French sailors were trained to direct their firepower at masts and sails, in order to render the ships 'dead' in the water. British training, on the other hand, concentrated on trying to sink the opposing ship by firing at the water-line. With the ships moving so slowly, the British training proved more effective for this typr of battle.

The question of morale was also important. The Spanish hearts were not really in the fight and there was much resentment of the French and their tactics. In the end, this may have been the most important factor. The British were high in spirits and convinced they were saving Britain from invasion. The Spanish, on the other hand, didnt really know why they were fighting, or if they did, didnt really agree with it.
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Old September 23rd, 2010, 06:02 PM   #3
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Re: Why did the british win at Trafalgar?


Click the image to open in full size.
October 21, 1805; 12:00 hs. Some 10 miles SW to Cape Trafalgar (36°17' N 6°15' W) North is to the top.
Red: British; Blue: French; Black: Spanish.

Lord Nelson's (Weather column) daring unorthodox strategy (a direct frontal attack by two columns against the enemy's vanguard) and the superior training of the British crews over-compensated the significant numerical advantage of the Franco-Spanish fleet (six more ships, 420 more cannons and like 3,000 more men); the Royal Sovereign of Collingwood's Lee column is already breaking into the enemy's line.

11 French & 11 Spanish ships (of 41 total) were captured by the British, who lost none.
(Image from Wikicommons)

Last edited by sylla1; September 23rd, 2010 at 06:40 PM.
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Old September 23rd, 2010, 07:04 PM   #4

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Re: Why did the british win at Trafalgar?


I'm pretty sure there had been a relatively recent purge of the Admirals and senior officers in the French navy, all tied up in the French revolution-Napoleons rise to power. This left the French navy (which was also somewhat neglected under Napoleon) with a lack of experienced officers.

What is not often mentioned is a bad storm came up after the battle leaving both fleets in an awful position and in many cases the sailors who had been fighting a day before were having to work together to save themselves and their ships.
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Old September 23rd, 2010, 07:26 PM   #5
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Re: Why did the british win at Trafalgar?


Apart from all above reasons, the greatness of admiral Nelson lay in his ability to act in unorthodox way, against all regulations and traditions. According to tactical requirements of the time, he suppose to lay his ships in line alongside French-Spanish fleet and engage in fire fight until the opening of slot in opposing line could be created, then he could enter this gap and use manoeuvre.
He opted against this and used manoeuvre at the beginning of battle thus he took admiral Villeneuveby complete surprise.
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Old September 24th, 2010, 05:36 AM   #6

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Re: Why did the british win at Trafalgar?


Edward you seem to know something of this battle, however one or two points you made... Firstly Villeneuve was not taken by surprise, he predicted Nelson would melee, he simply chose to do nothing about it hoping Nelson would line up. Secondly with far superior officers, Nelson wanted to turn Trafalgar into a melee as soon as possible. The idea of simply riding up and down the lines blasting away, as orthodoxy would befit two evenly matched foes, did not appeal to him. He knew his officers were far more experienced than the young French officers who had survived the beheadings of the French Revolution, which had only run it's course some five or six years before and he knew that was not quite enough time to turn an Ensign into a Captain. In a melee situation it is every Captain for himself and Nelson knew, almost to a ship, how many French ships he would capture that day, probably because he knew how many new captains his real RN captains would be facing. Nelson also knew that general artillery soldiers would "...not be able to shoot well from an unstable platform".

Edward did you read nothing of the two thousand or so "soldiers" who had been Shanghaied into the French navy to replace the experienced sailors lost at the Nile?

The French "Captains", as well as Napoleon's most experience Admiral, had already voted not to leave the safety of the Spanish port. Napoleon decided to ignore their advice and sent them out to the slaughter. So much for democracy.

Please please... when you say Nelson's greatness... not for Trafalgar... remember he was the darling of the European and Islamic Royal families for the mercy killing of Napoleon's already beaten, gutted and headless navy. Any one who laid one on the anti-Christ at that time was lauded and feted by the aristocracy all across Europe, from Spain (I suspect) all the way to the Middle East and only the most suffocatingly patriotic pandering would suffice from the royal storytellers.

Stories were told in a fairytale-like manner and his opponents were puffed up and generally made whole again, in an cynical effort to glorify another slaughter. I like Nelson he appeared to be generally very brave... he was a great admiral as I have argued elsewhere... but please "his greatness", not in these abysmal circumstances. The RN really had no match at that time and there were many RN admirals that could have done what he ordered, which was to create melee.
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Old September 24th, 2010, 08:42 AM   #7
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Re: Why did the british win at Trafalgar?


Quote:
Originally Posted by rehabnonono View Post
Please please... when you say Nelson's greatness... not for Trafalgar... remember he was the darling of the European and Islamic Royal families for the mercy killing of Napoleon's already beaten, gutted and headless navy. Any one who laid one on the anti-Christ at that time was lauded and feted by the aristocracy all across Europe, from Spain (I suspect) all the way to the Middle East and only the most suffocatingly patriotic pandering would suffice from the royal storytellers.

Stories were told in a fairytale-like manner and his opponents were puffed up and generally made whole again, in an cynical effort to glorify another slaughter. I like Nelson he appeared to be generally very brave... he was a great admiral as I have argued elsewhere... but please "his greatness", not in these abysmal circumstances. The RN really had no match at that time and there were many RN admirals that could have done what he ordered, which was to create melee.
The point of his greatness (without quotation marks) is of course that no other British admiral so utterly pulverized the Napoleonic navy all along such long Napoleonic wars; it was him.

BTW, his daring unorthodox strategy depicted above was certainly not used by almost any other commander of the time, either before or after Trafalgar.

And please check out the numbers described above; in Nelson's own immortal words
Quote:
Only numbers can annihilate
The French navy of the time was hardly "beaten, gutted and headless" by any standard.
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Old September 24th, 2010, 11:00 AM   #8

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Re: Why did the british win at Trafalgar?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Krystian View Post
I haven't read any books about the battle at Trafalgar and only know what wikipedia says - that the french had a greater advantage in numbers and firepower. Why did then the british win the battle?
Apart from all other aspects, the British navy had enjoyed a superiority at sea throughout the war. The biggest advantage was it's ability to train crews at sea while the French navy remained marooned in their harbours, unable to train their navy in any way.
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Old September 24th, 2010, 12:23 PM   #9
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Re: Why did the british win at Trafalgar?


Quote:
Originally Posted by rehabnonono View Post
Edward you seem to know something of this battle, however one or two points you made... Firstly Villeneuve was not taken by surprise, he predicted Nelson would melee, he simply chose to do nothing about it hoping Nelson would line up. Secondly with far superior officers, Nelson wanted to turn Trafalgar into a melee as soon as possible. The idea of simply riding up and down the lines blasting away, as orthodoxy would befit two evenly matched foes, did not appeal to him. He knew his officers were far more experienced than the young French officers who had survived the beheadings of the French Revolution, which had only run it's course some five or six years before and he knew that was not quite enough time to turn an Ensign into a Captain. In a melee situation it is every Captain for himself and Nelson knew, almost to a ship, how many French ships he would capture that day, probably because he knew how many new captains his real RN captains would be facing. Nelson also knew that general artillery soldiers would "...not be able to shoot well from an unstable platform".

Edward did you read nothing of the two thousand or so "soldiers" who had been Shanghaied into the French navy to replace the experienced sailors lost at the Nile?

The French "Captains", as well as Napoleon's most experience Admiral, had already voted not to leave the safety of the Spanish port. Napoleon decided to ignore their advice and sent them out to the slaughter. So much for democracy.

Please please... when you say Nelson's greatness... not for Trafalgar... remember he was the darling of the European and Islamic Royal families for the mercy killing of Napoleon's already beaten, gutted and headless navy. Any one who laid one on the anti-Christ at that time was lauded and feted by the aristocracy all across Europe, from Spain (I suspect) all the way to the Middle East and only the most suffocatingly patriotic pandering would suffice from the royal storytellers.

Stories were told in a fairytale-like manner and his opponents were puffed up and generally made whole again, in an cynical effort to glorify another slaughter. I like Nelson he appeared to be generally very brave... he was a great admiral as I have argued elsewhere... but please "his greatness", not in these abysmal circumstances. The RN really had no match at that time and there were many RN admirals that could have done what he ordered, which was to create melee.
Yes, you are right in all points. I did not mention this issue, as they were included in previous posts. Experience of the entire crews was the key factor, allowing Nelson to use unorthodox tactic. it was typical for Nelson. He used such uorthodox tactic at Copenhagen and Battle of the Nile.
He destroys “ The line of battle” myth and use all shortcoming of linear doctrine to his advantage.

Last edited by Edward; September 24th, 2010 at 04:57 PM.
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Old September 24th, 2010, 05:05 PM   #10
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Re: Why did the british win at Trafalgar?


Quote:
Originally Posted by rehabnonono View Post
I like Nelson he appeared to be generally very brave... he was a great admiral as I have argued elsewhere... but please "his greatness", not in these abysmal circumstances. The RN really had no match at that time and there were many RN admirals that could have done what he ordered, which was to create melee.
He proved himself in many other occasions where his opponents were as experienced as RN.
Did you notice that you used words “great admiral” in your post? It comes naturally when you talk about Nelson
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