Was Nelson Overrated?

Feb 2019
211
California
#1
Gents (and ladies):

I posted the below in a navy-oriented forum a few days ago but would like to get y'all's take:


Oh don't get me wrong--there's only one candidate for "Greatest Admiral of All Time" and I don't need to tell you what his name is.

That said, a person or thing can be "the best" yet STILL be overrated. Think P-51 Mustang, for example.

In Nelson's case, the caveat is the fact that not only did he never face another great admiral, he never faced another GOOD admiral in battle. In fact, he never faced another NON-UTTERLY HISTORICALLY CRAPPY admiral in battle.
Hardly surprising given that the French executed or ran off damn near everyone with any experience or potential such that at least one of the admirals Nelson faced had been a lieutenant three years prior.

Then we have Villeneuve. What can we say about him? He actually predicted to his captains the precise tactics that Nelson would employ at Trafalgar--then preceded to make no plan to address and to issue no instructions regarding it. And if he was not a straight-up coward well--he certainly did a hell of an impression.

Then of course, the Spanish had no desire to be fighting with their "allies" the French nor to be anywhere within 100 miles of a naval battle of any sort for that matter. And both the French and Spanish fleets were sailing with huge percentages of landlubbers as they simply did not have the population base of experienced sailors to man their fleets.

Had Nelson faced competent admirals (say a Suffren) and experienced/motivated crews, would he enjoy the reputation he does today? Quite possibly, but we'll never know.

Thoughts?
 
Feb 2016
4,225
Japan
#3
He is certainly the greatest British one.
He’s probably heavily lionized.
Overated... hard to say, which of his peers matched him?

But I think your harsh on Villeneuve. He was no Nelson but he’d been dealt a bad hand.
 
Feb 2016
4,225
Japan
#5
A French invasion was neither 100% certain or 100% likely to succeed.
It had been called off before Trafalgar, and Britain still had plenty of ships on the channel.. plus more than enough troops and fortifications to make s naval landing very messy ...
 
Mar 2019
282
Kansas
#6
But I think your harsh on Villeneuve. He was no Nelson but he’d been dealt a bad hand.
Which was a shame really. French ships of the line were considered better built than their British equivalent. Unfortunately due to the British blockade the French never got a chance to learn how to work the ships properly.
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
8,497
#7
Which was a shame really. French ships of the line were considered better built than their British equivalent. Unfortunately due to the British blockade the French never got a chance to learn how to work the ships properly.
There's lot more to effectiveness than just design/build quality. And I from more limited naval reading do not think ethere was a clear cut French advantage in ship build quality. The French were veyr short of decent naval officers, had not maintained their ships, nor well trained there crews. Capatains and Crews were more decisive than some marginal design advanatge.
 
Likes: BuckBradley
Mar 2016
749
Australia
#8
A French invasion was neither 100% certain or 100% likely to succeed.
It had been called off before Trafalgar, and Britain still had plenty of ships on the channel.. plus more than enough troops and fortifications to make s naval landing very messy ...
Napoleon had called off the 1805 invasion, yes, but he certainly did not abandon the idea of an invasion permanently. Even after the loss at Trafalgar he was intent on rebuilding the navy to make another attempt sometime in the future. Luckily for the British he was defeated before his navy could reach a significant size again.
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
8,497
#9
I'd say he deserves to be, for almost single-handedly (no pun intended) saving his country from a French invasion which would have almost certainly succeeded.
If they had been another British admiral would there have been such a likely French Naval invasion. I think not. What changes if nelson is replaced by another Admiral who would have most likely have been reasonably good?

I can see an argument the nelson was more hell bent of decisive Naval egagement and another Admiral was unlikely to get such a decisive result at trafalgar. BUt I don;t see have that can be reasonably said to lead to a French invasiuon.

But most British admirals were aggressive, most were every diligent, most pretty darn competent and the French unlikely to get organized enough against the Blockade of their Naval forces to achieve any effective coordinated Naval invasion. Teh French did not have a great navy nor very good naval officers, and a likely invasion agianst a Pretty good British interference was hardly likely to be a very good invasion. The French had poor ports and wer unlikely to get much opportunities to mount a decent invasions, with their poor command and generally good British one I donl;t see have an invasion is likely just because Trafalgar does not happen o as decisively.

Without Nelson there still would have been a blockade and generally well run. The French unlikely to make the most of small chances necessary to mount an effective invasion.
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
8,497
#10
Napoleon had called off the 1805 invasion, yes, but he certainly did not abandon the idea of an invasion permanently. Even after the loss at Trafalgar he was intent on rebuilding the navy to make another attempt sometime in the future. Luckily for the British he was defeated before his navy could reach a significant size again.
Nothing Lucky about it. Napoleon did not understand Naval warfare. The french fleet was not in good shape. Ships, Crew, Captains none were in good shape. There is no reason to expect that Napoleon could have acheived Naval superiority. Navies take time, it not just about numbers, quality matters. Even if the Fleet size grew the blockade and state of teh navy meant defeat in detail was liely to contniue.