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Rapid-Fire History: Battle of Trafalgar


On October 21, 1805, Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson achieved one of the greatest victories in the history of naval warfare at the Battle of Trafalgar. Fought off Cape Trafalgar, 50 miles west of Cadiz, Spain, during the Napoleonic Wars, Vice Admiral Pierre-Charles de Villeneuve and Admiral Don Federico Gravina’s combined French and Spanish fleet of 33 ships-of-the-line were decimated by Nelson’s British fleet of 27 ships-of-the-line. Although outnumbered, Nelson split his force into two squadrons that attacked at a 90-degree angle and sailed directly into the long Franco-Spanish line, cutting the enemy into three groups of ships and systematically destroying them. Leading one of the columns from his flagship HMS Victory, Nelson signaled a famous message to his sailors: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” His men certainly did, proving that the Royal Navy ruled the oceans. While 22 French and Spanish ships were lost, the British admiral didn’t lose a single vessel. Nelson was shot and died below deck, but his victory ensured British naval dominance for over a century and thwarted the Emperor of the French, Napoleon Bonaparte’s plans to invade Britain. Nelson’s last words were, “Thank God I have done my duty.”

Sources Battle of Trafalgar. 13 Facts About the Battle of Trafalgar. How Did Lord Nelson Win the Battle of Trafalgar So Convincingly?

Napoleon: A Concise Biography by David A. Bell.

Napoleon: A Life By Andrew Roberts.

Royal Museums Greenwich: What Were Nelson's Last Words?

Royal Navy: Battle of Trafalgar.

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