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The Battle of Trafalgar, October 17 1,805

The British triumph was undoubted and not-disputed, the victors achieved maritime hegemony and absolute control of all the seas on the planet, used as a base for consolidating their empire.

By Fernando Cortés Cortés – official chronicler of Badajoz

On that day, in the waters of the Gulf of Cádiz, close to Barbate and Los Caños de Meca, Cape Trafalgar, the eastern limit of the Strait of Gibraltar and the scene of the historic battle.

Photo - Wikipedia 


The naval combat, considered one of the most important battles in the XIX century, contemplated the two forces of allied squadrons of France and Spain, commended by the vice-admiral of the French fleet during the so-called Napoleonic Wars, Pierre Villeneuve, under his mandate was Capitan General of the Royal Spanish Armada, Federico Gravina against the British fleet, led by Horacio Nelson, one of the Vice-Admirals of the British Royal Navy, who obtained the Victoria Cross and the name of Trafalgar Square in London in memory of his leadership.

A victorious action or dramatic number of dead human beings is the supreme irrationality which dates from the very remote origins of humanity. War, always war, any war is seen by some as most dramatic and also irrational when time has passed. And then distant memories of the battle some 212 years ago and all the Spaniards, British and French who lost their lives during the battle or from the consequences.
Thousands of anonymous sailors, embarked troops for the better or worse, until ignoring the danger of such an unnatural thing as the loss of lives. Ending with three Admirals on the fighting fleets leaving their lives behind fighting.

Case in point – Horatio Nelson died aboard his HMS Victory, injured by a mosquito cannonball shot by a Frenchman on board the ‘Redoutable’. Federico Gravina died at the start of March 1806, while Pierre Villeneuve, was captured by the British and later released only to commit suicide or was a victim of an assassination, in the French city of Rennes, by Napoleon’s agents.

The victory of Nelson at Trafalgar, in addition to ensuring British complete dominance of the seas for some 100 years, ended the threats and plans from Napoleon to invade the British Isles, for which he had assembled some 2,000 cannons, transported to French ports across the English Channel he transported an army of 167,000 veteran soldiers to the coast of Kent. For his invasion to be a success, Napoleon had to be certain that the British Royal Navy were distant from the English Channel.

After some manoeuvres by the British fleet, with the French and Spanish navigating in the Caribbean waters on the European façade to the Atlantic and after some skirmishes, on 21 October 1805, both fleets came together and started fighting close to Trafalgar cape.

The Spanish-French fleet, under the supreme command of Villeneuve, dispersed in a form of an irregular half-moon with large distances between each vessel, while Nelson’s fleet established two separated columns, and attacked the allies’ formation.

The British fleet with Victory leading, broke the line between the French and Spanish as Nelson had planned, to convert the battle into a series of individual actions – ship verses ship, with the British artillery far superior and hence the battle was determined.

Not forgetting, an erroneous and careless decision by Villeneuve who ordered the fleet to turn about 180º to have Cádiz in a following wind, considering a return to the city to take refuge was inevitable. But his commandment led to the allies’ lines disintegrating into chaos in the middle of a British attack, which was total and absolute. The manoeuvre by Villeneuve would have been favourable unless Nelson had been forgotten and his majestic battle plan, showed in the eyes of his own men and of the British enemy the tacit understanding of an imminent total defeat.

The British triumph was undisputed and long lasting – an absolute control of the waters of the world at the time of the British Empire which was then consolidated. In addition, in ended all the aspirations by Napoleon to extend his influence across Europe. His own plans were now only dreams and his Waterloo lasted only ten years.

For the Iberian Peninsula – for Spain and Portugal fighting broke out for days, months and years over who had been Nelson’s allies at Trafalgar. A cruel paradox of circumstances from the decisions made by responsible politicians. An invasion of allies existed. For the Spanish the defeat at Trafalgar was allied to the War of Independence, where the French were the invading enemy to defeat.

Historic circumstances remembered two hundred years later of mankind, from the humble slave to the most qualified sailor, in Trafalgar and its consequences all of them lost their lives.

As Paul Valéry said ‘The war is a massacre among peoples who don’t know each other, to take advantage of the weak who are unaware they are about to be massacred’