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French Trafalgar, British Waterloo

Napoleon sainthelene

Napoleon looking over the English Channel.

In 1805, Napoleon looked across the English Channel to the one enemy that he had remaining: the United Kingdom. Her army, although experienced in subduing the citizens of the territories acquired by the British, was no match for the massive French Grand Army. In any battle, Napoleon would for certainly win. But the Royal Navy, the strongest and proudest navy in the world, stood in the way. No invasion, or even threat of invasion, could proceed without first of all destroying the fleet commanded by Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson.

On November 1, Nelson finally engaged the Franco-Spanish fleet under Villenuve near Cape Trafalgar, and the battle began. The British fleet reorganized themselves into two columns, one under Nelson himself, the other under Vice-Admiral Collingwood, which were then supposed to sail in the Franco-Spanish line of battle. Admiral Villeneuve was confident this was to happen, and decided that the force under Vice-Admiral Ganteaume would attack from the north, divided into two, and attack both the north and the west after the two columns were formed, while he would attack from the south and east, and encircle the British Fleet. The Main Fleet he knew would suffer some damage, before Ganteaume would arrive, he reasoned, but Nelson would be surrounded, and the British will be crushed.

Fall of Nelson

The climax of the Battle of Trafalgar, the death of Admiral Nelson on the Victory.

The British sailed to the main French fleet, which Nelson thought was the only fleet but, as the British ships came up, Villeneuve ordered his ships to divide up, and turn sharply, and surround and engage the British ships as the came up. Although this resulted in a few collisions in the two fleets, in the end, Nelson had been tricked. His belief that the French and Spanish would adhere to the centuries old tradition of the line of battle had made him confident of victory. A French sharpshooter, however, shot Nelson killing him, but the overwhelming majority of the British ships, all sunk or captured minus the Victory, resulted in a nearly one sided victory for the French-Spanish fleet, which only suffered roughly 12 damaged or sunk ships.

The Battle of Trafalgar was Napoleon's greatest victory, destroying the stronger and more professional Royal Navy in battle. Now, Napoleon must decide what to do with his victory: invade England, or make peace, and focus on Europe?

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