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Sunday
Sep272015

Nelson's battle plan for Trafalgar, 21 October 1805

Captain Horatio Nelson. Battle plan for the engagement with the combined fleets of the French and Spanish Navies, during the War of the Third Coalition of the Napoleonic Wars off Cape Trafalgar, Spain. 1805 © National Maritime Museum, London.

A wall of ships, the British ships sail toward it planning to cut the line in three, taking out the flagship first, i.e. no signals.  Not being a naval historian, and reading a brief summary, it appears that part of the English fleet was at Gibralter, weakening the total Navy, and so the French and Spanish thought they could defend Cadiz by forming a long line in front of it.  However, weather will intervene.  Little wind and contradictory orders to the French and Spanish to turn resulted in an extremely slow reformation leaving clumps of ships over a loose five-mile line.  In come two tight arrow-like British lines.  As they all were no doubt luffing around in the same calm weather, the battle must have seemed a bit like slow-motion.  However, outnumbered, outgunned and out-shipped, the British won, Nelson was shot and died, and storms that blew up the next day sank several of the wounded ships of the day before.  

If there is anything that endears one to Nelson's 'England expects that every man will do his duty' spelled out in signal flags flying from his own flagship, it is this scrap of a battle plan on the back of what looks like a bit of blotting paper.  One must never be seen to be trying too hard, but duty is done nonetheless.

Does this kind of thinking exist any more?  I only come across it in British espionage novels, those thrilling, complicated, but allegedly deeply conservative tales that pass these days as my escape reading.  Ex-SAS men gone rogue sort of stuff.  Not really rogue, in the end one finds they are on the side of right and duty.  Of course.

Anyway, beautiful little drawing.  It moves me to tears for some reason.

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