Five facts about… the Battle of Trafalgar

History Revealed explores Admiral Horatio Nelson's historic triumph over French and Spanish navies in 1805 – his last great victory

Five facts about… the Battle of Trafalgar (public domain)

The Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805 halted Napoleon’s plans to conquer Europe, established Britain as the dominant world naval power for the next century and confirmed Nelson’s reputation as one of the greatest military strategists of all time.


Here are five facts about the Battle of Trafalgar…


Battle lines

Under the command of Admiral Nelson, 27 ships engaged 33 vessels of both the French and Spanish navies at Cape Trafalgar, off the coast of Spain. Following five hours of battle, the French and Spanish had lost 18 ships – some of which were wrecked in a storm as they tried to retreat – and suffered at least 3,000 deaths. The British, despite losing 500 sailors during the day, did not lose a single ship.


Securing victory

The flagship of Nelson’s navy was HMS Victory. To build the 104-gun battleship, 6,000 oaks and elms were felled for the wood and it needed 26 miles of rope and rigging for the three masts. At Trafalgar, the ship had a crew of 821 men.


The Nelson touch

Nelson was arguably the Royal Navy’s most gifted and brilliant commander, and that was no better demonstrated than at Trafalgar. His battle plan, known as ‘The Nelson Touch’, went against traditional sea-battle tactics (where the two sides would form parallel lines). Nelson broke up his fleet into two sections, one of which flanked the French and Spanish vessels and attacked from the rear while the other smashed through the front, cutting the enemy line in half.


An apple a day

The section that attacked the allied rear line was commanded by Admiral Collingwood, Nelson’s second-in-command. As his ship, the Royal Sovereign, was engaged in fierce gunfire, Collingwood was spotted by his crew pacing the deck and calmly eating an apple.


Famous last words

After dealing with the enemy ship Bucentaure, Nelson turned HMS Victory and locked with another French ship, the Redoutable. Even though a hail of bullets rained down on Victory’s quarterdeck, Nelson continued to stand in full view in his admiral’s uniform until he was hit by a lone musket ball. He was carried into the ship where he died – but not before he was told that he was victorious. His last words were, “Thank God I have done my duty”.


This content first appeared in the Christmas 2014 issue of History Revealed