By "Tyrtaios" and "Jpwrel"
Best Defense royal office of Royal Navy affairs
Both of us
are interested in naval history and have visited HMS Victory in Portsmouth, England, albeit in different ways. As
a young Marine officer aboard the USS Trenton,
one of us has lunched and drank toasts to Admiral Lord Nelson at CINC NAV Home, Nelson's old
headquarters in Portsmouth, England. At this Navy function where a
leathery captain of Royal Marines recognized the young Marine as surely as a
mustang and made sure he was adequately supplied with jiggers of British Navy
one of us culminated a long interest in the Royal Navy's history and its naval
architecture by also visiting and intimately inspecting HMS Victory, but in much less rousing form.
From the depths of its rarely seen original keelson to its quarterdeck and
Nelson's private quarters, he has studied this ship in detail accompanied by the
assistant curator of the National Maritime Museum.
question we want to pose is this: Do we still have commanders that embrace the spirit of "No captain can do very
wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy," or have we
become so reliant on technology and information flow that we allow opportunity
to slip away?
captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy."
And so it was on October 21, 1805, off Cape Trafalgar, near Cadiz, Spain, two
fleets engaged each other to decide who would be master of the seas, the
British or Bonaparte and his Spanish allies.
before engaging the enemy, as the British fleet slowly approached the combined
French and Spanish line, Admiral Nelson hoisted a flag signal to his fleet that
said: "ENGLAND EXPECTS THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY." From the
quarterdeck on his flagship HMS Victory,
the Royal Navy's most gifted admiral commanded a fleet of twenty-seven ships of
outnumbered, by executing some unorthodox tactics that would divide his enemy
into three segments, Nelson smashed through the line of battle of the
thirty-three French and Spanish vessels. A French officer remarked
later, "This manner of engaging was contrary to the most simple prudence . . ."
And as John Terraine wrote, "That it did not produce a disaster was due
entirely to the immense superiority in seamanship, gunnery and morale of the
British fleet . . . All factors Nelson was of course fully aware of."
three-decker Victory that Nelson
commanded from, alongside his friend and Flag Captain Thomas Hardy, displayed
more than 100 guns, a few of them the new and devastating 68-pound cannons
mounted on the forecastle. With its crew of eight hundred, Victory bore down on
the French in light air at 3 knots. Engaging first the French flagship Bucentar to port with a raking broadside
through her stern galleries and then the French Redoubtable to starboard, Nelson ordered another signal to his
fleet, "ENGAGE THE ENEMY MORE CLOSELY."
fire, grapeshot, musket balls, and deadly splinters of ship's wood destroyed and
maimed all in their path. Victory's
steering wheel was smashed to bits. All the while, and against the wishes of
Hardy, and wearing his finest uniform making himself a more conspicuous target,
Nelson calmly paced up and down in clear view of the enemy.
into the battle, Nelson's personal secretary John Scott was sliced in two by a
cannon ball that blew his body parts over the side leaving just scraps of him
on deck. Nelson observed one scrap included a silver buckle torn from Scott's
shoe, and the Admiral was heard to exclaim, "This is too warm work Hardy
to last long!"
British pressed further to breach their enemies line of battle engaging them
with both port and starboard batteries. Both sides were raked with gunfire at
close quarters. Masts and rigging fell. Victory
and Redoubtable were so close that
their rigging entangled side by side as they exchanged point-blank gunfire.
be Nelson's friend Hardy that would turn to see Nelson fall to the deck on the
exact spot where Scott was killed earlier. The gold braiding was torn from
Nelson's epaulet the Admiral having been shot through his left shoulder. The
Admiral's spine was also broken and surely he must have known he would not
survive the fight.
hot sea battle in those days, it was customary to throw the mortally wounded
and the dead over the side. However, Captain Hardy ordered that Nelson be
carried below. There he died three hours later, perhaps knowing, but not
seeing, he had won a great victory at Trafalgar. Nineteen enemy ships had been
sunk or captured versus not a single British ship lost and four more of the
escaping French ships would be captured two weeks later by Adm. Collingwood, Nelson's
battle, HMS Victory put into Gibraltar for repairs where legend has it that
Nelson's body was placed in a large cask of brandy, although some say rum, to
preserve it for the long voyage back to England, whereupon arrival back in
England, the cask was opened and Nelson's preserved body removed. And it is here that the legend is further
embellished in that the brandy was seen to be almost gone. Had the jack tar
sailors, probably under the winking watchful eyes of enlisted Royal Marines
drilled a small hole at the base of the cask through which they drained the
brandy, and with that drank the blood of their Admiral?