The Battle of Trafalgar was an historic sea battle fought off Cape Trafalgar on the southern Spanish coast between the British Navy and the combined forces of the French and Spanish Navy.
In 1802 the Treaty of Amiens had ended hostilities between the British and French. However, Napoleon, who controlled much of mainland Europe, was planning further conquests, notably the invasion of England.
In 1804 war broke out again and the British, who controlled the seas, used blockades to prevent French and Spanish ships from venturing out of port. Napoleon was allied to Spain and therefore had control of the Spanish naval forces. The French ships were stationed at Brest and Toulon while the Spanish ships were stationed at Cadiz and Ferrol.
Napoleon knew that to successfully invade England he would need to take control of the English Channel. His plan was for the French and Spanish ships to break through the British blockades, rendezvous in the West Indies then sail to and take control of the English Channel.
In March 1805 Admiral Villeneuve managed to break through the blockade at Toulon, joined forces with a Spanish fleet and sailed for the West Indies. As soon as Nelson realised the French fleet had sailed he set off after Villeneuve. Villeneuve reached the West Indies and, as planned sailed to free the French fleet blockaded at Brest. However, when two of his ships were captured he abandoned the mission and returned to Spain.
By late September Villeneuve’s combined fleet of 33 ships was blockaded off Cadiz. The British fleet of 27 ships waited for Villeneuve to break port. Nelson’s plan was for the British fleet to form two lines and break the Spanish line.
On 18th October Villeneuve prepared his fleet to sail and on 20th October the combined French and Spanish fleet were underway and early on 21st October the two sides were in view of each other.
At 11.45 am Nelson gave the famous flag signal ‘England expects that every man will do his duty’. The first shot was fired at around noon by the French ship Fougueux. Soon afterwards Nelson’s ship the Victory came under fire. At around 1.15pm a musket shot hit Nelson in the shoulder and passed through to his spine, he died from his injuries three hours later.
The battle lasted for four hours and was a resounding British victory ensuring British naval supremacy for the next century and preventing any further threats of a Napoleonic invasion of England.