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This battleship won on October 21, 1805 by the British fleet, led by Admiral Nelson over the Napoleonic fleet, commanded by Admiral Villeneuve and supported by the Spanish fleet, took place off the cape of Trafalgar, in southern Spain near Cadiz. It pitted eighteen French and fifteen Spanish ships against twenty-seven British ships. Underestimated by Napoleon, it definitively established the naval domination of the United Kingdom and its determination to defeat the emperor.
The Battle of Trafalgar
Against the French Empire a third coalition is formed between England, Russia and Austria. To invade England, Napoleon, established in the Boulogne camp, gathered 200,000 men along the Channel and had 7,000 transport barges built. But the English fleet must be removed by the junction of the French squadrons. The most important, commanded by Vice Admiral Villeneuve, was blocked in the Spanish port of Cadiz by Admiral Horatio Nelson and his lieutenant Collingwood. Napoleon, who had had to give up his plans to invade England, ordered Admiral Villeneuve - who had shown himself incapable of unblocking the Rochefort fleet - to reach the Mediterranean, to attack Naples.
Villeneuve obeyed, although he was aware of his inferiority to Nelson. At dawn on October 21, two days after leaving the port, the French fleet and the Spanish fleet, which had come as reinforcements, were intercepted by the English. With 33 vessels, the Franco-Spanish squadron, which had formed according to the classic line of file, was attacked by Nelson, who had divided his fleet of 27 vessels into two columns which cut the center and the left of the fleet. ally; this one lost 17 ships out of 33, and on November 4, four ships of the right, which had escaped with Dumanoir, were in their turn taken by the English.
A victory which establishes British maritime supremacy
These counted around 1,500 victims, including Nelson, who was killed during the battle on the deck of his ship, the Victory, while the allies lost 7,000 men and around 20 ships of the Franco-Spanish fleet. De Villeneuve was taken prisoner on board the Bucentaure. The unfortunate French admiral will end his life shortly after being freed by the English.
The British victory, which definitively put an end to Napoleon's plans to invade England, assured Great Britain, for a century, the control of the sea. As for the French navy, which had nevertheless known its hour of glory under Louis XVI during the American war of independence against the Royal Navy, it will never again have the opportunity to shine in the conflicts to come ... October 21 was celebrated throughout the British Empire under the name of "Trafalgar Day" during the 19th century and early 20th century, but today this festival is little known.
- Trafalgar: The vagaries of Napoleon's naval strategy by Michèle Battesti. 2004.
- Nelson against Napoleon: From Aboukir to Trafalgar by Anne Pons. Perrin, 2005.
- The Battle of Trafalgar by Rémi Monaque. Tallandier, 2005.
- Dictionary of the battles of Napoleon: 1796-1815 by Alain Pigeard. Tallandier, 2004.