Decision at Trafalgar

Decision at Trafalgar

Decision at Trafalgar

Decision at Trafalgar

Excerpt

My reason for writing this account of the year of Trafalgar is that it seemed a curious omission that no book has hitherto set out to describe the most famous naval campaign and battle in history from all practicable points of view. One of the aims of my account, therefore, is to tell the story of the actual battle as it was seen through the eyes of the contending British, French and Spanish admirals, captains, lieutenants and ratings, frequently using their own words.

Since it is difficult to understand the significance of a battle unless all the many and varied circumstances surrounding it are known, I have also tried to present a picture of life and events in Britain and France during 1805: of Napoleon and Pitt, and the ordinary British folk who faced the threat of invasion and drilled with pike and pitchfork on the village greens when the French Emperor's "Army of England" was poised on the cliffs above Boulogne and his harbours were full of landing craft.

Yet the men who actually fought the battle and helped to preserve freedom for Britain served on board the ships of the Royal Navy in conditions little removed from slavery. They lived on salt meat said to be often so hard that it could be carved and would take a polish like a fine-grained wood; they were flogged for the slightest misdemeanour; and they were frequently cheated out of what miserable wage they were paid. Yet it was these men, many of them press-ganged jailbirds, who fought the enemy like demons --and who broke down and wept when Nelson died. Nelson made these men believe they were each worth three Frenchmen or four Spaniards; such was the magnetism of his leadership that in battle these odds were often achieved. So this account also tries to give the reader a glimpse into the Admiralty and the massive wooden ships that carried out its bidding, and to portray life afloat in the year 1805.

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