It's October 21, 1805, and French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, is determined to invade Britain. But first he must defeat the mighty British Navy.
A background to the Napoleonic Wars.
The Royal Navy keen to thwart France's invasion plans by blockading European ports. Admiral Horatio Nelson is aboard HMS Victory, off the coast of SW Spain near a little known place called Cape Trafalgar.
A map showing Cape Trafalgar, scene of the battle.
The British fleet, commanded by Nelson, comprises 27 ships of the line (warships) and 6 others, with 18,000+ men on board in total. The French and Spanish have 33 ships of the line and 8 others.
Details of the fleet and its crew.
French and Spanish ships sighted by the British fleet at dawn - 10 or 12 miles away. Admiral Nelson gives the order to chase.
The Battle of Trafalgar took place as part of the War of the Third Coalition.
Admiral Nelson has sent the signal everyone’s been waiting for. ‘Prepare for battle’. On his ship, HMS Victory, crew are clearing the decks and readying the cannon.
The Carronade Cannon was used on British ships at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar.
"Take care of my guardian angel" - Admiral Nelson’s words; as he orders a portrait of Lady Hamilton, his lover, to be taken to the hold for safety.
An oddly ‘gossipy’ report of Nelson's 200 year old affair with Hamilton - something of a ‘national scandal’ at the time.
Admiral Villeneuve, head of Franco-Spanish fleet, has ordered his ships to turn for Cadiz – he wants to be near a Spanish port after battle.
A biography of Admiral Villeneuve.
On HMS Victory, William Bunce and his team of carpenters are preparing timber shot-plugs to bung up holes torn in the ship’s hull during battle.
A biography of William Bunce.
But the formation is dangerous too. Ships can’t fire in their direction of travel. So the British can’t return fire until they break the French line. They're sitting ducks till then.
The principle of recoil explains why ships cannon fire in their direction of travel - they would lose momentum!
Prayer from Nelson: "May the great God who I worship grant my Country and for the benefit of Europe in General a great and Glorious Victory".
An image of Nelson's prayer written down.
Crew of HMS Victory grab lunch before the battle – cold pork and half a pint of wine to steady the nerves.
Victory's galley and sample menus, and how to get maggots and weevils out of a barrel of biscuits!
Battle Begins! French ship, The Fougueux, is the first to open fire on the approaching British fleet. British ships still can’t return fire yet - they're not able to fire in the direction they're travelling.
More information on the first ship to fire.
Victory taking heavy damage... 200 guns aiming at her. Steering wheel has been blown away. She’s now steered by a crude arrangement of ropes.
HMS Victory's wheel needed 4-8 men to operate it.
After forty minutes under fire, Victory breaks the enemy lines. She fires on her first French ship, the Bucentaure, and kills over a hundred in minutes.
Sung before the Battle of Trafalgar Heart of Oak is the Royal Navy's official march.
Victory now engaging French ship, the Redoubtable... Two ships are locked together. British gunners are firing at point-blank range.
A French account of The Redoutable at Trafalgar, by Captain Jean Jacques Etienne Lucas.
Redoutable’s soldiers have taken to the rigging of their ship. They’re now firing onto Victory’s deck with muskets and grenades. Victory taking heavy casualties on her top deck.
HMS Victory suffered her most serious damage at the Battle of Trafalgar.
A fierce gun battle now raging on the top decks of Victory and Redoubtable. A Lieutenant has been sent down to the gun deck to fetch reinforcements.
HMS Victory website gives a look at the lower gun deck.
Lieutenant has returned to top deck with re-enforcements but it’s too late, Nelson has been shot!
Eyewitness History info on the moment Nelson was shot.
Injured Nelson carried into cockpit of Victory. Surgeon, William Beatty, treats him and finds a musket ball has pierced his spine, lung, and a major artery.
The Royal Maritime Museum: "Who shot the man who shot Lord Nelson?".
Lieutenant and his men are now firing on French soldiers in the rigging of the Redoubtable, but it looks like the French are preparing to board!
An account from a Lieutenant aboard HMS Belleisle.
Redoubtable and others finally surrender. 474 of her 643 crew are dead.
Spoiler alert for this page about the French ship, Redoubtable.
Admiral Villeneuve has surrendered the French flagship ship to British. Battle is all but over now. Nelson still critically wounded though.
Nelson was injured in many previous battles before Trafalgar.
Hardy visits dying Nelson again to congratulate him on a brilliant victory. Nelson asks Hardy to kiss him.
A comprehensive explanation of "Kiss me, Hardy" - and the prudish reinterpretation of the quote into "kismet Hardy" (fate, Hardy)
Nelson has succumbed to his huge injures. But not after hanging on to ensure the day is won. His final words: "Thank God, I have done my duty." Nelson is dead.
Captain Hardy’s record of Nelson’s Death.
Fire is raging on French ship Achille's. HMS Prince has lowered lifeboats to fleeing French sailors. Fire is closing in on the ship's magazine.
More on HMS Prince.
Achille’s magazine explodes. The ship is blown to pieces, killing 480 people. It's the final action of the battle. The ships limp back to shore.
More on the French ship Achille.