The Immortal Memory

The Battle of Trafalgar by J. M. W. Turner (oi...

Image via Wikipedia

If you wish to accuse me of being a bit tardy, I will accede. This perennial post of mine, most years since the very first, should have been yesterday’s post. I simply forgot. So unlike in naval combat, in blogging late is better than never.


If you remember, I referred a while back to President Jefferson’s open letter regarding the return of Louisiana to France from Spain, where he commented that “on that day we shall have to marry ourselves to the British fleet and people”, and later commented “that from that day forward France shall end at her low water mark”. This is the day that France (and Spain) would forever lose control of the sea to Great Britain.

Today is the anniversary of a battle to rank with Salamis, with Waterloo, and with Yorktown. For today the English speaking peoples with their concepts of individual liberty and rights took control of the sea.

That battle is Trafalgar. The battle was fought off of the south-west coast of Spain between the British Squadron with 27 Ships-of-the-Line and the combined French and Spanish fleets with 33.

The Franco-Spanish fleet was under orders to sail for Brest to help accomplish the invasion of England, which was, by far, Napoleon’s most steadfast enemy.

Remember these were sailing ships, completely dependent on the wind. and at Trafalgar, there was very little. The French and especially the Spanish were short-handed and had to fill their ship’s companies with soldiers. The British on the other hand had been blockading the coast for years and had been drilled mercilessly. Their commander, himself, had not been off the flagship for more than two years.

Alfred Thayer Mahan in his classic The Influence of Sea Power upon History puts it this way: “Those distant, storm-tossed ships, never seen by the Grande Armee, were all that stood between it and world domination.

And so today, in 1805, the battle was joined. The British had the weather gage and a very unusual plan. Because of the light wind, they would divide their battle line in two, with each squadron approaching the Franco-Spanish line at an acute angle. With a well-trained enemy, this would have been nearly suicidal but, under these conditions it allowed the British to engage the entire fleet and win the battle in a single day.

The British were under the command of a man who had had his introduction to naval war in the American Revolution, he fought in several minor battles off Toulon, was integral in the capture of Corsica, was captain of HMS Captain at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. At the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, he lost his right arm, he won a decisive victory over the French at The Battle of the Nile and against the Danes at the Battle of Copenhagen.

At Trafalgar the British fleet went into battle with this signal flying from the flagship:

That flagship is, of course, the HMS Victory, which is now the oldest naval ship in regular commission in the world.


An aside, the second oldest, USS Constitution (and the oldest afloat) was launched on 21 October 1797. Over last weekend she sailed across Boston Harbor to Fort Independence on Castle Island where she fired a twenty-one gun salute, as she returned she also fired a salute at Coast Guard Sector Boston, the former Edmund Hartt’s Shipyard, where she was built. Here she is, afloat and underway

CASEY SCOULAR/U.S. NAVY


The Admiral in command is Horatio, Lord Nelson.

Or to give him his full name:

Admiral Lord Nelson

The Most Noble Lord Horatio Nelson, Viscount and Baron Nelson, of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk, Baron Nelson of the Nile and of Hilborough in the said County, Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Vice Admiral of the White Squadron of the Fleet, Commander in Chief of his Majesty’s Ships and Vessels in the Mediterranean, Duke of Bronté in the Kingdom of Sicily, Knight Grand Cross of the Sicilian Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit, Member of the Ottoman Order of the Crescent, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of St Joachim

as it is inscribed on his coffin in St. Paul’s cathedral, for he was killed by a French marine during the battle.

The first tribute to Nelson was fittingly offered at sea by sailors of Vice-Admiral Dmitry Senyavin’s passing Russian squadron, which saluted on learning of the death.

King George III, upon receiving the news, is reported to have said, in tears, “We have lost more than we have won”.

And the Times reported:

We do not know whether we should mourn or rejoice. The country has gained the most splendid and decisive Victory that has ever graced the naval annals of England; but it has been dearly purchased.

For us, as Americans, much of the development of our country, the end of slavery, and the freedom of all American republics from, the Canadian Arctic to Tierra del Fuego owe their self-government to the victory by Lord Nelson and the continuing efforts throughout the nineteenth century of the Royal Navy.

Even today, we note that HMS Queen Elizabeth, the new British strike carrier is working up off the coast of North America, as she learns in cooperation with our navy, how to project force in the twenty-first century

And so tonight in the Royal Navy and the Commonwealth navies, and at least in some places in the United States Navy and even in other navies and places will be drunk the one naval toast that is drunk in total silence:

The Immortal Memory of Lord Nelson and those who fell with him”

The traditional music to follow the toast is: Rule Britannia.

 

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4 Responses to The Immortal Memory

  1. GP Cox says:

    The Tall ships are simply Grand!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. the unit says:

    ‘Nother good history lesson. And yep, I’ve read it here before. Never too many times.
    And another anniversery. My first hurricane. Information is in a paywall so after I’ll tell, in short, the story.
    https://newspaperarchive.com/biloxi-daily-herald-sep-20-1947-p-1/
    No National Hurricane Center back then, just heard transmitted messages from ships at sea about storms.
    This one came in and washed old Captain I knew back then out of his HarborMaster quarters into the water. He managed to swim to the Azara anchored into the brunt of the storm. All aboard survived, as did the Azara.
    The Azara was there all of my growing up years up at least ’til the ’60s.
    Not a warship, but a beautiful three mast schnoor. Seems to be no pictures of her on the internet and don’t know what happened to her in all these years. But a grand memory of the tall ships.
    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      This is Gulfport I’d guess. The first time I was there there was a fair size freighter laying on its beam ends on the beach, but I imagine that was from Camille. Yours is probably earlier. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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