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Posted on Mar 19, 2007 in Front Page Features, War College

Battle of Trafalgar

By Nicky Nielsen

Later Captain Hardy came below to express his confidence that the Admiral would survive. Again Nelson simply smiled sadly and told Hardy that he had no chance of survival and that Beatty would agree. Then Nelson told Hardy to attend to the other crew members who might still be saved. When Beatty returned, Nelson asked for a prognosis. Beatty, overcome with emotion, looked at the Admiral and said: ““My Lord, unhappily for our country nothing can be done for you.” Beatty later wrote that in order to hide his tears he “turned round and withdrew a few steps.” After these grave news, Hardy left Nelson and returned to the quarterdeck. The battle was drawing to an end. The French ships were shot to pieces by the British fleet, and several of them were ablaze. The Victory itself however, was so severely crippled after the battle with the Redoubtable that it was unable to defend itself. Suddenly Hardy realized that he was facing catastrophe; five Spanish ships were bearing down on him. The ships had attempted to rejoin the fighting but had been rebuffed by Admiral Collingwood who had formed a crude line of seven ships to stop the Spanish ships from reaching the fight. The Spaniards now decided to take out the defenceless Victory. Luckily for Hardy, two British 74-gun ships daringly crossed in front of the five advancing Spanish ships, racking them heavily and protecting the Victory. The two ships in question, Minotaur and Spartiate also managed to force the Spanish 80-gun ship Neptuno to capitulate. This more or less ended the battle.

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At 4.30 p.m. Hardy returned to Nelson’s side. The Admiral was lying still on the bed, he could not breathe properly and was drifting in and out of consciousness. Captain Hardy told Nelson that they had won a great victory and capture 14 or 15 enemy vessels. At this point Nelson opened his eyes and remarked dryly: “That is well, but I had bargained for 20”. A few minutes after this incident he requested a kiss from Captain Hardy, quite a common fraternal gesture at that time. After Captain Hardy had kissed Nelson’s cheeks and forehead, Nelson requested that Hardy brought his body back to England: “Don’t throw me overboard, Hardy,” he simply said and when Hardy promised to bring Nelson back, the Admiral whispered: ”God Bless You, Hardy.” After this, the Captain left admiral Nelson who slipped into unconsciousness. As his life was running out, Beatty claimed that Nelson whispered silently: “Thank God I have done my duty!”

In the log of the Victory it is noted: “Partial firing continued until 4.30, when the victory having been reported to the Right Hon. Lord Viscount Nelson, K. B., and Commander-in-Chief, he died of his wound.”

The remnants of the Franco-Spanish fleet withdrew to Cadiz under the command of the Spanish Admiral Gravina, who had been severely wounded, and later died of his injuries. A few of the Franco-Spanish ships, however, refused to acknowledge defeat. Onboard the San Juan, which had lost all of its ensigns, Commodore Churruca was hit by a canon ball that severed his leg. “It is nothing,” he cried as he steadied himself against the bulwark, “go on firing!” As he was taken below he ordered the crew to nail the spare ensign to the remnants of the mast to show defiance; there was simply no rope left onboard to hang it from.

The final end of the battle came at 5.45 p.m. when the French ship Achille exploded as a result of extensive fires which reached the powder magazine. Only 100 of the original 500 man crew survived. After the deafening explosion all resistance ended and the Franco-Spanish ships who had not escaped were now captured. The British captured 18 out of 33 ships of the Combined Fleet and killed more than 4,300 French and Spanish sailors. The British had not lost a single ship, albeit several of them were shot to pieces, but still afloat. The British casualties amounted to some 499 men killed and around 1,200 wounded. A remarkably small price to pay for such a grand victory. But the most severe loss for the British was naturally the loss of their Admiral and Commander-in-Chief; this, the greatest naval tactician of modern history had fallen for his country, in the execution of his duties.

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Captain Hardy was true to his word and did not bury Lord Nelson at sea. The Admiral’s body was conserved in a casket of Brandy and laid to rest in St. Paul’s Cathedral on the 9th of January, 1806. Nelson’s body was laid in a coffin, cut from the wood of the L’Orient, the grand French flagship Nelson had conquered at the Battle of the Nile, and this wooden coffin was placed in a grand sarcophagus and hoisted into the grave by a party of his old ship-mates from the Victory. The attendance at Lord Nelson’s funeral was enormous: Thousands of mourners lined the streets and more than 100 Captain and 32 Admirals attended the service which was also preceded over by members of the British Nobility and several ministers and members of the Royal Family.

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