Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Death of Lord Nelson, 1805

Today is the Death Anniversary of one of England’s great admirals.

It was one of the greatest sea battles in British history and gave birth to a legend. Off the coast of Spain's Cape Trafalgar Peninsula, the British Fleet, led by Lord Horatio Nelson, took on a combined French and Spanish force to determine who would be the master of the waves. England's very existence was at stake for France's Napoleon Bonaparte was poised to send his powerful army across the English Channel to conquer the island. The only obstacle standing in his way was the British fleet.

The battle commenced on October 21, 1805 with Nelson's famous words signalled to his fleet: "England expects that every man will do his duty." Nelson had devised an unorthodox battle plan that called for his ships to attack the enemy broadside in two parallel lines, break into the enemy's formation and blast his opponents at close quarters.

As Nelson watched from the deck of the HMS Victory the battle soon turned into a confused melee of combat between individual ships. The fighting was at such close quarters that the Victory became entangled with the French ship Redoubtable. Locked together in a deadly ballet, each ship blasted its enemy at point-blank range. From his perch in the upper rigging of the Redoubtable, a French sharpshooter took aim at a prized target on the deck of the Victory, fired and sent a musket ball into Nelson's left shoulder. Continuing its journey, the bullet tore a path through the Admiral's upper body before smashing into his lower back. It was a mortal wound.

Nelson was carried below decks while the battle raged on. He lived long enough to hear the news of the Redoubtable's surrender and of his fleet's victory after four and a half hours of combat.

Dr. William Beatty was a physician aboard the Victory and attended to Nelson as he lay dying.Ah, Doctor! - It is all over; it is all over”.

(The stamp on the miniature sheet says it all. Click to enlarge it)

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