Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Battle of Trafalgar: The Logbook of the Euryalus, 21st October 1805

HMS Euryalus

Monday, October 21st 1805
A.M. - At 12.30, set foresail.  At 4, out one reef of the topsails.  Light breezes and hazy.  At daylight, the body of the enemy's fleet ESE 5 or 6 miles.  English fleet WSW.  At 8, observed the British fleet forming their lines, the headmost ships from the enemy's centre 8 or 9 miles.  The enemy's force consisting of thirty-three sail of the line, five frigates and two brigs.  Light winds and hazy with a great swell from the westward.  English fleet all sail set.  Standing towards the enemy, then on the starboard tack.  At 8.5, answered Lord Nelson's signal for the captain, who went immediately on board the Victory.  Took our station on the Victory's larboard quarter and repeated the Admiral's signals.  At 10, observed the enemy wearing and coming to the wind on the larboard tack.  At 11.40, repeated Lord Nelson's telegraph message: 'I intend to push or go through the end of the enemy's line to prevent them from getting into Cadiz.'  Saw the land bearing E by N, 5 or 6 leagues.  At 11.56, repeated Lord Nelson's telegraph message: 'England expects that every man will do his duty.'  At noon, light winds and a great swell from the westward.  Observed the Royal Sovereign, Admiral Collingwood, leading the lee line, bearing down on the enemy's rear line, being then nearly within gunshot of them.  Lord Nelson, leading the weather line, bore down on the enemy's centre.  Captain Blackwood returned from the Victory.  Cape Trafalgar SE by E, about 5 leagues.  

The page of the log upon which Nelson's most famous signal was recorded.  With thanks to The Lloyd's Collection.  Please do not reuse this image without contacting me first.

P.M. - Light winds and hazy.  British fleet bearing down in two lines on the enemy's, which was forming in one line from NNE to SSE, their strongest force from the van to the centre.  At 12.15, the British fleet bearing down on the enemy, Vice-Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson leading the weather line in the Victory, and Vice-Admiral Collingwood the lee line.  At 12.15, the enemy opened a heavy fire upon the Royal Sovereign.  At 12.16, the English Admirals hoisted their respective flags and the fleet, the British fleet, the British ensign (white).  At 12.17, Admiral Collingwood returned the enemy's fire in a brave and steady manner.  At 12.20, we repeated Lord Nelson's signal for the British fleet to engage close, which was answered by the whole fleet.  At 12.21, the van and centre of the enemy's line opened a heavy fire upon the Victory and the ships she was leading into action.  At 12.22, Admiral Collingwood and the headmost ships of his line broke through the rear of the enemy's, where the action commenced in a most severe and determined manner.  At 12.23, Lord Nelson returned the enemy's fire in the centre and van in a determined, cool and steady manner.  At 12.24, Lord Nelson and the headmost of the line he led into action, broke into the van and centre of the enemy's line and commenced the action in that quarter in a steady and gallant manner.  Observed the Africa coming into the line, she being to leeward, with all sails set on the starboard tack (free).  We kept Lord Nelson's signal flying at the main royal mast head, for the British fleet to engage close.  At 12.26, observed one of the French ships totally dismasted about the centre of the line, by some of the ships of our lee line, and another of them with her fore yard and mizen topmast shot away.  At 1.15, observed the Tonnant's fore top-mast shot away.  At 1.32, her main yard shot away.  The centre and rear of the enemy's line hard pressed in action.  At 2, the Africa engaged very close a French 2-decked ship, and in about 5 minutes' time, shot away her main and mizen masts.  At 2.10, observed the Mars hard pressed in action.  The remainder of the British fleet, which were come into action, kept up a well-directed fire on the enemy.  At 2.15, the Neptune, supported by the Colossus, opened a heavy fire upon the Santisima Trinidad and 2 other of the enemy's line which were next her.  At 2.20, The Trinidad's main and mizen masts were shot away.  At 2.30, the Africa shot away the fore mast of the 2-decked ship she was engaged with, and left her a complete wreck.  She then bore up under the Trinidad's stern and raked her fore and aft.  Colossus and Neptune still engaged with her and the other two ships, which appeared by their colours to be French.  At 2.34, the Trinidad's fore mast shot away, and at 2.26 one of the French ships' main and mizen masts.  Observed 9 of the enemy's van wear and stand down towards the centre.  Observed the Royal Sovereign with her main and mizen masts gone.  At 2.36, answered Lord Nelson's signal to pass within hail, made all possible sail and made the signal to the Sirius, Phoebe and Naiad to take ships in tow which were disabled ENE, which she answered.  Sounded in 50 fathoms.  At 2.40, observed a French 2-decked ship on fire and dismasted in the SSE quarter.  Passed the Spartiate and another 2-deck ship standing towards the enemy's van and opened a heavy fire, when the action in that quarter commenced very severe.  At 2.50, passed by the Mars, who hailed us to take them in tow.  Captain Blackwood answered that he would do it with pleasure, but that he was going to take the second in command, the Royal Sovereign.  The officer that hailed us from the Mars, said that Captain Duff was no more.  At 3, came alongside the Royal Sovereign and took her in tow.  Captain Blackwood was hailed by Admiral Collingwood and ordered to go on board the Santa Ana, Spanish 3-deck ship, and bring him the Admiral, which Captain Blackwood obeyed.  At 3.30, the enemy's van approached as far as the centre and opened a heavy fire on the Victory, Neptune, Spartiate, Colossus, Mars, Africa, Agamemnon and Royal Sovereign, which we had in tow, and was most nobly returned.  We had several of our main and topmast rigging cut away, and backstays by the enemy's shot, and there being no time to haul down the studdingsails, as the enemy's van ships hauled up for us, we cut them away and let them go overboard, at which time one of the enemy's nearest ships to us was totally dismasted.  At 4, light variable winds; not possible to manage the Royal Sovereign, so as to bring her broadside to bear upon the enemy's ships.  At 4.10, we had the stream cable, by which the Royal Sovereign was towed, shot away and a cutter from the quarter.  Wore ship, and stood for the Victory.  Observed the Phoebe and Sirius and Naiad coming into the centre and taking some of the disabled ships in tow.  At this time the firing ceased a little.  At 4.20, observed a Spanish two-deck ship dismasted and struck to one of our ships.  Observed several of the enemy's ships still hard engaged.  At 5, _ of the enemy's van and _ of their rear bore up and made all sail to the northward; were closely followed by the English, which opened a heavy fire upon them and dismasted a French two-deck ship and a Spanish two-deck ship.  At 5.20, the Achille, French two-deck ship, which was on fire, blew up with a great explosion.  At 5.25, made sail for the Royal Sovereign.  Observed the Victory's mizen mast go overboard, about which time the firing ceased, leaving the English fleet conquerors, with _ sail of the enemy's ships in our possession and one blown up, _ of which were first rates, and all dismasted.  At 5.55, Admiral Collingwood came on board and hoisted his flag (blue at the fore).  At 6.15, sent a spare shroud hawser on board the Royal Sovereign and took her in tow, and at the same time sent all our boats with orders from Admiral Collingwood to all the English ships we could discover near us that they were to take the captured ships in tow and follow the Admiral.  At the time saw Cape Trafalgar bearing SE by E about 8 miles.  Sent a boat on board the Spanish three-deck ship which had struck, one main topgallant sail, standing jib and main topgallant stay-sail.  At 7.36, took aback, and the Royal Sovereign fell on board of our starboard beam, and there being a great swell she damaged the main channels, took away the lanyards of the main and mizen rigging, jolly-boat from the quarter and davits, the most of the quarter-deck and waist hammock cloths, boards, railing, with a number of hammocks and bedding; took away the main and mizen topgallant masts, lost the royals and yards.  Tore the fore and main sails very much, and took away a great part of the running rigging.  At 7.40 got her clear, made sail on the starboard tack with a light wind from the WSW, and a great swell.  Employed repairing the damages sustained by the Sovereign falling on board of us.  At 9, sounded in 23 fathoms.  Made the signal with a gun, prepare to anchor.  Fleet and prizes in company.  Light airs and a great swell from the westward.  At 9.15, sounded in 15 fathoms.  At 9.2, in 14 fathoms.  At 9.35, the water deepened.  At 11, sounded in 36 fathoms.  At 11.20, the water shoaled to 26 fathoms.  At 12, in 22 fathoms. 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Battle of Trafalgar: The Logbook of the Euryalus, 20th October 1805

I recently had the opportunity to view the logbook of Frederick Ruckert, Master of the Euryalus, which is held in the Lloyds Collection in London.  So I decided that for this year's Trafalgar tribute posts, I would post the entries from the log that cover the Battle of Trafalgar. 

The Euryalus was a 36-gun frigate commanded by Captain Henry Blackwood.  Nelson had his small frigate squadron stationed outside Cadiz to keep an eye on the combined French and Spanish fleet sheltering within, and they used a chain of signals to keep in constant communication with him so he could keep the bulk of his fleet out of sight of the enemy.  So as soon as the enemy began to move to sea, Nelson knew about it.  Nelson had missed the French more than once during his career because a lack of frigates, which he called his 'eyes'.  But this time, they would not be able to escape him.

Frigates were too small to take part in major fleet actions against ships with 74 guns or more, but they played a role in boarding surrendered ships, towing disabled ships out of action and, crucially, passing along signals.  As such, the Euryalus observed much of the battle and so her logbook reads as an interesting first-hand overview of it.  

Captain Henry Blackwood of the Euryalus

The Log of the Euryalus: Sunday, 20th October 1805

A.M. - Saw another blue light to windward.  At 1.30 sprang up a breeze from the SW.  Tacked and made sail to the NW.  At 4. tacked in 30 fathoms; two ships in sight to windward.  Sirius in company.  At daylight observed nine of the enemies' ships, under sail off Cadiz Harbour, and 4 at anchor, Naiad in sight south, Sirius in company.  Fresh breezes and cloudy.  Observed the enemy's ships in the harbour getting under way.  22 of the English fleet in sight from the mast head.  At 7.30, a strange sail NW.  The Sirius made sail in chase.  At 7.50, saw the Sirius boarding a chase which proved to be an American ship.  At 8.20, perceived a line-of-battle ship with a brig in tow steering with all sail direct for the enemy within a very near distance.  Made the private signal to her and proved to be H.M.S. Agamemnon.  Made the signal to the Agamemnon for the enemy NE.  Repeated it with many guns before it was noticed.  She then hauled to the wind on the starboard tack, having a heavy brig in tow which she did not cast off.  At 8.35, the Sirius got her boat back from the American ship and she made all sail on the larboard tack.  Saw the van ship of the enemy endeavouring to get up with the Sirius, and a line-of-battle ship firing at her, then bearing from us NE by E, 2 or 3 miles.  At 8.50, thirty-four ships of the enemy in sight.  At 9, St. Sebastian E 1/2 S, about 4 leagues.  At 9.10, pointed out by signal the bearings of the Commander-in-Chief to the Agamemnon, and made telegraph signals to her that thirty-four of the enemy were out, and to make all sail and repeat signals between me and the Admiral, and that the enemy's ships were much scattered, and directed Sir Edward Berry to fire every 10 minutes with the preceding signal; but she still stood on SE with the brig in tow until we lost sight of her.  At 9.30, strong breezes.  In 2nd reef of the topsails.  At 9.45, observed a number of the enemy's ships wearing and standing towards Cadiz.  At 10, strong breezes and thick weather with rain.  Lost sight of the enemy's ships.  At 11, up mainsail, down jib.  At noon the wind more moderate, but very heavy rain and thick weather.

P.M. - Heavy rain and thick weather.  At 12.30, the weather clearing up a little, saw the enemy to leeward under low sail on the larboard tack; being close wore ship, reefed topsails and made all possible sail to look out for the English fleet in the SSW.  Still keeping sight of the enemy.  At 1, more moderate; out reefs, set topgallant sails.  Saw the Sirius to leeward of us and recalled her.  At 2, saw the English fleet in the SSW, standing to the westward.  At 2.10, made a telegraph message to the Sirius, 'I am going to the Admiral, but will return before night.'  At 3, exchanged ship's numbers with the fleet.  At 3.20, made the telegraph message, 'The enemy seems determined to push to the westward, with numeral pendant 30 N by E,' which the Admiral answered.  Saw an English line-of-battle ship to leeward of the fleet with her main topmast down.  At 4, wore ship and stood to the northward.  At 4.40, the English fleet wore.  Enemy's fleet on the larboard tack to the northward.  Up mainsail, crossed the royal yards.  At 5.20, observed some of the enemy's look-out ships reconnoitring us; tacked ship.  At 5.40, answered the Admiral's signal, 'I rely on your keeping sight of the enemy.'  At 6, ditto weather.  Victory and fleet to the southward.  Enemy's fleet and Sirius N by E.  Made several lights and burnt false fires to show the enemy's position to Lord Nelson and the fleet.  At 8.30, wore ship.  At 9.50, wore ship.  Up mainsail and kept upon the enemy's weather beam, about 2 or 3 miles.  Made and shortened sail occasionally.  Fired guns and burned false fires as necessary.  At 12, moderate breezes.  The body of the enemy's fleet SE by S about 3 miles, and the light of the English fleet to the southward and westward 5 or 6 miles.

 More to come..


Nelson's Honours Part 4: Knight Grand Cross of the Sicilian Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit

After the Battle of the Nile in 1798, Nelson stayed at Naples with the Hamiltons, and became something of an adviser to the royal family of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.  When the French invaded Naples, Nelson helped the royal family and court escape to Palermo, and then he was instrumental in taking Naples back.  

King Ferdinand IV wanted to reward Nelson for his efforts, but the existing Neapolitan chivalric order, the Order of St Januarius, could only be given to catholics.  So, in the same way as the Turkish Sultan created the Order of the Crescent, Ferdinand created the Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit, named after his ancestor Ferdinand the Great, King of Castile, which could be given to someone from any religion.  The Order was created in April 1800, to reward people for 'extraordinary and important services' and for showing 'extraordinary proofs of loyalty and attachment to our royal person and to the monarchy'.  After his actions in Naples, which damaged his reputation in England, no one could argue that Nelson's loyalty to the King of the Two Sicilies was anything other than extraordinary.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Nelson's Honours Part 3: Knight Grand Commander of the Order of St Joachim 

The Order of St Joachim was created in 1755, with its first Grand Master being Prince Christian Franz, in the German duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.  It's a charitable Order, and significantly, embraced both Catholic and Protestant members at a time when religion was a cause of great violence in Europe and other chivalric orders would be on one side or the other.  

Nelson was unanimously voted to have the honour conferred upon him on the 14th September 1801, as a reward for the Battle of the Nile.  The Grand Master of the Order, Count Ferdinand Karl III, had seen his father (the previous Grand Master) have his lands confiscated and then taken prisoner by Napoleon.  So he had a particular special reason for wishing to confer such an honour upon the British admiral who had handed Napoleon such a crushing defeat.

The British king granted Nelson permission to wear the insignia in July 1802, and it meant a lot to Nelson to be able to do so.       

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Nelson's Honours Part 2: Knight of the Ottoman Order of the Crescent

Replica of the star Nelson received as a Knight of the Order of the Crescent.  Of the four stars he wore on his coat, this was the one on the right.

After the Battle of the Nile, Sultan Selim III of the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey, and which Egypt was then part of) wanted to reward Nelson for the victory, by giving him a chivalric honour.  However, all the ones in existence at that time in his country could only be given to Muslims, and Nelson was of course Christian.  So in August 1799, the Sultan solved the problem by creating the Order of the Crescent especially for him, and Nelson was its first knight.  It was later awarded to several other British army and navy officers who achieved success against Napoleon's forces in the Eastern Mediterranean.  He also awarded Nelson with the chelengk Nelson wore in his hat.
Perhaps because it had been created especially for him, Nelson was extremely proud of this honour.  He wasn't given official permission by the British king to wear it until March 1802, but he used the title after his name after the Battle of Copenhagen in April 1801.
Like all his honours, a replica was sewn onto all of Nelson's coats, but it was upside down!  The star was supposed to be to the right of the crescent, but on his Trafalgar coat and the one on his Westminster Abbey waxwork, it can be seen on the left.  

Further reading: Ottoman Orders and Decorations

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Nelson's Honours part 1: Knight Companion of the British Order of the Bath

Last year, on the approach to Trafalgar Day, I posted some extracts from Nelson's final diary.  So this year I've decided to write about the honours he collected during his lifetime.  Replicas of the stars can be seen stitched onto his Trafalgar coat at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, as well as on the realistic waxwork of him at Westminster Abbey, where a replica chelengk can also be seen on his hat.  It's fairly safe to say that Nelson did enjoy a bit of bling, but to be fair, they were granted to so very few people that it's hardly surprising he felt so grateful and honoured that his services had been recognised in such a way, that he wanted to wear them all the time.

Nelson was awarded the Order of the Bath on the 27th May 1797, after the Battle of Cape St Vincent.  He knew that he would likely be awarded a baronetcy, but Nelson was concerned because it was a hereditary honour that would pass to his heirs, and he didn't possess a great fortune to pass along with it.  For that reason (and also because he craved public recognition, which the bright red sash and shiny star would certainly bring), he requested an honour which would 'die with the possessor', and so he was granted a Knighthood of the Order of the Bath.  

The name of the Order of the Bath originates from medieval times, when the ritual conferring a knighthood required the person to cleanse themselves by fasting, praying and washing.  Over time, however, the rituals gradually fell into disuse.  The Order was revived by George I in 1725, as an elite knighthood comprised of the Sovereign, the Great Master, and 36 Knights Companion, and was awarded to officers of the armed services who deserved special recognition.

Fun fact: The motto of the Order of the Bath is 'Tria Juncta in Uno' which means 'Three Joined in One'.  Nelson, Emma and William Hamilton (who was also a knight of the Order of the Bath) used that motto as an in-joke to refer to their arrangement when they were all living together quite happily.  It also featured on Nelson's own coat of arms.

Monday, 23 September 2013

'Nelson's Patent Bridge for Boarding First Rates' - The Battle of Cape St Vincent continued

By 2.pm, the Captain and Culloden were badly damaged.  The Captain had lost her fore-topmast and so became difficult to manoeuvre.  They were right in the thick of the action, receiving fire from several enemy ships.  At 2.15pm, Jervis sent Collingwood in the Excellent to pass through the enemy line and get close to them.  

So Collingwood set off ahead.  The first ship he came to was one of Santisima Trinidad's entourage, the Salvador del Mundo.  The Excellent fired heavily at her, until she surrendered - or, at least, it appeared to Collingwood that she had.  Relying on one of his allies to take possession of her, Collingwood sailed on. 

Next, he came to the San Isidro and let loose broadside after broadside upon her for 10 minutes until she, too, surrendered.  Now, the Excellent was able to come between Nelson's Captain, and the San Nicolas.  She poured a couple of broadsides into San Nicolas at such close range and with such force that they passed straight through and hit the San José on the other side!  As a result of such an onslaught, the San Nicolas and San José collided and their rigging became entangled.  It also meant that the crew of the Captain were given a break, enough to be able to make some hurried repairs to their own rigging. 

The Captain had sustained several casualties, including Nelson himself.  He was hit in the abdomen by a large splinter of wood flung into the air by a cannon shot, which hit him with such force that he would have been knocked off his feet had not Captain Miller caught him and stopped him from falling.  As the Excellent moved away towards Santisima Trinidad, exposing the San Nicolas once more to the Captain, Nelson spotted an opportunity.  With her wheel and rigging shot away, the Captain would be virtually impossible to move away, and the crew of the San Nicolas were temporarily occupied with trying to disengage her rigging from that of the San José.  Nelson ordered Captain Miller to take his ship closer, and rammed the San Nicolas.

Nelson called for a boarding party.  Miller offered to lead it, but Nelson insisted on leading it himself, which was extremely unusual for a commanding officer - but not unusual for him!  As ever, he led by example, knowing that it was a dangerous action and instinctively realising that, by putting himself at the forefront of the attack, his presence would boost the morale and courage of his men.

Clambering up onto the Captain's cathead (a sturdy beam at the bow of the ship which was used to support the anchor), a marine smashed one of San Nicolas' stern windows with the butt of his musket, and Nelson climbed through with the party close behind.  It turned out that he was climbing straight into the Spanish captain's cabin.

The cabin doors were locked and the Spanish fired at them through the windows with pistols.  Nelson's party broke through the doors with axes and stormed onto the quarterdeck, which must have been a shock to the Spanish commanders!  The Spanish commodore, Don Tomas Geraldino, was killed in the process.

Captain Edward Berry, who had not been given a ship and so had been on board the Captain as a volunteer, led another party along the Captain's bowsprit (a long pole extending forward from the prow of the ship) and jumped down onto the poop deck.  

It didn't take long for the officers of the San Nicolas to surrender the ship into Nelson's hands.

But Nelson hadn't finished yet.  The San Nicolas was still entangled with the San José, a larger, 3-decked ship that loomed above her and was being fired upon by the British Prince George and had already been battered by the Captain and Excellent.  Not only that, but Rear-Admiral Winthuysen had had both his legs blown off, and had been carried below deck where he was dying of his wounds.  Another 150 of her crew were killed or wounded.  Still, some of the remaining crew began firing their muskets out of the admiral's cabin at the stern, down onto Nelson's small boarding party.  If Nelson lost the element of surprise, and allowed them to muster a counter-attack, they could easily overwhelm him and his men.

Ever the opportunist, Nelson leapt (literally) at the chance to take another prize, in an action that was as daring and courageous as it was unique and unprecedented.

He ordered some of his marines to fire their muskets into the San José's stern, hailed Miller, still aboard the Captain, and ordered him to send reinforcements onto the San Nicolas to keep her under control, and he placed sentries to keep the officers locked down.  Then, Berry boosting him onto the main chains, he leapt over the side of the San José and onto the deck.  Almost as soon as he landed, the Spanish captain leaned over the quarterdeck rail and called out the surrender of the ship.

Nelson went up onto the quarterdeck where the captain presented him with his sword (the traditional symbolic gesture for a surrender) and informed him that the admiral was dying.  Nelson double-checked that the ship really had surrendered by asking the captain to swear it on his honour, then sent him to gather up the officers of the ship.  In a little ceremony which Nelson described as 'extravagant', the Spanish all handed him their swords, one by one, which he handed to one of his bargemen, William Fearney, who tucked them under his arm.  With him were Edward Berry, Lieutenant Pierson of the 69th regiment (who were serving as marines), and three men - whom Nelson fondly called "old Agamemnons" as they had served with him on that ship - John Sykes, John Thomson and Francis Cook.

This incredible action, of boarding one first-rate and then using her as a springboard from which to board another, became known as 'Nelson's Patent Bridge for Boarding First Rates'.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Nelson Makes his Move - The Battle of Cape St. Vincent continued...

From his position in the Captain, near the rear of the British line, Nelson had a good view of events as they unfolded.  He saw as, at 1pm, the Culloden began to open fire upon the rear-most Spanish ships, with the Blenheim approaching behind.  He had seen Jervis' signals, and he saw that the Britannia was not turning.

Alarmingly, he then noticed that Córdova's division was beginning to turn to the east with the intention of getting round the rear-most British ships.  He knew that if he continued to follow the Britannia and ignore Jervis' order to turn, the Spanish would be given time to get past them and become a serious threat.  

So Nelson, in a remarkable display of initiative and ingenuity, took it upon himself to join the British van.  He wore out of the line - that is, he turned away from the wind (tacking involved turning into it), and away from the Spanish.  This was a faster way of turning, as it meant that the wind could catch the sails as the ship turned away from it.  He then cut back through the line, ahead of Captain Collingwood's Excellent, and sped towards the Spanish and Troubridge's Culloden.  Thanks to his quick-thinking and seamanship, he reached them just 10 minutes after the Culloden engaged.

It was a risky move, because as the Captain approached alone she would come under heavy fire from five big Spanish ships, which was potentially devastating.  But the Spanish gunnery was not very fast or accurate, which Nelson had probably counted on after his earlier visit to Cadiz and assessment of the Spanish ships and seamen.  

In contrast, the Captain's gunners were highly trained, disciplined and experienced, and subjected Córdova's ships to fast, heavy and accurate fire.  The move and devastating attacks took Córdova by surprise, and he gave up on his attempt to turn and continued on his original course.  Later, Captain Miller of the Captain described the manoeuvre as like "turning them as two shepherd's dogs wou'd a flock of sheep".

"Engage the Enemy More Closely"   
10 minutes after Nelson's move, Jervis signalled for the whole of the rear division to join him.  Abandoning the strategy of all turning at the same point, they rushed to get into the action where they could.  The Barfleur was a fast sailer, and Waldegrave had her wear in the same way as Nelson's Captain had done, and was able to join the line directly behind the Victory.  The Britannia and Namur were slower and reached the end of the line, and thus hardly took part in the battle at all.  The 64-gun Diadem was very quick, and joined the end of Parker's van division, behind the Irresistable.  Collingwood's Excellent, also a fast sailer under his seamanship, was able to get ahead of the Victory

Now he had a number of ships supporting the Culloden and Captain, Jervis signalled the fleet to 'engage the enemy more closely' - in other words, engage in a brutal, short-range melee attack.  This would later become Nelson's favourite signal, well-suited to his fierce and ruthless desire for short and decisive battles.  However, the speedy Diadem and Irresistible got a little carried away and Jervis later had to order them to cease firing as they came too close to the Victory and Excellent.

The monstrous Spanish flagship, Santisima Trinidad, was a much-desired prize, and the British van focussed their attacks on her, so much so that their commander, Rear-Admiral Parker, ordered them to move further up the Spanish line to make room for new British ships to enter the battle.  So the Blenheim, Prince George and Orion moved up ahead of the Captain.  Noticing that the Santisima Trinidad was the focus of the British attacks, five Spanish ships - the Mexicano, San José, San Nicolas, Soberano and Salvador del Mundo) moved close to protect her.

By this time, the Spanish were completely confused and disorganised and in no semblance of a line.  As the British van reached his fleet, Córdova signalled 'Each unit should enter combat as soon as it can'.  But because of the erratic positioning of the ships, some of the ones in the front didn't see the signal.

Later, Córdova said that the way the British fought, "in great good order, with a heavy and well-directed fire, decided the action in their favour."

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The Battle of Cape St Vincent - continued

Half an hour after his last signal, Jervis ordered the fleet to 'tack in succession'.  This meant that they would all turn at the same point, following the leading ship and keeping the line intact.

Troubridge had been prepared for this order, and as soon as he saw the signal immediately turned the Culloden, heading towards the main body of the Spanish.  But this manoeuvre was not without its difficulties.  During the turn, the ships would leave their sterns vulnerable to enemy broadsides, and Moreno recognised this.  If he could identify the turning point and position his ships there, he could cause significant damage.

The second British ship, the Blenheim, successfully followed the Culloden's turn.  The third ship, the Prince George, flagship of Rear-Admiral Parker who led the van division, also made the turn, but by this time the Principe de Asturias was coming to attack with four other ships.  The Orion then made the turn but the Colossus behind her was not so lucky.  She came under fire from Moreno's ships and some of her sails were destroyed, so she went out of control.  Moreno did not waste time in ordering his crew to prepare to board the Colossus but, as the British ship dropped out of the line, Captain Saumarez slowed the Orion so was able to cover her, and shot at the Principe de Asturias.  The Colossus continued to drift northwards, and the next ship in the British line, the Irresistible, was able to get alongside the Spanish ship and fire at her.  Under such heavy fire, there was no way the Spanish could even attempt to board the stricken Colossus.
As the Irresistible completed her turn, it was Jervis' flagship, the Victory, that next came under fire from Moreno's undeterred attacks.  But when the Victory came to a stop, the Principe de Asturias was forced to turn suddenly, putting her in the perfect position to receive massive broadsides from the British admiral's flagship.

Still, Moreno doggedly continued his attacks.  The Egmont, coming up behind the Victory, was fired upon by two of the ships in his division.  The Goliath came next and exchanged fire with the Principe de Asturias and Conde de Regla.  She managed to complete her turn, but the determined Spanish attack had left her rigging badly damaged.  

An hour after the British had cut the line, Moreno finally gave up, and decided to attempt to go around the front of the British line and join up with Córdova's division that way.  His repeated and determined attacks, coming under fire from several British ships, earned Nelson's praise, who later said that he "did everything which a good officer could do to attempt to cut through the British line".

Moreno may not have succeeded in penetrating the British line, but his defeat of the Colossus, and forcing the Victory to stop and fend him off, meant that Troubridge's Culloden was pulling ahead of the rest of the British line and was about to reach the Spanish fleet with little support and completely exposed to heavy Spanish fire.  

As Jervis went up onto the Victory's poop deck, the better to view and assess the situation, a seaman standing near him had his head blown off by a Spanish shot, covering him in brains and blood.  The Victory's captain, George Grey, initially thought that the blood was Jervis' own and rushed up to check he was ok.  Unfazed by the incident, Jervis continued his deliberations, but did ask for an orange so he could rinse his mouth.

If the Culloden continued on her current course, she'd put herself in grave danger.  So the obvious option seemed to be to signal for her to withdraw and wait for the rest of the British.  But this could give Córdova chance to escape, so instead Jervis altered his strategy.  He signalled to the Britannia, the flagship of Vice-Admiral Thompson leading the rear division, for 'the leading ship to tack and others in succession'.  This manoeuvre would effectively split the fleet into two lines, enabling the rear division to reach the Spanish and attack earlier than if they'd continued to the original turning point.  He followed this up with a signal to every ship to 'take up suitable stations for mutual support and engage the enemy as arriving up in succession'.

But Thompson in the Britannia did not follow the order, and did not turn.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Battle of Cape St Vincent - The Opening Shots

Admiral John Jervis, Commander in Chief of the British Fleet
Dawn on the 14th February 1797 was a misty one, with light breezes.  Following Admiral Sir John Jervis' orders, the British fleet had formed a close order of sailing during the night, and had maintained it until the morning.  So when, at 8.20am as the reports of enemy sightings began to come in, Jervis signalled the fleet to prepare for battle, they did not need to waste time forming up.  As soon as they reached the enemy, they would be ready to swoop down upon them.

The first reports suggested that there were only a small number of Spanish ships, so Jervis sent his three leading ships, the Culloden, Blenheim and Prince George, to cut them off.
Then, the sloop Bonne Citoyenne signalled that she had seen 8 ships, so Jervis sent the Irresistible and Colossus after them.  The Orion, commanded by Captain James Saumarez, went with them, though Jervis had not specifically ordered him to do so, but he always encouraged that kind of individual initiative.

The frigate Minerve then signalled that there were 20 ships.  These signals were all reported to Jervis by his First Captain, Robert Calder, one after the other:
"There are eight sail of the line, Sir John."
"Very well, sir."
"There are twenty sail of the line, Sir John."
"Very well, sir."
"There are twenty-five sail of the line, Sir John."
"Very well, sir."
"There are twenty-seven sail of the line, Sir John.  Near twice our own number."
Irritated, Jervis snapped, "Enough, sir!  The die is cast and if there are fifty sail I will go through them!" 

In the Spanish Fleet
The storm that had kept Admiral Córdova's fleet at sea for a week had also left it disorganised and in bad formation.  He wasn't expecting a big British attack, as he hadn't heard that Jervis' fleet had been strengthened by William Parker's squadron and so thought the enemy numbers were much less than they actually were.  

The Spanish were in 3 rough divisions.  Córdova himself, in the 4-decker beast Santisima Trinidad - one of the biggest ships of the time - led the centre division; Admiral Morales de los Rios in the 112-gun Concepción led the rear; and Admiral Juan Moreno in the 112-gun Principe de Asturias, led the van (the front).  Moreno's division also included the mercury-carrying urcas.

In the morning, Córdova heard the British signal guns, but he couldn't see the fleet and so sent the San Pablo and Pelayo, from the rear division, to the north - in the wrong direction, as it turned out - to have a look.  They did not make it back in time to participate in the battle.  

At 9am, the British ships were seen.  They were further to the east than Córdova had expected.

For the first time in days, the wind was good for getting into Cadiz.  Believing that the British couldn't have more than 9 ships, he thought his fleet could push past them and get his valuable convoy of urcas in to the port without engaging in a full-on battle.  But at 10am that hope was dashed as he received the report that there were 15 ships and they were heading straight for him. 

Córdova understandably thought that the British wanted the valuable convoy of urcas and so would attack the van first.  To protect them, he gave up on trying to get into Cadiz, and decided to turn his fleet, thus placing Moreno's division, including the urcas, at the rear and under the protection of the rest of the fleet.  

But under such conditions, with the lack of experience of his men and under the tension of knowing that battle was imminent, the turn was chaotic and left the fleet disorganised and only vaguely resembling any kind of line of battle.  They became bunched in groups, which meant that some ships would be unable to use their broadsides against the enemy without hitting one of their own.  Worse, Moreno's division became separated from the main body of the fleet.  Now, he had only five ships-of-the-line protecting the lightly-armed urcas, and the advantage of outnumbering the enemy was diminished.

The British Approach
In fact, Jervis was not after the urcas.  He didn't even know that they were anything other than fully-armed ships-of-the-line, and treated them as such.  He saw the gap opening up between the rear division and the rest of the Spanish fleet, and decided to take advantage of it and cut straight through, keeping the fleet separated and dealing with them in chunks.  

This strategy contradicted the standard tactics of the time, which involved forming a line parallel with that of the enemy and battering each other until one retreated.  But the enemy fleet barely formed a line, and one division was separate from the rest, forming a weakness which Jervis intended to take full advantage of. 

So he signalled for the fleet to form a line 'as most convenient'.  This meant that he was relying on his captains to intelligently and independently form an organised line of battle without wasting time forming up into a pre-determined order.  This was aided by the fact that they had maintained a close order of sailing throughout the night.  He was well aware of the skill of his captains and trusted them to do what was needed.  Half an hour later, he let them know that 'the admiral means to pass through the enemy's line'.

The British captains complied with his instructions cleanly, efficiently, and quickly, so quickly in fact that they bore down on the Spanish with a speed that took them by surprise.  Captain Cuthbert Collingwood later described the approach as like swooping down on their opponents 'like a hawk to his prey'.  

Nelson, in the Captain, moved behind Vice-Admiral William Waldegrave's ship, the Barfleur, in the rear division.  Captain Decres of the Barfleur hailed him to say 'he was desired by the vice-admiral to express his pleasure at being supported by Sir Horatio Nelson'.

The hero of the approach was Captain Thomas Troubridge in the Culloden.  He was at the lead of the British line, and raced to cut through the Spanish line before Moreno's division could catch up with the rest of them.  As the gap began to close, it looked as if the Culloden might collide with Moreno's ship Principe de Asturias.  But when the First Lieutenant told Troubridge this, he simply replied "Can't help it Griffiths, let the weakest fend off!".  This was exactly the attitude which Jervis had worked to infuse into his captains, and most admired.  As it turned out, the Principe de Asturias was the weakest - two broadsides from the Culloden saw her off and forced her to turn away.
Now the division of the Spanish fleet was complete.  As ship after ship passed through the gap, firing on Moreno's division, it became impossible for him to get past them.


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

"By God, I'll not lose Hardy!"

After a long break, time to return to my series on the Battle of Cape St Vincent!

On the 9th February 1797, Nelson arrived at Gibraltar, having been unsuccessful in his search for the Spanish fleet.  His passenger, Gilbert Elliot, went ashore to report to the governor, but Nelson was itching to get back out to sea.  He turned down invitations to dine ashore, and even impatiently sent a note to Elliot's secretary asking for the party to be on board La Minerve by 8pm.  He knew that a battle was imminent and didn't want to miss it.  But one good thing to come out of the delay was that he was able to pick up Lieutenant's Culverhouse and Hardy after the exchange of prisoners.

Finally, Elliot finished his business ashore and boarded La Minerve.  But just as she set off, two Spanish ships emerged from nearby Algeciras and gave chase.  They began to close in, and as Nelson paced the quarterdeck with Colonel John Drinkwater, the Colonel asked him if an engagement was likely.  Nelson replied that it was possible, then looked up at his broad pendant flying from the mast, and added, 

"But before the Dons get hold of that bit of bunting I will have a struggle with them and sooner than give up the frigate I'll run her ashore."

But even as the Spanish frigates came close enough that Elliot began to prepare to throw his confidential papers overboard to stop them falling into enemy hands, a cry went up that a man had fallen overboard.  The officers who had been entertaining Elliot and his party in the cabin rushed up on deck, and Hardy quickly lowered a boat over the side of the ship, manning it himself.  But there was no sign of the man, so the crew of the boat started to row back to the ship.  

The current was against them, and they made slow progress.  The Spanish frigates were closing in, and it started to look as if poor Hardy would be captured again.  It was a tense few moments, until Nelson could take it no longer and cried,

"By God, I'll not lose Hardy!  Back the mizzen topsail."

So the ship slowed down enough that Hardy in his boat could catch up and get aboard.  It seemed certain that the Spanish ship the Terrible would force them into a fight, but all of a sudden she shortened sail and dropped back.  Nelson's slowing La Minerve had taken the Spanish commander by surprise, and he probably thought that Nelson had seen the British fleet and was luring him into a trap.  Whatever the reason, it allowed Nelson to escape.

During the night, Nelson turned to the south to make sure he threw off his pursuers, but found himself in the middle of the Spanish fleet!  Luckily, Minerve managed to creep through undetected in the darkness, and in the morning went north towards Cadiz.  Now he knew exactly where the enemy were, Nelson rushed to find Jervis and arrived on the 13th February.  Culverhouse and Hardy, having been prisoners of the Spanish, also had valuable information about the fleet.
Preparing for Battle
Two days before Nelson arrived back at the fleet, the convoy he'd sent from Elba got there.  The Southampton reported seeing the Spanish fleet, and that they had been damaged in the storm.  The Bonne Citoyenne brought yet another report, this time that the Spanish were 20 miles to the south-east, and heading for Cadiz.  So by the time Nelson arrived, Jervis had the fleet preparing for battle and sailing towards where the enemy had been seen.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Nelson's Last Portrait

This is the last portrait taken of Nelson from life, and it sold recently at Sotheby's for £64,900.

Nelson by John Whichelo

It's one of the less 'pretty' portraits of Nelson but for that reason is also one of the more human and realistic.  The artist was John Whichelo, who created the chalk portrait when visiting Nelson at Merton in September 1805.  Nelson sailed from Portsmouth for the last time on 14th September, so the sitting really was squeezed in at the last moment.  

The portrait, showing Nelson in profile looking to the left, is very similar to the one Simon de Koster painted (below) in 1800.  That one was known to be one of Nelson's favourites of himself, so it's possible that either directly or indirectly, he influenced the 21-year-old Whichelo to create something similar.

Nelson by Simon de Koster
Whichelo kept the portrait himself for thirty-three years, until in 1838 he was employed in giving drawing lessons to the son of Rear-Admiral Sir William Parker.  Then he gave it to Parker with the note:
"Mr Whichelo most respectfully begs to send Sr Wm Parker the Head of the Late Illustrious Nelson.  Drawn by him from the Hero during his short stay at Merton the beginning of September 1805."
It remained with Parker's descendents ever since, until the recent sale.

See also: the Sotheby's listing

Friday, 10 May 2013

Prelude to Battle: Finding the Spanish Fleet, December 1796 - February 1797

Nelson arrived at Elba expecting to begin an evacuation of the garrison, but the British army officer General de Burgh had not had any orders to do so, so didn't agree to it.  Impatiently, Nelson sent Captain Thomas Fremantle in the Inconstant to go and get the viceroy, Sir Gilbert Elliot, from Naples.  He arrived on the 22nd January 1797, but he also didn't agree to evacuate the garrison.  In the end, Nelson agreed to take Elliot on La Minerve to Lisbon to speak with Admiral Jervis, and he did manage to take a convoy of naval supplies from the island. 

On the way back to Lisbon, Nelson had a scout about for the enemy fleet.  He had a peek into Toulon, where they were last seen, but they weren't there.  He continued along the coast to the Spanish port of Cartagena, but they weren't there either.  He came to the conclusion that they must be heading for the Straits of Gibraltar.
The Spanish Fleet
Meanwhile, in October the Spanish fleet under commander Langara, had joined the French fleet, under Rear-Admiral Pierre Villeneuve (who would appear more than once in the Nelson story!), at Toulon.  The combined fleets were then ordered to leave the Mediterranean and head north to help with the French invasion of Ireland.  

So in December they made a move.  Villeneuve was successful in dodging the British fleets, and got out of the Mediterranean and reached Brest, on the north-west coast of France - but, as it turned out, too late to help with the invasion, which failed. 
But Langara knew that the Spanish ships were in a poor state for a battle so stopped off at Cartagena on 6th December for supplies and repairs.  This action led to him being replaced by an impatient Spanish government, but his successor, Admiral José de Mazarredo, also refused to leave until the problems with ships, supplies and under-manning were solved.  He, too, was therefore replaced, by Admiral José de Córdova y Ramos.  The problem was that Spain didn't dedicate anywhere near enough resources to their navy in order to fight a successful war at sea.  Technically, their ships were some of the largest and finest in the world, but they were under-supplied and their crews were not skilled or trained particularly well.  For example, the Santisima Trinidad was a beast of a ship - with four decks and 130 guns, she was the largest ship in the world at that time.  But only 60 out of her 900 crew had the experience and skill needed to successfully man a ship of war.

In 1793, while captain of the Agamemnon, Nelson had visited Cadiz and had a look round the dockyard.  He wrote to his wife, Frances, concluding that "I am certain if our six barges' crews (which are picked men) had got on board one of their first rates they would have taken her.   Therefore in vain may the Dons make fine ships, they cannot however make men."  

This conclusion probably contributed to giving him the confidence that led to his remarkable actions in the forthcoming battle.
Jervis at Gibraltar
Having reached Gibraltar on the 1st December, Jervis' fleet was then caught in a violent storm.  Two of his ships - the Courageux and Zealous - were wrecked.  Another two - the Culloden and Gibraltar - ran aground.  The Culloden was refloated but the Gibraltar was so badly damaged that she had to go back to England for extensive repairs.  HMS Bombay Castle and the St George got stuck on a sandbank, and the latter had to go to Lisbon to repair.  The British fleet had now been reduced to 10 ships.  

As his ships were battered by the storm, Jervis watched the French fleet escape through the Straits and out into the Atlantic.  He assumed that the Spanish were following and worried that they would intercept Nelson and his convoy, so headed to Cape St Vincent to wait for him.  

On the 6th February 1797, Jervis was relieved to be reinforced by Rear-Admiral William Parker with his squadron of five ships, who also brought the news that the Irish invasion had failed and the French fleet were in Brest.  This gave Jervis a little breathing space and he could now focus on the Spanish knowing that the French were out of the way. 
All he had to do now was find them.

On the 1st of February, Córdova was ordered to take his 27 ships-of-the-line and 8 frigates to assist at the siege of Gibraltar.  Crucially, he was also ordered to pick up a convoy from Malaga and take it to Cadiz.  The convoy was made up of 5 'urcas', armed storeships carrying a valuable cargo of mercury.  

On the 5th of February, Córdova detached 3 ships of the line, with launches, into Algeciras, and on the 6th the rest of the fleet reached Cadiz.  But before the mercury ships could get into the port, a gale blew up which forced the whole fleet to stay out at sea for 8 days.  This was Jervis' opportunity to find them.

On the 9th of February, he received a report from the frigate Viper that the Spanish had gone through the Straits on the 5th and gone into Cadiz on the 6th.  But on the 10th, the Emerald reported that they were in fact still at sea.  

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Minerve and Blanche Vs. Santa Sabina and Ceres

Towards the end of 1796, Spain joined the war on the side of revolutionary France.  The British fleet under Admiral John Jervis had far too few ships compared to the combined French and Spanish, so were forced to leave the Mediterranean.  In December, Jervis' fleet reached Gibraltar, where he found Admiralty orders to move his base to Lisbon in neutral Portugal.  He sent Nelson in the frigate Minerve, along with the Blanche, to evacuate the British garrison at Porto Ferrajo on the island of Elba, near Corsica, as the retreat of the British fleet would leave them stranded and at the mercy of the French.

So on the 10th December 1796, Commodore Nelson joined the Minerve, whose captain was George Cockburn, and set off for Elba.

On the 19th, at 10.20pm, Captain D'Arcy Preston in the Blanche saw two Spanish frigates, the Santa Sabina and the Ceres.  Eager to leap into action, Nelson handled Minerve himself (an unusual move for a flag officer, as this would normally be the Captain's job) and got to Santa Sabina's stern, close enough that he could hail the captain and ask him to surrender.  The captain who, surprisingly, spoke very good English, refused with the remarkable reply,

"This is a Spanish frigate and you may begin as soon as you please."

So Nelson began, and the fight was vicious and close-run.  In terms of men and guns, there wasn't much difference between the two frigates.  They remained at such close-range that Nelson was able to hail the captain several more times, but each time received a refusal.  Eventually, however, the Spanish were forced to surrender.  As it turned out, the English-speaking captain of the Santa Sabina was Don Jacobo Stuart, a great grandson of the English king James II!  Taking such a prestigious prisoner was something that Nelson was understandably very proud of.  Meanwhile, the Blanche fought and took the Ceres.

Nelson sent Minerve's 1st Lieutenant John Culverhouse, along with Lieutenant Thomas Hardy, with a boarding party to take possession of the Santa Sabina after they had tied her to La Minerve with a tow rope.  However, another Spanish frigate suddenly appeared and opened fire on Santa Sabina, while the two British lieutenants were on board.  Minerve cast off the tow rope to free herself from the Santa Sabina and so be able to fight the approaching enemy.  But then another two Spanish ships of the line, with two more frigates, appeared.  Minerve was badly damaged and so Nelson and Cockburn were forced to abandon the prize entirely, along with Culverhouse and Hardy, and the prize crew.  But this did mean that the prize crew aboard Santa Sabina were able to hoist English colours and thus distract the Spanish ships, giving Minerve a head start so she was able to get away.

Much later, when the British prisoners had been taken to the Spanish town of Cartagena, Nelson exchanged Don Jacobo Stuart for Lieutenants Culverhouse and Hardy, and sent back all the Spanish prisoners from Elba in exchange for the rest of the British prize crew.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Commodore Nelson in the Mediterranean, 1793-97: Prologue to the Battle of Cape St. Vincent

These events deserve posts on their own merit, and will get them!  But for now, they serve as an introduction to the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, in which Nelson made his mark and rose to become one of the most talked-about officers in the British navy.

 n 1793, Captain Nelson's long period of unemployment ashore in England was ended when he was given command of HMS Agamemnon, a 64-gun battleship, and sent to join Admiral Lord Hood's fleet in the Mediterranean.  The Agamemnon was by no means the greatest ship in the world, but she would become his favourite.  64s were the smallest class of ship that could be classed as a ship-of-the-line, but what they lacked in firepower they made up for in manoeuverability, which suited Nelson's style down to the ground.  He forever remained fond of her crew, many of whom followed him from ship to ship and who he called his 'old Agamemnons'.

HMS Agamemnon

In 1794, he took part in the capture of Corsica, Bastia and Calvi; in Calvi, he was hit in the face by gravel flung up by a shot on the ground, receiving an injury that left him blind in his right eye for the rest of his life.  On the 13th March 1795, with Admiral Hotham's fleet, he fought in the Battle of the Gulf of Genoa, in which he attacked and helped to capture the Ça Ira, and in July he fought with the fleet at the Battle of Hyères Islands.

As a commodore, Nelson asked to be transferred to HMS Captain as the Agamemnon was badly in need of repairs and was sent home to be refit.  He was granted his request, and in June 1796 was involved in the evacuation of Leghorn when the French invaded the town.   In July, he was detached with a small squadron under his command to Italy, to help the Austrian army against the French.  This involved blockading French ports and, with the help of Gilbert Elliot, the British viceroy in Corsica, taking possession of the neutral fort of Porto-Ferrajo on the island of Elba.  This would prevent the French from using it to invade Corsica after taking Leghorn.

He did so well that he won the respect of Admiral John Jervis, who had become commander in chief of the Mediterranean fleet in the Autumn of 1795 - and he was not a man to give respect lightly.  Soon, Nelson became one of Jervis' most trusted subordinates.