On This Day in History
October 21 Battle of Trafalgar
In one of the most decisive naval battles in history, a British fleet under Admiral Lord Nelson defeats a combined French and Spanish fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar, fought off the coast of Spain.
At sea, Lord Nelson and the Royal Navy consistently thwarted Napoleon Bonaparte, who led France to preeminence on the European mainland. Nelson’s last and greatest victory against the French was the Battle of Trafalgar, which began after Nelson caught sight of a Franco-Spanish force of 33 ships. Preparing to engage the enemy force on October 21, Nelson divided his 27 ships into two divisions and signalled a famous message from the flagship Victory: “England expects that every man will do his duty.”
In five hours of fighting, the British devastated the enemy fleet, destroying 19 enemy ships. No British ships were lost, but 1,500 British seamen were killed or wounded in the heavy fighting. The battle raged at its fiercest around the Victory, and a French sniper shot Nelson in the shoulder and chest. The admiral was taken below and died about 30 minutes before the end of the battle. Nelson’s last words, after being informed that victory was imminent, were “Now I am satisfied. Thank God I have done my duty.”
Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar ensured that Napoleon would never invade Britain. Nelson, hailed as the saviour of his nation, was given a magnificent funeral in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. A column was erected to his memory in the newly named Trafalgar Square, and numerous streets were renamed in his honour.