HMS Victory Essay Example
Today in Portsmouth, England a titan of war now rests from the battles of her past. Her shattered beams and bloodied decks are now overshadowed by the modern warships that now command the seas. Yet those ironclad vessels could never claim the glory that the HMS Victory had centuries ago when Napoleon and 90,000 of his finest soldiers stood ready to invade Britain. The invaders called upon the combined navies of France and Spain to transport them across the English channel and into the land of their empire’s last remaining adversary. Britain with no defense capable of withstanding the invincible army of Napoleon, had but one option to intercept and destroy the fleet that would transport their largest threat. To carry out this vital mission, Horatio Nelson was chosen, for as he would soon demonstrate, the HMS Victory along with her experienced seamen, would encounter the Franco-Spanish fleet off of the Cape of Trafalgar and using the tactical brilliance of Nelson, ultimately bring an end to Napoleon’s conquest.
The HMS Victory, despite her monumental size, left little room for the comfort of the sailors who manned her. Her sails, cannon, and everything in between had to be operated by almost all 875 seaman aboard. Most of their labor was not only physically intensive but also incredibly dangerous as well. For instance, when climbing aloft to set sail, men could fall hundreds of feet to their deaths when the very wind they tried to harness would shake the rope they stood upon. Even when below deck, disease would run rampant throughout the crowded conditions and plague and entire voyage. For any sailor who dare refused an order to work in these cruel conditions, the rigorous tradition of the Royal Navy allowed severe punishment and even death to be administered to them. As a result of these dreadful qualities, voluntary enlistment to the navy was incredibly low.
So low in fact, that Britain was forced to use vicious “press gangs” made of demanding officers and their obedient crews that searched about England for able bodied men, forcing them against their will to serve aboard ships like the HMS Victory. However, not all aspects of serving aboard a vessel of the Royal Navy were bad, such as the daily meals. A modern historian looked back on the diets of these sailors and concluded that “A diet of salt meat, hard biscuits, and sauerkraut was a shock to us, but our predecessors would have considered it superior to anything available on shore. For them such regular, hot, protein-rich meals, together with a nearly limitless supply of beer, would have been a luxury.” (Andrew Lambert). Food being a luxury to the men certainly conveys how tough life must have been aboard these ships. But if it hadn’t been for their perseverance to withstand these conditions it’s unlikely that the battle they would fight at Trafalgar would have been a success. Those terrible conditions certainly did play a part in making men strong and capable enough of defeating Napoleon’s fleet. However not every man aboard was as fondly remembered for their resilience as one.
In a long and bloody military career Horatio Nelson had suffered through a plethora of life changing injuries. He was blinded in one eye, had his right arm amputated, and had suffered through all the medical downfalls of the 18th century; The effects of which were only amplified by the terrible conditions aboard a ship like the HMS Victory. But Nelson had received all these injuries in support of his men, demonstrating a clear devotion to his nation and to the honor of his crew. An example of this commitment can be seen when “Nelson led an attack on the Spanish island of Tenerife in 1797 where a musket ball almost immediately struck him in the right arm. He had to get it amputated on board the HMS Theseus by surgeon James Farquhar, who wrote in his journal: ‘Compound fracture of the right arm by a musket ball passing thro a little above the elbow; an artery divided; the arm was immediately amputated.’It is claimed that within 30 minutes, Nelson was again issuing orders to his men”(Robert Verkaik).
It’s clear through his actions on the battlefield, that Nelson was not a man of great perseverance just like his men. Also like his men he could be harmed; Nelson wasn’t a invisible legend like the despised Napoleon but rather a man who had felt and acknowledged the pain of the men he commanded. But he didn’t just fit in with them. He showed them that even when injured, even when missing an arm, and unable to use an eye it’s still possible to become of Britain’s greatest heroes and even admiral of the entire British fleet. . Horatio Nelson’s perseverance granted the men who fought alongside him with a morale boosting confidence that would win the British one of the most decisive naval battles of all time.
It was in the morning of October 21st, 1805 that the most powerful navies on Earth met at the Cape of Trafalgar where Horatio Nelson would soon prove his tactical brilliance. He devised a formation called “crossing the t.” The plan involved the British fleet forming two lines and interesting the single chain of Franco-Spanish fleet in a perpendicular fashion. This would register a third of Napoleon’s fleet unable to attack for a time granting the British the ability to circle the remaining part of the fleet and destroy it. Nelson had devised this plan aboard the HMS Victory and would soon lead the rest of his fleet into battle as he took the forward position on one of the lines. He ordered that a series of flags above his flagship be hoisted meaning, “England expects that every man will do his duty.” As the lines slowly approached the Franco-Spanish fleet the English were defenseless. Cannonballs would rip through the air, cutting through the thick wooden hulls of the ships and hurling razor sharp splinters throughout the decks.
The HMS Victory with her masts shredded and her helm destroyed, charged head on into the French line, ramming the hull of the French ship Redoubtable. Quickly the other British ships swarmed the sea around her firing devastating broadsides. Grapeshot was fired, wiping out hundreds of men at a time by propelling small iron balls across the crowded decks. At one point in the battle, the lead of the other British line, Cuthbert Collingwood, performed a double broadside upon a French vessel killing 200 men in an instant forcing her command to surrender the ship. French ship after French ship followed suit and the British fleet was on the brink of victory. It was at this high point however that England’s greatest hero would soon fall. “Around 1:15 p.m., a sniper on Redoubtable mizzen top took aim at Nelson and shot him in the shoulder. The musket ball passed through the Admiral’s back, severing an artery and smashing part of his spine” (History). Nelson was carried below deck to hide the image of the dying Admiral from his men. As his dying body lie against the hull, he still gave out orders and constantly asked for progress reports from his men still as dedicated as ever. Before he died he was informed that the battle was coming to an end, with the British having achieved absolute victory. Nelson then spoke his last words.“Thank God I have done my duty.”
As the smoke cleared over Trafalgar, the true losses became clear. The British had lost over fifteen hundred men protecting the fleet so that not a single ship bearing the Union Jack was lost. However the French were not as fortunate. They had lost almost sixteen thousand men to death, capture, or injury and nearly all of their thirty three ships were destroyed or captured. Whatever piece of them leftover was swallowed by a storm that raged but a few hours after the battle concluded. France now without a navy could not invade England nor interfere with British trade.
Napoleon had restricted himself within continental Europe as his greatest adversary was able to build its military in peace, readying to join the war against Napoleon. France with no other option was forced to take part in economic warfare by placing an embargo on British trade. But with the the victory at Trafalgar, it was proven that Napoleon could be defeated, prompting those affected by the Embargo to revolt against it and bring an end to Napoleon’s rule of Europe.
Horatio Nelson having solidifying himself as the great hero of Britain aboard the HMS Victory along with her experienced seamen, defeated the Franco-Spanish fleet off of the Cape of Trafalgar using the tactical brilliance of their great admiral, ultimately bring an end to Napoleon’s conquest.