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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

And second for attack from to windward


plan next provides, first for attack from to leeward, and second for attack from to windward. In either case, Collingwood's division was to bring a superior force to bear on 12 ships of the enemy rear, while Nelson would "cut two, three or four ships ahead of their center so far as to ensure getting at their commander in chief." "Something must be left to chance... but I look with confidence to a victory before the van of the enemy can succor their rear." And further, "no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of an enemy."

Of the attack from the windward a very rough diagram is given, thus:


But aside from this diagram, the lines of which are not precisely straight or parallel in the original, and which can hardly be reconciled with the instructions in the text, there is no clear indication that the attack from the windward (as in the actual battle) was to be delivered in line abreast. What the text says is: "The divisions of the British fleet will be brought nearly within gunshot of the enemy's center. The signal will most probably then be given for the lee line to bear up together, to set all their sails, even steering sails, in order to get as quickly as possible to the enemy's line and to cut through." Thus, if we assume a convergent approach in column, there was to be no slow deployment of the rear or leeward division into line abreast

to make the attack of all its ships simultaneous; rather, in the words of a captain describing what really happened, they were simply to "scramble into action" at best speed. Nor is there any suggestion of a preliminary shift from line ahead in the case of Nelson's division. Though endless controversy has raged over the point, the prescribed approach seems to have been followed fairly closely in the battle.

The concentration upon the rear was not new; in fact, it had become almost conventional, and was fully anticipated by the enemy. More originality lay in the manner of "containing" the center and van. For this purpose, in the first place, the approach was to be at utmost speed, not under "battle canvas" but with all sail spread. In the second place, the advance of Nelson's division in column, led by the flagship, left its precise objective not fully disclosed to the enemy until the last moment, and open to change as advantage offered. It could and did threaten the van, and was finally directed upon the center when Villeneuve's presence there was revealed. Finally, the very serious danger of enemy concentration upon the head of the column was mitigated not only by the speed of the approach, but by the concentration there of three heavy three-deckers. The plan in general had in view a particular enemy, superior in numbers but weak in gunnery, slow in maneuver, and likely to avoid decisive action. It aimed primarily at rapidity of movement, but combined also the merits of concentration, simplicity, flexibility, and surprise.

In this discussion of the scheme of the battle, around which interest chiefly centers, the actual events of the engagement have been in some measure anticipated, and may now be told more briefly. Driven to desperation by the goadings of Napoleon and the news that Admiral Rosily was approaching to supersede him, Villeneuve at last resolved to put to sea. "The intention of His Majesty," so the Minister of Marine had written, "is to seek in the ranks, wherever they may be found, officers best suited for superior command, requiring above all a noble ambition, love of glory, decision of character, and unbounded courage. His Majesty wishes to destroy that circumspection which is the reproach of the navy; that defensive system which paralyzes our fleet and doubles the enemy's. He counts the loss of vessels nothing if lost with honor; he does not wish his fleet blockaded by an enemy inferior in strength; and if that is the situation at Cadiz he advises and orders you to attack."

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