The Battle of Trafalgar: After The Battle
After the Battle
In the first of this series of threads about the Battle of Trafalgar (Engage the Enemy), we had reached the point where the battle was over; Dumanoirís counter attack had been thwarted. Nelson was dead - covered in the second thread (Death of Nelson), and the scene around Cape Trafalgar at 6.00 p.m. on the 21st of October, carnage.
This third thread in the series seeks to describe events after the battle
Monday 21st October 1805
After fighting had ceased, Captain Hardy was rowed across to HMS Royal Sovereign to let Collingwood know of Nelsonís death, and of his last order to anchor the ships immediately after battle was over; Nelson had forseen the likelihood of strengthening onshore winds and the difficulty damaged ships may have in manoeuvring out to sea.
Collingwood did not immediately grasp the significance of this order, naturally upset by the news of Nelsonís death, and probably very fatigued and maybe in pain from a leg wound he had received during fighting. Deciding there was no immediate danger Collingwood, instead, went about trying to regain some order to the fleet. Effecting emergency repairs, and putting prize crews on the captured ships. There were an estimated 20,000 prisoners huddled throughout the hulks.
Numbers and ship names regarding the situation in the late afternoon of the battle, seem to vary from account to account, but it appears that out of the Combined Enemyís 33 ships, 17 had been taken as prizes - Bucentaure, Algeciras, Swiftsure, Intrepide, Aigle, Berwick, Achille, Redoubtable, Fougueux ( French), and, Santissima Trinidad, Santa Anna, Argonauta, Bahama, San Augustino, San Ildefonso, San Juan de Nepomuceno, and Monarca (Spanish).
The rest of the French and Spanish ships were attempting to escape; Dumanoir in Formidable, with Scipion, Mont Blanc, Duguay Trouin and Neptuno; Gravina in Principe de Asturias. along with Rayo, Heros, Neptune, San Leandro, San Justo, Pluton, Montanez, Argonaute, Indomptable, and San Francisco de Asisi
At 6.15 p.m., now in command of the Fleet, Collingwood transferred to HMS Euraylus - Royal Sovereign having no mast from which to hoist signals. He ordered all the disabled ships to be taken in tow.
With relatively light wind blowing onshore at this time, the only choice of course was to sail North West towards Cadiz, or South East to Cape Trafalgar, travelling as far as possible before being blown too near the shallows during the storm that was brewing. The dreaded shoals of Trafalgar were barely eight miles off dead to leeward.
It was not until 9.00 p.m. as the wind began to rise, and the swell deepen, that Collingwood realised the wisdom of Nelsonís last order. But it was too late. In any event, many of the ships, particularly those that had been raked, had had their anchors, cables and catheads shot away.
Some three or four of the prizes, however, did anchor and safely to weather the gale. The wind now rapidly freshened, and it became evident that in spite of all exertions many of the prizes were in grave danger of being lost.
Collingwood decided to try and make the safe haven of Cape Trafalgar, and then on to Gibraltar, the wind having changed direction so that it was coming more directly from the West. However, by midnight, with ever increasing winds that were changing direction again, and, as they were getting closer and closer to the shore and in shallow waters, Collingwood was forced to order the bedraggled convoy to drop anchor.
"Strive for perfection in everything you do. Take the best that exists and make it better. When it does not exist, design it." - Sir Henry Royce