On the 21st October 1805, the British navy under the command of Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson defeated the combined fleets of the French and Spanish Navies. Part of the Napoleonic Wars, the naval victory in the War of the Third Coalition proved British supremacy on the seas after the victorious British fleet sailed away without having lost a single ship.
The British navy had been blockading France since early 1805, but Nelson was keen to engage the enemy after the fleet under Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve left port during a storm. By the middle of October, Nelson had assembled his fleet off the Spanish coast at Cadiz, where Villeneuve had chosen to harbour. Realising his numerical inferiority to the combined French and Spanish force, and wishing to achieve a conclusive victory, Nelson developed a tactic that flew in the face of established battle orthodoxy.
The Combined Fleet left Cadiz on the evening of the 20th October, and was quickly pursued by the British. By the morning of the 21st they were just over twenty miles away from Cape Trafalgar and the two fleets began to prepare for battle. Just before midday Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, flew the flag signal, “England expects that every man will do his duty” and the battle began shortly after with the British fleet divided into two columns that sailed through the French-Spanish line at right-angles. During the mêlée that followed Nelson was hit by a musket ball from a French infantryman on board the Redoutable. He died three hours later, but the British navy went on to win the battle.