Naval History France Only Had Britain as Essay

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Naval History

France only had Britain as its enemy between 1803 and 1805. Napoleon Bonaparte, the famous French leader and politician, after conquering Italy and Egypt had its eyes on England territory for occupation. His Grand Armee sat idly around Boulogne in the hundreds of anchored ships in the channel ports. Napoleon's naval strategies to crush the British Royal Army using his French and Spanish fleets failed at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 (Dugdale-Pointon January 07, 2006). [1: Dugdale-Pointon, T. historyofwar, "Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)."]

The Naval Strategies of Britain and France (1803-1805)

Both France and Britain derived towards war due to a mutual misunderstanding. Both the countries were not fully prepared to conduct a renewed war against each other. There were no geo-strategic reasons that compelled the two opponents to declare a war against each other. Britain wanted to rebel against France simply because they could no more withstand the continuous challenges and degradation from Bonaparte. On the other hand, France went to war just because Napoleon wanted it to (Stilwell, 2005). [2: Stilwell, A. The Trafalgar Companion. West way, Borley: Osprey Publishing, 2005.]

Neither France nor Britain was completely ready to participate in a warfare in military and naval terms. The Royal Navy, however, mobilized rapidly from 32 to 72 ships-of-the-line in service in July 1803. British government affirmed to take part in war without any guarantee of assistance from any other country. Bonaparte, on the other hand, had an enormous advantage over Britain both strategically and militarily (Stilwell, 2005). Britain's army was very small despite naval superiority over France. However, it was hard for the British to act against France without aid from its allies (Dugdale-Pointon January 07, 2006). Bonaparte knew that in order to invade Britain, he must possess 3 prime essentials; a strong army, sufficient transportation means and a powerful navy to safeguard the passage and disembarkation of the forces. All the three essentials were not easy to provide. However Bonaparte managed to raise an army of 210,000 personnel from 1803 to 1805. He did so with pain and the results did not give much hope. The men who were taken from the countryside were trained under the supervision of the experienced naval officers (Fisher 1913). [3: "Ibid."] [4: Dugdale-Pointon, T. historyofwar, "Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)."] [5: Herbert Fisher, Napoleon (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1913), 3,]

France did not have enough vessels to take men to the Britain. Thus, thousands of flat-bottomed ships were ordered in May, July and August for the transportation of army. It was impossible to build such a great number of vessels. Napoleon came to the conclusion that despite inadequate transportation vessels, he must concentrate on strengthening his naval forces to be boarded to the Channel. The dilemma was that the British waters were in constant surveillance under the inflexible sailor Admiral Cornwallis (Fisher 1913). [6: "Ibid."]

Napoleon persuaded the Spanish government in 1804 to join France in war against Britain. He wanted to divert the attention of British fleet from guarding the Channel. Thus, the war of 1805 was a cat-mouse game in which the opponents tried to outwit each other with naval strategies ("HISTORY OF THE NAPOLEONIC WARS"). [7: Historyworld, "HISTORY OF THE NAPOLEONIC WARS."]

Under the command of Villeneuve, French and Spanish fleet withdrew to Cadiz in August as a combined force. However, three British ships of the line were keeping the port under observation. Seeing this, Nelson arrived at the end of September to take control along with his men ("HISTORY OF THE NAPOLEONIC WARS"). [8: "Ibid."]

The Battle of Trafalgar

It is said that the simplest way to crush a naval opponent is to destroy the masts and rigging of their ships and clear the upper deck of personnel simultaneously. The opponents can then be easily forced to surrender with no actual help. The same scenario happened at Trafalgar (Clayton & Craig 2005). On Oct. 21, 1805, the naval engagement between the forces of France and Britain held off Cape Trafalgar on the South Western coast of Spain. The allied French and Spanish fleets under Pierre de Villeneuve were defeated by the British fleet under Horatio Nelson. This was a famous victory on the part of Britain as it had less number of ships. Nelson's strategized very tactfully to overwhelm the French and Spanish naval forces. He divided his own fleet into two sections. The first section called the HMS Victory was led by him while the other section called HMS Royal Sovereign was under the supervision of his deputy Cuthbert Collingwood. He also planned to make a way into the enemy line in two places. This cleverly planned naval scheme brought the best results that anyone could have expected. The British Royal Naval Forces succeeded in capturing 20 enemy ships and also blew up one of them. Surprisingly and luckily, the British did not lose a single ship. Unfortunately, Nelson himself got killed in the tactfully schemed venture. A French ship Redoutable struck him with a bullet. Napoleon's power over the sea, thus, ended with the crucial English victory. The British victory in the Trafalgar Battle meant that it was impossible for the French to invade English territory. Before the commencement of the battle, Nelson had signaled: "England expects that every man will do his duty." These words said by him became immortal (The Columbia Encyclopedia). [9: Clayton, T., and P. Craig. Naval Historical Society of Australia, "Trafalgar - the Men, the Battle, the Storm." Last modified 2005.] [10: The Columbia Encyclopedia 6th ed., s.v. "Trafalgar, Battle Of," (accessed December 7, 2011).]

The question is whether the Battle of Trafalgar saved England from invasion or not? The tactics and plan used by Nelson to surrender the French and Spanish forces were excellent enough to let Britain devastate the opponents. His witty planning at the Trafalgar outdid the long-extended preparations of Napoleon. In 1910, Sir Julian Corbett, a famous naval historian described the incident as "So incomprehensible was its apparent sterility that to fill the void a legend grew up that it saved England from invasion" (Clayton & Craig 2005). [11: Clayton, T., and P. Craig. Naval Historical Society of Australia, "Trafalgar - the Men, the Battle, the Storm." Last modified 2005.]

Trafalgar Battle substantiated the Britain's standing in waters. It also confirmed that French Fleet did not have sufficient means to play any critical role in the rest of the war years ("HISTORY OF THE NAPOLEONIC WARS"). [12: Historyworld, "HISTORY OF THE NAPOLEONIC WARS."]

There is no doubt that the Trafalgar Battle was the main factor that caused the prevention of Britain from invasion. This battle redefined the British history. Everyone knew that if Napoleon would be able to surrender English ships, it would be the beginning of the end of Britain. However, Nelson followed the revolutionary strategy of Admiral Adam Duncan whose tactics had saved England years ago at the battle of Camperdown. Lord Nelson adopted and employed the same strategies which resulted in the defeat of French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar in 1805. Nelson was deeply inspired with what happened in the Battle of Camperdown as a result of Duncan's tactics. This was the reason why he adopted the same tactics of dividing the fleet into sections and penetrating into the enemy line ("An Admirable Hero; His" 2010, 15). [13: "An Admirable Hero; His Radical Tactics Paved the Way for Nelson's Victory at Trafalgar. Now the Navy Is Paying Tribute to the Scot Who Saved Britain," The Daily Mail (London, England), 11 October 2010, 15,]


The Battle of Trafalgar is a climax in the British history. It is all in all a celebrated victory, a legendary tragedy and an unforgettable event. It is believed by every British that Napoleon's invasion plans were wrecked the same moment Nelson gave away his life for his homeland. He was the admirable hero whose schemes made it certain that Britain fall into the manipulative hands of the French (Rodger February 17, 2011). [14: Rodger, N. BBC, "Trafalgar: The Long-Term Impact." Last modified February 17, 2011. Accessed December 7, 2011.]

This is a certain reality that if a country has to survive and the soldiers have to take their chance, it must safeguard its sea power to overcome the enemy. Same happened in the Trafalgar Battle. The war made Britain a confirmed power. It granted Britain an uncontested domination over the sea. Britain was able to have an advantage over all his enemies including Napoleon; in magnitude and eminence, materially and psychologically. This domination lasted even after the Napoleon's end. The Trafalgar victory also allowed the modern Britain to lessen the Navy without bringing any serious threats to its survival. Not only the victory at Trafalgar subjugated Napoleon's army and superiority, it also ensured Britain's security for a century until the commencement of the First World War (Rodger February 17, 2011). [15: "Ibid."References" An Admirable Hero; His Radical Tactics Paved the Way for Nelson's…

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