ACA Woking News by Paul Holden, PRO

19 July 2005

ACA learn the names of other ships that were with the Victory at Trafalgar

Air Commodore Norman Jackson
Norman Jackson

At their July meeting, Woking Aircrew Association, together with their guests from the Royal Naval Association, were entertained by Air Commodore Norman Jackson with a talk on the Battle of Trafalgar. Rather than tell the story of H.M.S. Victory again, he concentrated on the Bellarophon (called the “Billy Ruffian” by the British Sailors because of the difficult pronunciation), another of the 27 ships of the British Fleet that faced the 34 ships of the combined French and Spanish Fleet.

Thomas Slade had designed many of the 74-gun British ships, each built from over 3,000 oak trees. They took two years to build, and another two to mature and season. Since the late seventeen hundreds, Napoleon had been gathering a vast land army, and by August 1804 he had 100,000 troops encamped along the cliffs of Boulogne and a flotilla of 1,200 boats waiting to land them in England. Because of difficulties, this was postponed for a year. It was important that the French Fleet was in attendance. Part of the British Fleet pursued them up and down the Mediterranean Sea, and across the Atlantic Ocean to the West Indies and back, before blockading them again in harbour.

On the 21st October 1805 Admiral Horatio Nelson’s ships faced the enemy at Cape Trafalgar off the coast of Spain. The British attacked in two columns at right angles to the French/Spanish Fleets, which enabled them to open fire quickly at close range. The British had finished their meal and the first shots were fired at 11.58 am. Their 32 lb. Cannon balls pierced the enemy hulls, sending sharp slivers of wood into the decks, causing terrible injuries. The French/Spanish Fleet under Admiral De Villeneuve were firing shots into the British rigging and bringing down masts and sails. Grenades were bursting and causing fires, and marine soldiers from both fleets were firing their muskets into the mêlée. It was during an early exchange that Nelson was fatally wounded.

After so many months at sea, the British training and experience began to tell, but not before the Bellarophon was damaged badly and Captain Cook killed. His place was taken by Captain Cumbie. Many ships had been sunk, and others set on fire, with wreckage and bodies in the water. Many more lay injured. By 5 p.m. the battle was over. 22 enemy ships had been taken or sunk, with nearly 5,000 men killed. The British lost 449 men.

This was a battle that started over 100 years of British sea supremacy, and the eventual end of Napoleon’s ambitions. H.M.S. Bellarophon was repaired and continued to serve in the Royal Navy, and it was in this ship that Napoleon was taken to St. Helena in exile. She had been at sea throughout the years of war against France and fought three great battles during this time. Her final years were as a prison ship. Branch Chairman Eric Smith GM moved a vote of thanks for a most informative and entertaining presentation, commenting that “our Naval visitors must have been surprised to learn so much about a famous Naval topic from an Air Force Officer!”

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