exceptionally light winds, it took more than a full day
for the smaller British fleet to close in on its
adversaries. As his ships moved towards battle, Nelson
ran up a 31-flag signal that would forever after be
associated with stalwart naval courage:
"England," the flags read, "expects that
every man will do his duty." Dividing his force,
Nelson broke the Spanish line at two points, forcing the
larger enemy fleet into smaller, fragmented engagements.
On HMS Victory, his flagship, the commander
attacked the French flagship Beaucentaure,
crippling it in a single broadside volley.
Shortly after, the Victory ran up against the French Redoutable, whose crew had special training in small arms fire. With their masts locked together, the two vessels were entangled long enough for Redoutable's crew to take advantage of its skills--and one notable casualty was Nelson himself. The shot entered his shoulder, pierced his lung, and lodged in the base of his spine. It was a fatal wound, but Nelson lived long enough to learn that Trafalgar was a decisive victory.
At the end of the day, the British had captured 20 French ships while losing none. The damaged Victory, with Nelson's body aboard, was towed to Gibraltar, its arrival marking the beginning of more than a century of unchallenged British naval dominance of the world.
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