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Today is the anniversary of Trafalgar and here is how you can reenact Lord Horatio Nelson's spectacular victory in 1805.  In a swimming pool set afloat 33 loaves of French bread to represent the French/Spanish fleet. To represent the British fleet, have twenty-seven people with shotguns firing at the bread. That accurately represents France's chances at Trafalgar.

The British make much of the fact that Nelson's fleet was smaller: Britain's 27 ships of-the- line against 33 French and Spanish ships. Of course, the British fleet was superior in every way. It was the best in the world and led by one of history's greatest admirals. The English victory was never in doubt; the extent of the triumph was remarkable. The French and Spanish lost two-thirds of their fleet.

Nelson likely was more fearful of the accountants at the British admiralty. At the time, naval warfare was expected to be profitable. The fleet was maintained and the crews were paid by the proceeds of captured ships and plundered cargos. The cannons were aimed to knock down masts or shred sails, leaving the enemy ship dead in the water--and ripe for looting. Sinking the ship would have ruined this financial system.

Unfortunately, in 1798 at the Battle of Nile, Nelson had proved to be somewhat extravagant. Under unerring British bombardment, the French flagship blew up. I can only imagine how the accounting office at the Admiralty reacted to that lost fortune....

"We suppose that you expect to be congratulated, Admiral Nelson. But who is going to pay for your pyrotechnics? We no longer have those 13 colonies to tax, and it is because of spendthrifts like you we don't!"

With the proceeds of the captured fleet, Lord Nelson made a fortune at Trafalgar.  Unfortunately, he didn't live to enjoy it.  A sniper demonstrated the only French marksmanship that day. Contrary to Nelson's wishes, the money went to his widow instead of his mistress.

And but for that French sniper, Nelson might have commanded the British fleet in the attack on Ft. McHenry.

In that situation, I imagine that Francis Scott Key would have written "The White Flag Rag."

Originally posted to EugeneF on Tue Oct 21, 2008 at 09:29 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank you French sniper... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    subtropolis, Hannibal, El Ochito

    whoever you are.

    •  Remember, Napoleon was our ally (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      First, as history's most aggressive liberal, Napoleon would have been welcomed at the Daily Kos.

      And America was allied with France.  But James Madison did have a miserable sense of timing.  1812 was not really the most propitious time for that alliance.

  •  tips for the pigeons in Trafalgar Square (9+ / 0-)
  •  Excellent diary. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Hannibal, m4gill4

    Hilarious opening paragraph.  

    Barack Obama is going to be the next President of the United States.

    by LarsThorwald on Tue Oct 21, 2008 at 09:34:28 AM PDT

  •  Upholding French Naval Tradition..... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gecko, subtropolis, KenBee, dougymi, EugeneF

    The Aircraft Carrier Charles de Gaulle (R91).

    The 40,000 ton ship has cost over four billion dollars so far and is slower than the steam powered carrier it replaced. Flaws in the "de Gaulle" have led it to using the propellers from it predecessor, the "Foch," because the ones built for "de Gaulle" never worked right and the propeller manufacturer went out of business in 1999. Worse, the nuclear reactor installation was done poorly, exposing the engine crew to five times the allowable annual dose of radiation. There were also problems with the design of the deck, making it impossible to operate the E-2 radar aircraft that are essential to defending the ship and controlling offensive operations. Many other key components of the ship did not work correctly, including several key electronic systems. The carrier has been under constant repair and modification. The "de Gaulle" took eleven years to build (1988-99) and was not ready for service until late 2000. It's been downhill ever since.

    The de Gaulle is undergoing still more repairs and modifications. The government is being sued for exposing crew members to dangerous levels of radiation.

    The cause of the problems can be traced to the decision to install nuclear reactors designed for French submarines, instead of spending more money and designing reactors specifically for the carrier.

  •  My favorite Nelson story: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    At the battle of Copenhagen, the signal was given to turn back after several British ships ran aground.  Informed of the order, Nelson held the telescope to his blind eye.

    "I see no signal," he said, then proceeded to pound the Danes.

  •  British fleet superior by 1805? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    semiot, subtropolis, BlueStreak, m4gill4

    Probably not true, at least in terms of the vessels themselves. English ships tended to be be older, smaller, mounting fewer guns-- which is why French prizes were so eagerly refitted for British service. Patrick O'Brian is eloquent on this point.

    •  don't forget C.S. Forester... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      semiot, esquimaux

      The French ships were generally considered superior. The British strategy of blockade kept the French bottled up, and this meant that the few serious challenges to the Royal Navy were mounted by inexperienced crews. What the British lacked in firepower and sailing performance, they more than made up for in crew performance.

      •  Good builders yes (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        France put a lot of resources into building ships and did indeed produce good warships for many decades (and didn't Frence shipwrights help establish the tradition of US naval architect excellence in Baltimore?). They also had superb seamen mostly drawing on their Breton and Basque minorities. However their officers were the product of a centralised training system mainly shore based while British officers benefited from the one real meritocracy in the Kingdom with officers trained in practical seagoing service. French battle tactics were always stylised. Britain valued initiative.    

        Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

        by saugatojas on Tue Oct 21, 2008 at 10:14:42 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Don't let mccain hear about the concept (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    of war for profit. He's bloodthirsty enough now. Something like that would drive him over the edge.

    A learning experience is one of those things that says, 'You know that thing you just did? Don't do that.' Douglas Adams

    by dougymi on Tue Oct 21, 2008 at 09:45:06 AM PDT

  •  You had me at "annals" nt (0+ / 0-)
  •  Something the French Do Right (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    On this day--October 21--in 1858, Jacques Offenbach endeared himself to posterity, particularly cartoon animators and advertising agencies, by premiering this music.

    His Can Can music is one of the world's most popular and exploited numbers. You have heard it accompany household cleansers and frantic Looney Tunes. And why not? His music is delightful and, more importantly, those studios and ad agencies don't have to pay him a cent in royalties. When you have been dead for 128 years, you have very few legal rights. True, Offenbach would be a very rich man if he ever resurrected; but Offenbachs usually don't. (Wrong theology.)

  •  Remember Admiral de Grasse kindly, America (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    •  The French Navy's Only Victory (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      And it was against an army.   But the French fleet did trap the British at Yorktown.

      Unfortunately for de Grasse, the British navy finally caught up with the French ships...with the usual consequences.

      •  Not against an Army (0+ / 0-)

        In the sea battle off Yorktown De Grasse scored the only fleet-to-fleet victory the French navy managed against the Royal Navy in the whole of the 18th Century.

        Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

        by saugatojas on Tue Oct 21, 2008 at 10:46:40 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Magnifique! (0+ / 0-)
    If not for the French ships in the Chesapeake, we might all be Brits! Merci, Admiral!

    Let tyrants fear.-Queen Elizabeth I

    by Virginia mom on Tue Oct 21, 2008 at 10:16:03 AM PDT

  •  Interesting alternative speculations (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Yes it is possible that Nelson could have commanded British forces off the coast of the USA in the War of 1812 - after all wasn't Hardy  (who famously embraced Nelson on his deathbed at Trafalgar)the real-life commander of Royal Naval forces in the American theatre? However if Nelson had lived he would have achieved much higher rank and aposition in the Admiralty, and pretty certainly would not have been diverted to a sideshow like the American theatre.

    Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

    by saugatojas on Tue Oct 21, 2008 at 10:39:32 AM PDT

    •  Additionally (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      What difference would it have made?  Nelson might have burnt Baltimore (though it's not guaranteed by any means), but that would not have affected the outcome of the war.  

      •  Privateers (0+ / 0-)

        Baltimore was the prime base for fitting out US privateers,so if the war had continued destroying the shipbuilding facilities might have had favourable (for Britain) consequences. However the war had only a few weeks to run at that point (September 1814) anyway.

        Canada won the overall war, of course.  

        Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

        by saugatojas on Tue Oct 21, 2008 at 12:23:24 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yup, (0+ / 0-)

          But privateers didn't win the war (or tie it, or whatever), and the US would still have been able to outfit plenty (since a great many ships can be very easily converted).  But as you point out, the war was nearly over, anyway.  

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