Original hand-drawn battle plans by Admiral Lord Nelson for the Battle of Trafalgar are discovered.

Incredible a hand-drawn sketch by Admiral Lord Nelson himself showing his plan for victory at Trafalgar has been discovered tucked inside the pages of a scrapbook after nearly 200 years.

They were discovered by historian Martyn Downer in a scrap book book from the 1830s which was recently sold at auction.

It shows his plan for splitting the Royal Navy fleet into three divisions to break and destroy the enemy French and Spanish lines coming out of Cadiz harbour.

Lord Nelson

Painting of Admiral Lord Nelson

The plan even includes lines representing wind direction which give a unique insight into how Nelson intended to attack across the wind to take advantage of increased speed.

The drawing, which has been donated to the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth, was found alongside an address leaf bearing Nelson’s signature and is dated September 5 1805.  The early date also shows us Nelson had long been plotting on his final great victory long before he ever set foot on HMS Victory.

Admiral Lord Nelson's hand drawn sketch found on the top right of this page in an old scrap book after 200 years.

Admiral Lord Nelson’s hand drawn sketch found on the top right of this page in an old scrap book after 200 years.

The plan is on display today to mark the 214th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar before being placed on permanent exhibition from next spring in the museum’s refurbished Victory Gallery.

You can visit HMS Victory and the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard on our hugely popular day tour from London with Ye Olde England Tours   or alternatively you can look at my HMS Victory and Portsmouth post from a few years ago Day Tour to Portsmouth Historic Dockyards

Nelson was already an assured national treasure before his great victory at Trafalgar which made him an eternal national hero and incidentally brought about a century or more of comparative peace on the waves.

It was September, of 1805, when Horatio Nelson first told someone of his plans for a new kind of naval warfare. The Vice Admiral was his home, at Merton Place in Surrey and taking a walk with his colleague Captain Richard Keats who was then the commanding officer of HMS Superb, a 74-gun battleship.

Until this time naval battles largely consisted of two lines of ships lining up parallel to each other at something like point blank range and blasting each other to smithereens until one side was clearly beaten.   Nelson wanted to change this not just because he saw the chance for a great victory but because navies had got so large it was getting impractical to fight in this way.

On hearing that the French-Spanish combined fleet had put into the port of Cadiz (in Spain), left his home on the 13th of September, 1805, to take command of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet. Hoisting his flag aboard HMS Victory, he sailed to join the rest of the ships.

Nelson and his fleet finally got their opportunity to put the new tactics into practice  when Napoleon gave orders to his fleet to leave Cadiz as Emperor Napoleon was mounting a land campaign against Austria and wanted his ships closer to that action.

It was a decision that proved to be disastrous for Napoleon because as soon as they were out of the comparative safety of the harbour, it gave the Royal Navy a chance to strike.

The new plan envisioned that Nelson would position his ships very differently than enemy officers would expect. The British ships would approach the French and Spanish ships in separate columns.

One column of ships (led by Nelson) would be in the windward position, moving as fast as possible using as much sail power as circumstances allowed. They would split the French and Spanish line in the centre, thereby preventing those ships from helping the rest of their fleet.

The other column of British ships, led by Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, would rout the enemy’s rear.

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The Battle of Trafalgar

The actual battle unfolded just as Nelson had planned. Smashing through the middle of the French and Spanish line, he cut the fleet in two. Ships in the northern part of the line could not join the battle in the south, where Collingwood was routing the enemy’s rear.

Nelson started the battle with 27 ships of the line and lost none. The combined fleet against him started the battle with 33 ships of the line and lost 18. and more enemy ships were lost following a terrible storm.

The Royal Navy didn’t quite have everything its own way as the wind had rather eased at the commencement of battle and HMS Victory became something of a sitting duck as it led the attack on the enemy fleets and suffered terrible damage.

As Victory came into close contact with the French ship Redoutable, a sniper in her rigging spotted Nelson who as always led from the front and was on the upper deck of HMS Victory. Nelson was mortally wounded by a musket ball in the left chest that caused numerous terrible external and internal injuries that would have been untreatable even in the bed hospital in London.

Nelson was correct when he told Thomas Hard “Hardy, I believe they have done it at last” and died hours later though not before knowing his navy had achieved perhaps the most famous history in naval history.

Spot where Nelson was shot

Freshly placed wreath on the plaque marking the spot where Nelson fell.

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About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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