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Nelson explaining his plans of attack - The Nelson Touch

Traditionally naval fleet battles at sea basically consisted of two opposing parallel lines of ships firing broadsides at each other. Such naval tactics were found in the Royal Navy’s first publication on this subject in 1673, Sailing and Fighting Instructions. This book stressed the importance of maintaining the line in battle. It was a tactic used virtually unchanged until Nelson’s day. However, when Nelson explained his tactics for fighting the combined French and Spanish fleets to his officers, he described the effect, perhaps exaggerating, as if ‘it was like an electric shock. Some shed tears, all approved. "it was singular: it was simple!" (Bennett, page 259). The reason for this reaction was the tactics he planned to use, known as the Nelson Touch, were quite different. He planned to attack by splitting his fleet into several columns and sailing headlong into the enemy line at strategic points therefore causing a ‘pell-mell’ battle, which would favour the better gunnery and sailing skills of his fleet. Although used before, for example at the Battle of St Vincent in 1797, it was with Nelson and at Trafalgar that such tactics were used to their most devastating effect.

National Maritime Museum PAG7067

Print, "Lord Nelson Explaining to his Officers the Plan of Attack". 9 January 1806. Ref: PAG7067. © National Maritime Museum, London.
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