Royal Naval Museum



Battle of Trafalgar Conference

Held at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Friday 14th – Saturday 15th October 2005

The British Perspective - Dr Colin White, National Maritime Museum/Royal Naval Museums

Traditional accounts of Trafalgar have tended to attribute the British victory to revolutionary new tactics devised by Nelson. Modern research has established that very few of the elements that made up his famous battle plan – The ‘Nelson Touch’ as he called it – were particularly new. This paper will examine those individual elements, and show the ‘line of succession’ to earlier Admirals and battles. It will also pinpoint those elements that were genuinely Nelson’s own innovations.

Nowadays, historians tend to highlight Nelson’s leadership style as the most decisive factor underlying the British success. Using material from Nelson’s recently located Order Books, this paper will recreate, and bring alive that style. An attempt will be made to give some idea of what it was actually like to be present at one of Nelson’s famous briefings.

Despite Nelson’s remarkable team building abilities, it is now appreciated that not all of the British ships, and their captains performed equally well in battle. The paper will examine the individual performances and explain why there was some unevenness.

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