Trafalgar lighthouse and cape, Los Caños de Meca, Cadiz. / SUR

21 October 1805: Lord Nelson is killed in the Battle of Trafalgar

The British fleet were expecting the Spanish-French ships, which had sailed from the port of Cadiz on 18 October, but a tactic which started well proved to be fatal


The Battle of Trafalgar took place on 21 October 1805 near the Cape of Trafalgar and close to the small village of Los Caños de Meca.

It was a naval battle between the Royal Navy and the combined fleets of the French and Spanish navies during the War of the Third Coalition (August–December 1805) which formed part of the Napoleonic Wars of 1803 to 1815.

As part of Napoleon's plans to invade England, the French and Spanish fleets combined to take control of the English Channel and provide safe passage for the 'Grande Armée'.

The allied fleet, under the command of the French admiral, Pierre-Charles Villeneuve, sailed from the port of Cadiz on 18 October 1805. They encountered the British fleet under Lord Horatio Nelson, recently assembled to meet the threat, in the Atlantic Ocean along the southwest coast of Spain, off Cape Trafalgar.

Nelson was outnumbered, with 27 British ships against 33 allied ships including the largest warship in either fleet, the Spanish Santísima Trinidad.

To address this imbalance, Nelson sailed his fleet directly at the allied battle line's flank, hoping to break it into pieces.

Villeneuve had worried that Nelson might attempt this tactic but, for various reasons, had made no plans for a counter attack. The plan worked almost perfectly; Nelson's ships split the Franco-Spanish fleet into three, isolating the boats at the back of the fleet from Villeneuve's flagship, the Bucentaure, and the ensuing battle resulted in 22 allied ships being lost, while the British lost none.

However, what had seemed like a winning tactic exposed the leading ships in the British fleet to intense fire. Nelson's own HMS Victory was almost knocked out of action. Nelson was shot by a French musketeer and died of his wounds shortly before the battle ended in a victory for the British. Nelson died knowing that victory for his fleet was imminent and his last words are said to have been, "Now I am satisfied. Thank God I have done my duty."