Nelson Uses Napoleon's Tactics

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wadinga
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Nelson Uses Napoleon's Tactics

Post by wadinga » Mon Oct 21, 2019 2:30 pm

Fellow Contributors,

On the anniversary of Trafalgar I think it is worth observing that although the cliché of Napoleon's infantry column attack against line has been overstated, generally his formations sought to put a heavy concentration of assaulting force against a limited part of the opposing forces. Exactly similar was Nelson's approach at Trafalgar, where he caused his "T" to be crossed, confident that poor Allied fleet gunnery would fail to destroy the head of the assaulting columns before they punched through the enemy's line and caused the wild melee that he sought for his fast-firing crews.

Nelson's revolutionary tactic was almost undone by the very light prevailing winds which slowed the assault to waking pace and meant slower-sailing ships at the rear of his columns took a long time to get into the fight. With stronger winds his fleet would have arrived as more of a "Force de frappe" and there would have been fewer arguments afterwards that some ships had not pulled their weight in the fight. To be honest this was largely driven by such late arrivals getting a share of the Prize Money even when other ships had suffered heavy casualties and damage.

Food for thought and hopefully debate.

All the best

wadinga
"There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today!"

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Re: Nelson Uses Napoleon's Tactics

Post by wadinga » Mon Oct 21, 2019 5:46 pm

Hello All,

Should be "walking pace" not waking pace. Things moved slowly but not soporifically. :lol:

All the best

wadinga
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Byron Angel
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Re: Nelson Uses Napoleon's Tactics

Post by Byron Angel » Thu Oct 24, 2019 3:11 am

Makarov estimated the British rate of advance as a bit under two knots under the prevailing light airs, even though carrying maximum sail and (more or less) sailing before the wind.

HMS Britannia (3-decker) was such a sluggish sailor, that she effectively arrived at the end of the battle.

Nelson's tactics would have been suicidally rash against an opponent of equal ability. Hence, there were precious few occasions upon which such tactics could be repeated.

B

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Re: Nelson Uses Napoleon's Tactics

Post by wadinga » Thu Nov 14, 2019 5:08 pm

Hello Byron,

Yes some British ships even had their extra studding sails deployed extending each yardarm further to try and catch more breeze, but with such wind as there was nearly astern, their forward motion reduced the "apparent wind" providing thrust. With a stronger wind, and maybe on or just aft of the beam, the attack would have been much more spritely, the exposure period for the head of the columns shorter and the arrival of support at the point of penetration quicker.

The fastest point of sailing, even for a square rigged vessel, is with the wind on or just before the quarter, as one does not subtract vessel speed from the "apparent wind" felt by the sails. Normally sailing ships would avoid carrying full sail when going into action as the same men who manned the guns would also be needed to adjust things aloft and even "Jack Tar" can't be in two places at once!

The weather conditions were definitely not optimal for Nelson's preferred attack technique, but I guess his desperation to get to grips with the enemy when they ventured out of harbour was overwhelming, and he would attack whatever the prevailing conditions. if the wind at Trafalgar had been from Nelson's starboard side he could have cut off the aftermost part of the Allied Fleet and the front part would have to tack laboriously back to assist them. (Sailing ship fleet tactics are so much more interesting than powered ones.) :cool:

Napoleon's infantry shock tactic worked against some troops in line when they quailed and fled in front the phalanx bearing down on them, but if faced with steady musketry and especially if the flanks could be enfiladed, the column attack was itself vulnerable. L'Empereur normally reserved it for the last phase when things were already going his way.

All the best

wadinga
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Byron Angel
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Re: Nelson Uses Napoleon's Tactics

Post by Byron Angel » Fri Nov 15, 2019 10:26 pm

wadinga wrote:
Thu Nov 14, 2019 5:08 pm
Hello Byron,

Yes some British ships even had their extra studding sails deployed extending each yardarm further to try and catch more breeze, but with such wind as there was nearly astern, their forward motion reduced the "apparent wind" providing thrust. With a stronger wind, and maybe on or just aft of the beam, the attack would have been much more spritely, the exposure period for the head of the columns shorter and the arrival of support at the point of penetration quicker.
>>>>> Quite agree that Nelson would almost certainly have welcomed a slightly better breeze on the quarter. A minor item of note - when sailing dead before the wind, a blanketing effect will occur whereby the after sail to a degree places the fore sail in a wind shadow. One of the interesting bits mentioned in accounts of the battle is that the Allied line opened fire at a range of 900-1000 yards. At a rate of advance of approximately 1.75 knots, the heads of the columns were only exposed for a maximum of perhaps 15 minutes to the fire of opposing ships. Those Allied ships whose guns could bear upon the approaching British columns probably fired no more than a maximum of about four rounds per gun during that period. And, as they approached to closer range, the British would have progressively passed out of the arcs of bearing of ships not positioned directly ahead of them.

- - -
The fastest point of sailing, even for a square rigged vessel, is with the wind on or just before the quarter, as one does not subtract vessel speed from the "apparent wind" felt by the sails. Normally sailing ships would avoid carrying full sail when going into action as the same men who manned the guns would also be needed to adjust things aloft and even "Jack Tar" can't be in two places at once!
>>>>> Indeed, a quartering wind certainly does give the best speed to a square-rigged ship. Also concur with respect to the conflicting requirements of fully manning the gun battery versus the amount of sail that might be carried and managed. There were of course, strictly speaking, other factors other than manpower limitations in play that might discourage carriage of large amounts of sail in battle - excess heel, maintenance of adequate maneuverability in close quarters, etc.

- - -
(Sailing ship fleet tactics are so much more interesting than powered ones.) :cool:
>>>>> Could not agree more. The "mature" Age of Fighting Sail, say 1700 to 1815, has been a topic of great interest to me for more than forty years. Second in position only to WW1 in the North Sea.

- - -
Napoleon's infantry shock tactic worked against some troops in line when they quailed and fled in front the phalanx bearing down on them, but if faced with steady musketry and especially if the flanks could be enfiladed, the column attack was itself vulnerable. L'Empereur normally reserved it for the last phase when things were already going his way.
>>>>> Once again, basically agreed. Face to face, the outcome of a line formation faced by a column attack was dictated by the moral element (duPicq writes insightfully on this point) and the better the way is prepared by skirmishers and artillery, the better the chances of success for the column.


BRgds / Byron

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Re: Nelson Uses Napoleon's Tactics

Post by wadinga » Tue Nov 19, 2019 2:50 pm

Fellow Contributors,

For interest Peter Padfield in Guns at Sea says
It is perhaps wrong to mention exceptional gunnery officers by name, as many are sure to be left out, but Collingwood, that very great and good man, worked up his gun's crews in the Dreadnought (1805) to fire three well-aimed broadsides in 3.5 minutes, the average speed in the British Fleet was probably 3 aimed rounds every five minutes.
Speaking of Jervis' fleet at against the Spanish in 1797 British frigates reported:
the fire of the British squadron was, throughout the action, superior in the proportion of five or six to one
So despite the Spanish having 2308 guns to Jervis' 1232, in terms of weight of metal delivered, the latter probably had a 4 to 1 advantage.

Subsequent British commanders without this kind of gunnery advantage have struggled to emerge from the giant shadow of the diminutive but deservedly-worshipped Admiral Horatio Nelson.

All the best

wadinga
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Byron Angel
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Re: Nelson Uses Napoleon's Tactics

Post by Byron Angel » Wed Nov 20, 2019 5:44 pm

Padfield's "Guns at Sea"! An old and very well thumbed copy sits on my bookshelf as well. A very good introduction to the evolution of naval gunnery in the RN.

If you have not already seen them, you might find the following essays of interest -
"... All Was Hushed Up" the Hidden Trafalgar"" by Michael Duffy; Mariner's Mirror, Vol 91, No 2 (2005)
"The Gunnery at Trafalgar: Training, Tactics, or Temperament?" by Michael Duffy; Journal of Maritim Research, Vol 7, No 1 (2011)

Both are very interesting essays that get well down "into the weeds".


BRgds / Byron

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Re: Nelson Uses Napoleon's Tactics

Post by wadinga » Wed Nov 20, 2019 9:21 pm

Hello Byron,

Hmmm, yes I have seen Mr Duffy's 2005 article. As I observed there was the serious matter of Prize Money and those who felt they had earned it with blood and effort, as opposed to those who also received it, but in the first group of people's minds didn't actually deserve it, which may have soured some stated opinions which Mr Duffy has latched onto and perhaps not unreasonably brought into the light.

As you know, especially for senior officers, we are talking about serious, life-enhancing amounts of money. There was even a special fund voted by Parliament for Trafalgar where every captain received over £2000 plus nearly a £1000 in regular Prize Money, whether his ship was at the front and dismasted or turned up late and barely received a scratch. (1805 sterling was worth a very great deal more than today :cool: ). Plenty to grumble about especially when some features of a warship's outfit came out of the Captain's own pocket rather than as issued by Admiralty. Fourteen ships out of Nelson's line of battle were considered to have suffered little or no damage. Some captains received nine times their regular annual salary.

As is well known, some of the poorest sailing ships were positioned at the rear of the formation, and were travelling so slowly, like HMS Prince, that Nelson's attack plan meant inevitably, they would not "turn up" for hours ie when it was "all over bar the shouting". If they were carrying less than full sail, or if they were poorly trimmed, the criticism of their effort might have some justification, but if foul-bottomed or possessed of poor underwater hull form they were left behind particularly so in such light winds. A conventional battle line to battle line engagement would have meant everybody shared fairly equally in the pain, glory and prize money. As it was, those who had done most of the fighting thought they, and their crews, should have had an even bigger slice of the largesse.

As an aside, the 62 year old Admiral Parker, Nelson's boss at Copenhagen, had made himself a fortune in the West Indies through prize money, and had to be bullied out to sea by the Admiralty, because he was enjoying the "company" of his new 18 year old wife too much! Horatio wasn't the only one enjoying a racy lifestyle. :dance:

All the best

wadinga
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Byron Angel
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Re: Nelson Uses Napoleon's Tactics

Post by Byron Angel » Tue Nov 26, 2019 5:34 am

Talking about prize money, I've always wondered what became of the British captains involved in the capture of the three Spanish treasure frigates off Cadiz in 1804. IIRC the Admiralty granted each captain prize money equivalent to about a million pounds sterling in today's value. Nice retirement nest eggs to say the least.

Byron

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