May

7

 At times like this one is reminded of Horatio Nelson's admonition to Aubrey: " Forget the maneuvers and go right at them".

Stefan Jovanovich comments: 

But if your men cannot go right at them, your only choices are to avoid engagement either by using the ocean's wide spaces or by staying in port. Pierre-Charles Villeneuve was shrewd enough to know that the only role for the French and Spanish fleets was to be a potential threat but never to actually come out and fight, except in those brief moments when they had overwhelming local superiority. That threat of a "fleet in being" would compel the Admiralty for political reasons to devote most of its energies to patrol duties in the Channel to guard against invasion and to blockading the Atlantic and Mediterranean ports of the enemy. It would maintain a stalemate which would, in fact, be a victory for Napoleon's continental system. But Villeneuve had the bad luck to work for a man who could never sustain a strategy that was working if it contradicted his latest impulse. So, Villeneuve was doomed to be ordered repeatedly to use absolutely the worst of all possible tactics. To this day, the French continue to blame him for the defeat at Trafalgar. They even join the English is questioning the Admiral's character for finally obeying Napoleon's stupid orders when faced with the choice of obedience or execution.

P.S. Nelson's contemporaries had the grace to acknowledge that Villeneuve was a better sailor than Nelson; when he attended the funeral ceremony, his presence was not considered shameful but a further endorsement of Nelson's military greatness.


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