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The Battle of Trafalgar, 1805


The Age of Fighting Sail, Kiss Me Hardy, 1/1200 scale

Concluding what seemed like a very nautical nine days of games, we come to the biggie. Last year the guys at the Edinburgh club decided to stage a refight of Trafalgar. it was a success, so we decided to do it all again this year. The only difference was we had all the ships this time round, but less players to move them all around! Now, we know this battle is too big to sensibly finish in a day – in this case a wargaming Saturday from 10am to 5pm – but we planned to give it our best shot. The venue was the Dean Bowling Club in my part of Edinburgh – a venue we occasionally hire for special one-day games. Best of all, this was 21st October – the anniversary of the battle, and the biggest day in the British naval calendar. I had about a dozen ships involved – half French and Spanish, the other half British, and so i could really opt to play on either side. Being ex Royal Navy though, and this being Trafalgar Day, there wasn’t any real question. So, I hoisted my flag in HMS Prince, a 98-gun 2nd rate, and led my squadron into the fray. The table was a 16 x 6 foot one, so in theory there was plenty of room to fight.While a whole bunch of local wargamers supplied the ships, this being the result of an old club project, it was Jack Glanville who acted as the Master of Ceremonies for the day, and who acted as rules arbiter, umpire, game organiser and Spanish admiral, all rolled into one. Last year, some of the Franco-Spanish players had complained a little about how one-sided the ship ratings were. All the British were deemed to be not only “Jolly Jack Tars” but “Elite” into the bargain. this time the elite status was abandoned, and everyone was singing off the same hymn sheet. Well, they would have been, except the French were still rated as “Sans Culottes”, and the Spaniards as “Landlubbers”, to keep some semblance of historic perspective in play.The whole set-up was also novel. Rather than simply re-creating the starting positions of the real battle, this time both sides entered the table in squadron-sized lines, with the French and their Spanish allies having the weather gauge.  The idea was that these squadrons could form into lone when the time came. In fact, nobody did, as the game went down a far more interesting route. While the allies struggled to form a line, but at least turned their squadrons so they presented their starboard guns at the British, we simply headed towards the enemy, in six squadron-sized columns, each of 4-5 ships. We had 27 ships-of-the-line in total. For their part the allies had 33 line of battle ships – 15 Spanish and 18 French. they were grouped together in siz squadrons too, each of ships of their own particular nationality. As my squadron was at the back of the British line, my immediate opponents were all French – John and Bart’s squadrons, each of five ships apiece. For my part my flagship Prince was followed by Neptune, Achilles, Ajax and Bellerophon. John had trouble getting into action due to the wind, and the fact we wewre heading diagonally away from him – in fact heading directly at Bart’s squadron – but Bart had already lined up his ships, and soon firing thunderous broadsides at us, as the British drew ever-closer. Looking down the long table I could see that the leading British squadron was having to tack up the table, to get into the action. The two British squadron lines which were nearer, and the British players – Chris and J.P. were already in amongst the enemy, and both sides were blazing away at point-blank range. In the centre, Michael was almost there, while between me and him Peter and Jed were also heading straight for the allied centre, and were now under fire. For my part Bart’s squadron started hammering the Prince, leading my squadron line, but there was nothing for it but to keep calm and wait until our line crossed theirs. At 1.15pm we stopped the game for a moment, and tots of grog were passed round. In proper naval tradition, I called for a toast to “The Immortal Memory” of Horatio Nelson. That was the moment 212 years ago to the day when a French musket ball from Redoutable felled Vice-Admiral Nelson, and the mortally wounded British commander was taken below. He died a little over three hours later. So, with that moment commemorated, we got on with the game. Things were now reaching a climax, as firs Michael, then Jed then I reached the allied line. What followed was nothing short of bloody mayhem. In my part of the battle, my ships split up to pass through BArt’s line in three places. That meant firing first-shot broadsides to both sides, and achieving bow or stern rakes all over the place. The effect was devastating, and Achille and Formidable were so badly shot up they struck their colours. Before I could claim the Formidable as a prize a fire broke out in her magazine, and she blew up with all hands. Next to go was Argonaute, captured by Bellerophon after the Frenchmen had lost all her guns on one side, and most of her masts. So, that meant two French ships captured and one destroyed, in just two frenetic turns. That, as I told anyone who would listen, was “how to do it”…! Down the line a bit, Jed’s flagship Britannia took a real pounding as it came in, but it made it, and while I’m not sure he managed to capture any French ships, they kept on having to take “Strike Tests”, so he must have been doing something right. Further down the British line Peter took one Spanish prize – I think it might have been the Neptuno, while beyond him Michael lost two British ships – Mars and Polyphemus – but captured one Spaniard, the San Justo, while JP next to him blew up another – the Bahama. Unfortunately that’s where we ran out of time. Next year, if we fight this again we really need a full weekend for this, as the battle was just getting into its stride, with the French and Spanish really on the ropes, and taking some real punishment. Back in my sector for instance, Bart’s flagship Achille had her guns silenced, and was all but surrounded when we stopped play. Another ship – the Berwick – treacherously struck her colours, then when the battle rolled past her she sneaked away, hoping nobody would notice. Another turn was all we needed …So, officially the final tally was two British ships captured, for two Allied ones destroyed (one French, one Spaniard), then three French and two Spanish ships captured, for a grand total of two British losses, and  seven Allied ones. So, in theory this was a British victory, but of course our efforts didn’t begin to mirror the real battle, which ended with 22 Allied ships sunk or captured, for no British losses. That, of course, is why we’re still crowing about Trafalgar 212 years on .. and toasting the “immortal memory” of Viscount Horatio Nelson, Vice-Admiral of the White. 

 

 

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