Gregory Fremont-Barnes,
Trafalgar 1805: Nelson's Crowning Victory
(Osprey, 2005)

The importance of Trafalgar to British history -- particularly its mastery of the sea in the 19th century, and the outcome of the Napoleonic wars -- cannot be underestimated. But, be you an armchair historian or a history scholar, the tactics, the movements of ships and the punishing broadsides that decided the conflict can be hard to fathom.

Gregory Fremont-Barnes makes it a little easier to understand the circumstances that placed so many ships from the British, French and Spanish fleets off Trafalgar on Oct. 21, 1805, for a battle that still lives today as one of the greatest naval conflicts of all time. His book, Trafalgar 1805: Nelson's Crowning Victory, describes the military and political arenas that led to Trafalgar, as well as the tactics that Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson devised to trounce the numerically superior forces arrayed against him.

With rich illustrations and charts of the fleet in motion, the author explains in detail how these ships maneuvered and how their officers and crews performed. By book's end, you'll have a much better grasp of the action.

Part of Osprey's series on great military campaigns, Trafalgar 1805 makes a great many details clear. Some might fault the author from taking a largely British view of the battle -- but one might argue that if the Franco-Spanish fleet had carried the day, he'd be telling their story instead. Still, a little more information on the losing side of things would have been useful. And he does also gloss over some important details; for instance, when he describes the post-Trafalgar encounter where Sir Richard Strachan, commanding a squadron of four English ships of the line, captured a flotilla of four equally sized French ships without British losses, Fremont-Barnes ignores the fact (made clear only if you study the included charts) that Strachan had four frigates assisting his ships.

All in all, though, this is an excellent resource that should help any fan of naval history to comprehend a momentous sea battle that may have altered the course of history.

book review by
Tom Knapp

6 July 2013

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