Nelson’s Trafalgar: The Battle That Changed the World by Roy Adkins is a fresh and enlightening look at one of the most studied and discussed naval battles in history. The book is a relatively concise history of the battle and its aftermath.
As a reader who has no idea of the difference between the port and starboard side of a ship, Adkins is able to explain these differences and many more nautical terms. He does not just stop at a simple explanation like most naval authors, he provides easy-to-understand illustrations. His illustrations include diagrams of where the foremast, mainmast, and mizzenmast are located on a ship, comparisons of ship sizes, and aspects of sailing vessels. As a visual learner, I found these invaluable later in the book when Adkins is explaining the maneuvers of each side prior to the battle and what is happening to a particular ship in the battle.
The main parts of the book are about the battle and its aftermath. Sprinkled throughout this narrative are descriptions of life onboard a fighting ship – including gunnery, ship handling, discipline, and health and medicine aboard ship. Adkins compares and contrasts the British Navy with the French and Spanish Navies. As Adkins explains, the British Navy was superior in almost everything, except possibly ship design.
Adkins provides not only excellent insights on the British side of the battle, but also the French and Spanish as well. I particularly enjoyed the description of the actions of the French ship Redoubtable under the command of Captain Jean-Jacques-Etienne Lucas. Adkins uses the writings of Lucas extensively to explain the death of Nelson – Lucas’s marksmen in the masts of the Redoubtable are credited with killing Nelson.
Finally, Adkins provides a stirring narrative of the aftermath of the battle. Many of the ships, including those French and Spanish ships captured by the British, were in poor condition after the battle. Even in this poor condition, most of the ships would have been able to make it into port. However, a massive storm that lasted for several days destroyed many of the damaged ships. Adkins explains that the storm killed more French and Spanish sailors in the sinking of their ships than the actual battle.
In conclusion, if you are looking for a great narrative on the Battle of Trafalgar in an easy-to-read format, read Nelson’s Trafalgar.