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JerseyCity Frankie

Signal flags flown at Trafalgar, but not THAT one.

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The Battle of Trafalgar is so famous it’s likely the best documented engagement of the era. New books appear on the subject even to this day, there are  hundreds of sources offering information! As a result some events that occoured during the battle have been covered again and again. For instance Nelson’s “England Expects” flag hoist is given attention in virtually EVERY account of the battle, without fail. Similar flag hoists in other battles remain unknown to us and aren’t discussed in other histories but the Nelson hoist has a firm place in history.

What I’m getting at is that it couldn’t have been the only flag hoist, there must have been hundreds of signal flag hoists, before during and after the battle. Yet these ones, if they were even documented, aren’t given attention in the history books.

Im doing a painting of the Battle of Trafalgar so I’m trying to weigh my choices for the inclusion of flags. We have Hugh Popham’s code and it’s fascinating to look at the long list of words and phrases available for two and four flag code hoists. This website lists much of the code and I recommend scrolling down through the hundreds of possible communications: http://3decks.pbworks.com/f/Admiral%20Home%20Popham%20Telegraph%20signal%20book%20Final%20edition.pdf

 

The frigates present at the battles sole job was the repeating of the flag hoists of those others fighting in the Line. I wonder if the logs of any of the frigates or smaller craft like HMS Pickle have come down to us? Presumably the flag hoists they were telegraphing down the line would have been recorded? THAT would make for some interesting reading.

Certainly all the ships were flying ensigns denoting nationality. But I wonder about pennants denoting the names of the ships or the admirals aboard? I don’t see pennants getting mentioned. And I feel the crew of the ships at the time could visually identify both their own ships and many of the enemies ships by name just from knowing their physical appearance, without the use of flags. But I still wonder if each ship wouldn’t keep flying individual markers to avoid confusion in the battle? With so many ships involved surely some were not as well known to each other. 

 

 

 

 

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Edited by JerseyCity Frankie

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What I failed to mention above is the problem of searching for the topic “flags used at Trafalgar”. ANY search provides 10,000 results, ALL of which will be focused exclusively on England Expects. I’ve found it impossible to dig up any information beyond the famous hoist since that hoist looms so large it dominates the topic.

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I believe the 'Victory' flew "Engage the enemy more closely" during the entire battle, but you might try some of the more or less contemporary paintings of the action.  A careful study of those may reveal flag hoists.

 

John

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Try googling, "Trafalgar signals." Once you get past the first three or four completely irrelevant paid advertisements (Google is so annoying in that respect!) you'll hit pay dirt.

 

This should answer your questions: http://www.nelsonsnavy.co.uk/traf-signals.html

 

The link provided, at least, all the signals flown by Nelson and Collingwood immediately before the battle. These would be the command signals to the fleet. Note that the actual hoists of "England expects..." are pictured. This signal was made up of twelve consecutive hoists, as pictured, flown from the mizzen flag halyard. 

 

This site provides what seems to be the consensus on what happened.  https://www.navyhistory.org.au/the-true-story-of-nelsons-famous-signal/ 

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Frankie

The Euryalus' master's log is considered by many as the most comprehensive set of notes before, during and after the battle.  I did a quick look at my old notes and the log has descriptions of telegraphed messages in addition to the "England expects..."    The log does not describe what flags were used, but rather the words that were sent.  If you cannot find this and would like to read it, feel free to PM me.  

Allan

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Thanks Allan I found this transcription of her log  http://chasingnelson.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-battle-of-trafalgar-logbook-of_22.html

and the website is illustrated with this Geoff Hunt painting of Euryalus flying signal flags #2 and #5 at the Fore of the Popham Code. Looking up signal #25 the code says these two flags represent the letter “Z”. The painting is called Nelson’s Watchdog the Frigate Euryalus so perhaps it’s safe to assume this is Hunt’s representation of the frigate at Trafalgar? 

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Im a huge fan of Geoff Hunt and I know he has a reputation for doing his homework so I’m orepared to believe he’s on solid footing when he sticks the letter Z into the artwork. But I’d love to know his references.

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To me it makes perfect sense that ships would fly and keep flying a pair of flags like this so others in the fleet would know who was who during the action....but to say this was a fact is going way too far without something solid to base it on. 

Edited by JerseyCity Frankie

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I have not spoken with Jeffry since getting his permission to use the painting in the Euryalus books but he may be receptive to communicate to you.  I am on vacation this week but will try to do some digging to send you his email address if I still have it.  He can then give you more details on how he came up with those particular flags.  The log I have is from October 19 through October 31, so has a lot more than that in the site you posted.   No problem to send to you if wish to compare.

Allan

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Oh are you an author Allen? I wasn’t aware. Sailing histories I assume? I’m jealous you’re on a first name basis with Mr Hunt, he’s a favorite of mine. Nobody hits the note that he’s able to hit in his work. I’d be delighted to read anything you have concerning the flags! 

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