Sunday, April 01, 2007

What would Horatio Lord Nelson do?

With the capture of its sailors and marines by Iran, the British government appears humiliated and impotent. Fifteen sailors have been held in an undisclosed location, interrogated, denied medical or diplomatic access, and paraded about on television complete with staged "confessions." And the British have lowered their heads in submission and just... taken it.

The question I have: what would Britain's legendary naval commander Horatio Lord Nelson do? From Wikipedia:

Given command of the 64-gun Agamemnon in 1793, Britain's Captain Horatio Nelson soon started a long series of battles and engagements that would seal his place in naval history.

In 1794 he was wounded in the face by stones and debris thrown up by a close cannon shot during a joint operation at Calvi, Corsica. As a result, Nelson lost the sight in his right eye and half of his right eyebrow. Despite popular legend, there is no evidence that Nelson ever wore an eye patch, though he was known to wear an eyeshade to protect his remaining eye.

On 14 February 1797 he was largely responsible for the British victory at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent. Here he showed his flair for dramatic and bold action. Under the command of Sir John Jervis, the British fleet was ordered to "tack in line," but Nelson disobeyed these orders and wore ship to alter course and prevent the Spanish fleet from escaping. He then boarded two enemy ships in succession, an unusual and bold move which was cheered by the whole fleet. Nelson himself led the boarding parties, which was not usually done by high ranking officers.

While commanding Theseus during an expedition to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Nelson was shot in the right arm with a musketball, fracturing his humerus bone in multiple places. Since medical science of the day counselled amputation for almost all serious limb wounds (to prevent death by gangrene), Nelson lost almost his entire right arm and was unfit for duty until mid-December. He referred to the stub as "my fin."

In 1798 Nelson was once again responsible for a great victory over the French. The Battle of the Nile took place in1798. The battle effectively ended Napoleon's ambition to take the war to the British in India. The forces Napoleon had brought to Egypt were stranded. Napoleon attempted to march north along the Mediterranean coast but his army was defeated at the Siege of Acre. Given its huge strategic importance, some historians (see Vincent 2003) regard Nelson's achievement at the Nile as the most significant of his career, Trafalgar notwithstanding.

In 1801 Nelson was promoted to Vice Admiral of the Blue. Within a few months he took part in the Battle of Copenhagen... which was fought in order to break up the armed neutrality of Denmark, Sweden, and Russia. During the action, his commander, Sir Hyde Parker, who believed that the Danish fire was too strong, signalled to Nelson to break off the action. Nelson ordered that the signal be acknowledged, but not repeated. He turned to his flag Captain, Sir Thomas Foley, and said "You know, Foley, I only have one eye — I have the right to be blind sometimes," and then holding his telescope to his blind eye, said "I really do not see the signal!" His action was approved in retrospect and in May he became commander-in-chief in the Baltic Sea.

On 21 October 1805 Nelson engaged in his final battle, the Battle of Trafalgar. Napoleon Bonaparte had been massing forces once again for an invasion of the British Isles, but he decided that his navy was not adequate to secure the Channel for the invasion barges. Thus, Napoleon had started moving his troops for a campaign elsewhere in Europe. On 19 October the French and Spanish fleet set sail from Cádiz... Nelson, with twenty-seven ships, engaged the thirty-three opposing ships.

As the two fleets moved towards engagement, Nelson ran up a thirty-one flag signal to the rest of the fleet, spelling out the famous phrase "England expects that every man will do his duty."

After crippling the French flagship Bucentaure, Victory moved on to the Redoutable. The two ships became entangled, at which point snipers in the fighting tops of Redoutable were able to pour fire down onto the deck of Victory. Nelson was one of those hit: a bullet entered his left shoulder, pierced his lung, and came to rest at the base of his spine. Nelson retained consciousness for four hours, but died soon after the battle ended with a British victory.

Nelson was noted for his considerable ability to inspire and bring out the best in his men, to the point that it gained a name: "The Nelson Touch". Famous even while alive, after his death he was lionised like almost no other military figure in British history... Most military historians believe Nelson's ability to inspire officers of the highest rank and seamen of the lowest was central to his many victories, as was his unequalled ability to both strategically plan his campaigns and tactically shift his forces in the midst of battle. Certainly, he ranks as one of the greatest field commanders in military history. Many consider him to have been the greatest warrior of the seas.

Returning to Iran's kidnapping of British soldiers: I'm pretty sure I know what Nelson would have done.

The only question that remains is: will we find a Nelson by the time Iran gets nuclear weapons?

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