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Nelson’s Memorandum

Image from the Memorandum by Horatio, Viscount Nelson Off Cadiz

Nelson’s Memorandum
British Library Add. MS 37953
Copyright © The British Library Board
A high-quality version of this image can be purchased from British Library Images Online. For more information email

In this memorandum, Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson explains to his captains his plans for engaging the allied French and Spanish fleet. The memorandum, which is an unsigned draft, dated 'Victory', off Cadiz, 9 October, 1805, contains Nelson's fullest exposition of his conception of naval tactics and formed the basis of his tactics for the Battle of Trafalgar.

On 9 October 1805, 12 days before the battle of Trafalgar, Horatio, Viscount Nelson (1758-1805) sent to his second-in-command, Admiral Collingwood, this draft of his plan of attack, which he called the 'Nelson touch', for the forthcoming engagement with the allied French and Spanish fleet. The essence of Nelson's plan, now regarded as a masterpiece of naval strategy, is indicated at the bottom of the right-hand page.

The fleet was to be drawn up 'in two lines of 16 ships each with an advanced squadron' of eight of the fastest sailing ships. The intention was, as Nelson states on the left-hand page, 'to overpower [the enemy line] from two or three ships ahead of their Commander-in-Chief supposed to be in the Centre to the Rear of their Fleet'.

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