Detail Images :
I regard my painting of the French 74-gun two-decker Redoutable at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21st October 1805 as being among the best paintings I have ever done. It is dark and dramatic and epitomises the horrors of the war at sea during the Napoleonic era. But it also stands to symbolise the gallantry and sheer dedication of one ships crew, even when faced with impossible odds. The Redoutable was the third ship astern of Villeneuves flagship the Bucentaure and was therefore placed precisely between the two interception points where Nelsons Victory and Collingwoods Royal Sovereign cut through the Franco-Spanish line at the start of the battle. Under the command of Captain Jean-Jacques Lucas, the Redoutables crew were regarded by many as the most disciplined and efficient in the fleet. Aware that his small ship would not win an artillery battle alone, he had trained his men to specialise in small arms fire and grenade throwing. Having devastated the Bucentaure with her opening broadside, Victory found herself coming under intense fire from the French Neptune and the Redoutable. Victorys Captain Hardy made the decision to engage one of the two ships at close quarters and, not surprisingly, chose the Redoutable because she represented the smaller opponent. At about 13.10, the two ships came together, their huge wooden hulls grinding against one another, their yards and rigging becoming entangled. At once, the French crew threw grappling irons and lashed the ships together whilst, on the lower decks, Redoutables lower gun ports were ordered to be closed to prevent the British from boarding through them. Now Victory opened an intense broadside at point-blank range, firing double and treble-shotted rounds into the little French ships hull. Redoutable, in response began to put Captain Lucas plan into action, pouring musket fire and grenades onto Victory from markmen positioned in Redoutables fighting tops and rigging. It was at this point that Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson fell, mortally wounded from a sniper on Redoutables mizzen top. By now the two ships had drifted, still locked together, into the path of the British three-decker Temeraire, which now fouled the starboard side of the Redoutable. Now she, too, began pouring fire into the little French ship. Trapped between these two giants, the Redoutable would have been forgiven for striking her colours, but she fought gallantly on, despite taking terrible casualties. So great was the danger of Redoutable bursting into flames and becoming an uncontrollable inferno, that British gun crews began throwing buckets of water into the French vessel to douse the fires. At one point, a British boat crew was even welcomed aboard the French vessel through a stern port to help fight the fires that raged, before returning to their own ship to continue the fight. By now, the sky was black with gunsmoke and the air acrid and difficult to breathe. Still, the Redoutables crew fought on although, by now, both Victory and Temeraire had reduced their gunfire into her for fear of hitting each other through the utterly gutted lower decks of the French vessel. Finally, Victory broke away and limped into the drifting smoke. Despite the British flagships size and firepower, she played little part in the rest of the battle due to the terrible punishment that she and her crew had taken from the Redoutable. Temeraire, too, managed to free herself, but was now engaged with the Fougueux. Indeed, for a while, all four ships had been alongside each other. As Victory drifted away, the Redoutables main and mizzen masts fell, the latter crashing onto the deck of the Temeraire, forming a bridge between the two ships across which the French made many an attempt to board the British three-decker and were repeatedly repelled. Captain Lucas was himself wounded in the battle, but now took time to assess his ships condition. She was completely dismasted, missing all her steering gear and sternpost. Her sides were staved in and her poop and stern destroyed. She was taking in water and was burning fiercely. Only now did Lucas make the decision to reluctantly strike, which he did at 2.20pm to the Temeraire. Of her 643 crew, 300 were dead and 222 injured. This gallant little ship was taken in tow after the battle, but such was the damage sustained that she finally sank at about 10.00pm that evening, going down with most of her wounded still aboard. My painting depicts the very height of the battle as the Redoutable finds herself wedged between the huge bulk of Victory (on the right of the picture) and Temeraire (to the left) The damage that was visited upon each ship is evident in this painting. Victory herself had suffered terrible damage as she had approached the enemy line without herself firing a single shot and was in some difficulties even before encountering the Redoutable, whose gallant crew did so much to repel her bigger opponent. I can think of few examples of so vigorous and determined a defence in the face of such overwhelming odds as the fight that the little Redoutable put up on that fateful day. And I simply had to paint it.