October 21st seems to have been a magnet for naval battles and important events in naval history. The most important was probably the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar in which a combined fleet of thirty-three French and Spanish ships were pretty much wiped out by a British fleet of twenty-seven ships under the command of Horatio Nelson. While it was a huge turning point in the long war with Napoleonic France (it pretty much wiped out France’s navy) it unfortunately also resulted in Nelson’s death.
There was also a battle on this day in 1757 off Cap-Français (these days known as Haiti) during the Seven Years War. In this battle three British ships tangled with seven French ships who were trying to protect a large convoy. Despite being outnumbered by more than 2 to 1 the British commanders had a conference and in less than a minute decided to accept the French squadron’s offer of battle. The battle was pretty much a draw but the British did manage to inflict a lot of damage on the French which delayed the departure of the convoy.
Another battle that happened on this day occurred in 1707 during the War of Spanish Succession. This particular battle was a complete failure for the British who had five ships that were trying to protect a massive convoy of war supplies for Spain. The British were forced to battle twelve French ships and ended up losing four of them—three captured and one sunk. The French also managed to seize a number of the merchant vessels in the convoy.
An important event that occurred on this day was the launching of one of the most famous warships in the world—the USS Constitution.