Napoleon must have wished for sea-legs. Well nigh invincible on land, with the continent under his sway, he remained hemmed in and frustrated by British maritime control. This control kept British shipyards stocked with Baltic timber (and Indian teak), its sailors clothed from Virginian cotton and fired by Jamaican rum. Smugglers ran rings round Napoleon’s continental blockade. The Battle of Aboukir Bay (1798) cemented Nelson’s reputation for unorthodox brilliance earlier displayed at Cape St Vincent (1797). In an age of cagey, stilted marine warfare, Nelson brought a Napoleonic flair for manoeuvre to the waves. Algeciras (1801) and the seizure of Malta gave Britain control of the Mediterranean, extended to the Adriatic by Lissa (1811). Camperdown (1797) secured the North Sea and successive British actions at Copenhagen (1801, 1807) secured the Baltic. Napoleon sought to counterattack: first, bathetically, with the abortive invasions of Ireland (1797, 1798) then, epically with the iconic showdown at Trafalgar (1805).
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