JavaScript is turned off in your web browser. Turn it on to take full advantage of this site, then refresh the page. Seminarier | Informatik, Umeå universitet
Tid: Tisdag 1997-11-25, 13:15-15:00
Plats: MIT-huset, MC 413

Docent Bertil Rolf, Filosofiska institutionen, Lunds universitet: Lord Nelson and the English Tactical Tradition in the Age of Sail 1780-1805


All experts and naval historians agree that the triumphs of the British navy over the French during the wars 1793-1815 mainly depended on a difference in competence. The English and the French had fought several inconclusive sea battles during the major part of the 18th century. The English strategy demanded the destruction of French sea power but English tactics could not deliver battles of annihilation. Inconclusive outcomes were, however, in line with French strategy.

During the late 1770's, reforms in the British Navy were directed at signal codes that implied changes for squadron tactics. The older line tactics was kept in the Fighting Instructions, but the new interpretation of the instructions was less rigid. This enabled a new form of coordination and leadership. The admiral could control his squadron before the battle and, on entering the mle of battle, transfer control and initiative to individual captains supporting one another. The English tactical eminence culminated in Lord Nelson and his "band of brothers" in the battle of Trafalgar 1805.

My analysis will deal with philosophical problems of accounting for practical knowledge. How to describe the competence involved on the English side? (The decline of French competence was causally relevant, but not philosophically interesting.) How to describe the role of tradition in supporting such competence? Competence and tradition behind the English conduct at Trafalgar largely consisted of rules making the essential difference. But it is, for various reasons, not very tempting to try to link such rules to causal effects. Signal codes, rules, and the mastery of rules, enable coordination but there is no direct link to action and outcome there and then. So, what is the use of bringing competence and tradition into our accounts of the English navy at Trafalgar?

Kenneth Nilsson


Sidansvarig: Torbjörn Nordström