It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.

Please white-list or disable in your ad-blocking tool.

Thank you.


Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.


Crossing the T one of histories greatest naval warfare tactics?

page: 1

log in


posted on Mar, 13 2008 @ 01:18 AM

Crossing the T or Capping the T is a tactic in naval warfare, in which a line of warships crosses in front of a line of enemy ships, allowing them to bring all their guns to bear while receiving fire from only the forward guns of the enemy. It became possible in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with the advent of steam-powered battleships with rotating gun turrets, which were able to move faster and turn quicker than sailing ships, which had fixed guns. The tactic became obsolete when missiles and aircraft allowed long-range strikes.

Crossing the T

Obviously it wont work in today’s Naval warfare, but for about 150 years this was one of the most useful tactics in engaging an enemey fleet. Divide and conquer. Dating back to the Battle OF Trafalgar of 1805 where Admiral Lord Nelson took on a line of 33 Spanish and French Ships, the British had 27. Using this naval tactic Nelson lost 0 ships while the French and Spanish lost 22. Nelson did give up his life but he became a hero.

The Battle of Trafalgar saw the British decisively defeat a combined French and Spanish fleet on 21 October 1805 in the most decisive and important naval battle of the Napoleonic Wars. A Royal Navy fleet of 27 ships of the line destroyed an allied French and Spanish fleet of 33 ships of the line west of Cape Trafalgar in south-west Spain, province of Cádiz. The French and Spanish lost 22 ships, while the British lost none. The British commander Admiral Lord Nelson died late in the battle, by which time he had ensured his place as Britain's greatest naval hero.

Prevailing tactical orthodoxy at the time involved maneuvering to approach the enemy fleet in a single line of battle and then engaging in parallel lines. Before this time the fleets had usually been involved in a melée with the fleets becoming mixed together. One of the reasons for the development of the line of battle was to help the admiral control the fleet. If all the ships were in line, signaling in battle became possible. The line also had defensive properties, allowing either side to disengage by breaking away in formation. If the attacker chose to continue combat their line would be broken as well. Often this latter tactic led to inconclusive battles or allowed the losing side to reduce its losses. Nelson wished to see a conclusive battle.

His solution to the problem was to deliberately cut the opposing line in two. Approaching in two columns sailing directly at the enemy, one near the centre of the opposing line and one near the trailing end, his ships would break the enemy formation in half, surround that half, and force them to fight to the end. Nelson specifically hoped to cut the line just in front of the flagship: the isolated ships in front of the break would not be able to see the flagship's signals, hopefully taking them out of combat while they reformed. The intention of going straight at the enemy echoed the tactics used by Admiral Duncan at the Battle of Camperdown and Admiral Jervis at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, both in 1797

Battle of Trafalgar

Did Nelson just get lucky, or was this truly an effective tactic? Wiki has a list of many battles where it was implemented. I wonder if they discuss this in naval college even though it’s now obsolete. I learned about the Battle of Trafalgar looking for techniques to use in Battle Stations Midway, I was stuck so I went to the games forum and some people suggested using this technique and it actually is useful in some of the battles. If anyone is a fan of naval simulation games Battle Stations Midway in a strategy packed game that will keep you hooked for hours and you get to take the helm of great ships like the Yamato, Midway, and Japanese heavy cruisers, as well as dozens of other WW2 ships, plains, and boats.

[edit on 13-3-2008 by jojoKnowsBest]

posted on Mar, 13 2008 @ 06:39 AM
Nelson deliberately sailed into the enemy line ('had his T capped') because he believed that melee battles are deceisive, while manouevering entire formations takes time and is notoriously unreliable (lack of coordination).

Trafalgar showed that the RN had better trained crews and properly maintained ships, while the French were trying to avoid battle from the start, probably with good reason. furthermore, the force was divided (French and Spanish), which surely did not help matters much, either.

Nelson died, wo he wasn't exactly lucky, but he seemed to know his enemy, which goes a long way towards victory.

posted on Mar, 13 2008 @ 11:02 PM
Up here about 8 miles from me and across town is the Newport News Mariners Museum. This museum can be found on the web.

One of the intresting exhibits is in the Historical battles section of the museum is in fact Admiral Nelson and his crossing the T at Trafalger.

AT the time I first saw this exhibit the part that startled me was that after he was killed they put Admiral Nelson's body in a barrel of Brandy for safekeeping till they got back to England. I was a bit shocked ,in my naivete', at first reading of this account but then realized that it would have been an impossible task without this pickling taking place. He would have had to be buried out at sea to prevent the rotting of his corpse.


[edit on 13-3-2008 by orangetom1999]

posted on Mar, 13 2008 @ 11:45 PM
The British are pretty resilient mariners. Riding the ferry home tonight I was reading a great story that took place in Africa during WWI. The Germans basically had Lake Tanganyika under total control with a fleet of gun boats and a destroyer. I think the Germans shipped the vessels in pieces and reassembled them on the lake. The Belgians were helpless getting there fortifications shelled by the gunboats and since they didn’t have a navy presence on the lake they were helpless.

The British took two 40 foot boats and used a combination of trains, ox, and steam tractors to pull these boats through the African jungle full of malaria spreading mosquitoes, German troops, crocodiles and hundreds of other obstacles. The entire journey was over thousands of miles. It was a harrowing experience, but once the British gut the boats to the lake the German gunboats couldn’t match the maneuverability of these craft which were equipped with sizable enough weapons to bring the first gunboat to the bottom of the lake in about fifteen minutes, the other was quickly abandoned by the crew and I think the British managed to salvage that one. This great undertaking basically drove the Germans out of Africa. Since the gunboats were gone the Belgians were able to bomb the German destroyer and the ground troops were no longer hindered by shelling from the German Navy.

[edit on 13-3-2008 by jojoKnowsBest]

new topics

top topics

log in