Captain Bob Cooling, the commanding officer of the HMS Illustrious which is taking part in the fleet review, told journalists on Tuesday that organisers were not playing down the historic British victory over the French and Spanish navies to avoid inflaming sensitivities among EU allies.
But critics, including a direct descendent of Trafalgar’s British hero Admiral Horatio Nelson, have scoffed at the plans for skirmishes between red and blue teams, rather than explicitly representing a British naval defeat over Napoleon.
“It is nonsense that there is sensitivity about why we’re celebrating Trafalgar,” Captain Cooling said aboard his aircraft carrier as ships lined up in the Solent channel between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight.
“They [French and Spanish] enjoy it just as we do,” he said on Tuesday.
“We’re partners now and will be partners forever. We train together, we work together, we go operational together in wars as coalition partners and the bond of friendship couldn’t be tighter,” Cooling said.
Prominent among the critics was Anna Tribe, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Admiral Nelson, who died leading the British victory off southern Spain on 21 October 1805.
“I think the idea of the blue team fighting the red team is pretty stupid,” said the 75-year-old descendent of Nelson and his mistress Lady Emma Hamilton. “I am sure the French and Spanish are adult enough to appreciate we did win that battle.
“I am sure the French and Spanish are adult enough to appreciate we did win that battle”
“I am anti-political correctness,” Tribe told a weekend gathering of some 200 descendents of Trafalgar’s sailors who had come from all over the world.
British newspaper reports have said the re-enactment was a deliberate sidestep to avoid rubbing salt into French wounds.
The epic Battle of Trafalgar, off the southern coast of Spain, finished the threat of invasion by emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s France and established British naval supremacy for the next century.
Though he was killed in action, Nelson did not lose a single ship, while 18 opposing vessels were destroyed. Some 14,000 French and Spanish sailors died, 10 times the British casualties.