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Reading Royal Navy Flag Signals

Nelson's 'England expects' message

At the time of the Battle of Trafalgar, naval signals were read in the following order:

  • 1. Read down the main-mast.
  • 2. Read down the fore-mast.
  • 3. Read down the mizzen-mast.
  • 4. Read down the peak, or gaff.
  • 5. Read down the starboard side of the main-mast.
  • 6. Read down the port side of the main-mast.
  • 7. Read down the starboard side of the fore-mast.
  • 8. Read down the port side of the fore-mast.
  • 9. Read down the starboard side of the mizzen-mast.
  • 10. Read down the port side of the mizzen-mast.


Following this order the flags on HMS Victory appeared as follows:

  • At the top of the main-mast was the flag for an admiral of the white squadron (white with red cross), then a space, next the preparative flag (white top left diagonal, red bottom right), a space, then the flags for the numerals 2, 5, 3 which is the code for ENGLAND, a space, then 2, 6, 9 (EXPECTS).
  • At the top of the fore-mast was 8, 6, 3 (THAT), a space, then 2, 6, 1 (EVERY).
  • At the top of the mizzen-mast was 4, 7, 1 (MAN).
  • At the gaff was 9, 5, 8 (WILL).
  • On the starboard side of the main-mast was 2, 2, 0 (DO) (the Substitute Flag was used for the second "2").
  • On the port side of the main-mast was 3, 7, 0 (HIS).
  • On the starboard side of the fore-mast was 4 (D).
  • On the port side of the fore-mast was 2, 1 (U).
  • On the starboard side of the mizzen-mast was 1, 9 (T).
  • On the port side of the mizzen-mast was 2, 4 (Y).

When Lord Nelson told his Signal Officer, Lieutenant Pasco, to make this signal, Nelson originally wanted "England confides that every man will do his duty".

Lieutenant Pasco asked if he could substitute "expects" for "confides" because the first word was in the signal book and "confides" would have to be spelled out.

Nelson replied with seeming satisfaction, "That will do, Pasco, make it directly."

- information from Robert Haley Chief Petty Officer, U.S. Navy (Retired)

 
 
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