Nelson's celebrated strategy to break the Franco-Spanish line-of-battle in two places when he brought the enemy to action was to win him the greatest victory in the long history of war at sea. It was not achieved without loss however and its most serious disadvantage was that his own flagship Victory and those vessels immediately astern of her were subjected to a withering fire for well over half-an-hour before they were able to reply. Suffering heavy casualties as a result, it was not until just after 12.30pm. that Victory finally cut the enemy line between Bucentaure (Villeneuve's flagship) and Rédoubtable, closely followed by H.M.S. Téméraire and H.M.S. Neptune, at which point the battle began in earnest.
In the first of two masterful compositions (see following lot for the second), Derek Gardner has shown the confused mêlée [on the left] just after Victory had broken through the enemy line, and let loose her port broadside into the unprotected stern of the French flagship Bucentaure, at the same moment as pouring a starboard volley into the side of Rédoubtable. Victory had approached Bucentaure's ornate but vulnerable stern so closely that the French ensign had literally hung over Victory's deck and, as Captain Hardy coaxed Victory away from a near-collision, he had given the order to open fire. Victory's port carronade, one of the largest guns in the fleet, loaded with a single 68-pound ball and a keg of 500 musket-balls, fired first and was immediately followed by the entire fifty guns of the port broadside in a rapid ripple. The impact caused Bucentaure to heel in the water from the shock whilst the devastation wrought by scores of cannon-shot and hundreds of musket-balls hurtling down the entire length of her decks summarily killed 365 men and wounded a further 219; twenty of her eighty guns were dismounted and, in an instant, the French flagship was rendered almost impotent and effectively unable to continue fighting. Singled out here by Gardner [on the right], she lies dismasted and helpless to do anything other than surrender. Virtually instantaneously, Victory crashed into Rédoubtable's port bow and, pushing her head around, brought the two ships side by side and practically touching as Hardy ordered the starboard carronade to fire. This signalled the start of the much longer duel, during which Nelson would be shot and fatally wounded from one of Rédoubtable's sharpshooters, and which only ended once the Frenchman was simultaneously engaged by Téméraire and could no longer stand an assault from both sides.