The Principles of War Podcast
Mission Command Navy Nelson Podcast Royal Navy

60 – Nelson and the Amphibious Raid on Tenerife

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Nelson’s worst defeat was his amphibious raid on Tenerife.  We look at the lessons learnt for planning amphibious operations as well as how this operation impacted Nelson’s career within the Royal Navy.

These are the Show Notes for the podcast.  Please download the podcast episode for much more detail on the Amphibious Raid on Tenerife by the Royal Navy’s most gifted Admiral, Lord Horatio Nelson.  You can listen to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcast Player or your favourite Android Player.


This is Part V of our look at Lord Horatio Nelson and the practice of Mission Command.  Check out episode 1 of our Nelson and Mission Command series.

The amphibious raid on Tenerife cost Nelson 148 officers and men.  This is twice as many as were lost at the Battle of Cape St Vincent.

Amphibious Raid Lessons Learnt

  • Seize the initiative – Troubridge should not have returned for further instructions, but should have continued on.  Better planning and actions on could have been a solution.
  • Suprise is a surprise, but once it’s gone, it’s gone.  The second raid was highly unlikely to succeed, was a low payoff operation (which Nelson knew) and yet Nelson proceeded with it.  Surprise absolves many mistakes in force ratios and losing surprise.  The second raid should never have proceeded.
  • There was no recon of the enemy fortifications, numbers, or locations.  Admittedly, it was not doctrinal, but would nevertheless assisted signficantly in planning.
  • The surf and offshore gale denied the Royal Navy the ability to insert at night and, critically, the ability to bring their ships guns to bear with Naval gunfire support.

Lessons for Mission Command

  • Nelson conducted 4 command conferences prior to the raid to develop a shared understanding of the objective of the raid and it’s scheme of manoeuvre.  He also used it create a clear Commander’s Intent.
  • The first raid was prudent risk, the second raid wasn’t.
  • His frequent dinners onboard his ship were excellent opportunities to build a cohesive team.  His Captains already had an understanding of the ‘Nelson Touch’ and what he expected of them.
  • Nelson empowered and expected disciplined initiative in the conduct of the raid.
  • Nelson believed that if he had lead the first raid, it would have been a success, however he laid no blame at the feet of Troubridge.
  • Nelson assumed full responsibility for failure in his report to Lord St Vincent.
  • Lord St Vincent assumed full responsibility for Nelson’s failure.
  • Lord St Vincent fully supported Nelson following the raid.  The pain from the amputation and the failure severely depressed Nelson, but Lord St Vincent worked to rebuild his confidence.  Nelson believed there would be little use for a one armed Admiral in the Royal Navy – Lord St Vincent downplayed the severity of the wounds to his superiors.

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