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Point of DivergenceOn August 1, 1798, during the opening shots of the Battle of the Nile, the HMS Vanguard, a ship-of-the-line that served as Vice-Admiral Nelson's flagship, was struck by a cannonball from an unknown French vessel. The cannonball penetrated the wooden hull of the ship and entered it's magazine. The heated metal ignited the stored gunpowder, and at approximately 19:32, the Vanguard was destroyed in an ear-shattering explosion that temporarily interrupted the battle and instantly killed every single sailor and marine aboard the warship including Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson.
With the death of their inspirational leader and the loss of his tactical insight, British morale plummeted. Confusion was also prevalent across the battlefield. The ability to communicate between vessels was nearly impossible due to the large amount of smoke coming from multiple ship fires and the cannons of the warships. And those that could communicate, the captains would argue over which move they should make next.
Meanwhile, Vice-Admiral François-Paul Brueys d'Aigalliers aboard the Orient sees Nelson's flagship explode and decides to launch a counterattack against the suddenly confused and demoralized Royal Navy. The British fleet now has to face the onslaught from a revitalized French Navy. Both sides inflicted heavy casualties on each other, but by sunrise on August 2, the British fleet had been destroyed. Most of their ships were sunk or severely damaged, and the surviving sailors and marines were taken as prisoners-of-war. Those that survived had either retreated to the British garrison at Gibraltar or surrendered to the French.