The situation at around 9:15. As the French van disintegrates, the centre comes under sustained attack. L'Orient and Franklin are now under heavy fire from several directions.

One by one, the ships of the French van surrendered. First Conquerant, then Guerrier and Spartiate struck their colours. Captain Saumarez of the Orion was wounded in the thigh before seeing his opponent, the Peuple Souverain, drift out of line towards shore, her cables either let slip or cut by shot.

This left a gap ahead of Franklin into which Leander sailed, eager to engage after being released from the fruitless attempts to refloat the grounded Culloden. The departure of Peuple Souverain left Defence without a target, so she veered on her cables to bring her guns to bear on Franklin and the French 80 began to suffer.

At around 8:30 pm Nelson was hit on the forehead by a piece of metal that opened a 3-inch gash above his right eye, baring the skull for over an inch. Blood blinding his sighted eye, he was convinced that the wound was fatal and declared "I am killed, remember me to my wife" as he was taken below for treatment.

As recent research by Dr Ann-Mary Hills of the Nelson Society suggests that he had suffered a fractured skull and possible concussive brain damage as a result of this injury, it is all the more remarkable that Nelson was able to appear on deck to observe events only an hour later.

Brueys had already been slightly injured in the head and arm when he was hit by a shot to the stomach that virtually cut him in two. Refusing to leave his deck, he died shortly afterwards.

Shortly after the surrender of Aquilon, a fire was noticed on L'Orient's stern. Both Swiftsure and Alexander continued firing, concentrating on the area of the flames to prevent the fire from being put out. Soon the flames were visible to all of the vessels in the bay, and the fate of the French flagship was sealed.