The Battle of The Nile

The Battle of the Nile was the climax of a naval campaign that took place across the Mediterranean coast of Egypt. It occurred from 1-3 August 1798 and was a major naval battle fought between British and French fleets at Aboukir Bay.

The French force sailed from Toulon to Alexandria under the direction of General Napoleon Bonaparte, the French were overthrown by the British forces led by Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson. Bonaparte intended to invade Egypt, which was the first step in campaigning against British India in order to drive Britain out of the French Revolutionary Wars. A British force under Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson pursued Bonaparte’s fleet across the Mediterranean. The French were chased by Nelson for more than two months and on a few occasions only missing them by hours. Bonaparte enforced total concealment about his destination, which enabled him to capture Malta and land in Egypt without interference by the British force.

The fleet anchored in Aboukir Bay and had a imposing defensive position commanded by Francois-Paul Brueys D’Aigalliers.Nelson’s fleet arrived on August 1 ordered an immediate attack on recognising Bruey’s dispositions. The ships divided into two divisions, one cutting across the head of the line passing the anchored French army and the shore while the other secured the seaward side of the French fleet. The French ships were forced into surrender during an intense three hour battle. The troops in the centre of the attack were able to successfully rebuff the British attack. As British troops arrived, the centre were under assault and the French Orient ship exploded.

With Bruey dead and the centre overthrown, the rear fleet division attempted to break out of the bay, with only two ships of the line and two frigates escaped from a total of 17 ships. British casualties in the battle were recorded as being 218 killed  and 677 wounded.  The ships that suffered the most were Bellerophen with 201 casualties and the Majestic with 193, while other than Culloden the smallest loss was on Zealous, which only had one man killed and seven wounded.  The battle changed the strategic situation in the Mediterranean, this allowed the Royal Navy to have a dominant position for the rest of the war.

This influenced other European countries to turn their back on France, and was a dominating factor in the outbreak of the War of the Second Coalition. Bonaparte’s troops were trapped in Egypt, and the dominance of the Royal Navy off the Syrian coast was a contributing factor to its defeat at the Siege of Acre in 1799. Nelson whom had been hurt in battle was announced a hero across Europe and was made Baron Nelson. The Battle of the Nile has been remembered as one of the most effective and decisive naval engagement of the great age of sail. The Battle of the Nile is one of the Royal Navy’s most famous victories and has remained as a stand out in the British popular imagination, through its depiction in a number of  paintings, plays and poems.

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