Wednesday, 20 April 2011

ABC Wednesday N is for Nelson, Napoleon and the Battle of the Nile

Portrait of a man in an ornate naval uniform festooned with medals and awards.
Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson by Lemuel Francis Abbott, 1800
National Maritime Museum
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
The Battle of the Nile (also known as the Battle of Aboukir Bay and in French as the Bataille d'Aboukirtook place on August 1st – 3rd, 1798, east of Alexandria off the coast of Egypt in the Mediterranean. The French Fleet of 17 carried 1,196 guns. The British Fleet of 14 had 1,012 guns.
An engraved print showing a tightly packed line of 13 warships flying the French flag. The ships are firing on eight ships flying the British flag that are steadily approaching them from the right of the picture.
Battle of the Nile, August 1st, 1798 byThomas Whitcombe (1816) 
National Maritime Museum
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
It was a major naval battle fought between the British and French fleets and proved to be a resounding success for Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s intention was to invade Egypt in a bid to force Britain out of the French Revolutionary Wars, support Tipu Sultan of Mysore in his fight with the British in India and re-establish French influence in India. Naturally, the British government and the East India Company were greatly alarmed at this prospect. The French fleet was pursued by the British across the Mediterranean for more than two months but Napoleon was able to capture Malta and then land his army in Egypt.

The French fleet anchored in Aboukir Bay, its commander believing it to be in a strong defensive position. Nelson’s fleet arrived on August 1st and he ordered an immediate assault. As his ships drew near the French line they divided into separate forces. One division sailed between the French ships and the Egyptian shore and the other took on the seaward side. The French commander, Admiral Brueys d’Aigalliers, had mistakenly believed that the British would not attack, it being then near sunset and late in the day to engage in battle. Trapped in crossfire, the French suffered a fearsome few hours of fighting.

They had taken advantage of being at anchor to conduct refits and took a long time to bring the batteries on land into action, set about as they were with stores and equipment from the ships. The French flagship, the Orient, had been in the process of repainting and highly flammable paint and turpentine were stored on deck. During the fighting these caught fire and the ship exploded at 10:00 pm watched by Nelson on his flagship Vanguard. 

Admiral Brueys died of his wounds before the explosion and the captain, Commodore Casabianca, was blown up with his ten-year-old son. Desperate efforts were made by both French and English ships to pick up survivors, but only 70 crew were saved. The great quantity of valuables looted from Malta by Napoleon was lost. The French ships to the rear of the line tried to sail out of the bay but of the seventeen ships engaged, only four managed to break free. Of the rest, four were destroyed and nine captured, two of which fought on the British side at Trafalgar.

Following the defeat at Aboukir Bay, Napoleon left his army to fend for itself and returned to France. Any risk to Britain’s claim to India was averted and other European countries were encouraged to resist France. Nelson was hailed as a hero throughout Europe (though not in France!) and was created Baron Nelson.

During the battle Nelson ordered British colours to be flown from Vanguard’s rigging in six different positions so that at no time would there be an absence of colours, regardless of how much rigging was destroyed. Afterwards he ordered all his ships to conduct thanksgiving services. The captured atheist French revolutionary officers were impressed by the piety and discipline of the British crews.

ABC Wednesday is brought to you by the Noble Denise Nesbitt and her Noteworthy team. Please click here to see more Ns.


  1. Impressive as usual. And points out the folly of war, though it does show a turning point in history.

    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  2. Nice 'n Nformative!

    Retired Navy for N, hope you can come by and comment. Thank you!

  3. Nelson was very clever in that he understood how important it is for soldiers to see their own flag no matter what!

  4. I have always been fascinated by Napoleon. Thanks for all the history! :D

    abcw team

  5. I think you should write some historical fiction - What cool facts! Thanks!

  6. A very interesting bit of history and a great choice for N day!
    Thanks for sharing;o)

    Have a nice and happy day****

  7. An interesting look back at the past.

  8. Fascinating, Janice, and features the letter N three times. Good stuff!
    -- K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  9. Great history lesson. It seems war was much more personal and 'in your face' back then. Not that I approve of impersonal war, of course. Tolerance would be a good thing.

  10. War is definitely folly! Your history narrative is instructive. Great choice for today.

  11. Fascinating account. It's bee a while since my last history class and you present this account so beautifully. Thank you.

  12. I simply can't imagine being a sailor on either side during those times! What a story! Well, done!

  13. This is so interesting. Funny how I was not at all fond of history when in school, but now I really enjoy it! Thanks for stopping by; it's always a pleasure to hear from you.

  14. Very interesting, and especially was reminded of the movie. Master and Commander with Russell Crow telling the crew of his meeting with Nelson.

  15. You'd think I would know more about Napoleon and Nelson from school, but honestly I've learned more about them from movies and Captain Horatio Hornblower -- some misconceptions too, I expect.

  16. Another amazing post!

    Whenever I think of the Nile, I always think of Gordon of Khartoum. At the bottom of our road is a house that was built for him. Had he not been killed at Khartoum, he was going to live in Exmouth. You can cleary see the Eygptian influences in the house.

    Ellie Garratt


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