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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Conquest of the Nile: The Egyptian Campaign Part 2 - Rule Brittania

British Involvement in Egypt: Trade and Naval Supremacy

Capt. Jack Aubrey: Do you want to see a guillotine in Piccadilly?
Crew: No!
Capt. Jack Aubrey: Want to call that raggedy-ass Napoleon your king?
Crew: No!

Capt. Jack Aubrey: You want your children to sing the "La Marseillaise?"

Crew: NO!

- Russell Crowe, Master and Commander (2003)

The Egyptian campaign' s most obvious purpose, besides bringing additional notoriety to the attention-craving Bonaparte, was attempting to cripple the trading power of Great Britain. This was easier said than done, however, as Britain wielded the most powerful Naval force in the world at the time.

After the early victory against the Mamluks at the Battle of the Pyramids, Napoleon looked to continue towards Cairo and crush the seat of Mamluk power. The British, unnerved at this point, were determined to stop him in his tracks.

The French fleet which had delivered the army lay in waiting along the Epyptian coast, acting as a supply line for the army. While they'd managed to slip past the Royal Navy, their actions had not gone completely unnoticed.

Horatio Nelson, Admiral of the British fleet, finally managed to catch up with the French at the bay of Aboukir. This began the second most famous naval engagement of the Napoleonic Era, the Battle of the Nile.

Battle of the Nile

Off the coast of Alexandria, French Vice-Admiral François-Paul Brueys d'Aigalliers had been hard at work preparing a defensive position, granting France a favorable position in the mediterranean theatre. With French Influence in Egypt, Napoleon had grand ambitions for a Franco-Indian Campaign to oust the British from their newfound imperial colonies in India.

In truth, Vice-Admiral Brueys' presence there may have been a complete accident. Allegedly, Napoleon had sent orders for Brueys to sail North in order to begin a landing on the island of Corfu, but the messenger had been shot by one of the local Bedoiun raiders.

Brueys faced problems keeping his men's morale up. With a shortage of food and water, Brueys was forced to send a party ashore to gather supplies. The party needed to be protected by armed guards against raiders, which further decreased the number of sailors who remained on-duty.

On August 1st, the British spotted the French fleet anchored in the Bay. When French spotters underestimated the size of the British fleet, Brueys called the captains aboard his Flagship, the L'Orient. This was an incredibly bad move, as would be seen when most of the captains hadn't made it back to their ships by the time the battle began.

Nelson decided to attack at night. He had each ship light 4 torches on their main mast in order to distinguish them from French ships in the dark. He also hoisted a variant of the British Naval ensign that was more distinct from the French Ensign.

With that, the battle commenced. The HMS Goliath was the first ship to be fired upon, leading the charge along with the HMS Zealous. The French ships Guerrier and Coquerant were the rst to respond.

The remainder of the British fleet followed suit, engaging the conveniently lined up, and in some cases anchored, French fleet.

Nearby, the French frigate Vanguard was forced to surrender after a fierce close-range engagement. This was the first of many British victories during the battle.

The most famous point of the engagement was the point blank duel between the British ships Alexander and Swiftsure and the French Flagship, L'Orient. Bypassing the majority of the battle, Swiftsure raced up towards the very center of the fleet, followed by Alexander.

L'Orient, a massive 118-gun Ship of the Line, had been pounding away at the lighter British ships that had been approaching it up until that point, even managing to disable the British frigate Bellerophon. Admiral Brueys, taking personal command of the ship, was struck by a cannonball early on in the fighting. He managed to survive, but was killed by a musket shot a few minutes later.

The wounded Orion, backed up by the Swiftsure and Alexander, approached L'Orient, firing their guns at the monstrous flagship. No one knows exactly how, but a fire broke out aboard L'Orient. A few minutes later, L'Orient, and France's hopes of controlling the Mediterranean Sea, exploded in a ball of flame that was supposedly felt in Alexandria.

That morning, 9 French ships were captured, 4 destroyed, and 3000 French sailors lay dead, along with Vice-Admiral Brueys himself. The British naval supremacy that Napoleon believed he could challenge remained intact, and Napoleon saw his dreams of an Indian conquest die, blown to pieces symbolically alongside L'Orient.

When Napoleon got news of the defeat, he is reported to have exclaimed, "Unfortunate Brueys, what have you done!"

Later that day, he announced to his officers:

"Nous n'avrons plus de flotte: eh bien. il faut rester en ses contrées, ou en sortie grands comme les anciens"

"We no longer have a fleet: well, we must either remain in this country or quit it as great as the ancients."

Napoleon was now cut off from France. There would be no reinforcements.

(Next: Part 3; The continuing Campaign, and why Bonaparte left)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Conquest of the Nile: The 1798 Egypt Campaign: Part 1

The 1798 Invasion of Egypt by then-general Napoleon Bonaparte is a provacative and sometimes divisive topic. Napoleonic apologists tend to glorify it as a 'War of Liberation', and historians with a bone to pick with Bonaparte (pun intended) tend to view it as an early example of his imperialistic nature.

While the main cause of the invasion is often identified as disrupting British trade, there are several underlying reasons for this gesture.

-Napoleon brought with him a group of French scientists who were instructed to perform research. These scientists made many important discoveries during the campaign, including:

a) Pierre Bouchard discovered the Rosetta Stone,which would serve as a translation tool for linguists hoping to decode ancient dialects.

b) Joseph Fourier develops a new theory of heat.

-Napoleon also hoped to oust the Mamluks(or Mamelukes), a group who had splintered from the Ottoman Empire in an attempt to control all of Egypt. This allowed Napoleon to appear as a liberator, preaching the values of the Koran (Quran). He heralded himself as a believer in the principles of Islam. This kind of propaganda wasn't as successful as he would have hoped, but nonetheless gave him another tool for his conquest, and shifted public opinion in his favor.

When Napoleon arrived in Egypt, he forced a garrison at Malta to surrender. This garrison was manned by the famous Knights Hospitilier, or Knights of St. John, who had held the land since the Crusades. This was more a political tactic, as it was humiliating to Tsar Paul I of Russia, recently declared Grandmaster of the Knights.

Tsar Paul I of Russia

-The Mamuluks were waiting. The leadership at the time was strangely bicameral, split between Murad Bey and Ibrahim Bey, two Mamluk chieftains. They chose to meet Bonaparte at the first major engagement of the invasion, the Battle of the Pyramids.

Murad Bey, Mamluk Chieftain

The Name 'Battle of the Pyramids' itself is a bit misleading, as the Pyramids were only visible over the horizon during the battle. The battle itself was, however, site of a completely new phenomena in the history of conflict. To see this, we must examine the situation.

-Battle of the Pyramids

"Forward! Remember that from those monuments yonder forty centuries look down upon you." - Napoleon, at the Battle

The French Republican Army, largely composed of civilians conscripted via levee en masse, numbered around 20,000. The Mamluk force, almost entirely composed of the cavalry they had become so well known for, numbered about 21,000.

Outnumbered from the start, and with the terrain not on his side, Napoleon needed to think quickly. Generally speaking, cavalry like those employed by the Mamluks would tear his men apart, running them down before they could retreat to a safe distance. To make matters worse, the Mamluks were apt to deal with the sandy terrain, while the French were likely to get bogged down in it.

Napoleon quickly hatched a plan. Under normal circumstances, when men were faced with a company of cavalry, they would form into what was called a square: a tightly packed square formation, with the front row of men kneeling down with their bayonets pointing up, and the men behind the holding their bayonets at a 45 degree angle. Essentially, the square would form a near impenetrable wall of sharp bayonets. The officer would stand in the middle of the square, directing the men's movements.

The effectiveness of the square lied in that horses would under no circumstances charge into it. Even if their riders directed them towards a square, the sharp bayonets would scare them off at the last minute. Taking advantage of the riders' lack of control, the officer inside the square would order his men to fire a volley into the now-disorganized horsemen. This tactic had become a staple in the warfare of the day.

But what about Napoleon's situation? He was facing an entire army of cavalry, armed to the teeth. He eventually decided to risk an incredibly unusual idea. Why not use the "Square" tactic on a larger scale?

When the Mameluks came hurtling at the French that day, Napoleon had formed the bulk of his army into 3 gigantic "Divisional-Size Squares." The Mamluk force was torn to pieces.

At the end of the day, Napoleon had lost only 29 men (with 260 wounded), but his army had managed to kill or wound approximately 2000 Mamluks. The legendary Mamluk Cavalry had been forever humbled.

To Be continued in Part 2 (British involvement in the Egypt Campaign)


Ah, the beginning. The first in a series of crisp, wittily written entries concerning the Wonders of History, given to you in an (admittedly biased) setting, my own personal realm.

Herein, I'll speak about:

-General History
-Political/Diplomatic History
-Cultural History
-Military History

My Specialties lie in the Napoleonic Era, The American Revolution, The Middle Ages, World War I, and the Geopolitical History of Major European states. I'm a Spaniard by origin, abnd thus will always speak favorably of the glorious Empire of Spain!

I'm currently a student, and thus shouldn't be taken as too much of an authority, but I assure you, I'll be quite truthful.

I'm an avid boardgame guy, and will occasionally mention how much I happen to love Risk. Great wargame for anyone with a pulse, if you ask me.

The content of the articles in this blog will be pretty varied, and I'd like to say interesting. I'll have mostly articles, with pictures, videos, and all such wonderful things. I'm even working on a big project, a video documentary of the battle of Waterloo. Should be interesting.

Anyhoo, I'll get a-workin on my first article straightaway. This first Article will be a submission, when completed, to the International Napoleonic Society.

Until then,

Emperador Carlos Cardozo, Comandante de la infantaria de Espana.