Battle of the Nile

The Battle of the Nile (also known as the Battle of Aboukir Bay, or in French as the Bataille d'Aboukir) was a major naval battle fought between British and French fleets at Aboukir Bay on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt from 1–3 August 1798.

The battle was the climax of a naval campaign that had ranged across the Mediterranean during the previous three months, as a large French convoy sailed from Toulon to Alexandria carrying an expeditionary force under General Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonaparte sought to invade Egypt as the first step in a campaign against British India in an effort to drive Britain out of the French Revolutionary Wars. As Bonaparte's fleet crossed the Mediterranean, it was pursued by a British force under Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, sent from the British fleet in the Tagus to establish the purpose of the French expedition and defeat it. For more than two months Nelson chased the French, on several occasions only missing them by a matter of hours. Bonaparte, aware of Nelson's pursuit, enforced absolute secrecy about his destination and was able to capture Malta and land in Egypt without interception by the British force.

With the French army ashore, the fleet anchored in Aboukir Bay, a station 20 miles (32 km) northeast of Alexandria, in a formation that its commander, Vice-Admiral François-Paul Brueys D'Aigalliers, believed created a formidable defensive position. When Nelson's fleet arrived off Egypt on 1 August and discovered Brueys' dispositions, he ordered an immediate attack and his ships advanced on the French line. As they approached, they split into two divisions, one of which cut across the head of the line and passed between the anchored French and the shore while the other engaged the seaward side of the French fleet. Trapped in a crossfire, the leading French ships were battered into surrender during a fierce three hour battle, while the centre was able to successfully repel the initial British attack. As British reinforcements arrived, the centre came under renewed assault and at 22:00 the French flagship Orient exploded. With Brueys dead and his van and centre defeated, the rear division of the French fleet attempted to break out of the bay, but ultimately only two ships of the line and two frigates escaped from a total of 17 ships engaged.

The battle reversed the strategic situation in the Mediterranean, allowing the Royal Navy to assume a dominant position it retained for the rest of the war. It also encouraged other European countries to turn against France, and was a factor in the outbreak of the War of the Second Coalition. Bonaparte's army was trapped in Egypt, and Royal Navy dominance off the Syrian coast contributed significantly to its defeat at the Siege of Acre in 1799 that preceded Bonaparte's return to Europe. Nelson, who had been wounded in the battle, was proclaimed a hero across Europe and was subsequently made Baron Nelson, although he was privately dissatisfied with his rewards. His captains were also highly praised, and would go on to form the nucleus of the legendary Nelsonic Band of Brothers. The legend of the battle has remained prominent in the popular consciousness, with perhaps the best-known representation being Felicia Hemans 1826 poem Casabianca.