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Napoleon Wrecks History
By Michle Battesti Centre d'Etudes d'Histoire de la Defense
August 1st1798: the French fleet of Vice-Admiral de Bruey, which anchored in Abou Kir Bay, was taken by surprise by the British fleet of Admiral Lord Nelson. A horrific battle at a short distance took place. Although the forces were of equal strength (14 vessels against 13) the battle became a disaster. The result was disastrous for the French: eleven vessels, the flagship Orientand two frigates were destroyed and captured. 17.000 men with Admiral de Bruey and three other commanding officers among them died, 1.500 were wounded and 3.000 men were imprisoned by the British (Nelson set most of them free after a short time because he was not able to feed them). Only two vessels (Guillaume Tell and the Gen�n�raux) and two frigates (Diane and Justice) succeeded in getting away from the disaster.
In comparison, the English lost only two vessels and 218 men, while 678 men only were wounded. The immediate consequence for the French, who lost their fleet was, that their army of 30.000 men were now prisoner of the same Egypt, which they recently conquered in the famous battle of the Pyramids (June, 21st1798). They became completely dependent on the arrival of a support expedition which had to cross the Mediterranean sea, which was under the control of the British. Neither the supporting expedition sent out by the board of directors (1799) nor the one sent by the consulate (1800 , 1801) had allowed the French to get out of the tight spot. Bonaparte's strategy to conquer the Middle East had failed and Great Britain took over the leadership of a European coalition against France.
The Battle of the Nile had a decisive effect on the way history developed because it forced Bonaparte to give up his plans to conquer the Middle East and to concentrate on the old Europe. But the most confusing aspect of this is that this battle was never supposed to take place at all.
Following Bonaparte's original plan, the French fleet would have been safe in the old port of Alexandria. This was even more necessary because Nelson was cruising the waters of Egypt and he could come across the French at any time.