02.08.

1798: The Most Important Naval Battle in History?

1798: The Most Important Naval Battle in History?
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 2 August 1798
  • Upon seeing the defeated Frenchmen, Admiral Nelson declared: “Victory is not a name strong enough for such a scene”. According to some interpretations, this was most important naval battle in history, surpassing even Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar. The French were utterly defeated with some 3,000 to 5,000 dead and wounded. In comparison, the British suffered only 218 dead).

On this day Nelson achieved the greatest victory of his career, almost completely annihilating the French fleet in the famous Battle of the Nile.

After the victory and upon seeing the defeated Frenchmen, Nelson declared “Victory is not a name strong enough for such a scene.” According to some, it was the most important naval battle in history, surpassing even Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar.

The situation can be described as follows: two and a half months ago, young general Napoleon Bonaparte had set sail from France for Egypt on a bold mission to conquer North Africa, Palestine, and the route to India. The French fleet was enormous: 40,000 soldiers and 10,000 sailors aboard over 400 ships. Napoleon himself was on the fleet’s flagship, the mighty Orient, which boasted 118 guns and 5,100 tons displacement. At the time, that ship belonged to the largest class of sailing ships ever built (discounting the Spanish super-ship Santisima Trinidad).

British admiral Nelson embarked on a hunt for the French fleet, aiming to catch Napoleon. He almost succeeded, but Napoleon’s army still managed to disembark in Egypt and conquer the country. The French fleet had, however, anchored in Aboukir Bay near Alexandria. When Nelson’s fleet arrived, it almost immediately attacked the French ships. The two fleets were almost evenly matched.

The French fleet was commanded by Vice Admiral François-Paul Brueys d’Aigalliers, from aboard the Orient. The British attacked in full force. Nelson was aboard the flagship HMS Vanguard, three times lighter than the Orient and possessing only 74 guns. The British ship HMS Bellerophon (aboard which Napoleon would finally surrender 18 years later) attacked the Orient, exposing itself to the latter’s devastating broadside.

The French admiral was, however, hit and almost dismembered by a British cannonball, and died shortly after. A fire broke out on the Orient, quickly spreading to the gunpowder magazine. The huge ship exploded, killing its captain Casabianca and his 12-year old son. The French were utterly defeated with some 3,000 to 5,000 dead and wounded. In comparison, the British suffered only 218 dead).

Nelson was also severely wounded during the battle. He was hit near the forehead by French cannon shrapnel and had to undergo surgery. He had previously already lost an arm and an eye in battle. In recognition of his victory, Nelson was declared a British Lord.

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