Nelson and the Battle of the Nile

Nelson and the Battle of the Nile. In June, 1798, the French fleet escaped its blockade at Toulon and escorted Napoleon’s army in transports to Egypt. The French commander, Admiral Brueys, anchored his fleet close to and parallel with the coast, assuming that any attack would thus have to come from seaward.

Rear Admiral Horatio Nelson eventually found the French in the Bay of Aboukir, and on the 1st of August, 1798, he attacked. Nelson’s strategy was simple and brilliant. His ships drew less water than the biggest of the French ships (the flagship, L’Orient, mounted 120 guns), and the British were able to attack from the landward side, as well as from the sea.

Not expecting this attack from landward, the French had stored provisions and nets on the landward guns and for the first critical moments of the battle, they could not return fire.

During the battle, Nelson was hit on the head by a splinter which tore a flap of skin loose, leaving it hanging over his eyes. He retired below to await his turn in the surgery – it being his policy to never allow his rank to propel him forward in the queue for medical attention. After 8 hours of heavy firing, L’Orient’s magazine was hit and she blew up in a massive explosion which was later reported as being heard in Damascus, some 30 miles away. Nelson was led on deck after the explosion and held the flap of skin up to allow him to see the wreckage of the ship.

Nelson, with 14 ships, captured 6 French ships and destroyed 7 more, while 4 French ships fled. The British losses were recorded as 218 killed and 677 wounded, while the French estimated that 5,225 men were killed, wounded or captured.

For more on this famous Battle, click here.

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