Although Horatio Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) are very well known even to the general English-speaking public, the earlier British naval triumph at the Battle of the Nile in 1798 tends to remain in the shadows. It is known to military specialists, but otherwise unfamiliar to many readers. At best, it is commonly known that the Battle of the Nile stranded Napoleon Bonaparte and his French army in Egypt, although the nature of this victory has faded. Perhaps if the British had imitated the French a bit and built their own Arc de Triumph, listing all their naval victories, this might not have come to pass. In any case, Dr. Gregory Fremont Barnes' Nile 1798, No, 230 in Osprey's Campaign series, is a well written narrative of this decisive naval campaign. To be sure, this is a British account of the campaign, but the author makes a decent effort to incorporate French information and perspectives. Overall, this is a good volume in the series and probably better than the author's earlier volume on Trafalgar.
Nile 1798 begins with an introduction that outlines Napoleon's expedition to Egypt and the British effort to intercept and destroy the French fleet that carried him to the Near East. Nelson was put in charge of one of the strongest British squadrons dispatched to the Mediterranean and he sought to engage the enemy at the first opportunity. The section on opposing commanders focuses on Nelson and his `band of brothers' captains, with only two French officers profiled. The section on opposing forces and order of battle is surprisingly brief at 6 pages. Unfortunately, the author does not bother to mention that 8 of the 13 French ships-of-the-line, including the flagship L'Orient, had been in British hands at Toulon in 1793, but were accidently not scuttled when the port was evacuated. Had the British completed the destruction of these 8 warships, it is unlikely that the French would have dared to send an expedition across the Mediterranean five years later.
The author's campaign narrative is 62 pages in length and initially focuses on Nelson's efforts to track down and engage the French squadron. Although the author uses Nelson's oft-repeated refrain that lack of frigates in his squadron was the primary reason that he failed to find the French squadron and then over-shot them at Alexandria, this is far too simplistic. Both Britain's Neapolitan and Turkish allies had frigates that could have been tasked to act as scouts for Nelson's squadron. Yet Nelson didn't need fast frigates to catch the lumbering French invasion flotilla - as the author notes that even his ships-of-the-line made better time toward Egypt. It was not speed that Nelson needed, but dispersion. He decided to keep the 15-ship squadron together so he could engage the French fleet quickly (i.e. he favored mass and surprise), but doing this worked against any proper reconnaissance effort. By spreading his ships out on line, say even just 3-5 miles apart in daylight, he would have dramatically increased his chances of spotting the French. The author also makes the assertion that if Nelson had caught the French fleet at sea, he likely would have won and taken out Napoleon in the process. Perhaps, but the French were immobile in the Nile, while at sea, it would have been difficult for Nelson to capture more than part of a fleet that would probably scatter in all directions. Doubtless, Napoleon would have made his exit on one of the four French frigates.
At any rate, Nelson eventually found the French fleet immobile in Aboukir Bay off Alexandria and smashed it in a dramatic night battle. It is fair to say that the French deployment was foolhardy and the action was virtually a slaughter. The author does concede that Nelson is unlikely to have ordered the critical decision to move British warships on the landward side of the French warships - the decision that decided the action. Overall, the battle description is quite good and supported with seven maps and three battle scenes by Howard Gerrard. The author does provide a very decent tactical analysis of the battle but he does not break down casualty data by individual ships (except for a few), unlike the Wikipedia article on this subject. I'm always concerned when I see books presenting less information on a given subject than is publicly available. Nevertheless, this is a very good volume and should appeal to naval and Napoleonic buffs.
I took considerable pleasure in reading this book and I learned A LOT from it.
Battle of Nile, known to the French as "Bataille d'Aboukir", was a relatively rare thing in military history - a PERFECT victory for one side (in this case the British), both on tactical and strategical level. Tactically it brought destruction or capture of a great majority of the French squadron. Strategically it erased instantly all French successes from previous months in Malta and Egypt and also doomed the whole Egyptian expedition, as the French force (Armée d'Orient) became instantly stranded and separated from supplies and reinforcements.
The reading of this book was a very pleasant experience - in fact, by moments I almost had the impression that I was reading an adventure novel. The atmopshere was even reinforced by the splendid names of all those proud warships, on both sides:
British squadron under Nelson: ships of line (all carrying 74 guns): "Vanguard" (flagship), "Orion", "Culloden", "Bellerophon", "Minotaur", "Defence", "Alexander", "Zealous", "Audacious", "Goliath", "Theseus", "Majestic", "Swiftsure"; fourth rate ship (50 guns) "Leander", brig (or sloop) "Mutine" (18 guns)
French squadron under Brueys d'Aigalliers: great ship of line with 124 guns "L'Orient" (flagship), ships of line with 80 guns "Franklin", "Guillaume Tell", Tonnant", ships of line with 74 guns "Conquerant", "Spartiate", "Aquilon", "Peuple Souverain", "Heureux", "Mercure", "Géneraux", heavy 48 gun frigate "Diane", heavy 44 gun frigate "Justice", frigates "Artemise", "Serieuse" (both with 36 guns)
At the end of the day, only "Guillaume Tell", "Géneraux", "Diane" and "Justice" managed to escape - all other French ships were destroyed or captured. The losses amongst French crews were horrible - no less than 5225 killed or missing in action! Amongst the fallen were Vice-Admiral Brueys d'Aigalliers himself as well as his chief of staff, Rear-Admiral Ganteaume, the commanding officer of the flagship "L'Orient", Captain Casabianca as well as two other French commanders, Captain Dupetit-Thouars from "Tonnant" and Captain Thévenard from "Aquilon".
Even if with 218 killed the butcher bill was infinitely lesser for the British, this battle was nevertheless NOT one-sided and at some moments some British ships found themselves in real trouble. Captain Westcott from "Majestic" was killed in action and Nelson himself was wounded. The "Culloden" ran aground in the opening stage of the fight, the "Bellerophon" found herself dismasted and out of action and both "Vanguard" and "Majestic" suffered serious damages. The fighting was in fact so violent that amongst the captured French ships three - "Guerrier", "Heureux" and "Mercure" - were found to be too damaged to be saved and therefore were stripped of anything useful and burned...
In this book author clearly shows, that the French, who were caught with "their pants down", certainly deserved to be beaten, so great was the carelessness of Brueys d'Aigalliers in the days and hours which preceded the battle - but on another hand British victory would not be so complete without the initiative, heroism and skill of Nelson's captains, who were deservedly later called his "Band of Brothers"...
I found the choice made for the three color plates... well, interesting. Do not expect here any images of great ships of line fighting - the three color plates show just the people on board of the ships and even if there is some fire and action, only one picture describes actual shooting... Initially I was a little disappointed with those color plates - but ultimately I think it was a honorable choice, as they show how HORRIBLE were actions on sea in this time, when ships were fighting at a distance of 50 yards with heavy artillery and the only thing that stood between people and canon projectiles were mere wooden planks...
Bottom line, this is an excellent book, one of the best Osprey Campaighn titles those last times. To buy, read and keep. Enjoy!
on March 3, 2012
Although the Battle of the Nile is not as famous as the Battle of Trafalgar, it was every bit as important in Britain's struggle against France. This book gives an excellent synopsis of Admiral Lord Nelson's lesser known battle. The narrative is well written and the events are described in a clear chorological order.
The section on the Opposing Commanders is well done. The author, Gregory Fremont-Barnes, moves quickly through the relevant individuals in five pages. He gives just the right amount of information without wasting precious space. The end of the book contains a tactical analysis that is particularly interesting. This analysis describes why certain events happened. He points out mistakes that could have changed the course of the battle.
The engagement is separated into three parts, Action Commences, Crescendo of Battle, and the Final Phase. This separation allows the reader to more easily follow the battle's progression. The author does a great job of describing the actions of multiple ships. He did not focus solely on Lord Nelson. This battle was mostly fought at night and the book provides a vivid sense of the chaotic nature of this engagement. This is certainly illustrated by the description of the events surrounding the destruction of the French ship L'Orient. Different people described how a temporary silence fell over the battlefield after the ship exploded. Clearly, everyone was in shock over what just happened.
The book has five 2D tactical maps and three 3D Birds Eye View maps. The 2D maps are well done and correctly placed at the corresponding part of the text. The reader should have no problem in following the action by comparing the narrative to these maps. Although the 3D Birds Eye View maps are less informative, they still make a worthwhile contribution.
The book has numerous paintings which cover all aspects of this campaign. In some cases, the paintings are stylized exaggerations of an event. Other paintings provide a more accurate image. The book also has three full color battle scenes by illustrator H. Gerrard. All of the paintings, regardless of their factual accuracy, make a valuable addition to the narrative. The reader will obtain a good sense of the scope and ferocity of this battle.
Bottom line: this is an excellent book. The author did a great job of covering all the relevant parts of the battle. The narrative, maps, and paintings give the reader a succinct, yet vivid description of Lord Nelson's first major victory.
Horatio Nelson was a promising Rear Admiral of the British Royal Navy in 1798 when he was given an independent command and orders to track down a French fleet missing in the Mediterranean. After a long chase, Nelson would find the French Fleet at anchor in Aboukir Bay, Egypt. Nelson chose to attack immediately, in the face of superior French numbers and the fading daylight. The resulting 18-hour battle set a high standard for battles of annihilation at sea...
"Nile 1798" is an Osprey Campaign Series book by experienced naval historian Gregory Fremont-Barnes, assisted by some marvelous illustrations by Howard Gerrard. Fremont-Barnes takes a methodical approach to his subject, walking the reader through the circumstances of the campaign, the opposing commanders, and their plans and forces. The description of the battle itself is the heart of a clear and readable narrative, and well-done. The text is very nicely supplemented by period and modern illustrations, especially the diagrams detailing combat between specific ships. The discussion of Nelson's tactics and leadership style is also worthwhile. Recommended as a good introduction to the battle.
Nice addition to the Osprey "Campaign" series. This slender volume explores the battle between Britain and France in Egypt. This represents Nelson's first great victory (the subtitle of the book). The book begins by noting the significance of this fight (Page 5): "The battle of the Nile ranks as one of the most decisive engagements in naval history." Napoleon's greater ambitions in Egypt were thwarted by the defeat of his naval forces. A brief chronology on pages 10-12 helps orient he reader to the train of events.
The book proceeds by, first, describing the opposing naval commanders. Horatio Nelson commanded the British fleet. Sand Nelson had capable commanders serving underneath him. The French commander? Francois Paul Brueys d'Aigalliers.
Next, the book considers the forces themselves (including the order of battle on pages 22-23), the opposing plans, the battle itself, and--finally--the aftermath. Bonaparte's flight from Egypt at the conclusion of the battle doomed his army.
The work concludes with a brief description of "the battlefield today."
All in all, a nice introduction to this great British victory--and Nelson's first great triumph on the seas.