History -- Military history -- List of battles

The Battle of the Nile, also known as The Battle of Abukir Bay, was an important naval battle of the Wars of the French Revolution between a British fleet commanded by Admiral Horatio Nelson and a French fleet under Vice-Admiral François-Paul Brueys D'Aigalliers. It took place on the evening and early morning of August 1 and August 2, 1798. French losses were as high as 1,700 dead (including Brueys) and 3,000 captured. British losses were 218 dead.

Napoleon Bonaparte intended to threaten the British position in India via the invasion and conquest of Egypt. About three weeks after his landing there, a British fleet of 14 ships under Horatio Nelson -- which had been scouring the eastern Mediterranean Sea looking for the French fleet -- finally came upon the 15 French ships being used to support the invasion.

The first encounter was near sunset on August 1. The French were at anchor in Abukir Bay, in shallow water near a shoal less than four fathoms deep. The shoal was being used to protect the south-western port side of the fleet, while the starboard side faced the north-east and open sea. The French commander D'Aigalliers expected the battle to begin the next morning, as he did not believe the British would risk a night encounter in shallow, uncharted waters. Leisurely preparations began for combat.

Admiral Nelson, however, decided that the French fleet was anchored too far from the shallows, and not only risked the battle, but actually ordered several of his ships to sail between the French and the shallow water, so that he could put more ships on the more conventional deeper side and fire upon the French from both sides. One British ship, the Culloden, ran aground, but the remainder were able to stay afloat and begin taking the French fleet apart one by one. As their targets were at anchor, Nelson was able to put several ships on to a target at a time, working his way down the line, while French ships further away were unable to join.

Two French ships towards the end of the line, the Généreux and Guillaume Tell together with two frigates were able to escape, but all the remaining French ships were sunk or captured by the small hours of the next morning.

The battle reiterated British naval pre-eminence during the Napoleonic Wars, and was an important contribution to the growing fame of Admiral Nelson, but curiously may be better known for literary reasons: Felicia D. Hemans' poem "Casabianca" (often known better by its first line, "The boy stood on the burning deck") is about the son of Vice-Admiral Brueys, who died in the explosion of the French flagship l'Orient during this battle.