"You shall have some choice fellows from the Inshore Squadron"

Lord St Vincent to Nelson

Nelson's fleet at anchor in Naples Bay - 1798

In the spring of 1798 Napoleon Bonaparte launched an attack on Egypt. Leaving the harbour of Toulon on the 19th of May with a 400-strong fleet of transports and warships under Vice-Admiral Brueys, Napoleon captured the island of Malta and then landed in Alexandria. He hoped to gain control of Egypt and then strike a blow at British possessions in India.

Following rumours of the French armament, Nelson was sent to the Mediterranean with a reconnaissance force of three 74s and three frigates.

His flagship Vanguard was virtually dismasted in a storm which also separated him from his scouting frigates, a loss he was to feel severely in the weeks to come. Refitting at sea (accurate paintings show Vanguard sailing into battle with a much reduced foremast, improvised from spare topmasts and spars), Nelson was joined by reinforcements - ten more 74s and a 50 under Captain Troubridge. He now had a force sufficient not just to locate the French fleet but to deal with it.

However, the French successfully kept their destination secret and Nelson became increasingly frustrated.

Guessing at Egypt, he sailed directly there, unwittingly overtaking the French en route.

"Were I to die at this moment, 'Want of Frigates' would be found engraved on my heart"


Returning to Sicily to resupply he received reports that the French had landed in Egypt and tried again. On 1st August he finally made contact, finding the French army landed and their fleet riding at anchor in the wide roadstead of Aboukir Bay.

Battle was joined at 6pm that evening......