Napoleon's Egypt Expedition

HIST: Discussions about the last 4000 years of history, give or take a few days.

Moderator: K. A. Pital

Post Reply
User avatar
irishmick79
Rabid Monkey
Posts: 2265
Joined: 2002-07-16 05:07pm
Location: Vermont
Contact:

Napoleon's Egypt Expedition

Post by irishmick79 » 2008-08-26 10:04am

I did a research paper on it a few years ago. Pretty interesting topic. Why France would float an army of 35,000 men with 200 scientists to Egypt when it could have established a stranglehold on the European continentis certainly an....interesting strategic choice. The French could probably have carved up a lot of the German principalities with little opposition from the England or Prussia. Instead, the French get an army stranded in the Levant and their entire Mediterranean fleet gets decimated by the British at Abukir Bay.

Despite the expedition's complete failure from a military standpoint, I found was that the 1798 expedition to Egypt was absolutely crucial to Napoleon's later rise to power. It allowed him to increase his credibility as a national leader, helping him to secure support from key merchants in Marseille and several of France's leading enlightenment scientists and thinkers. The former was critical because Napoleon secured a reputation as a man who would use military force to expand French colonial trade and keep the ports humming, and the latter helped Napoleon establish himself as an appropriately forward-thinking enlightenment leader. Because Napoleon carefully censored reports of the Army of the Orient's dire condition in Egypt, most Frenchmen were completely unaware of how badly the operation was going until after Napoleon had secured power and implemented stern censorship policies regarding the expedition.

It was pretty clear that the Egyptian expedition was in Napoleon's best interests, but was it really in France's best interests?
"A country without a Czar is like a village without an idiot."
- Old Russian Saying

"What Senator McCain was able to do was to help bring all of the parties to the table, including the House Republicans, whose votes were needed to pass this."
Steven Schmidt, chief strategist for the McCain Campaign, you FAIL.

User avatar
Raesene
Jedi Master
Posts: 1326
Joined: 2006-09-09 01:56pm
Location: Vienna, Austria

Post by Raesene » 2008-08-26 10:36am

Controlling Egypt would have gained them a propaganda victory and also the possibility to control trade from the (East) Indies - by ship to Sinai, then (slowly) up to the Mediterranean coast . Should be faster than the trip around Africa.

Was something like the Suez channel already considered ? If so, then that might have influenced the expedition.

"In view of the circumstances, Britannia waives the rules."

"All you have to do is to look at Northern Ireland, [...] to see how seriously the religious folks take "thou shall not kill. The more devout they are, the more they see murder as being negotiable." George Carlin

"We need to make gay people live in fear again! What ever happened to the traditional family values of persecution and lies?" - Darth Wong
"The closet got full and some homosexuals may have escaped onto the internet?"- Stormbringer


User avatar
irishmick79
Rabid Monkey
Posts: 2265
Joined: 2002-07-16 05:07pm
Location: Vermont
Contact:

Post by irishmick79 » 2008-08-26 10:39am

Raesene wrote:Controlling Egypt would have gained them a propaganda victory and also the possibility to control trade from the (East) Indies - by ship to Sinai, then (slowly) up to the Mediterranean coast . Should be faster than the trip around Africa.

Was something like the Suez channel already considered ? If so, then that might have influenced the expedition.
No, Suez wasn't until much later. There was an interest to find a way to make up for lost trade in the Antilles, after Saint Dominique (Haiti) broke down into revolution against French rule. That certainly was a consideration for the merchants at least, but it seems to me that France could have had more to gain economically through domination of Germany.
"A country without a Czar is like a village without an idiot."
- Old Russian Saying

"What Senator McCain was able to do was to help bring all of the parties to the table, including the House Republicans, whose votes were needed to pass this."
Steven Schmidt, chief strategist for the McCain Campaign, you FAIL.

User avatar
Sea Skimmer
Yankee Capitalist Air Pirate
Posts: 37386
Joined: 2002-07-03 11:49pm
Location: Passchendaele City, HAB
Contact:

Post by Sea Skimmer » 2008-08-26 01:02pm

Napoleon did in fact consider a canal and had surveys performed, only to conclude erroneously that the canal would require locks and thus be too expensive. His archeologists also examined the remnants of several ancient canals the Egyptians built to indirectly connect the Red Sea and Mediterranean. Building a canal back then we have been no great technical challenge, but it easily would have taken 15 years to do the job. As it was the real Suez canal pretty much was dug by all by hand, with steam dredges completing only the approach channels.

Overall given the lack of French naval superiority invading Egypt could only be a waste of resources for the nation.
"This cult of special forces is as sensible as to form a Royal Corps of Tree Climbers and say that no soldier who does not wear its green hat with a bunch of oak leaves stuck in it should be expected to climb a tree"
— Field Marshal William Slim 1956

User avatar
Raesene
Jedi Master
Posts: 1326
Joined: 2006-09-09 01:56pm
Location: Vienna, Austria

Post by Raesene » 2008-08-26 01:49pm

didn't Britain retreat from the Med before the invasion of Egypt (or rather return because of the fleet assembled for it ?)

"In view of the circumstances, Britannia waives the rules."

"All you have to do is to look at Northern Ireland, [...] to see how seriously the religious folks take "thou shall not kill. The more devout they are, the more they see murder as being negotiable." George Carlin

"We need to make gay people live in fear again! What ever happened to the traditional family values of persecution and lies?" - Darth Wong
"The closet got full and some homosexuals may have escaped onto the internet?"- Stormbringer


User avatar
TC Pilot
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 1648
Joined: 2007-04-28 01:46am

Post by TC Pilot » 2008-08-26 01:58pm

I believe Nelson was stationed in Sicily or Naples for the time being, actually.
"He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot, but don't let that fool you. He really is an idiot."

"Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero."

User avatar
Straha
Lord of the Spam
Posts: 8002
Joined: 2002-07-21 11:59pm
Location: NYC
Contact:

Post by Straha » 2008-08-27 03:08am

TC Pilot wrote:I believe Nelson was stationed in Sicily or Naples for the time being, actually.
Actually, it's both. Sort of. He was stationed in Naples but it was the "Kingdom of the Two Sicilies" then.

Actually, this brings up (indirectly) what I think is one of the more fascinating what-ifs of the age. Nelson missed catching Napoleon in his escape by only the slimmest of margins. Namely, how would history have changed if Nelson had caught Napoleon, or if Nelson had stranded Napoleon in Egypt.
'After 9/11, it was "You're with us or your with the terrorists." Now its "You're with Straha or you support racism."' ' - The Romulan Republic

Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant » 2008-08-27 06:27am

Partly, the rationale for the operation was personal glory. It's dangerous to attribute grand operations of state to individual motives, I know, but in this specific instance- well, it is Napoleon Bonaparte we're talking about here.

Remember, at the time when the operation was launched, he was a hero, not the only military hero France had but probably the biggest, and the Directory were not entirely comfortable with him.
It suited him to go adventuring in foreign climes with his uncomfortably loyal Army of Italy, and it suited the Directory to send him there.

Not that it would have happened if there hadn't been a strategic pretext; the idea had to be at least viable. Egypt looked weakly held by the Ottoman Empire, and the overland route to India seemed viable; that would put a real dent in the British empire, be a genuinely good strategic move, if possible. It was the personal factors that caused Bonaparte, and the Directory, to overlook the information they had that was saying it wasn't possible.

What were the alternatives- more pushing and shoving in Europe? Looking at the events of 1799-1800, which Napoleon came back to, I do not think 'carving up' was the most likely outcome.
On the Rhine, some movement, but considering the kicking the French actually recieved around Switzerland and the Alps in the southern theatre- largely at the hands of the Austrian army- a French defeat was a distinct possibility. There was distant Russian support moving up slowly, too.

Napoleon and the brains trust he brought back from Egypt with him, running the British blockade to do so, managed to turn that, Marengo was the decisive battle of that phase of the war- he saved the day and got rid of a potential rival, Desaix- and that did a lot to propel him to the status of First Consul.

The Royal Navy largely abandoned the Med after Napoleon's victories of 1796-7 with the Army of Italy; there being no friendly ports to replenish from, and no local allies left to support. The Two Sicilies were the one exception really, and whether they could be called effective is debatable.
Well, actually, no it isn't, they were bloody useless; conscripts with little training and less enthusiasm. Nelson was there trying to encourage them to do something effective when there was word of a French invasion fleet on the move.

I have to think that the French did themselves no favours at Aboukir Bay; an open running sea fight would have served them better, there would have been more chance to manoeuvre, more chaos to exploit- some possibility of inflicting real damage on the British, and although I certainly wouldn't reckon on an overall French victory, honours would have been more even and the number of survivors on the French side substantially greater.

User avatar
irishmick79
Rabid Monkey
Posts: 2265
Joined: 2002-07-16 05:07pm
Location: Vermont
Contact:

Post by irishmick79 » 2008-09-02 02:30pm

Still, the treaty of Campo Formio was still in effect in 1797, and Russian support was not nearly as close at hand. The forces which effectively opposed the French for a time in the Second Coalition campaign were, as far as I can tell, still being assembled in 1798 and would not have been prepared to challenge a strong French push under Napoleon.
"A country without a Czar is like a village without an idiot."
- Old Russian Saying

"What Senator McCain was able to do was to help bring all of the parties to the table, including the House Republicans, whose votes were needed to pass this."
Steven Schmidt, chief strategist for the McCain Campaign, you FAIL.

User avatar
Thanas
Magister
Magister
Posts: 30779
Joined: 2004-06-26 07:49pm

Post by Thanas » 2008-09-02 03:23pm

Eleventh Century Remnant wrote:I have to think that the French did themselves no favours at Aboukir Bay; an open running sea fight would have served them better, there would have been more chance to manoeuvre, more chaos to exploit- some possibility of inflicting real damage on the British, and although I certainly wouldn't reckon on an overall French victory, honours would have been more even and the number of survivors on the French side substantially greater.
It also would have allowed them to use the superior speed, better built and greater maneuverability of their ships. However, you have to understand the lack of officers really forced their hand. The french tactic made sense with regards to that they believed it would not allow Nelson to cut the line.

The problem was that Nelson caught them unawares - they were not ready for a fight.
Whoever says "education does not matter" can try ignorance
------------
A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient, to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is 'survival as what'? A country isn't a rock. It's not an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for. It's what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! - Chief Judge Haywood
------------
My LPs

Post Reply