With Abercrombie and Moore in Egypt – from First Empire (1995)

Share it

The following is from With Abercrombie and Moore in Egypt published by First Empire , Bridgnorth, England; 1995, Pages 13-15. Chapter IV: “A Hard Fought Landing”.

The troops first to land in Egypt were about 5,500, called the Reserve, under command of Generals Moore, Ludlow and Coote; the boats were under the conduct of Sir Sidney Smith, Captains Cochrane and Stephenson, R.N. These troops were in the boats by daybreak and at three o'clock were ordered to row for their rendezvous in rear of the light-armed vessels which were to protect the landing. This was a very fatiguing duty for the seamen, for the fleet was so widely anchored, and the large vessels so far from the shore, that it was nearly nine o'clock before the boats were collected and arranged.

The enemy could see all our movements and the delays which took place gave them a fair opportunity to collect their forces and provide for their defence, for they knew the only point at which we could land. Several regiments were put on board light vessels which went as near the shore as they could, that support might be quickly given on the return of the boats to those who landed first. Our regiment was in the 2nd Division and we spectators of the 1st's landing; and though we felt thankful we were not in the boats, yet our anxiety for those that were was as painful, I believe, as if we had been in them. At nine o'clock the signal was given for the boats to advance and the whole line advanced very regularly, giving three loud cheers. The French were posted on the top of the sand hills, forming the concave of a circle of about a mile, 60 yards in the centre of which was a very steep height; their left extended to the blockhouse at the entrance to Lake Maadie. To the right the shore was flat and covered with thick bushes, such as form the date or palm tree, which were favourable for concealing the enemy; while on the extreme right stood the castle of Aboukir which commanded the whole shore.
As soon as the boats set out for the beach, our bomb ketches and war vessels began to throw their shot and shells upon the shore, and the light vessels with their carronades, moving in a line with the boats began to fire. The enemy had twelve pieces of artillery on the heights and the beach and heavy guns in the tower in Aboukir castle. As soon as the boats got within reach of their shot they opened fire on them. The scene now became dreadful, the vessels pouring whole broadsides, the bomb ketches throwing shells and the gunboats and cutters exerting themselves to the utmost. All eyes were directed towards the boats and every flash of the enemy's guns was noticed to see whether the shot struck the water or the boats, when there was any confusion among them we wondered how many might be killed or wounded. But still the boats pressed on towards the shore and persevered in keeping good order. The firing from our war vessels over their heads did not for a moment interrupt the enemy's fire or silence a single gun.
We soon observed the right flank of the boats get nigh the shore, while the enemy from their elevated position began to pour volleys of musketry among them, our brave tars and soldiers giving them cheers for their shot and shell. In a few seconds after the 40th flank companies and the 23rd regiment were in line and without firing a shot cleared all that opposed them at the point of the bayonet, pushing them over the heights. This movement was clearly seen by all the fleet. The 42nd regiment was next seen ascending the heights; they charged the enemy opposed to them, who fled and disappeared. The left of the boats was the last to reach the shore, and the troops there were roughly handled before they got formed, and sustained a charge of cavalry; but they maintained their ground and in less than half an hour nothing was to be seen from the ships but the empty boats coming back for the 2nd division. Some of them soon reached the ship I was in and we lost no time in getting to the shore. On the way we saw some boats that had been struck with grape shop and swamped; the men in them had been picked up by the small boats in the rear which followed for that purpose.
We reached the shore in peace and quietness. The beach was strewed with dead and wounded men, and horses and cannon taken from the enemy. We formed in a hollow to the left of the centre height where many of the 42nd lay dead and wounded, and then advanced through the first range of sand hills and found the 1st division formed with their artillery which had been landed with them and were drawn by seamen. Our bringing our guns on shore along with the troops was what the enemy did not expect and it contributed much to their speedy retreat.
Eight pieces of cannon were taken from the enemy; their loss of men we could not learn exactly; their loss of men we could not learn exactly. Our loss was great, as was to be expected in front of an enemy posted to so much advantage; it was between 700 and 800 men of all ranks, the greater part of whom were killed or wounded in the boats previous to the landing.
We took up a position with our right to the sea and our left to the lake. Strong piquets were sent to the front, and we had likewise to watch the castle in the rear, which kept firing at anything that came near. Our first care was to learn whether water could be obtained in this sandy desert, and we were glad to find it could be got in the hollows by digging with our bayonets in the sand about 3 feet below the surface. All the troops were landed in the course of the day and wounded were sent on board the fleet.
On the 9th, our regiment with a party of Corsican riflemen advanced along the peninsula to a place where it was contracted to about half a mile broad. The enemy had a redoubt here and a flag staff for communicating signals between Aboukir Castle and Alexandria. We thought a stand would have been made here as the position was a good one; but the enemy had left it and thrown a large gun into the ditch. In the course of the day the 42nd regiment relieved us and we went back to our former position, where we remained till the morning of the 12th. We made ourselves booths of the branches of the date tree to shelter us from the heavy dew which fell at night, and we had some showers of hail and rain which made it cold after sundown. Many of our men complained of blindn ess after sunset; this continued for days after we landed. By this time our ammunition and stores had been brought ashore and then began the landing of guns and the making of batteries and entrenchments across the neck of land so that we might attack the castle. This business was chiefly left to the naval officers and seamen of the fleet. The army got out three days provisions and all was ready for a movement to the front.
But I must here give an account as well as I can of the troops landed; they were as follows: The first Division consisted of the the 1st Royals, 2nd regiment, 8th, 13th, 18th, 30th, 44th, 50th, 54th (two battalions), 79th, 89th, 92nd, the Guards, De Rolle's regiment, Minorcans, Dillon's regiment. The Reserve consisted of the 23rd, 28th, 40th flank companies, 42nd, 58th regiments, a troop of the 11th Dragoons, ditto of Hompesch regiment, the Corsican Rangers, and the 12th and 26th Light Dragoons. About 300 seamen were landed with the guns as also a battalion of Marines.
The total force landed was about 15,000 men commanded by the following general officers: Hutchinson, Hope, Ludlow, Coote, Craddock, Stuart, Doyle, the Earl of Cavan, Moore, Oakes, Finch, Colonel Spencer, etc. The Engineers and Artillery were under Brigadier Lawson, Physician General Dr. Young, sir Ralph Abercrombie, Commander-in-chief. Notes (Bob Burnham)
Notes for Gamers
1. The above was written by Corporal Daniel Nicol of the 92nd Regiment. Interestingly he states in the 2nd paragraph that his regiment was in the 2nd Division, yet in the next to the last paragraph he states that it was in the 1st. I think in this case, since I don't have the Order-of-Battle in front of me, the divisions are referred to what “wave” of the amphibious assault it was in. He wasn't in the first wave, since he watched it from the ship. I also doubt that the Reserve took part in it.
His choice of words in the last two paragraphs talk about the troops landed. Since there is no mention of any cavalry during the assault, I would say it would be safe to assume that the cavalry was landed after the beach was secured.
2. His comments about the casualties in the boats “700 to 800 men of all ranks, the greater part of whom were killed in the boats previous to landing” implies that it was a risky business. If you divide what he lists the first division as into two waves then 8-9 battalions landed in the first wave. This was a force of about 5000 men – – more or less.
This meant they took 10-15% casualties in the first wave. Fairly hefty!!
In your rules you state that the boats should be treated as skirmish targets. I think you might want to change that. Of course this was an opposed landing against an enemy force with artillery.
3. Nicol was not impressed with the naval bombardment. He notes that the “firing from our war vessels over their heads did not for a moment interrupt the enemy's fire or silence a single gun.” This makes some sense, since the French were probably protected by the dunes, and roundshot would more than likely bury itself in the dunes. You might want to consider seriously reducing the effectiveness of naval gunfire against the land forces.

Publication Title :
Revue du Souvenir Napoléonien
Share it