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The Battle of Aboukir - Egypt - “The Bulldogs of the Army”

Unit/ Formation: Royal Marines

Location: Egypt

Period/ Conflict: French Revolutionary Wars

Year: 1801

Date/s: 8 - 12th March 1801

The Battle of Abukir of 8 March 1801 was the second pitched battle of the French campaign in Egypt and Syria to be fought at Abu Qir on the Mediterranean coast, near the Nile Delta.

The landing of the British expeditionary force under Sir Ralph Abercromby was intended to defeat or drive out an estimated 21,000 remaining troops of Napoleon's ill-fated invasion of Egypt. The fleet commanded by Baron Keith included seven ships of the line, five frigates and a dozen armed corvettes. With the troop transports, it was delayed in the bay for several days by strong gales and heavy seas before disembarkation could proceed.

British Royal Marines disembarking from a task-force fleet in boats at Aboukir Bay 8th March 1801 – painted by Aleksandr Yezhov

Under General Friant, some 2000 French troops and ten field guns in high positions took a heavy toll of a large British force disembarking from a task-force fleet in boats, each carrying 50 men to be landed on the beach. The British then rushed and overwhelmed the defenders with fixed bayonets and secured the position, enabling an orderly landing of the remainder of their 17,500-strong army and its equipment. The skirmish was a prelude to the Battle of Alexandria and resulted in British losses of 730 killed and wounded or missing. The French withdrew, losing at least 300 dead or wounded and eight pieces of cannon.[

This painting and its companion, ‘The Battle of Alexandria’, commemorate a turning point in an early campaign of the Napoleonic Wars, following the French occupation of Egypt and consequent threat to the security of British India. An army commanded by General Abercromby forced a landing at Aboukir Bay and defeated the French at nearby Alexandria two weeks later. The artist, De Loutherbourg, was not present at these events, but he used detailed eye-witness descriptions to create an accurate image of the action. The painting contains several recognisable portraits of senior officers: the standing figure in the boat to the left is Sir Sidney Smith; the dominant figure in the central boat with his arm outstretched is Major-General Coote. Abercromby himself is not depicted in this scene - Philip James de Loutherbourg

The Royal Marines detachments of about 30 ships were formed into a battalion of just over 600 strong (all ranks), and landed on the Saturday 12th March.

This battalion was attached to the 3rd Brigade under Lord Cavan. on the 13th the British advanced in two lines with the object of turning the French Flank.

The Marines owing to their too great eagerness to get to close quarters with the enemy, suffered severe loss. Both officers and men greatly distinguished themselves, and charged the French so repeatedly and with such determination and gallantry that they earned for themselves the cognomen of “The Bulldogs of the Army”.

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