Napoleon and the Mameluks

May 19th, 1798, 16,000 seamen, 38,000 combat troops, all packed on 13 ships of the line, 42 frigates, 160 support ships, and none of them know where the Hell they are headed. It was his fiercely charismatic personality that made this possible in the age of Napoleon.  Most people would wonder why the secrecy. How could you hide this under any circumstances? Most thought the armada would fight its way through the Straits of Gibraltar and then join in the invasion of England. Instead, he slipped by Nelson’s entire fleet and three weeks later sighted Malta.

The French argosy came upon the impregnable island on June the 9th. A few bribes reduced the resistance to a token display and within a few hours the French were in control of this vital gateway. Napoleon spent the rest of the trip sea sick and all the while he studied the Koran.

On July 1st, Napoleon led a 5000 man force onto an unprotected beach, and then advanced during the night without artillery support or cavalry and for the cost of 200 soldiers took control of the main Egyptian city. Then he began in earnest the task of deploying the rest of his troops.

This was Napoleon in a nutshell.

He led his men across 150 miles of Egyptian desert to Cairo. At the Nile, they recovered and soon were confronted with thousands of Mameluk troops. “A splendid body of mounted men,” Napoleon quipped. “All gleaming with gold and silver and armed with the finest London carbines and pistols, the best sabers from the east and the finest horses in the world.”

Within moments, the Mameluks pounced. But disciplined musketry and artillery from the French sent the Mameluks running for their lives.

For the record, Napoleon eventually adopted Mameluk warrior auxiliaries.


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