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Bombardment of Alexandria
Part of the Anglo-Egyptian War
Bombardment of Alexandria.jpg
Date July 11 - July 13, 1882
Location Alexandria, Egypt
Result British victory
Belligerents
United Kingdom United Kingdom Egypt Urabi Forces
Commanders
United Kingdom Admiral Beauchamp Seymour Egypt Colonel Ahmed Orabi
Strength
15 Royal Navy ships 4 coastal batteries
Casualties and losses
5 killed, 28 wounded, including Lt. Jackson of Inflexible who later died of his wounds between 680 and 700[1]

The Bombardment of Alexandria (1882) by the British Mediterranean Fleet took place on 11-13 July 1882. Admiral Sir Frederick Beauchamp Seymour was in command of a fleet of about 15 Royal Navy ironclad ships which sailed to Alexandria when a riot broke out and Europeans were killed. The Royal Navy arrived in the port city to protect the lives and property of British subjects. When the forces of Col. Urabi began augmenting their port fortifications, the Admiral issued an ultimatum to stop and when the Egyptians didn't stop fortifying their positions, the fleet attacked. The one-day bombardment of the city was successful in defeating all of the Egyptian forts with no loss of British ships, but the next day a fire broke out and the areas of Alexandria in which Europeans were predominant burned down.

Contents

Origins

The British tried to occupy Egypt during the Napoleonic Wars, but were defeated in 1807 by forces under Muhammed Ali and Britain withdrew. In 1869, Khedive Ismail of Egypt inaugurated the Suez Canal, which was a joint venture between the Egyptian Government and the french-led Suez Canal Company. During the digging of the canal many Egyptian workers died that it got common in the collective memory of Egyptians to say that Egyptian blood ran in the canal before the water of the seas. The canal cut sailing time from Britain to India by weeks and Britain's interest in Egypt grew.[2] [2] Due to the excessive spending of the Egyptian Government under the ambitious Khedive, Britain purchased the Khedive's shares of the Suez Canal company in 1875, thus becoming the controlling partner. French and British concern led to the establishment of an Anglo-French Condominium over Egypt which was still nominally under the Ottoman Empire. Egyptian nationalism was sparked and after a revolt by Egyptian troops in 1881, complete control of the government was held by Urabi Pasha by February 1882.[2] The rebellion expressed resentment of the undue influence of foreigners and Coptic Christians.[3]

Urabi organized a militia and marched on Alexandria. Meanwhile, the European powers gathered in Constantinople to discuss reestablishing the power of the Khedive and an Anglo-French fleet was ordered to the port of Alexandria. The Egyptians began reinforcing and upgrading their fortifications and the British House of Commons ordered ships to be temporarily dispatched from the Channel Fleet to Malta under Admiral Seymour's command.[1]

On 20 May the combined Anglo-French fleet, consisting of the British ship HMS Invincible and the French ship La Gallisonière and four gunboats arrived in Alexandria. By 5 June, six more warships had entered Alexandria harbour and more cruised off the coast.[1]

The presence of the foreign fleet exacerbated the tensions in Alexandria between the nationalist forces and the large foreign and Christian population. On 11 and 12 June ferocious anti-Christian riots erupted which were reportedly caused by the Khedive attempting to discredit Urabi or by Urabi's forces bent on attacking foreigners.[3] Over 50 Europeans and 125 Egyptians were killed in the fracas that began near Place Mehmet Ali with British Admiral Seymour, who was ashore at the time, narrowly escaping the mob.[1]

The reaction by European countries to the disturbance was swift. As refugees fled Alexandria, a flotilla of over 26 ships belonging to most of the countries of Europe gathered in the harbour. By 6 July nearly every non-Egyptian had evacuated Alexandria. Meanwhile, the garrison had continued to fortify the various forts and towers with additional guns until Admiral Seymour issued an ultimatum to Urabi's forces to stop fortifying or the British fleet would bombard the city. That same day, the French Admiral Conrad, had informed Seymour that in the event of British bombardment, the French fleet would depart for Port Said and would not participate in the bombardment.[1]

The ultimatum, which was ignored amid denials of the defensive works by the Egyptian governor, was set to expire at 7:00 am on 11 July.

Battle

At 7:00 a.m. on 11 July 1882 Admiral Seymour aboard HMS Invincible signaled to HMS Alexandra to commence firing at the Ras-el-Tin fortifications followed by the general order to attack the enemy's batteries. According to Royle, "[a] steady cannonade was maintained by the attacking and defending forces, and for the next few hours the roar of the guns and the shrieks of passing shot and shell were alone audible."[1] The attack was carried out by the off-shore squadron as it was underway, the ships turning from time to time to keep up the barrage. This was not entirely effective and by 9:40, HMS Sultan, HMS Superb and HMS Alexandra anchored off the Lighthouse Fort and concentrated their now-stationary batteries on Ras-el-Tin. The fort battery was able to score hits, particularly on Alexandra, but by 12:30, Inflexible had joined the attack and the fort's guns were silenced.[1] Meanwhile, HMS Temeraire had taken on the Mex Forts (with Invincible splitting its broadsides between Ras-el-Tin and Mex) and was causing damage to Mex when she grounded on a reef. The gunboat HMS Condor went to her assistance and she was refloated and resumed the attack on the Mex fort. While the off-shore squadron was engaging the forts at long-range, HMS Monarch, HMS Penelope and HMS Condor was ordered into close engagements with the forts at Maza-el-Kanat and Fort Marabout. HMS Condor seeing that Invincible was within range of the guns at Fort Marabout sailed to within 1,200 feet of the fort and began furiously firing at the fort. When Fort Marabout's guns were disabled, the flagship signaled "Well Done, Condor." The Condor's action allowed the ships to finish off Fort Mex.[1]

With the Mex Fort's guns silenced, HMS Sultan signaled to Invincible to attack Fort Adda, which she did with the assistance of Temeraire. At 1:30, a lucky shell from HMS Superb blew up the magazine of Fort Adda and those batteries ceased firing. At about this time, the British fleet began to run short of ammunition. However, nearly all of the guns from Fort Adda west were silenced. HMS Superb, Inflexible and Temeraire focused their fire on the remaining eastern forts until at 5:15, the general order to cease fire was issued. The Egyptians, both outmanned and outgunned had used their firepower to good effect, but the outcome of the bombardment had never been in doubt.[1] The Cairo newspaper El Taif erroneously reported that the Egyptian forts had sunk three ships.[1]

The next day, HMS Temeraire reconnoitered the forts and discovered that the Hospital battery had reconstituted its defences. At 10:30 a.m., Temeraire and Inflexible opened fire and the battery raised the flag of truce at 10:48 a.m. Very soon an Egyptian boat set out to the flagship bearing the flag of truce and a cease-fire was ordered. By 2:50 p.m., HMS Bittern signaled that the negotiations had failed and the bombardment was to resume. Still, most of the forts flew white flags and an irregular cannonade by the British fleet began.[1] By 4:00 p.m. a fire had broken out on shore, and by evening the fire had engulfed the wealthiest quarter of Alexandria, the area predominantly inhabited by Europeans.[1] The fire raged for the next two days before they burned themselves out. Admiral Seymour, unsure of the situation in the city didn't land any troops to take control of the city or fight the fire.[1] It was not until July 14 that British marines and sailors landed in Alexandria.

Photo of Alexandria after the bombardment and fire of 11-13 July 1882

Aftermath

Fires continued to break out in Alexandria over the next few days and the city was chaotic and lawless which permitted Bedouins, among others, to loot the city.[1] British sailors and marines landed and attempted to take control of the blackened ruins of the city and prevent the looting, while propping up the Khedive's shaky government. Eventually order was restored and a month later, General Garnet Wolseley landed a large force of British troops in Alexandria as a staging location for attacking Urabi near the Suez Canal at the Battle of Tel el-Kebir.[1] After that the Urabi revolt was put down and Egypt became a British protectorate until 1922.

British Fleet

HMS Alexandra was the Flagship of the Mediterranean fleet, but at the Bombardment of Alexandria, Admiral Seymour transferred his flag to HMS Invincible
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Battleships

Torpedo boat

Despatch boat

  • HMS Helicon

Gun boats

  • HMS Condor
  • HMS Bittern
  • HMS Beacon
  • HMS Cygnet
  • HMS Decoy

Egyptian Forts

  • Fort Pharos
  • Fort Silsileh
  • Fort Adda
  • Fort Ras-el-Tin
  • Fort Marabout
  • Fort Adjemi
  • Marza-el-Kana
  • Citadel of Mex
  • Fort Kamaria
  • Fort Omuk Kebebe
  • Fort Saleh Aga

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Royle, Charles (1900). The Egyptian Campaigns (1882-1885). London: Hurst and Blackett, Ltd.. pp. 606. http://books.google.com/books?id=mtwTAAAAIAAJ&dq=1882+alexandria+bombardment. 
  2. ^ a b c "'"Well Done "Condor"': The Bombardment of Alexandria". National Maritime Museum. http://www.nmm.ac.uk/collections/explore/object.cfm?ID=BHC0643. Retrieved 2007-10-13. 
  3. ^ a b Karsh, Inari; Efrain Karsh (1999). The Empire of the Sun The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789-1923. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. pp. 409. ISBN 0674005414. http://books.google.com/books?id=UBilxxaKRKkC&dq. 



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