The Lost Fleet

 
In one night of thunder, fire and blood, the course of history was altered at the Bay of Aboukir.

In the famous Battle of the Nile, the British, under Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, would utterly destroy Napoleon Bonaparte's fleet as it lay moored at the Bay of Aboukir, stranding the French general in Egypt and laying low his Pharaonic ambitions of ruling the Nile and wresting India from England.

200 years later, the French returned to Aboukir Bay, this time on an archeological mission. Delving beneath the waves they sought the answers to questions two centuries old. The results they brought to the surface have changed our understanding of that fateful night.

 

Found below the waves were the remains of Napoleon's flagship, l'Orient, weighing 2000 gross register tons and bristling with 120 cannons. It was the grandest ship of Napoleon's fleet, and one of the biggest in the world. Also found were the French frigate Serieuse, the smallest ship of the fleet, which sank during a desperate attempt to repel the British fleet, as well as the frigate Artemise.

 

Perhaps the most significant surprises have come from the remains of l'Orient herself. The ship was rent by an enormous explosion the likes of which had rarely been seen, as her vast stores of gunpowder were ignited by raging fires. Eyewitnesses at the battle reported only a single blast, but Goddio's finds indicated that there must have been two almost simultaneous explosions.

 

The ship's midsection was found largely intact on the bottom, but both the bow and the stern sections had been blown away. This suggests that there was not one, but two stores of gunpowder aboard the ship, one fore and one aft, possibly intended for use by Napoleon's ground forces.

 

Pieces of wreckage from l'Orient were found spread over a half square kilometre of undersea surface. Using these as clues, Goddio's team theorized that the stern section exploded first, rocketing the ship through the water some 30 to 45 metres, before a second explosion in the bow sank her.

 

Seven anchors from different ships of the fleet, which were found around the l'Orient, give detailed information about the position of some of the ships before the explosion.

 

What seems evident is that all the ships, both French and English, knew full well that the l'Orient would blow. The anchors had been hurriedly cut loose so ships could flee the scene before the blast.

 

Cannons, portable firearms and ammunition, medical instruments and everyday objects were hauled up above the waves, offering information about the ships' crew and their ordinary daily life on board. Miraculously, the sea has even conserved some of the human remains of the luckless sailors, whose many fallen comrades, both French and English, lie buried together at nearby Nelson Island. A revealing find is the printing press and thousands of lead typefaces on board l'Orient. Napoleon intended to use this sophisticated propaganda tool to cement his rule over Egypt.

 

A large amount of French gold, silver and copper coins were found, some of them dating back to the era of Louis XIV and Louis XV, and most of them to Louis XVI, as well as coins from the Ottoman Empire, Venice, Spain and Portugal. Most surprisingly, there were also large amounts of gold coins from the Maltese Treasury which Napoleon captured on his way to Egypt.

 

It was formerly believed that these coins had been disembarked when Napoleon arrived at Alexandria.

 

Kemo D. (a.k.a. no.7)

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