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Monthly archives: January 2015

The Naval Battle of Abukir

Plan of the Abukir Naval Battle



İngilizlerin hatt-ı harb gemileri


Fransızların hatt-ı harb gemileri

Fransız fırkataları

This Chapter describes the harbour called Ebugur

This Ebugur 117 is a broad and excellent natural harbour. Before the harbour there is a tower and four miles exactly northeast of that tower there is an island. There are two channels between the island and the tower. The first is located a mile and a half southwest of the island and the depth is eighteen spans. The second channel is located southwest of the first and its depth is a bit more than twelve spans. There is no passage anywhere else, there being numerous scattered islets of rock here. Some are mere rocks over which sea washes. If big bargias wish to reach Ebugur however, they cannot enter through these channels for they are not deep enough. Instead they should proceed eastward from the north eastern side of the big island and then round to the southeast taking soundings until they come near the shore. After that, a hill of white sand appears to the south by the sea and they set straight for that hill in four fathoms of water. There they drop anchor on two sides and so lie. When proceeding coastwise along here they will pass through six fathoms of water. In the case of galleons and galleys on the other hand, there are two more channels on the east-south-eastern side. In other words, there are two more channels besides the ones near the shore through which big bargias may pass. They are midway between the big island and the channel through which the big bargias pass. Some bargias on the other hand place the island to their northwest and drop anchor there and so lie. The depth where the ship lies is four fathoms. The bottom is fine coral and sand though it turns to muddy sand as one proceeds from Ebugur to Reşid. When approaching Ebugur Adası118 in a big bargia, they should proceed more than a mile along the east-northeast side. The sea all around the island is foul and they should be wary of it. A mile and a half out to sea there is a shoal over which there are three fathoms of water. They should not proceed unless they take soundings all the while. Galleys may approach and enter through the two channels on the north-western side and approaching closer lie opposite the tower. But they should not approach the shore for it is too shallow. Only small craft and caiques may reach the shore.

Now the landmark of Ebugur harbour from the sea is this. First one sees a high place like an island, on the summit of which is a grove of date palms and white buildings. From a distance it resembles a prosperous place. One should approach them and on the seashore of the north-eastern side of those buildings the bastion of Ebugur will become visible. One may also recognise it by Ebugur Island as has been mentioned. Arab seamen call this island Garo119. It is a low-lying island and one should proceed about a mile away from it along both the east-southeast and the southwest sides, for the sea is rocky and foul. From Ebugur it is thirty miles to Raşid Boğazı120. On the way is the mouth of a lagoon they call Uştum.121 There are two mouths to this lagoon but this is not a place to approach in a ship for the sea is foul and full of shallows as far as Nil Ağzı122. On the Reşid side of these channels two miles inland there is a big village that the Arabs call Utku123. On the southern side of that village is a big lake that connects to the Nil river.

Let it be known as such and so much that.

117 Abukir. Bay and village between the Rosetta mouth of the Nile and Alexandria. The site of ancient Canopus, Abukir was the scene of three important battles involving variously the French, British and Turks between 1798 and 1801.

118 Jazirat Gharw. Small island at the entrance of Abukir harbour.

119 Arab name for Abuklir island.

120 Rosetta Mouth. The western branch of the Nile River in the Nile Delta. It was called the Bolbitinic mouth in ancient times.

121 Buhaayrat Idku would appear to be the only possible candidate.

122 Literally “The Mouth of the Nile”. In ancient times the Nile had seven branches in its delta; today there are two principal mouths: Rosetta on the west and Damietta on the east.

123 Idku. Village on the north-western shore of Buhayrat Idku.

The Bay of Miletus and the Latmicus Sinus The Latmus

View onto the Latmian Gulf from Herakliea. Almost all islands have harbour monasteries, as does the mountain itself.

“[8] Next comes the Latmian Gulf, on which is situated “Heracleia below Latmus,” as it is called, a small town that has an anchoring-place. It was at first called Latmus, the same name as the mountain that lies above it, which Hecataeus indicates, in his opinion, to be the same as that which by the poet is called “the mountain of the Phtheires” (for he says that the mountain of the Phtheires lies above Latmus), though some say that it is Mt. Grium, which is approximately parallel to Latmus and extends inland from Milesia towards the east through Caria to Euromus and Chalcetores. This mountain lies above Heracleia, and at a high elevation. At a slight distance away from it, after one has crossed a little river near Latmus, there is to be seen the sepulchre of Endymion, in a cave. Then from Heracleia to Pyrrha, a small town, there is a voyage of about one hundred stadia.
[9] But the voyage from Miletus to Heracleia, including the sinuosities of the gulfs, is a little more than one hundred stadia, though that from Miletus to Pyrrha, in a straight course, is only thirty–so much longer is the journey along the coast. But in the case of famous places my reader must need to endure the dry escriptions of geography.

Strabo, 14.1.8-11

Gigantic Byzantine Fortress on a monolithic rock in the Latmus

You can link to any of the hotspots on the map above: 1: Miletos, 2: Myus, 3: Priene, 4:Herakleia under the Latmos, 5: Domatia, Eski Doganbey


Mursilis II, King of the Hethites, son of Subbiluliuma (14. Century BC) The Annals

Homeros (9. Century BC) The Iliad

Herodotos ( 5. Century BC) The Histories

Pliny the Elder Gaius Plinius Secundus, (AD 23–79) The Natural History

Strabo (born 63 BC or 64 BC, died ca. 24 AD), Geography

Pausanias,( 2. Century AD) Periegesis tes Hellados

Comte de Choiseul-Gouffier, Le Voyage pittoresque de la Grèce (1782-1822),
Maps from: Eski Haritalarda Bati Anadolu, Nezih Basgelen, Istanbul, 2005,
Engraving from: Gravürlerle Türkiye, Volume IV, Rep. of Turkey, Ministry of Culture, Ankara 1996

Miletus Model

Related Pages in this site:

The Carian Language

The ‎Hittites


Domatia (Domaçya, Eski Doganbey) on Mt. Mykale (Samsundag)

Domatia, or Eski Doganbey is a quaint village, in the process of being carefully and tastefully restored. It is one of the few places in the area where men seem to build and rebuild in harmony with nature. Gateway to the “Samsundag Milli Parki” for those who would like to hike on Mt. Mykale.

You can link to any of the hotspots on the map above: 1: Miletos, 2: Myus, 3: Priene, 4:Herakleia under the Latmos, 5: Domatia, Eski Doganbey


Mursilis II, King of the Hethites, son of Subbiluliuma (14. Century BC) The Annals

Homeros (9. Century BC) The Iliad

Herodotos ( 5. Century BC) The Histories

Pliny the Elder Gaius Plinius Secundus, (AD 23–79) The Natural History

Strabo (born 63 BC or 64 BC, died ca. 24 AD), Geography

Pausanias,( 2. Century AD) Periegesis tes Hellados

Comte de Choiseul-Gouffier, Le Voyage pittoresque de la Grèce (1782-1822),
Maps from: Eski Haritalarda Bati Anadolu, Nezih Basgelen, Istanbul, 2005,
Engraving from: Gravürlerle Türkiye, Volume IV, Rep. of Turkey, Ministry of Culture, Ankara 1996

Miletus Model

Related Pages in this site:

The Carian Language

The ‎Hittites


The Bay of Miletus and the Latmicus Sinus

The fertile plains of the Menderes River, or the Meandros, form the northern border of Caria. For a mariner, one of the many fascinations lies in the fact that these plains have formed only relatively recently and continue to form: Their extension into the Aegean Sea increase by several metres per annum. So here we have the chance to travel over sea, or to be more precise, over what used to be the sea, by foot, on a bike or another land vehicle.

Nelson’s “Tcheleng” or “The Knight of the Ottoman Crescent”

The “Medal of the Ottoman Crescent” Hermitage Museum St. Petersburg.

“Knight of the Ottoman Crescent”

The English Admiral Nelson died due to the wound he received in the Trafalgar Naval Battle on October 12th, 1805. The said naval battle resulted in the total defeat of the united French and Spanish fleets and was to determine the future of Europe for more than a century [*].

Nelson’s corpse was placed in an oak barrel filled with cognac that came as a war spoil and he was taken to England [*]. His casket made from the mast of the French ship l’Orient [*] captured seven years ago was ready; he had kept it with him, sometimes in the hold of the ship and sometimes in his own cabin.

Nelson was buried in London in a very stately and deeply sincere ceremony [*]. What especially interests us here is one of the titles placed on Nelson’s casket:

“Knight of the Ottoman Crescent”, that is, “Osmanlı Hilali’nin Soylusu”.

Nelson used this title, for example, when he signed the armistice of the Copenhagen Naval Battle (April 9th, 1801) as the victorious commander.

This issue attracted my attention for the first time during my visit of the section of the GreenwichMaritimeMuseum dedicated to Nelson. There was a notice under one of the pictures about a “tchelengh”. When I read this I looked at the picture more carefully and then I noticed the ornament on the admiral’s hat. First I thought this ornament could not have been a “çelenk”, a “wreath” in today’s Turkish. It could, at best, have been “a plume, a plume worn on a hat”. A quick look into the dictionary of the Turkish Linguistic Society revealed a second, albeit archaic, meaning: “a plume worn on a hat made from jewel or some metal”…


Lemuel Abott’s portrait of Lord Horatio Nelson dated to 1798. Here the frail admiral is more pale than usual. This particular portrait was made little later after he had lost his right arm. On his head was the “crooked hat” of the English sailors and on it was the “tchelengh”. The “Medal of the Ottoman Crescent”, the uppermost one of the three insignias on the left side of his chest. Greenwich Maritime Museum, London.

The plume, the plume worn on a hat. What was this thing doing on the hat of this exceptional Englishman who used to state, with pride, that his father was a priest?

I researched the subject within the limits of my means and here I present my findings. I am not a historian, but I was able to read the records of Nelson and those who fought together with him. Sadly, I was unable to read our Turkish primary records due to the change of the script [*].

Let us look at the picture again. Now look carefully at the medals on Nelson’s chest. You can make out the crescent and the star on one of them, can’t you?

Nelson’s wax statue at Westminster Abbey. The “Medal of the Ottoman Crescent” on admiral’s chest, the outermost one, can be seen clearly.


The Viennese painter Heinrich Fuger’s Nelson portrait dated to 1800. One can make out the “Medal of the Ottoman Crescent” clearly and one can tell the importance Nelson gave to this medal because of its central location on the portrait.

Egypt and the “Ottoman Palace”

The time was the period of the Sultan Khan Selim III (1789-1807) – Selim III, the Reformer. The Khan Selim III, who established the Nizam-ı Cedid, the New Order, was a poet and interested in music, and was, at the end, in spite of all the efforts of Alemdar Mustafa Pasha, strangled and his corpse was thrown out of the palace by the reactionary mobs. Egypt was very important for Istanbul; “Konstantiniyye” was receiving its rice and sugar from there. The Ottomans were in the midst of an economic change of which they could not make much sense; the ships from Egypt were arriving late, there were constant hikes in prices in Istanbul, it was a total disorder.

Just around this time, Napoleon (not yet the “Emperor of Europe”, just a French general) was given the task of invading Egypt. Napoleon defeated the Mamluks at the Battle of Pyramids and thus reinforced his presence in Egypt. The goal was obvious: India. On the way to India Egypt was the second strategic point. It was officially an Ottoman land, but ruled by the Mamluks, who in return sent provisions to Istanbul.

Two empires were not pleased by Napoleon’s passion for Egypt: The Ottomans and British Empire. The former was worried that it was going to lose its provisions and face a riot in Istanbul and the latter did certainly not want to lose India. France was in a good position. It had a shore on the Mediterranean and it was close to Egypt. But settling in Egypt alone was not enough. The heart of any military was its navy and therefore, it was very important to give it the utmost care possible; it took five years to build a ship.

England had decided to destroy the French navy in order to protect its gateway to India. Admiral Nelson was assigned to the job. As to Istanbul, it could unfortunately not do anything but watch the developments passively, though with pleasure.

Nelson’s pursuit of Napoleon Bonaparte’s fleet. For details click the link.

The task was not easy. The French fleet was to be found, trapped somewhere and destroyed and all this was to be done thousands of miles away from England. The French, on the other hand, were in their own backyard. They had virtually occupied Egypt and the forts and the towns were controlled by French soldiers. Accordingly, Nelson set sail for the Mediterranean, but he had to leave some of his ships in Gibraltar. He began searching without the four patrol frigates he desperately needed for this search. Storms and unfriendly governors were of no help. Let us not forget that there was no radio, nor telegraph. One came across a boat or ship by chance, changed course, caught up with the other vessel, set over by the use of tenders and asked whether or not they might have seen the French. Sometimes signal flags were used. It was a difficult job. But Nelson eventually found the French fleet. It was already well positioned in the Abukir bay of Egypt…

The Battle of Nile

Nelson knew, as any other admiral, that a fleet was well resistant to attacks if it was anchored in a harbor; there are examples.

It was summer time. The wind blew from northwest. The French navy was anchored in a line; their ships were facing northwest and their broadsides faced northeast. In other words, they were in a position to shoot anything that would sail into the bay.

Nelson was a different kind of person. His journal, from which I quoted in the beginning of this article, reflects sincere feelings. Oddly, he was a humanist shaped by blood and powder. He was fiery and restless, but he respected the law and the rights of others. He had qualities which were not yet fashionable in his time. For example, he listened to and consulted others. He had enormous, portable (!) meeting lounges built in his ships. He hosted the captains of his ships and the other administrative personnel in these lounges. [*] He knew his men well, he could almost read their minds. He knew to appreciate their abilities and encouraged them to share their opinions. He used to conduct endless brain storms. Especially before every attack, every thinkable scenario was played over and over again without ignoring even the slightest possibilities. However, he never neglected to end these discussions by giving the message that “a real conflict may develop differently. Do what you think is right, and always remember that I will back you.”

“The Battle of Nile” or the Abukir Naval Battle is a victory granted to England by bright strategies and brute force. Nelson, who knew very well that the circumstances were hardly advantageous, made an important decision and immediately, without any rest, right around dusk, started his attack. This was a first in the history of naval battles and just one of the risks Nelson took in his life, for there was no doubt that in a battle that was going to take place at night, those anchored were at even greater advantage. Moreover, Nelson did not even have detailed maps of the region. Brueys, the French admiral, was waiting calmly. Perhaps he did not expect Nelson to attack… Try to picture it: An anchored fleet, ready to fire, with the broadsides turned to a fleet trying to come upon it in darkness in uncharted shallow waters. The forts around were fitted out with the French fire power. The French were rested and the English soldiers were just arriving from a long sail.

On top of this, to the fourteen ships of the English, the French had seventeen ships, thirteen of which were ships of line. Among them was the famous l’Orient. With 120 cannons, she was an enormous ship. Just her one line of cannons had more firepower than total firepower of any one of the English ships. She was a gargantuan fortress under sails.

“Surprise is fundamental in War”

The Naval Battle of Abukir. The explosion of  l’Orient.

Nelson did not let himself get demoralized and the first English ships attacked. The day was August 1st, 1798, around six o’clock in the evening. The English ships approached the French line almost perpendicular. They were able to make to the French line without receiving much damage as this way they made small targets. But they could not fire their cannons on the broadsides, either.

Right at that moment, a French brig made an attempt to force the English to the shoals by a diversionary attack; but either the English knew that shoal or they guessed the intention and this attempt ended up with failure.

For plan of the Abukir naval battle click the link.

Right at that time, HMS Goliath, the first boat attacked, made a maneuver completely unexpected by the French:

Everybody was expecting Goliath to position herself parallel to the French line by turning to southeast. She was broad reaching and by just falling off she would have been able to fire her port cannons. Instead, Captain Foley made a different move by first getting closer to the wind and then falling off. This way she was positioned to the port side of the French line – between the ships and the bay’s beach. As said, this was a move the French had not expected, and thus were not prepared for it: Their port cannons were not ready for replying and the port sides of the ships were not in shipshape condition, the French had stowed everything to their port sides in a makeshift manner.

The Captain “who left the Line”

This decision of Foley, the captain of Goliath, was much discussed as Foley conducted this maneuver on his own initiative. As mentioned above, Nelson did encourage this kind of initiative and he himself was once a captain “who had left the line”. Some claim that Foley must have planned this change ahead of the battle. He probably decided to carry out this preconceived possibility as he approached the French line.

How did Foley make this decision?

François Paul Brueys d’Aigailliers, the French admiral, had his fleet anchored in a very strategic bay, but when the English approached they noticed this: The French ships were swinging on their anchors! That is, instead of kedging the ships from the sterns as well, they were on only one anchor, free to wing. Only due to the wind and the current the ships were facing northwest. Now, this had implications which the English picked up: If the French ships were swinging then there should have been sufficient room between the French line and the beach to accommodate the English ships without going aground.

Goliath advanced until between the French line and the beach, fell off and then dropped her kedges and held onto their kedges – a very difficult maneuver, when done on the fly. Dropping the kedges  and slacking the cables carefully, the Captain Foley brought his ship to a full stop. He had reached the ideal position; he devastated the first two French ships with one volley. This formed the start of the close battle. In the meantime, and following the example set by Goliath, HMS Zealous and Orion, too, made their way to the port side of the French either by beating to windward or through the anchored ships and began firing on the French. As expected the French reply remained weak.

Nelson was on HMS Vanguard, the fourth ship. Vanguard was still partially damaged from the storm experienced off the coast of Corsica and described by Nelson in a letter as the storm that punished his arrogance [*]. Swiftly, Vanguard and those behind her approached the French line, this time to the starboard side of the French line, and began their attacks. Due to the chaos that had erupted, the French could not even use their starboard cannons efficiently.

As the last English ships were entering the bay, HMS Culloden sounded ten fathoms and immediately afterwards, without finding the time to sound again a further time, she went aground. Seeing this, the ships following her immediately changed course and one by one they passed from the leeside of Culloden, which had become a mark now. So the English had won this victory even with one less boat [*].

As you would see, in all this maneuvering there was the risk that the English could hit their own ships while bombarding the sandwiched French ships.

Nelson’s injury

Nelson’s left eye was not functional; due to an injury suffered in a previous battle, he was blind in this eye. This time, during this close battle, he was hit above his right eye: “A piece of skin dropped over his only eye that could see, the bone came out and the English admiral sank into the deepest darkness.” Those around him thought, because of the immense bleeding, that his wound was fatal and they took him to the “cockpit”, “operating room” [*]. The operating room was an unpleasant sight. Heads, arms, legs. The walls were painted red, so that blood stains would not show. When the ship’s surgeon left the patient on whom he was operating and moved towards his admiral, Nelson instructed him, according to some in a manner worthy of the historical moment, and according to some at the risk of losing his life, “after my gallant friends”. Obviously he was trying to keep the morale of his sailors high. Upon this, the surgeon first took care of the “friend” he was already operating on and then moved again towards his admiral, but Nelson insisted on waiting for his turn, according to the witnesses who reported this incident. If he had not acted in this way, this would have probably resulted in disorder. When the surgeon eventually treated him, everyone was relieved to find out that the injury was not fatal.   

The light from l’Orient reflects on the injured Nelson. A portrait painted by Guy Head in 1798.

Meanwhile, the news that there was a serious fire on l’Orient had made it to the cockpit.

The French ships had not removed the paints and oils they needed to paint the broadsides (they could have done it easily) and it had now become impossible to put out the flames started from those barrels.

Nelson immediately gave the order for the English lifeboats to go to l’Orient and save the French. At the same time, he asked for the pen officer in order to dictate the victory letter to be sent to England. But the pen officer, one Mr. Campbell, was in no shape to write such a letter; so Nelson wrote the letter himself [*]. At 10 PM, the news that the fire on l’Orient had become overwhelming reached him. Now the whole bay was bright because of the fire; one could “distinguish the flags of the vessels”. Upon this, Nelson sneaked out of the cockpit to the deck and continued to observe the battle.

Explosion of l’Orient

Right at that moment, the inevitable happened and l’Orient, this gargantuan ship, the most magnificent ship of the period, exploded as the fire reached its armory. Thereafter there was deep silence as if “an earthquake had happened” – all the firing had stopped. Then masts, yards, rigging, deck pieces, boards, cables, whatever there was began raining down from the sky. The English had already taken the necessary measures and wetted their decks, “tightly wrapped the sails”; they were prepared for potential fires and so they got out of this final, too, without much damage [*]. To some, this silence had lasted for twenty minutes and the explosion of l’Orient was heard from Alexandria, fifteen miles away.

L’Orient  After the Explosion

Cutting their anchor cables, the first four ships of the French line set sail towards France; only two of them succeeded.

The Pagan and Christian Traditions Mixed

This is the summary of the “Battle at the Nile”: Istanbul, the Palace and especially the “Grand Seignieur” , the Great Sir, Sultan Selim III Khan was much pleased from the results of this important battle that took place along his shores, but unfortunately without any positive or negative contribution from him. And, thus was born one of the sources of boasting in Nelson’s life.

Firstly, The Grand Seigneur – Our Great Sir – granted Nelson one of the plumed ornaments of one of his turbans. This alone was an extraordinary and exceptional gesture. “Granting a plume” is a tradition that existed among the Ottomans and whose roots go back to our pagan past. But there is no example in our history of granting a plume to a foreigner, especially to a non-Muslim. Among the Ottomans, plumes were granted to the commanders-in-chief and the state officials of highest rank as the greatest compliment. I wonder if with this grant Selim III Khan had intended to make a gesture appropriate for his “new order”? Whatever it may be, Selim III Khan did not stop here and granted Newton a medal as well [*]. Hence the “Medal of the Ottoman Crescent”. This was also the very first medal in Ottoman history. Again we come to an interesting point: The tradition of medals come from the Crusades. Here I would like to point to the fact that the German word for medal, “Orden”, has a double meaning. As this word refers to an medal, it also refers to a “cult, sect, class”, that is, to a group of people who turn their back to worldly values for the sake of Christianity, their religion, and who vow to sacrifice their lives for their religion [*]. Thus, Selim III Khan rewarded a Christian admiral with a gesture coming from a tradition in essence hostile to him and with this step started the medal tradition within the Ottoman state. In time, the origin of these medals were forgotten and with the “Medal of Independence”, the tradition was transferred to the Republican Turkey.

The chelengh granted by Selim III Khan to Lord Nelson.

I wonder if Selim III Khan had already known the contradictory nature of the compliment he made? Or was this another knowingly executed reform by him? I have no answers.

Sultan Selim III Han (1761-1808)

Mihrişah Sultan, mother of Selim III Khan, too, sent Nelson a box covered with valuable stones in order to express her gratitude. In addition to these, a fur coat and a sword granted by Selim III are mentioned, but in the records and the official documents only a plume and a medal are seen; that the other gifts were granted by the royal family is only a guess.

In spite of this, on the Trafalgar Day of 2002, that is, on October 21st, in an auction conducted by the famous auction house of Sotheby, “Nelson’s lost sword” was sold for 330.000 pounds.

“Nelson’s lost sword” revealed in 2002 by Sotheby

“Arrogant” Nelson

It seems that placing the insignia on his hat was Nelson’s preference and he did this with royal consent [*]. There is no other example of an English mariner placing an insignia on his “triangle hat”; after all, a plume/insignia is a decoration designed for a turban. Nelson’s insignia had another feature: The diamonds in the center of it were moved by a mechanism behind it and thus formed a very shiny glitter; it is told that Nelson often used to take off his hat during receptions and wound up this mechanism. Unfortunately, in 1951, the insignia was stolen from the Greenwich Museum. We can now only enjoy it through its photographs and Lemuel Abbott’s Nelson portraits exhibited in the Greenwich Museum, those portraits which had directed my attention to the subject.

Nelson’s two contemporary caricatures. On the left, Nelson is subduing the Nile crocodiles. One can see that some crocodiles are shedding “crocodile tears”. I think “Britannia” is written on the stick Nelson is holding. On the right is a grotesque Nelson. With his sable fur, insignia and “Oriental” sword, he seems helpless. James Gilray, 1798.


Mehmet Ali of Kavala, a Rumelian, accomplished what the French failed to do. He took the lead of the Mamluk army in 1805 and defeated the English in 1807. The English withdrawn from Egypt and could come back only 75 years later.

Nelson’s Pursuit of Napoleon Bonaparte’s Fleet


Nelson (red routes) entered the Mediterranean through Gibraltar on May 9th of 1798. On May 20th, the fleet was caught in a storm. Nelson’s ship, HMS Vanguard, lost its bowsprit and rig, and almost went aground near Corsica. Alexander Ball, the captain of HMS Alexander, which was next to Vanguard during this incident, took in tow Vanguard while Nelson was on board and eventually saved her, despite orders to the contrary by Nelson. Later Nelson would mention this incident as “God punished my arrogance”. A lifelong friendship was established between Nelson and Ball, with whom he had kept his distance up until this incident. Following this unpleasant experience, Vanguard managed to arrive at the San Pietro harbor of Sardinia. There, although unable to receive any assistance officially, Vanguard was ready to set sail again in three days, thanks to the initiative of the governor and the determination of Nelson. Gibraltar had estimated that the repairs would have taken thirty days.

The storm had created another issue: Nelson had lost what he called “my scouts”, his frigates. Assuming that Vanguard would return to Gibraltar for repairs, the frigates had returned to Gibraltar and were waiting for the fleet. Nelson’s job had become much more difficult without the frigates, the scouting party of the fleet (For he did not want to separate the ships of the line from each other). Thus a historical pursuit began. Nelson first sailed up to Toulon, arriving there on May 31st , where he received the news that two groups from the French fleet (the blue routes) had left from Marseilles and Toulon about ten days ago to “an unknown target”. Napoleon Bonaparte was with the fleet.

Nelson headed for Italy. At the same time, a third group from the French fleet left from Civita Vecchia. Nelson followed the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea and stopped at Messina and Syracuse. He did, of course, not know that the French fleet was at Malta at this time. Nelson continued from Palermo to Crete. Interestingly, unaware of Nelson, the French followed the same route to Crete. On June 22nd , the two fleets actually came very close to each other, within each other’s line of sight, but an exceptional fog prevented them from seeing each other and Nelson passed the French, arriving in Chania of Crete on 25th and continuing without any rest. Had he spent the night there, he would have come across the French, since they arrived in Chania just on June 26th, 1798.

Nelson continued, entering Alexandria on June 29th. The French were, of course, not there yet. Again without any rest, Nelson turned back to Crete by the way of the Syrian coast. Upon arriving in Crete, he received the news that the French had been seen there. As he could not make use of his scouting frigates – they were in Gibraltar waiting for Nelson – he made an assumption and set sail to Syracusa. Naturally, there were no French over there, but a merchantman told Nelson that the French were sailing towards east. It was now obvious that the French fleet was in Egypt. He took on water, firewood and in five days he was again in Alexandria. The harbor of Alexandria was completely empty, however there were some French infantry soldiers on land. The English began searching and finally, on August 1st, 1798, during dusk time, the lookout on the mast shouted that ahead there was “a forest of masts”, 15 miles east of Alexandria, offshore of the Abukir (Ebukır, Ebugur) anchorage place towards Raşit (Rosetta) near the mouth of the Nile. The famous attack took place at the end of the pursuit, right that very night, without taking time even for a very short rest.

Nelson’s fleet members started the battle in highly trained condition thanks to having sailed for months on every possible route in the Mediterranean, not much different from today’s sailing racers. Therefore they were able to carry out the maneuvers needed during the battle with necessary agility and precision. Nelson, like any good coach, kept his crew at a very high performance level and knew that this would give him the edge he needed over his adversary.


Nelson’s “Tcheleng” or “The Knight of the Ottoman Crescent”



“Dragut was superior to Barbarossa. A living chart of the Mediterranean, he combined science with audacity. There was not a creek unknown to him, not a channel that he had not sailed. Ingenious in devising ways and means, when all around him despaired, he excelled above all in escaping by unexpected methods from situations of great peril. An incomparable pilot, he had no equal in sea warfare except the Chevalier Romegas. On land he was skilful enough to be with the finest generals of Charles V and Philip II. He had known the hardship of captivity and he showed himself humane to his own captives. Under every aspect he was a character. No one was more worthy than he to bear the title of King.”

Admiral Jurien de la Graviere of France (1812 – 1892),
as quored in “Malta 1565, by Tim Pickles”


Cerbe Piri Reis


When Turgut Reis was the Master of the Seas, once, he was greasing his seven or eight pieces of ships at the Island of Djerba and at the Port of Qantara. So it happened that the Captain of the Infidels, Dzagala [His family was the famous renegade dynasty of the Visconte di Cigala, the Istanbul Quarter of Cagaloglu is named after them, YC] and the Admiral of Venice came with hundred and fifty vessels that way and laid siege to the narrows.

And thus Turgut was beset.

They sat in satisfaction, saying “All is made. Once his stores are used up we will have him and his ships.”

They even despatched a note to Genoa and wrote “Dragut, the Master of the Seas, who has put our household on fire and who has demolished our property – he and his ships are all now ours.”

And many a high born hurried towards Djerba saying “Let us fit up a ship and let us watch.”

And Master Turgut relied in God. By His mystery there happened to be a river – a river shedding into the sea and with just enough draught that a pinnace may walk on it. Immediately he put his privates and some slaves on cutting a road. He cut about two miles and passed over his ships to the open sea.

And, he left a pitched tent at the shores. Whenever the Infidels saw the tent they would imagine Dragut in it. Alas, sixty miles away the Master was in a harbour and greasing the rest of his fleet.

And then he sailed out.

On his way he happened to meet those high born, he attacked and took them all.

As of then the Infidels used to say “No doubt that Dragut has witchcraft. He can make ships walk on hard.” And they keep wondering.

From Katip Çelebi, also known as Hadzi Qalfa, Tuhfetül Kibar fi Efsaril Bihar, Tercüman 1001 Temel Eser, İstanbul 1980, Published by late Orhan Şaik Gökyay

Portrait of Turgut Reis in his youth as “Dragut, Corsaro di Barberia” (Dragut, Corsair of the Barbary Coast). Oil on canvas by Feyhaman Duran (1886-1970), 1948, 81 cm x 63 cm, Istanbul Naval Museum painting Collection, DB:1082


The lamentations of his victims roused Doria, who had the good fortune to surprise the Corsair as he was greasing his keels in the strait behind Jerba.

This strait was virtually a cul-de-sac.

Between the island and the great lake that lay behind it, the sea had worn a narrow channel on the northern side, through which light vessels could pass, with care ; but to go out of the lake by the southern side involved a voyage over what was little better than a bog, and no one ever thought of the attempt.

Doria saw he had his enemy in a trap, and was in no hurry to venture in among the shoals and narrows of the strait.

He sent joyous messages to Europe, announcing his triumph, and cautiously, as was his habit, awaited events.

Dragut, for his part, dared not push out against a vastly superior force; his only chance was a ruse.

Accordingly, putting a bold face on the matter, he manned a small earthwork with cannon, and played upon the enemy, with little or no actual injury, beyond the all-important effect of making Doria hesitate still more.

Meanwhile, in the night, while his little battery is perplexing the foe, all is prepared at the southern extremity of the strait. Summoning a couple of thousand field labourers, he sets them to work; here a small canal is dug — there rollers come into play; and in a few hours his small fleet is safely transported to the open water on the south side of the island.

Calling off his men from the illusive battery, the Corsair is off for the Archipelago. By good luck he picks up a fine galley on the way, which was conveying news of the reinforcements coming to Doria.

The old Genoese admiral never gets the message. He is rubbing his eyes in sore amazement, wondering what had happened to the imprisoned fleet.

Never was admiral more cruelly cheated, never did Doria curse the nimble Corsair with greater vehemence or better cause.

From: Stanley Lane-Poole, The Barbary Corsairs, London 1984, Darf Publishers Ltd