French Naval Order of Battle at Aboukir Bay (Battle of the Nile): 1-2 August 1798

By Stephen Millar


'The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle's wreck
Shone round him o'er the dead'

- 'Casabianca' by Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1793-1835)

'Almighty God has blessed his Majesty's Arms in the late Battle, by a great Victory over the Fleet of the Enemy, who I attacked at sunset on the 1st of August, off the Mouth of the Nile. The Enemy were moored in a strong Line of Battle for defending the entrance of the Bay (of Shoals), flanked by numerous Gun-boats, four Frigates, and a Battery of Guns and Mortars on an Island in their Van; but nothing could withstand the Squadron your Lordship did me the honour to place under my command. Their high state of discipline is well known to you, and with the judgment of the Captains, together with their valour, and that of the Officers and Men of every description, it was absolutely irresistible. Could anything from my pen add to the character of the Captains, I would write it with pleasure, but that is impossible.'

- Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson's despatch to Admiral John Jervis, Earl of St. Vincent, 3 August 1798

One of the most decisive battles in naval history, the Battle of the Nile was fought on 1-2 August 1798 in Egypt's Aboukir Bay. An interesting point of the battle was that the French squadron - under Vice-Admiral Francois-Paul Brueys d'Aigalliers - fought while anchored in a semi-circle (the British squadron, commanded by Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson, also fought much of the battle at anchor).

Nelson trapped the under-manned French ships between two lines of Royal Navy ships. The poorly-trained French crews were caught in concentrated broadsides and one-by-one their ships were disabled and boarded. Brueys d'Aigalliers' flagship 'L'Orient' exploded about 10 pm when fire reached the ship's powder magazines (some sources say 'L'Orient's captain blew his ship up to avoid capture).[1]

Four French ships cut their cables at dawn and managed to escape the disaster: 'Le Guillaume Tell', 'Le Genereux' and the frigates 'Le Diane' and 'Le Justice.' An estimated 5,225 Frenchmen killed, wounded and captured against the British losses of 218 killed and 677 wounded.

I. Chain-of-Command, French Squadron

Fleet Commander (aboard L'Orient):

Rear-Admiral [22.09.1796] Vice-Admiral [12.04.1798] Francois-Paul Brueys d'Aigalliers (1753-01.06.1798)

Second-in-Command (aboard Le Franklin):

Rear-Admiral [22.09.1796] Vice-Admiral [01.06.1816] Armand-Simon-Marie, chevalier Blanquet du Chayla (09.05.1756-29.04.1826)

Third-in-Command (aboard Le Guillaume Tell):

Rear-Admiral [22.09.1796] Vice-Admiral [30.05.1804] Pierre-Charles-Jean-Baptiste-Sylvestre de Villeneuve (31.12.1763-22.04.1806)[2]

Fourth-in-Command (aboard Le Diane):

Rear-Admiral [12.04.1798] Vice-Admiral [30.05.1804] Denis Decres (18.06.1761-07.12.1820)[3]

II. Composition, French Squadron

One 120-gun ship-of-the-line:

1. L'Orient (launched 1791; ex-Le Dauphin Royal, ex-Sans Coulotte) - sunk
Captain [01.1793] Luc-Julien-Joseph Casabianca (07.02.1762-01.08.1798)

Three 80-gun ships-of-the-line:

2. Le Franklin (launched 1797) - captured
Captain M. Gilet

3. Le Guillaume Tell (launched 1795) - escaped
Captain Saulnier

4. Le Tonnant (launched 1789) - captured
Captain Aristide-Aubert Dupetit-Thouars (31.08.1760-01.08.1798)

Nine 74-gun ships-of-the-line:

5. Le Guerrier (launched 1753) - captured
Captain Jean-Francois-Timothee Trullet (senior)

6. Le Souverain Peuple (launched 1757; ex-Souverain) - captured
Captain P. P. Raccord

7. Le Conquerant (launched 1765) - captured
Captain S. Dalbarade

8. L'Heureux (launched 1782) - captured
Captain J. P. Etienne

9. Le Mercure (launched 1783) - captured
Captain Cambon

10. Le Genereux (launched 1785) - escaped
Captain Le Joille

11. Le Timoleon (launched 1785; ex-Commerce de Bordeaux) - captured
Captain Jean-Francois-Timothee Trullet (junior)

12. L'Aquilon (launched 1789) - captured
Captain H. A. Thevenard

13. Le Spartiate (launched 1797) - captured
Captain M. J. Emeriau

Four frigates:

14. Le Diane (48 guns) - escaped
Captain E. J. N. Solen

15. Le Justice (44 guns) - escaped
Captain Villeneuve

16. Le Serieuse (36 guns) - sunk
Captain C. J. Martin

17. Le Artemise (36 guns) - captured
Captain P. J. Standelet



[1] The destruction of 'L'Orient' was the subject of the famous 1827 painting 'Battle of the Nile' by George Arnald (1763-1841) in London's National Maritime Museum.

[2] Villeneuve later commanded the Franco-Spanish Fleet at Trafalgar in 1805.

[3] Decres later became Napoleon's Minister of Marine.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2006