Egypt, as a territory, was and is of great strategic importance. In the era of colonial expansion, he was very attractive for both Paris and London. The bourgeoisie of southern France, especially Marseille, has long had extensive contacts and conducted trade with the countries of the Mediterranean. The French bourgeoisie was not averse to gaining a foothold in a number of lucrative places, such as the coast of the Balkan Peninsula, the islands of the eastern Mediterranean, the Greek archipelago, Syria and Egypt.
By the end of the 18 century, the desire to establish colonies in Syria and Egypt had grown significantly. The British seized a number of French colonies (Martinique, Tobago, etc.), as well as some Dutch and Spanish colonial possessions, which led to an almost complete cessation of the French colonial trade. It hurt the French economy. Talleyrand, in his report to the Institute on July 3 of 1797, “A Memoir on the Benefits of the New Colonies in Modern Conditions”, directly pointed to Egypt as a possible compensation for the losses suffered by the French. This was facilitated by the gradual weakening of the Ottoman Empire, which lost its position in North Africa. The decline of Turkey in the 18 century led to the emergence of the “Turkish heritage” question. Egypt in this legacy was a particularly tasty morsel.
The French also looked out for the very tempting Levant, the territory of the eastern Mediterranean (modern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Palestine), which was owned by the Ottoman sultans. For a long time, since the days of the Crusades, Europeans and Egypt were interested in, which in the period of the French Revolution was legally part of the Ottoman Empire, but in fact was an independent state entity. Egypt, washed by both the Mediterranean and the Red Seas, could become a springboard with which France could have a more serious impact on competitors in the struggle for India and other Asian countries and lands. Another famous philosopher Leibniz filed a report to King Louis XIV in which he advised the French monarch to seize Egypt in order to undermine the position of the Dutch throughout the East. Now, England was the main rival of France in South and Southeast Asia.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the proposal of Napoleon to seize Egypt did not outrage the French government. Even before going to Egypt, Napoleon ordered the capture of the Ionian Islands. At the same time, he finally formed the idea of going to the East. In August, 1797, Napoleon wrote to Paris: “The time is not far off when we will feel that in order to actually defeat England, we need to master Egypt.” Capturing the Ionian Islands, he strongly advised the government to seize Malta, she was needed as a base for a throw to Egypt.
After the victory in Italy, Napoleon 10 December 1797, solemnly met in Paris. Crowds of people welcomed the hero, whose name in recent times did not leave the mouth. In the Luxembourg Palace, the general was greeted by all official France: members of the Directory, ministers, dignitaries, members of the Council of Elders and the Council of Five Hundred, generals, senior officers. Barras gave a flowery speech in which he welcomed Bonaparte as a hero who avenged France for the enslavement and destroyed in the past by Caesar. The French commander brought to Italy, in his words, "freedom and life."
However, behind the smiles and friendly speeches of politicians, as usual, lies, irritation and fear. Napoleon's victories in Italy, his negotiations with the Italian governments and the Austrians, made him a political figure, he ceased to be just one of many generals. For almost two years, Napoleon acted in both military and political-diplomatic spheres, disregarding the interests of the ruling group, often in direct conflict with them. In particular, the Directorate gave Napoleon a direct order not to make peace with Austria, to begin a march on Vienna. But the general, contrary to the clear instructions of the government, made peace, and the Directory was forced to accept it, since the legislative councils and the whole country, exhausted by the war, longed for peace. Hidden opposition constantly intensified. And that scarecrow members of the Directory, the position of Napoleon is constantly strengthened. His policy met with widespread support.
Bonaparte had a choice: what to do next? The situation in the Republic was difficult - finances were upset, the treasury was empty, corruption and theft were flourishing. A bunch of speculators, suppliers to the army, embezzlers made enormous fortunes, and the common people, especially the poor, suffered from a shortage of food, high, speculative food prices. The directory could not create a stable regime, restore order in the country, on the contrary, its members themselves were participants in theft and speculation. However, Napoleon did not know what exactly to strive for. He was ambitious enough to claim a place in the Directory. Attempts in this direction have been made. But the members of the Directory, and above all Barras, were opposed to the inclusion of a general in the government. Straight, legal path to the top of power was closed for Napoleon. Other ways were still impossible. The majority of the population still supported the Republic, the illegal seizure of power could cause serious resistance in society. The campaign to Egypt postponed the final decision, gave Napoleon time to think, to strengthen the camp of his supporters. Success in this campaign could strengthen his authority in society. Yes, and his opponents were happy - the Directory is not without pleasure sent an ambitious general to the Egyptian expedition. Achieve success - well, disappear - also good. This decision satisfied both parties.
I must say that at this time, Napoleon became close with Foreign Minister Talleyrand. In some young instinct, he solved a rising star in the young Corsican general and began to support his initiatives.
A month and a half before returning to Paris, Bonaparte was appointed commander of the "English army." This army was intended to invade the British Isles. After the signing of peace with Austria and the Russian Empire, only England was at war with France. French weakness fleet, relative to the British fleet, it was not possible to safely transport a large army to America or India. Therefore, two options were proposed: 1) to land troops in Ireland, where the local population hated the British (they actually carried out the genocide of the Irishman); 2) to land an army in the possession of the Ottoman Empire, where, with luck, it was possible to move it to India. In India, the French counted on the support of local rulers. The second option was preferable. It was believed that with the Turks you can get along. France has traditionally had a strong position in Istanbul. Moreover, after the French seizure of the Ionian Islands and France signing advantageous agreements with the Kingdom of Naples, Britain lost all its permanent naval bases in the Mediterranean Sea.
In addition, Napoleon always attracted the East. His favorite hero was more Alexander the Great than Caesar or another historical hero. Already traveling through the Egyptian deserts, he was half-joking, half-seriously speaking to his companions that he was born too late and no longer could, like Alexander of Macedon, who also conquered Egypt, proclaim himself right there as god or god of God. And quite seriously, he said that Europe is small and that truly great things can be accomplished in the East. He said Burienne: “Europe is a mole hole! There have never been such great possessions and great revolutions as in the East, where 600 million people live. ” Large-scale plans were born in his head: to reach the Indus, to raise the local population against the British; then turn, take Constantinople, raise the Greeks, etc. to the struggle for liberation against Turkey
Napoleon had a strategic mindset and understood that England was the main opponent of France in Europe and the world. The idea of invading the British Isles was very seductive for Napoleon. To hoist the French in London, which could be more captivating for an ambitious Napoleon. England did not have powerful ground forces and could not resist the French army. In 1796, the French managed to establish contacts with the Irish national revolutionary circles. But the operation was very risky due to the weakness of the French fleet. In February, 1798, Napoleon traveled to the west and north coasts of France. He visited Boulogne, Calais, Dunkirk, Newport, Ostend, Antwerp and other places. He talked with sailors, fishermen, smugglers, delved into all the details, analyzing the situation. The conclusions reached by Napoleon were disappointing. The success of the landing on the British Isles, neither in naval nor financially was not ensured. According to Napoleon himself, the success of the operation depended on luck, on chance.
The start of the expedition and the capture of Malta
5 March 1798 Napoleon was appointed commander of the "Egyptian army". 38-thousand the expeditionary army was concentrated in Toulon, Genoa, Ajaccio and Civitavecchia. Napoleon in a short time spent a tremendous work on the preparation of the expedition, on the inspection of ships, on the selection of people in the campaign. Inspecting the coast and the fleet, forming parts, the commander continued to closely monitor the British fleet under the command of Nelson, who could destroy all his plans. Bonaparte almost single-handedly selected soldiers and officers to go to Egypt, preferring proven people, those with whom he fought in Italy. Thanks to his exceptional memory, he knew a huge number of people individually. He personally checked everything - artillery, ammunition, horses, provisions, equipment, books. He embarked on the campaign of the color of the generals of the Republic - Kleber, Deze, Bertier, Murat, Lannes, Bessieres, Junot, Marmont, Duroc, Sulkovsky. Lavalette, Burienne. The scientists, the future “Institute of Egypt”, the famous Monge, Berthollet, Saint-Iller, Conte, Dolomie, etc., also went on a campaign.
19 May 1798, an armada of four hundred transports and warships left the ports and, united, moved south. Its flagship was the battleship Orion. All of Europe knew that an expeditionary corps was being prepared in France, that its commander was the celebrated Bonaparte. The question was - where will it go? On the capture of Malta, Sicily, Egypt? To Ireland? No one, except for the narrowest circle of military leaders, knew where the fleet was heading. Even the Minister of War Scherer and the one until the last days was not in the know. Newspapers spread a variety of rumors. At the beginning of May, the rumor was popular that the fleet would pass the Straits of Gibraltar, would go around the Iberian Peninsula and drop troops on Green Island. The British also believed this rumor, Nelson, at the time when the French fleet left the harbor and to Malta, guarded Gibraltar.
9-10 June advanced French ships reached Malta. The island from the XVI century belonged to the Order of the Knights of Malta. The Knights of Malta (also known as the Hospitallers or Johnites) at one time played a major role in the fight against the North African pirates and the Ottoman Empire, but at the end of the XVIII century. experienced a time of decline. The Order maintained friendly relations with England and Russia, the enemies of France. The island was used as a temporary base for the British fleet.
The French have made a request for drinking water. The Maltese gave permission for water to be collected at the same time by only one ship. When the size of the French fleet was bold (the delay could lead to the appearance of the British fleet). General Bonaparte demanded the surrender of the island. The Maltese began to prepare for defense. However, the knights have long lost their morale and were not capable of action, the mercenaries did not show a desire to die the brave and capitulated or went over to the French, the local population also did not express the desire to make war. The Grand Master of the Maltese Order, Ferdinand von Gompesh zu Bolheim, failed to organize the defense, on the contrary, readily surrendered to the French, explaining his actions by saying that the statute of the order forbade hospitalists to fight Christians. As a result, the French fleet easily landed several landings, which quickly occupied the entire island. Above the fortress of La Valette, a French flag was raised.
Napoleon won the first victory. 19 June, the French fleet moved on, blowing winds, and the British were not visible. A small garrison was left on the island.
To be continued ...