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Anchor 54

Bombardment of Alexandria

There were several causes for the Egyptian campaign of 1882, but primarily for the British it was a matter of keeping access to the Suez Canal open to shipping for the benefit of her commerce with India & the Far East.


The stability of the Egyptian government was also of great concern as this directly affected the Suez canal.


Riots had broken out in Alexandria on June 11, with the Khedive rapidly losing support & the government about to be taken over by Arabi Pasha, a radical revolutionary not in sympathy with British interests in the region.


Things continued to deteriorate during June & early July & it became apparent that the government of Egypt was becoming quite unstable & a revolution might break out at any time. Atrocities were also taking place against European nationals in the city.


The Fleet facing the port of Alexandria was a formidable one under under Admiral Sir Beauchamp Seymour, consisting of several ironclad battleships of various sizes & armament:


HMS Alexandra, Temeraire, Sultan, Superb, Hecla, Inflexible, Invincible, Monarch, Penelope, & the smaller ships HMS Beacon, Bittern, Condor, Cygnet, Decoy, & Helicon.


These Ironclad battleships were capable of putting out a huge weight of shot into the forts. The weight of HMS Alexandra’s broadside alone was 2,600 pounds.


At that time HMS Inflexible was the most powerful turret B/S of the fleet & could put out 6800 pounds of broadside.


All of the ironclads were fully masted & had full steam power in addition to their full sail rig.


ORDERS OF THE DAY - issued 10 APRIL 1882


"In the event of my not receiving a satisfactory answer to a summons which I shall send to the Military Governor of Alexandria, calling upon him to deliver up to me temporarily, the works on the southern shore of the harbour, and those on the Ras el Tim peninsula, the squadron under my command will attack the forts as soon as the twenty-four hours given to neutrals to leave the place have expired which will be at 5.0 am of the 11th.


There will be two attacks:


1. From the inside of the harbour, in which the Invicincible, Monarch and Penelope will take part.


2. By the Sultan, Superb, Temeraire, Alexandra and Inflexible, from outside the breakwater.


Action will commence by signal from me: when the ship nearest the newly-erected earthwork, near Fort Ada, will fire a shell into the earthwork. On the batteries opening on the off-shore squadron in reply, every effort will be made by the ships to destroy the batteries on the Ras el Tim peninsula, especially the Lighthouse Battery, bearing on the harbour.


When this is accomplished, the Sultan, Superb and Alexandra will move to the eastward, and attack Fort Pharos, and, if possible, the Silsileh Battery.


The Inflexible will move down to the position off the Corvette Pass assigned to her yesterday, and be prepared to open fire on the guns in Mex Lines, in support of the in-shore squadron when signal is made. The Temeraire, Sultan and Alexandra will flank the works on Ras el Tim.


The gun-vessels and gunboats will remain outside and keep out of fire until a favourable opportunity offers itself of moving in the attack on Mes. Ships must be guided in a great measure by the state of the weather whether they anchor or remain under way. If they anchor, a wire hawser should be used as a spring.


The men are to have breakfast at 4.30 am and are to wear their working rig. The in-shore squadron will be under my personal command: the offshore ships under that of Captain Hunt-Grubbe, CB., of the Sultan.


The Helicon and Condor will act as repeating ships.


Finally, the object of the attack is the destruction of the earthworks and the dismantling of the batteries on the seafronts of Alexandria. It is possible that the work may not be accomplished under two or three days.


Shell is to be expended with caution, not withstanding that the Humber, with a fair proportion of reserve ammunition, may be expected here on the 12th.


Should the Achilles arrive in time, she is to attack Fort Pharos, or place herself where the senior officer of the off-shore squadron may direct."



So how did the master plan work?


The Invincible fought at anchor inside the harbour, using a hawser as a spring.  She received several hits which dented her armour and received others, outside the armoured area, which penetrated her sides; six crew members were wounded by these hits.


A despatch tells us that


"At 11.0am on Wednesday. the English ships again opened fire, and were replied to by the forts, but after a short time, the fire ceased on both sides, and a deputation came from Admiral Seymour, and made propositions to Toulba Pasha which he would not accept. No soldiers ever stood so firmly to their posts under a heavy fire as did the Egyptian under the fire of 28 ships during ten hours.


At 9.0am on Thursday, an English man-of-war was seen to put a small screw in place of the large one which she had been using: and it was then known that her screw had been carried away by a shot from the forts.


On examining other ships, it was observed that eight had been severely battered on their sides, and that one had lost her funnel."


The bombardment ceased at 5.30 pm but the encounter was far from over.


It took several days for the fires to burn themselves out and Bedouins came into the city to loot from the ruins which added to the chaos. The sailors and marines did their best to gain control of the city and to police it but it was quite a time before order was eventually restored. British troops were landed in numbers and Alexandria was used as the base for the Battle of Tel el-Kebir which finally marked the end of the Egyptian revolt. Egypt was brought under British control and remained so until 1922.


Both hulls of HMS Superb and HMS Alexandra showed traces of gunshot and the Superb had received a cannonball shot through her funnel



Read more about his action



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