- Newservice, Associated Press
- History - general, Early warships
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 1998 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
CAIRO – Two centuries after a historic battle destroyed Napoleon’s hopes of crushing the British Empire, the French Emperor’s fleet has been discovered entombed in the depths of an artifact-rich Mediterranean bay.
Frank Goddio, a French marine archaeologist, said his team was salvaging the flagship of Napoleon’s fleet, L’Orient, along with two other French frigates submerged 25 kilometres (15 miles) off the coast of the Egyptian port city of Alexandria.
“It is a magnificent find,” Mr Goddio said from Paris. “The explosion that sank L’Orient left it scattered all over the bottom of Abu QirBay.”
The 120-cannon, roughly 2,000-ton (1,800 metric ton) ship was lost August 1, 1798, in a battle with the British fleet of Admiral Horatio Nelson. Cannon shot set the ship ablaze, and an ensuing explosion in a gunpowder magazine sank it, Mr. Goddio said. All 1,000 sailors and officers aboard died.
“The explosion was heard all the way in Alexandria,” Mr Goddio said.
The first trace of L’Orient came in 1983 with the discovery of the bronze name plate of a ship called Royal Dauphin. But Mr Goddio said it was only later that Royal Dauphin was found to be the pre-French Revolution name of L’Orient.
“The discovery, unfortunately, was forgotten for years,” he said.
Mr Goddio’s team began surveying the eastern harbor of Alexandria in 1996. Its first and most dazzling find was the 2,000-year old ruins of Cleopatra’s palace and the home and temple of her Roman lover, Marc Antony, which had sunk into the harbor after an earthquake.
But for Mr Goddio, the discovery of Napoleon’s fleet 12 metres (39 feet) below the surface at Abu Qir east of Alexandria yielded a new sense of excitement.
“This is where the fate of Europe was decided,” said Mr. Goddio, referring to the battle in which Nelson destroyed a French fleet bent on crushing the British Empire by striking at Egypt and, ultimately, India.
Among remains of the ship that have been found were parts of the hull, an 11-meter-long rudder and the ship’s riggings, Mr Goddio said.
Also found was part of the ship’s mast, another section of which had been ordered salvaged by Nelson and was used in making the admiral’s coffin after his death in the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar, Mr Goddio said.
“Touching that wood is like being an eyewitness to history,” he said.
International Herald Tribune 3 August 1998