It was discussed in this question what would have happened had Napoleon defeated Duke Wellington in the Battle of Waterloo. The French military in 1798 to 1801 was fighting in Syria and Egypt. The British defeated Napoleon in the the decisive Battle of the Nile. This signaled the beginning of the end of the French military threat to British control of the region.

Now, my question:

Had Napoleon won that engagement and gone on to conquer all of Egypt and the British protectorates in the Middle East what might the military and logistical effects on the allies have been? Could this have been a game changer? How might allied campaigns in the next year or so have been affected?

You might want to know that this is part 2 of a chain of questions related to the Napoleonic Wars.

  • $\begingroup$ Any number of ways? This seems really, really broad. It's sort of along the lines of asking "If the South had won the American Civil War, how would later wars in which the US was involved be different?" $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre May 6 '15 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre It is not nearly as broad as the scenario you mentioned. I will try to edit it down, though. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat May 6 '15 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ Please note that effected means to produce or bring about. The word you are probably looking for is affected. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre May 6 '15 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ If i had to guess i would say that mixing effected and affected up is a very common mistake :) $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat May 6 '15 at 20:40
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    $\begingroup$ Battle of the Nile was not the decisive battle...it happened soon after the initial landing in year 1 of the 4 year Egypt campaign. It was a naval defeat, while the french were victorious on land (battle of the pyramids)...the french had atleast 5-6 victories in the following years. More than a single battle, France lacked the resources to commit to ruling Egypt due to british involvement, ottoman counter attacks, and a series of revolts in Egypt (cairo in particular). If they had won the battle of the nile, I'm hard pressed to say there would have been any difference in the outcome $\endgroup$ – Twelfth May 6 '15 at 21:10

Trying this again.

Egypt pre-Napoleon:

Egypt was in heavy civil disorder prior to Napoleon arriving. The Mamluk elite were attempting to over throw Ottoman rule and the Ottomans had very little direct control over Egypt prior to Napoleons arrival. Mamluk forces numbers well into the 60'000, however the appeared a bit divided. In the battle of the pyramids, there was over 21'000 mamluk troops, though over 40'000 more Mamluk troops did not participate. Maybe they beleived Napoleon.

Napoleon had mentioned in memoirs that he considered the ottomans allies, however he also made declarations to the Egyptian people that he intended to free them from Mamluk and Ottoman oppression.

Napoleon's intent:

Napoleon wanted to put an end to British Indian trade and commerce that was bringing a significant amount of wealth to the British empire. The Maratha empire in India had opposed the British, however were ultimately losing. Napoleon wanted 12'000 french soldier in India to help his Maratha allies drive out the British from India once and for all. Of course, once this was done, Napoleon wanted French dominance in trade with India.

Battle of the Nile:

This was not Napoleons significant defeat in the Egyptian campaign...it was in fact a defeat, however at the same time the French were winning battles on the land in Egypt.

Siege of Acre:

If I can make a change to your question, I would instead ask 'what would have happened if Napoleon was successful in this siege?'. Acre was considered by Napoleon to be an easy conquest and they would quickly surrender which would then be a quick stepping stone to the holy lands and Napoleon's capture of Jerusalem. However, the French had previously sacked Jaffa and killed many in doing so...the defenders of Acre were quite aware of this and put up a stubborn defense. Napoleon could have been quite easily victorious with cannons, however he was forced to rely solely on infantry...a British fleet intercepted Napoleon's artillery on ships headed for the siege. The British then used these cannons to re-enforce the Ottoman defenders and used their gunboats to fire on French forces from the sea.

If you want to be more specific with the question...what would have happened if the British failed to intercept these cannons and Napoleon was capable of capturing Acre?

Napoleons end game:

Napoleon wanted two outcomes from his Egyptian campaign:

  • Establishment of a double port in Egypt, effectively connecting trade with India through Egypt. This would have been a precursor to the Suez canal.

  • Support the Maratha Indians and drive the English out of India. Napoleon idolized Alexander the Great and wanted to conquer his path into India using a similar route. The battle of Issus was Alexander the greats decisive win vs Persia and Napoleon would do the same.

What if he succeeded in taking Acre:

Napoleon would have (tried?) to raise an army including Mamluk and Turkish peoples and march through Persia and into India where he would join his allies and drive the British out. This would have been a harsh blow to the British economy and may have impacted their ability to amass the forces that were eventually victorious in Waterloo. Additional money and manpower from the newly acquired regions could have changed his luck in Russia as well. If it did...well, I'd imagine I'd be currently posting this in French.

That said, when Napoleon returned from the Egyptian campaign is when he engineered his coup d'etat and become emperor. Had he been successful in Egypt, the prolonged movement to India and the attack on English forces would have heavily delayed his ability to return to France. Perhaps he would never have become the emperor when he returned from Egypt if he went to India instead.

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Going from comments to an answer...

First thing to note, the Battle of the Nile was not a decisive battle, and though the French lost it, they would achieve several more victories on land (battle of the Pyramids for example) soon after. Infact, there really never was a decisive loss for the French in Egypt excepot for a failed seige to gain access into the holy lands...they would continue to win until attrition was victorious.

(edit to add): The main reason Egypt was even a target was ultimately India due to the Suez canal (Technically, the Suez canal was not existent in Napoleons time, however he had the vision of a double port that would connect the Mediterranean to the red sea). British trade and commerce through the canal had ultimately given them a near monopoly over trade with India. I believe the Maratha empire was at odds with the British East India Company, while France considered them an ally and a valuable trading partner. Napoleon succeeding here would be a blow to the British empires commerce and replace it with French Indian commerce.

Napoleon faced a few challenges in Egypt:

  • The Ottoman empire. Egypt was not part of the British empire, but rather the Ottoman empire (Allies of the British). The Ottomans power base in Turkey meant their supply chain was close by and they could actively assault French forces in Egypt repeatedly. The French had a drawn out supply chain and could not easily re-enforce...even a victory for the French that cost them casualties and ammunition would whittle down what they had available in Egypt until their eventual defeat.

Edit: above is a bit inaccurate...the Ottoman empire had mostly lost direct control over Egypt to civil disorder inspired by the Mamluk elite. A few of the battles fought by the French, including the battle of the pyramids and the battle of Heliopolis (first and last french victories in Egypt), was fought as French vs Mamluk troops. The French army still fought and defeated the Ottomans on multiple occasions, however the Ottomans were successful in their defense of Acre which prevented Napoleon from fully conquering the Ottomans and surrounding regions (apparently Napoleon had wanted to follow Alexander the greats path into India). It was with British support that the Ottomans had won, the British had intercepted the artillery en route via ship that Napoleon had intended to use to siege the city. The defeat at Acre is one of Napoleons few defeats.

  • The British Empire. The Brits had a policy of keeping power balanced and had turned to these tactics in regards to the Ottoman empire a few times. Quite simply put, a strong Ottoman empire was able to oppose powers such as France and it was very much in the British's interest to keep them stable. Decent strategy when it comes down to it...ensuring power remained balanced and no single European power was capable of conquering all of Europe kept England safe. We'd see the same strategy come to bear in the Russian-Ottoman conflicts that saw the British declaring war on Russia to prop up the Ottoman empire...a Russia that conquered Turkey and other Ottoman holdings would become a Russia capable of assaulting Austria and the rest of Europe.

  • Muslim Egypt. Napoleon had actually made it very clear to his troops that they were to respect Muslims and the wishes of their Imams and put a declaration out to Egypt that France respects it's Muslim counterparts as seen by the Frenches destruction of the knights of Malta and referring to the French as opposing/destroying the pope who used to say they had a duty to make war with Muslims. Of course this didn't work well and Egyptian Imam's had a majority of Egyptians to swear opposition against all frenchman and to kill them whenever they encountered them. Napoleon crushed this uprising and posted in all Egyptian cities "Stop founding your hopes on Ibrahim and Mourad, and put your trust in He who has empires in his discretion and who creates men". This actually somewhat worked, though it was via the prestige of Napoleon...without Napoleon there, they would once again revolt.

  • Napoleon was needed elsewhere. Egypt is a small theatre at this time and there's a much bigger picture. There was nothing left in Egypt worth his time and he was about to return to France to take the next major leap in his career. With the prestige of Napoleon gone, Egyptians would once again rise up...the general Napoleon left behind in Egypt would be assassinated in Cairo.

So Napoleon was in a real predicament in Egypt and it would have been quite the set of events to keep French rule in Egypt, likely needing to tear down the Ottoman empire, defeat the sea faring British in their own game, and put down a constantly revolting Egyptian Muslim population.

But if he had accomplished above, the most immediate effect would have been cutting the British off from India (short of sailing around south Africa) and replaced it with French trade instead. This would have been a decently heavy hit to the British economy.

Beyond that, I see two potential outcomes:

  1. Napoleon would have had to counter British sea superiority to successfully hold Egypt. And in doing so, would put him in a position where this option was available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napoleon%27s_planned_invasion_of_the_United_Kingdom Napoleon wanted to capture England and attack the heart of the British Empire. The same naval superiority that he would have needed to overcome in Egypt was also the same naval superiority that kept England safe from invasion from the European mainland. If he could have overcame them in Egypt, I'd assume the urge to do it again closer to the British homeland would be strong.

  2. Napoleon would have had to further destabilize the Ottoman empire or fall to the constant re assaults that the Ottomans could stage in Egypt. The Ottomans needed propping up as is and further aggression vs it from France could have seen the Ottoman empire crumble quicker than it did. Fast forward to the future when Napoleon was defeated...a weaker Ottoman empire could have crumbled to the Russian aggression. A Russia capable of conquering the Ottoman empire (despite British and French involvement) would be a Russia capable of overwhelming Austria and the rest of Europe. Heh, interesting assertion...but a crumbled Ottoman empire in Napoleons time could have seen Russia succeed decades later.

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  • $\begingroup$ The suez canal was not built until the 1850's....long after the downfall of Napoleon. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat May 6 '15 at 23:35
  • $\begingroup$ You are correct...Napoleon wanted to create a double port between the red sea and the Mediterranean, almost a precursor to the actual canal. India was his final goal though, assisting his Indian allies drive the English off once and for all was the end game of the Egyptian campaign. I'm addressing a couple other inaccuracies on the state of egypt prior to the French conquest...the Ottoman empire had actually lost most power in Egypt to Mamluk dissent. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth May 6 '15 at 23:44
  • $\begingroup$ @DJMethaneMan - Updates done...it's kinda interesting that Napoleon had envisioned a Suez canal when making the case to assault Egypt. I'd actually suggest an alteration to your question...what if Napoleon was successful with his siege of Acre? It was the major defeat, not the battle of the Nile. Our little general could have made it to India on foot, conquering the path to India that Alexander the Great was thought to have taken. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth May 7 '15 at 0:03
  • $\begingroup$ I would think that with a French Fleet in the Med, able to sortie, that most India traffic bypassed the sea and went around the Horn in this period. So the economic hit might have been already present, Egypt trip or no trip. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat May 7 '15 at 0:07
  • $\begingroup$ Ugh, this answer is full of inaccuracies. Second one under construction $\endgroup$ – Twelfth May 7 '15 at 0:20

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