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The gallant heroics of Sir Sidney Smith at the Siege of Acre

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Ships, War on Wednesday, 31 July 2013

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This edited article about the Royal Navy originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 356 published on 9 November 1968.

Siege of Acre, picture, image, illustration

Sir Sidney Smith at Acre

After the defeat of the French fleet in Aboukir Bay in 1798, Napoleon directed his thoughts of conquest farther east. Britain, at the time, was more than ever anxious about the safety of her Indian Empire, and to protect it she entered into an alliance with Turkey.

Under the provisions of this alliance a Turkish army was to traverse Asia Minor, in order to threaten the French Army’s rear, while advancing towards British India. Napoleon, hearing of the arrangement, determined to forestall the British plan and marched with an army of 13,000 men against St. Jean d’Acre, the appointed rendezvous of the Turkish forces. To assist the Turks defend Acre, a British naval force, under the command of Sir Sidney Smith, sailed from Constantinople and anchored at Acre on 15th March, 1799.

Sir Sidney was sadly disappointed to find the fortifications of Acre in a ruinous and dilapidated condition, and almost destitute of artillery.

To most men, the place would have appeared incapable of defence, but not to Sir Sidney. He gave instructions for the Turkish garrison to strengthen the fortifications, and, while this work was being carried out, he set sail with some ships’ boats to intercept the French naval forces. The ships’ boats succeeded in overtaking Napoleon’s flotilla, and captured the enemy’s battering cannon and ammunition. This material was used by Sir Sidney to fortify the town against the French.

After this setback, Napoleon obtained fresh guns and opened the siege. He was determined to succeed, if at all possible. “On this little town,” he is reputed to have said to one of his generals, “depends the fate of the East. Behold the key of Constantinople, or of India!” But Sir Sidney Smith was to cause him to “miss his destiny”, which, Napoleon believed, included the subjugation of India.

Shortly after the opening of the siege, Sir Sidney’s naval force was driven off by the equinoctial gales. Seven weeks elapsed before it could return, and during this time the French made nine attempts to storm the town. Each time, they were repulsed with immense slaughter. On 7th May, Sir Sidney’s ships returned, and every available man was got ashore to help defend the town. On 21st May, realising they were fighting against superior odds, the French decided to raise the siege and retreat.

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