Bombardment of Alexandria

Bombardment of Alexandria
Part of the Anglo-Egyptian War

"Well Done Condor" by Charles Dixon.
Date11–13 July 1882
LocationAlexandria, Egypt
Result Franco-British victory
United Kingdom United Kingdom
France France
Egypt Egypt
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Beauchamp Seymour Egypt Ahmed ‘Urabi
9 battleships
1 torpedo boat
1 steamer
5 gunboats
1 flotilla
11 forts
Casualties and losses
6 killed
27 wounded

The Bombardment of Alexandria in Egypt by the British Mediterranean Fleet took place on 11–13 July 1882.

Admiral Beauchamp Seymour was in command of a fleet of fifteen Royal Navy ironclad ships which had previously sailed to the harbor of Alexandria to support the khedive Tewfik Pasha amid Ahmed ‘Urabi's nationalist uprising against his administration and its close ties to British and French financiers. He was joined in the show of force by a French flotilla as well. The move provided some security to the khedive, who withdrew his court to the now-protected port, but strengthened ‘Urabi's nationalists within the army and throughout the remainder of Egypt. On 11 June, anti-Christian riots began in Alexandria. The city's European residents fled and the Egyptian ‘Urabist army began fortifying and arming the harbor. An ultimatum to cease this build-up being refused, the British fleet began a 10½-hour bombardment of the city without French assistance. Historians argue about whether Admiral Seymour exaggerated the threat from the Egyptian batteries at Alexandria in order to force the hand of a reluctant Gladstone administration. Once the British had attacked the city, they then proceeded to a full-scale invasion to restore the authority of the khedive. Egypt remained under British occupation until 1956.


Main article: ‘Urabi Revolt

In 1869, Khedive Ismail of Egypt inaugurated the Suez Canal, which was a joint venture between the Egyptian Government and the French-led Suez Canal Company. During the excavation of the canal so many Egyptian workers died that it became common in the collective memory of Egyptians to say that Egyptian blood ran in the canal before the water of the seas. The canal cut sailing time from Britain to India by weeks and Britain's interest in Egypt grew.[2]

Due to the excessive spending of the Egyptian Government under the ambitious Khedive, Britain purchased the Khedive's shares of the Suez Canal company in 1875, thus becoming the controlling partner. French and British concern led to the establishment of an Anglo-French Condominium over Egypt which was still nominally under the Ottoman Empire. Egyptian nationalism was sparked and, after a revolt by Egyptian troops in 1881, complete control of the government was held by ‘Urabi Pasha by February 1882.[2] The rebellion expressed resentment of foreigners.[3]

‘Urabi organized a militia and marched on Alexandria. Meanwhile, the European powers gathered in Constantinople to discuss reestablishing the power of the Khedive and an Anglo-French fleet was ordered to the port of Alexandria. The Egyptians began reinforcing and upgrading their fortifications and the British House of Commons ordered ships to be temporarily dispatched from the Channel Fleet to Malta under Admiral Seymour's command.[1]

On 20 May the combined Anglo-French fleet, consisting of the British battleship HMS Invincible, the French ironclad La Galissonnière and four gunboats arrived in Alexandria. By 5 June, six more warships had entered Alexandria harbour and more cruised off the coast.[1] The reasons that the British government sent warships to Alexandria is an object of historical debate, with arguments proposed that it was to protect the Suez Canal and prevent "anarchy", and other arguments claiming that it was to protect the interests of British investors with assets in Egypt (see 1882 Anglo-Egyptian War).

The presence of the foreign fleet exacerbated the tensions in Alexandria between the nationalist forces and the large foreign and Christian population. On 11 and 12 June ferocious riots erupted, possibly started by ‘Urabi's supporters but also blamed upon the Khedive himself as a false flag operation.[3] Over 50 Europeans and 125 Egyptians were killed in the fracas that began near Place Mehmet Ali with British Admiral Seymour, who was ashore at the time, narrowly escaping the mob.[1] Upon learning of the riot, ‘Urabi ordered his forces to restore order.[4]

The reaction by European countries to the disturbance was swift. As refugees fled Alexandria, a flotilla of over 26 ships belonging to most of the countries of Europe gathered in the harbour. By 6 July nearly every non-Egyptian had evacuated Alexandria. Meanwhile, the garrison had continued to fortify the various forts and towers with additional guns until Admiral Seymour issued an ultimatum to ‘Urabi's forces to stop fortifying or the British fleet would bombard the city. That same day, the French Admiral Conrad, had informed Seymour that in the event of British bombardment, the French fleet would depart for Port Said and would not participate in the bombardment.[1]

The ultimatum, which was ignored amid denials of the defensive works by the Egyptian governor, was set to expire at 7:00 am on 11 July.


Plan of the Bombardement
British ships shelling Alexandria.

At 7:00 a.m. on 11 July 1882 Admiral Seymour aboard HMS Invincible signaled to HMS Alexandra to commence firing at the Ras El Tin fortifications followed by the general order to attack the enemy's batteries. According to Royle, "[a] steady cannonade was maintained by the attacking and defending forces, and for the next few hours the roar of the guns and the shrieks of passing shot and shell were alone audible."[1] The attack was carried out by the off-shore squadron as it was underway, the ships turning from time to time to keep up the barrage. This was not entirely effective and by 9:40, HMS Sultan, HMS Superb and HMS Alexandra anchored off the Lighthouse Fort and concentrated their now-stationary batteries on Ras El Tin. The fort battery was able to score hits, particularly on Alexandra, but by 12:30, Inflexible had joined the attack and the fort's guns were silenced.[1]

Meanwhile, HMS Temeraire had taken on the Mex Forts (with Invincible splitting its broadsides between Ras El Tin and Mex) and was causing damage to Mex when she grounded on a reef. The gunboat HMS Condor (Beresford) went to her assistance and she was refloated and resumed the attack on the Mex fort. While the off-shore squadron was engaging the forts at long-range, HMS Monarch, HMS Penelope and HMS Condor was ordered into close engagements with the forts at Maza El Kanat and Fort Marabout.[1]

HMS Condor seeing that Invincible was within range of the guns at Fort Marabout sailed to within 1,200 feet of the fort and began furiously firing at the fort. When Fort Marabout's guns were disabled, the flagship signaled "Well Done, Condor." The Condor's action allowed the ships to finish off Fort Mex.[1]

With the Mex Fort's guns silenced, HMS Sultan signaled to Invincible to attack Fort Adda, which she did with the assistance of Temeraire. At 1:30, a lucky shell from HMS Superb blew up the magazine of Fort Adda and those batteries ceased firing. At about this time, the British fleet began to run short of ammunition. However, nearly all of the guns from Fort Adda west were silenced. HMS Superb, Inflexible and Temeraire focused their fire on the remaining eastern forts until at 5:15, the general order to cease fire was issued. The Egyptians, both outmanned and outgunned had used their firepower to good effect, but the outcome of the bombardment had never been in doubt.[1] The Cairo newspaper El Taif erroneously reported that the Egyptian forts had sunk three ships.[1]

The next day, HMS Temeraire reconnoitered the forts and discovered that the Hospital battery had reconstituted its defences. At 10:30 a.m., Temeraire and Inflexible opened fire and the battery raised the flag of truce at 10:48 a.m. Very soon an Egyptian boat set out to the flagship bearing the flag of truce and a cease-fire was ordered. By 2:50 p.m., HMS Bittern signaled that the negotiations had failed and the bombardment was to resume. Still, most of the forts flew white flags and an irregular cannonade by the British fleet began.[1]

By 4:00 p.m. a fire had broken out on shore, and by evening the fire had engulfed the wealthiest quarter of Alexandria, the area predominantly inhabited by Europeans.[1] The fire raged for the next two days before it burned itself out. Admiral Seymour, unsure of the situation in the city didn't land any troops to take control of the city or fight the fire.[1] It was not until 14 July that British marines and sailors landed in Alexandria.

Photo in Alexandria after the bombardment and fire of 11–13 July 1882.


Fires continued to break out in Alexandria over the next few days and the city was chaotic and lawless which permitted Bedouins, among others, to loot the city.[1] British sailors and marines landed and attempted to take control of the blackened ruins of the city and prevent the looting, while propping up the Khedive's shaky government. Eventually order was restored and a month later, General Garnet Wolseley landed a large force of British troops in Alexandria as a staging location for attacking ‘Urabi near the Suez Canal at the Battle of Tell El Kebir.[1] Photographer Luigi Fiorillo created an album of fifty pages showing the changes in Alexandria from start to finish of this attack. These photos can now be found online at The American University of Cairo in the Rare Books and Special Collections Digital Library. This digital library was established in the fall of 2011 and the photographs of the Bombardment of Alexandria were compiled between June and August 2012.[5][6][7]

The bombardment was described in disparaging terms by British MP Henry Richard:

I find a man prowling about my house with obviously felonious purposes. I hasten to get locks and bars, and to barricade my windows. He says that is an insult and threat to him, and he batters down my doors, and declares that he does so only as an act of strict self-defence.[8]

After that the Urabi revolt was put down. Egypt became a British protectorate until 1922 and remained under British domination through the Second World War.

British Fleet

HMS Alexandra was the Flagship of the Mediterranean fleet, but at the Bombardment of Alexandria, Admiral Seymour transferred his flag to HMS Invincible
One of HMS Temeraire's 11 inch 25-ton disappearing muzzle-loading rifles. HMS Alexandra shelled the forts with similar guns.


Torpedo boat

Despatch boat


Egyptian Forts

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Royle, Charles (1900). The Egyptian Campaigns (1882-1885). London: Hurst and Blackett, Ltd. p. 606.
  2. 1 2 "'Well Done "Condor"': The Bombardment of Alexandria". National Maritime Museum. Retrieved 2013-09-24.
  3. 1 2 Karsh, Inari; Karsh, Efrain (1999). Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789-1923. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 409. ISBN 0-674-00541-4.
  4. Hopkins, A. G. (1986). "The Victorians and Africa: A Reconsideration of the Occupation of Egypt, 1882". The Journal of African History. 27 (2): 375. doi:10.1017/S0021853700036719. JSTOR 181140.
  5. "Fiorillo, Luigi | Armenian Photography Foundation". Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  6. "The National Archives | Exhibitions | British Battles". Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  7. "Portrait of Khedive Taufik Pasha :: Alexandria Bombardment of 1882 Photograph Album". Retrieved 2015-07-04.
  8. "Supply forces in the Mediterranean". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 25 July 1882. col. 1778.

Further reading

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