Egyptian–Ottoman War (1839–41)
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|Second Egyptian–Ottoman War|
|Part of Campaigns of Muhammad Ali of Egypt|
Allied powers:Ottoman Empire British Empire Austrian Empire Russian Empire Kingdom of Prussia
Egypt-aligned powers:Egypt Kingdom of the French Spain
The Second Egyptian–Ottoman War or Second Turko–Egyptian War lasted from 1839 until 1841 and was fought mainly in Syria, whence it is sometimes referred as the (Second) Syrian War.
In 1839, the Ottoman Empire moved to reoccupy lands lost to Muhammad Ali in the First Turko-Egyptian War. The Ottoman Empire invaded Syria, but after suffering a defeat at the Battle of Nezib appeared on the verge of collapse. On 1 July, the Ottoman fleet sailed to Alexandria and surrendered to Muhammad Ali. Britain, Austria and other European nations, rushed to intervene and force Egypt into accepting a peace treaty. From September to November 1840, a combined naval fleet, made up of British and Austrian vessels, cut off Ibrahim's sea communications with Egypt, followed by the occupation of Beirut and Acre by the British. On 27 November 1840, the Convention of Alexandria took place. British Admiral Charles Napier reached an agreement with the Egyptian government, where the latter abandoned its claims to Syria and returned the Ottoman fleet.
The war was the climax of the long power-struggle between the Ottoman Empire and the Pasha of Egypt, Mehmet Ali, which had reached a point of crisis that threatened to destabilize the whole of the Levant.
On June 29, 1839 an invading Ottoman army (accompanied by Moltke the Elder) was destroyed in Syria by Mohamed Ali's general Ibrahim Pasha at the Battle of Nezib, putting him in possession of the whole of Syria. This threatened to place Constantinople itself and the rule of the entire Eastern Mediterranean within his grasp. A few days after the battle the Ottoman Sultan, Mahmud II, died, leaving his Empire in the hands of his 16-year-old heir Abdülmecid. Meanwhile, the Ottoman fleet had defected to Mohamed Ali. Britain, Russia and Austria were all pledged to support the tottering Ottoman Empire and to force Mehmet Ali (who had the support of France and Spain) to withdraw from Syria.
Although the new Sultan's ministers moved to resolve the crisis by offering to cede the rule of Syria to Mehmet, the British, Austrian and Russian ambassadors forced them to rescind this offer and stand firm against him. There was even a possibility of war with France, who looked to Mehmet's success to increase its sphere of influence in the Near East.
In June 1840 Admiral Sir Robert Stopford, commanding the British Mediterranean Fleet, sent Commodore Charles Napier with a small squadron to the Syrian (now the Lebanese) coast. He was then ordered to proceed to Beirut to compel the Egyptians to withdraw. The situation on the ground was extremely volatile, and called for quick and decisive action; this Napier provided, acting as if his was an entirely independent command.
On August 11, 1840, Napier's ships appeared off Beirut and he called upon Suleiman Pasha, Mehmet's governor, to abandon the town and leave Syria, whose population shortly revolted against Mehmet's occupying army. With such a small force, there was little that Napier could do against fifteen-thousand Egyptian troops until September, when Stopford's ships joined up with him. Open war broke out on September 11, when Napier bombarded Beirut and effected a landing at Jounieh with 1,500 Turks and Marines to operate against Ibrahim, who was prevented by the revolt from doing more than trying to hold the coastal cities.
Sidon, Nahr-el-Kelb and Boharsef
Due to the illness of the Brigadier-General of the army, Sir Charles Smith, Napier was instructed to command the land force and made a successful sortie against a force of Albanians at Nahr-el-Kelb (Kelbson). He then, with a mixed squadron of British, Turkish and Austrian ships, bombarded Sidon on September 26 and landed with the storming column. Sidon capitulated in two days. While preparing to attack the Egyptian positions on the heights of Boharsef, Napier received an order to retire from the command of the land forces to make way for Brigadier-General Smith, who had recovered from his illness, and also had received command of the Turkish force in the allied army. To do this, Napier would need to retreat from his position; he decided to disobey the order and continued with the attack against Ibrahim's army. The fighting, on October 9 was furious but victory was secured. Napier then left the land forces to Smith. Meanwhile, the Egyptians had abandoned Beirut on October 3.
Bombardment of Acre
The fleet was then instructed to retake Acre, which was the only coastal position left in Egyptian hands. The Mediterranean Fleet, commanded by Stopford, and supported by small Austrian and Turkish squadrons, moved into position against the western and southern sides of Acre on November 3 and opened fire at 14:00. The ships anchored closer to the shore than expected, at 450–800 metres, and the Egyptian guns were aimed too high. The fire of the ships was devastatingly accurate thanks to the training associated with the Royal Navy's new gunnery school, HMS Excellent. The Egyptians had no opportunity to correct their error; their guns were disabled by direct hits and by the walls of the fortifications falling on their crews. The sailing ships of the line were in two lines with steamers manoeuvring in between. At 16:20 a shell penetrated the main magazine in the south of the city, which exploded killing 1,100 men. The guns ashore fell silent and that night the city was occupied. British losses were light: 18 men killed and 41 wounded. The ships had fired 48,000 rounds.
Resolution of the conflict
The rapid collapse of Mehmet Ali's power, with the prospect of bloody chaos in Egypt, was not part of the Allies' plan, and Stopford sent Napier to command the squadron at Alexandria and to observe the situation. Here, acting independently again, he appeared before the city with part of his squadron on November 25 and enforced a blockade. Then without reference to his Admiral or the British government he personally negotiated a peace with Mehmet Ali, guaranteeing him and his heirs the sovereignty of Egypt, and pledging to evacuate Ibrahim's beleaguered army back to Alexandria, if Mehmet in turn renounced all claims to Syria, submitted to the Sultan and returned the Ottoman fleet. Stopford and the British ambassador were furious with this outcome. Stopford repudiated it immediately when he had heard the news and several of the Allied powers declared it void. Despite Napier’s long-standing personal friendship with Lord Palmerston, the arrangement was at first denounced by the British government; but the formal treaty later concluded and confirmed by the Sultan used Napier’s original as the basis for negotiations and differed from it only in minor ways.
- Dupuy, Trevor, The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History. Macdonald and Jane's, 1977.
- Aksan, Virginia. Ottoman Wars, 1700-1870: An Empire Besieged (Routledge, 2014).
- Anderson, M.S. The Great Powers and the Near East, 1774-1923 (Edward Arnold, 1970).