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The Bombardment of Acre 1840

HMS Powerful at the bombardment of Acre, 3 November 1840
HMS Powerful at the bombardment of Acre, 3 November 1840

The attack on the Syrian city of Acre ended a British campaign to limit the power of Mehemet Ali, the Viceroy of Egypt. Mehemet had declared independence from Turkey in 1838 after conquering Turkish Syria in 1832. He defeated another Turkish army in 1839 when the Turkish fleet also defected to the Egyptians.

Protecting Turkey, mainly from Russian influence, had always been of great concern to Britain and the Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston, decided that British forces in the area had to restore Turkish rule in Syria.

The French government opposed any intervention but their fleet was not ready for war. In September 1840 British, Austrian and Turkish troops led by Commodore Charles Napier, second-in-command of the Mediterranean Fleet, drove the Egyptians out of most of Syria's coastal towns. On 10 October Napier defeated an Egyptian Army led by Ibrahim Pasha leaving Acre as last remaining enemy stronghold.

The Mediterranean Fleet, commanded by Vice Admiral Sir Robert Stopford, and supported by small Austrian and Turkish squadrons moved into position against the western and southern sides of Acre on 3 November and opened fire at 1400. The ships anchored closer to the shore than expected, 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 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 1620 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 with only 18 men killed and 41 wounded. The ships had fired 48,000 rounds.

In return for hereditary rule in Egypt, Mehemet Ali quickly ordered the evacuation of Syria and the return of the Turkish fleet. The attack upon Acre highlighted the effectiveness of the Royal Navy's gunnery against targets ashore. During the Crimean War this was again demonstrated to great effect.

Further reading:

  • A. Lambert, "Stopford: Acre 1840" in E.J. Grove (Ed.) Great Battles of the Royal Navy (London, 1994).