Preparations and voyage
At the time of the invasion, the Directory had assumed executive power in France. It would resort to the army to maintain order in the face of the Jacobin and royalist threats, and count in particular on general Bonaparte, already a successful commander, having led the Italian campaign.
The notion of annexing Egypt as a French colony had been under discussion since François Baron de Tott undertook a secret mission to the Levant in 1777 to determine its feasibility. Baron de Tott's report was favorable, but no immediate action was taken. Nevertheless, Egypt became a topic of debate between Talleyrand and Napoleon, which continued in their correspondence during Napoleon's Italian campaign. In early 1798, Bonaparte proposed a military expedition to seize Egypt. In a letter to the Directory, he suggested this would protect French trade interests, attack British commerce, and undermine Britain's access to India and the East Indies, since Egypt was well-placed on the trade routes to these places. Bonaparte wished to establish a French presence in the Middle East, with the ultimate dream of linking with France's ally Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore in India. As France was not ready for a head-on attack on Great Britain itself, the Directory decided to intervene indirectly and create a "double port" connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, prefiguring the Suez Canal.
At the time, Egypt had been an Ottoman province since 1517, but was now out of direct Ottoman control, and was in disorder, with dissension among the ruling Mamluk elite. In France, "Egyptian" fashion was in full swing – intellectuals believed that Egypt was the cradle of western civilization and wished to conquer it. French traders already based on the River Nile were complaining of harassment by the Mamluks, and Napoleon wished to walk in the footsteps of Alexander the Great. He assured the Directory that "as soon as he had conquered Egypt, he will establish relations with the Indian princes and, together with them, attack the English in their possessions." According to a 13 February 1798 report by Talleyrand, "Having occupied and fortified Egypt, we shall send a force of 15,000 men from Suez to the Sultanate of Mysore, to join the forces of Tipu Sultan and drive away the English." The Directory agreed to the plan in March 1798, though troubled by its scope and cost. However, they saw that it would remove the popular and over-ambitious Napoleon from the center of power, though this motive long remained secret.
Before departure from Toulon
Rumors became rife as 40,000 soldiers and 10,000 sailors were gathered in French Mediterranean ports. A large fleet was assembled at Toulon: 13 ships of the line, 14 frigates, and 400 transports. To avoid interception by the British fleet under Nelson, the expedition's target was kept secret. It was known only to Bonaparte himself, his generals Berthier and Caffarelli, and the mathematician Gaspard Monge. Bonaparte was the commander, with subordinates including Thomas Alexandre Dumas, Kléber, Desaix, Berthier, Caffarelli, Lannes, Damas, Murat, Andréossy, Belliard, Menou, and Zajączek. His aides de camp included his brother Louis Bonaparte, Duroc, Eugène de Beauharnais, Thomas Prosper Jullien, and the Polish nobleman Joseph Sulkowski.
The fleet at Toulon was joined by squadrons from Genoa, Civitavecchia and Bastia and was put under the command of Admiral Brueys and Contre-amirals Villeneuve, Du Chayla, Decrès and Ganteaume.
The fleet was about to set sail when a crisis developed with Austria, and
the Directory recalled Bonaparte in case war broke out. The crisis was resolved in a few weeks, and Bonaparte received orders to travel to Toulon as soon as possible. It is claimedReubell gave him a pen saying "Sign there, general!"
that, in a stormy meeting with the Directory, Bonaparte threatened to dissolve them and director
Bonaparte arrived at Toulon on 9 May 1798, lodging with Benoît Georges de Najac, the officer in charge of preparing the fleet. The army embarked confident in their commander's talent and on 19 May, just as he embarked, Bonaparte addressed the troops, especially those who had served under him in the Armée d'Italie:
Soldiers! You are one of the wings of the French army. You have made war on the mountains, on the plains, and in cities; it remains for you to fight on the seas. The Roman legions, that you sometimes imitated but no longer equalled, fought Carthage now on this same sea and now on the plains of Zama... Soldiers, sailors, you have been neglected until this day; today, the greatest concern of the Republic is for you... The genius of liberty, which made you, at her birth, the arbiter of Europe, wants to be genius of the seas and the furthest nations.
Capture of Malta
Napoleon's arrival in Malta
When Napoleon's fleet arrived off Malta, Napoleon demanded that the Knights of Malta allow his fleet to enter the port and take on water and supplies. Grand Master von Hompesch replied that only two foreign ships would be allowed to enter the port at a time. Under that restriction, revictualling the French fleet would take weeks, and it would be vulnerable to the British fleet of Admiral Nelson. Napoleon therefore ordered the invasion of Malta.
The French Revolution had significantly reduced the Knights' income and their ability to put up serious resistance. Half of the Knights were French, and most of these knights refused to fight.
French troops disembarked in Malta at seven points on the morning of 11 June. Gen. Louis Baraguey d'Hilliers landed soldiers and cannon in the western part of the main island of Malta, under artillery fire from Maltese fortifications. The French troops met some initial resistance but pressed forward. The Knights' ill-prepared force in that region, numbering only about 2,000, regrouped. The French pressed on with their attack. After a fierce gun battle lasting twenty-four hours, most of the Knights' force in the west surrendered. Napoleon, during his stay in Malta, resided at Palazzo Parisio in Valletta.
Napoleon then opened negotiations. Faced with vastly superior French forces and the loss of western Malta, von Hompesch surrendered the main fortress of Valletta.