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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

The Rochefort squadron will set out on 20th nivose


The

compiler of the Ney "Memoirs," who was certainly well acquainted with the opinions of that Marshal, then commanding the troops at Boulogne, also believed that the flotilla was only able to serve as a gigantic ferry.[322] The French admirals were still better aware of the terrible risks to their crowded craft in a fight out at sea. They also pointed out that the difference in the size, draught, and speed of the boats must cause the dispersion of the flotilla, when its parts might fall a prey to the more seaworthy vessels of the enemy. Indeed, the only chance of crossing without much loss seemed to be offered by a protracted calm, when the British cruisers would be helpless against a combined attack of a cloud of row-boats. The risks would be greater during a fog, when the crowd of boats must be liable to collision, stranding on shoals, and losing their way. Even the departure of this quaint armada presented grave difficulties: it was found that the whole force could not clear the harbour in a single tide; and a part of the flotilla must therefore remain exposed to the British fire before the whole mass could get under way. For all these reasons Bruix, the commander of the flotilla, and Decres, Minister of Marine, dissuaded Napoleon from attempting the descent without the support of a powerful covering fleet.

Napoleon's correspondence shows that, by the close of the year 1803, he had abandoned that first fatuous scheme which gained him from the

wits of Paris the soubriquet of "Don Quixote de la Manche."[323] On the 7th of December he wrote to Gantheaume, maritime prefect at Toulon, urging him to press on the completion of his nine ships of the line and five frigates, and sketching plans of a naval combination that promised to insure the temporary command of the Channel. Of these only two need be cited here:

1. "The Toulon squadron will set out on 20th _nivose_ (January 10th, 1804), will arrive before Cadiz (or Lisbon), will find there the Rochefort squadron, will sail on without making land, between Brest and the Sorlingues, will touch at Cape La Hogue, and will pass in forty-eight hours before Boulogne: thence it will continue to the mouth of the Scheldt (there procuring masts, cordage, and all needful things)--or perhaps to Cherbourg.

2. "The Rochefort squadron will set out on 20th _nivose_, will reach Toulon the 20th _pluviose:_ the united squadrons will set sail in _ventose_, and arrive in _germinal_ before Boulogne--that is rather late. In any case the Egyptian Expedition will cover the departure of the Toulon squadron: everything will be managed _so that Nelson will first sail for Alexandria_."

These schemes reveal the strong and also the weak qualities of Napoleon. He perceived the strength of the central position which France enjoyed on her four coasts; and he now contrived all his dispositions, both naval and political, so as to tempt Nelson away eastwards from Toulon during the concentration of the French fleet in the Channel; and for this purpose he informed the military officers at Toulon that their destination was Taranto and the Morea. It was to these points that he wished to decoy Nelson; for this end had he sent his troops to Taranto, and kept up French intrigues in Corfu, the Morea, and Egypt; it was for this purpose that he charged that wily spy Mehee to inform Drake that the Toulon fleet was to take 40,000 French troops to the Morea, and that the Brest fleet, with 200 highly trained Irish officers, was intended solely for Ireland. But, while displaying consummate guile, he failed to allow for the uncertainties of operations conducted by sea. Ignoring the patent fact that the Toulon fleet was blockaded by Nelson, and that of Rochefort by Collingwood, he fixed the dates of their departure and junction as though he were ordering the movements of a _corps d'armee_ in Provence; and this craving for certainty was to mar his naval plans and dog his footsteps with the shadow of disaster.[324]


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