French Conquest of Sicily 1808

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Bad@logic, Jan 13, 2018.

  1. Bad@logic Well-Known Member

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    In 1808 a French fleet was supposed to set out from Toulon (it was also joined by the Rochefort squadron, although the Cadiz and Lorient squadrons could not reach the sea, which brought it up to 10 ships of the line) with the objective of winning control of the Strait of Messina for the short amount of time required for Murat's army to cross the narrow body of water and take control of the island, something which the English considered eminently possible in reason of the unreliable nature of Sicilian troops and their own limited forces available. Forces had been previously drawn off with departure of English troops under Moore so as to leave only 9,000 troops remaining. Furthermore, the last fortresses on the Italian sides of the straits still held by the English had been captured, and the French had substantially added to their artillery in the endeavor by capturing English and Kingdom of Two Sicily ships. Moore believed that if a strong landing would mean the British would have to withdraw into their fortresses and at best seek a favorable capitulation. By contrast French plans could put at least 18,000 troops ashore, both from Calabria and with transports from Naples. The plan was risky, but as The War in the Mediterranean 1803 admits, "with sufficient luck the plan could succeed," provided secrecy was maintained.

    Ultimately orders from Napoleon modified it and the fleet carried supplies to Corfu instead, apparently upon the belief that a collapse of the Ottoman Empire was soon to come and so the French had to have troops ready to rapidly march and seize their due territory from it. The fleet reached Corfu despite some weather problems, having avoided the English fleet, and ultimately returned home, and Napoleon was satisfied at the "training" cruise thus conducted. However, Sicily remained in the British hands, the supply situation at Corfu was already good and didn't require reinforcements (in particular 2/3 transports were lost along the way and not all supplies were unloaded from the ships of the line so the fleet didn't actually give as many supplies as hoped), and the Ottoman Empire of course, did not collapse, making the whole point moot.

    So what if Napoleon didn't issue his orders, and the fleet did manage to win its mission, seizing control of the Strait of Messina and enabling Murat's army to cross and take Sicily for the Napoleonic Empire? Not only would the bases that Sicily provided be gone for the British, but furthermore Sicily was vital to providing the necessary food for Malta, and in addition bases along the southern shore are well suited for a surprise descent on Malta. It isn't impossible therefor that Malta might have to be evacuated by the British due to supply problems, and in effect the French would have strategic superiority in bases over at least the Eastern and possibly the Central Mediterranean, and certainly English operations in blockading Toulon and the Adriatic would become much harder.

    Could it have any significant impact upon the rest of the war, or does the Spanish campaign's arrival shortly mean that any such operations are obsolete?
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2018
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  2. Faeelin Lord of Ten Thousand Years

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    Is there a reason Wellignton can't be sent to Sicily instead? This seems rather disastrous since the British can always try to retake the Straits.
     
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  3. AussieHawker New Found Daenerys Loyalist

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    Doesn't mean they can do it. By the time they muster a new force and fleet to the area, the French could have taken control of the whole island, and refortified both sides of the strait. And they could likely sustain themselves in the short to medium term in Sicily.
     
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  4. Faeelin Lord of Ten Thousand Years

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    Maybe! On the other hand, there were partisan bands opposing the French in Naples in OTL, and Sicily is just another step farther. Seems like it could be messy.
     
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  5. Bad@logic Well-Known Member

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    He could, which is a problem for the French, since now the French lines that they have to defend are longer. In 1806 the French were forced to give up Calabria due to British field forces operating from Sicily, and holding Sicily just makes their lines longer since they now hold both the mainland and the island and have to defend both. I doubt that one central army can be used in both territories, so there would have to be two, which risks being divided and destroyed.
    On the other hand, retaking the Straits of Messina is an extremely difficult scenario. It was already chancy at the time for ships to go through the straits under the fire of French shore batteries, and communications were shifted to overland for some things. Ships could still go through, but it required good weather, as in bad weather they could get swept under the French guns. With guns on the opposite shore, it would be essentially impossible for any sustained traffic to be made through the straits. There were fortifications on the mainland side at least, enough to withstand at least a short siege, and I imagine the same on the Sicilian side so cutting off the French army in Sicily would be a difficult prospect. Furthermore, the mainland territories had been well pacified and there isn't the depth for Sicily to have a serious guerrilla campaign.
     
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