Napoleon sailed from Toulon on 20 May. The French expedition used several ports as well as Toulon, including Marseilles, Genoa, Civitavecchia and the ports of Corsica, making the level of secrecy even more impressive. The soldiers themselves were not informed of their destination until they were at sea.
The expedition’s first success came at Malta. The fleet reached the island on 9 June. Three days later, Napoleon was in control. The Knights of St John were dissolved, their treasure looted and the island thoroughly reformed, before the fleet sailed on leaving a French garrison that was to hold Malta for the next two years.
The next leg of the voyage saw a close encounter with Nelson’s fleet. On the night of 22-23 June, French officers heard signals guns from the British fleet. Napoleon refused to believe that any significant British fleet could possibly be in the Mediterranean, no alarm was called and the fleets passed in the night. Finally, on the morning of 1 July, just after Nelson had sailed north in frustration, the French fleet reached the Egyptian coast.