Gibraltar National Museum



Military History

The Fortifications of Gibraltar


Despite Gibraltar having been the pivotal entry point for the Umayyad troops under Ṭāriq ibn Ziyād's command in 711 in their conquest of Iberia, no permanent urban settlement seems to have been built on the Rock until the 12th century. It was not until the Berber Almohads arrived on the scene that the first town was built in Gibraltar with Abd al-Mu'min having been credited with its construcion in 1160 and renaming Gibraltar Madīnat al-Fath (City of Victory). This first city included palaces, a mosque, fortress, port, residences, water reservoir and distribuition systems. Along the walls were towers and parapets where archers could be positioned. In 1309 Castile besieged and captured Gibraltar after little more than two months, in what would later become known as the First Siege of Gibraltar. We know that all earlier documentary evidence about Gibraltar changing hands do not mention any drawn-out attack or persistant resistance, which tells us that the Rock's defences were rather low-key before then, at least in comparison. Following this siege, Gibraltar became a Christian outpost in an otherwise Islamic hinterland. 

Photo: Part of the Islamic city walls with a tower en bec, topped with merlons. (Wikimedia Commons/Prioryman)


The Second Siege came as soon as 1316 but Castile held out. Acknowledging the the Rock's precarious survival, Ferdinand IV of Castile invested heavily in the city's defences, extending and reinforcing the walls and towers, and building a dry dock (atarazana). Nevertheless, the Marinīds were successful in the Third Siege of Gibraltar of 1333 with Sultan Abū l-Ḥasan ibn ʿUtmān's son Abū Malik capturing the city and establishing himself here. It was during this period that the defences of Gibraltar were seriously enlarged, first by the Marinīds who, between 1340 and 1350 carried out major constructions such as completing the seawall southwards to the area of Rosia Bay ("strong walls as a halo surrounds the crescent moon"), as well as major restructuring of the castle's main tower, which has survived to this day. The Nasrids who came later added to the construction frenzy and it was tehrefore during the 14th century that the walls we know today started to take shape. The scale of this construction is perhaps best illustrated by an inscription which once existed above one of the city gates.


Photo: The 'Tower of Homage' is the largest surviving remnant of the Islamic defences. The impact craters on its eastern wall probably date to the Third Siege of 1333, when Alfonso XI of Castille established three siege engines above the castle. (Wikimedia Commons/Prioryman)


Image: Muhammed V Arabic inscription from Thomas James' The History of the Herculean Straits (1771).


Spanish times

The Reconquista of Gibraltar took place on 20 August 1462, the feast day of St. Bernard who the Christians named patron saint of Gibraltar. The Eighth Siege brought an end to an Islamic Gibraltar, just over 751 years after Ṭāriq arrived at its shores.

The arrival of the Spanish in 1462 coincided with the period when gunpowder was starting to appear in large quantities, meaning that the defences had to be altered. High thin walls and round towers suitable for archers were replaced by low thick walls and square towers which could withstand cannonballs. The towers were also widened so that batteries of defensive artillery pieces could be mounted there behind embrasures (gaps in the parapet wall to fire through). As these towers stuck   out from the ‘curtain’ walls in between, it meant that cannon mounted on the sides could fire across at attackers who got close enough to the base of the wall that the main line of guns could not fire down on them (this is called enfilading, or flanking fire). The largest of these towers were called bastions and were like mini forts with their own ammunition stores and troop shelters.


Another addition during this period followed an attack in 1540 by pirates who landed at Europa Point and found the entire southern flank of the city unprotected. To rectify this, a wall was built from South Bastion towards the Upper Rock. This was strengthened in 1552, when Emperor Charles V sent Italian engineer Giovani Battista to improve the defences. The upper section was completed during the reign of Philip II, who succeeded Charles in 1558. It was during this period that bastions were added to the wall, though never fully completed.

Image: Detailed sketch of Gibraltar's Northern Defences by Anton van den Wyngaerde (1567).


Image: Plan of Gibraltar by Luis Bravo de Acuña (1627).


British Gibraltar

Following the British capture of the Rock in 1704, they occupied and re-named the existing defensive positions and added more armament. There were two Spanish sieges, one the same year and one in 1727, causing a lot of damage, mostly to the batteries of the Northern Defences. These were repaired and added to using roughly-chiselled, unevenly sized white limestone blocks and grey mortar which typify British construction of this period. Good examples are the upper sections of North Bastion and Grand Battery. As Grand Battery protected the only land bridge into the city, it was supported by gun batteries on both sides which could provide flanking fire. In front there was a defensive ditch and beyond this a raised earthwork called a glacis. The glacis protected the front of the battery wall from artillery fire and also provided an exposed killing ground for any attackers on foot.


As the century progressed, so did the standard of the stone-working. Instead of the uneven, small pieces used before, in later constructions the stone was shaped into larger, rectangular blocks of the same height, which were laid in courses, like the rows of bricks in a modern wall. These large blocks were much more resistant to cannon-fire. A good example is the base of King’s Bastion.


William Green

Previous Spanish attacks had mainly been from the isthmus, so emphasis was always placed on the Northern Defences, but William Green, the new Chief Engineer for Gibraltar, realised that in future, sea assaults were far more likely. In 1770 he submitted very detailed proposals for the enhancement of the defences. The Line Wall would be strengthened against amphibious assault, with Howitzers and mortars placed there to destroy attacking ships. An extra gun platform called a cavalier was to be built on top of Montagu Bastion and Orange Battery up-graded to a half, or Demi-Bastion. A new, major 24 gun bastion was to be built halfway down the sea wall (this would later be called King’s Bastion) and Charles V Wall was to be strengthened and armed to protect the southern flank. Additionally, thick-roofed protective ammunition stores and barracks, called Casemates, were to be built to protect the troops in a number of locations. The proposals were adopted and work began straight away. Not everything was completed before the start of the Great Siege in 1779 and some works continued to be carried out even under enemy fire, but Green’s proposals proved crucial to the successful defence of the Rock.


King’s Bastion was General Eliott’s headquarters throughout the siege and the main gun platform engaging the floating batteries during the grand attack, hence it received a lot of fire. Casualty reports compiled after the attack showed that a large number of soldiers were incapacitated by flying fragments of limestone broken off from the sides of the gun embrasures, after they were struck by enemy cannonballs and musket balls. The limestone here was replaced by sandstone, which would turn to powder when hit, significantly reducing injuries. This sandstone is pink in colour and is obvious on the side batteries of King’s Bastion and many other batteries as well.


William Green remained active after the siege ended in 1783, later recommending the construction of counterguards on land reclaimed from the sea outside North, Montagu and Orange Bastions. These were thick walls forming an extra line of defence. At ground level there were casemates from where soldiers could fire their muskets through ‘loopholes’ at attacking troops. On the roof were embrasures for extra cannon. These were lower than those on the bastions, giving a double tier of cannon fire. The three counterguards, West Place of Arms, Montagu and Chatham, were built 1796-1804.


Sir John Jones

With the advent of faster, steam-propelled vessels carrying more powerful guns, the next important changes came following the visit of major-general Sir John Thomas Jones of the Royal Engineers in 1841. He proposed reinforcing the Line Wall with new, thicker walls, on which heavier cannon could be placed. To this end, casemated barracks and ammunition stores, topped with embrasures were built in front if the original Moorish line wall to form Wellington and Prince Albert’s Fronts. Wellington Front had a Left and Right Bastion, and Prince Albert’s Front a single, wide bastion called Zoca Flank Battery (zoca derived from the Moorish market, or ‘souk’ which was previously sited there). New curtain walls linked these bastions from South Bastion to King’s Bastion and from there to Orange and Montagu Bastions, which were also up-graded at the same time. In between the gun embrasures on top, raised steps called banquettes were built. Infantry soldiers could stand on these to fire their muskets down onto the enemy, then climb down to re-load in safety.


The limestone blocks for these were quarried locally and also shipped over from Portland in England. The development of steam-powered saws to cut the stone meant that these blocks have a much smoother finish and sharper edges than the hammer & chisel finished blocks on earlier walls and bastions.


Colonel William Jervois

In the 1860s, the appearance of fast, armoured vessels carrying much larger guns than previously, meant that Gibraltar’s defences became wholly inadequate. Following a report by Colonel William Jervois in 1868, the new large rifled muzzle loading gun (RML) was adopted for coastal defence. Some of these guns would be mounted in the South, or in retired positions higher up on the Rock, but others would be mounted on the existing bastions of the city walls, which had to be adapted to take them. Many small cannon gave way to a few large ones and low parapets with embrasures were replaced with large, stone clad side walls called merlons, which housed ammunition magazines. The area directly in front of the gun between the merlons was protected by the laminated teak and iron Gibraltar Shield which had a small gun port in it. In other areas, some of the RML positions were open-topped, but along the city walls all but South Bastion had overhead cover as well. The RMLs mounted along the city walls were as follows:

  • South Bastion; 3x 10-inch guns;
  • Wellington Front Right Bastion; 1x 12.5-inch;
  • King’s Bastion; 4x 10 inch, plus 1x 12.5-inch;
  • Zoca Flank Battery; 1x 12.5-inch;
  • Orange Bastion; 2x 10-inch;
  • Montagu Bastion; 3x 10-inch.


The dominance of the RML was short lived and in fewer than 20 years the Gibraltar RMLs became obsolete, without ever firing a shot in anger.


The Advent of the 20th Century

This period saw two technological advances which would turn the defensive city walls into an historic relic. The first was the move to Quick-Firing (QF) Breech Loading (BL) guns. The largest of these had over four times the range of RMLs, so did not need to be close to the sea. Instead, they were mounted high up on the Rock, on protected rotating turrets, which gave them a much greater field of fire. They could destroy any large vessel approaching. The smaller guns were now mounted on the newly constructed moles, far in front of the walls, from where they could give short-range protection against small, fast craft trying to enter the harbour.


The second advance was the emergence of the aircraft as a weapon of war. An aircraft could fly straight over the walls and drop its bombs anywhere it wanted. The guns on the walls were too slow and could not be elevated high enough to engage these targets.


During the First World War, with no direct threat of invasion, many of these former batteries remained un-manned, or were used for storage.


Second World War

By the mid-1930s it was clear that war was looming and that Gibraltar would play an important role, therefore the defences started to be brought up-to-date. The bastions, although no longer suitable for coastal defence, did provide ideal platforms for anti-aircraft batteries, so they got a new lease of life. They were equipped with heavy 3.7 inch and light Bofors 40mm anti- aircraft guns, searchlights and troop shelters. These batteries saw action during the Italian and Vichy French air-raids of 1940-42.


World War II (WWII) construction is characterised by the use of concrete with iron reinforcing bars inside and corrugated iron sheets. Unfortunately, the concrete was mixed with seawater. Over time the salt causes a chemical reaction and the concrete starts to ‘spall’, or break up. The result is that the earlier British, Spanish and even Moorish constructions beneath are still in excellent condition, but the WWII additions are in a very poor state and many have been removed altogether.

The Development of Artillery

Gibraltar is an ideal location in which to study the development of artillery as it retains tangible examples of various important stages.

In Medieval times the main long-range weapon was the bow & arrow. For attacking heavy fortifications they used a catapult to hurl stones at the walls. These catapults were called siege engines or trebuchets. In the 1300s gunpowder or black powder arrived in Europe from China, brought here by the Moors, revolutionising warfare in Europe with the advent of the cannon. The first recorded use of a cannon in Europe was to defend the city of Algeciras during the siege of 1343-44.

Early cannon were made with long metal staves heated and hammered together with hoops then added on top to reinforce them. This was exactly the same method used to make wine barrels and that’s why this part of a gun is still called the barrel today.

Early on there was lots of experimentation with different ideas such as loading from the back end, called the breech, and using different materials, even including a Swedish design for a leather cannon, but from the 1500s to the mid-1800s most cannon conformed to a fairly standard design which changed little.

Metal, usually iron or bronze, was heated until molten, then poured into a sand mould. The mould contained an iron bar, covered in clay, called a Newel. This created a smooth inner barrel, called the bore and these guns were loaded from the front end, or muzzle. Two round bars sticking out of the barrel at about the balance point were called trunnions and were used to mount the cannon on a carriage. They allowed the barrel to pivot up and down. The rear end had a rounded dome called the cascabel.

To load the cannon, a quantity of black powder was ladled into the barrel and rammed in, followed by a ‘wadding’ of cloth or straw. Then a solid iron cannonball of slightly less diameter than the bore was rammed in, followed by more wadding. At the back of the bore was a hollow tube called the touch hole which went to the outside of the barrel. This was filled with fine-grained powder. To fire the cannon, a smouldering piece of thick string, called a slow match, was placed on the touch hole. This burnt the fine powder, which then exploded the powder in the bore, sending the cannonball shooting forward to its target. Before re-loading, the barrel had to be cleaned. A long rod with the end shaped like a corkscrew was used to scrape away solidified powder residue, then a wet swab was used to clean out any embers that remained. A practiced crew could fire a shot every two minutes.

Cannon were known by the weight of the ball, or ‘shot’ which they fired, in pounds. Early guns were as little as only three or four pounders, but gradually they got bigger. 18, 24 and 32 pounders were common sizes. The last and biggest were 64 and 68 pounders. With the increase in size, so the maximum range increased. Minimum range was when the barrel was exactly horizontal, or ‘point-blank’, but if the barrel was elevated, the range increased. An elevation of only five degrees could increase the range four-fold. Typical ranges are for a 9 pounder(pdr) – 1.2km, 24pdr – 1.8km and 32pdr – 2.4km. The barrel was set to the required elevation with a wooden wedge called a quoin placed under the cascabel. As the enemy got closer, the quoin was hammered in, pivoting the muzzle down and reducing the range. Later Victorian guns used a screw system instead.

Although cannon changed little, the carriages they were mounted on did. For field use they were originally static and could only be moved by placing them on sturdy wagons and hauling them into position with oxen, but by the late 1600s small guns could be mounted on a wheeled limber and the gun moved quickly by horse to where needed on the battlefield – the first truly mobile land artillery.

On board ship, cannon did not need this degree of mobility, so naval carriages had four small wheels used to help aim the gun and ‘run it out’ – push it forward to its firing position after it had recoiled from a previous shot and been cleaned and reloaded. Many naval guns had a heavy metal loop on the cascabel called a pomellion. A wide rope passed through this and was fixed to the hull on both sides, to reduce recoil. To help running out, ropes with pulleys, called breeching lines, ran from the carriage to the ship’s hull.

Cannon for use in static land defensive positions like Gibraltar were mounted on Garrison Carriages, which were similar to the naval carriages, but here there was a special development. In 1782, Lieutenant George Koehler of the Royal Artillery demonstrated the special ‘Depression Carriage’ which he had invented. Because of the need to fire downwards from the north face of the Rock, he adapted a standard garrison carriage to fit on a special platform. This could be raised at the back to allow the cannon to fire down at angles up to 70 degrees (extra wadding was packed in after the cannonball, so it did not roll out prematurely). The carriage could slide on the platform, so when it fired, gravity reduced the upwards recoil and stopped the platform from moving, making the shot more accurate. Additionally, the barrel could be pivoted sideways, so when operated from an embrasure the crew were protected from enemy fire through the narrow aperture whilst they cleaned and re-loaded.

Some specialist types of cannon did emerge. Short, wide-diameter Howitzers and Mortars fired in a high arc. Mortar bombs were unlike solid cannonballs. They were hollow, packed with powder and fitted with a fuse, designed to explode above the enemy. This was particularly devastating when used against troops on open ground.

There were problems with cannon. Because the barrel was slightly wider than the cannonball, there was a slight gap between the two, called ‘windage’ and this had two effects. Firstly, some of the explosive power of the gunpowder escaped past the cannonball, reducing its force, and hence the range of the shot. Secondly, as the cannonball ‘rattled’ out of the barrel, each shot went in a slightly different direction. This poor accuracy meant that many cannon had to be used to increase the chances of hitting the target.

Another major problem was the basic casting process used to make the guns, which made them liable to split or even blow up when fired – this could have fatal consequences for the crew. It has been suggested that Artillerymen were at as much risk of death from their own cannon as from those of the enemy. The solution to this problem would soon be provided by improving technology. The invention of the metal-cutting lathe meant that as from 1739, cannon could be cast in one piece, then bored out ‘from the solid’. The resultant guns were very much stronger and less likely to split. This not only improved safety, but also meant that larger and more powerful guns could be made.

Improvements in engineering and technology during the industrial revolution would bring about the greatest changes in artillery for 300 years, one of which was rifling. Steel became commercially available in the 1850s and a steel tube could have a number of spiral grooves running down its length, called rifling. When used in a barrel, these grooves would spin the projectile, markedly increasing its range and accuracy, making smooth-bore guns obsolete. Some large smooth-bore guns were ground out and had a rifled tube inserted, but new ones, were purpose-built.

Sir William Armstrong was an innovative engineer from Tyneside, who supplied cannon to the military. He had produced breech-loading guns for them, but as problems were envisaged with these, the Admiralty preferred to stick to the existing system and in 1865 adopted his design for a new Rifled Muzzle Loader, or RML. His system was to take a strong central steel tube, then shrink onto it hoops of wrought iron, with the thickest section at the back end of the barrel, where the force of the exploding gunpowder was greatest. These steel and wrought iron guns proved much stronger than the old cast ones and could be made much bigger. The Admiralty produced a large number of these guns, which were classified not by the weight of the projectile, but by the diameter of the bore. They were primarily intended to be mounted on ships, but as they were also ideal for coastal defence, many were sent to Gibraltar.

Because the RMLs were more powerful, more accurate and with a longer range than the old smooth-bores, Gibraltar’s bastions had to be adapted to take them, with many small guns being replaced by a few large ones. Batteries, like Parson’s Lodge, were fitted with two or three 10-inch, 18-ton guns, protected on the sides by thick stone walls and in front by the laminated iron and teak shield invented in Gibraltar and now known everywhere as the ‘Gibraltar Shield’. Other places, like Harding’s Battery at Europa Point, housed a single 12.5-inch, 38-ton gun in a round, open-topped, enclosure called a Barbette. The wheeled carriage sat on a platform which for the larger guns was fitted with a water tank and hydraulic buffer to absorb the recoil. The platform could traverse (move left and right) on wheels that ran on a curved iron track called a racer. King’s Bastion housed four 10-inch RMLs, with a single 12.5-inch in the middle.

The largest RML produced by William Armstrong was a 17.72-inch, 100-ton gun, first made in 1870. The Admiralty rejected it, until the Italian Navy bought four to mount on their ‘Duilio’ class battleships. This made British naval bases in the Mediterranean vulnerable, so the Admiralty purchased four, two for Malta and two for Gibraltar. The one at Lord Napier of Magdala Battery still sits on its mountings today.

As the guns themselves changed dramatically, so did the ammunition they fired. Round shot gave way to longer, more aerodynamic shells. To engage the rifling, to spin the shell and make it more accurate, early shells were fitted with studs. Later ‘studless’ shells had a shaped, bronze ‘gas check’ ring at the base which fitted the grooves and which expanded when the powder exploded, eliminating windage and increasing range. Shells could be ‘Common’, containing ordinary explosive, ‘Shrapnel’, containing metal bullets, or ‘Palliser’, depending on the target. These were detonated by timed or impact-operated fuses.

During the late 1800s, wooden-hulled ships were being replaced by armour-plated vessels, which were immune to a standard shell. Major William Palliser developed a way of rapidly cooling the cast pointed nose of the shell, making it so hard that it would penetrate the thickest armour of the time. The ‘Palliser’, or armour-piercing shell was born.

Powder was no longer loose-ladled, but pre-packed in silk bags, which after being rammed in, had to be pricked through the touch-hole to expose the powder. Silk was used as it almost all burnt away, leaving little residue. Instead of loose powder and a slow match, the charge was ignited by a friction tube inserted in the touch-hole. When a rope lanyard on the tube was pulled, it operated like striking a match on a matchbox. Later RMLs used a wire heated by electricity to achieve ignition. In a 10-inch RML, a charge-bag of 70 pounds (32kg) of powder could fire a Palliser shell weighing 400 pounds (181kg) over four kilometres. Loading was still done by hand and took around three minutes. The development of optical sights at this time helped to improve accuracy. In the 1870s and 1880s these large RMLs were the ultimate weapon, but by the 1890s they, like the old smooth-bores they replaced, also became obsolete. They never fired a shot in anger in Gibraltar.

Although the Admiralty had abandoned the idea of breech-loading (BL), other nations continued to develop the technology, making it safe. The year 1890 saw the first of the new large breech-loading (BL) guns enter service on the Rock. As they were loaded from the rear, the charge could be placed in a case attached to the shell to make it one unit like the ‘bullet’ we are familiar with today. This made hydraulically-assisted loading, and hence firing, much faster, so these guns were designated Quick-Firing (QF). Another improvement was to replace gunpowder with cordite. Loose powder ignited all in one go, which meant that the shell was slowing down even before it left the barrel. Spaghetti-like sticks of cordite took more time to burn, so with a longer barrel the accelerating force was greater and the range much longer. A small hollow cylinder, called a percussion cap, was fitted to the base of the case. It was filled with a shock-sensitive explosive and, when struck by a ‘firing pin’, ignited the cordite and fired the gun.

For large targets, the replacement for the RMLs was the 9.2-inch BL gun and a line of 14 of these was installed at the south end and along the ridge of the Rock. With a range of over 25 km, they could cover across to Africa, totally dominating the area. Able to fire illuminating shells and depth-charges, as well as armour-piercing explosive shells, the result was that Britain controlled passage through the Strait all through the First and Second World Wars. These guns were still being operated by the Gibraltar Regiment in the 1970s. For smaller medium-range targets a 6-inch BL was adopted (Devil’s Gap Battery has two examples) and for close-range a 12-pounder. This was Britain’s standard coastal defence armament for over 50 years.

The Second World War (WWII) saw the introduction of the Ordnance 6 pounder-QF gun. This was designed primarily as a mobile anti-tank weapon, but also proved ideal for static defence against landing craft, which is why two of these are found at Parson’s Lodge.

A new feature of 20th Century warfare was the advent of aircraft attacks, against which a quick-firing capability and automatic re-loading were essential. During the First World Wart (WWI) the British developed a 3-inch heavy anti-aircraft gun, joined in WWII by a larger 3.7-inch version. Many were mounted in Gibraltar and one still sits next to the 100-ton gun. Lighter anti-aircraft defence was provided by the Bofors 40mm gun. Again, many were sited here to defend the Rock, including one which sat on the roof of Parson’s Lodge. Its mounting post is still there today.

The Great Siege of Gibraltar

George Augustus Eliott, 1st Baron Heathfield (Joshua Reynolds)With The American War of Independence raging, France and Spain saw an opportunity to take advantage of Britain’s stretched forces. They allied themselves with the Americans and declared war on Britain. Their plan was to firstly capture Gibraltar, then invade mainland Britain.


Gibraltar was so strategically important that it became an obvious target for attack, so its defences were considerably strengthened. 1772 saw the formation of the Artificer Corps, forerunners of today’s Royal Engineers. These were soldier/tradesmen, combat troops also skilled in the construction of defence works. In 1777, Colonel William Green suggested further modifications to the defences, which included the construction of the King’s Bastion.


On 24th June 1779, birthday of King George III, hostilities began. The French and Spanish blockaded the port to stop supplies coming in, believing they would quickly bring the garrison to its knees, but this proved not to be the case. Despite outbreaks of scurvy and other sickness due to the lack of fresh food and constant bombardment by Spanish artillery, morale remained high under the leadership of the governor, General George Augustus Eliott.


Admiral Rodney's fleet anchored in the Bay (Dominic Serres)

The British position was improved with the arrival of two relief convoys, the first in January 1780 under Admiral Rodney and the second in April 1781 under Admiral Darby. They brought in much needed food, supplies and extra troops and evacuated some of the civilian population.


A further boost to British morale came in November 1781. The enemy were building new trenches and batteries on the isthmus, to bring their cannon closer to the town and inflict more damage. General Eliott ordered a sortie, so on the evening of 26th, 2,500 troops crossed the isthmus and attacked the Spanish lines. They destroyed 28 pieces of artillery and trenches, blew up magazines and inflicted heavy losses on the Spanish troops, at a cost of only four British killed. A Spanish logbook captured in the attack had already been filled in with the entry ‘nothing occurred this night’.


Koehler's Depressing Carriage, as depicted by its inventorThe siege saw two major advances for the British gunners. In February 1782, Lieutenant Koehler of the Royal Artillery first demonstrated the Depression Carriage he had invented. This allowed a cannon to be easily pointed down from high up on the North Face to fire down on the enemy below. The sheer nature of this North Face meant that some of the approaches could not be covered by the British guns, so in May a group of artificers under Sergeant Major Henry Ince started work on the first tunnel in Gibraltar. The original plan was to tunnel to a protruding rock called the Notch and place a cannon there, but during construction they opened up a small hole in the side of the tunnel to aid ventilation and realized that it would make a perfect gun embrasure. Eventually these Upper Galleries or Great Siege Tunnels would house 17 guns, completely covering the northern approaches.


The Galleries by Cooper Willyams, 1800In early 1782, under the leadership of the Duc De Crillon, French troops captured the island of Menorca from the British. He was then appointed commander of the siege of Gibraltar to give it fresh impetus. His aide, Colonel D’Arcon, came up with a plan for a massive amphibious assault on the Garrison, led by 10 floating batteries. These were specially adapted large sailing vessels, equipped with many cannon and thick walls to protect the crew. On 13th September the Grand Attack was launched. The batteries manoeuvred into line opposite King’s Bastion and began to pound the town. At first the British return fire was ineffective, but then they started to heat cannonballs in a furnace. These red-hot shot proved far better. By late afternoon the two main ships were on fire and by one in the morning they were abandoned and the other batteries set on fire so they could not be captured. This was a crushing defeat for the Franco-Spanish and the last major offensive of the siege.


The Siege of Gibraltar 1782 by George Carter

A third and final relief convoy arrived in October under Admiral Howe and on 2nd February, 1783, a truce was signed with Britain keeping Gibraltar and the Franco-Spanish taking Menorca and parts of the West Indies and Florida.


The siege lasted three years and seven months and was the longest in British military history. The garrison of 7,000 was heavily outnumbered by 40,000 French and Spanish troops, but still managed to hold on. The number of enemy losses is not known exactly, but is considered very high. The British military lost 333 dead and 138 disabled through enemy action, but a further 536 died of sickness.