The Capture of Gibraltar.

 

On board his flagship, the 'Royal Katherine', Admiral George Rooke examined his charts for a final time. It was imperative that the attack on the small Spanish town of Gibraltar was a success, nothing was to be left to chance.

In June 1704, Rooke and Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt had failed to take Barcelona during the War of the Spanish Succession. Rooke had then evaded pressure from his allies to make another attempt on Cádiz. However, in order to compensate for their lack of success and 'save face' it was essential for the allied commanders to capture Gibraltar.

Rooke was not the first to cast envious eyes on Gibraltar's Rock. Both Oliver Cromwell and William III had previously shown interest in it before Queen Anne's ministers had marked it for England. Although Gibraltar had little trading advantage and its anchorage was unprotected, its strategic value lay in the ability for England to control the entrance to the Mediterranean.

On 1st August 1704, the 'Royal Katherine' stood at the entrance to the Bay of Gibraltar while 16 English ships under Admiral George Byng and six Dutch under Rear Admiral Paulus van der Dussen anchored inside, positioning themselves within the line of defences from the Old to the New Mole. On board the fleet was an Allied squadron of 1,900 English and 400 Dutch marines.

Two years earlier, in June 1702, six regiments of English Marines had been formed in preparation for the War of the Spanish Succession. Amongst those at Gibraltar were Colonel Edward Fox's (later 32nd Foot), Thomas Saunderson's (later 30th Foot), Alexander Luttrell's (later 31st Foot), Viscount Shannon's, Henry Holt's and Harry Mordaunt's. Accompanying them was the Queen's Regiment of Marines (later 4th Foot) which had been converted to Marines in 1703, while under the command of Colonel William Seymour.

On the 1st August 1704, Prince George together with a force of red-coated English and Dutch Marines landed on the isthmus under cover of a heavy naval bombardment. Landing at the head of the bay the allied force met with little resistance as they cut off Gibraltar from the mainland.

Although Gibraltar's defenders were well stocked with food and ammunition they were hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned. According to it's Governor, Don Diego de Salinas, there were no more than fifty-six men in the garrison and could only call on a few hundred civilian militia, many of whom had already fled before the fleet had arrived.

On 2nd August, Prince George summoned the gallant governor to surrender but Don Diego refused, reputedly returning the defiant reply that he was prepared to 'die like a gentleman'. Byng's squadron responded by manoeuvring along the sea front as close as the depth permitted and Captain William Jumper brought his ship, the 'Lenox', within actual musket range of Gibraltar's New Mole. Then at midnight Captain Edward Whitaker of the 'Dorsetshire' led a party against a French privateer anchored at the Old Mole which had been firing at the marines on the isthmus.

Around dawn the following day, 3rd August, Byng gave the signal for his squadron of 22 ships to begin firing on the already crumbling walls of the fort and town. With Captain Whitaker acting as his aide-de-camp, Byngs orders were carried from ship to ship as hundreds of shells found their mark, until six hours later his final order to cease fire was given.

As the smoke lifted Captain William Jumper, at the southern end of the line, could just discern the New Mole and the fort that commanded its abutment on the land. Believing its defenders had fled, Whitaker and Jumper agreed that a landing could be effected there unopposed. Rooke granted the request to attack, and a flotilla of row-boats raced for the New Mole.

Meanwhile, during the lull, refugees at the chapel of Europa Point at southern end of the peninsula, began to return to their homes in the town. As they did, an English ship fired a warning shot in front of the civilian column to force them back out of harms way. Mistaking the shot to be a signal for the resumption of the assault, the rest of the fleet took up the bombardment.

Using the confusion as cover, sailors in the landing party clambered ashore and breached the undefended fort at the New Mole. As they did a powder magazine at the fort exploded killing the leading seamen of the attack. In panic the survivors, suspecting an enemy-laid trap had caused the disaster, fled back to their boats. As they did Captain Whitaker arrived at the scene with his reinforcements and took control of the confusion.

With his men rallied behind him, Whitaker headed north along the deserted ramparts of the seafront towards Gibraltar. At the southern wall of the town, he rested the sailors and hoisted the Union Flag in a bastion on the shore.

With the town secured by Prince George and the Marines, and the south in the hands of Captain Whitaker and his sailors, Byng came ashore with several hundred more seamen.

Aware all was lost, Don Diego agreed to terms that guaranteed the lives and property of those committed to his care. Under the capitulation French subjects were taken prisoner, while the inhabitants and garrison of Gibraltar were promised freedom of religion and the maintenance of existing rights if they wished to stay, on condition that they swore an oath of loyalty to Charles III as King of Spain.

Despite his promises, Admiral Rooke was unable to control the men under him. In an age of religious intolerance and to their total discredit, the Protestant English and Dutch treated the local Catholic population with brutality and contempt. Private property was ransacked and Churches desecrated as the officers lost control of their men.

When the Spanish garrison marched out on the 7th August all but a few of the 4,000 traumatised inhabitants went with them, shortly afterwards founding the town of San Roque in sight of their ancient home.

The new garrison of Gibraltar consisted of three English Regiments of Marines and some Dutch marines - a force totaling about 2000. Admiral George Rooke was to act as Gibraltar's new military governor from 24th July to the 4th August 1704.

Less than a week after it's capture, Admiral George Rooke received intelligence that a French fleet was approaching Gibraltar. Leaving half his marines to defend the garrison, Rooke sailed with his combined Anglo-Dutch fleet to engage the French.

The subsequent Battle of Malaga was indecisive and the French withdrew to Toulon without attempting to assault Gibraltar. Then early in September a Franco-Spanish army of 7,000 arrived outside Gibraltar and prepared for a siege.

A beleaguered garrison of 2,500 English and Dutch Marines, together with Spaniards loyal to Charles III, held out alone until late in October when a naval squadron under Admiral Sir John Leake arrived. In December a further 2,200 English and Dutch reinforcements arrived by sea with fresh supplies of food and ammunition.

With moral falling in the Franco-Spanish camp due to sickness an desertions, Louis XIV dispatched Marshal Rene de Froulay de Tesse into take command in February 1705.

Determining that the failure of the siege was due to the Anglo-Dutch forces being resupplied by sea. Marshal de Tessé concluded that to take Gibraltar the support of a French naval squadron was essential. The annihilation of this squadron near Cabrita, on March 21, put an end to his strategy.

Thwarted in his designs, the Marshall attempted yet another assault on the 31st March, only to be beaten back with heavy casualties. As a result, de Tessé lifted the siege at the end of April 1705.

The War of the Spanish Succession was finally settled in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht. Under it various territorial exchanges were agreed, among them the cessation of the town, fortifications and port of Gibraltar (but not its hinterland) to Britain "for ever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever." The treaty also stipulated that if Britain was ever to dispose of Gibraltar it would first have to offer the territory to Spain.

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