The Walls of Gibraltar

in History Insight

The City Walls of Gibraltar

By its very nature and as a fortress, Gibraltar’s walls were for centuries an essential and only means of defense and counter-attack. The main “Line Wall” stretched from north to south along what was, just prior to the turn of this century, the western shore-line.

As such the Moors were the first to have started the construction of this wall, whilst the Spaniards build theirs more or less on top of it. And subsequently during the British period of occupation and in particular during the 19th century this same wall was reconstructed and strengthened and it’s this very same wall that stands out as a unique and distinctive feature to modern-day Gibraltar.

Apart from the northern and western line of defensive walls, the Moors constructed an east-west wall up the mountain which separated Gibraltar from the north and the south (Very little of this wall is visible today) However the one build by the Spaniards parallel to it in the 16th century, known as Charles V Wall is very much in evidence, which marked the southern boundary limits of the old town. 

In contrast with the sheer north face of the Rock and the near vertical precipices of the eastern side, is realization enough, why no defensive walls were ever necessary there. 

On August 1st  1704 the Spaniards capitulated the Rock of Gibraltar to the British,(which in 1462 had been taken from the Moors) At the time and under the Spanish Governor who run affairs in Gibraltar most of the  defense fortifications and  Line Walls had been in a state of dilapidation and in need of repairs for sometime, still this same Governor anticipating the eminent attack upon the Rock, resolved to defend the Rock to it’s last extremities and set about rearming and making ready the fortifications as best as it would have been possible. The fortifications at the time consisted of a strong Line Wall, which had other fortifications such as Towers, Fords, Bastions and Batteries with embrasures for cannon  running all along the western fringe, from north to south of the Rock and terminated at both ends with 2 moles, the New Mole and Old Mole Head. Both of which were well armed with heavy ordinance (cannons) and also re-enforcing the Land port (which was the only entrance into Gibraltar at the time) and the Moorish Castle which offered a clear view of the bay. The initial attack was directed upon the New Mole and the ford of Torre del Tuerto (One-eyed man tower) the state of disrepair that both these fortifications had suffered was enough so as not to stand the intense cannonade, and these where soon abandoned, to which the British decided on landing and seizing both these fortifications. The whole of the landing party next advanced northwards along the Line Wall and also seized the Bastion de Santa Cruz (later named Jumpers Bastion in memory of Captain Jumper of H.M.S.Lennox who together with Captain Hicks (also from H.M.S.Lennox) were the first to land on Gibraltar, unfortunately both were blown up with 40 other men when a mine was detonated upon their landing) at the same time and further north a constant barrage of cannonade had been kept on Fort Leandro (Old Mole Head) which resulted in the destruction of the Fort and the capture of the Mole. With the 2 principal defense position taken, the Line Wall now in total possession of the British,  and most of their ordinance destroyed, the besieged saw no other option but to capitulate, a flag of truce was raised and the Governor expressed his desire to capitulate the Rock of Gibraltar to the Crown of Great Britain.

Rosia Road

South Jumper’s Bastion, Constructed on top of a previous Spanish Bastion, “Bastion de Santa Cruz” one the first of the Spanish fortifications to have been seized by the British in 1704.

Present day, a sorry state of affairs when taking into consideration the amount of years of total neglect that this heritage site has been left for and the state it finds itself at the present.

It wasn’t long after capitulation that the Spaniards laid siege to the Rock one again, within the preceding 2 following months September and October of 1704, of which both attempts were unsuccessful, since the British had taken the rock they had added and repaired most of the Batteries, Bastions and in particular the Line Wall, together with the Land port which was protected by a Battery of cannon, on the eastern side the Devils

Tower was armed with a cannon and surrounded by a double ditch, whilst to the extreme north of the Rock the Inundation (present area of the Laguna Estate and Glacis Estate) was laid with a formidable system of advance obstacles in the form of double ditches, thereby halting any attack that might come form the Isthmus.  

Corral Road

North Bastion and former site of a Spanish Tower. (Torre de la Giralda)

This wall is one the best examples exposed as to the actual construction of the Line Wall which starts here and extends further south, the bottom half and half as much buried under the road level is the Moorish wall with scanty traces of Spanish alterations, whilst the British alterations to the height of the wall are fully appreciated in the different methods of construction using locally quarried material in the form of rectangular or semi-rectangular blocks. A geological lithology (distinctive features of rocks such as texture, fabric and composition) of the wall is indicative that most of the material that make the 3 different types of wall, are of local origin, the same source of material can be found in different places on the Rock.

Article supplied by History Society Gibraltar.
Email: historysocietygibraltar@hotmail.com


in History Insight
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The story behind some of Gibraltar’s stamps

In 1967, the Post Office issued a set of stamps depicting ships that had connections to Gibraltar. The 2d stamp showed HMS Carmania. How many of us ever wondered what the connection was? Most of the other stamps were well known ships, such as HMS Hood, Mary Celeste and others, but what about the Carmania. What was a White Star liner doing with a prefix of HMS.

This is her story.

As the Sabre rattling in Europe reached its crescendo, Germany began to convert some of her merchant ships into armed cruisers in order to lull unsuspecting cargo ships into a trap.

Britain, not to be outdone, did the same. One of these conversions was the White Star Liner Carmania. This 19,524ton liner was fitted with eight 4.7inch guns on reinforced deck and fitted with a splinter shield. She was repainted grey to disguise her. 

She sailed from Liverpool on the 15th of August 1914 under Captain Grant RN but Captain Barr RNR., the original Cunard captain remained on board. They were to patrol the area off Northern Ireland, but on the 19th she was ordered to Shell Bay, Bermuda where she arrived about the 24th of that same month. The Admiralty had intercepted an encoded message to Berlin which they were unable to read but were able to establish that it originated from the German gunboat SMS Elber. The Admiralty feared that the Germans were attempting to disrupt the sea route round Cape of Good Hope, a strategically important life line to and from the east. The Carmania was ordered into the South Atlantic as a store ship, presumably for other warships in the area. On the 29th of August she left Bermuda and headed south to meet a British fleet that was patrolling the coast of Venezuela. The Admiralty intercepted a further communication which indicated that the Cap Trafalgar, under Korvettenkapitan Julius Wirth, along with the cruiser Dresden and Komprinz Wilhem were due to meet around the Trinidade Islands, off the coast of Brazil.

On the 11th of September the Carmania was ordered to investigate and report any findings to HMS Bristol which was part of a fleet patrolling in the southern Caribbean. Captain Grant and Barr conferred and decided that they should disguise their ship and the decision was made to add a third funnel. This was made up of light wood and fitted en route.

Some German ships were caught well away from the Fatherland when war was declared and these were deployed to some remote island bases set up to act as or maintain armed cruisers. One of these bases was on the Ilhe do Trinidade, part of the Martim Vaz archipelago, some 1100km south east of Rio do Janeiro and belonging to Brazil. This island was British from 1890 to 1896 and was known as South Trinidad.

The Cap Trafalgar was a Hamburg South America liner that was in South America at the time that war broke out under Captain Langerhans.

She was told to stay in Buenos Aires, where she had been since the 2nd of August, and await further orders. One of the German ships in Buenos Aires was told to run the gauntlet of British warships to carry reservists and volunteers to Germany. Captain Langerhans of the Cap Trafalgar, lost 150 of his crew this way, including the chief cook, four officers, his personal servant and the ships ornithologist. He however called on the patriotism of the orchestra and persuaded them to stay and they were employed as stokers in the boiler rooms. The German Admiralty were under the impression that the Cap Trafalgar had secretly loaded guns in Hamburg, and gave orders for the ship to load up with  coal and provisions and head out to sea and convert into an armed cruiser. In fact there was only a rifle and pistol on board.  When they realised their mistake she was ordered without delay to Trinidade Island, some 1300miles NNE of Buenos Aires where she would be met by ships that would provide the arms and ammunition she required. The remaining problem was her silhouette which would be recognised by an enemy ship. Fortunately, one of her three funnels was only a ventilator shaft and not connected to the boiler room. The captain had this removed, the life boats painted white, extended the bridge using light wooden material and fabricated a red ensign and a Cunard house flag with the intention of disguising itself as the Carmania. However he refused to change the name of the ship on the hull as sailors consider this bad luck.

When she arrived at Trinidade, the gunboat SMS Eber, under Captain Julius Wirth, was waiting for her with orders to transfer his guns and crew to the Cap Trafalgar and to take command of the armed cruiser. The Elbe transferred two 105mm guns and six  heavy machine guns to the cruiser. After some difficulty, the guns were installed. The Captain realised that, with only 6500m range, he would be easily outgunned by any warship and to bring the machine guns into range would be suicidal. 

 On the 14th of September at about 11am, they sighted the Carmania, the two colliers were hastily cast off and they each made off in separate directions, the Captain of the Carmania saw the Cap Trafalgar appearing from behind the island and heading in a N.N.W. direction. The Carmania was not sure what ship they had intercepted and once her adversary was within range, fired a shot across her bows and called for the Cap Trafalgar to identify herself. At first the German cruiser appeared to be fleeing but it was obvious that she was looking for sea room but soon, seeing the British flag turned and at about 6900m both vessels commenced firing. The Cap Trafalgar was armed with 4in guns and Pom Poms, a multiple barrelled gun firing 37 or 40mm shells. The crew of 423 were well trained naval mariners. 

At first the shot from the Cap Trafalgar was high but as they closed, their shells began to take effect. The second shot took away the radio mast, the third smashed one of the guns. Further shells hit the Carmania setting fire to the forebridge and putting the fire fighting water mains out of action making it impossible to bring the fire under control. Gradually the heavier guns of the Carmania began to take effect, one of her shells penetrated the German’s “Summer Garden” sending shards and splinters everywhere, starting small fires and killing the helmsman. The ship veered to port but the Captain leapt over and brought the ship back on course.  The fire was seen to have taken hold of the German cruiser. The false bridge was on fire, the smoke making it difficult for the gun crews to see their target. 

Captain Grant saw the Cap Trafalgar’s manoeuvres and calculated that were trying to get close to use their heavy machine guns and then attempt to board. He turned the Carmania to Starboard and ordered the gunners to concentrate on the hull below the waterline. Two shells hit the ship’s starboard side, one of them penetrating one of the ship’s bulkheads below the waterline which flooded one of the coal bunkers, and entering the engine room. Further shells hit the bows and damaged the forward coal bunker. She began to list to port. The engineer, Carl Rieck, flooded tanks on the starboard side in an attempt to level the ship, unfortunately Wirth decided to turn sharply to starboard at the same time in an attempt to follow the Carmania which caused even more water to enter the ship. Seeing the problem he changed course veering away from the British ship. After a fierce exchange of fire lasting one hour and forty minutes, the Cap Trafalgar was seen to be listing to starboard. The wounded ship turned and tried to escape but the list increased until her engines could no longer cope. With her ensign still flying, her head began to sink and explosions rent her decks, probably from air trapped below decks. With her propeller still turning she sank into the Atlantic. The Carmania’s bridge was burning out of control with no means of quenching the flames. There was no way she could go to the rescue of the Cap Trafalgar crew in her condition. Fortunately the ship had been stripped of all wooden fittings from the numerous cabins and other areas, where previously, peacetime passengers had spent the cruise in luxury. This had been done by Captain Barr during the commissioning of the ship as an armed cruiser and this forethought saved the ship.  

Two midshipmen were recommended for their bravery when, during the fire, had entered the forebridge to rescue the compass and some of the burning charts and a partially burned code book. The fire burned itself out without spreading but the Captain found himself without an effective compass, no charts of the area, no chronometer or sextant and as the steering on the bridge was unusable, the after wheel had to be manned and orders passed by runner. There was no engine room telegraph so orders were passed through the engine room skylight using a whistle.

A sextant was discovered in one of the cabins and the rescued compass was set up on a feather pillow well above the deck to reduce the vibration and the effect of the iron ship on the magnetic compass. With this they were able to get under way with some semblance of confidence. The Carmania sent a signal which was picked up and met by HMS Bristol and then steamed 600 north to the Islands of Abrolhos, off Espirito Santo, Brazil,  Here she was patched up and made seaworthy with the help of the navy ships there. After a few days HMS Cornwall shadowed the Carmania across the Atlantic to Gibraltar. Here she entered dry dock at the end of September where she was repaired. The 380 holes were patched and by the 14th of November she was ready to resume her duties.

During the action, the Carmania received seventy three hits. The bridge was destroyed and two shots hit her in the hull. There were a total of 380 holes to be repaired in Gibraltar. This would be a 1914 version of HMS Penelope in 1942.  All told she suffered nine dead and a number of wounded.

As the Cap Trafalgar sunk, the collier Eleonore Woermann recovered her life boats with 279 survivors. Of these there were 66 wounded that were cared for at the German Hospital in Buenos Aires. Among the 144 dead was the Captain. As the Cap Trafalgar Sank, the crew of the collier joined with the Cap Trafalgar’s crew singing the patriotic song “Soltzweb die Flagge schwarzweiss – rot”  The crew were taken to Buenos Aires where they were interned on the Island of Martin Garcia in the River Plate estuary, known locally as “THE GIBRALTAR OF LA PLATA.”

This island is 3km off the coast of Uruguay and 46km from Buenos Aires and was used by the Argentineans as a prison and naval base. Today it is a National Park jointly managed by both countries but still owned by Argentina.

By the end of the war, thirteen officers and one hundred and twenty sailors had escaped, five had died. In 1919 the remaining four officers and one hundred and eight sailors and others were due to be repatriated on Dutch vessels although some requested permission to join the Hamburg – South America Line, whilst others were employed by Siemens locally. The ships doctor, Dr.Violet remained behind and had been working in the German Hospital in Buenos Aires from 1915. 

The British crew were awarded a total pf £250,000 in prize money. The two captains were awarded the Order of the Bath, Third Class, and the First Officer was also decorated.

Article supplied by History Society Gibraltar. Email: historysocietygibraltar@hotmail.com

A glimmer of Hope anywhere?

in History Insight

We’ve recently witnessed the 75th anniversary of the Auschwitz extermination of over six million Jews and others. Any human being from whichever country, ethnic group or religious belief, you would have thought wouldn’t have allowed such a tragedy to be repeated, whatever it took… Have we succeeded?

Commemorations were a-plenty in many countries and all over our TV screens with thousands of solemn faces which read, `How, could this have happened?’ and `Never Again!’ Well, nearly eight decades later you’d be forgiven for thinking the world is not on a trajectory to become a better place, considering what has happened since. The lessons that horrifying and shocking episode in the world’s history should have taught us have gone unheeded… or so it seems.

Over a cup of coffee and a glass of wine I chatted to friend and fellow broadcaster – amongst other `occupations’ – Levi Attias, a Jew, who like me, was just as apprehensive or anxious as I, as to `which way we are going Billy…’ or so the song goes! Given the goings on since those atrocities all those years ago there seems to be no positives in our behaviour to speak of. “During our Chanukah feast,” Levi tells me, “we place a candle on our window sill outwards facing the world, declaring peace to all and sundry, but it seems much of what needs to be addressed is swept under the carpet. As a Jew I am hopeful and my faith helps me be positive.” The record does indeed show lessons not learned: Cambodia in the 70s genocide to the tune of almost 14,000 who entered an execution centre, only seven survived… Rwanda in the mid 90s, mass murder of over half a million Tutsis and others whilst thousands Hutus killed in Burundi in the early 70s… again during the mid-90s genocide in Bosnia. Almost 9,000 were killed with the mass expulsion of thousands and many more thousands dying during the fighting in those war torn countries.

Levi and I continued our chat highlighting the hotspots around the world and ongoing military conflicts in the Middle East: Syria, the Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the never ending skirmishes between Israel and the Palestinians, unrest in South America and lest we forget the occupation of Tibet and the Rohingya’s struggle in Myanmar (formerly Burma). Trouble everywhere and no lessons learnt… at least looking that way, we contended. Does the West only intervene where it suits? “Yes, there are so many more important issues we could be attending to that affect us all and yet not enough is being done as we see now with the climate issue, global warming and the  plastic in our oceans etc.,” Levi reminded me. It seems we’re more intent in creating conflict and killing, being corrupt and ruling over others. “Remember the story of Noah’s Ark, how all the animals of every kind went in two by two with no trouble between them? Maybe therein is the message of how we humans are meant to behave. I always accept individuals for who they are, whether they are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or a nonbeliever and regardless of their nationality.” And I fully agree; you deal with individuals on a one-to-one not what you assume they represent because of where they’re from, their social status, beliefs or colour of their skin. It has to be said though, there are those who are like-minded and try their hardest to get us on the right track. For all the negativity places of worship and those that frequent them receive and are criticised for, there are many believers who are genuine in their task of putting the right message across and maintain a culture of doing the right thing by producing good deeds. Thank heavens for that! I’m sure to the more enlightened and discerning, all of that sounds a little simplistic but it could be argued that’s where it starts: be happy with yourself first, and then apply some of that feel good factor towards others. As for those nations, ethnic groups and countries and peoples of differing beliefs that hold those populations, more `jaw jaw’ and less `war war’ – as said by Winston Churchill – would not go amiss.

I specifically asked Levi to meet me and talk about these issues mainly because I know his reasonableness would augur well for a good `jaw jaw’ between us, spurred on also because I enjoy his short contributions on Radio Gibraltar’s Monday to Friday segment of `Pause for Reflection’ where he picks on subjects which are pertinent to today’s, yesterday’s and tomorrow’s world, and relevant and useful for everyone of us to take on board. “Well in total it can take me four or five hours to put those two minute talks together, mulling ideas around in my mind as I go. They come from observations from bits and pieces I may have read or heard about anywhere. Also, for example, taken from when I travel on the bus to town by simply listening to what fellow passengers are saying.” Levi’s been delivering those interesting thoughts for the day for many years now – about 30, I think – and he never pushes the religious theme, instead he aims to give them a universal angle which anyone can understand and take on board. His topics are very relatable, to the point, and more importantly… they’re appropriate and relevant at the start of the day!

I sometimes think the problem with conflicts of any type whether domestic, in the street, amongst communities or culminating in serious confrontation, point to you and me – us humans! Jealousy, hate, greed, vanity, never accepting one may be wrong, plus all the other negatives which dwell within, winding all the way up – for some – to the insatiable thirst for power, ending in WAR and the killing of each other which make you question if we are born good or evil?  

Going back to the 60s whilst in the UK, I remember watching those promotions on TV which went something like this: `just £2 a month, will help feed this child for a month…’. Those promotional appeals, as are world conflicts… are still ongoing! Yes, the elusive `glimmer of hope’ comes to mind.

The Last Straw

in History Insight

The Story Of Two Ships

Being sunk during a war is a tragedy at the best of times, but having survived only to be sunk at the last moment is doubly unfortunate. These are the stories of two ships. 

The loss of life at sea in both World Wars was high. Submarines came into their own in the 1914-1918 war. From the outset they extracted a heavy toll in life and material on Britain who depended on sea transport to maintain the war and feed its population which made it more vulnerable to attack at sea than the Axis who was mainly dependent on land networks. The British Empire was the main source of food and material until the United States came to her assistance. In the First war, aircraft played no part of any significance in the protection of shipping and submarine detection was non-existent. However the range of these underwater menaces was limited at first which allowed the defenders to concentrate their efforts more effectively. This was not the case in the Second World War, but fortunately sonar gradually improved, and intelligence helped to mitigate the effect of the unseen attackers.

The mentality of the Admiralty in World War 1 was still based on the might of the Battleship. Vast sums of money were spent on these monsters by all sides, even those not involved. These relatively slow and cumbersome beasts were an ideal target for submarines, but their prime target. This was the lifeline to Britain, consisting of slow lumbering cargo ships loaded to the Plimsol Line with food, fuel and munitions. The first story is about a battleship. HMS Britannia was launched on December 10th 1904 and commissioned nine months later. She was a pre-dreadnaught and by 1908 she was already made redundant by HMS Dreadnought. Britannia was one of eight ships in the class and served her first commission in the Mediterranean Fleet, joining the Home Fleet in 1906. 

The ship was again attached to the Mediterranean Fleet between 1912-13. In 1914 she returned to the Grand / Channel fleet. Based in Scapa Flow in 1915, was hit by a shell from HMS Africa during en exercise which killed a Marine. The following day she ran aground on a Scottish island where she stayed for three days before being floated off. In 1916 the Britannia was in the Adriatic and Atlantic. In February/March 1917 she underwent a refit in Gibraltar end then joined the 9th Cruiser Squadron Freetown, escorting convoys around West Africa. Following further updating of her 6” guns in Bermuda, Britannia returned to her West African station and escort duties. She was returning to Gibraltar when she was spotted by the German submarine UB-50. On the morning of November 9th 1918 there was a sudden explosion followed shortly afterwards by a second caused by a fire in her 9.2 magazine which set the cordite alight in the magazine.

A torpedo had hit the battleship. Below decks everything was in darkness. Valves used to flood the magazine could not be located. Those that were, were seized and could not be operated. The ship was doomed. A ten degree list to port developed. Here she remained some miles west of Cape Trafalgar. Smoke and toxic fumes from the magazine fire made any attempt to go below decks impossible. Fifty men were either killed or died of toxic gas poison and a further eighty were wounded or suffered from the gasses. 

She remained afloat for three and a half hours, by which time ships from Gibraltar were able to reach her and. rescue all the survivors and dead which were taken to Gibraltar                                         

Two days later the Armistice was signed ending the First World War. The celebrations locally were dampened by the burial of the victim’s at North Front Cemetery. The dead were buried with full military honours. The cortege passed though Main Street on gun carriages draped with the Union Flag along streets lined with military and civilians, bear headed. Only the crunch of the wheels and the steady beat of the military escort broke the silence once the funeral march, played by the band of the United States Navy, had passed by. Large contingents of the French, American, Italian and British navies were represented. The last rites were followed by volleys from the firing parties as the dead were laid to rest.

The next story is of the 9551 ton tanker Regent Lion, built in Sunderland for the CT Bowring Company of London and launched in 1937. Tankers were the prime targets of enemy submarines and for this reason were generally allocated positions in the convoy which provided the maximum protection, if such a thing existed. On February 17th 1945, convoy UGS72 from the United States to Suez was twenty seven mile from Gibraltar when U300 under Fritz Hein, fired four torpedoes at the ships hitting a Liberty Ship, the Michael J Stone and the Regent Lion. The Liberty Ship managed to limp into the Bay under its own steam, even though it was well down by the stern.

The tug HMS Behest took it in tow and brought it into the harbour where it was put into No. l dock and repaired. The fate of the Regent Star was more tragic. She was taken in tow by the Dockyard tug Rollicker and Arctic Ranger but on the 19th she was beached   on Pearl Rock near Punta Carnero and became a total loss. Seven of her crew were lost. The U300 was sunk on February 22nd by depth charges from HMS Recruit. Pincher and Evadne west of Cadiz. These were the last victims of the war in the area before VE day was declared on May 8th 1945.

Article supplied by History Society Gibraltar.Email: historysocietygibraltar@hotmail.com

Gibraltar Tank Regiment

in Armed Forces/Features/History Insight

Although the above photograph may be well known to most of us due to its appearance in the Gibraltar issue of the noted publication, After the Battle, few people may know that a squadron of as many as 12 tanks were stationed here during WWII. This unit was attached to 2nd Gibraltar Brigade for operational purposes and was aptly named The Gibraltar Tank Squadron R.A.C (Royal Armoured Corps). Even though the operational life span of this squadron was short and thankfully uneventful it nevertheless provides an interesting addition to Gibraltar’s wartime history.

Though the unit was officially formed on the 12th March 1943, its origins date back to well before this time as apparently the Governor, General Sir Clive Liddell, sent a request to the War Office in London on the 13th June 1941 to supply an unknown number of infantry tanks for use in Gibraltar. This is, as far as I know, the first time a need for these weapons was required by the Garrison. The War Office in turn turned down the request stating none were available for some months and instead dispatched six Ironsides (wheeled armoured cars) plus spares though without any trained drivers. Britain was indeed in dire straits at this stage of the war. 

The next time we find a mention for Tanks in War Office Records is on 13th June 1942 as part of a Chiefs of Staff Committee meeting held in London with General Mason McFarlane. At this meeting he requests for the provision of ten to twelve Churchill Infantry Tanks for the Gibraltar Garrison. This request was thankfully denied by the War Office as these machines weighing over 39 tonnes and with a long chassis would have been virtually inoperable on the Rock.

The Garrison had to wait until September 1942 for ten Valentine MKIII infantry tanks to arrive. These tanks comprised of a crew of four, weighed over 16 tonnes, were armed with a puny two pounder main gun and were already becoming obsolete in the face of German tank developments. The reason for them to reach Gibraltar at this particular time was no coincidence, the invasion of North Africa, Operation Torch, was about start and the military authorities wanted to reinforce the Garrison in case there were any retaliatory attacks from Spain. These tanks along with four Officers and seven Other Ranks disembarked from the S.S. ITTERSUM on the 27th September and were taken over by No.71 Section RAOC (Royal Army Ordnance Corps) in order to be mechanically overhauled. Selected members of the 2nd Battalion Somerset Light Infantry, also part of 2nd Gibraltar Brigade, had already been attending Driver & Maintenance courses preparatory to taking command of the tanks as soon as they arrived. An interesting entry in the 2nd Gibraltar Brigade War Diary for 10th October 1942  reads “ trials with one Valentine MKIII at Napier Railway Tunnel to discover whether tunnel would allow passage of tanks through it or whether any R.E. work was required”. No further indication is given whether the tank went through or not. 

On its formation the Squadron’s initial strength was Officers 4, NCOs 10 and Troopers 28. The unit was divided into four troops; each one consisted of three tanks and was divided as follows;

  • HQ Troop Captain J.L. Adams, Commanding Officer.
  • No. 1 Troop.  Lieutenant H.G. Wilkes, Unit Fire Fighting and Arms and Ammunition Officer.
  • No. 2 Troop.  Lieutenant L.W. Sanders, Unit Transport and Weapon Training Officer.
  • No. 3 Troop.  Lieutenant O.A. Ellis, 2nd in Command and Technical Adjutant

Three of the above officers, Capt. Adams, Lieut. Wilkes and Sanders were transferred along with twenty four other ranks from the Somerset Light Infantry Regiment which were based at Buena Vista Barracks.  The initial accommodation area for the Squadron is unknown although later in August they were located at Kingsway in the Alameda. (now beneath Alameda and Kingsway House)

‘Squadron Standing Orders’ were issued to all officers and were displayed in the Squadron Office. These orders stated the various directives for the unit and covered diverse subjects. 

These ranged from discipline to the speed limit set for the tanks. I find these instructions very interesting as they convey a glimpse of how the soldiers lived and how the tanks were operated. 

Here are some examples;

‘On all parades with tanks overalls or denims will be worn.’
‘The R.A.C. black beret with badge will be worn.’

‘Smoking is not permitted when working on or travelling in tanks. Riding outside is forbidden unless intercom system has broken down. Passengers will not be carried on or inside tanks.’

‘If roads or paths are damaged tank crews will do their best to make good the damage by using shovels on tanks before proceeding.’

‘Unless otherwise ordered by the Squadron Leader all roads on the UPPER ROCK (that is, roads leading from EUROPA RD to WINDMILL HILL, to area of GOVERNOR’S COTTAGE, to QUEENS RD, to MOORISH CASTLE) are definitely out of bounds for all tanks.

Other areas out of bounds.

  • All playing fields.
  • All barrack squares.
  • EASTERN BEACH (only allowed with permission from F.H.Q.
  • R.A.F. RECLAMATION area.
  • All dock areas.
  • EUROPA POINT and BREWERY BARRACKS area (the latter may be used when tanks are firing only).

In Bounds
Training runs will be confined to main roads in EUROPA, ROSIA, TOC.H, ALAMEDA, RECLAMATION RD, CASEMATES and CATALAN BAY areas.’

As can be seen above, the restrictions imposed on the movement of the Squadrons Tanks due to Gibraltar’s geography limited their usefulness in any combat situation. 

For reasons unknown, the unit’s war establishment was increased during July and August 1943 with the formation of No. 4 and 5 Troop. This establishment only lasted till the end of August of that same year when No. 4 and 5 Troop were dissolved and the squadron reverted to four Troops: 

HQ, 1, 2 and 3. Each Troop was now equipped with Valentine MKIX. These tanks were an improved version with the larger 6 pounder quick firing gun in the same turret. As a consequence the crew was reduced to three adding the responsibility of loading the gun, to the commander. I have not been able to find any exact dates as to when they were exchanged but what is known is that the Squadron carried out a first shoot seaward with the new models on 4th Aug. 1943 and that on the 6th Sep. 1943 the twelve 2pdr armed Valentines were loaded onto cargo ships here on the Rock and transported to Portugal.  The main role for the new up gunned versions was now as mobile anti tank artillery and in support of infantry involved in any counter attack against an enemy invasion.

In September 1943 a cadre for training infantry to man the tanks was commenced. This was primarily in the event the squadron was ever re-armed in the future.At this point it is wise to mention that the War Office had decided, following a report by the Defence of Bases Committee, to reduce the Garrison strength by half. This was as a result of the need for troops for the Italian campaign and the reduced threat of a German attack through Spain. Indeed so great was need for equipment and personnel for this new theatre of operations that the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) had the intention of transferring all tanks to form a reconnaissance squadron as part of the 4th Infantry Division. This idea was rejected by the War Office on the recommendation of the Governor, General Sir Mason McFarlane, who stated that the Gibraltar Tank Squadron was unsuitable for this role either because of the lack of combat experience of its personnel or the obsoleteness of its equipment. The Governor reluctantly agreed to the reduction of the Garrison including the Tank Squadron  but in turn requested that “since I wish in occasions to be able to man and drive up to 1 section of 3 tanks in order to demonstrate both to the Garrison and neighbours that they remain in commission I retain:-1 Officer (subaltern)

  • 1 Sergeant (Mechanist)
  • 2 Corporals
  • 7 Troopers (including 3 Gun Operators).

This “Care & Maintenance” party or cadre was finally agreed by the War Office in a report dated December 1943. The Squadron reached a peak in October 1943 when its strength was;

  • 6 Officers
  • 1 WO2
  • 8 NCO
  • 27 Troopers

Plus Attached

  • 1 NCO
  • 22 Privates

The Squadron took part in various exercises in conjunction with other units of 2nd Gibraltar Brigade including the 1st Battalion Hertfordshire Regiment and 2nd Battalion Somerset Light Infantry. There were also some manoeuvres under 1st Gibraltar Brigade orders which involved No.1, 2 and 3 Troop in landing beach exercises disembarking from L.C.T.s (Landing Craft Tank). This was undoubtedly in preparation for the involvement of the squadron in a locally devised special operation against the Spanish defences on the Neutral Ground. An interesting exercise called Ajax carried out in conjunction with 1st Hertfordshire Regiment and involving two Troops  (six tanks ) reveals a curious objective for the manoeuvres, “to ensure Tanks can move through AROW STREET without damaging RE or Sig Equipment located in tunnels”

Sometime between December 1943 and April 1944 we find information in other War Office records that the squadron was now equipped with twelve Sherman Tanks of an unspecified model. These were more modern American made Medium Tanks of 30 Tonnes in weight and a 75mm gun as main armament and a crew of 5. At this stage in the war they formed the mainstay of the British Armoured formations. It begs the question, why were the tanks exchanged with Shermans at this late date when the risk of attack was minimal and the priority for new equipment and shipping was for the forthcoming invasion of France?

This lead me initially to theorise that the Shermans must have come from North Africa, veterans of the desert campaigns and most probably nearly worn out. The recent discovery of an entry dated 30th Dec 1944 in a Gibraltar Garrison Quartermaster file contradicts this theory as it states that War Office authority had been granted to ship nine Sherman Tanks to another theatre of operations. This theatre is not mentioned but the likely candidate is Italy. This provides evidence that these machines must have been in nearly new condition in order to justify their costly transportation.

Nevertheless the Tank Squadron carried on its existence albeit on a caretaker role until at least September 1945 as the Order of Battle for Gibraltar Garrison still includes the Tank Squadron, Detachment only. This RAC contingent also took part in the VE (Victory in Europe) parade held locally on the 12th of May.

The fate of the three remaining tanks is clouded in mystery after the end of hostilities apart from two examples that survived at Europa Point. This fact has been confirmed by many eyewitness accounts .One of these accounts confirms that they were pushed over the cliffs into the sea, certainly before 1961, where they remained until the’ Fedra disaster’ either relocated them to deeper waters or squashed them  beyond recognition. Photos of these tanks whilst on dry land have not yet been found but the search continues.

Article supplied by
History Society Gibraltar

Email: historysocietygibraltar@hotmail.com

The Big Brew-up

in Armed Forces/Culture Insight/History Insight

The Royal Navy Gibraltar Squadron hosted a charity coffee morning
to raise funds for the Soldiers’, Sailors’ and Airmen’s Families
Association (SSAFA).

Leading Seaman (LS) Nick Hickman, one of the Squadron’s RHIB Coxswains, was responsible for organising the event, ensuring that cakes were baked, bacon was fried and tea was brewed and put on a superb spread for those serving with British Forces Gibraltar and their families. LS Hickman said, “This is the third time I have organised a “Big Brew Up” in support of SSAFA. The event has brought people together from across The Rock and raised money for a very worthy cause in the process.”

The Commanding Officer of the Squadron, Lieutenant Commander Kyle Walkley was full of praise for LS Hickman and the team and added, “It is great to see the hard work of members of the Squadron translated into real tangible benefits for a Service charity. SSAFA is a great cause, and the money we have been able to raise will go towards helping to improve the lives of personnel serving, their families, and veterans.”

The event ended up raising £260 for SSAFA.

GDP Officers Awarded

in History Insight

Members of the Gibraltar Defence Police were among recipients of awards at the Convent.

Members of the Gibraltar Defence Police were among recipients of awards at the Convent.

A total of twenty-one Long Service and Good Conduct Medals and Clasps were presented by His Excellency the Governor Lieutenant General Edward Davis and caretaker Chief Minister, Mr Fabian Picardo QC MP at the ceremony.  Also attending the ceremony was Commodore Tim Henry, Commander British Forces Gibraltar.  

GDP Inspector Xavi Buhagiar received his second Clasp, awarded for 30 years of service to the Force.

Sergeant Christian Hermida was presented with his Long Service and Good Conduct Medal for 18 years service.

GDP Police Constable Stacey Rowbottom received her Long Service and Good Conduct Medal for 18 years service.

Speaking after the ceremony, GDP Chief Police Officer, Chief Superintendent Rob Allen said, “It is good to see GDP officers receiving recognition for their service, alongside their colleagues from Gibraltar’s First Responder and Prison Service community.  These officers provide a valuable service to the MOD and wider Gibraltar community and I congratulate the three GDP officers on achieving these awards.  I would also like to commend their families for the support they have provided over many years to help the officers in their career.”

USS Ophir – The Burning Question

in Features/History Insight

Many of us remember the devastating explosion which rocked Gibraltar in April 1951 when the British ammunition ship Bedenham exploded on the Gun Wharf. A similar incident nearly occurred in 1918 when US navy cargo ship the USS Ophir returned to Gibraltar on fire carrying a flammable cargo.

The USS Ophir was built by the Dutch Kon. Masts de Schelde in Flushing in 1904. This 8905 ton cargo passenger ship was operated by the Rotterdamsche Lloyd Line on the Pacific run. The ship was seized in Hawaii by customs officials under a Presidential Proclamation of the 20th of March 1918 and was turned over to the US Navy on the 21st of March 1918 and commissioned on the 25th on that month as a NOTS (Navy Overseas Transportation Service) under the command of Lt. Cdr. M P Nash USNRF (US Navy Reserve Force). 

The Ophir left port on the 2nd of April heading for New York where she arrived on May 14th. Leaving again in the company of four other ships on the 1st of June. They carried sailors and tugboat men, 500 mail sacks and other cargo, heading for La Pallance in France, to supply the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) there.  She arrived on June 7th    (GHQ AEF France report dated June 9th) and set sail again for Verdun on the 27th and then returned to New York. The General Headquarters AEF shows the Ophir arriving in New York on July 30th. She continued to operate on this sector and on the 25th of October set out for Gibraltar and onward to the southern French ports. The Ophir arrived in Gibraltar on November 8th. Soon after sailing for Marseille she caught fire and turned back to Gibraltar. In the afternoon of the 10th a telephone call was received by the Senior Naval Officer (SNO) in the Gibraltar Dockyard which stated that the Ophir was on fire and would be arriving about 1500hrs. A berth was prepared on the North Mole. The question of tugs was raised but was informed that the HM Tug Crocodile, which had the necessary pumping equipment, was laid up and only the Marsden and Heroine were available with limited pumping capacity but that the Kings Harbour Master and Commander Remington had the matter in hand. At 1930hrs the ship was reported to be rounding Europa Point. The SNO boarded the vessel on arrival and was informed by the Captain that he thought the fire was in No2 lower hold which held some 500 tons of coal. The Ophir was anchored off North Mole. The fire was kept under control during the night using the ship’s firefighting equipment. At 1930 hrs on the 11th an explosion blew off the hatches of No2 hold and the ship continued burning furiously. The water from the fire hoses had passed from the hold into the boiler room and was in danger of extinguishing the furnaces. The SNO was on board when the Captain requested that the ship be beached. This was agreed and the Pilot, Pelizza, took the ship into the shallows and she was run aground in four and a half fathoms. The fire continued, the boilers were put out of action and the Ophir burned out with all the hold full of water. The 11th of November 1818, being the day that the Armistice was signed which ended the First World War. 

Two sailors perished in the fire, they were Guy Alston Comstock, an Engineman, 2nd Class of the USNRF and Oscar Wilson, Engineman 1st Class USNRF. Both these sailors were buried at the North Front Cemetery on the 16th of November. The bodies were repatriated to the United States on the 3rd of June 1919.

Her cargo consisted of drums of Aviation Oil, which in those days was probably of castor oil base and highly flammable. Reports in the US media talk of shell holes but there is no evidence that she carried ammunition. She also carried a number of ambulances, coal and provisions, no doubt for the troops at her original destination. 

The Crocodile, obviously now repaired, started to pump out the holds and in a report from the Captain of the Port, dated 18th January 1919, the fore hold was now dry and No 2 hold had three feet of water and the after hold was reduced to about the same level. Tests were being carried out to see if the ship could be pumped dry without damage. The hull seemed watertight but some concern was raised over the after bulkhead. The iron deck aft of the dining saloon on the port side was split right across and it was hoped this was not a structural failure. A US destroyer was anchored just north of the Ophir and keeping an eye on developments. For security reasons, the night patrol was ordered to make several tours around the ship while on patrol. An inventory had been taken of everything on the ship including all brass and copper fittings and orders given that the correct night lights should be on during darkness. Nevertheless by the 4th of December the Captain of the Port reported that fittings had been stolen from the ship. Captain Nash was lodged with the American Consul while the ship was being raised. Captain Asserson USN was in Gibraltar as part of the diplomatic team and was involved in the decision to raise the Ophir, which was reported to the Colonial Secretary on January 18th 1919.  The US Navy survivors were repatriated and a team was sent to Gibraltar to refloat and repair the vessel. 

No doubt the provisions were spoiled and probably dumped at sea under the sanitary inspector’s control. The vehicles had been under 16ft of water but the five Quad trucks were salvaged and sold to Alexander Ivison of Cadiz under the authority of US Base 9, the Patrol Squadron based in Gibraltar on the 22nd of May 1919. The US media reported that the vessel was under water for five months but this does not appear to be the case as she was pumped dry within weeks.

Only enough work was done to make her able to sail back to the United States. A skeleton crew of six officers and sixty eight men were sent out to bring the ship back

On the 25th of November 1920, she set sail still full of holes and hardly seaworthy. Incredibly, despite her condition, eight wives of enlisted men were permitted to sail with the ship. Only three of her boilers were operational and two days out of the Azores, they broke down and she was given a tow by the USS Bob-O-Link off Bermuda. About 100 miles off Cape Henry, they hit a severe storm and the tow rope parted. For thirty six hours the Ophir drifted in 100 mile an hour wind and heavy seas but finally the storm abated and she was able to get under way on her own, arriving in Norfolk, Virginia on the 9th of January 1920. The Ophir was decommissioned and turned over to the War Department on the 16th of January 1920.

It is curious to note that there is no reference to this incident in the Gibraltar Chronicle, and were it not for the records of the North Front Cemetery and the official Government correspondence, there would be doubt as to whether it ever happened. The fact that it occurred on the 11th of November 1918, the day that the armistice was declared, which ended the First World War, might account for the lack of interest. Research is still going on to establish the details of how the vessel was raised by the US Navy.


Article supplied by History Society Gibraltar.
Email: historysocietygibraltar@hotmail.com

New Commanding Officer for HMS Scimitar

in Features/History Insight

Lieutenant James Young has assumed Command of HMS Scimitar, one of the Royal Navy Gibraltar Squadron’s Lifespan Patrol Vessels (LPV). He relieves Lieutenant Commander Kyle Walkley who, after a year in Command of SCIMITAR, has taken the role of Commanding Officer of the Squadron.

Lieutenant Young commented, “This is an extremely exciting opportunity in a place steeped in the history of the Royal Navy.  I am very much looking forward to my first Command and delivering on live
operations on a daily basis in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters.”

Lt Young has recently arrived in Gibraltar having spent much of the last year navigating Type 23 Frigate HMS Montrose from the UK, across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans to her new home in Bahrain.

Lt Cdr Walkley said: “James arrives here having just completed a challenging but rewarding job navigating a frigate three quarters of the way around the world.  The challenges here will be different, but his superb
performance in his career so far leaves me with no doubt that he will succeed in delivering on operations in this vital part of
the world.”

Oxford UOTC Training In Gibraltar

in Culture Insight/Features

Members of Oxford University Officers’ Training Corps (UOTC) recently visited Gibraltar to take part in Exercise Barbary Warrior 2.

It is an Army Reserve unit that recruits exclusively from Oxford, Oxford Brookes, Reading, Cirencester and Gloucestershire Universities.  

One hundred and thirty members of the Unit participated in the exercise at Buffadero Training Camp and in the MOD tunnels within The Rock.  They also undertook a range of challenging pursuits around the peninsular.

At the start of the exercise, Oxford UOTC’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ben Walters said, “We are delighted to be in Gibraltar and are very grateful for our warm reception.  My team and I are looking forward to the opportunity to develop some of the British Army’s future leaders in this unique training location.” 

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