How strong was the Garrison in Gibraltar
at the start of hostilities?

 

Spanish View at the commencement of the Siege in 1779.


Spain declared war early in June 1779 and communications with Gibraltar were finally cut off on the 20th June. The Spaniards knew that mounting only a land attack was pointless. The narrow strip of land leading up to Landport Gate, was heavily defended and almost impossible to capture without huge losses. A combined land-sea attack was more likely to succeed but that was difficult as long as the British Navy dominated the sea. The third and simpler way was through starvation. Spanish frigates, cutters and gunboats blockaded the Rock and prevented any food supplies from reaching the defenders in Gibraltar. On land, the batteries and trenches built across the isthmus in 1727 (13th siege) were rearmed and strengthened. Gibraltar was isolated and cut-off by both land and sea.


Fig.15. Example of Spanish Regiment Uniforms from the 1780s. The Farnesia, Alcantara and Principe Regiments. The drummer of the Alcantara Regiment is wearing a different uniform to the bulk of the regiment, as per the infantry.


Fig.16. Members of the Soldier Artificer Company in uniform, circa 1786, plate from Campion, G. B., 1855. ‘The History of the Corps of Royal Sappers and Miners’.


At the time of the siege the British garrison was around 5,400 men; consisting of five British regiments (500 men each) and three Hanoverian (German) regiments (360 men each). There were 428 artillerymen (96 guns) and 108 engineers. There were also 3,201 civilians, but many of them managed to buy passages to safer places and left the Rock before the sea blockade was enforced which eased the problems and burden of feeding so many people later as the siege got under way.
Gibraltar’s defences were very strong and included North Bastion and Grand Battery, in the North, protected by a glacis and a man made lagoon, which made a land attack almost Spain declared war early in June 1779 and communications with Gibraltar were finally cut off on the 20th June. The Spaniards knew that mounting only a land attack was pointless. The narrow strip of land leading up to Landport Gate, was heavily defended and almost impossible to capture without huge losses. A combined land-sea attack was more likely to succeed but that was difficult as long as the British Navy dominated the sea. The third and simpler way was through starvation. Spanish frigates, cutters and gunboats blockaded the Rock and prevented any food supplies from reaching the defenders in Gibraltar. On land, the batteries and trenches built across the isthmus in 1727 (13th siege) were rearmed and strengthened. Gibraltar was isolated and cut-off by both land and sea.


At the time of the siege the British garrison was around 5,400 men; consisting of five British regiments (500 men each) and three Hanoverian (German) regiments (360 men each). There were 428 artillerymen (96 guns) and 108 engineers. There were also 3,201 civilians, but many of them managed to buy passages to safer places and left the Rock before the sea blockade was enforced which eased the problems and burden of feeding so many people later as the siege got under way.
Gibraltar’s defences were very strong and included North Bastion and Grand Battery, in the North, protected by a glacis and a man made lagoon, which made a land attack almost impossible and King’s Bastion on the west coast, which protected Gibraltar by sea. The natural shape of the
Rock protected the east and southern parts and made it nearly impossible to attack.


Fig.17. Spanish plans to capture the Rock, mid 18th Century. Courtesy Gibraltar Museum.


French and Spanish forces, on land and at sea, consisted of around 40,000 men and some 246 guns. The defenders were therefore heavily outmanned and outgunned but had the huge advantage in the shape of the natural and man-made defences of the Rock to possibly tip the balance in their favour.
The scene was set for a long drawn-out siege.


 


A captain in the America Regiment. A grenadier from the Napoles Regiment.