For over three and a half years, from 1779 to 1783, the tiny territory of Gibraltar was besieged and blockaded, on land and at sea, by the overwhelming forces of Spain and France. It became the longest siege in British history, and the obsession with saving Gibraltar was blamed for the loss of the American colonies in the War of Independence.
- Roy and Lesley Adkins
Located between the Mediterranean and Atlantic, on the very edge of Europe, Gibraltar was a place of varied nationalities, languages, religions and social classes. During the siege, thousands of soldiers, civilians and their families withstood terrifying bombardments, starvation and diseases. Very ordinary people lived through extraordinary events, from shipwrecks and naval battles to an attempted invasion of England and a daring sortie out of Gibraltar into Spain. Deadly innovations included red-hot shot, shrapnel shells and a barrage from immense floating batteries.
This is military and social history at its best, a story of soldiers, sailors and civilians, with royalty and rank-and-file, workmen and engineers, priests, prisoners-of-war, spies and surgeons, all caught up in a struggle for a fortress located on little more than two square miles of awe-inspiring rock. Gibraltar: The Greatest Siege in British History is an epic page-turner, rich in dramatic human detail - a tale of courage, endurance, intrigue, desperation, greed and humanity. The everyday experiences of all those involved are brought vividly to life with eyewitness accounts and expert research.
Well I ended the year as I started what a fantastic book to review. So much so that I am now reading it again and I can’t remember a time before where I ever did that before. Roy and Lesley Adkins have produced a tour de force here but then again I am biased as a short posting ( three weeks ) to Gibraltar staying in the historic South barracks was the first time that I actually ‘felt’ history. I was 30 years old and standing in the garden where the bodies of those killed in the battle of Trafalgar were interred. Our Accommodation hadn’t changed much since the mid 1700‘s and sitting outside cleaning the fabled SLR in the open made me think of all of the squaddies that must have done the same over the years .
Anyway I digress, for three and a half years a small garrison of Scottish (by now British) and Hanoverian troops held out against a siege of a vastly superior Spanish and French Army. At first the intention was to starve the garrison out but inevitably bombardment and blockade came into place. Reputations were made and lost, a British Admiral was hanged “ pour le encouragement de les autres” ( pardon my French) as reported in the Paris Newspapers for failing to pursue an attack. Later on another failure indirectly caused the loss of the American colonies which of course had much more strategic value than the Rock. Sergeant Major Ince of the Artificers Corps (sappers) came up with a solution to assist in the bombardment of the Spanish by tunnelling into the Rock .
The Adkins bring this siege to life lots of boredom followed by 4,000 rounds of cannon shot daily! This book is easily read and you will be absorbed into the atmosphere of the late eighteenth century armies and navies struggling to get the upper hand. No wonder it has had a number of reprints. The writers brought home to me the value of SAPPERS, Gunners and logistics in a battle together with the continuing sense of betrayal by our Government which still chimes today.
What a book; I hearty commend it to you and am sure that, like me, after you have read it you will stand a wee bit taller. Also let me tell you that it was so absorbing that at four in the morning when I had to get up my my nightly visit I would read a chapter.
Five Mushroom heads go and get it!