David Rowlands: Military Artist
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The Sortie from Gibraltar, 27th November 1781   The Sortie from Gibraltar, 27th November 1781

Spain, declaring war on Britain in 1779, began a blockade of Gibraltar by land and sea. Siege works were constructed on the isthmus which separates the Rock from the Spanish mainland. They pushed forward their entrenchments and mounted a large number of guns to bombard the fortress and the town. Over a hundred Spanish guns and mortars devastated the town as the bombardment continued for eighteen months.

By November 1781 the Spanish had dug their siege lines so far forward that General George Eliott decided that a sortie should be made to destroy them. Early on 27th November, under cover of darkness, a carefully selected force of infantrymen, engineers and 114 gunners carrying axes, hammers, crowbars and fire faggots silently crept out of the defences, crossed the thousand yards of no-man's-land which separated the two armies, and surprised the Spanish troops in the advanced works. Little resistance was offered, and an officer of the Walloon Guards and sixteen soldiers were taken prisoner.

Quickly, the carefully made plans of destruction were carried out. Ten 13-inch mortars and eighteen 26-pounders, sunk in well-protected emplacements of 'stupendous height' were spiked and ruined. Artillerymen spiked the guns by hammering a nail into the vent to make them inoperable. Earthworks were blown up, the magazines set on fire and all of the elaborate siege works which the enemy had been constructing over fourteen months were destroyed. At a cost of only 30 casualties, the raiders withdrew to the fortress as the Spanish siege works burned furiously. Any plans for a Spanish assault were shelved.

The siege dragged on until 1783, when the Spanish gave up their attempt to capture the Rock of Gibraltar. In the painting I have viewed the scene from inside the Spanish lines. The North face of the Rock is visible in the background. British infantry of the 72nd Foot are dismantling the batteries. An artillery officer directs gunners who are about to light faggots of wood with their portfires. Another gunner spikes the nearest gun. Walloon Guards at lower left wear a blue uniform which would have been confusingly similar to the British Artillerymen in the darkness, though their black hats bore a red cockade.

Medium: Oil on Canvas

Printed image size(s): B2 only (58 x 38 cm)

Owner: 21 (Gibraltar 1779-83) Battery Royal Artillery

Price(s): 65