Capture of Gibraltar 24th July 1704
Updated: Jul 31, 2020
On July 24, the allied fleet arrived outside Gibraltar. In all, Rooke commanded 16 English ships under Byng and six Dutch ships under Rear Admiral Paulus van der Dussen. The ships positioned themselves inside the harbor, carefully out of range of the bastion’s guns. Rooke directed matters from his flagship, Royal Katherine, at the entrance to the bay. Beginning with a brief covering barrage laid down by the guns of his fleet, Rooke launched an amphibious assault by 1,900 English and 400 Dutch marines.
Their initial objectives were the main shore defenses, the Old and New Moles, and the fortified Teurto Tower.From 500 yards out to sea, the attackers (soldiers with muskets and swords and sailors armed with cutlasses, boarding pikes, and pistols) clambered down from their transport vessels onto a variety of launches, ships boats, skiffs, and barges to make their approach to the objectives.
Small cannons were also made ready to be sent ashore if needed. It was the first time that Rooke’s floating armada had conducted an amphibious assault and the largest one ever attempted by an English force up to that time.
Within an hour after setting off from the mother ships, the invaders landed on the sandy isthmus at the northern end of the Gibraltar peninsula. After forming into columns and advancing a short distance to attack the New Mole Fort, the English were struck by a devastating setback. Either a mine was set off by the defenders or else a powder magazine accidentally detonated—no one could determine which—and the assaulting force was wracked by a powerful explosion that killed or wounded 100 attackers.
Immediately after the deafening blast occurred, the surviving members of the landing party froze in their tracks, looking in shocked amazement at the loss of life and the wretched condition of the ground caused by the unexpected event. Unsure whether it was safe to carry on the attack, some of the men fell to the earth seeking shelter, while others ran back toward the landing boats. But most of the attackers simply remained stationary and silent.
Those officers who remained alive and unhurt, along with hard-bitten sergeants and corporals, rapidly regained their senses and hurried to calm the men and put them back into some sort of formation.
As the English marines regained their composure and prepared to continue the advance, reinforcements came ashore. Soon the reorganized English-Dutch force headed for the fort. Encircling the installation and discharging their firearms, the allies stormed and took the place. Two columns of men were dispatched to surround the town. Meanwhile, sailors from the fleet secured the surrounding heights. They had been selected for the task because of the agility and speed with which they normally performed their shipboard duties. Soon the Spanish defenders began displaying white flags signaling their desire to surrender.
In 1827, the battle honours of the Royal Marines being so numerous (109 at this point), King George IV directed that the “Great Globe” itself should form their cap badge and that the single battle honour “Gibraltar” be selected as representative of all the others worn by the Corps. “Gibraltar” remains today the sole battle honour shown on the Regimental Colours of the Royal Marines.