The Kings Bastion is at the junction of Reclamation Road & Queensway
In 1704 Admiral Sir George Rooke with his Dutch ally, Prince George of Hesser d'Armstadt took Gibraltar and it has remained British since. The Rock of today is very different to the Rock in 1704. Much of the building on the western side of the peninsula is on land reclaimed from the sea. In 1704 the sea lapped against what is now line wall. The history of the King's Bastion is typical of that of the other bastions and defences.
In the early years of the 18th Century the British did little more than upgrade the existing Spanish defences that dated back to Mediaeval times but as the century progressed it was realised that Spain would want to make a determined attempt to regain their lost territory. The first serious attempt was the siege of 1727 that lasted 122 days after which it was found the Spanish, despite the strong English fleet helping defend the Rock, had managed to dig a mine by extending a cave in the north face of the Rock. The whole of the Line Wall defences were modified and strengthened and, in the centre, the largest bastion was built, Kings Bastion.
The foundation stone was laid in 1773. When finished the bastion was a large, classic fortification with curved faces projecting out from the curtain wall to provide enfilading fire along the wall on either side. It was soon in action during the Great Siege from 1779 to 1783. Faced with such formidable defences the Spanish invented the 'Floating Batteries', gunships with strengthened decks protecting the gunners beneath. The Spanish attacked on the 13th September 1782. On Kings Bastion shot was heated until it was red hot. The effects were recorded by Squadron General Cordoba, 'The fire from the enemy's red hot shot did inextinguishable damage to the roofs of the floating batteries despite repeated efforts to put out the fires. Six floating batteries had already been destroyed and the rest set alight.'
The Spanish did do some damage despite the defences. In 1785 J. Drinkwater wrote, 'About ten o'clock in the evening, a shell from the Lines fell into a house opposite the King's Bastion, where the Town-major, Captain Burke, with Majors Mercier and Vignoies of the 39th regiment were sitting. The shell took off Major Burke's thigh; afterwards fell through the floor into the cellar; there it burst, and forcing the floor, with the unfortunate Town-major, to the ceiling.'
The mid 19th century saw the introduction of screw driven iron hulled steam ships against which the defences had to be strengthened. By 1859 the King's Bastion, with walls increased in thickness to between 10 and 15 feet, mounted twenty five guns including two 10 inch howitzers. In the 1870s the embrasures along the faces of the bastion were removed to make space for five Rifle Muzzle-Loading guns, one 12.5 inch and four 10 inch, within casemates embrasures. They remained in service until 1902 protecting the anchorage in which Majestic class Battleships moored in the last years of the 19th century.
During the First World War King's Bastion was again manned to protect the naval dockyards and fuelling station as hundreds of warships made the transit to the Eastern Mediterranean. Such was the extent of British sea power at this time that Gibraltar did not see any enemy action throughout the war.
The Second World War however was a different story. The main threat was from the air and the possibility of sea born attacks by fast motor boats and submarines. In the early days of the war there was also a possibility of a German attack from the land. Kings Bastion again proved its value with a 6 pounder, 6 cwt anti tank gun. After the war, until the 1960's, 25 pounders were installed and the bastion became a saluting battery.
More peaceful times allowed the guns to be removed and King's Bastion housed Gibraltar's new oil fired electricity generating station that was only demolished in 2005. In 2008 the King's Bastion was opened as a leisure centre, its still substantial walls providing a defence against the weather.
© Nicholas Craig Nutter 2004 - 2012. Nick Nutter asserts his rights as the author of this article and all associated images. This article and images may not be copied or reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.