November 07, 2019
This very important and strategic fortification, situated to the north of the City of Gibraltar, was a key element in the overall defences of the garrison. In the present day, this bastion is surrounded by reclaimed land to the west and north with its main role originally having been to provide flanking fire across the barrier facing north towards Spain. It runs along Glacis Road, its former glacis, and Smith Dorrien Avenue which separates it from the curtain wall with the Giralda Gardens and the Gibraltar Petanqua Association occupying its northwest corner.
The North Bastion was constructed over the much earlier medieval Moorish and Spanish era walls; in 1309, a tower was set up by the Castilians in the northwest end of it, later known as the Giralda Tower, in order, partly, to protect the arsenal. In the mid 16th century, the Lombardian military engineer, Giovan Giacomo Paleari Fratino (known as Il Fratino), was commissioned by King Philip II to improve the Rock’s defences; among the works carried out at the time was the conversion of the existing Giralda Tower into a bastion
Alonso Hernández del Portillo, writing in 1610-22, referred to it as the Bulwark or Bastion of San Pablo, stating that it was ‘redoubt of very great strength, capable of containing sufficient numbers to defend the place, as was seen in the year 1333 when besieged by King Alfonso [XI of Castile].’ This fortification appears not to have had any embrasures for artillery firing out to sea or along the coastline, but, in any case, there were three other embrasures which flanked the adjoining Wall of San Bernardo [later the Grand Battery] and also covered the ditch or moat in front of it.
Following the successful attack on the Rock by Anglo-Dutch forces in August 1704, a report on Gibraltar’s defences prepared in January of the following year surmised that this area of the fortifications had been seriously damaged – ‘The front of St. Paul’s Bastion being entirely beaten down, as likewise more than a third of the curtain next to it, the rest of that and the adjoining bastion of St. Peter with the defences of them being also levelled by the enemy’s battering.’ Steps were taken to rebuild these walls and it was then proposed that a ravelin also be constructed in front of the curtain, although this was not undertaken presumably because it was realised that its position would restrict fire from the Grand Battery onto the Inundation in front of it. Instead, an advanced small flêche was built, this being a detached lunette or arrow-shaped work joined by a corridor or caponier to the main work.
During the 13th Siege (11th February – 12th June 1727), the North Bastion suffered substantially from the incessant fire from the Spanish besiegers which had a 12-gun position near to this north side of the Rock. On the 30th April of that year, the bombardment was so fierce that three of the guns on this bastion were dismounted. Nevertheless, the garrison was able to resist these concerted attacks and, in actual fact, more deaths were sustained by the British by their own guns bursting than from the fire from the Spanish artillery. Following this siege, the area of the front of the land wall, which had been a marsh, was excavated between the years 1731 and 1734 to a depth of two feet lower than the lower water level of the Bay.
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas James, writing in 1755, described the North Bastion, as follows: ‘anciently a square Moorish tower: it retains still the same form, except the parapet in front, which is made of tapia, with four embrasures mounted in the face towards the enemy, three towards the sea, three in the flank next the ditch, and three on the flank next Waterport.’ A couple of years later, in 1757, the north-western flank of the bastion was altered to form a slight bend with embrasures for cannon inserted facing over the Waterport and the outer part of the Old Mole as well as covering the curtain which led to Montagu Bastion. This curtain, which contained Waterport Gate, had originally been damaged in 1704, and it had been decided to raise it somewhat higher.
Nevertheless, there ensued differences of opinion between the Governor of Gibraltar, Lord Tyrawley, and the Chief Engineer, Colonel William Skinner, about many aspects of alterations to the Rock’s defences. The Governor was concerned that an attack on the Rock was imminent and therefore considered it necessary to improve the maximum number of suitable defences, even if these might be of a makeshift nature. Commenting on the new flank proposed for the North Bastion, Colonel Skinner reported that he conceived it ‘to be to its disadvantage as the former flank commanded the Waterport and across the entrance of the Old Mole. Its contracted state preserved it from any Ricochet and left room for fighting the four cannon in front and the three in the west face which protect the front of the Old Mole.’
At the start of the great Siege (1779-83), the Chief Engineer, Colonel William Green, proposed the erection of a cavalier [elevated firing platform] for five guns on top of the North Bastion, which would cover the Inundation, at a total cost of £836. Following this siege, in which the bastion survived fairly unscathed, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Pringle, submitted a recommendation for the building of an envelope [counterguard] to be constructed in front of the bastion. This would contain square casemated barracks along the whole of its length, each communicating with its neighbour and most pierced by four musketry loopholes to defend its front.
In the rearmament programme of 1856, it was proposed to substitute the 24-pdrs on the North Bastion with five 32-pdrs; by 1886, the bastion mounted six 32-pdr smooth bore 42-cwt guns, and two 64/32-pdr muzzle loading guns. At the beginning of the 20th century, the bastion was considered to be surplus to defence requirements and the guns removed in due course.
This artillery battery is located in the topmost southern ridge of the Rock at a height of 1398 feet, near Lord Airey’s Battery. O’Hara’s Battery was completed in 1890 with the first 6-inch BL gun placed on a Vavasseur centre pivot mounting; the latter later replaced in 1901 by a 9.2-inch Mark X BL gun which had a maximum range of 87,000 feet.
The battery was named after General Charles O’Hara who had been Governor of Gibraltar from 30th December 1795 until his death, on the Rock, on 25th February 1802. The latter had originally proposed the idea of building a watch tower at the top of the Rock which would enable the British garrison to observe enemy ship movements in the port of Cádiz, over 60 miles distance from Gibraltar. This tower, known as St. George’s Tower, was said to be 200 feet high and constructed of hewn stone. In the event, the tower was not able to serve this purpose owing to the distance and the many intervening mountains in between and it was soon given the name of ‘O’Hara’s Folly.’ The Monthly Magazine of 1st June 1811 published an article entitled ‘Journal of a Recent Visit to Cadiz’ which referred to this tower as follows: ‘On the top of the rock, near this place, General O’Hara, while governor of Gibraltar, erected a signal tower, called St.George’s Tower (now O’Hara’s Folly). It was intended to supersede the use of another signal, at some distance from it; but a violent storm, accompanied by lightning, shattered and nearly threw down the whole fabric, soon after it was built; and it is supposed that this effect was produced in consequence of the stone work being fastened by bars of iron.’ In 1888, the remains of the tower were removed and the new battery constructed in its place.
In 1901, the original gun emplacement was upgraded by the replacement of the existing artillery piece by a 9.2-inch BL Mk 1X gun on a Mark V mounting; this new gun had a maximum range of 42,000 feet. In 1934, a steel shield was applied to the front, side and top in order to give the gun emplacement some protection from splinters and small arms fire. A year later, the battery was further modernised by the installation of a Mark X gun on a Mark VII mounting, with an increased range of 87,000 feet.
The gun was last fired on 7th April 1976 during the course of a training exercise. In May 2010, the Government of Gibraltar opened the site to the general public with a refurbishment of the battery taking place in September 2012 by a unit of the 10th Signal Regiment.