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Alexandra Battery (New Mole Fort - Torre del tuerto)

Ref: HLFP3/037

Situated at the neck of the South Mole, this battery was originally known as El Muelle Nuevo [the ew Mole] in Spanish times. In 1578, the Marquis de Santa Cruz had received instructions from King Felipe II to supervise the works of fortification in Gibraltar and to construct this New Mole. The works were carried out under the direction of the Italian military engineer, Giovanni Batista Antonelli, who planned for the mole to have a total length of 400 varas [a stick -unit of length used at the time in the Iberian Peninsula, equivalent to about 3 feet], i.e. 1200 feet, and a capacity for berthing a total of thirty-two galleys.

Antonelli had previously carried out a number of projects for King Phillip II who commissioned his services to build a number of military fortifications along the Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula - including a series of towers along the coast. He also undertook the reconstruction of the Castle of Santa Barbara overlooking Alicante. In 1562, he was commissioned for the construction of the Benidorm Palace and the Tower of Santa Faz in Alicante in 1575 and later built the reservoir of Tibi in 1580. He was also employed in the massive redevelopment of the defensive walls surrounding Peñíscola Castle in Valencia. It was therefore no surprise that Phillip II sent Antonelli to Gibraltar to supervise construction of the fort overlooking the New Mole.


Phillip II of Spain.

Giovanni Battista Antonelli.

Prior to this date, the area where the mole was to be constructed, was well-fortified by a tower called La Torre del Tuerto [the ne-Eyed Tower], a name which was already referred to as such in a document of 18th November 1469, sent by King Enrique IV of Castile to the Duke of Medina Sidonia. The origin of this name for the tower is unknown, although it has been said that this was the pseudonym of Tārik ibn Zeyād, the Muslim commander who led the Umayyad conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in April 711 and consolidated his troops on the Rock of Gibraltar, which name itself derives from his own - Jabal Tārik (the Mount of Tarik). According to La Primera Crónica General de España [First General Chronicle of Spain], written between 1270 and 1274, Tārik was said to have been one-eyed: ‘que era tuerto dell un ojo…’ and, in consequence, the tradition was that his pseudonym was given to this early construction in commemoration of his great conquest.

1608 - Cristobal Rojas New Mole and Torre del tuerto.

Pedro Barrantes Maldonado, writing in 1566 stated that ‘la torre del tuerto (que es un castillo por si) assentado en una punta que haze la tierra en la mar i donde suele aver un alcayde, y tiene quatro piecas de artilleria con que puede hazer mucho daño a las velas que entraren en la baiya: y es la guarda de aquel puerto…’ (‘the Tuerto Tower (which is in effect a fort) is situated on a spit of land jutting out to sea, where there is usually a governor. It has four pieces of artillery which can effectively cause great damage to any shipping entering the Bay and is the guardian of that port…’). The tower itself is shown prominently in the panoramic view of Gibraltar of 1567, executed by the Dutch artist, Anton Van den Wyngaerde, and appears as a tall turret-like structure with a single window, encompassed by strong walls; possibly, the single window in the structure might have been the real origin for its peculiar name.

In 1535 Micer Benedito converted the fortification into an independent artillery bastion in view of the deteriorating state of the old Moorish Line Wall which included the collapse of the wall along sections of the Red Sands and southern parts of the Rock. But the state of disrepair and lack of adequate defences was also known to a renegade by the name of Caramani, a slave who recently had escaped from Gibraltar. In 1540, after convincing one of Barbarosa’s Corsair Lieutenants - Hasim Aga - that a raiding expedition to Gibraltar would be bountiful, Caramani landed his men, at la Caletilla del Laudero [Camp Bay] a small cove out of sight the nearby Torre del Tuerto. He then proceeded to circle around those defences and entered the town through the southern district of La Turba, taking many captives.

Ottoman galley as used by the Turkish Corsairs under Caramani's command.

1563 - Capture of ten English ships in the Straits and brought to Gibraltar as prizes by Álvaro Bazán junior (Palacio del Marqués de Santa Cruz - Ciudad Real). The Torre del Tuerto is clearly depicted close to the New Mole.

Following the raid, the southern defences were eventually repaired, including the construction of Charles V Wall and the reconstruction of much of the old Line Wall defences, including the South Bastion. Van den Wyngaerde in his sketches of the Rock drawn in 1567 refers to the Torre del Tuerto as the Torre Torto. It is shown as a tall square tower surrounded by a strong fortified outer wall, but showing no mole, despite the fact that work to construct the New Mole had started fifty years earlier. However, at this time, the New Mole was no more than 28 metres long. The square tower and projecting south mole is nevertheless clearly illustrated in Luis Bravo de Acuña’s own sketch of 1627.

1567 - Wyngaerde La Torre Torto (Torre del Tuerto).

Alonso Hernández del Portillo, a City Councillor of Gibraltar writing between 1610-1622, described the tower in his Historia de Gibraltar, as follows: ‘es de fábrica más antigua que de moros, aunque unos aposentos que están fuera de la torre y mejor conservados que ella, parecen moriscos, ó á lo menos renovados por los moros. Esta torre es de fábrica y tiene forma pentagonal, esto es, de cinco esqinas.’ (‘it is of more ancient construction than of Moorish times, although some of the chambers situated outside the tower, which are in a better condition than the latter, appear to be Moorish, or at least renovated by the Moors. The tower is built of masonry and is pentagonal in shape, that is, it has five sides.’). 

Phillip II visited Gibraltar in 1618 and ordered the renewal of the Torre del Tuerto as well as the enlargement of the Old Mole and the start of works on the New Mole. Works on these projects started in 1619 and were completed by 1658.

1607 - Battle of Gibraltar. The tower's pentagonal shape is shown in this painting by Adam Willaers.

The perspective drawing and plans of Don Luis Bravo de Acuña executed in 1627, shows the tower as a tall square structure, standing on a pectagonal base which contained three-gun ports for firing along the northern side of the New Mole. The tower was entered through a door at first floor level, approached by a ladder. The fort projected from the tower to the neck of the Mole where it was formed into a casemated position, almost rectangular in shape, with three guns capable of firing through casemates on the northern-western front and one on each flank. Behind it there was a courtyard defended by a few loopholes and then, approached through a doorway in the narrow neck of the court, the old pectagonal tower. This had a few additional low buildings clustered around it, including what would have been the Capilla Real de Nuestra Señora de la Piedad [Royal Chapel of Our Lady of Pity].

Torre del Tuerto by Bravo de Acuna, 1627. Note the lookout posts at the end of the New Mole Battery.

Spanish lookout post South Mole today. It is the last remaining structure of the period.

The Torre del Tuerto became an intrinsic part of the attack on Gibraltar by Anglo-Dutch forces in August 1704. Following the rejection of surrender, a six-hour bombardment of the City and fortifications took place in which some 15,000 rounds were said to have been fired and which inflicted great damage to the Rock’s defences. It was then noted that the guns on the New Mole were silenced and a decision was taken to attack the Torre del Tuerto. Captains William Jumper of HMS Lennox and Jasper Hicks of HMS Yarmouth, together with 200 sailors and marines in the ships’ pinnaces attacked the fort without waiting for sufficient backup. The fort had been manned by some twenty militia, eight invalids and some townspeople, under the command of Captain Francisco Toribio de Fuentes.

The attackers scaled the 10-foot wall and entered the fort, finding little or no opposition. However, no sooner had they entered when the ground blew up under their feet, killing two officers and forty men. Sixty others lay wounded including Captain Hicks. The fort’s powder magazine had been mined and exploded as the attackers came ashore. Many of the attackers were killed or wounded by the huge pieces of stone that were thrown into the air by the huge explosion. The magnitude of the disaster caused Hicks and Jumper to order a retreat to the remaining boats of which seven had capsized in the blast. Subsequently, Captain Edward Whitaker of HMS Dorsertshire soon arrived with a further 200 or 300 reinforcements and were able to consolidate the beachhead.

An eye-witness account by Lieutenant Streynsham Master, serving on HMS Ranelagh described the event as follows: ‘..we drew into a line of Battle & about five in ye morn we began to bomb & cannonade ye town wch is built all of Stone & lies at ye foot of ye Hill fortified with many Strong batteries; but we plyd yre so briskly wth our shot they ceased firing by one of ye Clock abt wth time perceiving a fort to be extremely battrd & ye guns Dismounted we mand ye boats & attacked it wth sword & pistol in our hand being Landed and marching up to ye castle, Ye Spaniards sprung a mine & blew up ye castle ye stones of which as big as mountains fell upon some of our men & smote yon on hip & thigh, crushed some to death, bruised others on theire heads Legs & arms, no parts escaping. What befell me was one knock on my pate wch made me to bend and a great bruise wch confines me to my bed besides other small knocks; his not yet computed how many were maimed by this Stratagem but many killed and many will die of theire wounds & many will for ever be disabled.’

Dutch (left) and British (right) marines landing near the New Mole at the moment the Torre del Tuerto blows up.

In 1739, it was proposed to build a new fort on this position, strengthening the gun platform at the neck of the Mole, constructing a bastioned trace of two demi-bastions at the rear and demolishing what was left of the Tuerto Tower. Effectively, some works appeared to have been carried out at the time, as is evident in the description of the Mole by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas James, writing in about 1755, who described it as follows: ‘…the new mole fort, with two flanks of one gun each fronting the fort; and two flanks of two guns each fronting the eight-gun battery. Most of this wall was rebuilt in one thousand seven hundred and twenty-five and kept in good repair. On that part of the wall joining the new mole fort, are even embrasures to defend the inside of the said mole. The fort of this mole is of a triangular form, the side next to the hill has a rampart and parapet for musketry, a guard-house, and part of the Spanish barrack is built withinThe Landport gate of this fort is on the opposite flank within side, and against this flank is a magazine, opposite to which, and on the south face of this bastion, is one piece of ordnance, and a howitzer.’

1740- William Test for William Skinner - Ruins of Tuerto Tower. The small text reads ‘Remains of an ancient lighthouse supposed to be built by the Carthaginians’ but is in fact the remains of the Torre del Tuerto destroyed some 35 years earlier.

The New Mole Fort is referred to in a number of contemporary 18th Century French maps as the fort anglais in honour of Captains Hicks and Jumper who had led the first English troops ashore during the capture of Gibraltar in 1704.  William Skinner, the Chief Engineer re-built the fort in 1732 in a triangular shape, consisting of three acute bastions with embrasures overlooking the western mole and southern faces and curtain for he argued that any enemy landing at Europa must necessarily take the New Mole to bring in supplies. A 1732 plan of the New Mole Fort drawn by Jonas Moore shows a battery of eight guns facing north defending the New Mole, another five guns and two mortars facing west towards the bay, two flanking guns facing south and three guns en barbette facing east and covering the dockyard. Two further guns en barbette covered the curtain wall from the South.

The 1744 Armament List records a total of eighteen iron 32-pdrs. at the New Mole Fort.

During the Spanish War of 1762, it mounted seven 32-pdrs on the north-west face of the fort and two 32-pdrs and one 18-pdr on the mole head.

1732 - New Mole and New Mole Fort defences shown in red.

William Green, Gibraltar’s Chief Engineer suggested the construction of a pentagonal fort on the site of the old Torre del Tuerto to cut off the Mole from the neck of land which could have been used as a potential landing site but this was never built. However, the New Mole proved crucial during the Great Siege as it was used for unloading because it was considered safe from the Spanish guns in the mainland. As a result, the mole was constantly attacked by scores of Spanish gun and mortar boats operating in the bay.

1779 - New Mole Head Battery.

Various proposals to improve this fortified position were made over the years by the Chief Engineers of Gibraltar. In 1841, for example, General Jones proposed building bombproof barracks in the small fort in the event of an attack in the vicinity of the docks. He also proposed the installation of heavy coastal guns within the fort should the New Mole be extended, to flank the sea defences of the town and keep enemy ships at a distance. The 1868 Rock Model in the Gibraltar Museum shows a casemated coastal battery for five guns with more on the terreplein above and with three flanking guns behind.

In 1866, it was proposed to reconstruct the battery to be called New Mole Battery, and install four 9-inch RML guns protected by iron shields. This was probably as a result of the work by Colonel (later General) William Jervois who had proposed the idea of having the heaviest coastal gun of the age –  the 12.5 inch 38 ton RML gun, situated there, in a casemate screened behind an iron shield. These guns would fire North across the bay. These works began in April 1872 and completed in December 1874. The 9-inch guns remained in the battery until 1897 when they were removed due to the expansion of the dockyard and construction of the dry docks nearby.

Iron shields for the 9-inch guns placed at the New Mole Fort.

Following the completion of the works to accommodate the 9-inch guns at the New Mole, and I line with Jervois’s recommendations, preparations began for the emplacement of a 12.5 inch 38 ton RML gun on the North-Westernmost section of the New Mole Fort. The foundation stone for this battery was laid by Edward, the Prince of Wales in April 1876 and the battery itself named after his Royal Consort, Princess Alexandra of Denmark. By 1878, the battery had been completed at a total cost of £3,131, although just a few years later, it was found to be outdated and by 1906 it had been turned into accommodation casemates. The expansion of the dockyard and construction of the dry docks required the demolition of most of the New Mole Fort in order to construct an access road to the dockyard from the south via the new South Dockyard Approach Road. In spite of the destruction of most of the New Mole Fort, the entire western defensive curtain from Prince William Battery to and including Princess Alexandra Battery was retained.

During the Second World War, the extended mole, now called the South Mole, carried a 40-mm Bofors gun on Alexandra Battery and a one 4-inch QF gun on South Mole Battery, halfway up the mole. The site was abandoned after the war.

1876 illustration of the Prince of Wales at Alexandra Battery in Gibraltar.

Alexandra Battery casemates.

Alexandra Battery interior showing iron shields and traversing mechansims.

Alexandra Battery (New Mole Fort - Torre del tuerto) Image