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Napier of Magdalla Battery

Ref: HLFP3/023

This battery is situated to the north of Rosia Bay, constructed between 23rd December 1878 and 31st March 1884 on the site of the 2nd and 3rd Rosia Batteries, following Colonel Jervois’ recommendation in 1868 for a heavy RML battery for this area. In 1883, it mounted one of the two heavy 17.72-inch 100-ton RML guns on a barbette Mark I mounting, the other being at Victoria Battery; the total cost of works was of £35,707. The guns were manufactured by Sir W. Armstrong at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne with a total of twelve guns on order – eight of which were sold to the Italian Navy and two of each sent to Malta and Gibraltar. The guns were able to project a 2000lb shell with a muzzle velocity of about 1540 feet per second. This required 450lbs of black prism gun powder which gave the projectile a smashing effect of 33,230 feet per ton, allowing it to penetrate 24.9 inches of wrought iron.

Napier of Magdala Battery Record Plans, 1885.

Napier of Magdala Battery terreplein and basement plan (detail).

Napier of Magdala Battery sections ABC.

Napier of Magdala Battery sections EFGH.

Napier of Magdala Battery sections KLMN.

Napier of Magdala Battery plan elevations.

Quentin Hughes, the noted architect and military enthusiast wrote a most informative article in the Illustrated London News of April 1978, entitled ‘The Big Guns of Gibraltar’, and noted the following: ‘Two of the biggest and last of the muzzle-loading guns, the 100 tonner, were sent out to defend Gibraltar, and one is still preserved in Napier of Magdala Battery, named after Lord Napier, who was for a while Governor of the Rock’….The problem of getting these big guns out to Malta and Gibraltar was a difficult one and eventually a 100-page report was printed describing the task. It was even proposed that the guns should each be encased in a specially built “submarine” and towed out in a manner similar to the way which Cleopatra’s Needle was brought from Egypt to London.

The wharf at Gibraltar was not strong enough to receive the weight of the gun barrel, which was nearly 33 feet long and in places 2 feet 4 inches thick. Eventually SS Stanley arrived at the New Mole and one gun was successfully landed on December 10th, 1882, carried and hauled up 35 feet of cliff and installed in its battery.

Napier of Magdala plan photograph from Rosia Road.

Napier of Magdala from Rosia Bay.

The 100 tonners (together with their brothers, the 80-ton guns at Dover) were the first of the new weapons of the technological era – the only guns in the British Army which were completely operated by machinery and could not be worked by hand. As a result, they gave many headaches. A steam engine, which took about four minutes to build up sufficient head of steam to operate the gun, charged accumulators which fired the weapon electrically, one round every four minutes. The projectiles and charges were moved on an underground railway from magazines to the ammunition hoists where they were automatically lifted to the gun barrel and rammed into the muzzle b y a steam-operated ram. After firing, automatic water jets swilled out of the gun.

It was a complicated process backed by a gun crew of 35 men. No wonder it occasionally went wrong. Once during firing practice, a cartridge failed to detonate and its shell remained in the barrel – a nasty situation especially in view of the fact that one of the guns of the Italian battleship Duilio had recently blown up. A small, thin trumpeter was asked to volunteer to retrieve the shell from the British gun. Some idea of the size of the bore – a calibre of 17½ inches – can be gained from the fact that it was possible to lower this man, head first, down the barrel, clutching a stout rope in his hands. This he secured to an eye conveniently provided on the tip of the shell, and first he was drawn out, then the unexploded shell. He was promoted to the rank of bombardier on the spot.’ This latter event took place in 1902 during the official visit to the Rock by the Inspector-General of Artillery, with the gun then prepared to fire five rounds at full charge.

Link to 100-ton gun

Napier of Magdala Battery test firing 1880's.

By 1906, the gun was considered to be obsolete, although the gun was left in position; its hydraulic and other working parts were, nevertheless, removed at the time. During World War II, a battery of four 3.7-inch guns and two Bofors quick-firing anti-aircraft guns were set up on this site. The gun at Napier of Magdala Battery, nicknamed ‘The Rockbuster’, was last fired in 2002, with the use of a very small signalling charge, in order to commemorate the 6th Calpe Conference of 2002, entitled ‘Gibraltar/Malta – History, Heritage and Identity in a Mediterranean Setting.’ In October 1994, an interpretation centre was inaugurated at this battery, which is now regularly visited by tourists during the course of the year.

Napier of Magdala 100-Ton Gun.

Napier of Magdalla Battery Image