Monday, 16 July 2012

The Spanish at the Gates, Gibraltar 1779-1783

It's very hard to get details of the Spanish troops involved in the Siege, after all the the British concentrated on the heroics of the garrison, and the Spanish didn't like to dwell on a major defeat. But it was an immense deployment. Fortunately, there is an excellent study by Ángel J. Sáez Rodríguez of the Instituto de Estudios Campogibraltareños online - Uniformes y ejercitos multinacionales en El Gran Asedio de Gibraltar (1779-1783).

The Army

The infantry troops of the Spanish army who participated at some point in the siege included four battalions of Spanish Guards and another four of Walloon Guards, the first battalion of the Regiment of America, one battalion each of the Regiments of Cordoba and Savoy, and the regiments of Zamora, Extremadura, Guadalajara, Murcia, Princesss and Burgos. Of these, some were composed of hardened troops, like those from the recent campaigns in Uruguay such as the Regiments of Murcia, la Princessa, Cordoba, Zamora, Guadalajara, Saboya and the Lusitania Dragoons, whilst others had no experience at all. Amongst the foreign units were the Regiment of Ulster, the Italians of Milan and Naples, and the Swiss Betchart Regiment.

 A grenadier from the Napoles Regiment

For many years enlistment in the army had been voluntary, backed up by foreign mercenary forces, which is why there were so many Irish and Swiss regiments. There was a prohibition on recruiting non-Catholics, so there not the German troops found in British and French armies. But increasingly an important part of the Spanish forces were the provincial militia, with over a third of the 42 Regiments serving at Gibraltar at one time or another. According to the Ordinance of 1770 males over 1.6m and between 18 and 36 were liable and each province had to provide a quota, though there were many exceptions by profession, and especially by social class. Service was for 8 years, and each regiment  was commanded by a colonel, with 8 companies of infantry, one of grenadiers and one of light infantry. At Gibraltar the grenadiers and light infantry were separated and formed into 3 divisions including the provincial grenadiers of Andalusia, Ciudad Real, Guadix, Logroño and Toro, and provincial light infantry of Jerez, Lorca and Soria.
 A captain in the America Regiment

Regarding the cavalry, the majority of regiments were represented at one time or another. There was a clear distinction between the "cavalry" and dragoons.  Among the former,  were 2 squadrons of the Bourbon Regiment and the Alcantara, Algarve, Calatrava, Farnese Infante, Montesa. Also present were Volunteer Cavalry, as a squadron of this unit of light cavalry. With the reforms of Charles III, the cavalry regiments of the line at this time included 4 squadrons, and each of these, 3 companies, totalling 504 men.

 The Farnesia, Alcantara and Principe Regiments. The drummer of the Alcantara Regiment is wearing a different uniform to the bulk of the regiment, as per the infantry.

Among the dragons were 2 squadrons of the Pavia and Lusitania Regiments and the Almansa, King, Sagunto, Villaviciosa Regiments  These were sometimes used to fight dismounted as light infantry. Since 1768, the dragoon regiments consisted of four squadrons, each composed of three companies formed by a captain, one lieutenant, one lieutenant, two sergeants, drummer, four corporals, four grenadiers and 32 dragons, as well as the staff.

The usual deployment of the blockading forces was organised as follows. The far right of the line was occupied by the Spanish Guards, the far left by the Walloon Guards and the center by other line infantry regiments.The outposts of the isthmus were occupied by the light infantry regiments of the Volunteers from Catalonia and Aragon. These had a leading role in the skirmishes at the advanced trenches on the isthmus, contesting control of no man's land, both to prevent enemy infiltration and to intercept the flight of deserters. Given that, in the end, no attempt was made to storm Gibraltar, it was these troops at the front line who saw the only actual fighting, with the sappers and artillery. They were at constant danger from sniper and artillery fire, the height of the Rock giving the besieged a great advantage. This danger got considerably worse when the British started to shorten the fuses of their mortar shells, so that instead of burying into the sandy soil the shells exploded early, an early form of airburst effect.

 Voluntario de Catalunya 1778


Ironically the Spanish Army showed more variation in colour than the combined British and Hanoverians, with white, blue, red and yellow uniforms. Trousers were of the same colour as the coats.The basic colour of the infantry was supposed to be white, following an edict from Philip V, with fifes and drums in blue.  But of the regular infantry, only 32  of the 52 regiments wore white coats at this time.
The militia also wore white, with blue and purple facings.  "White" was a relative term though, as each man had only one uniform, which had to last several years, and so it was often patched and dirty. But there were also regiments with blue coats, especially the Guards, or red (the irony of the Irish having the same uniform as their hated enemies the English did not go unremarked) and the Dragoons, uniquely, wore yellow. Add the blue of the artillery and navy, both important at Gibraltar, and you have quite a mixture.
 The infantry were in the process of changing their tricornes to leather caps with brass badges, but the grenadiers retained their distinctive bearskins.

  The artillery and Corps of Engineers both used a loose blue uniform with scarlet facings and they kept the tricorne which was being phased out of the other services. Although the commander of the Spanish forces at Gibraltar was completely useless, described as a "null" by the French, other commanders performed well, and the men bravely. Like the artillery, the uniform was of blue, with red facings.

No comments:

Post a Comment