Object of the Month - April 2022

30 April, 2022

Great Siege of Gibraltar prints by Lieutenant George Frederick Koehler

This striking set of prints from our archive depicts the Great Siege of Gibraltar (June 1779 to February 1783), the longest siege ever defended by British Armed Forces.  

The Siege was actually part of the American War of Independence. Spanish and later French forces, who took the side of the American Colonies, blockaded the British garrison by land and by sea.  

These sketches were drawn by Lieutenant George Frederick Koehler, who arrived at Gibraltar with one of the relief convoys in Spring 1782. Artillery officers at the time were trained to draw because of the need to be able to visualise enemy positions and terrain. Lt Koehler was clearly a talented artist but this was not his only skill. He is also remembered for the invention of a gun-carriage allowing the axis of the gun to be depressed to an angle of seventy degrees. This new carriage enabled the defending guns to take advantage of the height of the Rock of Gibraltar.  Although not a new idea it was ingenious and the invention of the sliding carriage allowed the gun to recoil without pulling the gun carriage into the air. This idea was later built into more conventional gun carriages.  

Several of Koehler’s drawings show the major attack made against the British on 13 September 1782. This involved an artillery bombardment from land and sea, including the use of specially adapted ‘battering ships’, set up to be floating artillery batteries.  There were five companies of the Royal Artillery on the Rock, and supported by trained infantrymen, they were able to destroy a number of the battering ships. Others were scuttled as it became clear that the attack had failed. The Siege was finally ended following the peace negotiations that ended the American War of Independence.   

The five artillery ‘companies’ (as they were called then) are still serving today, as 19, 5, 23, 22 and 21 Batteries of the Royal Artillery.  All of them have the honour title “Gibraltar 1779-83”.