For the visitor to Gibraltar, no vacation in Gibraltar is going to be complete without the viewing of the 100 Tonne Gun. The late 1800’s saw four of these giants built by the naval authorities of Britain, with a view toward securing their holdings. Two were built for Gibraltar, while another two were built for Malta.
Manufactured by Sir W C Armstrong in a factor at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, the guns were built in 1870 and for the time span in which they were built they were amazing state of the art, completely unique, and in fact remain so today. Two of those built still survive in the world today and one resides in Gibraltar, at Napier of Magdala Battery.
For informational purposes, the second gun’s location on Gibraltar was at Victoria Battery, on the site of what is now the Gibraltar Fire Station.
Aspects of what was the below-ground infrastructure of that gun position still survives as well and remains in use for training by the Fire Brigade of Gibraltar.
The gun which you will see currently at the Napier of Magdala is the one that was originally situated at the Victoria Battery, and it was moved to Napier when the gun itself split during firing. The gun is singularly unique in several ways, built to be the very impressive weapons that they were.
The 17.72 inch Rifled Muzzle loader, or 100 Tonne Gun, has a barrel that is more than 32 feet long and can fire a shot that will range up to 8 miles in distance. Truly an amazing weapon in its time. They were the largest guns of any kind that needed to be loaded through the muzzle, and were so large that it required an hydraulic system powered by steam to carry out the loading and firing operations.
Not entirely practical, the gun, which did in fact weigh a bit more than 100 tonnes, took about three hours time to build up the steam necessary to load the gun, but during the time span in which it was used, that amount of time was actually practical, since the speeds of the war craft approaching them would have been still less than the time it took to load the gun, and the ships would, after being sighted on the point, take at least three hours to arrive in Gibraltar.
Each gun required a crew of men to operate it, a crew of about 35 men to be exact, and after the initial head of steam was built up, the crew could fire the gun every four minutes. The shells, which as mentioned reached a distance of 8 miles, fired a shell that weighed in at about 2000 pounds at speeds of about 1500 feet per second.
This gave the gun the ability to penetrate more than two feet of iron, which was certainly sufficient in those days.
All in all, the gun is well worth a visit, a testament to another, far more violent and uncertain time, when the Rock was unbreachable and the supremacy of the British naval fleets were tested and retested and found to be unwanting.
There is a story told about the 100 tonne gun that is interesting to the visitor to Gibraltar, and speaks to us of the technologies of the time. It tells of a visit of the Inspector General in about 1902.
Reportedly they were preparing to fire five rounds at a full charge and on their first try, the tube was all that fired. Further tries on their part as well as misfire drills were attempted but nothing seemed to work.
At the end of the waiting time, which was thirty minutes, the General requested that a volunteer step forward and be put down the gun and fasten a shell extractor to the unfired projectile so that it could be removed.
There was, as one might imagine, a quite long pause prior to a tall thin soldier’s stepping forward and stripping to the waist to be lowered into the gun. He was safely removed from the gun and had completed the task for which he entered it, and it is said that he was, on the spot, promoted to bombardier. Not the most prolific of rewards for having risked life and limb, but certainly one that changed his life.
Ceremonially, the gun is still in use today, though not literally, and in 2002, a reenactment of the gun firing was held for the Gibraltar Malta conference.
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