The husband-and-wife historian team once again exhibit their talent for enlivening British history.
This time, the Adkins writing team (Jane Austen’s England, 2013, etc.) looks at the 1779-1783 siege of Gibraltar, which, at three years and seven months, was the longest siege in British history and played a significant role in the success of the American Revolution. As America’s ally, France declared war on England and enlisted Spain to join them in attempting an invasion of Britain. After that plan failed, the next step was to take the most strategic spot in the Mediterranean, Gibraltar. Protecting the rock and rebuffing convoy attempts to resupply it took thousands of men, ships, and armaments desperately needed across the Atlantic. Many of those convoys never made it to Gibraltar, intercepted by Spanish or French fleets. As English Adm. George Darby initiated a relief convoy, it enabled the French commander to slip away and arrive in time to be the deciding factor in the capitulation at Yorktown. Many readers will wonder why this episode hasn’t been made into a movie, with all the heroics of soldiers, civilians, and, especially, families. Thankfully, the authors had a vast trove of letters and diaries of those who lived through the siege, and they use them to great effect. The most telling is that of the wife of Gibraltar’s chief engineer, William Green. She describes what might be called the phony war, as Spain tried to starve out the garrison and engaged in near-incessant bombardment. They paused only briefly each afternoon, for siesta. The inhabitants of Gibraltar fought hunger, typhus, and smallpox in addition to abject fear. During the seemingly interminable siege, both sides came up with new and deadly inventions: English exploding shells, a forerunner of shrapnel, gunboats, and French floating batteries. Equally notable is one of the most famous sorties in military history.
The story is as compelling as it is fantastic—page-turning history of one of the most important eras of Western civilization.