The People of Gibraltar
1936 - The Bombardment of Algeciras - Seen from Gibraltar

The following quote is from an unexpected source - the Australian Canberra Times of the 10th of August 1936. It refers to an event that occurred during the Spanish Civil War involving the Jaime I
- a Spanish Government battleship - 
The Jaime I heavily bombarded Algeciras, which is the rebel post near Gibraltar, for three hours and a half. Thousands of' spectators at Gibraltar, watching from roof-tops and windows, saw the shells exploding in various parts of the town and harbour. . . . 

The Jaime I

The article mentions a Gibraltar correspondent of the Times as a supplier of additional information. It was barely a month since the start of the Civil War, thousands of Spaniards and Gibraltarian residents in Spain had taken refuge in Gibraltar. WW II was still a couple of years in the future. This was important news. The article, however, fails to mention that this was not a solo effort. The battleship was part of a flotilla with two other ships - the cruisers Libertad and Miguel de Cervantes.

The Spanish Government flotilla of the Jaime I on the left and the two cruisers on the right parked in Admiralty waters near Gibraltar harbour   (22nd July 1936)

Soon after the three ships had arrived, British boarding officers visited the Libertad and asked to see Commander Fernando Navarro Capdevilla who was supposed to be in charge of the cruiser. After a very long wait, an unshaven, smelly individual wearing a very crumpled uniform of a Capitan de Fragata came up on deck to meet them. He was very noticeably not wearing any socks. The British officers’ worst fears were confirmed. The fellow was impersonating his commanding officer that he and his co-mutineers had undoubtedly killed. It was the kind of behaviour one might expect of anybody associated with communism. In fact what had actually happened was that all three ships had run out of water for several days and there simply wasn’t enough of the stuff for anybody to wash themselves - let alone their clothes.

On the 7th of August, the three ships moved west, the Jaime I bombarded Algeciras and the Libertad shelled the coastal batteries at Punta Carnero. The Miguel de Cervantes does not seem to have played a part in all of this.

Curiously, although any number of photographs were taken of the effects of the attack on the town hardly any exist which depict the actual bombardment. So far I have only seen one. There is however a second shot held by Getty Images which is supposed to have been taken on that day, but it actually turns its back on Algeciras and looks towards Gibraltar.  Its caption suggests that the people looking across the Bay towards Algeciras were a group of residents and presumably rather worried refugees,

The scarcity of available pictorial material on this topic is highlighted by the fact that purchasing a single copy of the above from Getty would put you back by more than £500.  You could of course ask for a discount - The date on the caption is wrong - As mentioned the bombardment took place on the 7th of August. 

The photograph become an instant success and was published internationally - the Spanish Civil War was, of course, the topic of the year.  

I will not bother to translate or transcribe the caption which in essence gives much the same information as the Getty version 

British newspapers were not slow to catch up either. P.H.F. “Bill” Tovey, the Daily Express’s supposedly best and certainly highest paid photographer happened to be in Gibraltar at the time presumably covering the mass exodus of frightened political refugees from Spain into an increasingly overcrowded Rock. The Jaime I affair was a godsend - a break from what must have been a repetitive and unrewarding job. On the 11th of August the Express published an article under the banner of “Warship Rains Shells on Spanish Rebel Town”. 

A selection of the photographs that appeared on the Daily Express on the 11th August 1936
Top left - A similar photo to the Getty one, Top right - The Jaime I bombarding Algeciras the only one of the engagement that I have ever come across - Bottom left - Mr and Mrs Beckinsale, the British Vice-Consul to Algeciras and his wife - their house was destroyed during the bombardment - Bottom right - British sailors watching the action from the safety of a destroyer anchored in Gibraltar Harbour just behind the Detached Mole

I have no idea who wrote the Express article but the photos are specifically attributed to Tovey and - crucially - one of these is so similar to the Getty print that there can only have been seconds between each having been taken.

A comparison between crops of two photographs - Getty’s on the left, Tovey’s on the right.

The inference is that Tovey was responsible for both, although it is hard to explain why the Getty version is the only easily available one while the other seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. However, that inference is actually not as obvious as might appear at first sight although it will require me to digress at length to explain the reason why. 

Here we go . . .  Gibraltar’s Catholic Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned has a lengthy history going back perhaps to the first decades of the 14th century. Fast, fast forward to the 20th when it was decided that her old facade needed uplifting. This is how the 1939 local Directory put it.
In 1931 the work of restoration and embellishment was begun according to the designs and under the supervision of H. St. Clair Garrod M.C. L.R.I.B.A. assisted by Cyril McGrail when among other improvements  . . . the fine imposing facade on the west end in classical Roman Doric was built to replace the very poor one erected in 1810. 

The old facade on the left

The 1939 directory unfortunately fails to mention whether the original wrought iron filigree tower dome was replaced with its present day solid copper one during the 1931 ”improvements”. If it was, then this would cast serious doubts as regards the authenticity of the Getty/Tovey photograph as the tower is clearly visible in the photograph with its original pre-1931 filigree design.

Present day copper dome on the left - Filigree wrought Iron dome in the middle - Dome as it appears on the Getty photograph

There are, of course, interesting consequences as regards the photograph if the installation of the new dome had in fact been part of the 1931 improvements For a start it would mean that Tovey’s photo could not have been taken during the bombardment. In other words he used an older one depicting people on a roof terrace watching some other activity on the Bay.

This would itself have been a curious and ironic relapse on the part of the Daily Express photographer. It was during his visit to Burgos after his stint in Gibraltar - Tovey was attached to the Francoist side - when according to Richard Whelan’s Robert Capa at Work - he was told that:
. . . the majority of pictures that decorated the back pages of most of the British and foreign newspapers and the cinema screens of the world had been faked . . . . . 
Tovey resolved to photograph the fakery and to have his pictures published with captions telling the truth about the circumstances in which they were made. 
It was hardly the kind of resolution one would expect from a man who had himself faked a photograph during the Jaime I affair.

There is of course one bit of information that would put to rest the uncertainty - the exact date when the iron filigree dome was replaced. So far I have been unable to discover it. However for what it’s worth I would say that the odds are mostly in favour of the photograph not being a fake. My guess is based on the photograph below.

For a start it shows the new 1931 facade without a concomitant new dome - which in turn confirms that the dome improvements were done after those to the facade. The photo comes from the 1939 Gibraltar Directory. These semi-official publications were distributed more or less on a yearly basis and the 1939 one was the first to be properly illustrated with photographs.

While it can be argued that the print showing the church need not necessarily have been taken in 1939, it would be odd that the editor would have included a photo that was not at the very least within a very few years of the date of publication. Pure speculation, of course, as the correct answer will only be forth-coming when we learn the exact date on which the old wrought iron dome was finally removed from the top of the church.

Lots of thanks to Anthony Aquilera - who first noticed the anomaly - and to Ernest Falquero who first pointed it out to me


From an album of photographs dated 1934 collected by an unknown gentleman by the name of J.L. Pollitt