1708 – Siege of Alicante

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Sieges >> 1708 – Siege of Alicante

The siege lasted from 1 December 1708 to 20 April 1709

Introduction

After the surrender of Dénia on 17 November 1708, d'Asfeld garrisoned the town with 2 rgts and moved on to lay siege to Alicante, the last remaining Allied stronghold in the Kingdom of Valencia.

An unsuccessful attack by Field Marshal Starhemberg on Tortosa had no influence on d'Asfeld's operations and on 28 and 29 November d'Asfeld sent Don Pedro Ronquillo and several Spanish rgts to attack Alicante.

On 30 November, d'Asfeld himself appeared before the city with 14,000 men and 250 horse with several artillery pieces.

Map

Map of the siege of Alicante in 1708-1709 – Copyright: Dinos Antoniadis

The city of Alicante was barely provided with ammunition and with bread for only 14 days. However, its castle was built on the solid rock, and even though the ravelin at its northern entrance, the cistern and the bomb-proof barracks had not yet been completed, the only possible method of destroying its defences was by means of mining.

Description of Events

On 30 November, the spirit of the citizenry of Alicante was already so bad that when Major-General Richards wanted to demolish some houses in the suburb of San Anton in order to get a better field of fire, the citizens resisted.

On 1 December, there was a scuffle between the inhabitants and the garrison, in which there were a few dead on both sides. D'Asfeld opened the trench before Alicante.

On 2 December, d’Asfeld took advantage of the confusion prevailing in the city and entered the suburb of San Antón from the north, without even using artillery. Later the same day, two more suburbs came into d'Asfeld’s hold.

On 3 December, after the bravest resistance, d'Asfeld made himself master of an entrenchment, whereupon the miners were employed.

Richards learned that 7 enemy ships were on their way from Cartagena to blockade Alicante by sea.

Such unusual force of attack made Richards fear that the city would be taken by assault. To spare the 3 rgts and the 1,200 Miquelets under his command the lot of captivity, he decided to surrender the town and to retire into the castle with part of the garrison. It was thus agreed that the regular troops, with the exception of Frederick de Sibourg's Foot and Sir Charles Hotham's Foot stationed in the castle(*), would be directed to the nearest Catalonian place with two guns, arms and baggage, and that the governor of the castle would enjoy a four-day truce during which neither food nor ammunition supplies were allowed to be brought into the same. However these terms were violated by the Franco-Spanish – in reprisal for the capture of the garrison at Mahon (Fort Felipe), Allied troops who were about to retreat to Catalonia were arrested on their way.

D’Asfeld then occupied the town of Alicante and established two batteries on the coast to repel any relief attempt by the Allied fleet. The reduced garrison defending the castle now had provisions of water and food for six months.

In the second half of December, after d'Asfeld had strengthened the garrison of Tortosa, he moved into winter-quarters with the troops that could be dispensed with for the encirclement of the Castle of Alicante.

D’Asfeld established a blockade of the place and decided for the formidable enterprise of digging a mine into the rock of the castle. His experts estimated that such an endeavour would necessitate three months of hard work.

For Major-General Richards, who had locked himself in the castle, his only hopes were in the fleet, which was still anchored in the harbour of Mahón in the Island of Minorca. Richards asked for the support of the Allied fleet to evacuate the garrison when he could no longer defend Alicante.

To delay the progress of the Franco-Spanish, the defenders placed chains hanging from the walls of the castle and used them to lowered grenades into the mouth of the mine. They also attempted a sortie which did not produce any tangible results.

Richards, knowing that the cistern was the selected target for the mine, asked his Engineer Captain Pagez to come with a plan for a counter-mine.

D’Asfeld had also ordered to establish a series of batteries to defend the town against any naval relief attempt. He had entrusted these works to the Maréchal de camp Pedro Ronquillo.

To confuse the besiegers, Richards acted as if he planned to capitulate within 15 days if he did not receive any help.

On January 15, 1709, five ships arrived under the command of Admiral Byng. The fire of this squadron succeeded in dismantling some shore batteries, but one of the ships was hit and the squadron retreated. It had been a timid offensive that only made Richard even more desperate.

On 25 February, a corvette flying a British flag appeared in the harbour of Alicante, the captain sent a message to Richards informing him that he should not expect any help from the Allied fleet. In fact, it was a captured corvette manned by an Irish crew. Richards did not put too much faith in this message.

By 1 March, the Franco-Spanish, after three months of incessant work, had managed to hew a gallery through the rock beneath the castle, and to charge it with 25 tons of powder. They then summoned Richards to surrender, inviting him at the same time to send two officers to inspect the mine. They also informed Richards that he had four days to come to a final decision.

Two British engineers accordingly were sent and inspected the mine.

"The French general having invited the officers to inspect the mine, Colonel Thornicroft and Captain Page, a Huguenot engineer, went; and on their return they reported to the garrison that the mine was a sham."

On the morning of 4 March, which had been fixed for the explosion of the mine, the Franco-Spanish once more summoned the garrison of the Castle of Alicante, and the country people, who also received notice, went to the surrounding heights to look on from a safe distance.

"In the morning a large party of British officers went upon the doomed battery, and General Richards hurried to get off; but Colonel Sibourg jocularly said that they would go off without loss of time, but that they must first drink Queen Anne’s health where they stood; and he sent his “gentleman” for two bottles of wine. The “gentleman,” returning with the bottles, observed Captain Daniel Weaver, shouting that he would drink the Queen’s health with them, leap upon the battery; in a moment the mine was sprung, and blew up the Captain along with the General, Colonel Sibourg, Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Thornicroft, Major Francis La Balme Vignoles, and at least 20 more officers."

The senior surviving officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Balthasar d’Albon, took over command of the garrison of the castle.

The effect of the explosion was, however, less than had been expected and designed; for, taking a transverse direction, it had blown up but a small portion of the rock, and rather increased than diminished the steepness of the rest. Albon still had ample supplies but the cistern had been damaged and the defenders now had water for only two months. D’Albon decided to wait to be relieved by the Allied fleet. Following Richard's instructions, he posted to avoid a possible surprise assault; 30 men in the hospital; and 30 men near the forge. The rest of the garrison was stationed in the defensive works.

D’Asfeld directed the fire of one of his battery against the damaged cistern. The defenders then began to transport water to a smaller cistern inside the castle, but this cistern too was mined.

On 16 April, a British squadron of five ships (Defiance (64), Northumberland (??), Essex (70), York (60) and Dunkirk (50)) under Sir Edward Whitaker appeared before Alicante and started to shell the Franco-Spanish positions on the eastern side of the town. However, the warships soon had to leave their positions due to unfavourable winds. In the process, they suffered some losses as the Dunkirk (50) could not get away fast enough because of damage in her rigging and was exposed to fire from the besiegers for a couple of hours, losing 8 guns and 16 dead and 46 wounded as well as considerable hull damage.

D'Albon continued to hold out until 18 April, when a capitulation was agreed to.

On 20 April, the garrison marched out with two pieces of cannon and every mark of honour, and was conveyed by the British fleet to Minorca.

Footnotes

(*) "Feldzüge des Prinzen Eugen von Savoyen, Feldzug 1708", p.267 speaks only of one British battalion in the castle, but according Taubmann, 1714 and Colburn, 1866 (see below), Hotham's Regiment of Foot was also there. The confusion here may have arisen from the fact that Sibourg's regiment being Huguenot was considered a "French" regiment, so reference to the "British" regiment in the castle may actually be to Hotham's, Sibourg's being ignored.

(**) "Journal historique sur les matieres du temps", Verdun 1708, p.72

Forces involved

Allies

Commander-in-Chief: Major-General John Richards

Regular infantry

Irregulars

  • Spanish Miquelets" (approx. 1,200 men)

Franco-Spanish

Commander-in-Chief: Chevalier d'Asfeld

The exact composition of d'Asfeld's force at Alicante is unknown, as it is unclear which troops were left to garrison Dénia. In September 1708 his corps comprised the following units(**:

Infantry

Cavalry

References

This article combines information translated from:

  • "Feldzüge des Prinzen Eugen von Savoyen, Feldzug 1708", Vienna 1885, pp. 261-268

...and excerpts from:

Other sources

Arre Caballo – Campañas en 1709

Colburn's United Service Magazine, Part III, London 1866, pp. 517Ff

Fortescue, J. W.: A History of the British Army, Vol. I, MacMillan, London, 1899, pp. 528-529

Wikipedia – John Richards (soldier)

Acknowledgements

Jörg Meier for the initial version of this article.