Operation Battle of Gibraltar

The 'Battle of Gibraltar' marked a high point in the history of Gibraltar as a British fortress since the early 18th century and as a vital factor in British military strategy, both as a foothold on the continent of Europe and as a bastion of British sea power. During World War II, Gibraltar served a vital role in both the Atlantic and Mediterranean theatres as it controlled essentially all naval traffic between Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean (9 September 1939/28 May 1944).

In addition to its commanding position, Gibraltar provided a strongly defended harbour from which ships could operate in both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Force 'H', under the command of Vice Admiral Sir James Somerville, was based in Gibraltar and had the task of maintaining naval superiority and providing a strong escort for convoys to and from the besieged island of Malta. During the war, Gibraltar came under air attack by Vichy French aircraft and by Italian warplanes of the Regia Aeronautica based on the island of Sardinia. Additionally, the fortress was the focus of Italian underwater attacks by Regia Marina commando frogman unit (10a Flottiglia MAS) and their human torpedoes. This Italian unit was based on the Italian ship Olterra interned in the nearby Spanish harbour of Algeciras. Several attacks were also carried out by Spanish and Gibraltarian agents acting on behalf of the German Abwehr intelligence service.

Inside the Rock of Gibraltar itself, miles of tunnels were excavated from the limestone, of which huge quantities were blasted for the construction of a man-made 'underground city' of caverns, barracks, armouries, supply dumps, offices and a fully equipped hospital.

'Torch', the Allied invasion of French North-West Africa in November 1942, was co-ordinated from the 'Rock', on which General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the commander of the undertaking, had established his headquarters during the planning phases of the operation. Following the successful completion of the North African campaign and the surrender of Italy in 1943, Gibraltar’s role shifted from a forward operating base to a rear-area supply position. The harbour continued to operate dry docks and supply depots for the convoy routes through the Mediterranean until VE-Day in May 1945.

World War II effected a dramatic change in the lives of Gibraltarians. The decision to enforce a mass evacuation, in order to increase the strength of the 'Rock' with more air force, army and naval personnel, meant that most Gibraltarians (some for as much as 10 years) had nowhere to call home. Only those civilians with essential jobs were allowed to remain, but this gave the entire community a sense of being 'British' by sharing in the war effort.

Early in June 1940, about 13,500 evacuees were shipped to Casablanca in French Morocco. However, following the capitulation of France to Germany in June 1940, the new pro-German French government established in Vichy found the presence of Gibraltarian evacuees in Casablanca an embarrassment and sought opportunities for their removal. The opportunity soon arose when 15 British cargo vessels arrived with 15,000 French servicemen who had been rescued from Dunkirk in 'Dynamo' and expressed a wish to be repatriated. Once the French troops had disembarked, the ships were interned until they agreed to take away all the evacuees. Although Commodore Crichton was unable to obtain permission to clean and restock his ships (and contrary to British Admiralty orders which forbade the taking on of evacuees), when he saw the mass of civilians pouring through the dockyards, Crichton opened his gangways for boarding. Just before this, the British fleet had destroyed a number of French warships at Mers el Kebir in 'Catapult' to prevent the possibility of their later ending in German hands. The attack, during which 1,297 French sailors died, led to high tensions, which were evident when families were forced at bayonet point by French troops to board, taking only what they could carry and therefore leaving many of their possessions. However, when they arrived at Gibraltar, the governor would not allow these Gibraltarians to land, fearing that once the evacuees were back on the 'Rock', it would be almost impossible to evacuate them a second time. Crowds gathered in John Mackintosh Square in the centre of Gibraltar as the news broke, speeches were made and two city councillors accompanied by the Acting President of the Exchange and Commercial Library went to see the governor, General Sir Clive Liddell, to ask that the evacuees be allowed to land. After instructions from London had been received, a landing was allowed as long as the evacuees returned when other ships arrived to take them away from the 'Rock', and by 13 July the re-evacuation back to Gibraltar had been completed.

The British conservative politician Oliver Stanley agreed to accept the evacuees in the UK, but he argued with Gibraltar over the number of people involved: the governor, Stanley declared, had given the number of evacuees first as 13,000, then as 14,000 and finally as 16,000, and now asked for the situation to be clarified, stressing the shortage of accommodation in the UK and insisting that only 13,000 could be accepted, 2,000 of whom were to be sent to the Portuguese Atlantic island of Madeira. The situation, replied Liddell on 19 July, '/is that this is a fortress liable to heavy and immediate attack and there should be no civilians here whereas there are 22,000. The 13,000 was the number sent to Morocco, and more would have been sent had the situation there not altered.' In London the evacuees were placed in the hands of the Ministry of Health, and many were housed in Kensington area. Concern for them in Gibraltar mounted as the air raids against London intensified, coupled with the arrival of harrowing letters, describing the circumstances in which the evacuees were living.

In September rumours were already circulating among the evacuees, and also in Gibraltar, that the possibility of re-evacuating the Gibraltarians was being discussed once more, this time the destination being island of Jamaica in the West Indies. After much argument, it was decided to send a party directly from Gibraltar to the island, and 1,093 evacuees left for Jamaica on 9 October, with more following later. However, petitions followed and the demands were met, partly for strategic reasons and partly for the lack of shipping. The situation at the end of 1940, therefore, was that approximately 2,000 evacuees were in Jamaica and a lesser number in Madeira, with the bulk of around 10,000 housed in the London area.

Its location meant that Gibraltar possessed great significance for the basing of increasing numbers of maritime reconnaissance aircraft, and the construction of a land runway began late in 1939, and in 1940 it was proposed to extend the existing runway to a length of 1,550 yards (1417 m). The required land reclamation began toward the end of 1941, together with the construction of an RAF camp at the North Front.

Just before the outbreak of war, the RAF had despatched its next squadron to Gibraltar, and with the declaration of war in September 1939 the Admiralty became further concerned that U-boats concentrating in the Strait of Gibraltar and using Spanish port facilities could offer the Germans the ability to decimate both merchant and naval ships movements through the Strait of Gibraltar. Thus on 9 September 1939, No. 202 Squadron of the RAF was ordered to Gibraltar. On 25 September 1939, No. 200 (Coastal) Group was formed as a formation subordinate to HQ RAF Mediterranean and in control of No. 202 Squadron as well as subsequent RAF squadrons arriving to operate from Gibraltar. Late in 1940 the group was transferred to RAF Coastal Command, and a combined headquarters was later established to begin operations early in 1942.

On 19 June the Spanish Falangist leader, General Francisco Franco y Bahamonde, offered to bring Spain into the war on the side of Germany, and then on 18 July he declared that Spain had 2 million soldiers ready to retake Gibraltar and expand the Spanish interests in North Africa. Nothing came of these threats as Spain realised how well defended Gibraltar was and the economic effects of a British blockade of Spanish ports, especially with regard to oil imports, so Franco pulled back the offer of being willing to enter the war on the Axis side.

On 18 July 1940, after the British 'Catapult' attack on the French fleet at Mers el Kébir, the Vichy French government authorised a bombing raid of Gibraltar as a response. Little damage was reported to have been done, but the raid caused the first casualties on the 'Rock'. The attack was poorly planned and badly executed, and the majority of the bombs were deliberately dropped short of their target. On 24 September, the Italian Stefani news agency reported that 'As a reprisal for the bombardment of Dakar yesterday morning, 120 [Vichy] French aircraft based in Morocco attacked Gibraltar.' On the same day, the United Press Agency reported that 'The French government has issued an official denial of reports, according to which French aircraft were said to have attacked Gibraltar. Up until now, no reprisals have been undertaken.' But the United Press report ended on an ominous note with the statement that 'French reprisals are imminent.' Again, on this same day, the Vichy French government issued orders for the naval base and city of Gibraltar to be bombarded. As a result, six bomber squadrons of the Vichy French air force and four squadrons of the Vichy French naval air arm were employed in the operation. The 64 bombers flew from bases in Oran and Tafaroui in Algeria, and from Meknes, Mediouna and Port Lyautey in Morocco. The French action was approved by both the German and Italian armistice commissions in Vichy France. The Vichy French dropped 150 bombs on Gibraltar during the raid. They inflicted heavy damage on the fortress and encountered no British aircraft while doing so. The South Mole and a large ship in the harbour were severely damaged. In the northern part of Gibraltar fires broke out. Most of the Vichy French bombs fell into the sea, however. On 25 September, the Vichy French returned with a larger force of 83 bombers to cause additional damage to the naval base and harbour installations. Again, the RAF made no appearance. However, the French crews did report encountering heavy anti-aircraft fire. One Lioré et Olivier LeO 451 twin-engined medium bomber was lost and 13 other aircraft were lightly damaged during the two days of bombing attacks. The British armed trawler Stella Sirius was sunk by bombs, and several civilians were killed. The Vichy French authorities made it clear that bombing raids of Gibraltar would continue as long as the British continued to attack Dakar in undertakings such as 'Menace', but the air attack of 25 September was the last by Vichy French forces on Gibraltar.

Gibraltar in fact came through the war relatively unscathed but, given its strategic importance, Germany made plans to capture this vital British outpost. Codenamed 'Felix', the German plan was formulated at the highest command level. With or without permission, Germany would make its approach through Spain and attack Gibraltar, driving the British out of the basin of the western Mediterranean and effectively closing the strait to the British and forcing ship convoys bound for India, Asia and Antipodes to make the passage the whole way round Africa via the Cape of Good Hope rather than proceed to the east via the shorter route through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal. In 'Felix', Gibraltar was to be heavily dive-bombed by warplanes departing from bases in France but after the attack landing at Spanish air bases. To deny a possible Spanish capture of the British base, the German planners decided that the final attack to seize Gibraltar was to be made by German troops alone.

Diplomatic failure at the highest levels of government, including the meeting of Adolf Hitler and Franco neat the Franco-Spanish border at Hendaye, meant that the Germans did not proceed with 'Felix', which had been planned in detail in the summer and autumn of 1940, from occurring at the beginning of 1941.

In 'Felix' General Ludwig Kübler’s XLIX Gebirgskorps would conduct the actual attack on the 'Rock' with assault forces comprising the Infanterieregiment 'Grossdeutschland', the 98th Gebirgsjägerregiment of Generalleutnant Hubert Lanz’s 1st Gebirgsdivision, 26 battalions of medium and heavy artillery, three observation battalions, three engineer battalions, two smoke battalions, one detachment of 150 'Brandenberger' special forces soldiers of Hauptmann Dr Theodore von Hippel’s Bau-Lehr-Bataillon zbV. 800, and up to 150 'Goliath' remotely controlled miniature demolition vehicles packed with high explosives. As part of the required combined-arms operation, the Luftwaffe would contribute Junkers Ju 88 twin-engined medium bombers, Junkers Ju 87 single-engined dive-bombers, Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Bf 110 single- and twin-engined fighters, and three light and three heavy anti-aircraft battalions, while the Kriegsmarine would co-operate by using U-boats to interfere with British naval movements and the emplacement of coastal batteries the further to discourage the Royal Navy.

On 10 March 1941, with the 'Barbarossa' invasion of the USSR looming, the Germans amended 'Felix' into 'Felix-Heinrich', in which troops would be withdrawn from the USSR to capture Gibraltar. As a result of Franco’s intransigence, however, the operation was postponed, modified and ultimately abandoned.

After eight largely experimental raids by small numbers of Savoia-Marchetti SM.82 three-engined medium bombers (three in 1940 and five in 1941), modest numbers of Piaggio P.108 four-engined heavy bombers of the Regia Aeronautica operated from Sardinian airfields to attack Gibraltar five times in 1942. The last raids on Gibraltar took place during the 'Torch' landings of November 1942 in Algeria, when the Italians bombers struck with some success at targets including even the port of Oran. The only Regia Aeronautica unit ever to fly the P.108 was the 274a Squadriglia Autonoma Bombardamento a Grande Raggio, which was formed in May 1941 at about the time that the first aircraft came off the assembly line. Crew training lasted far longer than anticipated and it was only in June 1942 that the squadron became operational. The most spectacular raids with the P.108 bombers were flown in October 1942 when several night attacks against Gibraltar were undertaken. After the armistice of Cassibile, signed on 8 September 1943, the German-allied Italian Social Republic launched at least two raids on Gibraltar: one on the night of 4/5 June 1944 with 10 Savoia-Marchetti SM.79bis three-engined medium aircraft and another on 6 June with nine such aircraft. Both sorties were undertaken by the 132o Gruppo Aerosiluranti 'Buscaglia-Faggioni.

Between 1940 and 1943, the 10a Flottiglia MAS, which was an Italian commando frogman unit operating maiale (pig) human torpedoes, undertook several attacks on ships in the harbour at Gibraltar. This last was an extremely tempting target for the Italians, who saw it as a refuge for British warships and Allied merchant shipping. The Italian frogmen originally used a Spanish villa, the Villa Carmela located 2 miles (3.2 km) from Gibraltar and owned by an Italian officer who had married a Spanish woman named Conchita Ramognino, but later shifted their base of operations to the Italian tanker Olterra, interned in Algeciras and secretly adapted for human torpedo operations with an underwater hatch allowing the craft to depart and return without being sighted.

On 21 August 1940 the Italian submarine Iride departed La Spezia in Italy with plans to attack Gibraltar on 22 August 1940. On 24 September 1940 the Italian submarine Sciré departed La Spezia carrying three manned torpedoes and six crewmen: their attack was called off on 29 September and the submarine was ordered back to La Maddalena because Force 'H' had left Gibraltar before Sciré could get into position. On 21 October 1940 Sciré left La Spezia and sailed to Gibraltar carrying three manned torpedoes and six crewmen. The manned torpedoes suffered malfunctions and only one entered the harbour, but damaged no ships. Two of the crewmen were captured and the other four escaped to Spain, eventually returning to Italy. One manned torpedo later washed ashore at Espigon Bay, and was interned by the Spanish authorities. On 25 May 1941 Sciré left La Spezia carrying three manned torpedoes and at Cádiz in Spain secretly embarked six crewmen from the tanker Fulgor. The manned torpedoes found no warships in Gibraltar because the battle-cruiser Renown, aircraft carrier Ark Royal and light cruiser Sheffield had been ordered into the Atlantic as part of the search for the German battleship Bismarck, which was sunk on May 27. An attempted attack on merchant ships in a roadstead failed, the crews escaping to Spain and being returned to Italy by air. On 10 September 1941 Sciré left La Spezia with three manned torpedoes, and secretly embarked the necessary six crewmen in Cádiz before moving to sink three ships, namely the tankers Denbydale and Fiona Shell, and the cargo ship Durham. The crews of the torpedoes swam to Spanish territory after discarding their craft, and later returned to Italy. In July 1942 Italian frogmen set up a base in the Italian cargo ship Olterra, which had been interned in Algeciras near Gibraltar. All the materials required to turn Olterra into a manned torpedo base had to be moved secretly through Spain, and this limited operations. On 13 July 1942, 12 Italian frogmen swam from Villa Carmela, at Algeciras bay, into Gibraltar harbour and set explosives, sinking the freighters Meta, Empire Snipe, Baron Douglas and Shuma. On 15 September 1942 Italian frogmen sank the freighter Ravens Point. On 8 December 1942 six Italian frogmen on three torpedoes left Olterra to attack the British battleship Nelson and the aircraft carriers Formidable and Furious. A British patrol boat killed the crew of one torpedo with a depth charge. Their bodies were recovered, and their fins were taken for use two of Gibraltar’s British guard divers, Sydney Knowles and Commander Lionel Crabb. A British patrol boat detected another torpedo, and pursued and shot at it, capturing its two crewmen. The remaining torpedo returned to Olterra after losing its rear rider. On 8 May 1943 three Italian manned torpedoes left Olterra to attack Gibraltar in bad weather and sank the US 'Liberty' ship Pat Harrison and the British freighters Mahsud and Camerata. On 3 August 1943 three Italian manned torpedoes left Olterra to attack Gibraltar, and again sank three merchant vessels in the form of the Norwegian Thorshřvdi, the US Liberty' ship Harrison Grey Otis and the British Stanridge.

Lesser known than the Italian manned torpedo operations were the sabotage actions and limpet-mine attacks carried out by Spanish and Gibraltarian agents recruited in the Campo de Gibraltar by the Germans. The Abwehr had contacted a Spanish staff officer from Campo de Gibraltar, Teniente Coronel Eleuterio Sánchez Rubio, who was a Falangist and the co-ordinator of the intelligence operations in the Campo, to establish a network of saboteurs with access to Gibraltar. Sánchez Rubio designated Emilio Plazas Tejera, also a Falangist, as the operations chief of the organisation, which recruited mostly Spaniards from the Campo. A combination of financial reward, ideological commitment and some threats and intimidation were used to gather a significant number of agents. According to the British intelligence, there were at least 183 Spaniards and Gibraltarians involved in the espionage and sabotage operations against Gibraltar.

Sabotage operations were ordered from Berlin late in the autumn of 1940, but actual work did not start until a time early in 1941. The first operations were unsuccessful. An initial attempt to smuggle a bomb into Gibraltar was aborted by the discovery that the timing device was faulty. In February there was a large explosion in the North Tunnel, and in April a bomb blew up near the airfield. In June 1941, however, British intelligence foiled a new attempt, by a German agent, to attach a mine to a cargo vessel. Another such attempt failed when Plazas placed a bomb inside an ammunition store but was not able to prime the explosive. It was not until 1942 that the operations started to succeed. In January 1942, two Spanish agents managed to destroy two aircraft at the North Front landing strip. Financed, trained and equipped by the Germans, the Spanish saboteurs sank the armed trawler Erin and destroyed the auxiliary minesweeper Honju, which resulted in the deaths of an officer from the carrier Argus and six British ratings on 18 January 1942. Plazas was assisted by the Spanish naval commander of Puente Mayorga, Manuel Romero Hume, who allowed him to beach a rowing boat there. British intelligence was able to counteract the sabotage operations, however. In March 1942, a Gibraltarian, José Key, one of the most prominent agents working for the Germans and responsible for the collection of information on military movements for the Abwehr, was arrested and after conviction was executed in Wandsworth Prison late in 1942. By September 1942 Plazas, whose activities were closely monitored by the British at that time, resigned and left Carlos Calvo, his second in command, in charge of the operations. Late in 1942, the German headquarters in Berlin ordered the expansion of the sabotage effort. Early in 1943, the arrival of an experienced head of Abwehr operations in Spain improved the reach of the operations.

In March 1943 an ammunition dump was blown up by Calvo’s agents. The British, growing suspicious of some of the saboteurs, banned them from entering Gibraltar. This forced the Abwehr to ask Calvo for new personnel. A Spaniard working on the 'Rock', José Martín Muńoz, was responsible for the explosion and fire at a large fuel tank at Coaling Island on 30 June 1943; this mission, however, would be the first and the last for Muńoz, because he was cornered and arrested by British authorities in August, when he tried to smuggle a bomb into a weapons magazine inside Ragged Staff Cave. Sentenced to death, he was hanged on 11 January 1944 in Gibraltar by British executioner Albert Pierrepoint. A member of an unrelated Abwehr sabotage network, Luis López Cordón-Cuenca. who was also arrested in 1943, was executed by Pierrepoint on the same day. Calvo himself was put under arrest by the Spanish police and thus neutralised, but he was a free man once again in December, when he rejoined the Abwehr in Madrid under direct orders of Wolfgang Blaum, also known as Baumann, the head of the sabotage section in Spain. After a Falangist attempt on the life of pro-allied General José Enrique Varela, perpetrated by Sánchez Rubio network’s agent Juan José Domínguez, and a meeting between Anthony Eden and the Spanish ambassador at London, Jacobo Fitz-James Stuart, Abwehr activities around Gibraltar came to an end.

'Tracer' was a top-secret British stay-behind mission that was to be implemented only if Gibraltar was captured by the Axis powers. Six men were to be sealed in a cave stocked with supplies sufficient for seven years. The volunteer party (two doctors, three signalmen and the commander) were operate an observation post with one 12- by 6-in (305 by 152 mm) slit looking out over the harbour and a concealed outdoor terrace over the Mediterranean. The team would then signal all shipping movements to the Admiralty. The men of the stay-behind party were informed that there would be no way out, and that anyone who died in the chamber would be embalmed and cemented into the brick floor. As the threat of invasion was clearly felt late in 1941, an idea for a series of secret observation posts (first in Gibraltar and later in other places like Malta and Aden) was put together as 'Tracer'.

Work in Gibraltar began immediately under the supervision of Commander Geoffrey Birley and his chief engineer Colonel Fordham. The site chosen at Lord Airey’s Battery on the southern tip of the 'Rock' already had an existing tunnelling scheme for a shelter. Extensive trials of the equipment began in January 1942 under the eye of an MI6 radio expert, Colonel Richard Gambier-Parry. Much thought was also given to the type of men needed for such a strange and demanding task. A member of Captain Robert F. Scott’s ill-fated 1911/12 expedition to the South Pole, George Murray Levick, was called up as a surgeon-commander to advise on survival techniques. There were practical matters such as diet, exercise, sanitation, and clothing to consider as well as the vital psychology of the personnel. The full team was ready by the end of the summer of 1942 and the cavern fully equipped and ready for occupation. A comprehensive manual was prepared on all aspects of the operation and it was considered that similar secret look-out posts should be prepared throughout the world in the event of future wars. However, 'Tracer' was never needed.

The German U-boat campaign in the Mediterranean lasted from 21 September 1941 to approximately May 1944. In this campaign the Kriegsmarine tried to isolate Gibraltar, Malta and the Mediterranean entrance to the Suez Canal, and thus to disrupt the UK’s trade routes, in the 'Mediterranean U-boat Campaign'. More than 60 U-boats were sent to interdict Allied shipping in the Mediterranean Sea, and many of these boats were themselves attacked as they negotiated the Strait of Gibraltar, which was controlled by British maritime and air assets: nine U-boats were sunk while attempting passage, and another 10 were damaged.

Plans for the Allied counter-offensive after the Japanese 'Ai' attack on Pearl Harbor had brought the USA into the war were ongoing by the middle of 1942. I was quickly realised that an invasion of mainland Europe in 1943 would be impractical, but the Allies could attack the 'soft underbelly of Europe' through the Mediterranean, as the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, put it. Devised by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Churchill, and codenamed 'Torch', the plan was to occupy North-West Africa in the form of the Vichy French territories of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. From these French territories, attacks could be launched with the object of driving Italy out of the war.

In July 1942, Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower] was appointed as the Allied commander-in-chief for 'Torch'. Churchill placed Gibraltar under Eisenhower’s command as the temporary headquarters for this, the first major Anglo-US operation of the war. Eisenhower arrived in Gibraltar on 5 November 1942 to assumed command not only of 'Torch' but also of the military command of Gibraltar. Eisenhower stayed at The Convent, the governor’s official residence, but his operational headquarters were in a small chamber in a tunnel in the heart of the 'Rock'.

Some 100,000 soldiers in a multitude of transport vessels converged on Gibraltar. and more than 400 aircraft of all types were crammed into the dispersal areas around Gibraltar’s runway. Fighters arriving in crates were assembled on the airfield. Every available storage volume was taken up with ammunition, fuel and other essential supplies, and 168 US pilots were housed in the RAF messes at North Front. On 8 November 1942, 466 aircraft from Gibraltar landed on captured North African airfields.

From their headquarters in Gibraltar, Eisenhower and Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham controlled 'Torch', the first major combined combat operation during World War II involving US and British forces.

Given that Gibraltar was a small town with only a few defences to protect it, the solution was to build a massive series of tunnels and chambers inside the natural protection of the 'Rock'. This 'military town' contained its own power station, water supply and hospital, and some of the men posted here did not see the light of day for months on end. Two Canadian army engineer companies, the only soldiers with diamond-tipped drills, and five British engineer companies, added about 30 miles (48 km) of such tunnels, a feat previously believed to be impossible of attainment. This expansion was sufficient to accommodate all 30,000 troops on the 'Rock'.

On 4 July 1943, an adapted Consolidated B-24 Liberator four-engined bomber of RAF Transport Command took off from Gibraltar for England. On board was the aeroplane’s six-man crew and an estimated 11 passengers including General Władysław Sikorsky, prime minister of Poland’s London-based government-in-exile and commander-in-chief of the Free Polish armed forces, returning from visiting Polish troops in the Middle East. The aeroplane climbed normally from the runway, levelled off to gather speed but then suddenly lost height and crashed into the harbour. The 62-year-old general died along with 15 others, and the sole survivor was the Czechoslovak-born pilot, Eduard Prchal, who was rescued by an RAF launch. The bodies of five passengers and crew, including Sikorsky’s daughter, were never found. The coffins of Sikorsky and his chief-of-staff, Generał brygady Tadeusz Klimecky, were draped in the Polish national flag and lay in state in the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned and, after a requiem mass, their bodies were carried in procession to the dockyard with full military honours to be shipped to London in anticipation that Sikorsky’s remains would one day be returned to a liberated Poland.

The surrender of Italy in September 1943 lifted any possible objections to the return of the evacuees to Gibraltar. As a result, a Resettlement Board was established in November, and at a meeting of the board on 8 February 1944 repatriation priorities were agreed. On 6 April 1944 the first group of 1,367 repatriates arrived on the 'Rock' directly from the UK, on 28 May the first repatriation party left Madeira, and by the end of 1944 only 520 non-priority evacuees remained on the island.

In London, home-owners were making claims for the evacuees' wartime accommodation, and 500 Gibraltarians were re-evacuated to Scotland and 3,000 to camps in Northern Ireland. Although Gibraltar’s governor, Lieutenant General Sir Noel Mason-MacFarlane, fought valiantly on behalf of the evacuees and did not accept the lack of accommodation as a sufficient reason for the delays. As late as 1947 there were still 2,000 Gibraltarians in Northern Irish camps, and the last evacuees did not see the 'Rock' again until 1951.