Online Encyclopedia

MARTELLO TOWER

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V17, Page 784 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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MARTELLO TOWER, a kind of tower formerly used in English coast defence. The name is a corruption of Mortella. The Martello tower was introduced in consequence of an incident of the French revolutionary wars. In September 1793 a British squadron of three ships of the line and two frigates was ordered to support the Corsican insurgents. It was determined in the first place to take a tower on Cape Mortella which commanded the only secure anchorage in the Gulf of San Fiorenzo. This tower, according to James, was named" after its inventor "; but the real derivation appears to be the name of a wild myrtle which grew thickly around. The tower, which mounted one 24-pounder and two 18-pounders on its top, was bombarded for a short time by the frigates, was then deserted by its little garrison, and occupied by a landing party. The tower was afterwards retaken by the French from the Corsicans. So far it had done nothing to justify its subsequent reputation. In 1794, however, a fresh attempt was made to support the insurgents. On the 7th of February 1400 troops were lauded, and. the tower was attacked by land and sea on the 8th. The " Fortitude " and " Juno " kept up a cannonade for 22 hours and then hauled off, the former being on fire and having sixty-two men killed and wounded. The fire from the batteries on shore produced no impression until a hot shot set fire to the " bass junk with which, to the depth of 5 ft., the immensely thick parapet was lined." The garrison of thirty-three men then surrendered. The armament was found to consist only of two 18-pounders and one 6-pounder. The strong resistance offered by these three guns seems to have led to the conclusion that towers of this description were specially formidable, and Martello towers were built in large numbers, and at heavy expense, along the shores of England, especially on the southern and eastern coasts, which in certain parts are lined with these towers at short intervals. They are structures of solid masonry, containing vaulted rooms for the garrison, and providing a platform at the top for two or three guns, which fire over a low masonry parapet. Access is provided by a ladder, communicating with a door about 20 ft. above the ground. In some cases a deep ditch is provided around the base. The chief defect of the tower was its weakness against vertical fire; its masonry was further liable to be cut through by breaching batteries. The French tours modeles were somewhat similar to the Martello towers; their chief use was to serve as keeps to unrevetted works. While the Martello tower owes its reputation and its widespread adoption in Great Britain to a single incident of modern warfare, the round masonry structure entered by a door raised high above the base is to be found in many lands, and is one of the earliest types of masonry fortification.
End of Article: MARTELLO TOWER
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