If you are enjoying a holiday in the Province of Murcia and fancy an interesting excursion, I recommend a visit to see the Big Guns near the town of Mazarron, two of which are whoppers! You don't need to be a military history enthusiast to enjoy this trip, the views alone make it worthwhile. However, the road to the guns is in parts narrow, steep, and winding and may not be for the fainthearted driver. The site, which is vast, is situated on a headland, Cabo Tinoso, some 800 to over 1,000 feet high, and is comprised of four forts and several large guns. It once served as part of the defences for the port of Cartagena, headquarters for the Spanish Mediterranean Fleet. First planned in 1912 and constructed during the 1920s, activity here declined in the 1970s and the area was finally abandoned in 1993.
The whole area has now been adopted as a sight of cultural interest and on my visit I noticed that work was under way to make it something of a tourist attraction. Cars were not allowed into the site although there is a car park near by. To explore the whole area would require quite a lot of walking and there are no facilities of any sort. This is something to bear in mind on a hot day. The Big Guns, however, can be accessed easily from the car park. Children would love the place but should be kept an eye on as there some steep steps, unlit subterranean passageways and rooms and ruined buildings.
The Gun Battery of Castillitos
In the 1920s the headland of Cabo Tinoso was deemed to be of vital importance in the defence of the western approaches to the port of Cartagena. Planned by General Primo de Rivera, the construction of four forts was begun in 1926 and the big guns were installed between 1932 -1936.
Without doubt, the most impressive of the forts is the Bateria de Castillitos which is home to two enormous guns, together with their magazines, lookout points and control rooms. These guns represented cutting-edge technology of the time and were considered to be amongst the finest anti-naval guns then in existence. They were two of the biggest ever produced by their British manufacturer, Vickers, and were made in their Barrow-in-Furness factory in 1927 and 1928. They have a barrel length of 59 feet, a calibre of 15 inches and could hurl a projectile, weighing 1950lbs, some 20 miles at a speed of 2500 feet per second. Each gun weighs about 88 tons. Opinion seems to be divided as to whether or not they were ever used against an enemy. Some sources maintain that in April 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, they were fired at a group of Nationalist cruisers by Republican forces. The guns proved to be such a formidable deterrent that they were never needed again and eventually became obsolete. (Cartagena's coastal defenses however, gave it little protection from air raids and the city was heavily bombed by German and Italian aircraft supporting the Nationalists under General Franco.)
A curious aspect of the Bateria de Castillitos is that although these fortifications were made from local stone and designed to blend in with the landscape, the architects could not resist using a modernist style that was fashionable at the time. Thus, these constructions were rendered almost whimsical in appearance and are more reminiscent of Walt Disney than hard-nosed military power.
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Note that these silhouettes are of French and American warships.
The Gun Batteries of El Jorel, Atalayon, and Loma Larga
El Jorel: Home of the 6 inch Guns
Further on down the road at a height of 715 feet above sea level you come across the Gun battery of El Jorel. This is home to three Vickers 6 inch guns dating back to 1923. Originally there was a fourth gun but this was disassembled during the Spanish Civil War and removed to Almeria. These guns once had a firing range of some 12.5 miles.
On the peak of the headland at an altitude of 1,132 feet the remains of the gun battery of Atalayon can be found. This was originally constructed in a classical style and once housed four Vickers 4.1 inch anti-aircraft guns. Finally at a height of 460 feet above sea level are four massive concrete gun emplacements in which four 9.4 inch howitzers were once installed. This is the gun battery of Loma Larga and the guns were intended to protect the coastline and had a reach of seven miles
The Road to the Big Guns
Strictly speaking the gun batteries are all within the Municipality of Cartagena, but they are closer to, and generally accessed from Mazarron.
From Peurto de Mazarron take the coast road through Isla de Plana and continue on towards Cartagena without taking the La Azohia turning. (The docks at La Azohia were built in order to unload the Big Guns). Several hundred yards further on take the right hand turn marked Campo de Adentro. Travel for several miles along the valley floor before starting to climb up the headland of Cabo Tinoso. Near the top the road divides and you turn teft towards the guns.
Are the Big Guns of Mazarron Movie Stars?
There seems to be a controversy as to whether or not the Big Guns at Mazarron were used for scenes in the movie "The Guns of Navarone", starring Gregory Peck. I don't know, what do you think?
One of the delights of this trip for non-military history buffs are the spectacular views in every direction.