Dec26

Fort Tigné - 1792 - Part I

 

The Maltese eighteenth-century fortified landscape was an exciting one. For the settecento in Malta was a period of astounding reach, where new works of fortification were introduced at a breathtaking pace and with verve, across the whole length and breadth of the archipelago. Scores of batteries, redoubts, entrenchments, and fougasses took root around the islands’ shores, while new forts and many of the existing fortified cities were re-dressed in monumental architecture and equipped with the latest sophisticated adjuncts of defence in the form of aggressive outerworks bristling with traverses, places-of-arms, and countermines.  Above all, it was a time of new ideas, new shapes and forms, innovative solutions and, towards the close of the century, also a period of drastic change.

 

Nowhere, perhaps, is this process more evident than inside Marsamxett Harbour. On one side of this little anchorage, straddling the northern flank of the fortified city of Valletta, stands Fort Manoel, the apogee of the bastioned trace, described by the Comte de Bourlamaque, fresh from the North American wars, as a model of fortification built ‘avec soin’; undeniably, the most architecturally impressive of all the major Hospitaller works of fortification ever built in Malta, with its monumental Baroque gateway, piazza, church and spacious arcaded barracks.  At the other end, commanding the mouth of the harbour, lies Fort Tigné, a small low-lying structure commanded by a strange loopholed circular tower, more of a redoubt really, but effectively a precursor of the modern nineteenth century fort. Clearly, two totally different works of fortification – one portraying the supremacy of the bastioned system at the apex of nearly three centuries of evolution of the trace italliene; the other, an embryonic experimental design heralding the future; the first designed to overpower its attackers by the sheer weight of the solid mass of its ramparts and the flanking power of its geometric configuration, the other seeking to subdue the enemy with its concentrated firepower.

 

Above, The fortifications of Marsamxett Harbour, showing Fort Manoel (top left) and Fort Tigné (top right) facing Valletta’s enceinte. (Image Source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).

 

The first of these works, Fort Manoel, was built in 1723 on designs muted in1715 and inspired by the military architecture of Vauban, while the second was erected in 1792-93, in the twilight of the Order’s rule, and influenced by the then latest notions of fortress-design circulating in Europe, ideas set in motion by the original and provocative thinking of Marc René’ Marquis de Montalembert; one fort, therefore, a product of established and long-proven conventions, the other, a revolutionary concept breaking new ground.

 

The only thing that linked the two forts together was that both were the product of French thinking and military engineering, for the main underlying and salient aspect of the eighteenth-century fortified landscape in the Maltese islands was the fact that it was fashioned and dictated by French ideas.  And indeed, ever since Frenchmen like the Antoine de Ville, Comte de Pagan, and Sebastian le Prestre de Vauban had begun to place France at the leading edge of military architecture from the second half of the seventeenth century onwards, the Order of St John found itself increasingly drawn from the Spanish into the French sphere of influence, culminating with the arrival, in 1715, of a seminal military mission headed by Brigadier René Jacob de Tigné and his assistant Charles Francois de Mondion. Both men would prove instrumental in reshaping the nature and form of Hospitaller fortifications throughout the first half of the 1700s. Fort Manoel, in fact, was the product of the collaboration between the two. Fort Tigné, on the other hand, was designed by the Frenchman Antoine-Etienne de Tousard, the last of the military engineers employed by the Order.  And the Bali de Tigné, after whom the fort was named, was actually the nephew of the Brigadier.

Above, Marsamxett Harbour’s two main forts – from top, Fort Manoel and  Fort Tigné (Image source: Author’s private collection).

 

But this is where the connection between the two forts ends.  For the two distinct works encapsulate the great ‘debate’ that was then shaping the development of military architecture thought in the eighteenth century. On one hand stood the established traditional French engineering corps, defending the design principles of their founder Sebastian Le Prestre de Vauban with religious-like fervour, while on the other stood the new challenging ideas put forward by the prolific interloper and cavalryman, Marc-René, Marquis de Montalembert.  The  ensuing military engineering ‘crisis’, set off by Montalembert’s proposed new ‘perpendicular’ style of fortification,  which entirely rejected the bastioned trace and placed great importance on the dominance of artillery, shook the foundations of Vauban's seventy-year-old architectural ideas.   Despite all the improvements that Vauban had made to the bastioned system, it remained shackled by many important defects, foremost amongst which were (i) its exposure and vulnerability to vertical, ricochet, and reverse fire that ruined the artillery of the defence; (ii) the poor communication between the main enceinte, and (ii) the badly exposed outerworks. All these defects induced some engineers to renounce the bastioned system altogether and at the head of such reformers stood Montalembert.

Above, Montalembert’s Fortification perpendiculaire – detail of the great hypothetical dodecagonal fortress of Louisville (image source: P. Prost)

Montalembert’s system sought to re-shift the balance of power between offense and defence, which, owing to the ever-increasing power of artillery, had swung unmistakeably towards the superiority of attack, back in favour of defence by concentrating on the impregnability of fortification. This he sought to do by introducing a new system of fortification that (i) completely eliminated the bastion-trace and its inherent limitations and replaced it with a new form of ground plan where all lines were to be straight with all their re-entrant angles forming right angles (what he called the Fortification perpendiculair and relied heavily on a  multiplicity of defensive lines and a concentration of large number of cannon placed in bombproof casemates.  Two characteristic features of Montalembert’s system were the large circular multi-storey gun towers occupying the gorges of his triangular salients, which were designed both to serve as keeps as well as to engage in artillery duels with enemy siege batteries, and the large casemated caponiers athwart the ditch that were powerful enough to control the fossé and destroy enemy siege batteries planted at the edge of the covertway.

Above, Left, Portraits of Marc René, Marquis de Montalembert (1714-1800) and, right, Jean Eleonore Le Michaud d’Arçon (1733-1800) (Image source, after P. Prost)

 

Montalemebert’s critics retorted by claiming that his ideas were not that original after all. His casemated gun tower, for example, was based on Vauban’s Tour-bastionée, as employed in his second system. Other’s accused him of plagiarizing Jean Antoine d’ Herbort’s work, a military engineer in the service of Duke of Wurtemberg who had published his Novelles Methodes pour Fortifier les Places way back in 1735.  Montalembert’s new geometrical form of the trace and his radical increase in firepower were designed to transform the fortress from a passive obstacle by virtue of its mass into an active focus of devastating fire power capable of destroying the attacker’s less numerous siege artillery that could be brought to bear against it. For Montalembert, artillery fire power became the primary element of defence and the main characteristic feature determining the effectiveness of the fortress. Indeed, Montalembert’s chief objective was, in the words of Capt. Lendy, basically to prevent the besieger from opening a breach by directing against his siege batteries, a superior fire of artillery.

The French corps of professional military engineers, however, strongly resisted Montalembert’s assault on their expertise and the French engineering establishment’s refusal to rethink fundamentals eventually won the debate. But the seeds had been sown, for fundamentally, what had motivated Montalembert to develop new fortifications in the late-eighteenth century was the crisis in defensive architecture caused by seemingly unstoppable offensive tactics and the inability of the bastioned trace to redress the balance in its favour.  Montalembert’s system, although never adopted in France, went on to form the basis of the works constructed in Germany after 1815. Even various prominent French engineers, despite their vehement opposition, began to devise solutions that departed from a strict adherence to the bastioned template.

The Order’s close links to France and its heavy dependence on French military thinking meant that the Hospitaller military establishment was not immune to the implications and consequences of this ‘paper war’, as the technical dispute came to be dubbed. That the residue of Montalembert’s influence and the appeal of new ideas did not take long to filter into Hospitaller Malta is clearly evidenced by Fort Tigné.

 

Antoine Etienne de Tousard

The man who seems to have been responsible for importing these new concepts of fortification to the shores of Hospitaller Malta was Antoine Etienne de Tousard, the last of the military engineers employed by the Order of St John. Often also referred to as Stephen de Tousard in modern books and some contemporary accounts, he was a serving brother who had joined the Order of St John during the reign of Grand Master Pinto de Fonseca. He arrived in Malta late in 1791 and took over the role of the Order’s resident military engineer, the so-called ingegnere della religione, from the hands of the knight Picot who had briefly stepped in (‘che fa’ le veci d’Ingegnere’) to fill the void left by another little known French artillery engineer, the knight Henry de Mazi. The latter, although an artillery engineer had been serving the Order for a number of years in the capacity of a military engineer.  Tousard was quickly put to work and the Order’s records reveal that he was already examining entrenchments in St Julian’s Bay by February 1792. And within less than a year of his arrival in Malta, Tousard was working on the extensive alterations to Fort Ricasoli and converting St Lucian Tower and Battery into Fort Rohan, as well as designing and building Fort Tigné.

Above contemporary portraits of Antoine-Etienne de Tousard (right) and his brother Anne-Louis (left). (Image Source: Author’s private collection).

 

Antoine-Etienne was the younger brother of the renowned Anne-Louise de Tousard (1749-1817), an artillery engineer and aide de camp to Lafayette, a hero of the American revolutionary wars (granted a lieutenant colonelcy and a life pension by the US Congress for his service) and author of the famous work, American artillerist's companion, or Elements of artillery published in Philadelphia in 1809. Antoine-Etienne’s own reputation, however, would not be as fortunate as that of his elder brother. His fame would not come to hinge on his contribution to military architecture but on the demise of the Order of St John at the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte. Indeed, Antoine-Etienne would spend much time and effort, after 1800, trying to defend himself from the accusations of treachery levelled at him by the supporters of the ousted Grand Master Hompesch and the displaced Order of St. John. Many contemporary accounts painted him in an unflattering light, out-rightly accusing him of betraying Hompesch and the Order by secretly aiding the French invasion of Malta. Indubitably, most of these allegations only materialized after 1800, and were intended to discredit him, and may, therefore, not be true at all. But certainly the fact that Tousard was quick to join Napoleon’s expeditionary force to Egypt and then went on to distinguish himself in the campaigns of 1806-09 against the Prussians, Russians, and Austrians, and eventually rose to the rank of Director of Fortifications, did little to dispel the accusations that were levelled against him.

Above, Antoine-Etienne de Tousard’s signature as ‘Commandeur’, as it appears on a plan of Fort Ricasoli of around 1792 (Image Source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).

 

It was even said that Tousard’s name was on a list of knights whom Napoleon exempted from the general order of expulsion from Malta owing to the help and information that they had given to him six months before he invaded the island.  Grand Master De Rohan, however, had held Tousard in very high regard, and had gone out of his way to raise him from the rank of servant-at-arms to that of a Knight of Grace, and later to a Knight of Justice, despite the dismay and strong opposition of his more senior French brethren. At the election of the new Grand Master, following the death of de Rohan in 1798, however, he was made to vote together with other Serving Brother at arms, despite, as he later complained, his being  ‘trasferito nel rango di Cav[agliere] di Giustizia con un breve Pontificio da 28 Magio 1793 eseguito dal fu Fran Maestro de Rohan alli 25 Giugno seguente’.  It was perhaps this disappointment at the antagonism of the other French knights, particularly following the death of his patron De Rohan in 1797, that may eventually have embittered Tousard and transformed his former zeal for the Order into outright disenchantment and, perhaps, betrayal.

 

Tousard’s design

Intriguing as Tousard’s career and role in the fnal years and demise of the Order may be, this paper only seeks to examine his involvement and contribution to Hospitaller military architecture, particularly in the design and building of Fort Tigné.  Although Tousard was involved in various works of fortification during the eight years of his stay in Malta, namely in re-hauling various sectors of the enceintes of Fort Ricasoli and Fort St Elmo, as well as building a couple of small coastal batteries and entrenchments (such as the ephemeral Fort Rohan), his one real outstanding contribution to the art of fortification was the design of Fort Tigné.  This contribution, however, does not come without its problems.  Indeed, the design of his new fort, as was rightly noted by the late Prof. Quentin Hughes in 1993, was itself very heavily influenced by the lunettes built by Jean-Claude Eleonore le Michaud d’Arçon at Mont Dauphin, Besancon, Perpignan, and elsewhere.  Furthermore, the similarity in the design and layout of the two types of works is too uncanny not to imply that Tousard must have borrowed very heavily from D’Arçon’s ideas, themselves based, ironically, on Montalembert’s concepts.  I say ‘ironically’, because Le Michaud d’Arçon was practically the leader of the anti-Montalembert faction, which included pretty much the whole corps du genie, in which he was greatly admired.

Tousard himself was also a member of the corp du genie. Following his graduation from the school of military engineering at les Mezieres in early 1772 with the rank of first lieutenant, he was posted as engineer to Valenciennes in 1773, and then to Gex (1779) and St-Quentin (1783), where he was appointed captain in 1784. There then followed new appointments to Avesnes and to Cambrai (1788) before he arrived in Malta sometime late in 1791.

Tousard’s link to Le Michaud d’Arçon can be traced back to around 1779-81, when it is well-documented that he was employed in the surveying and mapping of the French-Swiss frontier under the direction of the latter, then a lieutenant colonel. One can read in the general catalogue of the French military archives in Paris that Tousard worked under d'Arçon’s command in 1778 on the cartography of Dauphiné (Alpes). But that is all that is known about his connection to D’Arçon to date.  Unfortunately, none of the historical records known to the author serve to shed any light on the relationship between Le Michaud d’Arçon and Tousard, nor on how the latter came to be exposed to d’Arçon’s works whilst he was still in France. Tousard’s post as commander of the citadel of Bitche, around the time when work began on the D’Arçon’s lunettes, however, may also mean that he was stationed hundreds of kilometres away from many of the sites where the lunettes d’Arçon were being built, except perhaps, for the one in Landau. Anne Blanchard's dictionary of Old Regime military engineers, however, does not mention Tousard as being at Bitche and also adds that he was detached to Malta in 1792.

 

Nor do we know anything of Tousard’s own views on Montalembert’s perpendicular and polygonal fortifications.  As a product of Les Mezieres and the Corps Royal du Genie, there is a great possibility that Tousard’s own loyalties fell largely within the anti-Montalambert camp. But even this, however, is difficult to ascertain.  For instance, Tousard’s designs for the overhauling of the left section of Fort Ricasoli’s land front, which he heavily impregnated with four tiers of gun embrasures (see elevations towards the end of this paper, below), as well as the existence of at least two other anonymous plans for proposed fortifications at Dragut Point, all show that Montalembert’s ‘revolutionary’ ideas were indeed circulating freely in Malta during the last decade of the Order’s rule and that these notions had surely impressed themselves upon Tousard’s thinking.

Above, Plan of Marsamxett Harbour showing a proposal for a large fort with sea-level battery at Dragut Point clearly inspired by Montalembert. The plan is undated and unsigned but was executed before1793. (Image source: Author’s private collection - photograph given to the author by the late Prof. Q. Hughes).

Still, apart from a handful of plans and a few administrative records concerning the building process, the Order’s archives do not shed much light on how Tousard managed to introduce Fort Tigné’s novel design concept into the Hospitaller milieu. Nor do we know what many of his fellow knights, the members of the Congregation of Fortification and War in particular, really thought about the new fort, or if it was accompanied by any debate, or controversy, as often happened with the introduction of novel features that broke off from tradition and convention. The aging Bali de Tigné for one, after whom the fort was named, a highly respected member of the Order, a competent military engineer in his own right, and a  commissioner of fortifications who exerted a great influence over the Order’s fortifications for the best part of thirty years, was himself not much convinced by non-bastioned solutions. For example, in his criticism of the knight Domenico Antonio Chyurlia’s proposals for new coastal defences and schemes based on a combined tenaille-redan trace, which was presented to Grand Master Pinto de Fonseca in 1762, De Tigné did not refrain from dismissing his fellow knight as a ‘dilettante’ for proposing to depart from a bastioned configuration.   And It is indeed surprising, too, that the building of such a novel work of military architecture in Hospitaller Malta, up until then still heavily reliant on the traditional bastioned trace, could have gone unnoticed in revolutionary France. It is truly strange to see why this unique fort fails to feature anywhere except in the works of British military engineers after 1800, who, on their part, were greatly impressed by its efficient design and ‘power of resistance’, and went on to cite it as a model for small ‘flankless’ forts, even building a number of works clearly modelled on its design, like the coastal batteries erected on the island of Anholt off the Danish coast in 1812.  As late as 1849, James Fergusson was still working on ways of improving Tousard’s design (see Essays on a proposed new system - diagram below).

Above, James Fergusson’s proposal to improve Fort Tigne’s design. (Image source: Author’s private collection).

 

Given that Fort Tigné, as shall be shown in due course, was a sophisticated development of the Lunette d’Arçon, for unlike the latter it was not simply an outerwork but a self-contained and veritable fort, the main question that begs to be answered revolves around the level of Tousard’s originality in the authorship of its design; To what degree did Tousard borrow and improve upon D’Arçon’s original idea? And what was his connection to D’Arçon? Had he been involved, prior to his arrival in Malta, in the construction of any of the lunettes designed and built by D’Arçon? Had he discussed his ideas on how to improve the lunettes with D’Arçon himself?

 

But the heavy dependence of Tousard’s design on D’Arçon’s lunettes poses other interesting questions too.  For one thing, how did Tousard come to be in possession of D’Arçon’s design manual when he was already in Malta at the time of its publication in 1792, if he had had no previous connections to D’Arcon? And how did these latest French ideas on fortification make their way into the hands of the aristocratic Hospitaller knights at time of such political and military turmoil, especially in the face of growing French hostility towards the Order of St John? To date there are no direct answers to these questions and present historians will have to delve deeper into the historical records to provide some enlightenment on these issues.

Above, Detail from the frontispiece of the ‘Mémoire sur la manière d'occuper les dehors des forteresses par des moyens rapide’ , published in 1792. (Image source: courtesy of Prof. J. Langins).

 

 

The Lunette d’Arçon

The origins of Fort Tigné are to be found in the notions and tactical requirements that helped shape the Lunette d’Arçon, and the origin of the latter, in turn, are found in the problems that military engineers faced when projecting advanced works of fortifications beyond the glacis, and the need to provide these works with protection from the body of the place.  Such isolated works were primarily designed to oblige the enemy to commence siege operations at a greater distance or to defend certain areas around the main fortress which could not be seen from the parapets. The farther the outerworks distanced themselves from the protection of the main enceinte, however, the weaker and more exposed they became, and military engineers sought to device various methods to defend these detached works as best they could. Amongst the outerworks most used as advanced works were the lunettes. These came in a variety of shapes and sizes, but most were built in the form of small triangular ravelins. They were generally constructed along the capital of a bastion and given salient angles of some 60 to 70 degrees to allow them to be flanked from adjoining ravelins. Such lunettes were ordinarily given faces 60 m long and flanks 20 m deep. One of the earliest methods of preventing the enemy from occupying lunettes and erecting batteries inside them was not to allow their ramparts to be wider than 10 m whilst their terrepleins were cut by a ditch or fitted with stockades to form redoubts. This, however, still left the lunettes exposed to be turned in the rear and, to avoid such danger, their gorges came to be enclosed by loopholed walls while the passage from the body of the place was provided either by means of underground galleries (accessed from the counterscarp of the main ditch) or through  double-caponiers equipped with tambour traverses that cut along the surface of the glacis.

Plan of the Lunette d’Arçon for the defence of Toulon in 1778 (Image source: courtesy of P. Prost).

Plan of the lunette d’Arçon as published in  the “ Mémoire sur la manière d'occuper les dehors des forteresses par des moyens rapides" , 1792. (Image source: Courtesy of Prof. J. Langins).

 

The need to place lunettes farther off the main enceinte and diminish the defects of their gorge inspired D’Arçon to transform his lunettes into small heavily fortified redoubts capable of defending themselves ‘sans avoir besoin des défenses tirées des ouvreages collatéraux’. Philippe Prost, in his Les forteresses de l'Empire, states that  d'Arçon worked on a first version of his lunette for the fortress of Toulon in 1778. This lunette, however, was never built although the project still exists in the archives at Vincennes. Eventually d'Arçon published his Mémoire sur la manière d'occuper les dehors des forteresses par des moyens rapides in 1792. The French military archives contain a printed instructions leaflet describing the lunette and giving details of its construction. This was printed by order of the Comité de Fortifications and may have been printed sometimes after the declaration of war on Austria in April 1792 and before the fall of the French monarchy in August, because of the mention of ‘Imprimerie royale.’  This fifteen-page instruction manual on how to build the lunette is accompanied by an engraved plan (colour-tinted in the copy in the archives).  There is no mention of Le Michaud d'Arçon specifically, although the archival indication is that this is the d'Arçon lunette. The fact that the pamphlet contains a rather nasty swipe at Montalembert who, the author says, will no doubt claim it is plagiarized, makes one suspect that the booklet was definitely written by d'Arçon. (1)

Above, Three views of the gorge and flank of the Lunette d’Arçon at Mont Dauphin, France, and a plan showing the location of the lunette in relation to the land front of the fortress. (Image source: Author’s private collection).

 

Basically, D’Arçon’s lunette consisted of a pentagonal earthen work, revetted in stone, and divided into two by a large casemated traverse (‘traverse casemate’), closed off at the gorge with a circular loopholed tower (‘reduit de sureté’) of about ‘36 à 42 pieds de diameter exterieur’ and flanked by a salient counterscarp musketry gallery (‘casemate à feu de revers’) designed to provide reverse fire within the ditch along the two faces of the lunette. This musketry gallery was linked to the lunette by means of a ‘galerie sousterraine’ and itself provided access to a number of countermine galleries (‘rameaux de mine’) placed beneath the glacis at the salient of the counterscarp.  D’Arçon also intended his lunettes to be enveloped tightly by ‘une file de fortes palisades’, placed in ‘une tranchée en contrepente avec la pente du fossé’ in order to shield them from artillery fire.

Plan and sectional elevation of the Lunette d’Arçon, after Lendy, 1862. (Image source: Author’s private collection).

 

Capt. Lendy provides the following description of the Lunette d’Arçon in his Treatise on Fortification (1862):

‘...the work has the same dimension as the ordinary lunette, except that the salient angle  may be made as open as deemed necessary. The gorge is closed by a loopholed wall 18 feet high, and a round tower 15 feet in diameter separated from the terreplein by a ditch 12 feet wide. The masonry of this tower is masked by the parapet of the lunette, and the top is covered by 3 feet of earth. Large openings under the cornice give a free egress to the smoke, and serve as machicoulis for the defence of the foot of the tower: loopholes are 6 feet above the ground. A lower story leads to a reverse casemate constructed under the glacis at the salient of the counterscarp for the defence of the ditch.    / A bombproof traverse divides the terreplein of the lunette into two, protecting it from reverse fire: it is vaulted and opens into the ditch of the tower from whence it receives light; four doors establish communication between it and the two moieties of the lunette. The ceiling of the gallery  leading to the casemate is pierced to receive a movable  staircase leading to steps ascending to the vault:  this opening can be strongly closed after the retreat of the defenders.   / The circumference of the tower touches only the line of the gorge, and the wall is directed towards its centre to receive a little flank defence: circular ramps lead from the ditch of the tower to the terreplein of the lunette, and strong barriers prevent the passage of the enemy. A double caponier, well palisaded, connects a door in the tower to the place.’

The tower keep of the Lunette d’Arçon at Besancon, built of bricks, as it survives today (Image source: Author’s private collection).

 

Lendy, however, was highly critical of D’Arçon’s lunette and believed that it would not have stood up to an attack by vive force: ‘the “reduit de sureté” ’ intended ‘to facilitate offensive returns’, he believed, would have been easily ‘destroyed by vertical fire or even by direct fire aimed at the extremities of the flanks’ which were weak points, while the loopholes of the reverse casemate could be rendered useless with fascines thrown into the ditch. Lendy cited Baron P. Emile Maurice de Sellon, a Swiss engineer much respected by the Americans at the time of their civil war, for the modifications to the lunette d’Arçon which he later proposed  in his Essai sur la fortification moderne au analyse compare des systems modernes Francais et Allemands (Geneve, 1845). Maurice’s proposed improvements allowed (i) the top of the tower to receive artillery (see below) by increasing its relief and providing it with a` platform, (ii)  extended the ditch and glacis to enclose all of the work, and (iii) provided it with two counterscarp galleries, one in the salient and the other in the gorge. Surprisingly, however, Lendy failed to note and remark upon the great improvements that Tousard had made to D’Arçon’s design much earlier in 1792 at Fort Tigné, which were more elaborate than those that Baron de Sellon had proposed later in the course of the century. This is indeed curious, for Fort Tigné would certainly have been well known to Lendy, if for nothing else, because it had been often cited by other British military engineers.

Above, Plan and sectional elevation of the Lunette d’Arçon with suggested improvements by Baron Maurice, after Lendy, 1862. (Image source: Author’s private collection).

 

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Most authors agree the D’Arçons lunettes were under construction by 1791-92 and that  these were built at Besancon, Perpignan, Metz, Mont Dauphin, Belfort (?), Sant Omer, and Landau.  Surviving examples can be found at Mont Dauphin, Perpignan (lunette de Canet), and Besancon. Although Lendy maintains that owing to the defects of the work, most military engineers continued to prefer simple lunettes, D’Arçon’s idea was experimented with by other French engineers outside France. Indeed lunettes much similar in design were built by the French at Palmanova (9), Verona, and Peschiera (Forte Salvi) during the Napoleonic wars and, as will be shown in the course of this paper, even earlier at Malta. Tousard’s own design, however, went one step further than all the rest, since it transformed the lunette from a simple reduit and an appendage of a larger fortress into to a self-contained and veritable fort in its own right.

Above, Various examples of outerworks based on the Lunette d’Arçon as employed by the French in Northern Italy during the Napoleonic wars: from top to bottom, Palmanova, Verona, and Peschiera (Forte Salvi) - (Image Source: Google Earth). Below, German field manual of the mid-19th century showing a redoubt influenced by the Lunette d’Arçon (Image source: Author’s private collection).

A Redoubt on Dragut Point

 

At the time of the publication of the Memoire sur la maniere d’occuper les dehors des fortresses par des moyens rapides by the Comite des Fortifications in mid-1792, Tousard had already been working in Malta for many months.  His first recorded presence dates to around late 1791.  It is difficult to know when or how Tousard might have either read or have been inspired by this document.  There is no way, however, that he could have brought the printed instructions over with him in 1791. If the document was indeed sent to him, it could not have reached him before the end of the third quarter of 1792, at the earliest.  The Order’s records, however, reveal that the first decision to build a fort on Dragut Point was taken in a meeting of the Congregation of Fortification and War (of whom Tousard was a member) on 11 December 1792:

 

‘ si e’ deliberato che si facessi’ una ridotta à Dragut’

This entry provides an important clue, as it already refers to the proposed work as a ‘redoubt’ rather than a ‘fort’, clearly indicating that the concept had already been worked out at this early stage.  But how could an engineer have gone from D’Arçon’s basic design to the sophisticated plan of Fort Tigné in the space of a few months, unless, of course, he was already well versed and familiar with the whole concept through his earlier contacts with d’Arçon and his work?

 

The plan that was presented to the Congregation of Fortification and War for its deliberation is probably that which can still be found in the National Library of Malta (shown below) which does not yet bear the title Fort Tigné, but is simply shown as  a proposed fort for Dragut Point, showing that this was an initial concept, a presentation drawing so to speak, and indeed various elements of the design, as will be shown below, were eventually changed by the time the fort actually reached the construction stage.

Above, Detailed plan for a fort on Dragut Point. This drawing does not bear the title ‘Fort Tigné’, which means that it was probably the same presentation drawing that was presented to the Congregation of Fortification and War by Tousard for approval in December 1792. The initial designs for the fort were drawn for Tousard by the Maltese draughtsman Giovanni Borg. (Image Source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).

 

The next entry in the Order’s records, dated 28 January 1793, confirmed the earlier decision

and augured that the works on site would begin as soon as the weather permitted.  The whole apparatus had surely been put in motion by the time of the Congregation’s meeting of 12 April 1793, which, furthermore, leaves no doubt as to Tousard’s authorship of the design;

‘Essendosi  incomminciata la ridotta nella Punta di Draguta ordinate gia sin dall’ 11 Dec. 1972 secondo il piano e disegno fatto dall Ingegniere Comm. De Tousard, approvato da questo Ven. Congregazione’

Tousard’s name is likewise recorded for posterity on a marble plaque which once marked the location of the foundation stone (see below). In the same sitting of 12 April, the Congregation agreed to ask Grand Master de Rohan for his permission to name the Fort after the Bali de Tigné. This was done not only in recognition of Bali de Tigné’s contribution of the sum of 1,000 scudi to meet the costs of the initial  works but also as a sign of appreciation for his long years of dedicated service in the defence of the Order.  The Grand Master willingly gave his approval and communicated his decision to the congregation during the sitting of 24 April through the Bali de Hompesch, the future Grand Master,  together with the welcome news that De Rohan himself was also contributing the sum of 6,000 scudi out of his own revenues for the continuation of the construction works. This news was accompanied by the reassurance that the  Grand Master would provide any other funds as required to prevent the works from becoming too much of a burden on the already overstretched common Treasury.  At the same time, another knight, the Bali de Tillet, newly elected to sit on the Congregartion, donated another 500 scudi towards the same end. Two years down the line, however, De Rohan was reduced to covering the Fort’s expenses out of the provisions of the Manoel Foundation:

Si e’ tenuta Congregazione di Guerra nella quale si e’ letto il Chirografo di S.A. Emza per l’Unione del Forte Tigné’ alla Fondazione Manoel’.

By this point in time, however, the Order was in serious financial trouble owing to the loss of its European properties and the crucial revenues derived from them.  In 1795, for example, as part of a widespread austerity measure, the Order was forced to slash the budget of the Congregation of fortification by half, from 12,000 to 6,000 scudi, and this also included Tousard’s own salary which was halved from 600 to 300 scudi at the stroke of a pen.

The Need to fortify the Punta di Santa Maria

The strategic importance of the promontory commanding the entrance to Marsamxett harbour on which Fort Tigné was erected only began to surface in the late seventeenth century as a result of the threat that it began to pose to the flank of the fortified city of Valletta. The first mention of the site as a military position of strategic value, however, dates back much earlier to the Great Siege of 1565, when the promontory, then known as Punta Santa Maria, was occupied by a battery of guns commanded by the Turkish corsair Draghut Pasha, which was planted there in order to bombard Fort St Elmo, whereafter, it acquired the name ‘Dragut Point’. The earliest known proposal for the fortification of the site was that put forward by the Italian military engineer Antonio Maurizio Valperga in 1670 as part of an ambitious master plan for the defence of Valletta and its two harbours, a scheme commissioned by Grand Master Nicholas Cotoner.

Above, the promontory known as Dragut Point with Valperga’s proposal for a fortress (left). (Image Source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta). 

 

Valperga envisaged a massive fortified city, a so-called ‘Borgo della Citta’ Piciola’, not much unlike the fort that he actually designed and built on Gallow’s Point at the entrance to the Grand Harbour (Fort Ricasoli) on the other side of Valletta. The new Borgo, however, never materialized, and this forced the Grand Prior of France, Philip de Vendome, in 1715, to instruct one of the engineers in his entourage, the later-famous Philip Maigret, to prepare plans and estimates for a new casemated redoubt to be planted on the site: this was to be surrounded by a covertway communicating with the sea. ( see also ‘Memoire sur les fortifications des villes, fortes et chateaux de Malte lors de la Citation faite en l’annee 1715. Attribue’ avoir ete’ fait par un Ingenieur  attache’ a M. Le Grand Prieur de Vendome. Il’s’apelloit Maigrat’).  In 1716, whilst on his second visit to Malta, Brigadier René Jacob de Tigné likewise proposed to build on Dragut Point, for the relatively small sum of 3,000 scudi, a large battery closed off at the gorge  and designed to keep attacking ships away from the mouth of the harbour.

Even so, none of these batteries ever materialized and a report, presented in 1789 and citing the advice of the French military engineers sent by the King of France in 1761, underlined the need to increase the protection to Fort Manoel by building a redoubt at the entrance to Marsamexett harbour;

pour render l’acces [à fort Manoel] encore plus difficile propose’rent une redoute quon pouvoit costruire sur la plateau qui avoisine la pointe de l’isle de Marsamusciet  la plus proche de l terre ferme de Malte’.

Another anonymous report, in most probability prepared by the knight Chyurlia in 1763, put forward a proposal for the enclosure of the whole promontory within an extensive enceinte, the main front of which was to be sited in the area then known as the ‘Madonna della Sliema ... dove e la maggiore altezza, che dal livello del mare sorge, e si alza di canne 9: e questo sito di canne 180 largo, 140 lungo, e 9 alto, che va in declino dall’uno e l’altro lato fin al canale che tocca il mare. This work was to have its bastions, curtains, and outerworks hewn out of rock to render them bombproof.  This scheme, which was echoed in an anonymous post-1795 proposal for a new fortified city on the same promontory, with Fort Tigné incorporated as some kind of keep (see image below), however, found no support from the contemporary ‘Intendenti e Professori dell’Architettura militare’ (in most probability, the author was referring to the Bali de Tigné).

Above, Detail from a map of Hospitaller 18th century coastal defences, prepared around 1761-62, showing a proposal for a bastioned form of entrenchment on the northern shore leading to Dragut Point (not built) and the location of Cala Lembi Battery. (Image Source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).

 

By around the middle of the 1750s, the knights did come around to erecting a coastal battery along the northern shores of the promontory; however, this was placed at a considerable distance from the tip of Dragut Point, nearer to the cove known as Cala Lembi. Actually, This was work was little more than small coastal artillery platform armed with six 12 pounder guns and was intended largely to dissuade an invading fleet from bombarding the northern flank of the Fort Manoel rather than controlling the entrance to Marsamxett Harbour. During the military exercises of 1760, Cala Lembi Battery was garrisoned and provided with the necessary munitions at the expense of the Fondazione Manoel and the following year French military engineers proposed that it be connected to the shore inside Marsamxett Harbour by ‘une communicatione pour faciliter a la garrison de retirer au Fort Manoel, quan elle ne pourroit plus tenir.’  Cala Battery was eventually disarmed after the completion of Fort Tigné, but the structure was not demolished and continued to worry Tousard because of its proximity and height in relation to his fort.

 

Despite Valperga’s, Vendome’s, De Tigné’s, and Chyurlia’s concerns, the defence of Dragut Point continued to feature well down the Order’s defensive priorities.  It is not clear what eventually forced the knights to finally decide to embark upon the construction of the desired fort late in 1792, especially at such a difficult political and financial moment in the Order’s history.  Surely Grand Master de Rohan’s grave apprehensions about France’s hostile intentions towards the Order must have played a central part in the decision. Indeed, the appearance, in 1792, of a large French fleet just off the horizon, was enough to scare the Grand Master and his knights into mobilizing the islands’ militia and prepare the coastal defences.  Could Tousard have been specifically called in to help design and build the fort that had long been considered necessary to forge that vital last link in the chain of the defences protecting Valletta and its harbours?

Above, Detail from a painting of the Grand Harbour landscape, showing the location of the Dragut promontory and its strategic importance in relation to the fortress of Valletta. (Image Source: Courtesy of the National Museum of Fine Arts, Valletta). 

 

Fort Tigné

There is little doubt that the designs for the new ‘redoubt’ at Dragut Point which left Tousard’s drawing board to be  presented to the Congregation of Fortification and War must have intrigued the senior knights advising the Grand Master, most of whom were mostly familiar with the bastioned system of defence.   The last major fortification effort witnessed in the Maltese islands had been undertaken in the 1760s and had involved the construction of a number of bastioned-trace coastal entrenchments. This was all over by 1770, with many of the enceintes remaining incomplete largely as a result of a lack of money. Prior to this, the last real veritable major fortress to be built, was  Fort Chambrai, in Gozo,  begun in 1749, and likewise designed to the conventions of the French bastioned trace. It too was completed by the early 1760s. But that was more than twenty years before and no other real work of fortification had taken shape in the Maltese island since then.  Those two decades had, in the meantime, witnessed the fortification ‘crisis’ that shook the French engineering establishment and launched the heated debate. It is not known what many of the knights, or the Maltese inhabitants for that matter, thought of the new work of fortification once its unfamiliar lines began to take shape on the tip of the Sliema promontory.  Fort Tigné’s unorthodox design must have attracted its fair share of attention in local circles, especially amongst the many knights who considered themselves competent enough (and there were many) to decide on matters of fortifications.  If it did, their opinions have not yet come down to us!

 

However, one must appreciate that the significance of the new fort could not have been fully appreciated from outside the work itself, or from across the harbour, from where its silhouette was most readily visible.  To all intents and purposes, and to the untrained eye, Fort Tigné must have appeared as little more than a small, unassuming work of fortification, especially when compared to the neighbouring and imposing ramparts of Fort Manoel, or the towering bulwarks of Valletta to its rear, given that the little fort’s novel systems of reverse flanking fire and counterscarp musketry galleries was hidden from view by the glacis.  Many must have simply interpreted the ‘smallness’ of the new work as a product of the times, reflecting the Order’s dire financial situation and limited resources.

 

The first to truly appreciate the ingenuity of the design of Fort Tigné were the British military engineers who were much impressed by it when they took over Malta’s fortifications in 1800.  Strangely, none of the accounts of Napoleon’s invasion in1798 reveal that any of the French engineers or commanders paid any special attention to the structure after its surrender. Napoleon himself is not recorded to have shown any particular interest in the fort although, on the other hand, he did find the time to inspect Fort Ricasoli and Valletta’s massive system of fortifications.  The first really good description and evaluation of Fort Tigné to come from the immediate post-Hospitaller period is given by General Pasley, who served in Malta during the Blockade of the French in I798:

 

‘This work is of a quadrilateral figure, the length of the sides not exceeding 85 yards The scarp is about 30 feet high, and casemated, with loopholes, for firing into the ditch. The parapets are of the soft free-stone peculiar to Malta, and are pierced with embrasures for cannon, at rather more than the usual intervals apart, covered over the top, interiorly, with large stones and have intermediate banquettes formed from steps of masonry. In the direction of the capital of the work, which presents a salient angle towards the country, there is a casemated barrack block, equal in height to the terrepleins, with which it communicates, and having loopholes for musquetry [musketry] on each side of it.  Immediately in the rear of this there is a round tower, serving as a keep, which is about 35 feet high, and 60 feet in diameter. It is built with two stories, and has two tiers of loopholes; pierced in its exterior walls, which are about 4 feet 6 inches thick. It has a terrace and stone parapet on top, to which there is communication by means of winding staircases. The entrance to the tower is by a drawbridge. A palisaded caponier, in the near of it, leads a short distance to the harbour of Marsamxett, beyond which this redoubt is situated as an advanced work to the famous fortress of Valletta. It has a good ditch and revetted counterscarp, and countermines proceeding from a counterscarp gallery, three portions of which, namely those which are near the advanced angles of the redoubt, project back wards into the ditch, being made more spacious than the rest of it, and are constructed with loopholes, to produce a reverse and flanking musquetry, as also with airholes, at certain intervals; to carry off the smoke in firing. These galleries as well as the countermines, are connected with the interior of the redoubt, by communication galleries, sunk beneath the level of the ditch. There is a kind of covered way, not continued all round in the usual manner; but in three portions only, which are over the principal crennel galleries of the counterscarp: beyond which follows the glacis’ (Hughes, I993.).

Above, Details of the ground-level (above) and terrace-level (top) plans of Fort Tigné from the original presentation drawing which shows the initial design concept. Various details were eventually re-thought and changed. (Image Source: Courtesy of the National Library of Malta).

   

Major McKerras, writing in December I800, considered Fort Tigné a work constructed with a great deal of ingenuity and was highly impressed by the fact that  it was completely countermined. Nonetheless, he found the fort to be commanded by a height at a distance of 500 yards where the remains of an old work, the Cala Lembi Battery, afforded potential cover to besiegers and, moreover, from its want of capacity and composition, ‘particularly due to its bad masonry and the fact that it was not well covered by its glacis, Fort Tigné’ could not be ‘attended to without considerable loss or difficulty’.  Another inspectional report, accompanied by a surviving plan, was drawn up by Lt. Col. Dickens in 1811 and shows the fort still, more or less, as had been left by the Knights.  Colonel Lewis, writing even later in the l860s, stated that in early years of the nineteenth century British officers considered Fort Tigné to epitomise the perfection of a small fort without ‘flanking defences ...  capable of considerable resistance’.

Above, Detail from a photograph of Marsamxett Harbour showing Fort Tigné around the early 1860s, practically, as left by the Knights in 1798 were it not for the re-modelled parapet crowing the circular tower-keep.  (Image source: Courtesy of the National Museum of Archaeology).

 

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Continue to Part II

Notes.

  1. This information was kindly made available to the author by Prof. Janis Langins.
  2. Information on the defence of Fort Tigné in 1798 and the Knight Rechberg was taken from Thomas Freller .

 

Dr. Stephen C Spiteri PhD - MilitaryArchitecture.com (C)

 

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Dr. Stephen C Spiteri
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