Gibraltar is a self-governing British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula and Europe at the entrance of the Mediterranean overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar. The territory covers 6.843 sq km (2.642 sq mi) and shares a land border with Spain to the north.
Gibraltar was conquered by Britain in 1704 and retained ever since, as a major base for the British Armed Forces and particularly the Royal Navy. Its strategic position at the entrance to the Mediterranean made it invaluable for British imperial interests for several centuries. Conversely, the creation of such a British enclave on Spanish soil was a visible indication of 18th Century Spain having slipped to the position of a second-rate power, a humiliation to Spanish national pride which Spaniards tried at various times to redress.
In the early months of 1939, General Sanjurjo, the political and military leader of Nationalist Spain, decided to conquer Gibraltar and restore it to Spanish rule. If successful, the conques of Gibraltar would be a major symbolic and strategic victory Sanjurjo and the Nationalists. And Sanjurjo's German and Italian allies were eager to deprive the British in advance of the strategic Gibraltar.
The conquest of Gibraltar was far from easy for the Nationalists. The naval guns of the moored British warships, designed to break through the armour of enemy warships, took a terrible toll of the advancing Nationalist infantry; Joaquin Delgadillo counted himself lucky to have survived this barrage. However, the fighter airplanes of the German Condor Legion proved decisive. Eventually, the Royal Navy ships had to evacuate Gibraltar and steam into the open sea, and as Sanjurjo's propagandists proudly proclaimed, the Spanish flag flew over the Rock of Gibraltar for the first time in two and a half centuries.
In later years, Gibraltar faded from public attention and was rarely mentioned, either in Spain or in Britain. During the struggle with the Italians and Germans in Libya and Egypt, the British Empire managed to keep the supply lines open even without possession of Gibraltar.
The collapse of the Spanish Nationalists in 1944 brought Gibraltar, with the rest of the territory formerly ruled by Sanjurjo, under the rule of the Spanish Republic, but whether or not the Republic would return Gibraltar to the British was unresolved.
When the Race began to take notice of human shipping lanes, they bombed the British base of Gibraltar more persistently and precisely than either the Germans or the Italians had done. Despite this, Gibraltar stayed in British hands.
While traveling from London to Palestine, Moishe Russie and his family docked at the base, and then transferred onto the cargo ship Naxos. Russie saw that there were some German U-boats in the harbour, and laughed at the irony of them using a base they tried very hard to destroy just a few years before.