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During World War II it was an important base for the Royal Navy as it controlled the entrance and exit to the Mediterranean Sea, which is only eight miles (13 km) wide at this naval "choke point" and remains strategically important to this day with half the world's seaborne trade passing through the strait.

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Its strategic value increased with the opening of the Suez Canal, as it lay on the sea route between the UK and the British Empire east of Suez.In the later 19th century, there were major investments in improving the fortifications and the port.The Tower of Homage of the Moorish Castle remains standing today.From 1274 onwards, the town was fought over and captured by the Nasrids of Granada (in 12), the Marinids of Morocco (in 12) and the kings of Castile (in 1309).Spanish dictator Francisco Franco's reluctance to allow the German Army onto Spanish soil frustrated a German plan to capture the Rock, codenamed Operation Felix.

In the 1950s, Franco renewed Spain's claim to sovereignty over Gibraltar and restricted movement between Gibraltar and Spain.Gibraltarians voted overwhelmingly to remain under British sovereignty in the Gibraltar sovereignty referendum, 1967, which led to the passing of the Gibraltar Constitution Order in 1969.In response, Spain completely closed the border with Gibraltar and severed all communication links.As well as frequent short runs (known as 'Club Runs') towards Malta to fly off aircraft reinforcements (initially Hurricanes but later, notably from the USN aircraft carrier Wasp, Spitfires), the critical Operation Pedestal convoy was run from Gibraltar in August 1942.This resupplied the island at a critical time in the face of concentrated air attacks from German and Italian forces.The occupation of the town by Alliance forces caused the exodus of the population to the surrounding area of the Campo de Gibraltar.