The British took over the Maltese islands as a protectorate in 1800, and later as a colony in 1813. They initially used the Hospitaller fortifications without any alterations. Under the military theory of the time, the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet was regarded as the most reliable protection against invasion, and in fact the British Civil Commissioner, Henry Pigot, wanted to demolish the majority of Valletta’s fortifications in 1801, although this was never done. During the British period, the various forts of the Order were rearmed, refitted and altered a number of times to keep up with the latest military technology. Read more

In the 1850s, the British built Fort Verdala and St. Clement’s Retrenchment in the Cottonera area, while Lascaris Battery was built in Valletta. Later on in the 19th century, parts of the Cottonera Lines, Santa Margherita Lines and the fortifications of Senglea were demolished to make way for extensions of the Malta Dockyard. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the British built barracks in various parts of the island, such as Tigné Point and Pembroke.

In 1866, Colonel William Jervois produced a report entitled “Memorandum with reference to the improvements to the defences of Malta and Gibraltar, rendered necessary by the introduction of Iron Plated Ships and powerful rifled guns”, in which he gave Malta (along with Gibraltar, Halifax and Bermuda) the status of an “imperial fortress”. A programme to improve Malta’s fortifications began soon after, and a number of new polygonal forts and batteries were built, including Sliema Point Battery (1872), Fort St. Rocco (1872–73) and Fort Leonardo (1875–78).

From 1871 to 1880, the Corradino Lines were built on the Corradino Heights. The V-shaped trace and ditch were meant to protect the dockyard and harbour from landward attacks. They were abandoned in the early 1900s due to advancements in technology, although they saw some use once again in World War II.

Starting from 1875, the Victoria Lines, originally known as the North West Front, were built along the northern part of Malta, dividing it from the more heavily populated south. The system of defences consisted of a line of fortifications flanked by defensive towers, along with entrenchments and gun emplacements. Several artillery batteries were planned, but only San Giovanni Battery and Tarġa Battery were actually built. Three forts were also built along the lines: Fort Binġemma, Fort Madalena and Fort Mosta. The lines were completed in 1899, but exercises in 1900 proved that they were of dubious defensive value, and the entire system was decommissioned in 1907, with the exception of the coastal towers. Today, parts of the lines have collapsed but other parts in the countryside, including the three forts, still survive. Another fort, Fort Pembroke, was built between 1875 and 1878 to cover the gap between the Victoria Lines and the harbour area.

The British also built a number of forts to protect Marsaxlokk Harbour. These included Fort San Lucian (1874–78), Fort Delimara (1876–88), Fort Tas-Silġ (1879–83). In 1881 and 1882, Saint Paul’s Battery and Żonqor Battery were built in Marsaxlokk and Marsaskala respectively.

Following the arming of the Italian ironclads Duilio and Dandolo with 100-ton guns, the British feared an Italian attack on Malta, as the ships could fire on Malta’s batteries, destroying them one after the other, while keeping outside their guns’ range. To prevent this, the British requested that four 100-ton guns be built. Two of these were installed in Malta, and Cambridge Battery and Rinella Battery were built specifically to house these guns. Construction of the batteries began in 1878 and they were complete by 1886. The gun at Rinella still exists.

From 1888 to 1910, a new series of fortifications were built to house breech-loading guns. These were Della Grazie Battery, Spinola Battery, Garden Battery, Wolseley Battery, Pembroke Battery and Fort Benghisa. The latter was the last polygonal fort to be built in Malta.

World Wars and aftermath

After the early 20th century, few fortifications were built in Malta. However, new military installations such as airfields began to be built in World War I, when the seaplane base of RAF Kalafrana and the airfield at Marsa were built. More airfields were built in the interwar period and the Second World War, including RAF Hal Far, RAF Ta Kali, RAF Luqa, RAF Safi, RAF Krendi and Ta’ Lambert Airfield.

From the Abyssinian Crisis of 1935 onwards, the British built many pillboxes in Malta for defence in case of an Italian invasion. Many others were built during World War II. Many pillboxes still exist, especially on the north eastern part of the island. A few of them have been restored and are cared for, but many others were demolished. Some pillboxes are still being destroyed by the Maltese they are not considered to have any architectural or historic value.

The last fort to be built in Malta was Fort Campbell, which was built near Mellieħa between late 1937 and 1938. The design of the fort is completely different from the earlier fortifications in Malta as it was designed to counter the new threat of aerial bombardment. It had an irregular plan and its perimeter was guarded by machine gun posts and a few rifle loopholes. The buildings inside were scattered so as not to create a concentration of buildings. The fort still exists, although it is largely in ruins.

During the Second World War, the Lascaris War Rooms were built in Valletta to serve as the war headquarters for the defence of Malta. They were later used in the headquarters of the Allied invasion of Sicily. Throughout the war, many air-raid shelters also were dug in the limestone rock of the islands, either by the government or by individuals or families, to protect the civilian population of Malta from Italian or German aerial bombardment. Many of the shelters still exist, and a few are open to the public. Many anti-aircraft batteries, gun positions and radar stations were also built throughout the course of the war.

Several forts and historic military buildings are still in use by the Armed Forces of Malta, such as Luqa Barracks, Fort Madalena and Fort Mosta.

The British took over the Maltese islands as a protectorate in 1800, and later as a colony in 1813. They initially used the Hospitaller fortifications without any alterations. Under the military theory of the time, the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet was regarded as the most reliable protection against invasion, and in fact the British Civil Commissioner, Henry Pigot, wanted to demolish the majority of Valletta’s fortifications in 1801, although this was never done. During the British period, the various forts of the Order were rearmed, refitted and altered a number of times to keep up with the latest military technology. Read more

In the 1850s, the British built Fort Verdala and St. Clement’s Retrenchment in the Cottonera area, while Lascaris Battery was built in Valletta. Later on in the 19th century, parts of the Cottonera Lines, Santa Margherita Lines and the fortifications of Senglea were demolished to make way for extensions of the Malta Dockyard. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the British built barracks in various parts of the island, such as Tigné Point and Pembroke.

In 1866, Colonel William Jervois produced a report entitled “Memorandum with reference to the improvements to the defences of Malta and Gibraltar, rendered necessary by the introduction of Iron Plated Ships and powerful rifled guns”, in which he gave Malta (along with Gibraltar, Halifax and Bermuda) the status of an “imperial fortress”. A programme to improve Malta’s fortifications began soon after, and a number of new polygonal forts and batteries were built, including Sliema Point Battery (1872), Fort St. Rocco (1872–73) and Fort Leonardo (1875–78).

From 1871 to 1880, the Corradino Lines were built on the Corradino Heights. The V-shaped trace and ditch were meant to protect the dockyard and harbour from landward attacks. They were abandoned in the early 1900s due to advancements in technology, although they saw some use once again in World War II.

Starting from 1875, the Victoria Lines, originally known as the North West Front, were built along the northern part of Malta, dividing it from the more heavily populated south. The system of defences consisted of a line of fortifications flanked by defensive towers, along with entrenchments and gun emplacements. Several artillery batteries were planned, but only San Giovanni Battery and Tarġa Battery were actually built. Three forts were also built along the lines: Fort Binġemma, Fort Madalena and Fort Mosta. The lines were completed in 1899, but exercises in 1900 proved that they were of dubious defensive value, and the entire system was decommissioned in 1907, with the exception of the coastal towers. Today, parts of the lines have collapsed but other parts in the countryside, including the three forts, still survive. Another fort, Fort Pembroke, was built between 1875 and 1878 to cover the gap between the Victoria Lines and the harbour area.

The British also built a number of forts to protect Marsaxlokk Harbour. These included Fort San Lucian (1874–78), Fort Delimara (1876–88), Fort Tas-Silġ (1879–83). In 1881 and 1882, Saint Paul’s Battery and Żonqor Battery were built in Marsaxlokk and Marsaskala respectively.

Following the arming of the Italian ironclads Duilio and Dandolo with 100-ton guns, the British feared an Italian attack on Malta, as the ships could fire on Malta’s batteries, destroying them one after the other, while keeping outside their guns’ range. To prevent this, the British requested that four 100-ton guns be built. Two of these were installed in Malta, and Cambridge Battery and Rinella Battery were built specifically to house these guns. Construction of the batteries began in 1878 and they were complete by 1886. The gun at Rinella still exists.

From 1888 to 1910, a new series of fortifications were built to house breech-loading guns. These were Della Grazie Battery, Spinola Battery, Garden Battery, Wolseley Battery, Pembroke Battery and Fort Benghisa. The latter was the last polygonal fort to be built in Malta.

World Wars and aftermath

After the early 20th century, few fortifications were built in Malta. However, new military installations such as airfields began to be built in World War I, when the seaplane base of RAF Kalafrana and the airfield at Marsa were built. More airfields were built in the interwar period and the Second World War, including RAF Hal Far, RAF Ta Kali, RAF Luqa, RAF Safi, RAF Krendi and Ta’ Lambert Airfield.

From the Abyssinian Crisis of 1935 onwards, the British built many pillboxes in Malta for defence in case of an Italian invasion. Many others were built during World War II. Many pillboxes still exist, especially on the north eastern part of the island. A few of them have been restored and are cared for, but many others were demolished. Some pillboxes are still being destroyed by the Maltese they are not considered to have any architectural or historic value.

The last fort to be built in Malta was Fort Campbell, which was built near Mellieħa between late 1937 and 1938. The design of the fort is completely different from the earlier fortifications in Malta as it was designed to counter the new threat of aerial bombardment. It had an irregular plan and its perimeter was guarded by machine gun posts and a few rifle loopholes. The buildings inside were scattered so as not to create a concentration of buildings. The fort still exists, although it is largely in ruins.

During the Second World War, the Lascaris War Rooms were built in Valletta to serve as the war headquarters for the defence of Malta. They were later used in the headquarters of the Allied invasion of Sicily. Throughout the war, many air-raid shelters also were dug in the limestone rock of the islands, either by the government or by individuals or families, to protect the civilian population of Malta from Italian or German aerial bombardment. Many of the shelters still exist, and a few are open to the public. Many anti-aircraft batteries, gun positions and radar stations were also built throughout the course of the war.

Several forts and historic military buildings are still in use by the Armed Forces of Malta, such as Luqa Barracks, Fort Madalena and Fort Mosta.

British History Tour Details

This tour is dedicated to Malta’s British history. During the tour we will discuss why the British came to Malta, what happened and why they left.

After pickup the tour will begin in Vittoriosa where we will see the fortifications which date back to the times of the Knights, and were later used by the British for their defensive purpose.

We will visit the maze like, underground Air Raid shelters and relive the conditions of what has been referred to as the Second Great Siege of Malta. These subterranean bomb shelters were excavated in the solid rock and were extended as the war progressed.

After a short walk of Vittoriosa we will drive to Valletta by bus. We will walk to the upper Barrakka Garden which enjoys a spectacular view of the Grand Harbour (the largest natural harbour of the Mediterranean Sea), which was a British military base and the main reason why Malta came under fire as soon as Mussolini declared war on the Allied forces.

A walk around the streets of Valletta will take us by the Palace which was used by Napoleon Bonaparte, the second world war Victory (Soup) Kitchen, Queen Victoria’s statue and the ruins of the Royal Opera House which was destroyed at the peak of the bombings in Malta.

After some free time for a lunch break we will walk to the lower level of Valletta to the Malta War Museum. The museum itself is situated at Fort St. Elmo, an original defensive system built by the Knights which also was modified to serve the British military purpose. Among the numerous exhibits are the fuselage of one of the legendary Gloster Gladiators and well as the E-boat (human torpedo).

Back to: British Malta War Tour

British Heritage Visible Today

When we think of historical buildings in Malta, we tend to think first of the defences and architecture bequeathed us by the Knights of St John. But the British era left a significant mark too – sometimes altering or adding on to the work of the Knights, but also developing afresh.

The colonial housing and barracks at Pembroke, the Garrison Church (now the Stock Exchange), in Valletta and the elegant Chamber of Commerce building in lower Republic Street, also in the capital, are examples of notable British architecture – practical but nonetheless with architectural merit. Tigne’ Point has incorporated the arcaded barracks into its development near the Point shopping centre, and you can easily spot Victorian influence in the massive, gothic-style building near Balluta Bay, and in the house on Mdina’s main cathedral square. Read more

British - Malta History

From 1530 to 1798, Malta had been ruled by the Order of Saint John. The Order was ousted during the War of the Second Coalition and Malta was occupied by Napoleon. The Maltese rebelled after a couple of months of French rule and asked Britain for help.

Eventually, the French capitulated in 1800 and Malta voluntarily became a British protectorate. Britain was then supposed to evacuate the island according to the terms of the Treaty of Amiens of 1802, but failed to keep this obligation – one of several mutual cases of non-adherence to the treaty, which eventually led to its collapse and the resumption of war between Britain and France a year later. Read more