The Knights of Saint John controlled Malta from 1530 until 1800. The Knights carried out massive work on the fortifications, especially after the Great Siege of 1565. The French captured Malta in 1798 with forces under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte. The Maltese, aided by the British, staged a revolution against the French leading to a French withdrawal in 1800. In 1814 the Island of Malta became part of the British Empire under the Treaty of Paris.
The Island quickly developed into a major naval base and was home to the British Mediterranean Fleet. As with Gibraltar, Malta played a key role in the Crimean War as a logistics base. With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 Malta became a routine port of call for traffic using this theCanal. During the Gallipoli Campaign of World War 1, Malta became a major recovery area for troops injured in that fighting.
The British made extensive use of the old Knight’s fortifications as well as building their own forts and batteries. Some of the old forts such as St Elmo are a warren of tunnels and related underground positions from many periods. Malta played a key role during World War 2 and was awarded the George Cross for the gallantry of its’ people under sustained German and Italian attack. For much of the Cold War the Island remained a Fortress with nuclear bunkers and associated defences.
Fort Bingemma, 1875-8
Fort Madalena, 1878-80
Fort Mosta, 1878-80
Ghargur (Xghajra) Position Finding Station
Fort Benghisa (Benghsjsa), 1910-12
Fort Delimera, 1876-88
Fort San Leonardo, 1872-8
Fort Campbell, 1937-8
Fort Pembroke, 1875-78
Fort San Lucian, 1872-78
Fort San Rocco, 1872-1900
Fort Tas-silg, 1879-83
Fort Verdala, 1852-56
Cambridge Battery, 1878-86. 100 ton gun
Rinella Battery, 1878-84
Wolseley Battery, 1897-99 with four 6-inch BL
Adapted Knight’s Fortifications
Fort Saint Angelo
Fort Saint Elmo
Fort San Salvatore
The map on the right shows in general terms the principal fortifications around Valetta and the Three Cities. Fort Rinella and Cambridge Battery were completed in the mid-1880s and each mounted a single 17.72-inch RML gun. Grand Harbour was the principal Royal Naval anchorage, but Marsamxett Harbour was also used. As the effective range of coastal artillery guns increased, fortifications were built further and further away from these main anchorages.
This table summarises the armaments on the fortification of Valetta (including Fort St Elmo) and Floriana Lines in 1861. It does not include the Three Cities. This is taken from a return compiled by Lt Bruce Brine of the Royal Engineers in 1864.
By 1879 a total of forty heavy RML guns had been mounted round the main harbours. Most of these guns were mounted behind iron shields, with the best surviving examples being at Fort Ricasoli.