By Albert Fenech
Very much aware of the lengthy history of the Maltese Islands and their vulnerability resulting from countless invasions, when the British Government took over the administration of the Islands in the early 18th Century, their major task was that of establishing Malta as an important military base and an excellent naval base, thus bolstering its defence facilities.
The main stimulator was the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, a passageway to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, thus preventing having to sail all the way around the west and the south coasts of Africa to reach these areas – virtually halving the distance.
In the centre of the Mediterranean, Malta became essential for the British Fleet to maintain its naval supremacy by providing a staging post for the conveyance of troops and cargo to proceed to and through the Suez Canal – and therefore control of this Suez region was also essential.
From a commercial point of view the Suez Canal was a tremendous breakthrough but, as is the wont of humanity, the prime reason became military rather than commercial – a matter of control and domination.
As reflected by last week’s article, the British provision of an enormous underground reservoir became a reality to provide an emergency fresh water supply for the Malta Dockyard region handling Britain’s vast and powerful Mediterranean Fleet.
For a similar defence reason, also in the late 18th Century, the British constructed the Victoria Lines along a natural geographical barrier known as The Great Fault that stretched from Madliena in the east, upward to Mosta in a central locality and then further north to Rabat on the west side.
The reason was to construct a defensive wall to deter an invading force landing in the north of Malta and then spreading throughout the island and down to the Grand Harbour. The wall contained forts, batteries, entrenchments, stop-walls, infantry lines, searchlights and howitzer gun positions.
However, and sadly, during internal military exercises conducted in May of 1900, the Victoria Lines were rendered to be pretty useless and served little purpose and although the coastal forts were maintained, the rest fell into abandonment. There was a slight revival during World War II and although Malta suffered horrendous aerial bombardment, there was no actual land invasion.
However, because of the historic value, partial restoration works continue along the Lines and most importantly Fort Mosta is used as an ammunition depot for the Armed Forces of Malta while Fort Madalena is also used by the AFM for communications information systems.
The work on Fort Mosta has been particular as it is the Government’s main warehouse for the storage of munitions and explosives. It is also used by the AFM’s Bomb Disposal Unit, a unit which may be seen as being superfluous as no bombs have been dropped on Malta and Gozo since the end of World War II.
However, Malta’s criminal elements have frequently communicated with the Italian Mafia for the manufacture of lethal bombs as well as through internet sites instructing on the manufacture of homemade bombs. For a period these were prolific in local criminal gang warfare and manufactured as bombs to explode a vehicle.
It was such a bomb that killed Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia almost five years ago, probably because of her investigations into criminal activities.
In addition there are hundreds of local fireworks manufacturing enthusiasts putting in daily voluntary work to manufacture displays during their local parish feasts and because of the high-risk nature of gunpowder, there are unfortunate powerful unwarranted explosions and then the Bomb Disposal Unit has to step in and ensure the safety of the surrounding area.
Making use of EU Funds, the Armed Forces have carried out works to strengthen vulnerable areas at Fort Mosta as well as to strengthen the infrastructure in the national interest because of highly sensitive and explosive material.
Perhaps the Victoria Lines have never been put to the real test for which they were constructed and perhaps with today’s style military action they have overstayed their tenure, but history is history and they remain as a reflection of Malta’s chequered past as a military base.
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“A cat in a hurry produces blind kittens”
Something done hurriedly produces negative results.
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