MALTA PILLBOXES

This is all out the period, we are aware.  After a recent a period of time in Malta we could find no readily accessible database of military sites for World War II in Malta.  This is unlike the UK and Hong Kong, see details below, where detailed databases have been made available.

As a side project therefore, we plotted the Pillboxes and Defence Points we could locate and have produced this basic database.  If you identify any errors or omissions, please advise us on john@pinkroutes.com, so that we can make suitable adjustments, I am sure there is lots of stuff left off.

In the UK we have The Defence of Britain Project (Council for British Archaeology (2006) Defence of Britain Archive [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor] https://doi.org/10.5284/1000327) extensively covers most of the World War 2 features in the United Kingdom  We have a variation of this on https://edob.mattaldred.com/map/.  The Pillbox Study Group offers downloads through their website, see http://www.pillbox-study-group.org.uk/links/downloads/.

In Hong Kong there is a similar and far more modern database covering the fall of Hong Kong in 1941.  See their home web site at https://digital.lib.hkbu.edu.hk/1941hkbattle/en/about.php.

The best read in respect of this subject remains the book by Steven Spiteri, (1996). British military Architecture in Malta.  Second hand copies do appear for sale sporadically.

BACKGROUND

The Pillboxes in Malta were organised in successive Stop Lines, similar to those in the United Kingdom.  The posts were each given a prefix depending on their perceived role. In basic terms the Beach Posts were on the shore, the Support Posts at key features slightly further inland and the Reserve Posts to provide support to the more advanced positions.

BEACH DEFENCE POST – designated by an abbreviation of the area and a number, for example MB1 was Mellieha Bay Number 1 Beach Post.  The Beach Defence Posts usually has a Lyon Light emplacement close by for illumination.

SUPPORT POST– these were designated with the prefix of “L”

RESERVE POST – these were designated with the prefix of “R”

GUN POSTS has the prefix “GP”

DEVLOPMENT

The British Army had built semi-permanent field defences in the North of Malta from about 1903 onwards, but it was not until after 1935 that they moved towards pillbox structures.  This development was similar to that seen in Hong Kong, although for different reasons.  The Shing Mun Redoubt and Gin Drinkers  Line in Hong Kong were a product of British military thinking prior to 1939.  Fort Campbell in Malta was also built at this time, and these coastal defences provide interesting comparisons of military architecture at this time.

The building of pillboxes (Defence Posts) came in two distinct phases. The initial buildings were well built and finished.  As the War developed, Malta came under siege and resources became scare.  Set designs were adopted for the Defence Posts, thus allowing for standardization and a quicker build time.

Emergency measures were taken during 1940 to 1943 and a number of ad hoc structures supplemented the prescribed Defence Posts.  The included the use of existing structures such as houses and factory buildings, which were adapted.

STONE CLAD PILLBOXES (1935 onwards)

The concrete pillboxes were all covered in local stones to camouflage them.  The machine gun emplacements includes semi-circular tables for the guns and sturdy concrete benches for the crew. The pillbox at Ghajn Tuffieha, with four machine gun emplacements, is one of the better surviving examples.

The pillboxes built at this time were often configured differently depending on the topography.

Stone Clad Pillbox

W.W.2 PILLBOXES

There were three basic designs for Defence Post and they were either rectangular or polygonal in plan.  These are less well finished that the earlier stone clad pillboxes, primarily because of limited resources and time constraints.

The Early Phase were basically rectangular blockhouse with a flat roof with parapet. The best surviving example is probably the one at Ghajn Znuber.  Sometimes they did have observation towers added.

Category A Type Pillboxes.

Early design blockhouse with no tower

Early design blockhouse with observation tower

Interior of a Beach Defence Post

The Middle Phase with a  block house and an observation tower on one side. These were two storey structures with the ground floor being primarily for living and the second floor with the major of emplacements/loopholes.  The tower had observation slits at the top, often giving all round views. In some cases these were only of one level and in one case the ground level was buried underground.

Category B Type Pillboxes.

Middle phase defence post with tower

Middle phase Defence Post with stone cladding

The Latter Phase saw the removal of the side mounted observation tower which was replaced by a central observation position on the roof. Still usually two story buildings with the upper level primarily for the employment of weapons.

Category C Type Pillboxes

Later pillbox with central observation turret and Lyon Light

Later style defence post with central observation turret

The majority of the Beach Defence Post had a Lyon Light in a separate position.  The generator for the Lyon Light was usually mounted in a concrete recess nearby.  In some cases, the Lyon Light was mounted on the roof of the pillbox.

A number of Gun Posts were also built, often covering potential landing beaches.  This was particularly the case in the North and South of the Island. These often mounted 18-pdr QF guns of World War I heritage.

Gun Post on Mellieha Stop Line

There were also a few pillboxes built which do not appear on historic survey.  The most useful map is dated from 1965 prepared by the Defence Land Agent showing the identified pillboxes at that time.  (See the Malta National Archives reference PW 1548-65).  This was obviously drawn up by the Ministry of Defence when considering what to do with the old pillboxes.  Many of the smaller or remote items are simply not listed.

About 300 Defence Post were built around Malta, and about a half of these survive to some extent or another.  There is little doubt that some sites are still existent but have been repurposed and are otherwise hard to identify.

The Lyon Lights was used extensively during World War 2 to provide illumination.  Most Beach Defence Posts had a Lyon Light Emplacement located close to the main Post.  Lyon Lights were also used for illuminating possible areas where hostile forces may advance, for example the three Lyon Light positions on the North side of Marfa Ridge (Central, East and West Emplacements),

Lyon Light Emplacement

Anyone visiting Malta to see fortifications can not help but see the numerous pillboxes and other defences from World War 2.

To find the Malta Pillboxes on the main map go to the home page at https://pinkroutes.com/.  In the search box under LISTING TYPE scroll to Malta Pillboxes and then click FILTER POINTS.  The map will then display pillboxes in Malta only, at present about 150 structures listed.

Click on the image to the right to go directly to the HOME PAGE.