Victoria Lines

Posted on January 16, 2021 / 210
Listing Type : Defence Line
Location : Malta

The Victoria Lines were also known as the North-West Front and was built along the Great Fault.  This defence line was developed between 1875 and 1907 in order to prevent any attacker landing at the north end of the Island and advancing overland to attack the dockyard and Valetta.

In 1866 Colonel Jervois had proposed a gridle defence of six new forts to protect the land approaches to the harbour area.  This proposal was not looked at further until 1872 when urban development and land prices made it untenable. During the visit to Malta by Brigadier General John Adye in 1872 he further proposed the building of defence line along the Great Fault on a similar line to the one that the Knights of St John had earlier used.  In 1873 the proposals made by Brigadier General John Adye were accepted by the Defence Committee.

The later intention was to incorporate existing defences into a continuous line of defence with additional new forts and batteries.  The initial plan were for forts at:

The forts, particularly Fort Bingemma and Fort Madliena, were intended to have a dual role, coastal defence and land defence.  In respect of Fort Madliena it retained an important coastal defence role until after 1945.

Along the fault line there were however numerous areas of dead ground caused by the rocky terrain, and these could not be covered by the three forts.  Therefore, additional gun batteries were needed to cover these areas.  It was therefore proposed that gun batteries would be built at;

  • Targa Battery which was built but never fully armed
  • Gharghur Left and Right Magazine.  Some buildings still stand at Gharghur Right Battery. Garghur Left Magazine is now a private home.
  • San Giovanni  was built and armed with 6-pdr guns and two Maxim Machine Guns
  • The Dueijra Lines, built in 1881, as a two kilometre defence line

In addition, seven positions were to be prepared to mount 8-inch 70-cwt Mark I howitzers.  These battery positions were each of four gun pits, separated by traverses with expense magazines built into them.  The gun pits provided the guns with protection from incoming fire on three sides.

Gharghur High Ange Fire Battery built in 1897 was to protect against beach landing in the north-east.

The Dueijra Lines were later to be incorporated into the new Victoria Lines.  By 6th November 1899 the various forts and strong points had been linked together with a stone parapet of about 1.5 metres for infantry use, sometimes with loopholes.  The cliff face was modified with scarping to make it harder to climb. In some areas, such as the old Knight’s defences at Torri Falca, the British built entrenchments with a rock cut dry moat in the front. A patrol path ran along the rear of the wall.

A number of river valleys intersected the natural fault line and these had to be protected by loopholed masonry walls with bridges.  These became known collectively as Stop Walls such as those at Wied il-Faham (below Fort Madalena), Wied Anglu (Naxxar) and the Bingemma Gap (West end of Dueijra Lines).

In 1901 a redoubt was built at the western end of the Victoria Lines at Fomm ir-Rih, near the village of Il-Kuncizzjoni.  At Il-Kuncizzjoni a fortified position was built with an engine room for a searchlight located nearby.  In to three Electric Lights were installed along the Victoria Lines, each with a well protected engine room.  The three sites were:

For more information on Defence Electric Lights click here.

The building of the Victoria Lines necessitated new barrack accommodation, and a Regimental Barracks were built at Imtafa.  Sickness amongst the garrison subsequently necessitated the building of a military hospital adjacent to these barracks.

In 1903 plans were developed to build a further defence line north of the Victoria Lines along the Ghajn Tuffieha (Golden Bay) and Wardjia ( St Paul’s Bay) Ridges.  Some work was done on this new defence line and remains can be seen in the Il-wardija.  However, this was never completed and by 1907 the Victoria Lines had been officially abandoned with a return to the defence of the Islands’ shore line.

A rough timetable in respect of the Victoria lines is as follows:

  • 1873 Approval to build the defence Line
  • 1875 Work starts on  Forts Bingemma, Mosta and Madalena
  • 1881 Work commences on the Dweijra Lines, a two kilometre stretch defence wall with guns
  • 1884 San Giovanni Q.F. Battery built
  • 1887 Building of the Targa Battery
  • 1895 Works starts on building a continuous defence wall between the three forts and joining up the Dwejra Lines. The Line ran from a redoubt at Fomm ir-Rih in the West to Fort Magdalene in the East.
  • 1897 Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, the whole defence line name The Victoria Lines in her honour.
  • 1899 The Victoria Lines completed.  The High Angle Fire Batter at Garghur also built.
  • 1900 The seven pre-prepared positions along the Victoria Lines for howitzers are completed

The UK National Archives include the following files:

  • WO 78/5296
  • WO 78/2667
  • MPH 234 (Barracks)

By 1900 the evolution of armaments and the change in military tactics led the British to consider establish defence locations North of the Victoria Lines.  The topography dictated that the Wardija and Mallieha ridges, with there North facing cliffs were ideal for this purpose.  Eight positions were built on the Mallieha Ridge Line and at least seven on the Wardija Ridge.

The Victoria Lines as a defence line were decommissioned in 1907, although parts of the Line remained in use until the present day.

The image on the right shows a section of the Victoria Lines Wall as built.  Dressed stone is both the facing and reverse, while the core is filled with rubble.  The cap stone in tapered to allow infantry to fire down hill without exposing themselves.

Section of Victoria Lines Musketry Wall

Victoria Lines section

Musketry Loop Hole

Loop hole, Victoria Lines

More vulnerable part of the Victoria Lines, such as stop walls over river wadis, had sections of musketry loop holes for the infantry to use when engaging any hostile forces.  These are in themselves fairly complex masonry structures.

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