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The North West Front

Brigadier General John Adye in 1872 came to Malta and produced a report entitled “Report on Malta by Brigadier General Adye, C.B. Director of Artillery and Stores”.  He reviewed that the works on the coastal fortifications had progressed however Colonel Jervois idea of building a girdle of new forts around a mile outside the existing fortifications was not implemented for various reasons. Adye in fact remarked “but as some of the proposed sites are now being occupied by the creation of suburbs, the value of the land is rising considerably and the new buildings add to the difficulty of defending the ground. A consideration of these circumstances has led to another proposal namely, to take up a position far in advance of the hitherto entertained…”. This “position far in advance” referred to what was later called the North West Front.


Fort Bingemma was the first fort to be built on the North West Front as proposed by Brigadier General Adye. Fort Bingemma follows the pattern of polygonal fortifications and it makes a good use of the natural geographic features of the Great Fault’s scarp. The Royal Engineers who were responsible for the building exploited this feature and they did away with the need of constructing fortifications along large tracts of the fort.  The troops manning the fort were stationed in the keep of the fort. Fort Madliena was built between 1875 and 1881 as Part of the North-West Defence Front.  This polygonal fortification had no keep unlike other forts built during the same period.  A Battery was erected on the rear so that the aim of the Fort was changed to serve both coastal and land defence.  Fort Mosta was the last fort to be built on the North-West Defence Front and it is one of the best examples of the Polygonal System of Fortifications. The aim of the fort was purely a land fort and it was placed on a very strategic position on the spur commanding Burmarrad. The Construction of Fort Pembroke which begun 1875 had as its aim to plug the breach between the North-West Front with the Harbour defences. In 1888 Generals Nicholson and Goodenough reported that the principal fault of the Fort was “the exposed masonry of the bonnettes”, which made the fort’s silhouette pronounced from the sea. Very near to the Fort a new battery was built and the main difference between the two is that in the latter is the use of barbed wire and earthwork rather than polygonal system of fortifications.


The main idea behind the Victoria Lines was to conceal the northern part for Malta. The Lines spanned from Fomm ir-Rih to Bingemma passing through Mosta to Madliena to Pembroke. This corresponds to the Great Fault, which is a natural geographic feature, which made possible the construction of the lines.  During 1881 to reinforce the North-West Front an entrenchment about a one kilometre long was built on Dwejra Hill, thus the name of the lines was Dwejra Lines. The Infantry Line itself was constructed only in 1895 and it was completed in 1897. Seven Howitzer batteries and a High Angle Battery in Gharghur stiffened the strength of the Victoria Lines.  Targa Battery was raised at Targa Gap where the North West Front was more accessible. Near Fort Madliena, San Giovanni Battery was built to strength the position of the Lines. In May 1900 a simulation of an invasion was held. A force of two infantry brigades and a naval brigade supported by engineers and mounted infantry under the cover of naval bombardment managed to overcome the defence of the Victoria Lines within a day. Thus the Victoria Lines however can be considered as a failure since they were unable to hold against any invasion. The intricate web of rubble walls found all over Malta favoured the aggressor, as rubble walls offered protection to him.  In 1907 the Victoria Lines were abandoned in favour to the policy of stopping any invaders before landing a policy, which the knights had already adopted in the 18th century.

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