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Our visit took place during August - when the daytime temperatures were
regularly around 35 deg C; accompanied by non-stop glorious, sunshine...
In August the parched landscape which intensively cultivated in drystonewalled terraces that runs up, across and down the hilly terrain makes a pastel toned contrast to the sea's intense hue of Azure blue..- that in modelform I would have deemed as fake and impossible-- ; had I not seen it with my own eyes!!
Both the inland and coastal ancient towns stand in parts little changed as they have done for centuries.
The Fortress town of Valletta, Grand Harbour and the three cities proved
to be inspirational; in my mind all the old photos of RN warships entering
and leaving harbour suddenly came to life - with naval diorama possibilities
springing to mind everywhere!!
First a bit of History.....
The Republic of Malta is located centrally in the Mediterranean Sea,
58 miles(93 km) south of Sicily, and with over 400,000 inhabitants spread
over 122 square miles ( 316 square km) has the highest population density
of any country in Europe; nevertheless there are some large pockets of
wild coastal and inland countryside.
Malta was settled in pre-historic times, and numerous ancient temples and monuments testify to this in the present day. Thereafter the Islands were occupied by by all manner of seafaring folk, Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Normans,Spanish , French and English, leaving behind a valuable and diverse cultural heritage.
In 1530 the Norman Emperor Charles V gave the Maltese Islands to the
Knights of St John, under whose 250 year rule the Islands prospered and
became wealthy. In 1565 the Ottoman Turks attempted to invade the Islands,
and the Great Siege lasting over five months was successfully repelled,
cementing Malta's position as pivotal to saving Europe from further attacks
from the Turks. In recognition of this many of Europe's rulers sent financial
assistance and thereby contributed to the building of the city of Valletta.
Years of Prosperity followed, however the power of the Order was beginning
to decline towards the latter part of the 18th century, and the Islands
were invaded by Napoleon in 1798. The Maltese rebelled and with British
aid the French were driven out. The rule of the Knights was refused by
the population and in 1814 Malta became a part of the British empire.
Undoubtedly to the readers of Modelwarships.com Malta will be most familiar as an important Mediterranean naval base of the Royal Navy.
Malta was an important coaling and naval ship repair base throughout the heyday of the Victorian era of Pax Britannica, with ever more magnificent ships passing though the entrance to Grand Harbour.
Of particular interest as part of the land based defenses of this strategically
vital Harbour were the Armstrong Rifled Muzzle Loaders (RML) 100 ton guns,
installed specifically to counter the perceived threat of the identical
100 ton guns fitted aboard the new Italian Battleships Caio Duillio and
Enrico Dandolo .
Two of these guns were placed at Gibraltar with the remaining two in
specially built coastal batteries giving security to the entrance of Grand
Harbour with their crossfire of 1 ton shells.
Fort Rinella has been preserved and occasional firings( blanks!!) do take place ( video)
During WW1 the Royal navy cooperated with the French Navy and Valetta
served as a service and repair base for the French fleet- not without being
beset by problems... with the confusion caused by the usage of imperial
measurements and tools on metric built ships....!!
In 1918 the Japaneses operated a fleet of 17 ships from Valetta as part
of the allied Mediterranean force against the German and KuK fleet.
In WW2 Malta was attacked from the air with unrelenting vehemence by
the Axis powers, at first Italy's Airforce and then Germany's Luftwaffe.
Crucial as a base for the RN and operations in North Africa Winston Churchill
ordered Malta to be held - and thereby supplied at all costs.
Operation Pedestal is perhaps one of the most famous convoys of all times, with a catastrophic loss rate on the part of the allies- yet it ensured Malta's survival.
A detailed account is to be found here:
The tankers SS Brisbane Star and SS Ohio reached Valletta by sheer courage and determination in the face of relentless aerial attack causing crippling damage, are popular subjects for Maltese modelers, the fuel they carried being vital for the air defences and thereby the very survival of Malta.
In early September1943 , following the Italian armistice the Italian
fleet sailed to internment around Malta's coast. It was during this Voyage
that the Battleship Roma was destroyed by German bombing.
Some years after the end of WW2 increasing calls for independence from the British Empire led to a degree of autonomy within the Commonwealth by 1964, with the Maltese Republic being established in 1974.
The English military presence finally left Malta in 1979 - with the
final departure of HMS London
Today Malta is a thriving tourist destination, and whilst there has been some indiscriminate development in some of the coastal regions, inland and many parts of coastal Malta still retains much of its charm.
In the centre peninsula of the three cities on the opposite side to Valletta in Grand Harbour lies the 'city' of Vittoriosa ; the Maritime Museum is in an imposing building on the waterfront.
Photo coverage of some of the exhibits within shortly.
I highly recommend a trip around the harbour in a 'Dghaja' ( the traditional brightly coloured working boat of the Maltese Islands; of Phoenician origin)
These plied Grand Harbour by the hundreds; transporting goods and sailors
from ship to shore. These days there are approximately 25 or so remaining
in service, engaged by long served boatmen in the business of running tourists
around the harbour or acting as a ferry service between Valetta and the
three cites on the other shore. From the low, almost waterline vantage
point of a Dghaja, one gains a new perspective of the ancient walls and
dockyard buildings that must be akin to that seen by thousands of RN personnel
over the preceding 150 years...
The Dghaja we hired ( for a reasonable 16 Euro for 2 people for 45 minutes)
was built 98 years ago and the preceding three generations of boatmen of
our skipper 's family had used that very boat for all of those years!!
Originally purely Oar powered( with the oarsman standing and facing forward) as a concession to
modern life thy have a ( REMOVABLE !) beam clamped on athwarsthips aft to which is secured a small outboard petrol engine.
I have taken extensive photos of these vessels—as they will certainly
make up an integral part of a future 'RN-at-Valletta' diorama- the variety
of types and sizes on the basic design is fascinating.
Malta had a RAF airbase, from which deployed in bygone years -along
with fighters and FAA /RN aircraft - such giant bombers and tankers as
the Avro Vulcan, H-P Victors and Vickers Valiants.
The now disused site has been recently turned into a small but growing Aviation museum;
Within whose Hangars are housed an airworthy Hurricane and Spitfire
fighter, as well as a variety of FAA aircraft as static exhibits alongside
some restoration projects; notably a Fairy Swordfish, 2 Dakotas and a dismantled
but complete Vampire!! Numerous fine aircraft models, as well as a display
of 1/1200 carriers and RAF Rescue boat models are exhibited there giving
a good background to both Military and Civil Aviation matters pertaining
Modelwarship.com contributor Louis Carrabot of Malta; has on permanent exhibition some of his Seaplane dioramas ( from before he turned to ships!)
Louis and IPMS Malta invited me to a BBQ and Beer evening on the rooftop
terrace of their dedicated clubhouse (!!) A memorable experience among
like-minded model friends...
The sister Island of Gozo is reached via a short Ro-Ro Ferry trip, and
allows a view of Malta from the sea. The ferries are double ended and completely
symmetrical, (during the crossing I had already mentally designed the half
model attached to a mirror midships...)!!
Gozo is a verdant,agricultural and less populated Island; the pace of
life is notably more laid back and has an appeal all of its own, from its
rugged countryside to its superb diving and snorkeling rocky coastline
interspersed with a few very small strips of sandy beach. The hilltop town
of Nadur houses a small
maritime museum; the private collection of Mr Grima.
The artifacts and photos within are to the modeller are perhaps more
interesting ; as the exhibited models are mainly elderly Revell, Airfix
and Aurora plastic kits along with a selection of naive 'sailormade' models
of British and German Battelships. It is however well signposted and the
guide was very knowledgeable and pointed out many of the prized exhibits
Malta and Gozo as a holiday destination in themselves are worthy-- if one takes the time to breathe in the atmosphere of its illustrious historical past they are an unmissable experience to indulge in !
Added to which the selection of old and classic cars encountered regularly
on the roads and the beautiful classic Buses, some of which date to the
1940's- still in daily use-- makes for a unique travel experience.
I extend my thanks to all the people of Malta and Gozo who welcomed
us so warmly
Should anyone want any of the pics in high resolution—please sen me
a Pm or e-mail
Jim Baumann and family August 2009
of Jim Baumann's work.
Updated August 2009