May13

Forgotten WWII Post at Corradino

One of the least known and studied works of fortification in the Maltese island is the nineteenth-century enceinte known as the Corradino Lines.

This linear defensive position, built to the conventions of the polygonal trace, was erected in 1871 by the British military in order to seal off the high ground inside the inner reaches of the Grand Harbour area known as the Corradino hill. This strategic location commanded the vulnerable exposed flanks of Floriana, Senglea and Valletta. Although badly mauled by modern industrial development in the course of the late-twentieth century, much of this solidly-built enceinte, with its deep vertical rock-hewn ditch, has survived, albeit tucked away and largely hidden from sight amidst a complex maze of modern factory buildings.

 

Designed largely as a permanent entrenchment for infantry and field artillery, the Corradino Lines were stiffened by a handful of fixed batteries equipped with disappearing guns and strong counterscarp and scarp galleries for enfilading fire inside the ditch. The enceinte originally ran for some 1.4  km, starting from the foot of the right face of St Paul Bastion on the Cottonera enceinte and progressing in stages down into the Grand Harbour to terminate at the old Hospitaller gunpowder magazine of Ras Hanzir.

The defensive enceinte received little attention after it was built and lost all its military significance by the end of the Victorian era, after which it was virtually abandoned as a front line position. An attempt to exploit its defensive potential, however, seems to have been made at the outbreak of the Second World War when the enceinte was temporarily established as a sort of infantry entrenchment.

Fieldwork by the author has revealed the presence of an unusual and improvised fixed defensive post, which was crudely put together on a section of the Corradino enceinte. This was assembled from a cannibalized naval metal turret removed from a warship in the manner shown in the accompanying sketches prepared by the author.

Above and below, View of the post with its toppled armoured turret as it can be seen today. (Images source: Author’s private collection).

Above and below, View of the armoured turret as it can be seen today. The turret seems to have retained its original light grey naval paint. It is not clear if it was camouflaged and painted over with a sand-coloured lime wash. The reddish colouring appears to be rust that formed on the exposed parts of the turret. (Images source: Author’s private collection).

The emplacement is, unfortunately, heavily vandalized but most of the component parts seem to have survived, scattered around the site. The turret itself is toppled over towards the front. This turret has been identified as that of a QF 4-inch Mark V naval gun  as employed on Admiralty modified W-class (or Scott-class) destroyers which were built during the First World War and formed the backbone of the Royal Navy's destroyer flotillas until gradually replaced by newer vessels in mid-1930s. By this time, most of the W-class destroyers were displaced to the reserve fleet but many were recalled to frontline service during the Second World War to serve in the vital role of the convoy escort, freeing up the more modern ships for fleet action. At this point of writing it is not known from which specific vessel this turret was removed. Hopefully, Royal Navy historians will be able to identify the name of the ship in question.

Above, Two Admiralty-class destroyers armed with 4-inch QF BL guns. These are HMAS Waterhen and HMAS Stuart (the vessel in the background to the right). The turrets on HMAS Stuart (one of which is enlarged in detail below) are identical to the turret discovered on the Corradino enceinte. (Images source: Wikipedia Commons).

The actual purpose of the Corradino post has still to be identified. It is not clear if this position was intended to serve as a sort of armoured machine-gun post or some sort of observation cell. The turret was held in place by two vertically mounted I-beams, inserted into the ground and serving as pillars, and was placed within a rectangular pit (revetted in stone) cut into the superior slope of the earthen parapet of the Corradino enceinte. A masonry wall, with horizontal loopholes and a small entrance, was erected to the rear, in line with the parapet wall in order to close off the open rear of the turret, while some sort of concrete roofing seems to have covered part of the rear of the turret. In the process, a hybrid metal-stone-concrete structure was created that could house some two or three soldiers. A significant part of the lower half of the rear wall is still standing while broken concrete debris littering the site suggests some sort of roof hung over the rear part of the structure.

Above, View from the rear of the armoured turret as its emplacement. Note the two vertical I-beams which held up the turret (Image source: Author’s private collection).

Above, Author’s sketches showing a proposed graphic reconstruction of the post with its reutilized naval turret and its location on the superior slope of the wide parapet of the Corradino enceinte.  (Image source: Author’s private collection).

The author was as yet unable to trace any records or plans of this post. It is not clear how it functioned, or if it was actually armed and, if so, what type of weapon or equipment was installed. The reconstruction drawings produced here are only a tentative attempt based on the surviving elements in case readers may be able to identify similar improvised elements that were adopted elsewhere. As far as the Maltese context is concerned, this post is surely a unique and rare feature from the surviving from the Second World War and deserves to be preserved. Hopefully the turret will be rescued and the post restored.

Stephen C Spiteri - Ph.D

MilitaryArchitecture.com (C)2013

 

 

Author:
Dr. Stephen C Spiteri
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