Mellieħa Ridge Defences

Mellieha Ridge Defences

British Field Fortifications in the North of Malta at the turn of the Twentieth Century.

By Dr. Simon Mifsud MD

The Northern shores of the Maltese Islands were always a source of preoccupation to the British military authorities in Malta. The many shallow bays and inlets defended by the old and ruinous Hospitaller fortifications were ideal sites for the debarkation of troops for any enemy wanting to invade Malta.

To this effect, in 1873 the British addressed this problem by constructing a network of entrenchments along the Great Fault. The North West Front, as this defensive position was first called (later changed to the Victoria Lines), was intended to serve as a first line of defence against any enemy forces landed in the north of the island. By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, the British defensive strategy had begun to shift towards a policy of preventing the enemy from actually landing, primarily by repulsing invading forces on the shores, thus abandoning the old fortress defensive scheme centred around the defence of the Grand Harbour from a landward siege or naval bombardment.

This situation was very similar to that which the Order of Saint John faced in the early decades of the eighteenth century when the Knights embarked on a construction programme of coastal batteries, redoubts and entrenchments designed to prevent any enemy from gaining a foothold on the island.  The British followed more or less the same principles albeit with a slower inland to coastal progression. The 1903 ridge defences adopted the same high ground policy of the North West Front but brought the first line of defence closer to the northern shores of the island. Eventually the coastal defences of the 1930s i.e.: the pillboxes and beach posts managed to bring the British’s defensive powers right to the island’s shores limiting the space available for the enemy to land on and invade from.

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Dr. Simon Mifsud MD

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