Victoria Lines

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For the London Underground railway line, see Victoria line. Victoria Lines_sentence_0

Victoria Lines_table_infobox_0

Victoria LinesVictoria Lines_header_cell_0_0_0
CoordinatesVictoria Lines_header_cell_0_1_0 Victoria Lines_cell_0_1_1
TypeVictoria Lines_header_cell_0_2_0 Defensive lineVictoria Lines_cell_0_2_1
Site informationVictoria Lines_header_cell_0_3_0
ConditionVictoria Lines_header_cell_0_4_0 Partially intactVictoria Lines_cell_0_4_1
WebsiteVictoria Lines_header_cell_0_5_0 Victoria Lines_cell_0_5_1
Site historyVictoria Lines_header_cell_0_6_0
BuiltVictoria Lines_header_cell_0_7_0 1875–1899Victoria Lines_cell_0_7_1
Built byVictoria Lines_header_cell_0_8_0 British EmpireVictoria Lines_cell_0_8_1
In useVictoria Lines_header_cell_0_9_0 1880s–1907Victoria Lines_cell_0_9_1
MaterialsVictoria Lines_header_cell_0_10_0 LimestoneVictoria Lines_cell_0_10_1

The Victoria Lines, originally known as the North West Front and sometimes unofficially known as the Great Wall of Malta, are a line of fortifications that spans 12 kilometres along the width of Malta, dividing the north of the island from the more heavily populated south. Victoria Lines_sentence_1

Location Victoria Lines_section_0

The Victoria Lines run along a natural geographical barrier known as the Great Fault, from Madliena in the east, through the limits of the town of Mosta in the centre of the island, to Binġemma and the limits of Rabat, on the west coast. Victoria Lines_sentence_2

The complex network of linear fortifications known collectively as the Victoria Lines, that cut across the width of the island north of the old capital of Mdina, was a unique monument of military architecture. Victoria Lines_sentence_3

Background Victoria Lines_section_1

When built by the British military in the late 19th century, the line was designed to present a physical barrier to invading forces landing in the north of Malta, intent on attacking the harbour installations, so vital for the maintenance of the British fleet, their source of power in the Mediterranean. Victoria Lines_sentence_4

Although never tested in battle, this system of defences, spanning some 12 km of land and combining different types of fortifications - forts, batteries, entrenchments, stop-walls, infantry lines, searchlight emplacements and howitzer positions - constituted a unique ensemble of varied military elements all brought together to enforce the strategy adopted by the British for the defence of Malta in the latter half of the 19th century. Victoria Lines_sentence_5

A singular solution which exploited the defensive advantages of geography and technology as no other work of fortifications does in the Maltese islands. Victoria Lines_sentence_6

The Victoria Lines owe their origin to a combination of international events and the military realities of the time. Victoria Lines_sentence_7

The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, highlighted the importance of the Maltese islands. Victoria Lines_sentence_8

Beginnings Victoria Lines_section_2

By 1872, the coastal works had progressed considerably, but the question of landward defences remained unsettled. Victoria Lines_sentence_9

Although the girdle of forts proposed by Colonel Jervois in 1866 would have considerably enhanced the defence of the harbour area, other factors had cropped up that rendered the scheme particularly difficult to implement, particularly the creation of suburbs. Victoria Lines_sentence_10

Another proposal, put forward by Col. Mann RE, was to take up a position well forward of the original. Victoria Lines_sentence_11

The chosen position was the ridge of commanding ground north of the old City of Mdina, cutting transversely across the width of the island at a distance varying from 4 to 7 miles from Valletta. Victoria Lines_sentence_12

There, it was believed, a few detached forts could cut off all the westerly portion of the island containing good bays and facilities for landing. Victoria Lines_sentence_13

At the same time, the proposed line of forts retained the resources of the greater part of the country and the water on the side of the defenders; whereas the ground required for the building of the fortifications could be had far more cheaply than that in the vicinity of Valletta. Victoria Lines_sentence_14

Col. Mann estimated that the entire cost of the land and works of the new project would amount to £200,000, much less than would have been required to implement Jervois' scheme of detached forts. Victoria Lines_sentence_15

This new defensive strategy was one which sought to seal off all the area around the Grand Harbour within an extended box-like perimeter, with the detached forts on the line of the Great Fault forming the north west boundary, the cliffs to the south forming a natural, inaccessible barrier; while the north and east sides were to be defended by a line of coastal forts and batteries. Victoria Lines_sentence_16

In a way, the use of the Great Fault for defensive purposes was not an altogether original idea, for it had already been put forward by the Order of Saint John in the early decades of the 18th century, when they realized that they did not have the necessary manpower to defend the whole island. Victoria Lines_sentence_17

The Order had built a few infantry entrenchments at strategic places along the general line of the fault, namely, the Falca Lines and San Pawl tat-Tarġa, Naxxar. Victoria Lines_sentence_18

In fact, the use of parts of the natural escarpment for defensive purposes can be traced back even further, as illustrated by Nadur Tower at Bingemma (17th century), the Torri Falca (16th century) and the remains of a Bronze Age fortified citadel which possibly occupied the site of Fort Mosta. Victoria Lines_sentence_19

Building Victoria Lines_section_3

In 1873, the Defence Committee approved Adye’s defensive strategy and recommended the improvement of the already strong position between the Bingemma Hills and the heights above St. George’s Bay. Victoria Lines_sentence_20

Work on what was originally to be called the North-West Front began in 1875 with construction of a string of isolated forts and batteries, designed to stiffen the escarpment. Victoria Lines_sentence_21

Three forts were to be built along the position, at Bingemma, Madliena and Mosta, (designed to cover the western and eastern extremities and the centre of the front, respectively). Victoria Lines_sentence_22

The first to be built was Fort Bingemma. Victoria Lines_sentence_23

By 1878, work had still not commenced on the other two and the entrenched position at Dwerja; all of these were to be completed on the budget of 200,000. Victoria Lines_sentence_24

General Simmons recommended that the old Knights’ entrenchments located along the line of the escarpment at Tarġa and Naxxar were to be restored and incorporated into the defences. Victoria Lines_sentence_25

He also recommended that good communication roads should be formed in the rear of the lines and that those that already existed be improved. Victoria Lines_sentence_26

The fortifications of Mdina, the Island’s old capital, were to be considered as falling within the defensive system. Victoria Lines_sentence_27

The forts on the defensive line were designed with a dual land/coastal defence role in mind, particularly the ones at the extremities but, due to the topography in the northern part of the island, there were areas of dead ground along the coast and inland approaches which could not be properly covered by the guns in the main forts. Victoria Lines_sentence_28

As a result, it was decided that new works should be built between Forts Mosta and Bingemma and emplacements for guns placed in them. Victoria Lines_sentence_29

It was also considered advisable to have new emplacements for guns built to the left of Fort Madalena and in the area between it and Fort Pembroke. Victoria Lines_sentence_30

The latter fort was built on the eastern littoral, below and to the rear of Fort Madalena, in order to control the gap caused by the accessible shoreline leading towards Valletta. Victoria Lines_sentence_31

Gun batteries were eventually proposed at Tarġa, Għargħur and San Giovanni. Victoria Lines_sentence_32

Plans for these works were drawn up but only the one at San Giovanni was actually built and armed, while the two at Għargħur were never constructed and that at Tarġa, although actually built, was never armed. Victoria Lines_sentence_33

Limitations Victoria Lines_section_4

By 1888, the line of the cliffs formed by the great geological fault and the works which had been constructed along its length from Fort Bingemma on the left to Fort Madalena on the right constituted, in the words of Nicholson and Goodenough, "a military position of great strength". Victoria Lines_sentence_34

The main defects inherent in the defensive position were the extremities where the high ground descended towards the shore, leaving wide gaps through which enemy forces could by-pass the whole position. Victoria Lines_sentence_35

Particularly weak in this respect was the western extremity. Victoria Lines_sentence_36

There, a considerable interval existed between Fort Bingemma and the sea. Victoria Lines_sentence_37

Military manoeuvres held in the area revealed that it was possible for troops to land in Fomm ir-Riħ Bay and gain the rear of the fortified line undetected from the existing works. Victoria Lines_sentence_38

To counter this threat, recommendations were made for the construction of two epaulements for a movable armament of quick-firing or field guns, the construction of blockhouses, the improvement of the wall which closed the head of the deep valley to the south of Fort Bingemma and the strengthening of the line of cliffs by scarping in places. Victoria Lines_sentence_39

It was also suggested that the existing farmhouses in the area be made defensible. Victoria Lines_sentence_40

There were even suggestions for the reconstruction and re-utilization of the old Hospitaller lines at ta' Falca and Naxxar, but only the latter was put to use, mainly because these commanded the approaches to the village of Naxxar, described as a position of great importance, in the event of a landing in St. Paul's Bay. Victoria Lines_sentence_41

A serious shortcoming of the North West Front defences was the lack of barrack accommodation for the troops who were required to man and defend the works. Victoria Lines_sentence_42

The lines extended six miles and the accommodation provided in the forts was rather scanty. Victoria Lines_sentence_43

Consequently, it was considered necessary to build new barracks capable of accommodating a regiment (PRO MPH 234) and later a full battalion of infantry, and a new site was chosen to the rear of the Dwerja Lines, at Mtarfa. Victoria Lines_sentence_44

Although initially designed as a series of detached strong-points, the fortifications along the North West Front were eventually linked together by a continuous infantry line and the whole complex, by then nearing completion, was christened the Victoria Lines in order to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. Victoria Lines_sentence_45

The long stretches of infantry lines linking the various strong-points - consisting in most places of a simple masonry parapet - were completed on 6 November 1899. Victoria Lines_sentence_46

Other changes Victoria Lines_section_5

The line of the intervening stretches followed the configuration of the crest of the ridge, along the contours of the escarpment. Victoria Lines_sentence_47

The nature of the wall varied greatly along its length but basically consisted of a sandwich-type construction with an outer and inner revetment, bonded at regular intervals and filled in with terreplein. Victoria Lines_sentence_48

The average height of the parapet was about five feet (1.5 metres). Victoria Lines_sentence_49

The walls were frequently topped by loopholes, of which only a very few sections have survived. Victoria Lines_sentence_50

In places, the debris from scarping was dumped in front of the wall to help create a glacis and ditch. Victoria Lines_sentence_51

In places, the rocky ground immediately behind the parapet was carved out to provide a walkway or patrol path along the length of the line. Victoria Lines_sentence_52

A number of valleys interrupted the line of the natural fault and, at such places, the continuation of the defensive perimeter was only permitted through the construction of shallow, defensible masonry bridges, as can still be seen today at Wied il-Faħam near Fort Madalena, Wied Anglu and Bingemma Gap. Victoria Lines_sentence_53

Other bridges, now demolished, existed at Mosta Ravine and Wied Filip. Victoria Lines_sentence_54

During the last phase of their development, the Victoria Lines were strengthened by a number of batteries and additional fortifications. Victoria Lines_sentence_55

An infantry redoubt was built at the western extremity of the front at Fomm ir-Riħ and equipped with emplacements for Maxim machine guns. Victoria Lines_sentence_56

In 1897 a High Angle Battery was built well to the rear of the defensive lines at Għargħur and another seven howitzer batteries, each consisting of four emplacements for field guns protected by earthen traverses, were built close to the rear of the defensive line. Victoria Lines_sentence_57

Searchlight emplacements were built at il-Kunċizzjoni and Wied il-Faħam. Victoria Lines_sentence_58

Aftermath Victoria Lines_section_6

Military training exercises staged in May 1900 revealed that the Victoria Lines were of dubious defensive value. Victoria Lines_sentence_59

With the exception of the coastal forts, by 1907 they were abandoned altogether. Victoria Lines_sentence_60

In World War Two a Nazi invasion seemed likely so the lines were rehabilitated and new guard posts built along them as a second line of defence to the coastal defences. Victoria Lines_sentence_61

Again the lines were untested. Victoria Lines_sentence_62

Fort Mosta is still in use as an ammunitions depot, while Fort Madalena is still used by the Communications Information Systems Company of the AFM. Victoria Lines_sentence_63

In 1998 the Government of Malta submitted the Victoria Lines to UNESCO for consideration as a World Heritage Site. Victoria Lines_sentence_64

Large parts of the fortification walls have collapsed, although some parts in the countryside remain intact and in general the Victoria Lines have fallen into obscurity. Victoria Lines_sentence_65

The Maltese Tourism Authority is proposing that by the end of 2019 two trails along the Lines will become Malta’s inaugural national walkway. Victoria Lines_sentence_66


Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria Lines.