The third and last part of this series of articles takes a look at the deployment of different types of artillery and other necessary defensive precautions taken in Malta during World War II.

Read parts one and two.

In addition to the infantry of the 1st Battalion KOMR, the northern end of the island was also defended by sections of the Royal Artillery (RA), the 26th Defence Regiment RA. Both the 1 KOMR and the 26 Defence Regiment formed part of the Northern Infantry Brigade. The defence regiment included in its ranks the 49/91 Battery, 12 Field Regiment RA and one six-inch Howitzer troop 15/40 Battery. In Mellieħa, there were six 18-pounders, which were situated in the areas marked in Table 1.

Table 1: 18-pounders and their location, May 1942

18-pdrs Bay
One Marfa
Two L-Aħrax
One Mellieħa Bay
One Anchor Bay
One Għajn Tuffieħa Bay

In addition, 1st Battalion KOMR had three anti-tank guns, including a captured Italian gun, which were in the areas listed in Table 2.

Table 2: Anti-tank guns and their location, May 1942

Anti-tank gun/s         Bay
One Breda 47/32 Mod 39 Static Mellieħa Bay
Two 6-pdrs Static Mellieħa

Unfortunately, the 1 KOMR was armed only with light weapons, such as rifles and light artillery, which consisted also of a captured Italian anti-tank gun. One could say that each one of the possible beaches was covered by locally sited 18-pounders.

In case of an invasion, in order to stop enemy tanks from advancing towards Mellieħa village, several obstacles were built. One of them was a large ditch in the road in the steep slope leading to Marfa.

Here a large hole was dug in order to stop enemy tanks from advancing from Marfa and its surroundings. During the day the hole was covered with several wooden planks and after sunset it was uncovered.

Barbed wire entanglements at Għajn Tuffieħa Bay during the war (bottom of photo).Barbed wire entanglements at Għajn Tuffieħa Bay during the war (bottom of photo).

Not far from this hole, at l-Aħrax tal-Madonna, another hole was dug in the rock on the left side of the road, where soldiers were stationed and armed with Molotov Cocktails against any possible landings. 

Apart from these, a large rubble wall was built at Tat-Tomna against advancing enemy tanks during 1941-42. The rubble wall was built by a number of civilians, who were from Mellieħa and worked in Mellieħa Bay Camp. The necessary stones were brought from the nearby fields and it took about three months to be constructed.

When the wall was finished, a tank, probably a Matilda II, was brought in to test this anti-tank wall. A steep slope was built at the end of the wall and when the tank advanced on it, the wall collapsed. The rubble wall was never rebuilt and so it was abandoned.

In several important roads and streets, concrete pyramids − more properly known as dragon’s teeth − were laid in order to block the advance of the enemy in case of an invasion. In roads like Marfa Road, many of these concrete pyramids and iron in the form of an X were laid.

A typical 18-pounder Mk 2 gun on Mk 1 carriage on display at the South African National Museum of Military History.A typical 18-pounder Mk 2 gun on Mk 1 carriage on display at the South African National Museum of Military History.

These obstacles would be laid in the middle of the road in order to block enemy tanks. Only a small passage was left for local transport to pass between them.

Apart from these obstacles, several types of booby traps were laid in the countryside, including mines and an ingenious obstacle that consisted of two crossed pieces of wood − when the horizontal one was hit, it would fall on an explosive and cause an explosion.

All the Mellieħa bays were provided with a thick system of mines, booms and concrete pyramids, which were put as obstacles in the event of enemy invasion. Every 100 yards, a dragon’s teeth or concrete pyramid was laid on the beach.

In Mellieħa there were only concrete pyramids as underwater obstacles in order to prevent landing. These consisted of concrete pyramid blocks with spikes, which were laid in two rows along the one workout line five yards apart. Blocks in the second line covered gaps in the first. These underwater obstacles were put in the bays listed in Table 3.

An anti-tank obstacle – a stopline made of rubble wall at Tat-Tomna.An anti-tank obstacle – a stopline made of rubble wall at Tat-Tomna.

Table 3: Bays where underwater obstacles were laid and their code number, May 1942

Bay Code Number
Mellieħa Bay 3335
Għajn Tuffieħa Bay 3130
Armier Bay 3237

These defences were never put to test because an invasion never happened. It must be said that many of these defences were outdated or not comparable with the armaments that were being used at the time, both by the Axis and Allies. These defences were meant, at best, to delay the invaders rather than to repel them.

Local terrain had its role to play too. Although the already-mentioned pillboxes seem to be random constructions, they were effectively built as stoplines in the form of beach posts, depth posts and reserve posts. Mellieħa has the highest concentration of pillboxes in Malta and the ones that survived most because most of them were built in the countryside, which so far, has mostly not been built up.

Stoplines followed natural obstacles, beginning at the shoreline, then there were the beach posts and further inland, the depth posts, with each line being strengthened further by mines, anti-tank obstacles and barbed-wire entanglements.

A coastal gun bunker at Mellieħa Bay. According to Louis Bartolo, an Italian capture Breda 47mm was tested here.A coastal gun bunker at Mellieħa Bay. According to Louis Bartolo, an Italian capture Breda 47mm was tested here.

The last line of defence were the reserve posts. Unfortunately, none of the latter have survived. According to war veterans, there was at least one such structure just opposite the Cross Keys Restaurant, which was demolished in the 1950s or 1960s.

A few weeks before the scheduled date for the invasion, that is, mid-July 1942, General Erwin Rommel finally captured Tobruk and entered Egypt. When Adolf Hitler realised that victory in North Africa appeared to be within its grasp, he postponed indefinitely Operazione C3 (Herkules).

There were many reasons why the plan to invade Malta was shelved. Many in the German High Command agreed with Hitler. For example, Hermann Goering was afraid of a second costly ‘Crete’ with gigantic casualties.

The invasion of Malta was thus shelved and Operation Herkules was officially set aside in August 1942. It soon became impracticable when, after the fall of Tobruk, some of the men and material earmarked for the assault on Malta were transferred to reinforce Rommel’s Afrika Korps. Besides this, the Italians’ fleet was  not considered reliable. They were also blamed for not taking Malta after the start of hostilities.

An illustration showing concrete pyramids with barbed wire entanglements.An illustration showing concrete pyramids with barbed wire entanglements.


This series of articles feature excerpts from the author’s book Wartime Mellieħa: The Role of the Village During World War II. The author would like to thank the main archives and libraries used to research, compile and update this information and all the living and deceased veterans of World War II who inspired him to conduct this research. A second book is in the making. If anyone wishes to help or assist the author, he may be contacted at

Charles Debono, curator, National War Museum

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