Maltese Military Museums: The Second Siege
By Dan Shea

I was up early, working at my hotel room desk, when I heard the staccato of machine gun fire. Some was heavy, some was light. My instant thought was, “Cover!” but there were no sounds of bullet strikes, so I went over to the veranda and listened closer. Yes, definitely heavy and light machine guns firing, right here in St. Julian, on the Isle of Malta. Sounded like Fifties and PKMs to me. Walking over to turn on BBC1, I was half expecting to hear some British talking head announcing that, “The rebel forces have closed in on the city, blah, blah, panicked refugees are mobbing all exiting streets, blah, blah, cheers, blah, blah, have a brilliant day...” and such in typical BBC fashion. However, this was on Malta, a peaceful and peace-loving island south of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea, not some besieged sub-Saharan capitol. It was just another case of an overactive imagination kicking into gear on waking up to machine gun fire. While Malta has had an incredibly violent past from the Crusades to the Second Siege, violence is not a way of life here at all. I later found that right over the hill from the hotels in St. Julian is a military shooting range. The bellboys found some humor in my questions; of course, the crazy American was worried about the military on a training exercise. Quite right on that, as I am not fond of the hammering of PKMs in the morning. I simply didn’t know about the training camp. As an interesting note, the Maltese military has purchased weapons from the People’s Republic of China, including the newest variants, and the Type PKM variant. Some vindication for my paranoia in that, but not enough to overcome the sheepishness of having hit the floor on such a beautiful morning - Dan

The sound of the name “Malta” elicits images of brave knights in red bearing the white Maltese Cross, fighting off the hordes of Suleiman the Magnificent; of tough men in hard castles preparing their swords and shields and girding for bitter battle against insurmountable odds. This was a place of Holy War for both sides: the clash of the second Jihad. While the second Islamic Jihad into Europe was stopped dead in its tracks in Austria in 1683 during the Battle of Vienna, the Knights of St. Joseph had been so engaged since the early days of the Crusades. As “Knights Hospitallers,” they had a calling for healingthe sick, working with the wounded, and fighting the Holy Fight for the Catholic Church against the Muslims. Malta, as we think of it today, was founded in the sixteenth century. The city of Valletta itself was founded in 1566 shortly after the end of the first Siege of Malta, when the Grandmaster of the Order of Saint John laid the foundation stone for the city. The Maltese refer to Valletta as “Il Belt” translated as “The City,” but the proper name is “Humilissima Civitas Valletta,” the “City bound to Humility.” Valletta for short.

During World War II, the Second Siege of Malta ensued, and it lasted from 1940 through 1943. It was one of the most brutal bombing campaigns in the region, and the Maltese persevered through it. Actsof heroism abounded, and the British Order of Saint George was bestowed on the country by King George VI for the valor of those times.

There are many wonderful museums to see in Malta, as well as ancient archaeological sites and wonderful cities, beaches, and restaurants. Both of the museums that are of much interest to the readers of this magazine were in the city of Valletta, andthey are within walking distance of each other. The city itself is alive with the interactionof many cultures as well as its own unique Maltese flavor. For the traveler, Malta is a joy. There is also a thriving firearms collecting group on Malta, as well as many historical sites that are relatedto machine gunners. Dolf Goldsmith guided me to several Vickers MG emplacements that are still there, sans guns.

Getting Around in Malta

The Maltese speak a variety of languages, with most Maltese citizens being polyglots who speak Maltese (a descendant of Arabic melded with other languages, unique to the islands), English, Italian, and others. Travel for English speakers is quite easy. There are two main islands that are generally thought of as Malta: Malta itself and Gozo, although there is one more inhabited island and an archipelago of other small islands. Malta is located 95 Km from Sicily and 293 Km from the coast of North Africa. May through September is the high tourist season. The main airport on the Island of Malta is Malta International Airport (www.maltairport.com), which is accessible from almost everywhere in Europe;primarily Milan in Italy as a good starting point or London Heathrow. The Maltese drive in the British fashion, driver seated on the right side, traveling on the left of the road. Americans can be quite confused by this, but it is a small island and if you stay in Valletta or St. Julian, you can get around quite well on foot, or by taxi. The famous orange Maltese public buses are prolific as well. Maltese currency was the Maltese Lira (Lm) worth about $3.34 USD up until this year, when Malta joined the European Union. Now the currency will be the Euro.

SAR has been invited back for a closer look and test of the weapons of Malta, and we hope to bring you an interesting series on the Armed Forces of Malta. For more information on the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) please see their home page: http:// afm.gov.mt/index.htm.

The National War Museum at Fort St. Elmo

The National War Museum is located in Fort St. Elmo in Valletta. It has proven to be one of the most visited tourist attractions on the islands, and it truly is an excellent museum to visit. Basically, the museum covers the period of British rule after 1800. It was opened to the public in 1975 in what was originally a powder magazine at the old fort. The Fort had been the bedrock of the defenders during the Great Siege in 1565 and had been fortified and rebuilt numerous times to upgrade for more modern warfare techniques as the years went by. In the late 1800s the powder magazine area had been used as an armory, with the entire fort dedicated to training of the anti-aircraft crews that were needed so desperately during the Second Siege in World War II.

A walk through the museum reveals two main halls and numerous side ones. There were some nice examples of Hispano ammo, linked .303 for the British Browning MKII machine gun, and a large Naval battle section. There are uniform displays, relics from ships, and relics from an ME 109 taken down by a rifle caliber bullet to the cooling system. There were large displays of gas masks, medals, uniforms and accessories. Additionally, in the main hall, are some excellent small arms exhibits. To quote the museum literature: Key features of the museum are the numerous photographic panels depicting the harsh conditions prevailing in Malta during the crucial War years of 1940-1943. These show clearly the hardships endured by the civilian population, the massive extent of war damage, the unhealthy living conditions within primitive undergroundshelters and above all, the heroic gallantry of a people who withstood the prolonged siege and the suffering it brought.

Several principal exhibits are displayed in the main hall. Among other War relics are the Italian E-Boat, a Bofors anti-aircraft gun, the Willis Jeep ‘Husky’, and the Gloster Gladiator ‘Faith’. Also on display are the George Cross, awarded to Malta by King George VI, the Book of Remembrance of civilians and servicemen killed during the years 1940-43, and the illuminated Scroll presented to the “People and Defenders of Malta”, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943.

The left annex is mainly dedicated to the Royal Navy, where various uniforms, insignia and equipment are displayed. Special sections highlight prominent episodes such as the famous Malta convoys. The principal exhibits in the air hall are a section of a Spitfire, a Junkers Juno engine and a Messerschmitt wing. Also displayed are propellers, armaments, instruments, as well as relics and pictorial material relating to Axis raids.

Due credit is given to the contribution of the civilian population. Various photographs depict the role of the Civil Service, the Church, the Dockyard, the Police, the Air Raid Precautions Organisation, the Special Constabulary, the Home Guard, the Boy Scouts and other Maltese men and women.

Throughout its long and eventful history Malta endured countless wars, and the story of Malta during the Second World War is one of the greatest dramas of history. The War Museum records the significant part played by Malta that earnedthe Island its reputation as the Fortress Island.


The National War Museum is in Fort St Elmo in Valletta. If you walk through the downtown shopping and historic district, and follow Republic Street to the end on the ocean side (west), you will see Fort St Elmo. The museum is located on the east (inland) side of the fort, just off of Spur street.

National War Museum
Fort St Elmo
Valletta VLT 02
Tel: 2122 2430
Hours of Admission:
Monday to Sunday: 9:00-17:00
Last admission: 16:30
Closed: 24, 25 & 31 December, 1
January, and Good Friday
Admission Fees:
Adults (18 - 59 years):
Lm 1- (2.33 Euros)
Students (12 - 17 years),
Senior Citizens
(60 years and over),
ISIC Card Holders,
EURO 26 Card Holders,
ISE Card Holders
and ICOM Card Holders:
50c - (1.25 Euros)
Children (6 -11 years):
25c - (0.58 Euros)
Infants (1 -5 years): Free
The Palace Armouries Museum
Sometimes known as the “Knight’s Armouries,” the Palace Armoury has one of the world’s greatest arms collections housed in their original buildings, and ranks among the most valuable historic monuments of European culture.
The Knights of St John were a unique brotherhood of resolute warrior monks. From Malta, their island stronghold, these combatant aristocrats from the noblest houses of Europe, carried out their relentless crusade against the Ottoman Turks. The Palace Armoury is certainly one of the most visible and tangible symbols of the past glories of the Sovereign Hospitaller Military Order of Malta.
Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt transferred the Order’s arsenal to the palace in 1604. It was the pride of the Order. Apart from being lavishly adorned with impressive arms trophies, it held enough arms to equip thousands of soldiers. It was housed in the magnificent hall at the rear of the building, right above its present location, which were originally the stables. In 1975, the entire collection was transferred to its present ground floor location to make way for the Islands’ new House of Representatives.
During the 1850s, the British Government intended to remove the collection for safe keeping to London. However, this was never fully undertaken and in 1860 the armoury was officially opened as Malta’s first public museum.
Although only a fraction of its original splendour, the Armoury still contains abundant material of Italian, German, French and Spanish origin from principal arms production centres. Outstanding examples of splendid parade armour by master armourers command pride of place.
The armour decorator’s art is amply displayed on various exquisite pieces. Also displayed are exotic examples of Turkish armour in the Islamic & Ottoman section. The armoury also constitutes a rare example of a working arsenal surviving in its original building. It is all the more interesting because it includes with the massed arms of the common soldiers, the enriched personal armours of the nobility.

The Palace Armoury is located on a side street in Valletta. It is actually part of the Grandmaster’s Palace, so simply get on Merchant Street and you will find the signs for the Armoury near the palace.
Palace Armoury
Grandmaster’s Palace
Merchants Str
Tel: 2124 9349
Fax: 2123 8480
Hours of admission:
Monday to Sunday: 9:00-17:00
Last admission: 16:30
Closed: 24, 25 & 31 December, 1
January, Good Friday
Admittance Fees:
Adults (18 - 59 years):
Lm 2 - (4.66 Euros)
Students (12 - 17 years),
Senior Citizens (60 years and over),
ISIC Card Holders,
EURO ISE Card Holders
and ICOM Card Holders:
Lm 1 - (2.33 Euros)
Children (6 -11 years):
50c - (1.16 Euros)
Infants (1 -5 years): Free

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V10N7 (April 2007)
and was posted online on December 7, 2012


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