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HISTORY & DESCRIPTION

Fort Rinella forms part of a series of four coastal batteries constructed by the British in Malta and Gibraltar between 1878 to 1886. Each was built to be equipped with a single Armstrong 17.72 inch 100-ton gun complete with its revolutionary steam-driven hydraulic traversing and loading equipment  which enabled the gun to fire every 6 minutes. The forts in Malta were Fort Cambridge and Fort Rinella. The former stood at Sliema close to Tigne Point. Fort Rinella was built between Forts Ricasoli and Fort Saint Rocco at Kalkara. The two batteries at Gibraltar were named Victoria and Napier respectively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early in the 1870s following the disastrous defeat suffered at Lissa at the hands of the Austrians, the newly unified Kingdom of Italy decided to rebuild its navy based on a new breed of powerful ironclads armed with the largest guns possible.  In 1873, the Italian navy introduced two formidable battleships, the Duilio and the Dandalo, each equipped with 22 inches of steel armour and four powerful Armstrong 100-ton guns. These battleships eclipsed all other warships in existence with their speed and power. This raised serious concerns in Britain which was at the time the world's main maritime power. Following the Suez Canal's opening in 1869 the Mediterranean became Britain's quick route to India which was then its largest and most profitable colony.

In 1878, a military commission consisting of the Inspector General of Fortifications and the Director of Artillery was sent out to Gibraltar and Malta to report on the state of defences of the two prime naval stations in relation to the threat now posed by the 100-ton gun Italian warships in the Mediterranean. After a long inspection during which they thoroughly inspected and tested the coastal defences the two inspectors concluded that both stations were to be equipped with two 100-ton guns each which were to be placed on either side of their respective main anchorages to protect the naval dockyards and installations against a potential Italian attack.

In Malta, two plots of land were acquired by the British military one at Sliema between Forts Sliema and Tigne and in Kalkara between Forts Ricasoli and St. Rocco. The two new polygonal works were designed as self-defensible gun emplacements positioned low in the ground to better protect them against bombardment from the sea. Although, officially termed as batteries the two works were provided with all round protection as in a fort surrounded by a continuous dry-ditch defended by three caponiers and a counter-scarp gallery, a mechanical Guthrie Bridge at its main gate to span the ditch, defensible armoured gate and

resorted to in case of an engine failure.  For this purpose, the Pump Room was equipped with a row of four manually-operated pumps that could supplant the main steam pumping engine in generating enough hydraulic power to fire the 100-ton gun every 15 minutes. The Engine Room was equipped with a steam boiler that powered a water pumping engine which in turn pumped water into a hydraulic accumulator were it was stored when not in use making it possible to fire the 100-ton gun at short notice. There was also a donkey engine, which was kept working to make up for any loss of power due to leakages. Then, there was another smaller steam pump which fed the wash-out accumulator with hydraulic power. This was the system that sprayed a jet of water into the barrel of the gun once it had fired to ensure that no burning embers were left inside. Next to the Engine Room entrance on the right there is an inter-linked small room in which coal was stored  to fire the steam boiler. Opposite the Pump Room door there is an Ash-room built into the wall where ashes from burnt coal used to power the gun but also for heating and cooking, was deposited.

To the left of the Pump Room entrance there is a flight of stairs that leads down into the loading chambers area. This is where shells and cartridges were prepared for lifting and loading into the gun. In total there were two loading chambers which allowed to sets of loaders to work in tur to keep the gun adequately supplied with ammunition. Linking the two chambers there are two rooms running in between. The first one is the Cartridge Store in which 100 gun powder cartridges were stored on wall racks. The next one served as Shell Store in which an equally amount of shells were stored resting on their sides.

Before entering into the loading chambers are one had to go through a Shifting Lobby in which the gunners were to replace their normal uniform with a magazine approved one as protection against spark which could ignite the gun powder. At the far end of each loading chamber there is an Ammunition Loading Lift shaft. These were equipped with a hydraulically operated lift fitted with a turntable. another turntable is present at the far end of each loading chamber  and both are linked with two sets of metal truck rails on which the loading trucks moved perpetually when needed.

The loading trucks had four large trucks and were shaped like a large angled trough half of which was covered by a metal half-cylindrical cover to protect the gun powder cartridge during the loading process. ammunition was loaded shell first nose down followed by the cartridge. Once ready loaded a truck was rolled on the inner set of rails and loaded onto the awaiting ammunition lift. Once on the lift, the truck was orientated side ways lining it with the position of the loading rammer set in the right side of the lift shaft at the top. As the order was given the lift was risen up to the gun emplacement level. Once at that level, a 35-foot rammer stave with a cushioned head gently pushed the ammunition into the awaiting gun. The gun would have already been lined up beforehand with a circular loading port on the left side of the armoured turret, which protects the upper part of the loading shaft. Once fully loaded was then trained away from the loading position and lined up with the target and fired electrically.

At the back of the fort there is series of bomb-proof barrack rooms in which the garrison lived.  These are now home to a very rich exhibition about the history of the British Army during the Victorian period (1837-1901) which has been described by many visitors as one of a kind. It covers all the wars fought by the British army during Queen Victoria's reign and includes a precious collection of original uniforms which is not found anywhere on the island.

 

Fort Rinella remained in service until 1906 when the Armstrong 100-ton gun was declared obsolete. It was then used for a number of years as a Position Finding for nearby forts and in the 1930s was transferred to the Admiralty as an extension of the nearby Admiralty Musketry Ranges. As the war approached it was converted into a bomb-proof Rum store in which part of the fleet's rum supply was kept. early after the war, the fort was vacated and abandoned by the military  and was briefly used for filming purpose as part of the nearby film studios established in the 1960s.

 

RESTORATION

In 1991, following many years of misuse, neglect and vandalism the government entrusted Fort Rinella to Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna – Malta Heritage Foundation for restoration and opening to the public as a museum. Since then many years of dedicated work were spent by generations of volunteers in restoring and caring for Fort Rinella and its monstrous armament.

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barrack room windows which along a musketry parapet built above provided defence to the rear. Furthermore, the two works were surrounded by a glacis and a sunken protective bent-entry which led into them from the back. Additionally, they had two U-shaped musketry parapets positioned on either side of their singular gun emplacement which were, however, filled in later as they unnecessarily exposed the underlying bomb-proofing to the effects of bombardment.

 

Both forts were built into the ground by first carrying out excavations as far as the ground permitted and the resultant stone was used to build the rest. All rooms are barrel vaulted and covered by a thick layer of monolithic concrete making them generally bomb-proof. To lessen the direct impact of shells fired at the forts a thick layer of earth was applied.  Both forts look almost the same except that they are a mirror image of each.

At Fort Rinella  the Engine Room which powered the gun and the loading of its shells stands on the right flanked on the left by the Pump Room which was


Re-enactment showing manual lifting method of shells using a Weston differential pulley to place on loading trolleys, Fort Rinella, Kalkara, Malta


General view of the shell store and ammunition lift at Fort Rinella, Kalkara, Malta

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FORT RINELLA

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Saturday: 10.00 - 16:30

Last admission- 16:00 

(Except on 24,25 and 31 Dec, 1 Jan, Good Friday and Easter) 

 

Fort Rinella, St Rocco Road (Now Triq il-kanun tal-mija), Kalkara, Malta

Members: FREE

Adult (16+ years old): €12

Child (5-15 years old): €7

Family (2 Adults + 3 U/16 yrs old): €28


Entrance Fees (incl. guided tour & audio-guide)