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Airship Sheds
Malta


Country: Malta Location:

Altard then Luqa (close to current International Airport site)

Location (Proposed)
Facilities
Actual
Proposed
None
1 Mast
-
Base Facilities
Malta had always been seen as a strategic location for an airship mooring station, whether as an Submarine Scout centre, an emergency base or a full refueling stop.

It's perfect location being 60 miles south of Sicily, and a gateway route in to the eastern part of the Mediterranean. The island benefited for stable weather conditions, and enough resources for a site. In the 1925 Aerial Communications Plan, Initially the British Government had looked at Malta as one of the key "friendly" emergency landing sites for the route down to Egypt.

 

Due to it's unique and historically strategic location, the island proved a safe harbor in case an airship was to get in to trouble. It also had an existing military contingent, and all of the facilities and resources required for an airship base and mast site.

During the First World War, the theatre of war had opened up in the eastern Mediterranean, and smaller mobile sites for Submarine Scout class ships had already started to be used in Greece. Malta was always of strategic importance to the British Navy, and the submarine threat was becoming more of a risk to shipping convoys, and warships which would need protecting.

By autumn 1918, construction of the airship station at Malta had begun and commander had been appointed. A base at Malta was first proposed in 1915 by the Admiral of Malta:

“A small airship station at Malta would be very valuable for scouting submarines and would help me better to control the area around Malta. If the idea is approved I will have a site for the airship shed selected immediately, so that the airship and he shed and telephonic communications may all be ready by the time the weather becomes suitable for the airship to get to work”

Despite being heavily cultivated, anyone having visited Malta will recognize the fields being hemmed in with dry stone walls patchworking their way across the island, an area in the proximity of Rabat, Altard and Nazzar in the northern part of the island was thought to be most suitable. It was also close to the then 7-mile railway that then traversed the island from Valletta to Mdnina. Due to it’s strategic location, Malta possessed impressive fortifications from many previous conflicts over history, so it was suggested that instead of erecting a shed, an airship could be housed in one of the deep moats – these would also conceal the airship from enemy aeroplanes. The Director of Air Services was less than enthusiastic about this scheme, stating the following in a memo dated 29 January 1916:

“There appears to be no difficulty a suitable seaplane base. This will be of value in any case for training purposes in the future, owing to the weather conditions, and it appears desirable to proceed with this work. As regards airships – this is a very difficult subject. The Admiral Superintendent, Malta has a strong leaning to airships but does not appear to have considered the question by COS (Chief of Staff) as to the submarine attacking the airship. We happen, however to have in stock sheds for two Coastals, a type which is superior to the Submarine Count as they have two engines. They are fitted with wireless, bombs, and machine guns. Speed 55 miles per hour, radius 150 miles and further they have the advantage of a steady platform and would be of more use in the clear waters of the Mediterranean than elsewhere and be a deterrent to submarines. It is not disputed that sea craft would be of more value for submarine searching but if no more suitable use is likely to be found in the near future for these airships, none of which must be regarded as makeshift for rigids, they might be used in this way. One thing appears certain, these ships are of little use to work against anti-aircraft guns in daylight.”

It was not surprisingly that the seaplane station was approved, but the plan for the airship station was put on hold until late 1918

When the project was resurrected, a different location was chosen in the centre of the island, to the west of the Grand Harbour and close to Zebug. The RAF had control of the site until 1924, when it was leased to local farmers.

As early as 1925, plans for the refurbished R36 would be used for a route down to Egypt, with the original idea of the plan to be seen as a "non stop" flight. However the disposable lift for the R36, of some 16 tonnes was not deemed enough for the ship to make it, and so the trip was canceled and the focus was put in to the larger ships of the Imperial Airship Scheme. The location of Malta would be perfect for an emergency or actual stop off.

In the 1927 proposals, a landing site at Malta was only deemed in case of possible emergency. However in view of the lower than expected performance in lifting and therefore passenger capacity, of both the R100 and R101, due to the very high specification requirements, it was decided by September of 1930 that to run a proper commercial service a requirement for full mast to be built at Malta as a stop off for the fully loaded R100/R101 before reaching the Ismailia mast. It would also include limited base facilities and also refueling and re-gassing facilities if required.

The plan for the airship base at Malta was resurrected in September 1930 for the second time as part of the Imperial Airship Scheme. Earlier plans for the scheme had proposed a number of intermediate airship bases in Europe on the way to Africa. This was review in 1930 when it was realised that the airships performance fell below expectations and that, if it was carrying a full compliment of passengers, the journey would have to be broken sooner than the already constructed mast at Ismailia on the Suez canal, almost 1,000 miles further.

Funds were provided for the construction of a mooring mast in September 1930, which is presumed to be located at the site selected for the First World War airship station at Zebug, close to the site of Luqa Airport today. The original site suggested based near Rabat and Attard is close to the site where the Malta Aviation Museum currently resides.

Funding was granted as part of the budget for the Maltese facilities to be constructed during the next phase of Airship Development, with the R102, and extension to the Cardington facilities.

Alas following the loss of the R 101, the Maltese mast and base facilities were never completed.

 

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