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
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 its 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:
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
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.