Malta Dockyard

Malta Dockyard was an important naval base in the Grand Harbour in Malta in the Mediterranean Sea.



The Knights of Malta established dockyard facilities within the Grand Harbour to maintain their fleet of galleys. These were spread between the cities of Senglea, Valletta and Vittoriosa.

19th century

When Malta became a British protectorate in 1800, these facilities were inherited, and gradually consolidated, by the Royal Navy. With the loss of Menorca, Malta swiftly became the Navy's principal Mediterranean base.[1]

The Royal Navy Dockyard was initially located around Dockyard Creek, and occupied several of the dockyard buildings formerly used by the Knights of Malta. By 1850 the facilities included storehouses, a ropery, a small steam factory, victualling facilities, houses for the officers of the Yard, and most notably a dry dock – the first to be provided for a Royal Dockyard outside Britain.[2] Begun in 1844, the dry dock was opened in 1847; ten years later it was extended to form a double dock (No. 1 and No. 2 dock).[1] Allegedly, marble blocks from the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, were used for the construction of these docks.[3]

In the second half of the century the steam factory with its machine shops and foundries was expanded. Very soon, though, it was clear that more space was required than the crowded wharves of Dockyard Creek afforded, to accommodate the increasing size of ships and the increasing size of the fleet based there. The decision was taken to expand into the adjacent French Creek, and between 1861 and 1909 a further five dry docks—three single plus one double dock—were constructed there, along with an assortment of specialized buildings to serve the mechanized Navy.[1]

20th century

It was an important supply base during the First World War and the Second World War. In January 1941 sixty German dive bombers made a massed attack on the dockyard in an attempt to destroy the damaged British aircraft carrier Illustrious, but she received only one bomb hit. Incessant German and Italian bombing raids targeted Malta through March, opposed by only a handful of British fighters.[5] Then in April 1942 the Admiral Superintendent of Malta Dockyard reported that due to German air attacks on Malta's naval base "practically no workshops were in action other than those underground; all docks were damaged; electric power, light and telephones were largely out of action."[6]

The dockyard was handed over to Baileys, a civilian firm of ship repairers and marine engineers, in 1959.[7] After Baileys were dispossessed by the Maltese Government[8] the dockyard was closed as a naval base and the Royal Navy withdrew completely in 1979.[9] It was then managed by a workers' council between 1979 and 1996 repairing civilian ships.[10]

21st century

In 2010, Malta Shipyards Ltd was placed into liquidation and its assets were given over to Palumbo Shipyards.[11] In the course of its government ownership, the dockyard had accumulated €1bn in losses.[12][10] In 2011, Palumbo acquired on a 30-year lease the neighbouring "superyacht" facility, which includes a drydock with a retractable roof.[12]

Administration of Malta Dockyard

The dockyard was initially managed by a Resident Commissioner of the Navy Board from 1791 until 1832 when all Resident Commissioners at dockyards were replaced by Superintendents.[13] Admirals Superintendent included:[14]

Resident Commissioners

Post holders included:[15][16]

  • 1791– 1793 Captain Harry Harmood (co-held title at Gibraltar)
  • 1793–1796 Captain Andrew Sutherland (co-held title at Gibraltar)
  • 1801–1803 Captain John Nicholson Inglefield (co-held title at Gibraltar)
  • 1803–1805 Captain Sir Alexander John Ball (co-held title at Gibraltar)
  • 1805–1807 Captain William Brown
  • 1808–1811 Captain William Granville Lobb
  • 1811–1812 Captain Percy Fraser
  • 1812–1829 Captain Joseph Larcom
  • 1829–1832 Thomas Briggs (Admiral Superintendent to 1838)

Admiral Superintendents

Flag Officer, Malta

Flag Officer, Malta and Central Mediterranean

Flag Officer, Malta

Note: The post was vacant between 1963 and 1967


  1. Coad, Jonathan (2013). Support for the Fleet: Architecture and engineering of the Royal Navy's bases, 1700–1914. Swindon: English Heritage.
  2. "Malta Harbour". Retrieved 12 October 2013.
  3. Busuttil, Cynthia (26 July 2009). "Dock 1 made from ancient ruins?". Times of Malta. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
  4. "Allied shipping losses".
  5. Macintyre, p. 169
  6. Macintyre, p. 224
  7. "Malta's Royal Navy Dockyard handed over". ITN. 1959. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
  8. "Malta: British Documents on End of Empire edited by Simon C. Smith". Stationery Office Books. 2006. p. 417. ISBN 978-0112905905. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
  9. "Dockyard foreign ownership would take Malta to pre-1979 days – CNI". Times of Malta. 8 September 2008. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
  10. "Requiem for a Dockyard". Malta Today. 7 April 2010. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
  11. "Malta Shipyards Ltd (closed)". Malta Shipyards Ltd.
  12. "Palumbo takes over Maltese dockyard". International Boat Industry News. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  13. "Chatham Dockyard". battleships-cruisers. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  14. "Senior Royal Navy appointments" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 March 2012. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  15. Laird Clowes, William (1898–1900). The Royal Navy A History from the Earliest Times to the Present Volume 4. London England: Sampson Low Marston and Company. pp. 151–152.CS1 maint: date format (link)
  16. Laird Clowes, William (1898–1900). The Royal Navy A History from the Earliest Times to the Present Volume 5. London England: Sampson Low Marston and Company. pp. 4–5.CS1 maint: date format (link)
  17. Rose, Susan (2008). The Naval Miscellany. Farnham, England: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 512. ISBN 9780754664314.


  • Macintyre, Donald, The Naval War Against Hitler, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971

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