South Australian defence As early as 1878 the prosperous colony of South Australia was feeling the need to defend itself from invasion by European powers. By 1880 Fort Glanville had been established at Semaphore Park, and a few years later Fort Largs was established at Taperoo with superior guns out-ranging those of Fort Glanville .
Nineteenth Century Map of Adelaide's Defences (Courtesy Fort Glanville HS)
A South Australian naval steamer of 920 tons The Protector was commissioned in 1884, and at the time she was said to be the most powerfully armed vessel of her tonnage afloat. After Federation in 1901 our sole gunship was handed over to the Australian Navy and became HMAS Protector.
The Protector - South Australian Gunboat (Courtesy Aust War Memorial)
During World War 1 Fort Largs was actively used as a fort - protecting our coast, Outer Harbor and Port Adelaide with its vital industry. Many men enlisted there to fight in the war overseas, and for a period the fort was also used as an internment camp for aliens (people originating from a country we were at war with).
Ringed With Menace - Wartime Poster (Courtesy Aust War Memorial)
In World War 2 South Australia's remoteness from the conflict was a significant benefit, and it meant the the state was the ideal location for manufacturing explosives, munitions and small arms at Salisbury, Finsbury and Hendon. But the increasing threat of air and sea attack by Japan caused military authorities to re-think the defence of Adelaide.
A 1940's Map of the LeFevre Peninsula From Largs Bay to Outer Harbor
Fort Malta is born Fort Largs had been clearly marked on maps for sixty years, and it was felt to be very vulnerable. If the fort was disabled then the coast and Port Adelaide was largely defenceless. And so it was that Fort Malta was conceived, to be located in sand hills about 600 metres north of Fort Largs (where Ocean View High School is located today). At the time Fort Malta was described as being 1.5 miles from the Largs Bay railway station, and 2.5 miles from Outer Harbor.
Moving the Artillery Guns Through the Sand Hills to Fort Malta in 1942
The six inch artillery guns from Fort Largs were transferred to Fort Malta, and camouflage was used to disguise the change at Fort Largs. The guns were able to cover the sea in front of Fort Malta, the Semaphore and Largs Bay piers, and the wharves and breakwater at Outer Harbor. The guns were also able to be fired landwards towards Torrens Island, although the view was blocked by the ICI Works, Gas Works and Adelaide Electric Supply Company.
Fort Malta became Adelaide's official Examination Battery - any ship approaching Port Adelaide needed to be cleared by staff at the fort.
Manning Fort Malta The normal complement manning the artillery was 20 men and 16 women, headed up by a major, captain, and two lieutenants. They were supported by fourteen Signals Corps staff and ten trades and technical staff.
Role of the fort Outer Harbor was the assembly point for local convoys of ships, and also a safe harbour that needed to be protected. The LeFevre Peninsula contained significant industry including the electricity and gas supplies for all the population in Adelaide, and was also critical to keep operational.
The main threats that Fort Malta needed to defend against were Japanese navy ships including submarines and destroyers, while attacks by seaborne aircraft using bombs or gas were also seen as possible. Concrete pillboxes with corrugated iron reinforcing and trenches were built at strategic locations on the beach near Fort Malta, while sentries patrolled and asked for a password when challenging strangers.
Ships at Outer Harbor ca 1936 (Courtesy SLSA B16427)
Comprehensive procedures were put in place to instruct defenders on how to proceed in different situations - a gas attack, an air raid, a commando attack or a spray attack. Ships entering the Gulf of St Vincent were required to notify when they planned to be in the vicinity, as they often travelled at high speed to avoid enemy submarines. Failure to be recognised could result in being fired upon.
The Fort Malta Record Book contains detailed information about the armament, stores and ammunition required. The accommodation requirements don't seem to reflect the staffing of the fort, referring to eleven huts accommodating 22 personnel each. It seems likely that the support and guard soldier complement may not have been fully described in this record book.
Fort Malta Aerial Photo in 1942 - West is at the Bottom
Nearly seventy years later, we may never learn much more about Fort Malta. Its presence was never mentioned in newspaper reports of the time in Adelaide, and the fort appears to have been dismantled soon after the end of the war. The only known photographs of the fort show the guns being moved, and an aerial reconnaissance shot at 4000 feet on a cloudy day.
Perhaps Fort Malta is destined to remain another of Adelaide's hidden secrets.
by email@example.com (score: 2|493) 197 days ago
Very interesting. Understandable that Fort Malta was established in secret, that was the whole point of moving Adelaide's defences.
Dave, can you shed any light on other proposed forts along Adelaide's coast? I know Glenelg was proposed but never built, but I am intrigued by the existence of a "Fort Street" at Grange. Obviously never built, but it is located halfway between Fort Glanville and Glenelg, so maybe there were plans for another fort there? Any clues?
With regard to the aerial photo of "Fort Malta" in your article, I am sure that the area shown in the photo extends well outside the "Fort Malta" site, in fact the buildings at the right hand edge of the picture are in Fort Largs. I am old enough to remember when a drive along the coast to Outer Harbor involved doing a loop around the back of Fort Largs - the road (Lady Ruthven Drive, I suppose) did not pass in front of Fort Largs. The curves taking the road up along the northern boundary of the fort and around the back boundary are clearly visible in the photo. And what's this about the photo being taken "on a cloudy day"? Those aren't clouds in the photo - they are 'blowouts' where the vegetation has been trampled or cleared leaving the sand visible! Compare the photo to Google Earth, and if you match up the railway line along the top and the boundary of Fort Largs, then Fort Malta must have been central on the left hand page of the photo. Fascinating stuff, thank you Dave