Fort Malta - A Secret Fort in Adelaide

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Posted 2014-05-14 by Dave Walshfollow

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 .

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 .

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150711 - 2023-06-14 04:35:27


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