3 June 2014
During the late 19th Century, while Queen Victoria ruled the British throne, the English Government decided to build four gun batteries, each one complete with an enormous Armstrong gun weighing over 100 tons. These guns were built to protect the harbours in the colonies of Malta. One of them - Fort Rinella - was built very close to Valletta and can still be seen today.
Fort Rinella was finished in 1878 with the intention of protecting naval shipping in the area from the newest generation of battleships from Italy. Should the Maltese have felt that they had needed to use the guns to protect the fort, they could reputedly fire every six minutes and fire a one ton shell up to eight miles away. This kind of firepower could pierce armour plating up to a thickness of 65cm.
The presence of this weapon proved to be quite a deterrent. The gun, which still stands at this historic fort, has never been fired in anger. This however may have been a good thing. Legend has it that on the very first test the gun was loaded with a 2,000 pound shell. As it was fired spectators eagerly awaited to see the shell fire out to sea. As the gun exploded the shell barely made it out of the cannon and dropped into the water below. Not only that, but at the time the gun required one ton of gun powder for every attempted shot. That, at the time, was equivalent to the daily wage of 2,700 soldiers. Due to this the gun was only fired twice a year for practice.
Nowadays it is only used once a year at a ceremonial annual firing event on the 5th May. To avoid taking out any unsuspecting sea birds, fish or passing boats and ships the gun is only loaded with black powder, continuing the mystery about the legendary misfire.
The cannon and the fort that it is housed in can be found at the limits of Kalkara and is a must see for any military enthusiast. The fort is sometimes referred to as the Rinella Battery and it stands east of the mouth of the Grand Harbour, between Fort Ricasoli and Fort St Rocco.
Every afternoon dedicated volunteers, dressed as 19th Century British soldiers, provide a tour of the fort offering lectures, demonstrations and live re-enactments. Fort Rinella is a quirky yet interesting attraction - typical of the things you will see and find in Malta. Should you have a few hours free one afternoon it is definitely worth a visit.
Author: Adam Claffey