Fort Rinella

Rinella Battery
Batterija ta' Rinella
Kalkara, Malta

Entrance to Rinella Battery

Logo of the Fort Rinella museum
Coordinates 35°53′40″N 14°31′57″E / 35.89444°N 14.53250°E / 35.89444; 14.53250
Type Artillery battery
Area 6,300 m2 (68,000 sq ft)[1]
Site information
Operator Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna
Open to
the public
Condition Intact
Site history
Built 1878–1886
Built by British Empire
In use 1886–1965
Materials Limestone and concrete

Rinella Battery (Maltese: Batterija ta' Rinella) is a Victorian battery in Kalkara, Malta. It is commonly referred to as Fort Rinella (Maltese: Forti Rinella), although it was never classified as a fort while in use.[2] It contains one of two surviving Armstrong 100-ton guns.


The British built the battery between 1878 and 1886 above the shore east of the mouth of Grand Harbour, between Fort Ricasoli and Fort St. Rocco.

The battery was built to contain a single Armstrong 100-ton gun: a 450 mm rifled muzzle-loading (RML) gun made by Elswick Ordnance Company, the armaments division of the British manufacturing company Armstrong Whitworth. The battery is one of a pair; however, the gun on the paired Cambridge Battery near Tigné Point, west of Grand Harbour, no longer exists. The British installed a second pair of 100-ton guns to defend Gibraltar, mounting one each in Victoria Battery (1879) and Napier of Magdala Battery (1883), which did not have Rinella's self-defence capabilities. Only two 100-ton guns survive; one at Rinella Battery, and one at Napier of Magdala Battery.

The British felt the need for such large guns as a response to the Italians having, in 1873, built the battleships Duilio and Dandolo with 22 inches of steel armour and four 100-ton Armstrong guns per vessel. By arming both Gibraltar and Malta, the British were seeking to ensure the vital route to India through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal, which had opened to traffic in 1869.

The fort is modest in size as it was designed to operate and protect the single large gun, with its associated gun crew, magazines, bunkers, support machinery and the detachment of troops stationed within the fort to defend the installation.

The gun was mounted en barbette on a wrought-iron sliding carriage and gun fired over the top of the parapet of the emplacement. This enabled the gun-crew to handle and fire the gun without exposing themselves to enemy fire. The fort was designed to engage enemy warships at ranges up to 7,000 yards. The low profile of the fort and the deeply buried machinery rooms and magazines were intended to enable it to survive counterfire from capital warships.

The fort has no secondary armament; its fortifications - simply ditches, caponiers, a counter-scarp gallery and firing points - were intended mostly for small arms fire and grenades.

The massive gun is far too heavy to be laid by hand, and the fort therefore contained a steam powered hydraulic system that traversed, elevated and depressed the gun, operated a pair of hydraulic powered loading and washing systems, and powered the shell lifts that moved the 2,000-pound shells and 450-pound black-powder charges from the magazines into the loading chambers.

The gun was intended to operate at a rate of fire of a single shell every six minutes. The firing cycle was for the gun to be traversed and depressed until it aligned with one of loading the casemates, with the barrel pushing aside an iron plate that normally closed the aperture in the casemate. The gun was then flushed with water to cool it, clean any debris and deposit from the barrel, and douse any remaining embers from the previous cartridge. The ramming mechanism then inserted and tamped a silk cartridge containing the propellant charge, which was followed by one of the range of shells the gun was adapted to fire. The loaded gun was then traversed and elevated using the hydraulic system, and fired by an electrical firing mechanism. The gun then slewed to the other casemate to repeat the loading process, while the first casemate was recharged from the deeper magazine.

The two separate loading casemates, each fed by an independent magazine, and the provision of man-powered backup pumps for the hydraulic system, such that a team of 40 men could maintain the hydraulic pressure to operate the gun, would have allowed the fort to continue firing even if substantially damaged.

Originally the inner faces of the emplacement were revetted with masonry. Subsequent review of the fort's defences after its completion identified this as a weakness, and the stone revetting was removed from most of the emplacement and replaced with plain earthworks, presumably to better absorb the energy of incoming shellfire. The revetting was retained around the loading casemates.

The 100-ton gun arrived in Malta from Woolwich on 10 September 1882. There it sat at the dockyards for some months before it was ferried to Rinella Bay. One hundred men from the Royal Artillery manhandled it to the fort in a process that took some three months. The gun was finally in position and ready for use in January 1884.

Because a single shell cost as much as the daily wage of 2600 soldiers, practice firing of the gun was limited to one shot every 3 months. It was fired for the last time on 5 May 1905, and was withdrawn from active service in 1906. The gun was in active service for only 20 years, without ever firing a shot in anger.

After the Armstrong gun was retired from service, Fort Rinella was used as an observation post for the guns of Fort Ricasoli, and unfortunately at some point the now obsolete steam engine and hydraulic system were removed. During World War II, the Navy used the Fort to store supplies, and it received seven bomb hits. The fort was ideal because from a plane's view it blends into the fields as it was covered in moss and grass. The Navy gave up the site in 1965.

In the 1970s, the battery was used as a location in the films Zeppelin (1971), Young Winston (1972) and Shout at the Devil (1976).

Present day

Re-enactment at Rinella Battery

In 1991, Rinella Battery was passed into the care of Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna, the Malta Heritage Trust. It was restored and was opened to the public as an open-air museum in 1996. The gun was restored and was fired for the first time in a hundred years on 21 November 2005 by Peter Caruana, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar who is of Maltese descent.[3]

Unfortunately, the steam engine and hydraulic machinery have not yet been replaced. The gun is now fired once every year using only black powder by a crew of volunteers to keep it active and attract more visitors.[4]

Throughout the year, between Monday and Saturday (10.00 - 17.00hrs) historical re-enactors dressed as 19th Century British soldiers provide regular guided tours along with a full-scale military re-enactment combining the live-firing of historic artillery and cavalry. The fort also has its audio-visual, audio guides in 14 languages and is fully interpreted. Members of the public are offered the opportunity of firing a cannon or a period musket or to sponsor a cavalry horse. This includes the firing, without shot, of a Victorian-era muzzle-loading fieldpiece.

In 2015, the battery was shortlisted as a possible site for the campus of the proposed American University of Malta. It was not chosen, and the campus is to be split up between Dock No. 1 in Cospicua and Żonqor Point in Marsaskala.[5]


In 2010 Malta and Gibraltar jointly issued a four-stamp set of stamps featuring the two jurisdictions' 100-ton guns. Two stamps show the gun at Fort Rinella, and two the gun at Napier of Magdala Battery. One of each pair is a view from 1882, and the other is a view from 2010. The stamps from Malta bear a denomination of €0.75, while those from Gibraltar bear a denomination of 75p.[6]


  1. "The American University of Malta - Preliminary Alternative Sites Evaluation Report" (PDF). Office of the Prime Minister. August 2015. p. 8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 November 2015.
  2. Spiteri, Stephen C. (14 July 2011). "Military Architecture of the 100-ton Gun Batteries". Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  3. "Gibraltar chief minister fires 100-ton gun". Times of Malta. 22 November 2005. Retrieved 3 April 2015.
  4. "Monster gun at Fort Rinella to fire on Sunday". Times of Malta. 14 May 2010. Retrieved 24 December 2014.
  5. "'American' University to occupy Dock 1 buildings and reduced Zonqor site". Times of Malta. 20 August 2015. Retrieved 20 August 2015.
  6. "Malta - Gibraltar Joint stamp issue 2010". The Malta Independent. 21 February 2010. Retrieved 24 December 2014.

See also

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