The Lascaris War Rooms
The Lascaris War Rooms are so overwhelming that this photo blog is only an attempt to share parts of its history and importance during the WWII. For more detailed explanation I would encourage you to visit this unique museum. The Lascaris War Rooms take with the War HQ Tunnel the first two positions on Trip Advisor out of 95 attractions in Valletta, which is already a good indication that this is one of the must-see places in the European Capital of Culture 2018.
I’ve entered the Lascaris War Museum through the Saluting Battery situated just underneath the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta. This way I could also explore the Saluting Battery, even though I didn’t spent that much time looking around as I was way too excited to check out the Lascaris War Rooms.
To get to the Lascaris War Rooms I had to leave the Saluting Battery and follow the a signposted passageway to the entrance. The Lascaris War Rooms are located about 40 metres below the Saluting Battery. Yes, the entrance is not exactly the most glorious one, but don’t forget this was one of Malta’s best kept secrets during the World War II, so everything had to be low profile to attract as little attention as possible. Once you walk through the winding tunnel cut through the rock, you will enter the actual Lascaris War Rooms, located in the heart of the bastions.
And here we are. If you were wondering, where did these war rooms got their name from, they are named after Giovanni Paolo Lascaris, Italian nobleman and also the Grandmaster of the Knights of Malta.
There were no rooms at this side of the tunnel at the beginning of the war, the tunnel was used a dormitory for troops. Until today you can see some of the bunk beds that were hooked to the walls, which were later used for the employees of the war rooms to get quick rest in between long shifts.
During the World War II the British forces converted the dark and mouldy dungeons into the centre of operations for Malta as well as the Headquarters of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet. What was used in the Lascaris War Rooms, is a something known the Dowding System. The Dowding system was the world’s first wide-area ground-controlled interception network, controlling the airspace across the United Kingdom from northern Scotland to the southern coast of England. And we are lucky enough to have one here.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park was a New Zealand soldier, First World War flying ace and Second World War Royal Air Force commander. Air Chief Marshal Park was in operational command during the two most significant air battles in the European theatre in the Second World War. He played an essentials part in winning the Battle of Britain and the Battle of Malta, commanding from right here! The Lascaris War Rooms in Malta!
When Mussolini declared war on the UK and France on the 10th July 1940 he joined the Axis Forces (he joined up with Hitler), the day after there were Italian bombers over Malta (being the British colony) and the island wasn’t really prepared for it and their air forces were very limited for quite a while because the British needed all their resources for the Battle of Britain.
What the British also brought to Malta was RDF – Radio Direction Finding. It was invented in the UK by Robert Watts, which is nowadays known as Radar, but back then it was in its early stages. The RDF could only see what was in front of it plus it wasn’t very accurate. You would need many of them to give you more exact location and you would have to spread them at the higher ground to get the ski range (red circles on the map) and at the sea level to get the sea range (blue circles on the map). Thanks to this early technology Malta would get an early warning that the enemy is approaching.
The Filter Control Room is step one of the Dowding System – detecting your enemy. If you have three radars running, you get three inacurate points of where your enemy might be, so what you need is 40 people in this small room doing mathemathics to make it more accurate. Then the result is plotted on the table and if the supervisor agrees on it’s send to the RAF Sector Operation Room.
After detecting your enemy in the Filter Control Room you need to identify your enemy. All the missing information. How many are coming, what is their exact altitude and what type of aircraft is approching us, which was done here, in these tiny rooms with couple of telephone switches.
There were five stations around the island with specialy trained observers who could identify the enemy. They had to know all the American, British, Italian and German aircrafts by hard, more than 120 of them. If you made a mistake in labeling these aircrafts then there were wrong decisions made in the RAF Sector Operation Room. The observers were equipped with hands-free microphones and passing all the needed information via radio to one of the operators in the booths.
Below is the Score Board in the RAF Sector Operation Room where they would keep a track of how many enemy’s aircrafts or vessels were destroyed to boost the moral.
This is the big plotting table at the RAF Sector Operation Room, this is where it all happens. All the information from the other rooms end up here. There is a man, the captain, sitting up here (below) overseeing what’s happening on the plotting table preparing to make big decisions. The table is surrounded by ladies with headphones collecting all the information and placing it on the table.
Here is the big information board from the the RAF Sector Operation Room, just from the other side and it was also made from a recycled materials, this time from the Maltese shutter windows.
The information on the board would be about the enemy squadrun as well as about your own and everything would be noted down. Are they engaged with someone? How long they have been in the air? You would only have one hour of your squadrun before they had to return to refuel, so the ladies would keep a track in 15 mins intervals.
The largest room at the back of the war rooms complex, which was devoted to the Operation Husky, has a huge map of the island marked with the land and sea campaigns, complex troop and other information that would be explained during the tour.
In July 1943, the War Rooms were used by General Dwight Eisenhower, an American Army general who was, during World War II, a five-star general in the United States Army and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe. He commanded the ‘famous’ Operation Husky, the Allied Invasion of Sicily, which was surprising for Hitler and succesful for Allied powers as they managed to get Italy to surrender and totally changed the course of WWII. And it all happened right here!
This ultra-secret complex housed an operations room for each of the three fighting services – detect, identify and attack – as well as the Cypher Rooms. Code and later encryption machines were kept in the Cypher Rooms to send and receive all secret communications to and from Malta.
I think it’s also worth mentioning that people working here would be half Maltese and half British however no Maltese would be at the Radar stations or in any key positions, the British didn’t want to take any risks. Employees would work in one compartment on a need to know basis, you would never know the whole story. Working 27 days down here and 3 days out free for three years. Everyone was also under a 15 year secrecy clause.
At this point I would like to say a big thank you to our guide Stefan from Belgium, great story teller, who has been working at the Lascaris War Rooms for just a year and who showed us around with such enthusiasm that he got me more engaged and interested in the history and WWII in one hour more than my history teacher managed during five years at school! Thanks again! You were brilliant!
If you don’t manage to get on one of the guided tours, audio guides are also available to walk you through the museum and give you all the information you need.
Below you can see the exact location of the Lascaris War Rooms. The entrance is 12eur and it’s worth every cent! Enjoy!