The National War Museum is located in the building known as the old Drill Hall of Lower Fort St Elmo, Valletta. The museum’s collection on display focuses on the two World Wars (1914-18 and 1939-45).
It recounts the story of the events which led to the two wars, their development and major actions, and also their consequences, locally and abroad. Special reference is made to the role of Malta in the theatre of war and the contribution of the Maltese population to the war effort, especially during the incredibly difficult conditions of 1942.
Fort St. Elmo was designed and built in 1552 by the military engineer Pietro Pardo. During the Great Siege of 1565 the fort was heavily bombarded by the Ottoman Turks and many attempts were made to capture it until it fell on June 23. After the lifting of the siege, works on its reconstruction and enlargement commenced in earnest and by 1568 it was complete. In 1614 and in 1687 further works were carried out on the insistence of the military engineers such as Carl Grunenberg.
Various works were again completed between 1727-30 under the direction of the military engineer Francois de Mondion. In 1762, during the reign of Grand Master Pinto, a block of three storey barracks were constructed under the design of Rene Jacques de Tigne, in the area known as Lower Fort St. Elmo. Several additions were made during the British Period which improved the fort for then modern military needs. During the Second World War, the first military looses were sustained when six anti-aircraft Royal Malta Artillery gunners lost their lives on 11 June 1940. Guns from Fort St. Elmo were instrumental in annihilating the Italian seaborne attack on Grand Harbour on 26 June 1941.
In 1974, ‘The Gloster Sea Gladiator ‘Faith’ and War Relics Exhibition’ was set up in the Drill Hall of lower Fort St. Elmo by the then Museums Department with the assistance of the Armed Forces of Malta and the newly formed National War Museum Association. After the huge success of the Exhibition, it was decided to establish a permanent display to be known as the National War Museum. It was subsequently officially opened by the Minister of Labour, Culture and Welfare, Ms Agatha Barbara, on 30 May 1975.
Since then, the exhibition epitomised Malta’s role as a fortress from 1798, focusing mainly on the Second World War. Numerous photographic panels depicting conditions prevailing in Malta were displayed and numerous artefacts were exhibited such as artillery pieces, aircraft wreckages, uniforms and other military memorabilia.
Although there was an influx of artefacts donated or bought for the National War Museum, conditions rendered the museum to be quite amateurish. In early 2003 the first step was taken to remove artefacts not related to the First and Second World Wars. The museum still needed a major overhaul. Heritage Malta, the successor of the Museums Department being aware that a larger building was necessary to house the collection, still decided that a revamp was necessary to offer a better service to visitors. In early November 2007 the museum was closed for the necessary refurbishment which included the building’s fabric. The cataloguing and study of artefacts, interpretation and the introduction of a story line were tackled. The museum was re-opened to the public on 12 April 2009 offering a totally different concept of interpretation and visitor experience.
Source: Heritage Malta