University of Malta

Anthony Burgess
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The Composition, Status and Relevance of the Second World War Underwater Aviation Heritage in the Maltese Islands

During the Second World War, Malta was the unfortunate subject of one of the most intense sieges of the entire conflict. What made it especially noteworthy was that the main medium via which this siege was conducted was not by land or sea, but that of the air. This siege, like all sieges, varied in intensity over the course of its life span (from June 1940 to November 1942), but at its most intense saw Malta earn the unenvied title of ‘most bombed place on Earth’. The end result of this is a submerged underwater resource of unusual richness, testimony to both the intensity of the conflict and the rapid advancement of aircraft technology during this period. My thesis will approach this resource in a number of ways. It will look at what exactly this underwater aviation heritage consists of and what state of preservation it is in. It will examine how the public, especially the Maltese public, views this record and what level of protection is afforded it, both in theoretical and real terms. And it will study its relevance, both as a local economic and cultural asset to Malta, and to the world.  

With this knowledge, a number of further tangible outcomes are envisaged. By examining the remains of multiple crashed aircraft sites, the validity of desk-based research and the efficacy of various underwater recording techniques can be tested. It will fill a knowledge gap in our understanding of site formation processes for crashed aircraft, and how this is affected by aircraft type and composition, crash dynamics, depth, wave dynamics at time of crash and so forth. The ultimate outcome is to use all of the above and combine this with multiple historical and archaeological sources (personal accounts of the Siege, the full aviation infrastructure of Malta (and Sicily) etc.) to construct an ‘airscape’ of this pivotal moment in Maltese history, in a similar fashion to Westerdahl’s work on ‘maritime landscapes’ (Westerdahl 1992). It is envisaged that if the methodology in constructing this airscape is sound, than it can then be used as a template to construct airscapes elsewhere.

Funding organization: 



Dr Timmy Gambin, Senior Lecturer in Maritime Archaeology, University of Malta

Michael McCarthy, Curator of Maritime Archaeology, Department of Maritime Archaeology, Western Australia

Educational background: 

B.Sc Econ. (Joint Hons) in American Studies and Social History, University of Wales, Swansea, UK

M.A. in Maritime Archaeology, University of Southampton, UK 

Last Updated: 6 December 2016

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