Located 150 feet under the Upper Barracca Gardens and the Saluting Battery in Valletta, the Lascaris War Rooms represent one of Malta’s best kept secrets from World War Two.
The War Rooms consist of a network of underground tunnels and chambers that housed Britain’s War HQ in Malta from where the defence of the island against Axis aggression was waged and all offensive operations in the Mediterranean were directed.
This ultra secret complex housed an operations room for each of the fighting services which included the hugely important RAF Sector Fighter Control Room from where all air and sea operations were observed and controlled. Thsiw as supported by a Filter Room through which all radar traffic was channelled and sifted and an Anti-aircraft Gun Operations Room from where artillery fire against air attack was coordinated. A Combined Operations room served for joint operations, within a heavily guarded facility which accommodated the encryption machines used to receive and send secret communications. Being so deep underground the whole complex was mechanically ventilated – one of the original features that still works.
In July 1943, the War Rooms were used by General Eisenhower and his Supreme Commanders Admiral Cunningham, Field Marshal Montgomery and Air Marshal Tedder as their advance Allied HQ for Operation Husky – the Invasion of Sicily.
Following the end of the war, it became the Mediterranean Fleet HQ. In 1967 it was taken over by Nato to be used as a strategic Communication Centre for the interception of Soviet submarines in the Med. It remained in that role for the next ten years when it was finally closed down. The War Rooms played an active part in the Anglo-French invasion of Egypt during the Suez Crisis in 1956 and went into full alert for a number of days during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 when a Soviet missile strike against Malta was expected.
In 2009, Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna – the Malta Heritage Trust has embarked on the restoration of this historic complex. Since, then its volunteers have spent many selfless hours in painstakingly getting it back to its former glory for the enjoyment of the visiting public.
The Lascaris War Rooms is twinned with RAF Northolt, Ruislip, Middlesex, UK. This RAF base is home to Building 27 a former ‘Z’ sector Operations Block. The Operations Block was the prototype of the ‘Dowding System,’ a method of communication allowing the command chain to communicate to intercept enemy aircraft, the first such system in the world. This building was restored to its original form by a group of volunteers assisted by the RAF and was schedule as a Grade II building along with a C-type hangar and a former Squadron Watch office. The hangar was used throughout the Second World War to house Churchill’s personal aircraft in which he flew to many important meetings of the Allied leaders.