Believed to be the only sound mirror outside England it is known locally as “il widna”, Maltese for “the ear”.
The construction of early warning sound mirrors was proposed in the early 1930s to help protect the key imperial locations of Gibraltar, Malta and Singapore. Four sites were identified in Gibraltar, but there were concerns about interfere produced by noises from the local population, the wind and the sea. A system of five to eight mirrors was suggested for Singapore, but it was thought that there would be problems with noises from local animal and insect life.
The surveys undertaken in Malta during 1933 were more productive, and five suitable sites were identified around the coast. The ideal site should be sheltered from noise behind and to the sides of the mirror, and ‘under no circumstances should the mirror have a view if the breaking sea’, said Dr Tucker, who undertook extensive research into sound-based direction finding.
Five proposed sites were given letters from A to E and the priority ones were Maghtab as A and Zonqor as B. The first mirror was to be at Maghtab, on a site a mile or so inland with hills behind. It faces out to sea at a bearing or 20 degrees, towards Sicily around 60 miles away. Construction started in the autumn of 1934, with the work completed during the summer of 1935. The electrical equipment was installed in the first weeks of September 1935, and testing was undertaken on 23 September. Training of the operating staff began the next day. The total cost of the development of the first mirror on Malta was put at £4500. Trials using a Supermarine Scapa flying boat found that the range of the mirror was 21 to 37 miles, with an average of 25 miles, and a bearing error of ±2½ degrees. In contrast, the range of the unaided human ear was put at 5 miles. It was estimated that the mirror would provide a six minute warning of an enemy aircraft approaching Malta at 250 mph.
Unfortunately not all the test were successful, perhaps one of the more embarrassing failures being on 5 February 1936 during a visit by Sir Cyril John Deverell, Chief of the Imperial General Staff. No further mirrors were built on Malta, and the Maghtab mirror was reported to be out of use by 5 May 1937. The site is now used as an earth station for telecommunications company GO (formerly Maltacom) of which till March 2020 the word MALTACOM is still visible on certain dish antennas.
Photos by Capt. Lawrence Dalli. Do not use these images without my permission. © All rights reserved. Malta Ship Photos & Action Photos – www.maltashipphotos.com
Published – Thursday 2nd April, 2020