Heritage Malta Launches Three New Sites and Photographic Competition

malta uchu ju88 diver

Heritage Malta has announced that three new military wreck sites managed by Malta's Department of Underwater Cultural Heritage will be made available to the public, taking the total number of underwater sites available to divers to fifteen.

The new sites include three aircraft sunk within Maltese territory during the Second World War - an American B24 Liberator heavy bomber and Douglas A-1 Skyraider attack aircraft, and a Junkers Ju88 multi-role aircraft operated by the German Luftwaffe.

Resting on the sea bed between 55m and 110m deep, the wrecks are the preserve of technical divers, however, the wrecks are also being preserved in an online virtual museum. Heritage Malta's work continues, and it is hoped that more historic wreck sites will be made available in 2021.

'Heritage Malta has been researching and documenting our underwater heritage for years,' said Dr José Herrera, Minister for National Heritage, the Arts, and Local Government. 'Malta is truly the curator of heritage which belongs to all of humankind.'

'Malta is already renowned for the quality of our underwater sites,' said Noel Zammit, Heritage Malta’s CEO. 'These three new sites place Malta firmly on the map for international divers.' 

To celebrate the availability of the new wreck sites, Heritage Malta has launched a photographic competition focused on the wrecks managed by the Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit, and the wildlife which interacts with those wrecks. The winning photographs will be published on the Agency’s platforms.

To find out more about the UCHU's wrecks and to enter the photo competition, visit www.heritagemalta.org/underwater-cultural-heritage-unit/ for details. Closing date for entries is 30  November 2020.


B24 Liberator

malta uchu b24 bomber

The wreckage of the  B24 bomber (Malta Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit)

The Consolidated B24 Liberator was a mass-produced American heavy bomber, designed by Consolidated Aircraft in San Diego, which saw extensive use by all branches of the American Armed Forces – and by some other Allied nations – throughout the Second World War. The extensive bombing that took place over Western Europe, and most of the heavy bombing of the Italian Campaign between 1942-1943 was carried out by B24 Liberator aircraft.

In early May 1943, fifty B24s stationed in North Africa were part of a series of air raids against the southern Italian port town of Reggio Calabria, dropping 110 tonnes of explosives, mainly targeting the harbour. One of aircraft developed engine trouble over the city and, after jettisoning its bomb load, the crew decided to fly back to Malta, often used a haven for damaged aircraft returning from Sicily and Italy.

Failed landing attempts at Luqa airfield forced the 10-member crew to ditch at the sea. The undercarriage was lowered when it hit the surface, flipping the plane upside down where it floated for a few minutes before sinking tail-first to the sea bed. Nine members of the crew survived and were rescued by the British Royal Air Force, however, one crew member remains unaccounted for until this day.

The wreck of the B24 Liberator was discovered in 2015 through a remote sensing survey, and lies approximately 1.5km south-west of Marsaxlokk at a depth of 55 metres on a sandy seabed. The entire wing structure of the aircraft is extremely well-preserved, whilst the nose of the aircraft is destroyed and the cockpit is torn open, with the tail section lying beneath the main fuselage. In 2016, a team from the University of Malta and Armed Forces of Malta investigated the site, with excavations of the site conducted in 2018 and 2019.


Douglas A-1 Skyraider

malta uchu skyraider

A 3D photogrammetric model of the Douglas Skyraider shows it is still mostly intact (Malta Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit)

The Douglas Skyraider is an American single-seat attack aircraft designed by Ed Heinemann of the Douglas Aircraft Company towards the end of the Second World War to meet US demands for a carrier-based, single-seat, long-range and high-performance dive-torpedo bomber. Although it did not see any service during the Second World War, it was renowned for its low-speed manoeuvrability and ability to carry a large amount of ordnance over extensive distances and became the backbone of US efforts in the Korean (1950-1953) and Vietnam (1955-1975) Wars. By the time the Skyraider was retired from service, seven versions with a total of 3,180 units had been built.

The wreck located off the southern coast of Malta has been identified as the Douglas A-1 Skyraider, serial code 09236, piloted by Lt Robert HL Reeb, one of four aircraft tasked with mail duties between the Ħal Far airfield and the aircraft carrier USS Midway. In October 1947, the USS Midway was on her first annual deployment with the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean. In December 1947, Lt Reeb’s Skyraider suffered a total engine failure only minutes after taking off from Ħal Far, and attempts at restarting the engine were not successful. The aircraft struck the sea at a slight angle with the undercarriage raised and flaps up, at an estimated speed between 75 and 90 knots. The Skyraider remained afloat for approximately a minute and a half, before sinking beneath the surface. Lt Reeb, who had escaped from the cockpit into the Skyraider's emergency dinghy, was rescued by a Sikorsky HO35 Dragonfly helicopter dispatched from the USS Midway – the first documented helicopter rescue in the Mediterranean.


Junkers Ju88 (South)

malta uchu ju88 diver

A diver approaching the tail on the Ju88 (Malta Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit)

The Junkers Ju88 is considered to be one of the most versatile combat aircraft of the Second World War and was operated by the German Luftwaffe throughout the conflict and across all fronts. Produced by Junkers Fluqzeug und Motorwerke AG, the first prototype – initially designed for civilian use – took flight in December 1936, immediately attracting the attention of the German military.

The Ju88 entered service with the Luftwaffe in late 1939 as a tactical medium-range bomber. Approximately 15,000 aircraft in at least 48 variants were produced during the war, the most widely used of which was the Ju88 A-4, operated by a crew of four – a pilot, bomb-aimer, engineer and radio operator – all of whom were seated in the glazed cockpit, one of the weakest parts of the aircraft.

malta uchu ju88

A 3D photogrammetric model of the almost intact wreckage of the Ju88 (Malta Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit)

Throughout the Second World War, Malta was the only Allied base between Gibraltar and Alexandria, and with the arrival of the German Luftwaffe in Sicily, Malta became a prime target for Axis bombings. German aircraft conducted a continuous stream of air raids over the island, with an average of 200 bombers dropping their payloads every day, the vast majority of which were Ju88’s.

The Ju88 wreck (different from the Ju88 located near Salina Bay) sits upright on a sandy seabed at a depth of 110 metres. Some damage to the nose section of the aircraft can be noted, with the rest of the aircraft considered to be in a good condition, which points towards a controlled ditching. There is some damage on the tail section which points to the possibility of allied aircraft shooting this aircraft down.


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