Explore these 5 sunken plane wrecks off the coast of Malta
By Lucy Woods and Timmy Gambin
The sunny archipelago of Malta has long been a popular spot for divers keen to explore its incredible variety of underwater wrecks. The vast majority of the wrecks are ships and planes that were victims of the conflicts of the 20thcentury, particularly the Second World War (Malta had a pivotal role to play during this conflict as a former British colony and the only Allied base between Gibraltar and Alexandria in Egypt) and Cold War.
Many of these wrecks are under the protection of Heritage Malta’s Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit (UCHU), who record and preserve the sites in-situ and ensure their authenticity as historical sites are preserved. Some can be explored by recreational divers as they are at a depth of less than 40-metres, while others require specialist training as they are very deep and the conditions challenging. Wreck sites under the protection and management of the UCHU require a special permit, much like purchasing a ticket to a heritage site on land. Icons related to the sites statuses as war graves, the presence of unexploded ordinance or protected marine flora and fauna are included for each wreck site.
All the plane wrecks under the UCHU’s protection can also be explored virtually in Heritage Malta’s online museum.
Here is our round-up of some of the most fascinating plane wrecks discovered off the coast of Malta.
Depth: 70 metres
Location: off the coast of Sliema
The Fairey Swordfish was a biplane torpedo bomber used by the Allies to damage Axis warships off the Maltese Coast in the Second World War. The punchy aircraft, originally designed in the 1930s, had gone out of fashion by the 1940s due to its antiquated appearance. Nevertheless, by the end of the conflict the “Stringbag” had caused more damage to Axis shipping than any other Allied Aircraft.
This particular aircraft suffered engine failure and was forced to ditch into the sea close to St Julian’s Bay off the coast of Sliema. Only the skeleton of the wreckage remains, along with its engine, propeller and cowling (the covering for the biplane’s engine), which have all survived intact. This is one of only 13 Fairey Swordfish planes existing today, making it a particularly unique site of interest.
Virtually explore the Fairey Swordfish Now!
Depth: 55 metres
Location: approximately 1.5km south-west of Marsaxlokk
The B24 Liberator, an American long-range heavy bomber, was used in the Italian Campaign from July 1943 to May 1945, in particular during the invasion of Sicily and the Salerno landings. Equipped with turbo-supercharged engines and twin machine guns on the upper fuselage and tail, they were brutally effective during the air raids over Reggio Calabria in southern Italy.
This B24 aircraft developed engine failure during one such raid in May 1943. The plane was forced to jettison its bomb load and head to nearby Malta, one of the only Allied bases in the region. After failing to land in Luqa, the 10-member crew were forced to ditch into the sea. Around 80% of what is visible of the wreck remains intact, with the wing structure in particularly good condition. The cockpit has been torn open and the nose destroyed, and the tail has also collapsed under the main fuselage.
Virtually explore the B24 Liberator Now!
Depth: 106 metres
Location: approximately 7km northwest of Marsascala
The Junkers Ju88 was the winged backbone of the German Luftwaffe during the Second World War, and one of the conflict’s most versatile combat aircraft. Despite being heavier than other German bombers, it was incredibly swift, reaching speeds of more than 500kph. It played an important role in the Siege of Malta from 1941-1942, taking part in multiple air raids per day.
The Ju88 South wreck lies upright on the sandy seabed and is incredibly well preserved. There is some damage to the nose section of the aircraft, along with the tail, the latter of which points to the possibility that the Ju88 was shot down by an Allied aircraft. The wreck is considered to be in fairly good condition, which indicates the crew was able to operate a controlled ditching when it hit the water.
Virtually explore the Ju88 South Now!
Depth: 57 metres
Location: approximately 3km outside Salina Bay
Another Ju88 was discovered near to Salina Bay off Malta’s northern coast. The plane was shot down during the height of the second siege of Malta in 1943, possibly during a dogfight (aerial battle). By this time, the Allies had mounted their defences against the devastating waves of air raids that had reigned down on the island since 1941.
The Ju88 wreckage is well preserved, despite the tail being broken off and lying a small distance from the site. The cockpit still retains its forward-looking machine gun. The Ju88 wreck site was recently freed from ghost gear (abandoned fishing gear such as nets and lines that entangle on wreck sites and are dangerous to both marine life and visiting divers) in a series of net removal dives organised by the UCHU and a local dive club.
Virtually explore the Ju88 Now!
Depth: 96 metres
Location: located off Malta’s southern coast
The other American warplane on this list is the Douglas Skyraider, used during the Cold War for mail delivery missions. This particular example crashed while on a mission to the aircraft carrier USS Midway, who was on her first annual deployment in the Mediterranean. The aircraft, piloted by Lt Robert HL Reeb, suffered engine failure while taking off from Ħal Far airfield in Malta. Lt Reeb was able to exit the cockpit after the aircraft plunged into the sea and was involved in the first documented helicopter rescue in the Mediterranean.
The wreckage of the Douglas Skyraider is also in excellent condition, with the wings, cockpit, nose, propeller and tail still in tact.
Virtually explore the Douglas Skyraider Now!
More information about the Underwater Malta Virtual Museum
Underwater Malta is a free online platform that brings underwater wreck sites off the coasts of Gozo and Malta to the homes of the general public.
Viewers simply click on the image of the wreck they want to explore and load the VR model, and start exploring using the curser and zoom functions on their device. You can also read more about wrecks, watch videos of the dives and excavations, and view a selection of high-resolution imagery.
All plane wrecks mentioned in this article can be virtually explored in the online museum.
Visit the Underwater Malta Virtual Museum Now!
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The Malta Tourism Authority assumes no liability for any third party activities featured on its website, and is not responsible for any acts or omissions of the parties listed herein. Any third party’s activities are subject to their own individual business terms and conditions. Please contact the organiser of such activities directly for any inquiries. Furthermore, the Malta Tourism Authority assumes no liability for any permits, safety, security and insurance of any activity, whether taking place in a private or public location, that is listed on its website.
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