Malta Dockyard was an important naval base in the Grand Harbour in Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. The infrastructure which is still in operation is now exploited by Palumbo Shipyards.
The Knights of Malta established dockyard facilities within the Grand Harbour to maintain their fleet of galleys. These were spread between the cities of Senglea, Cospicua and Vittoriosa.
When Malta became a British protectorate in 1800, these facilities were inherited, and gradually consolidated, by the Royal Navy. With the loss of Menorca, Malta swiftly became the Navy's principal Mediterranean base.
The Royal Navy Dockyard was initially located around Dockyard Creek in Bormla, and occupied several of the dockyard buildings formerly used by the Knights of Malta. By 1850 the facilities included storehouses, a ropery, a small steam factory, victualling facilities, houses for the officers of the Yard, and most notably a dry dock – the first to be provided for a Royal Dockyard outside Britain. Begun in 1844, the dry dock was opened in 1847; ten years later it was extended to form a double dock (No. 1 and No. 2 dock). Allegedly, marble blocks from the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, were used for the construction of these docks.
In the second half of the century the steam factory with its machine shops and foundries was expanded. Very soon, though, it was clear that more space was required than the crowded wharves of Dockyard Creek afforded, to accommodate the increasing size of ships and the increasing size of the fleet based there. The decision was taken to expand into the adjacent French Creek, and between 1861 and 1909 a further five dry docks—three single plus one double dock—were constructed there, along with an assortment of specialized buildings to serve the mechanized Navy.
It was an important supply base during the First World War and the Second World War. In January 1941 sixty German dive bombers made a massed attack on the dockyard in an attempt to destroy the damaged British aircraft carrier Illustrious, but she received only one bomb hit. Incessant German and Italian bombing raids targeted Malta through March, opposed by only a handful of British fighters. Then in April 1942 the Admiral Superintendent of Malta Dockyard reported that due to German air attacks on Malta's naval base "practically no workshops were in action other than those underground; all docks were damaged; electric power, light and telephones were largely out of action."
The dockyard was handed over to Messrs C.H. Bailey of South Wales, a civilian firm of ship repairers and marine engineers, on the morning of 30 March 1959. At a ceremony the previous day in the Red State Room of the Palace of Valletta, before Navy and civilian officials, the Fourth Sea Lord had handed over a ceremonial key to the Governor of Malta, who had then passed it to the chairman of Bailey. At the time it was intended that "the yard would continue to be supplied with naval repair work, which would diminish as commercial activities expanded." Supervision of residual naval work in the dockyard would be carried out by personnel under the direction of the Flag Officer Malta.
After Baileys were dispossessed by the Maltese Government, by February 1968, the dockyard was closed as a naval base and the Royal Navy withdrew completely in 1979. It was then managed by a workers' council between 1979 and 1996 repairing civilian ships.
In 2010, Malta Shipyards Ltd was placed into liquidation and its assets were given over to Palumbo Shipyards. In the course of its government ownership, the dockyard had accumulated €1bn in losses. In 2011, Palumbo acquired on a 30-year lease the neighbouring "superyacht" facility, which includes a drydock with a retractable roof.
The dockyard was initially managed by a Resident Commissioner of the Navy Board from 1791 until 1832 when all Resident Commissioners at dockyards were replaced by Superintendents. Admirals Superintendent included:
Post holders included:
From 1941-1945 the post of Superintendent, H.M. Dockyard was separated from that of Flag Officer-in-Charge, Malta