In September 2010, the Maltese Government launched a regeneration project towards upgrading of two housing estates in Cospicua. One of these two estates is called the the Verdala housing estate.


Unlike the usual connotations of social accommodation for the lesser advantaged, the Verdala Housing Estate is in fact a scheduled Grade 1 government property, which forms part of the bastions of Malta. 


When the British forces settled in Malta, a number of novel uses were made of old properties. Fine palaces were requisitioned as military offices, older fortifications made way for new; improvised hospitals were made for the Gallipoli campaign and so on. 


The Verdala bastion became a military barracks. During the First World War (1914-1918), the barracks were again converted, this time as a camp for special Prisoners of War. By prison standards, it must have looked grand: a German officer even had a chandelier fixed in his room.


Amongst the notables feted by their captors, we find no less than the Royal prince Franz Joseph von Hohenzollern and Karl Fredrick Max von Mueller. In Germany, both were national heros having been served on the legendary war ship Emden which had an extraordinary record capturing British ships, and as a result all those who served on her, including Franz Joseph (second torpedo officer) and Mueller (captain), were given the right to add the ship's name to the end of their surnames. When in 1919, Germany converted titles of nobility into part of the surname, Franz Joseph became known as Franz Joseph Prinz von Hohenzollern-Emden. 


On 4 October, 1918 this U-boot 68 was sunk off Gozo and the still up-and-coming commander young officer was taken prisoner on the island of Malta. His name was Donitz, Karl Donitz and had only been in charge since the 5 September 1918. Whilst in prison he managed to convince the authorities that he was insane, by playing with some porcelain dogs he had purchased in the camp canteen. Many believe that Donitz’s innocent looking toys helped him to plan his infamous ‘wolf pack’ submarine tactics. He was released in July 1919 and returned to Germany in 1920. On 10 January 1921, he became a Lieutenant (Kapitänleutnant) in the new German Navy (Vorläufige Reichsmarine). Dönitz commanded torpedo boats by 1928, becoming a Lieutenant-Commander (Korvettenkapitän) on 1 November of that same year. 


Mueller, now Mueller-Emdem, retired from the Navy in early 1919, on grounds of ill health, and settled in Blankenburg. He politely refused to write a book detailing his service and exploits. He was elected to the provincial parliament of Brunswick (Braunschweig) on an anti-class platform as a member of the German National Party but died suddenly, most likely weakened by frequent malarial bouts, on March 11, 1923.


Franz Joseph and Doenitz were later to become key players of Hitler’s regime but their destinies were inverted. 


In 1933 Franz Joseph became a member of the SS member number 276 691, on 1 April 1936, he became as full member of the Nazi party with membership number 3765580. As a leading Roman Catholic nobleman and a near relative of the Habsburg, Bourbon, and Saxon dynasties, Franz Joseph did much to lend respectability to the Nazi party. From 1939 to 1944 Franz Joseph commanded a marine flak battery at the Cuxhaven naval base. In June 1944 he was released from active service. In November 1944 he was expelled from the SS together with other upper class Nazis whose devotion was becoming suspect in the face of Germany's, by then, near-certain defeat. In a letter to Heinrich Himmler dated 3 January 1945, Franz Joseph proclaimed his continued devotion to the Nazi cause and unsuccessfully begged to be readmitted to the SS. 


On 1 September 1933, Dönitz became a full Commander (Fregattenkapitän) and, in 1934, was put in command of another Emden.

Is the Emdem name a great coincidence to Doenitz and Malta? Are we missing something? What we know is that Donitz’s career went on to reach unprecedented heights. 


Despite his postwar claims, Dönitz was seen as supportive of Nazism. On 1 September 1935, Dönitz was promoted to Captain (Kapitän zur See). He was placed in command of the 1st U-boat Flotilla Weddigen, which included U-7, U-8, and U-9. On 1 October 1939, Dönitz became a Rear Admiral (Konteradmiral) and "Commander of the Submarines" (Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote, BdU, the German equivalent of ComSubPac or ComSubLant); on 1 September the following year, he was made a Vice Admiral (Vizeadmiral). By the end of 1942, the production of Type VII U-boats had increased to the point where Dönitz was finally able to conduct mass attacks by groups of submarines, a tactic he called "Rudel" (group or pack) and became known as "wolfpack" in English. A plan first hatched in Malta began to bear fruit and Allied shipping losses shot up tremendously. 


During 1943, the war in the Atlantic turned against the Germans, but Dönitz continued to push for increased U-boat construction and entertained the notion that further technological developments would tip the war once more in Germany's favor. By the end of the war, the German submarine fleet was by far the most advanced in the world, and served as models for Soviet and American construction. Dönitz was deeply involved in the daily operations of his boats, often contacting them up to seventy times a day with questions such as their position, fuel supply, and other "minutiae". This incessant questioning hastened the compromise of his ciphers, by giving the Allies more messages to work with. Furthermore, replies from the boats enabled the Allies to use direction finding (HF/DF, called "Huff-Duff") to locate a U-boat using its radio, track it, and attack it (often with aircraft able to sink it with impunity). In the final days of the war, Hitler had installed himself in the Führerbunker under the Berlin Chancellery. Although Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler were considered the obvious successors to Hitler, they had lost favour and in his last will and testament, dated 29 April, Hitler named Dönitz his successor as Staatsoberhaupt(Head of State), with the title of Reichspräsident (President) and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. 


Doenitz was tried at Nuremburg and imprisoned at Spandau. It is not known if he ever visited Malta again. He lived out the rest of his life in relative obscurity in Aumühle, occasionally corresponding with American collectors of German Naval history, and died there of a heart attack on 24 December 1980. As the last German officer with the rank of Grand Admiral, he was honoured by many former servicemen and foreign naval officers who came to pay their respects at his funeral on 6 January 1981. However, he was buried in Waldfriedhof Cemetery in Aumühle without military honors, and soldiers were not allowed to wear uniforms to the funeral. The West German government explained that it did not recognize any of Doentiz’s ranks beyond the rank of captain because it considered any advancement beyond that rank to be due to the Hitler regime. 


Some people argue that if the true historical facts of Verdala’s role in the First World War are known in Germany, thousands will visit Malta just to see where their great grand German ancestors, captains and admirals were held as POW’s. After more than 80 years, the huge building of Verdala has stood the test of time. The entrance door of the old fortifications is in a state of deep erosion, but the huge bastions and the inside quarters are reasonably in good conditions. From the outside, one can still see the thick iron bars that blocked the outside bastion windows. hopes that the newly launched project will not overlook this fascinating detail. 


ACKNOWLEDGMENT AND LINK:  Many thanks to Noel Gatt for providing us with the article “Hitler successor plotted U-Boat strategy from Malta” from at


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