When Italy’s dictator Benito Mussolini threw in his lot with Adolf Hitler on 10th June 1940 and drew Italy into the war against Britain and France, one of his first acts of war was to attack Malta.
The following day, 11th June, at 7am, ten high-level bombers escorted by fighters bombed Valetta and Grand Harbour. This was the first of eight raids during that first day.
At the RAF base at Kalafrana were three ancient Gladiator biplanes, the sole aircraft to offer protection in the air. They were known affectionately as Faith, Hope and Charity. One was lost during that first raid and whatever its original name, it was decreed that it should be Charity, for it was said, “Malta never lost Hope or Faith in the final victory.”
Malta was very vulnerable to attack from enemy planes from Sicily and the Royal Air Force and the Army considered evacuating. The Royal Navy, however, were strongly against this and, from a strategic point of view, were proved right.of war came the
easing of air raids from Sicily, but this was short-lived. Becoming increasingly frustrated by the tenaciousness of that thorn in the side (Malta), Hitler decided enough is enough, and Malta must now be neutralised at all costs. The Blitz was about to start.
During the next few years the Garrison at Malta was reinforced with troops and new allied aircraft arrived. The Royal Navy took the war from Malta to
Italy by attacking the Italian fleet sheltering in Taranto harbour. But in one month 200 Italian air raids on Malta had been logged up.
Winston Churchill, along with the Royal Navy, was convinced of the strategic importance of Malta. Germany was also realising the strength of the island’s position in regard to preventing the free passage of troops, arms and supplies to Rommel’s Africa Korps, which was attempting to advance along the North African coast to Egypt. This thorn in Hitler’s side was sitting plumb astride his key supply lines.
It was at this point that the decision was taken for the full might of the Luftwaffe to take over the bombing-to-submission of Malta and the Maltese people. From that time every attempt was made to cut the supply lifeline to the island. Convoys of merchant ships and their escorts were mercilously bombed along with the island itself.
During one such convoy from Alexandria the aircraft carrier Illustrious was hit and limped its way on the night of 10 January 1941 into harbour at Malta. Casualties were evacuated whilst dockyard workers worked around the clock carrying out repairs. It was perhaps fortuitous that the enemy took six days before they returned for the kill. Six days for Malta and the Allies to prepare for the defence, which consisted of a concerted, coordinated impenetrable umbrella of fire over the target. After sufficient time had elapsed, to effect repairs, the Illustrious left for its return to Alexandria.
With Germany’s invasion of Russia and the deploy
MALTA - WORLD WAR II
In the middle of January 1942 came the first waves of bombing by the Luftwaffe, which continued with tremendous force. In March and April twice as many bombs fell on Malta as in a whole year at the heat of London’s Blitz.
There were 154 days of continuous day and night raids (London had 57). 6,700 tons of bombs were dropped on the Grand Harbour area (Coventry’s worse night of destruction received 260 tons). Buildings were flattened and 40,000 homes were destroyed. Casualties were high.
On 14th April, with the approval of President Roosevelt, the US aircraft carrier Wasp airlifted 47 essential Spitfires from Britain to Gibraltar.
On 15th April King George VI awarded the island the George Cross.
The citation read: “To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the island fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and a devotion that will long be famous in history.”
Pedestal - (Santa Marija) - Convoy
In August 1942 heading towards Malta was a convoy of 14 supply ships escorted by 3 aircraft carriers, 2 battleships, 7 cruisers and 24 destroyers. Attacked by sea and air there were many losses. Of the aircraft carriers: Eagle was sunk by torpedoes and the Indomitable put out of action. As the convoy drew nearer to Sicily, the heavier warships turned back to the task force in Gibraltar and the enemy attacks became more concentrated and more losses were sustained. Of the four escorting cruisers two were put out of action and five merchantmen were sunk
On 13th August the first ships were sighted at Malta and eventually the supply ships Port Chalmers, Melbourne Star and Rochester Castle entered harbour.
On 15th August (the feast day of Santa Marija), the Brisbane Star followed by the battered tanker Ohio entered Grand Harbour; the latter was being towed by two minesweepers and a destroyer.
The crowds lining the battlements cheered, waved and wept for joy on their day of salvation (the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, Santa Marija).
(Vic Chanter R.N. convoy signalman)