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Malta was very badly damaged during the Second World War. It was bombed so heavily that Valetta was 95% destroyed. In fact the islanders as a whole were awarded the George Medal for Civil Bravery.
The basis of this report is primarily from an english
language Maltese published book titled "Malta: Blitzed but not
Beaten" by Philip Vella. It is also based on recitations from
several of the survivors, my parents and an close aunt. Although
some of the attacks originated from the sea, the preferred method
of attack was the infamous air raid. The first air raid took
place on June 11, 1940 and the last on August 28, 1944. The
explosive disturbance of an ancient and tranquil island lasted
for 4 years and 2 months. The final tally eventually came to
3,340 air raid alerts claiming over 2600 civilians and
The boisterous Benito Mussolini in an attempt to appear
credible to his people and to align himself with Hitler decided
to toss his hat into the ring on June 10, 1940. The classic adage
"history repeats itself" certainly applied to the ambitious
Mussolini. The economic shambles that befell Italy was catching
up to the Fascist dictator. With France and Britain up against
the ropes, he grabbed an opportunity to fulfill his expansionist
plans which included Gibraltar, Suez, Tunisia and Malta. France
was close to total defeat and London was reeling from their own
air blitz. Although Malta is only 144 square miles and 60 miles
southeast of Sicily, it seemed to be an easy prize worth taking.
The Italian attacks by Stormo bombers, Maachi and Fiat
fighters and E-boats came immediately and ferociously. It wasn't
long until the Luftwaffe arrived in Sicily with their bombers and
dreaded Stuka fighter/bombers. Maltas air support consisted of
four slow moving Gladiator biplanes. One was kept in reserve, the
active aircraft were ironically named "Faith", "Hope" and
"Charity". Due to the proximity of Malta to Italian airfields,
Britain kept their aircraft off the island. They sent their
Wellington bombers and Hurricane & Spitfire fighters on sorties
from nearby carrier groups. The stage for an inescapable,
unfolding drama was set.
The air raids were incessant facts of life, The peak of the
raids occurred during the first half of 1942 with more then 250
raids per month. Greater aircraft numbers and superior equipment
guaranteed the Axis almost unchallenged air superiority. The
method of attack was by dropping conventional impact and time
delay explosive charges, incinderary bombs and butterfly bombs.
The butterfly bombs were small anti-personnel devices that were
dropped over the island. They were cleverly disguised as fountain
pens and thermos flasks. Numerous children and adults were killed
or mutilated handling these devices. As terrifying as the bombers
were, the Stuka's were just as terrifying. The pride of the
Luftwaffe had for its arsenal: machine guns, dive bomb capability
and psychology. The aircraft was fitted with an exterior siren,
designed to emit a high pitched wailing sound whenever it went
into a nose dive to deliver it's bombs. Psychological terror
before possible death, sort of an audio Russian roulette. Maltese
anti-aircraft defenses were minimal at best. Many civilians
resorted to seeking refuge in old railway tunnels, a prehistoric
ancient burial place in a small town, the Catacombs of another,
and a few caves. In order to protect it's churches and historic
structures, blast walls made of sand bags and locally mined
limestone blocks were erected.
Just as in ancient times, great naval battles were fought in
the Mediterranean Sea. These battles were substantial, especially
when the Nazi's were driven from North Africa to retreat back to
Sicily. With Malta's strategic naval position, it stood in the
middle of the Mediterranean and their retreat path.
In Operation "Excess", Britain's carrier groups headed by
the carrier Illustrious was sent to Malta with needed supplies.
The Royal Navys newest carrier had been attacked by Italian
bombers in the vicinity of Malta. The naval battle that occurred
sent the Illustrious crippled and aflame to the safety of Malta's
Grand Harbour. With German bombers in pursuit, the ship was
attacked while in harbor and was soon given a temporary reprieve,
weather conditions being the likely reason. Six days later on
Jan. 16, 1941, German Stukas with sirens wailing, nose dive
bombed the ship and four surrounding cities. Surprisingly, the
Another intense naval battle involved Operation "Pedestal".
This five day supply run to help the besieged island included the
carrier groups Victorious, Indomitable, and Eagle. This convoy of
three aircraft carriers included 32 destroyers, 6 cruisers, 2
battleships, 6 corvettes and 16 support ships. During this
battle, several ships were lost. Also, the American freighter
Ohio was crippled and escorted into the Grand Harbour with the
British battleships Branham and Penn physically supporting her on
each side. In the end, 32,000 tons out of 85,000 tons of supplies
made it to port, the remaining went to the bottom of the sea.
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