The Guns of Malta

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Bart150
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The Guns of Malta

Post by Bart150 » 03 Jun 2013 06:07

When Italy surrendered in 1943 the British commander in the Mediterranean sent a famous signal to the Lords of the Admiralty in London saying that ‘the Italian battle fleet now lies at anchor under the guns of the fortress of Malta’.

Um, I was wondering what guns he had in mind. Of course, there were lots of AA guns on Malta, but they seem hardly relevant. Was there in fact any substantial quantity of heavy artillery there that was capable of damaging any Italian battleship whose captain changed his mind about surrendering? And, if there was, were the Italian ships in fact anchored in locations that were dominated by those heavy guns?

I'm just curious.

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Ironmachine
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Re: The Guns of Malta

Post by Ironmachine » 03 Jun 2013 07:15

Some information is available in the "Malta Garrison 1942" thread (http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=56&t=82303).
ORGANIZATION OF THE COAST ARTILLERY

1) Outer Fire Command - 4th H / Coast Rgt RA

East coast:
- Fort Bingemma (1x 9.2" BL Mk X) - 1939: ?, 1942: 10th Coast Bty ?
- Fort Madalena (2x 9.2" BL Mk X) - 1939: ?, 1942: 10th Coast Bty ?

West coast:
- Fort San Leonardo (2x 9.2" BL Mk X) - 23rd H Bty until April 1942, then 6th Coast Bty
- Fort Benghisa (2x 9.2" BL Mk X) - 1939: ?, 1942: 6th Coast Bty ?

2) Inner Fire Command - 1st H Rgt RMA

- 1st Bty (East coast):
Fort Delimara (2x 6" BL Mk VII)
Fort San Rocco (3x 6" BL Mk VII)

- 2nd Bty (West coast):
Fort Tigne (3x 6" BL Mk VII)
Fort Campbell (2x 6" BL Mk VII)

- 3rd Bty (Center):
Fort St. Elmo (12x 6pdr 10cwt QF Mk I)
Fort Ricasoli (6x 6pdr 10cwt QF Mk I)

- 4th Bty: ?
(Maybe Fort Ricasoli ? Maybe converted to AA ?)
[...]according to 'The History of Coast Artillery in the British Army' by Col. K.W. Maurice Jones:

The Coast Artillery defence in June 1940 at Madalena Battery and Binjemma Battery was 6th Heavy Battery R.A. At Leonardo Battery and Benghaisa Battery was 10th Heavy Battery R.A.
At Rocco Battery and Ricasoli Battery were 1st Heavy Battery R.M.A.
At Tigne Battery was 2nd Heavy Battery R.M.A.
At Elmo Battery was 3rd Heavy Battery R.M.A.
At Delimara Battery and Campbell Battery were 4th Heavy Battery R.M.A.

The gun numbers match your figures exactly , though
"During 1941 additional guns were mounted at:-

Isola Battery 2 - 4.7 inch
Taxbiex Battery 2 - 4 inch
St. Angelo Battery 2 - 4 inch
Manoeldone 1 - 4 inch
Bogebba 2 - 12 pdrs.
Delimara 2 - 12 pdrs."

Those guns may well have been manned by the raised 5th Coast Regiment R.M.A. of 11th, 12th and 13th Coast Batteries.

Bart150
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Re: The Guns of Malta

Post by Bart150 » 03 Jun 2013 07:42

Thank you very much - just what I wanted to know.

I suppose that if he'd written ‘the Italian battle fleet now lies at anchor under the guns of the fortress of Malta (which however have much less firepower than the Italian ships)’, that would have sounded rather less poetic.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think those 9.2-inch guns were ever fired at the enemy during the war.

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Ironmachine
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Re: The Guns of Malta

Post by Ironmachine » 03 Jun 2013 11:16

I'm not sure. For example, this webpage: http://www.agius.com/malta/harbour.htm mentions that at least during the Italian raid on Grand Harbour on the 26th July 1941, the attacking ships were engaged "by the guns from Fort St Elmo and Fort Ricasoli (both seen at the harbour entrance above) as well as highlighted by searchlights and attacked by guns in coastal forts and batteries further afield (Fort Tigne, Fort St Rocco, Fort St Leonardo)." As Fort San Leonardo is listed in my previous post as having 2 such guns, it seems that at least some of the 9.2" guns in Malta fired some time at the enemy during World War II. Maybe other forum members can confirm that.
Regards.

Sid Guttridge
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Re: The Guns of Malta

Post by Sid Guttridge » 03 Jun 2013 19:03

I think you can regard "the Italian battle fleet now lies at anchor under the guns of the fortress of Malta" as no more than a rhetorical flourish, designed to present the fleet's surrender as the reward for Malta's endurance under the siege conditions of 1940-42.

As an aside, here are a couple of statistics to ponder:

Malta suffered 1,493 civilian fatalities in some three years of bombing, during which it was, at times, the most heavily pounded place on the planet.

The Italian battleship Roma was sunk by the Germans as it tried to flee to Malta to surrender in September 1943. 1,352 sailors died aboard her.

Cheers,

Sid.

Bart150
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Re: The Guns of Malta

Post by Bart150 » 09 Jun 2013 05:20

no more than a rhetorical flourish
Indeed. The trouble with a rhetorical flourish like that is that many people may think it is cold, analytical fact.
The Italian battleship Roma was sunk by the Germans as it tried to flee to Malta to surrender in September 1943. 1,352 sailors died aboard her.
Wow. This ought to be mentioned whenever the sinking of the French ships in 1940 is discussed.

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Re: The Guns of Malta

Post by ChristopherPerrien » 09 Jun 2013 10:30

Bart150 wrote:When Italy surrendered in 1943 the British commander in the Mediterranean sent a famous signal to the Lords of the Admiralty in London saying that ‘the Italian battle fleet now lies at anchor under the guns of the fortress of Malta’.

Um, I was wondering what guns he had in mind. Of course, there were lots of AA guns on Malta, but they seem hardly relevant. Was there in fact any substantial quantity of heavy artillery there that was capable of damaging any Italian battleship whose captain changed his mind about surrendering? And, if there was, were the Italian ships in fact anchored in locations that were dominated by those heavy guns?

I'm just curious.
Coastal Defense Artillery owns any ship that comes within their field of fire. There are VERY few modern day instances that contest otherwise. Which was why Navies in WWII avoided active CDA like the plague, as they would have been readily sunk.

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Re: The Guns of Malta

Post by ROLAND1369 » 09 Jun 2013 15:36

The most powerful guns available at Malta were the 9.2 inch(234 MM).These guns were doctrinally emplaced to counter only attacks by cruisers and were capable of inflicting damage but not sinking or even disabling the main armament of a modern battleship of the design of the Italian vessles. In addition, while some were certainly capable of firing in the ditection of the main harbor the terain and buildings would have precluded them from hitting the defiliaded moored italian vessles. Having said this as the fleet came in it was rscorted by both allied ships and aircraft which would have provided a clear threat in case of treachery. As the italian fleet had just been treated to a demonstration of what airpower could do with the sinking of the Roma by the Germans I seriously doubt anyone in the fleet would have failed to see the very real threat. Once morred in the harbor I am certain that vital items. breechbocks, and engine parts would have been removed to demilitarize the ships. Thus the term "under the guns of the fortress" is more colorful than accurate.

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Re: The Guns of Malta

Post by Bart150 » 11 Jun 2013 06:39

I'm pretty sure that the Italian fleet anchored initially at St Paul's Bay, well away from Grand Harbour and its guns. Anybody know whether they moved later to the Grand Harbour area? If so, just outside the harbour? Or inside? If so whereabouts?
Just curious, but I couldnt easily find an answer by Googling
BTW there's a story that after the surrender ceremony at the Customs House Cunningham made the Italian admiral come back to his hq across the water at Fort St Angelo - but not by barge, which would take two minutes - by car, a journey of several miles past hundreds of bombed buildings. Apocryphal or true?

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Re: The Guns of Malta

Post by Sid Guttridge » 11 Jun 2013 12:38

Hi Bart,

I thought I had the perfect witness - my mother, who was a naval cypher operator on Malta throughout the war and I believed lived on St. Paul's Bay.

Unfortunately, it turns out she lived on St. George's Bay and will only commit herself to "somehere off Malta" and "some of them may have gone to St. Paul's Bay".

She did have an artillery battery behind her house, but it was of what sounds like 3.7" AA guns.

Sorry.

Bart150
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Re: The Guns of Malta

Post by Bart150 » 26 Jun 2013 14:10

During the Illustrious Blitz in January 1941 there were two big air raids on the 16th and 19th.
I've read that the big guns in the forts defending Grand Harbour also joined in firing at the German dive-bombers - presumably while they were coming in or going out over the sea.
I'm just wondering whether this is true / feasible / sensible?

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Re: The Guns of Malta

Post by Dili » 27 Jun 2013 00:59

How a gun with limited elevation can fire against a dive bomber? I would say it was probably the AA that was in the forts.

Bart150
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Re: The Guns of Malta

Post by Bart150 » 28 Jun 2013 12:10

The book 'Malta Island under Siege' by Paul R Williams, published by Pen & Sword says about the raid on the 16th (p66): '.. the guns on the ground opened up, the Bofors being joined by the thousand-pounders based atop Rinella, St Elmo and Fort St Angelo'.

Maybe just a few shells were fired for psychological effect, rather than for any more rational purpose. Expensive way to make a few bangs though!

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