Sunday, January 20, 2008

The battle for Malta.

In 1940 everything seemed quite bleak for the free world! Western Europe had capitulated to Nazi Germany and England was struggling for survival. One very small island in the Mediterranean sea is of vital importance not only for the Allies but also to the Axis forces and this small island is called Malta. This little island is only 142 square miles in the Mediterranean sea but of so much importance to the supply lines of both forces. Possession of this little piece of land is vital for control of supply lines. Cross the Mediterranean by sea or air in any direction and you will pass close to island of Malta. Control of Malta is Vital for the supply lines of North Africa for the Afrika Korps and vital for the British troops there to wreck havoc on the German army in North Africa. Malta has been of strategic importance for hundreds of years. On June 10Th, 1940 Mussolini decides to bomb Malta with his Regia Aeronotica (Italian Air Force). Imagine, the Royal Air Force only had three flyable Gladiator 6C to ward off incoming Italian bombers and fighters. The British were defending the island of Malta with three World War 1 fighter airplanes against more modern Italian fighters and bombers. Thankfully before the end of June four Hurricane fighters landed on the island to refuel on their way to North Africa and were pressed into defending Malta instead of heading back to North Africa. Finally the island had four modern fighters for its defense. The Royal Air Force was able to control the air over Malta because of the inexperience of the Italian Air Force but their luck quickly changed when the Luftwaffe came into battle for the Italian reinforcement in January of 1941. The Luftwaffe were based in Sicily only seventy-five miles away from Malta. Now the Italians had reinforcements from Germany and the RAF were in big trouble. Fortunately in April of 1941 more newer versions of the Hurricanes arrived that were a closed match to the BF-109's. In 1941 the role of the RAF was mostly on the offensive. Save the island lads! Don't forget, the nearest British bases were at least 1,000 miles away from the island of Malta from Gibraltar in the ouest and Alexandria in Egypt on the eastern flank.

In June of 1941, RAF fighters and fleet air arms from aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean were able to attack the Afrika Korps in North Africa and the shipping of troops and merchandise in the Mediterranean in which Erwin Rommel was in desperate need. Mind you these attacks came to great loss for the British forces that lost so many men and aircraft in the deserts of North Africa. Many of there flyer's graves are scattered throughout North Africa. (RIP.) From April to November of 1941 the RAF and the British Fleet air arms were able to sink 170,000 tons of enemy shipping. In December of 1941 Malta was under constant bombing from the Luftwaffe to the despair of the British! The British forces were beginning to wonder when this hell will end because of the constant fighting in the air and on the island. Now, two islands are at stake, Great Britain and Malta!!!! At one time in February of 1942 the Luftwaffe had over two thousands sorties to the despair of the British. The Germans wanted nothing less than air supremacy over Malta. The RAF was indeed outclassed and outnumbered by the Luftwaffe. In February of 1942 Air Vice Marshal Lloyd reported to his Commander in chief that it was becoming impossible to do any sorties for his fighters. His airfields were under constant attacks. What the RAF badly needed were reinforcements from Hawker Hurricanes to Spitfires to save the island. Finally in February of 1942 fifteen Spitfires arrived on the island from Gibraltar. Don't forget the island was resupplied by convoys each month from England and the RAF had to protect them on their way to Malta but in February of 1942 the RAF were so badly outnumbered by the Luftwaffe that no convoy reached the island to feed the population and the British forces. Now the RAF was in shortage of fuel, ammunition and so on. The RAF's desperately needed fuel was floating in the Mediterranean sea sunk by a Uboat or a Luftwaffe bomber.

Finally on April 20, 1942 47 Spitfires were able to take off from the USS Wasp to Malta as greatly needed reinforcements. Unfortunately, the German army radars in Sicily had detected the 47 spitfires in the air on their way to Malta and were destroyed on the runways or in the air by the Luftwaffe. This is very bad news for the RAF high command. Two weeks later 60 Spitfires were dispatched again from the USS Wasp and the HMS Eagle to the island flying low over the water and having all hands waiting on the ground in Malta for the spitfires when they arrived they had them refuelled and armed and ready to meet the oncoming Luftwaffe immediately. They had learned from their previous experiences two weeks earlier that speed is of the essence for survival. The Spitfires were quickly back in the air ready for battle. Day and night the battle raged on day after day, night after night until the winter of the 1942 the siege was lifted. At last with a stroke of good fortune the battle of Malta was coming to an end! The British and allied airmen and soldiers, sailors were totally exhausted! The battle lasted over two years and after 14,500 tons of bombs fell on the island. Over 1,500 civilians had been killed or injured and 23,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged. Thank God the island did not fall to the hands of the Axis forces otherwise the re-supply of North Africa would have been possible for the Army of General Erwin Rommel and General Montgomery and his desert rats might have lost the war against the Afrika Korps in North Africa. This would have permitted General Rommel to walk right through to South Africa and Gibraltar and drive back to Europe from the southern Mediterranean. Quite a frightening scene to know that General Rommel could have controlled the African continent. British and Canadians fought for the battle of Malta and so many gave their lives! George Beurling is one of the Canadian aces and heroes who fought to save Malta.