Malta During the Second World War

By | December 26, 2021

At the beginning of July 1940 the English fleet H (Adm. Somerville) moved from Gibraltar to escort to Malta, and deliver it to the Eastern Mediterranean fleet under the command of Adm. A. Cunningham, a large convoy with very precious cargo for the defense of Alexandria. On that occasion the minesweepers of Malta managed to dredge a large mine-free area in the Strait of Sicily for the ships of Gibraltar, while the Sunderlands based on the island they discovered and followed the Italian fleet undisputed, under the command of the adm. Campioni, also at sea to escort a convoy bound for Benghazi: thus giving the two fleets the opportunity to clash for the first time near the waters of Calabria (battle of Punta Stilo or Calabria, 9 July 1940). Towards the end of August, with a group of ships going to reinforce the Alexandria squad, including the aircraft carrier Illustrious, a large number of Royal Air Force (RAF) aircraft were sent to Malta. The island became the center from which the most dangerous offenses for the Italian convoys bound for Tripoli departed, given the insufficient autonomy of the combat aircraft. But at the end of 1940 Germany sent the X Air Corps (X CAT) to Sicily, which, gravitating on the Sicilian channel, managed to neutralize Malta. For Malta military, please check

With the transfer of the X CAT to the Peloponnese for the action of Crete (May 1941), Malta was again enhanced, with serious damage to the traffic with Libya. On July 26, despite repeated air-naval attacks, a convoy of 18 steamers was able to enter Malta. Against this so numerous nucleus of ships, on the night of July 27 the forcing of the ports of Valletta and Marsa Muscetta was attempted by the Italian special assault vehicles, but the attempt failed completely with the destruction of all the means employed. On January 7, 1941, four British steamers, escorted by numerous elements of the H team under the command of the adm. Somerville, moved to Malta; the law enforcement action undertaken by the Axis was effective. The Illustrious aircraft carrier it was badly damaged and, to a lesser extent, the cruiser Southampton ; however the English convoy reached its destination, Malta. On 25 September of the same year, naval force H under the command of the adm. Somerville, to escort a convoy of 9 steamers. The Italian air forces could not effectively counter the enemy formation, which therefore carried out its mission. Malta later became home to a naval division formed by the cruisers Aurora, Penelope and the fighters Lance and Lively., all equipped with radar, division, which on the night of November 9, 1941, sank an Italian convoy of 7 steamships escorted by a naval and fighter division. Given the good results, the division, called K, was reinforced first with the cruisers Ajax and Neptune and the two fighters Kingston and Kimberley, and then with 4 other fighters, one of which is Dutch. The latter carried out the sinking of the Da Barbiano and Di Giussano convoy, which carried gasoline. On November 21, the K force left Malta to attack an Italian convoy of 4 motor ships escorted by a division of heavy cruisers and a division of 8000 t. The convoy was discovered by the scouts: but before being reached by the K division, the Trieste was hit by a submarine torpedo and the Duca deglî Abruzzi by a torpedo bomber. Given the situation, the Italian command ordered the hijacking to Taranto. Subsequently the K force managed to sink, near Navarino (November 24), two German steamships that were moving from Piraeus to Benghazi, and on December 16-17 took part in the first battle of Sirte managing to get the Breconshire oil tanker to Malta., indispensable to supply the units of force K. A few days earlier said force, wanting to intercept an Italian convoy, had ended up on a mine field near Tripoli, losing the cruiser Neptune and a fighter, while the Aurora and the Penelope they returned to Malta very damaged. Between December 27, 1941 and January 30, 1942, i.e. during the second British occupation of Benghazi, the defense of traffic for Tripoli became increasingly difficult: to the west of Sicily, because the 160-mile range of the new aero-torpedoes lapped the Tunisian coast, to the east, because the circles of action of Malta and Benghazi almost touched each other. Even the retreat of the British front, after the reconquest of Benghazi, did not bring significant advantages to the Axis convoys for the entry into service of the 300-mile torpedo bombers, operating day and night in collaboration with the reconnaissance aircraft. Bengali. The situation would have become critical if the II CAT, which arrived in Italy at the end of 1941, had not resumed the systematic bombing of Malta together with Italian aviation departments, almost managing to paralyze the island’s air power and make it effective the blockade by sea: in fact, while in January a convoy managed to pass, a second in February had to return to Alexandria. It was in these circumstances that the second battle of the Sirte took place on March 22, 1942, in prohibitive sea conditions.  Of the 4 English steamers, one was sunk, the oil tanker Breconshire and two steamers arrived, but were sunk in port. The authorities of Malta then decided to clear the port of the remaining ships, sending them to Alexandria or Gibraltar. Spitfire planes remained supplied by 5 submarines.

The Spitfires, launched by the Eagle and the American aircraft carrier Wasp, were all destroyed: only in May many planes could reach Malta, while a fast minelayer, of 40 knots, supplied the island with ammunition. The Allies recognized that the only way to hinder the advance of Rommel’s Italian-German army towards Egypt was to prevent supplies: this would be achieved by having Malta resume its operational function, fueling its offensive means. Two attempts in this direction were made. On 12 June a convoy of 6 steamboats passed through Gibraltar under the command of the adm. Curteis, escorted by cruisers and fighters: continually attacked by the sky and the sea, only two steamships with a great value cargo arrived in Malta. On June 15, a convoy of 10 steamships left Alexandria, under the escort of 7 cruisers and 31 fighters, under the command of adm. Vian: continuously under attack, after suffering serious losses, having learned that an Italian team with two battleships, 4 cruisers and a fighter flotilla was not far away, he gave up continuing to Malta and returned to Alexandria. On 21 June Tobruch fell and on 29 the Axis troops occupied Marsa Maṭrūḥ. Hoping to reach Alexandria and the Suez Canal, the German command ordered the II CAT to desist from the air attack on Malta and to make itself available to the expeditionary force in Africa. And Malta flourished again and the traffic of supplies with Libya immediately became prohibitive, with evident damage to that same army of Rommel which had wanted to reinforce. The defeats in Stalingrad and the Caucasus were the indirect prelude to the defeat in the Mediterranean, where, due to the changed relationship of forces in the presence, especially after el-‛Alamein and the allied landing in North Africa, it was no longer possible to attempt the occupation of Malta as the Italian command – against German views – had planned. British writers are scrambling to prove that it was the increased number of Spitfire to neutralize the German air attacks: it cannot be excluded that they contributed to it, but the facts show that while the hammering lasted, Malta could not prevent traffic with Libya.

In August, a large convoy of 14 fast steamers left England escorted by two battleships, 4 aircraft carriers and 25 fighters, and on the 10th of the month passed the Strait of Gibraltar: on the 11th the aircraft carrier Eagle was sunk by a Germanic submarine at 8 miles north of Algiers, the Indomitable aircraft carrier was torpedoed but did not sink, the Furious returned as soon as the aircraft destined for Malta were launched, the cruisers Manchester, Cairo and the destroyer Foresight, torpedoed by the MAS, sank. Only 5 of the 14 departed steamers arrived in Malta; the most profitable logistic services were disengaged by two very fast 40-knot minelayers of the Abdiel type, and by 5 transport submarines. However, in September 1942, Malta’s situation once again became so secure that it became home to a division of cruisers and fighter squadrons. With the landing of the Allies in French Africa and the abandonment of Tripoli by the Axis, as a consequence of the hasty retreat of Rommel’s army, Malta no longer had offensive tasks towards the east, but with its means contributed not only to intercepting trade with Tunisia, but also the surrender of Pantelleria and the Pelagie, and the invasion of Sicily.

Malta military