Malta National History

After possesion and colonisation by numerous groups over the centuries, the islands became a British colony in 1814. Malta was soon made the headquarters of the British Mediterranean Fleet due to it’s important strategic location.

Malta’s air defences had been neglected and run-down in the period 1938-1940 due to urgent needs elsewhere, but in June 1940 Italy entered World War Two. The only air defence then on the island was an unofficial Fighter Flight of four Sea Gladiators – later supplemented by four Hurricanes. Italian air raids began on 11 June 1940, with the aim of preventing Malta being used as a naval base and to secure Italy’s access to territories North Africa. Despite numerous determined attacks by Italian bombers, the air defences on Malta were gradually improved, with fresh equipment being delivered by air and in naval convoys. By the end of 1940 the first bomber squadron had arrived and some offensive missions could be flown.

In January 1941 the Luftwaffe joined the battle for Malta, and inflicted severe losses on British air and naval forces. In late March 1941, German forces were diverted to the invasion of Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete. The reduction in frequency of attacks allowed forces on Malta to be considerably increased, and by September 1941 torpedo bomber attacks from Malta were having a major impact on the quantity of supplies reaching the German and Italian forces now advancing in North Africa.

Heavy Luftwaffe attacks resumed in mid January 1942 and by mid-April air supremacy had been achieved over Malta. Supplies were perilously low. In May 1942 a large number of Spitfires were delivered and these helped to regain local air superiority over the island. Huge air and sea battles accompanied each convoy delivery of additional equipment and supplies from Gibraltar – the most famous being Operation Pedestal in August 1942.

Maltese based aircraft were now able to considerably step-up their attacks on Axis shipping and aircraft crossing the Mediterranean. The resulting reduction in fuel and supplies reaching German and Italian forces in North Africa greatly contributed to the Allied victory at El Alamein in October 1942.

Further operation cleared the way for Operation Torch – the invasion of French North Africa on 8 November 1942 and the subsequent defeat of Axis forces in North Africa in May 1943. Malta then served as a key launching pad for the Allied invasion of Sicily and then Italy. Italy signed an armistice with the Allies on 8 September 1943.

Thus, Malta’s heroic resistance to Axis air assault had led directly to the Allied victory in the Mediterranean. In recognition of this, the island of Malta was awarded the George Cross for gallantry.

After the end of the war, self government was introduced in September 1947. On 21st September 1964 Malta became independent under the British Crown. From 1971 the country adopted a policy of non-alignment, developing ties with Libya and China. On 13 December 1974 Malta became a republic within the Commonwealth, severing it’s last remaining ties with Britain. In August 1980, ties with Libya were suddenly cancelled in a dispute over oil exploration rights. Libyan assistance was abruptly withdrawn. Since then, Italy has formally guaranteed Maltese neutrality. After elections in 1987 the country returned to its tradtional pro-Western stance.

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