Siege of Malta 1940–42

Flight Journal - - FEATURES -

Ger­many called the Mediter­ranean das mit­tlere Meer, “the Mid­dle Sea.” Italy called it Mare Nostrum, “Our Sea.” Bri­tain called it “the Med.” All com­bat­ants rec­og­nized it as a fo­cal point of the Sec­ond World War, bor­der­ing North Africa and south­ern Europe.

Key to con­trol of the Med was the is­land of Malta, sup­port­ing Bri­tish air­power that could con­trol Axis shipping lanes through­out the re­gion. Ger­many and Italy be­gan bomb­ing Malta in June 1940 and only gave up in Novem­ber 1942. Dur­ing that time, more than 500 Axis air­craft and some 430 Bri­tish planes were de­stroyed—most of the lat­ter be­ing Hur­ri­canes and Spit­fires. But Malta’s air­fields launched a va­ri­ety of strike and bomber air­craft that scoured Italy’s sea lanes, con­tribut­ing to de­struc­tion of al­most one-fourth of Axis mer­chant shipping.

Bri­tish and Al­lied con-voys re­in­forc­ing the be­lea­guered gar­ri­son ran a con­tin­u­ous gaunt­let of en­emy air­craft, sub­marines, and sur­face raiders. Air­craft car­ri­ers were cru­cial to the ef­fort, bear­ing re­place­ment fighters, while tankers and mer­chant­men de­liv­ered cru­cial avi­a­tion gaso­line and sup­plies. The Royal Navy lost a bat­tle­ship, two car­ri­ers, and four cruis­ers in the ef­fort, but the Bri­tish ul­ti­mately pre­vailed. With his Afrika Korps short of lo­gis­tics, Field Mar­shal Er­win Rom­mel’s string of desert vic­to­ries ended in a wisp of blow­ing sand, tes­ta­ment to the im­por­tance both sides as­signed to Malta.

Above: A Fairey Al­ba­core is ser­viced at Luqa, Malta, in March 1943. (Photo cour­tesy of Jack Cook)

Above: Spit­fires tak­ing off from CV-7 Wasp for Malta. (Photo cour­tesy of Stan Piet)

Right: Tropical Spit­fires did their best to hold the line. (Photo by John Dibbs/planepic­ture.com)

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