Siege of Malta 1940–42
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)