20th March 1942. Malta GC.
Malta was annexed to the British Crown in 1814 by The Treaty of Paris.
In 1940 the Siege of Malta began the day after Italy’s Mussolini declared war in June with an attack on Valetta Harbour. The island previously thought indefensible, was only protected by a few Glocester Sea Gladiators; later legend reduced this to three of these biplanes Faith, Hope and Charity.(1)
Malta was important as a base to attack Italy and from where the Allies could sustain the North Africa campaign.
1942 was a bad year as it was bombed heavily in the Spring, when in one twelve-hour period from Today, more than 1000 bombs weighing nearly 300 tons were dropped on the Malta airfield.
In April King George VI granted the Island the George Cross, the highest civilian award for gallantry, with the bombing set to continue through the summer. By June the Island was near to capitulation.
One soldier recalled a daily diet of three boiled sweets, half a sardine and a spoonful of jam, with every animal consumed.
In June 1942 in an attempt to supply the islands, the Navy managed to get two merchant ships through under Operation Harpoon from Gibraltar. Casualties amounted to two destroyers sunk, four merchantmen, two light cruisers damaged along with three destroyers and a mine-sweeper.
In an attempt to divide enemy forces another convoy sailed from Haifa and Port Said under Operation Vigorous, however the ships had to return to Alexandria, Egypt after sustained attacks from the Italian fleet.
The next attempt came under ‘Operation Pedestal’ with merchantmen supported by the largest ever Naval convoy escort. In the ensuing battle on 11th August, the carrier Eagle was sunk by torpedoes and Indomitable suffered flight deck damage. The crippled HMS Manchester was scuttled by her captain Harold Drew rather than let her top-secret radar fall into enemy hands.
Along with the Manchester, the Cairo and one destroyer were lost along with nine Merchantmen carrying 85,000 tons of cargo. Of the remaining five, Ohio the convoy’s solitary tanker with damaged steering, was the last to win through to cheering crowds after being attacked by Ju 88s dive-bombers and U-boats.
The siege ended in November 1942 after the Island had sustained serious bombing of 154 days and nights.
English replaced Italian in 1922 and the Island gained full independence in 1964; the last British warship leaving in 1979.
(1) Italy declared war on 10th June 1940.
Ref: wikipedia.org/Pic Image.