As I have written before, little Malta is steeped in history, some of the most dramatic being in WWII.
|Still hidden in the Valletta walls, the Lascaris War Rooms were the top-secret British headquarters of WWII.|
Until Mussolini declared war on June 10, 1940, Malta was largely poorly armed and undefended. On June 11th, Italian bombers attached Grand Harbour. The British had only three tiny biplanes, named Faith, Hope and Charity, to defend the island. They managed for three weeks with a continuous rotation of pilots until a squadron of modern fighters arrived. We saw Faith in the National War Museum - totally exposed, tiny and flimsy.
|Radar was new and not very sophisticated but did allow them to know when bombers had taken off from Sicily.|
Malta was situated in an essential location for the Allies to intercept Axis shipping bound for Rommel in North Africa. During the war, aircraft and submarines were based here to block Rommel’s supplies. First the Italiams and then the Germans bombers, stationed in Sicily only 20 minutes flight away made a huge effort to annihilate the island.
In 1942, the siege and pounding of Malta was especially devestating - it became and still is the most heavily bombed for a given area in the world. Photos and films of Valletta show heaped ruins of building, children going to school outside. The Axis blocked supply routes to Malta from Alexandria and Gibraltar. Cooking was not allowed in individual homes. To save food and precious fuel, meals were cooked in community kitchens. In the summer of 1942, there was only enough food and fuel to last until August. The British mobilized an enormous convoy to deliver supplies from Gibraltar. Many of the ships were lost to Axis bombs but one, holed but still floating, oil tanker, borrowed from the Americans, got through and the island survived. The entire population was awarded the George Cross, Britains highest award for civilian bravery.
|1940's ingenious computer kept track of a ton of info on both sides of the wall.|
Planes and submarines in Malta were then able to block the Axis supply line to Rommel which played a key role in their defeat at the crucial battle of El Alamein. And, after some inventive espionage fabrications, the Nazis were fooled into thinking the European invasion would take place elsewhere while Malta was readied and successfully used as the staging point for the invasion in Sicily.
|Eisenhower looked out on this huge map of Sicily for Operation Husky.|
This history has become real for us in several places - the location of the submarine base on Manoel Island, the restoration of Fort Manoel, the remains of the Opera House which now act as an outside theatre surrounded by ruins, several repurposed military barracks on the island but particularly our visit to the Lascaris rooms, 40 meters below the 16th century walls of Valletta. An exceptional tour guide, ex-history teacher and obvious WWII buff, provided facts, figures and stories that brought the history alive. Well-worth a visit. Only question is, why have Hollywood and British film producers never made a blockbuster of this hugely dramatic history?? It's an amazing story of resilience, fortitude, ingenuity and intrigue.