It’s June 1942, and Axis forces are celebrating the takeover of Libya. Malta now remains alone, one of the last strongholds of freedom in Europe, surrounded by Axis forces on all sides. But with the arrival of the Santa Marija convoy, Malta took the fight back to the Axis.
In today’s TLDR, the ongoing collaborative Spunt.mt x Lovin Malta series, we celebrate our incredible comeback story, and how the Maltese paved the way for the liberation of Europe.
Continental Europe and much of the Mediterranean was under Axis control. Only tiny, famished, destroyed Malta stood in the way of Fascist domination. Malta was the most bombed place to date, and the average Maltese worker was consuming just 1,500 calories a day. Illness and fatigue were rampant.
Against all odds, five merchant ships of the Santa Marija convoy entered the Grand Harbour on 15th August 1942. Nobody knew it, but the tide of war had turned.
Not a month had passed, and a Maltese offensive sank 35% of all Axis shipping directed to North Africa. Only 24% of needed monthly supplies reached the Axis to continue their African campaign.
"Our forefathers in 1565 were the shield of Europe. In 1943, the Maltese held the spear."
Submarines leaving Manoel Island sank around 65,000 tonnes of Axis shipping, with another 400,000 tonnes damaged. The slowdown in the German offensive meant the Allies could now counterattack. Soon after, Allied forces regained control of the North African front.
Such was the effect of the Maltese offensive that the German Chief of Staff of the Afrika Korps, Fritz Bayerlein, once claimed “We should have taken Alexandria and reached the Suez Kanal, had it not been for the work of [Maltese] submarines.”
Winston Churchill labelled Italy as “the soft underbelly of Europe”, and targeted it as the best place to start the counter-offensive. By May 1943, Malta was the base of operations for the launch of Operation Husky and the invasion of Sicily. From the depths of the Lascaris War Rooms, the Allies prepared one of history’s largest amphibious operations ever attempted.
More men and material were brought to the island. The Coast Road was packed with mounds of ammunition. Huge numbers of naval and merchant ships, and tents to accommodate the Army Regiments, were assembled. RAF planes were parked wing-to-wing in the airfields. Football fields and military parade grounds were full of guns, tanks and many other military vehicles.
King George VI made a historic royal visit to Malta. There was a sense on the island that zero hour was near. On the eve of 9th July 1943, Operation Husky was ‘go!’
The landing beaches in Sicily were heavily bombarded the night before. The following day, barges loaded with troops, vehicles and stores started leaving Marsamxett. Merchant ships were actually queuing up to enter the harbour.
In a matter of days, “Husky” was successfully completed. Sicily was in Allied hands and the long journey northwards for the liberation of Europe was underway. In spite of the severe aerial battering, in spite of the hunger, the death, the devastation, Malta held on.
Our forefathers in 1565 were the shield of Europe. In 1943, the Maltese held the spear.
This article is part of an ongoing collaborative series by Spunt.mt and Lovin Malta.