Operation Pedestal Malta
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Malta: The Country That Was Awarded The George Cross

The Mediterranean island endured more than 150 days of relentless Second World War bombing that brought the country close to starvation and...

Operation Pedestal Malta

The Siege of Malta saw the nation endure more than 150 days of relentless Second World War bombing that brought the country close to starvation and forced its inhabitants to live in underground shelters.

With its strategically important position in the Mediterranean, it was inevitable the tiny Commonwealth nation - then part of the British Empire - would be targeted by Nazi and Italian bombers.

It was a base for Allied warships and planes used to disrupt the enemy's vital supply lines to North Africa, and in turn, Germany's military leadership sanctioned its aerial bombardment to pave the way for an invasion.

On 10th June 1940, Italy's leader Mussolini declared war on Britain and the day after Italian bombers attacked the capital Valletta and its harbours, and later in the war, the Nazi regime's Stuka warplanes, based in nearby Sicily, also pounded Malta.

 

People were forced to seek safety in shelters and caves and the long periods underground were detrimental to the health of inhabitants, with diseases like rickets, scurvy and tuberculosis reported - exacerbated by a lack of food which brought some close to starvation.

By the end of the war Malta had the unenviable record of suffering the heaviest sustained bombing attack of the conflict - 154 days and nights - with thousands of tonnes of bombs dropped on airfields, naval bases, homes and offices.

From January to July 1942, the bombardment was so intense Malta only had respite for one 24-hour period when the skies were free of enemy bombers.

The nation was on the brink of capitulation but the success of Operation Pedestal, a merchant ship convoy that made it through to Malta after many losses, gave the people and the military renewed hope.

So vital was an oil tanker carrying fuel for submarines and aircraft based at Malta it was lashed between two RoyalNavy destroyers, after its engine room was destroyed, so it could complete the journey.

The siege came to an end as the fortunes of the war swung in favour of the Allies and the Axis forces in North Africa faced defeat, and with the threat to Malta ended it was used as the base to launch the invasion of Sicily.

King George VI awarded the George Cross to Malta on April 15, 1942, and in his message to the island's governor, he wrote:

"To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta, to bear witness to a heroism and a devotion that will long be famous in history."

The image of the George Cross - Britain's highest civilian honour for bravery - is woven into Malta's flag on the upper left-hand corner, and can clearly be seen when the flag is flown.

Malta flag