Award of the George Cross to Malta
The George Cross was awarded to the island of Malta by King George VI in a letter to the island's Governor, Lieutenant-General Sir William Dobbie, so as to "bear witness to the heroism and devotion of its people" during the great siege they underwent in the early part of World War II. Italy and Germany besieged Malta, then a British colony, from 1940 to 1942. The George Cross was incorporated into the flag of Malta beginning in 1943 and remains on the current design of the flag.
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While Italian and German bombers attacked the Maltese islands, the lack of supplies was soon felt. An invasion threat in July 1941 failed when coast defenders spotted torpedo boats of the Italian Decima MAS special forces. Whilst people suffered hunger, a final assault to neutralise the island was ordered by the German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring. This assault again failed. On 15 April 1942 King George VI awarded the George Cross to the people of Malta in appreciation of their heroism.
The George Cross was awarded during the worst period for the Allies during the Second World War, as the Axis-force clearly appeared to have the upper hand. German planes struck the island around the clock, in an attempt to neutralise British bases in Malta, given these were constantly foiling their naval attempts to supply Rommel's North African campaign. Malta's geographic position, between Italy and North Africa, as well as dividing the Mediterranean basin into east and west put the islands in considerable danger. Malta-based British aircraft could reach as far as Tripoli in Libya to the south, Tunisia to the west and German bases in Italy to the north; on Pantelleria, Sicily and even as far as the port of Naples farther to the north.
At the time of the George Cross award, military resources and food rations in Malta were practically depleted. Fuel was restricted to military action and heavily rationed, the population was on the brink of starvation, and even ammunition was running out, so much that Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns could only fire a few rounds per day.
Italian battleships of the Regia Marina out-gunned the British, yet the Royal Navy was not out-classed. The German airforce had superior aircraft until Spitfires were finally sent to Malta. Also at this time, German and Italian strategists were planning Operation Herkules, a sea and air invasion of the Maltese Islands, an effort continuously postponed – until it was too late, because the Maltese Islands finally received their vital supply of fuel, food and munitions.
On 15 August 1942 (feast of Santa Maria) a convoy of Royal and Merchant Navy ships finally made port in Convoy of Santa Maria at Valletta's Grand Harbour, after completing what was considered one of the most heroic maritime episodes in recent history.
The George Cross Award
The George Cross was instituted by King George VI, on 24 September 1940, replacing the Empire Gallantry Medal. It is the civilian equivalent to the Victoria Cross. While intended mainly for civilians, it is awarded also to certain fighting services, confined however to actions for which purely military honours are not normally given. This medal is awarded only for acts of the greatest heroism or the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.
Awarded to Malta
One of only two collective awards of the George Cross was the award to Malta. This award was made by King George VI by a handwritten letter:
To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history.
Lieutenant-General Sir William Dobbie answered:
A public award ceremony in Valletta was held on 13 September 1942, after the arrival of the Santa Maria Convoy.
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- Which could not therefore be recognised by a military decoration, given that they typically require gallantry in the face of the enemy.
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- The other being that to the Royal Ulster Constabulary
- Image of handwritten letter World War II today
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