Siege of Malta (World War II)

The Siege of Malta in World War II was a military campaign in the Mediterranean Theatre. From June 1940 to November 1942, the fight for the control of the strategically important island of the British Crown Colony of Malta pitted the air forces and navies of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany against the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Navy.

Siege of Malta
Part of the Mediterranean and Middle East Theatre of the Second World War

Service personnel and civilians clear bombing debris from Kingsway in Valletta in 1942
Date11 June 1940 – 20 November 1942
(2 years, 5 months, 1 week and 2 days)[1]
Location
Result Allied victory
Belligerents

 United Kingdom

 Australia
 Canada
 India
 New Zealand
 South Africa

 Italy
 Germany
Commanders and leaders
Andrew Cunningham
William Dobbie
Hugh Lloyd
Keith Park
Hans Geisler
Albert Kesselring
Martin Harlinghausen
Francesco Pricolo
Strength
716 fighters over the course of the campaign[2] c.2,000 aircraft over the course of the campaign
Casualties and losses
369 fighters (air)
64 fighters (ground)[2]
1 Battleship[3]
2 aircraft carriers[3]
4 cruisers[4]
19 destroyers[4]
38 submarines[3]
2,301 airmen killed or wounded[5]
30,000 buildings destroyed or damaged[6]
1,300 civilians killed[6]
357 German aircraft
175 Italian aircraft[2]
72 percent of the Italian Navy transport fleet lost
23 percent of the Axis merchant fleet lost[7]
2,304 merchant ships sunk[8]
17,240 killed at sea[9]
~50 German U-boats (in entire MTO)[3]
Italian submarine losses ~16[3]

The opening of a new front in North Africa in June 1940 increased Malta's already considerable value. British air and sea forces based on the island could attack Axis ships transporting vital supplies and reinforcements from Europe; Churchill called the island an "unsinkable aircraft carrier".[10] General Erwin Rommel, in de facto field command of Axis forces in North Africa, recognised its importance quickly. In May 1941, he warned that "Without Malta the Axis will end by losing control of North Africa".[1]

The Axis resolved to bomb or starve Malta into submission, by attacking its ports, towns, cities, and Allied shipping supplying the island. Malta was one of the most intensively bombed areas during the war. The Luftwaffe (German Air Force) and the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Royal Air Force) flew a total of 3,000 bombing raids, dropping 6,700 tons of bombs on the Grand Harbour area alone,[11] over a period of two years in an effort to destroy RAF defences and the ports.[12] Success would have made possible a combined German–Italian amphibious landing (Operation Herkules) supported by German airborne forces (Fallschirmjäger), but this did not happen. In the event, Allied convoys were able to supply and reinforce Malta, while the RAF defended its airspace, though at great cost in materiel and lives. In November 1942 the Axis lost the Second Battle of El Alamein, and the Allies landed forces in Vichy French Morocco and Algeria under Operation Torch. The Axis diverted their forces to the Battle of Tunisia, and attacks on Malta were rapidly reduced. The siege effectively ended in November 1942.[1]

In December 1942, air and sea forces operating from Malta went over to the offensive. By May 1943, they had sunk 230 Axis ships in 164 days, the highest Allied sinking rate of the war.[13] The Allied victory in Malta played a major role in the eventual Allied success in North Africa.