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The Siege on Malta


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Mugsy_ #1 Posted 15 April 2014 - 12:36 AM

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The Importance of Malta

 

The opening of a new front in North Africa in mid-1940 increased Malta's already considerable value. Malta was such an important point because it was right on the Axis supply line between Italy and North Africa.  Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, in command of Axis forces in North Africa, recognized its importance quickly. In May 1941, he warned that "Without Malta the Axis will end by losing control of North Africa".

 

 

 

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 and the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Royal Air Force) flew a total of 3,000 bombing raids over a period of two years in an effort to destroy RAF defenses and the ports.

 

By the end of 1941, Field Marshal Kesselring took over command of the Luftwaffe in Italy and he made his plans for Malta very clear and public – that he wanted the island to be taken. In March 1942, Kesselring had a formidable force at his disposal – 500 Stukas, between 200 and 300 Me-109’s and numerous Ju-88’s.

 

The attack on Malta started in the first week of March. More Hurricanes could only come from Gibraltar, as those based in North Africa could not be spared. One of the first batches of Hurricanes was lost at sea. Subsequent ones made it but found that their airfields were under constant German bombing. Supply ships trying to make it to the island were also targets. For a time, supply runs were stopped as they were simply too risky. However, one of the fastest ships in the Royal Navy, ‘HMS Welshman’, made numerous nighttime runs to Gibraltar to bring in ammunition. Submarines brought in medical supplies.

 

Operation Calendar

 

 

In April 1942, Operation Calendar saw 45 Spitfires take off from the ‘USS Wasp’ bound for Malta. After a flight of 600 miles, they needed to re-fuel on the island before they commenced patrols. By the end of the day, over half the Spitfires had been destroyed on the ground. By the end of their first week in Malta, only four were serviceable for flying while six were in hangars for maintenance.

 

 

The Germans flew many nighttime raids. However, the island’s Spitfires were not fitted with radar. An attempt to fly them at night lasted just three days before the idea was shelved. Radar-equipped Beaufighters did arrive from Egypt and on their first nighttime patrol they shot down nine Ju-88’s.

 

 

The Luftwaffe heavily outnumbered the RAF crews. The maximum number of Spitfires that were serviceable at RAF Takali stood at six, though there was usually less than this. However, while there were few fighters, they were numerous pilots so they could be rotated with frequency. The same was not true for the ground crews who had to keep as many Spitfires in the air as was possible – the delayed-timing bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe on airfields were as much to keep the ground crews awake as anything else as no one could predict when they might explode.

 

 

Operation Bowery

On May 9th 1942, the first batch of new Spitfires flew into Malta – 64 in total. They had been carried as near as was feasible by ‘HMS Eagle’ and ‘USS Wasp’ before flying onto the island. Rather than risk what had happened before when many Spitfires were attacked on the ground, the RAF ensured that no low flying German fighter would be safe. A heavily armed protective cordon was prepared around the perimeter fence at Takali and once the new Spitfires had landed, they were quickly moved into hangars before being refueled. The ground crews could turn around twelve fighters in just seven minutes.

 

That very day, 36 new Spitfires V’s patrolled the skies over Malta and made their first contact with the Luftwaffe, who may have been lulled into complacency regarding the island’s air defenses. Victory for the Spitfires was decisive with a reported 33 kills.

 

On the following day, the Germans lost 64 aircraft. By May 14th the rumor went around the island that 172 Luftwaffe aircraft had been destroyed in just six days with the RAF losing just three Spitfires. As with any campaign, accurate figures were hard to come by but many believed the rumor and it did a great deal to boost the morale of a civilian population that had been bombed almost daily from the start of March.

 

Interestingly enough, while the Spitfire Mk. V was proving unable to bring the decisive advantage to the RAF over the Channel, it meant all the difference between defeat and victory over Malta. By transferring Spitfires from the carriers to Malta, the British established a credible air garrison on the island against all odds. By the end of 1942, the Axis did no longer command the skies over the island.

 

 


Edited by Mugsy_, 15 April 2014 - 12:38 AM.

 
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BTed72 #2 Posted 17 April 2014 - 09:50 PM

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Mugsy, where did you get you info?

 

Did you source any books and if so which ones?

 

Thanks!



Mugsy_ #3 Posted 17 April 2014 - 10:02 PM

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My primary reference tools are:

WWII by Time Life Books

Great Battle of the World by Brigadier Peter Young

German Warbirds by K. Munson

A Handbook of Fighter Aircraft by Francis Crosby if the Imperial War Museum Duxford

 

but it also involves a bunch of website hopping

 

It is rare for me to be able to make a minute to deep dive on a battle or event but I think Malta is particularly compelling so I made it a fun passion project to write this out.


 
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Ace_Reporter #4 Posted 17 April 2014 - 10:03 PM

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Great history piece. I remember from history class that pirates carried off the entire population of the smaller Maltese island into slavery.

11thACRColdsteel #5 Posted 17 April 2014 - 10:30 PM

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Superb post Mugsy, I really like these historical posts....thanks.

BTed72 #6 Posted 17 April 2014 - 10:32 PM

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Thanks Mugsy!

 

Munson's book is excellent along with Crosby's stuff.

 

Really well done article Mugsy.

 

More please. :D



Alo8ight #7 Posted 17 April 2014 - 11:03 PM

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Fun facts Mugsy_!

Thanks for sharing this with us :honoring:



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FryaDuck #8 Posted 17 April 2014 - 11:32 PM

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View PostMugsy_, on 15 April 2014 - 10:36 AM, said:

 

Interestingly enough, while the Spitfire Mk. V was proving unable to bring the decisive advantage to the RAF over the Channel, it meant all the difference between defeat and victory over Malta.

Well the difference between the Channel and Malta was the Fw190A-1.


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Mugsy_ #9 Posted 17 April 2014 - 11:49 PM

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View PostFryaDuck, on 17 April 2014 - 04:32 PM, said:

Well the difference between the Channel and Malta was the Fw190A-1.

Very good point sir.


 
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Quesnel #10 Posted 18 April 2014 - 12:25 AM

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Interesting reading on the times, about one who lived through them.

 

http://www.vintagewings.ca/VintageNews/Stories/tabid/116/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/364/language/fr-FR/Club-Run-to-Malta.aspx



mkloby #11 Posted 18 April 2014 - 09:13 AM

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Thanks for the post mugsy. Great info and pics.

WulfNose #12 Posted 18 April 2014 - 12:59 PM

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Excellent review, Mugsy. Adm. Samuel Eliot Morison covers the action in his "Two Ocean War," the summary of his history of US Naval Ops in WWII. I just finished that in preparation for WoWS, and have collected al 14 volumes of his full history to read. Malta has been key to the Med forever. Have not been there yet, but did visit the Canary Islands in the Atlantic, sailing from Barcelona through the Straits of Gibraltar. Wulf

WellingtonBoot #13 Posted 19 April 2014 - 12:58 AM

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Great article Mugsy!:medal:

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ComradeAdams #14 Posted 19 April 2014 - 02:55 AM

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There was a documentry on the Siege of Malta based on the exploits of RAF Pilot George Beurling, one of the early pilots who used deflection shots and changes in mmg layouts/ammo to increase effectiveness.

 

http://en.wikipedia....George_Beurling

 

Very stange man, well suited for sevice in Malta, unable to cope anywhere else.



NTaker #15 Posted 19 April 2014 - 08:38 PM

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If this was done right it should have been the 1940 Siege of Malta with the Gloster Sea Gladiator Mk I(the vaunted tale of Faith,Hope and Charity) against FIAT CR.42's and  M.C. 200's(would have thrown in SM 79's but this game lacks bombers).Hell...maybe throw in some Hurricane Mk 1's for flavor.

_Laserguided_ #16 Posted 19 April 2014 - 09:47 PM

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I got a job once having some knowledge of the war and what went on at Malta.  The parents of my boss lived there during the war and most of the interview centered around the history of Malta.  For once all that worthless info I had gathered and stored up paid off. Like what went on in the Aleutian Islands, what went on regarding Malta isn't mentioned much, regardless of its great importance.


Njanear #17 Posted 20 April 2014 - 07:51 PM

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Great info & pics!  Thanks.

 

On a side note for the associated mission, is the 50% off Gold training/retraining working?  I have gone in several different ways and have seen the original button show either 200 or 400 gold - in both cases, it then asks if I approve to pay 400 gold per person (which I don't).  Is this an error?  If I buy it at 400, would I get reimbursed 200 gold with a ticket or ?  I am about to start a British HF team and don't want to pay full price.  Thanks.


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cyberd1 #18 Posted 20 April 2014 - 07:52 PM

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Just a fyi Crew Training and Retraining is still 400 gold and not 1/2 off for the British crew in the heavy fighters either that or for some reason it is wanting to retain both at the same time.

Edited by cyberd1, 21 April 2014 - 12:37 PM.

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