In 1940 Nazi Germany were taking over Europe, France was about to fall and it looked like Britain was next. Perhaps this is why on the 10th June 1940 Benito Mussolini declared war on Britain and France. He had no intention of taking the war to Britain, he wanted a new Roman Empire, and if Germany would be victorious in the Battle of Britain, Malta would fall into his hands. Malta had been under British control since 1814, it was a key port and airbase, and acted as a stepping stone to Egypt and The Suez Canal which linked Britain with its Empire in India, the Far East and Australia.
Malta was under defended as Britain was too busy trying to defend itself, but Mussolini was unable to exploit this, Italy’s campaign in Africa was also taking a turn for the worse. Mussolini had only one person to turn to – Hitler. With the help of the Nazi war machine, Malta became the most bombed place on Earth, so much so that residents took to underground labyrinths dug out of the rock. King George VI of the United Kingdom awarded the George cross to Malta for the citizen’s brave approach during the siege. The George Cross can still be seen of the flag of Malta.
As Britain was trying to send supplies to Malta, Germany was sending supplies into Africa, the ships often crossed each other’s routes, causing skirmishes and massive losses of ammunition, fuel and food. Erwin Rommel who was now leading Hitler’s North African campaign was finding it increasingly difficult with the lack of supplies. A mission codenamed Operation Herkules was approved by Hitler to invade Malta, if successful it would have solved a lot of problems for the Axis powers, but it was pushed back as Hitler concentrated on Africa.
On 10th August 1942 a convoy of 14 ships headed to Malta from Gibraltar with much needed supplies. The chances of them making it were very slim, but it was Malta’s last chance. In total 9 ships were sunk, but the ships that did make it made a great difference, Malta now had supplies and a major boost in moral, which helped them continue their raids on Axis shipping heading to Africa, ruining Nazi chances of success in Africa, and in future paving the way for Operation Avalanche, the Allied invasion of Italy.
Source – BBC, The Battle for Malta link
Malta became an independent country in 1964