21 July 1940: Maltese ‘Bravest of the Brave’ Says Report

21 Jul

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Maltese Cross

Once again in her long history of struggle and triumph this lonely little island set in the centre of the Mediterranean sea finds herself in the very forefront of a major war.  With the entry of Italy into the war and with the new factor of air power to consider, Malta has become almost a beleaguered garrison in a state of siege. 

To this condition, Malta is no stranger, for her island story bristles with the tale of repeated sieges suffered and withstood, that Europe’s faith might endure and that Europe’s culture might remain Christian.  The Maltese are first and foremost a pious people and it is no mere chance that the emblem under which they have always fought has been a cross. 

Then they are a very independent little nation which has clung to its liberties with all the tenacity of a bulldog.   Perhaps it is this very characteristic which enables them more than any other to take their place among the free peoples of the Empire today.

Owing to her geographical position barely sixty miles due south of Sicily she is very literally in the forefront of the battle.  This is amply illustrated by the fact that in just forty days this small island – about sixteen miles long by eight wide – has been visited eighty times by Italian bombers, an average of two air raids a day.

One of the most densely populated areas in the world

One of the most densely populated areas in the world

The island is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with 2000 people to the square mile.  These islanders were unfortunate during the first few raids: the people had not yet learned to take shelter, and casualties were numerous.  Yet despite this there was a complete absence of panic and within a day or so people were going quietly to their shelter when the siren sounded.

After the first bad raids, a number of the population decided to move out to the country districts, with the full sanction of the government.  Great generosity was shown to these evacuees by all the country folk who took complete strangers into their homes and made them welcome, often at considerable hardship to themselves.

With the grown of experience the anti-aircraft personnel both English and Maltese are becoming more proficient and the RAF fighters are rendering excellent service in deterring attacks from Italy.  When the Maltese emerge from their shelters they are less concerned with the damage done than with finding out how many enemy aircraft have been defeated.

The Governor talks to the population over the radio, explaining just why he has to enforce certain regulations and the Maltese react well to his honesty.  Rome radio also daily broadcasts a talk in Maltese, addressing his audience as ‘brother Maltese’ but his honeyed phrases fall on ears deafened by Italian bombs.  Before Italy came into the war there were many who believed that a very large proportion of the Maltese were pro-Italian.  This has been proved utterly without foundation.

Thousands of men and women are busy in war service.  The men stand guard against coming attacks in the various local regiments; the women are wardens, first aiders, nurses or welfare workers.  Ordinary crime has become practically unknown.

In this constant assault from the air, Malta is sharing in England’s present trial and is very proud to do so.  Once again her people are called upon to suffer and endure, for suffering they are.  They don’t shout about it very much, but below the philosophy and cheerful resignation there must be a sadness that this has come upon them.  They have known, in the forty short days of war, death and mutilation, loss of home and property, economic and financial ruin.  Against this, they balance their resolve and treasure their hope and their faith.

The British Empire keeps one award for its bravest of the brave: the much coveted and rarely won Victoria Cross.  In England we call its shape a Maltese cross and, though we are not strictly accurate, the similarity is very close.  In Malta today, they go about the daily routine in the knowledge that if they suffer and endure they do so with the same courage as those great warriors of their island’s story.  In wearing their cross of suffering as bravely as a banner, they will truly win the right to say that today as in the past the Maltese Cross still stands for valour.


Weather  Fine and warm; poor visibility at times. 

1010-1033 hrs  Air raid alert for two enemy bombers and six fighters which approach from the north at 16-22000 feet and disperse on reaching the Island.  Ack Ack guns at Tigne, San Pietru, Ta Karach, Spinola and Benghaisa engage the raiders and Malta fighters are also scrambled but do not engage.        

1045-1115 hrs  Air raid alert for three bombers and sixteen fighters which approach from the north.  All gun positions except for the Dockyard and Hal Far engage the raiders with a very heavy barrage which splits the formation. One enemy bomber is hit; dense smoke issues from its tail and it dives out of control to 8000 feet when it recovers and heads away northwards with three fighters.  No bombs are dropped.  Malta fighters are not scrambled.     

1210 hrs  Air raid alert for three formations of enemy aircraft which approach the Island in a wide fan shape and circle over the sea over the area where this morning’s damaged bomber was last seen. 

1240 hrs  One Swordfish is despatched to observe and verify whether the bomber has fallen into the sea; it fails to return.  A second Swordfish is despatched and reports seeing only a patch of oil 

1510 hrs  A London flying boat is despatched and photographs the enemy bomber floating in the sea, which is identified by its markings.  The London is attacked by two enemy CR42 fighters and shoots down one of them into the sea.  The second CR42 attacks but quickly climbs to 10000 feet before departing.     


AIR HQ  Aircraft casualties  One Swordfish.  0515 hrs  Swordfish on anti-submarine patrol: nothing to report. 

2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  Private Ricketts was discharged from hospital.  Two men were sent to Marsa awaiting trial.

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  His Excellency the Governor carried out inspections of troops at Mjarr and St Paul’s Bay.


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Posted by on July 21, 2020 in 1940, July 1940



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