Saturday, October 31, 2009

World War 2 - Malta

An eleven year old recently found this bomb (butterfly bomb) in one of Malta's valleys. The story interested me and I thought it would be appealing to do a post about Malta and world war 2. This bomb (pictured above) was one of the first cluster bombs to be used, earned its name because of the way it resembled a butterfly when its outer shell opened when released from a plane. This caused the bomb to spin, loosening a bolt and releasing a firing pin that armed the explosive.

Some information I found about Malta during WW II.

During World War II, Malta became the most bombed place on earth – 6,700 tons of bombs fell in just six weeks.

At the outbreak of World War II, Malta was Britain’s most important Mediterranean naval base. As such, it was to protect east-west supply lines while blocking the passage between Italy and North Africa. When Mussolini plunged Italy into the war on June 10, 1940, Malta knew for sure that it was destined to play a frontline role. Europe was nine months into the conflict when, on June 11, Malta suffered its first air attack on the dockyards.

At that point, Malta’s entire anti-aircraft resources totaled forty-two guns, two dozen searchlights and three Gloster Gladiator biplanes which had been discovered in crates and hurriedly assembled. The Gladiators, christened Faith, Hope and Charity, were matched against two hundred Italian aircraft based 60 miles (100km) north in Sicily. On the face of it there was surely no contest, but by forcing the enemy aircraft to bomb from a greater height, the three small Glosters more than earned their keep. The Maltese people no longer felt like a sitting target, and for three long weeks the Gladiators defended Malta’s airspace alone
In December 1940, the German air force moved into Sicily to support the Italians and with two hundred and fifty aircraft the combined Axis forces greatly outnumbered Malta’s aerial strike force. Meanwhile, German and Italian submarines maintained a relentless assault on the supply convoys.

Malta’s worst period of the war was in early 1942, when the air raids never ceased. In April alone, 6700 tons of bombs rained down on the island and on the 15th of that month a special message from the British kind, George VI, informed the people of Malta that they had collectively been awarded the George Cross for their unyielding bravery “…to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history.”

The Maltese minimized loss of life during the war by constructing air-raid shelters and relocating large numbers of the population from Valletta and Grand Harbour are to safer parts of the island. The old railway tunnel between Valletta and Floriana provided a sanctuary for many during the bombing raids and, as in medieval times, people sought shelter in Mdina. Some 35,000 buildings throughout the islands suffered damage or were destroyed during the war, 11,000 of them in April 1942, the worst month of bombing.
Ultimate control of the central Mediterranean hinged on supply lines and in the early months of 1942 the Allies suffered heavy shipping loses in the Malta-bound convoys. For much of the year the country’s civil and military population was reduced to near starvation levels, relying on communal feeding service and being forced to eat their diminishing animal stocks.

In the summer of 1942, Malta was in dire need of food and fuel to continue its struggle against the Axis powers. As the Maltese prayed to Santa Maria, who fest day was due on August 15, Britain sent a convoy of 14 merchant ships under armed escort. As the ships neared Malta they came under massive air and sea attack. Nine merchantmen were sunk, the five remaining included the tanker Ohio, with 11,000 ton of fuel critical to Malta’s survival. On August 13, four vessels limped into Grand Harbour. More prayers were offered to Santa Maria and on the morning of the 15th the Ohio reached Malta.

It took the Allied assault on Sicily in 1943 to effectively end Malta’s close involvement in the war. The island acted as a fighter base during the operation to capture Sicily’s airfields and once this had been achieved the Axis powers were unable to continue their harassment of shipping in the central Mediterranean. For Malta, three years of war had been intense. The islands had endured some of the most ruthless bombing of World War II and it was primarily because the buildings were of stone that huge sections of the towns were not destroyed in the air raids. Nearly 1500 Maltese civilians were killed in the air raids.
The clearing up operations lasted for years. Valletta’s bombed seaboard was still in rubble into the 1950’s and the rebuilding of town around Grand Harbour, now collectively known as the Three Cities, took nearly a decade.

Today there are many reminders of World War II in Malta. Among them, one can visit the Lascaris War Rooms in Valletta where the military operations were carried out. An animated commentary vividly evokes Operation Husky (the invasion of Sicily) and other pivotal events planned in these subterranean passages.

The National War Museum in Valletta is a small museum full of World War II items. There are black-painted Italian torpedo boats, “Faith” (the only surviving biplane of the trio that defended Malta, and the George Cross awarded to the Maltese people.

The three most bombed cities in Malta in World War II were Cospicua, Vittoriosa and Senglea. The Malta at War Museum in Vittoriosa shows a great deal of what happened at that time. Under a deluge of bombs dropped on the Three Cities, the residents cowered, sometimes for weeks on end, in a claustrophobic warren of underground tunnels and honeycombed rooms in the bedrock underneath the landward fortifications of Vittoriosa. Today these underground shelters have been furnished with period props and original artifacts-communal dormitories, private cubicles, birth room , warden’s office and an entire exhibition offering a fascinating and grim insight into wartime life in Malta. The museum screens a documentary about the Maltese resistance made in 1942 with the aim of bolstering the nation’s morale at the height of the German campaign to bomb Malta into surrender.


Ray Merriam said...

The weapon was called a butterfly bomb because of the way it looked when it opened after being dropped from an aircraft. The type of weapon is a cluster bomb, which comes from the fact that between 6 and 108 of these butterfly bombs were packed into containers that, when dropped from n aircraft, opened, distributing the individual "bomblets" over a wide area.

Angela said...

Very interesting and very informative post! I've never really read or have been told the whole story before so thank you for posting this. I've heard a few first hand accounts from my fiance's Nanna who lived there during the war but not in great detail. So thank you. I also read about the young boy finding the butterfly bomb in the Times of Malta online this past week. Scary but interesting that items such as these can still be found. But perhaps not too surprising considering how much Malta went through during the war.

Julie said...

very interesting post. hard to believe these are still around said...

I have seen documentaries on TV that have talked about how Malta never fell to the Axis powers during the war, which always amazed me given how close it is to Italy and its very strategic location in the Mediterranean. Your description of the war in Malta is very informative.

It is particularly fitting that you presented information from teh perspective of the impact on the civilian population, whereas military history accounts of the war too often dwell on the military tactics and do not give sufficient attention the war's impact on civilians.

Suki said...

It's very very scary to know that there might be war time bombs lying around in the countryside. That eleven year old boy should thank his lucky stars that he's still alive. BTW did you read the comments underneath this particular article in the Times? There were some interesting tales about other incidents.

Anonymous said...

wat to say malta home has went been thru hell in bk againts hitla and mussalini the italian gov, who will believe that england would rob her and betray her as well we fought for our selves we concord yes it cam down to eating our own pets and air born deseises from busted sewer pipes and rotting boddies malta was bombd and was ment to be destroyed for we are strong hearted and for ever live on

Anonymous said...

england robed malta off 3 plains and used to put on a parade every once and a while 2 show the maltese ppl that she is being garded but as soon as the parade was over the tea drinkers used to hope bk into there little boats and go bk to england and leave malta un protected

Anonymous said...

there are alot of bombs hiding away in the home time yet to be found we can thank the italians and the germans for that

Anonymous said...

My father,a Canadian seaman was in Malta during WW2,this summer I am coming to Malta and Gozo and am really looking forward to seeing some of the history he talked about.He said it is the most beautiful place in the world with the most beautiful people,I took his advice and am marrying a Maltese princess, see ya in August for the feast.

Charlie said...

You hear the Americans won the war, you hear the English won the war but what you don`t hear is where was the war won!!! We the Maltese fought alongside the brits and we appriciate each other for what we achieved, but then again Britain flatened Berlin and after the war helped the Germans rebuild their city were Malta was left in ruins, only for the brits to take the mick about our roads and for building back our island. In 1955 the intergration to the UK when England wanted to take and rule Malta like the airport and the dockyard and other places, and how many times i went swimming but at some area`s i use to have a machine gun on top of me and the soldier telling me i am not allowed in that area !!! Read and wheep at least i do knowing what our people went through and yet we still get lot of crap from the brits not all but why not be nice to all the Maltese like the Maltese are nice to all the brits, why do you think we are the warmest and nicest poeple in the world? Think about this very carefully and you find the truth in it.. we won the war for Britain.

I ma sorry if any brits or Americans are offended by this but that`s how i see it and i say it how it is.
Like Mr Dom Mintoff put it
You throw the H bomb or the A bomb or both at ones and we still don`t give you Malta

Regards to all that understand and have no anger towards all this

Charlie Galdes

Lizbet said...

I came across this site whilst searching for information regarding the Attard family, who were all but wiped out in the bombing in Luqa, 9th April, 1942. My mother-in-law was the only family member to survive on that day. She lost her mother, and 8 brothers and sisters, as well as some of her cousins. Her brother was "home for rest" from service on the guns at the Harbour. Though pulled out alive, he also perished. Carmela was returning from taking lunch to her father, a Policeman, who was on duty at the time. It was this errand that saved Carmela's life. As she returned to the shelter she looked up and was fascinated (as only a child could be!), by the sight of the bomb, spinning down towards them. The last memory she has, is her mother calling for her to "come down here". As she had not gotten any further than the entranceway, Carmela was protected from the effect of the bomb and the water gushing in from the nearby well, which had been destroyed in that disastrous moment in time.Those not killed by the bomb blast, were drowned by the water from the well. Carmela is now inher mid 80's and living in a nursing care home, here in Australia. She is wonderfully cared for by the Dominican Sisters of Malta. If anybody is able to add any information, or has documents, articles or photos, relating to this event, I would be pleased to hear from you.