Written by George Fabri, a correspondent of The War Illustrated in Malta, this article tells of the ordeal to which the gallant Maltese nation has been, and is still being, subjected to at the hands of the enemy air forces.
The Nazi "good morning" to the little island of Malta is in the form of a reconnaissance plane, crossing the island at a "safe" height, out of range of the A.A. deadly fire. (Not very long ago both German and Italian radio stations credited Malta with being provided with a system of "new, heavy and secret anti-aircraft defences.") A few minutes later a raiding force of Junkers 88 dive-bombers, heavily escorted by Me.109s, approach the Fortress Island, to be followed through the day by as many as seventeen raids.
Target No. 1 is, undoubtedly, the big airfield in the heart of the island. In the course of a single day as many as ten or more raids are directed against it. Target No. 2 is another aerodrome, not so large or important as No. 1. Target No. 3 is the harbour area. This last target receives extra attention from the Nazi Air Force when a movement of shipping is apparent.
By the day the Luftwaffe attacks in raiding force, varying from three to five planes. The average is 5 Ju. 88s with, say, twice that number of yellow-nosed Me.109 fighter escort. If the sky is cloudy the Luftwaffe has a good shield to cover its movement. Flying at a great height, they keep crossing the island at half-hourly intervals, searching for gaps in the clouds through which to jettison their bombs. These tip and run raids, aimed with little precision and frustrated by the intense A.A. barrage, cause negligible damage, because a very high percentage of the bombs fall harmlessly into the sea or in the soil. Occasionally bomb-carrying Me. 109s swoop from a great height and let go their bombs. The general rule, though, is for these bomb-carrying fighters to stay in the region of 15,00 ft. and carry out high-level bombing.
On cloudless days the Luftwaffe's activity against Malta relatively diminishes, because of an insufficiency of cloud cover and the fear of the rough manhandling they will receive from the hands of the Hurricane patrolling squadrons.
The early morning reconnaissance plane sees to it that he does not go too deeply into the island. He entertains a healthy respect for our Hurricanes and A.A. fire. Dive-bombing is generally carried out on these fine, cloudless days. The Luftwaffe contents itself with a few determined dive-bombings directed mainly against the harbours and Target No. 1. One thing, however, is worth noting in these raids: dive-bombing as it is carried out today by Nazi pilots falls very short and does not stand comparison with what the Luftwaffe used to do a year ago.
At night the Nazi planes cross the island singly or in very small groups. Searchlights probe the sky for them, and very often succeed in illuminating the night raiders. When conditions permit, Hurricanes, night fighters, generally piloted by D.F.C.'s, patrol the skies over Malta. A problem which is not always realized is the difficulty the night-fighter pilot encounters in intercepting the incoming enemy raider. The smallness of the island, 17 miles by 9, favours the raider who, on seeing that things are getting pretty hot, can easily evade the night fighter and make out to sea without fear of any possible interception. The Nazi pilot knows that the British night fighters' fire is accurate and deadly, and he therefore refrains from crossing the island too many times, contenting himself with going round and round the island out of range of the searchlights. When the Nazi night blitzer finds out that he has to deal only with the A.A.s he becomes bolder. He stays for stretches of time, until he is relieved by another plane, generally a Ju.88 or Heinkel 111.
Considering the weight of the bombs daily dropped on Malta military damage is very small, though civilian damage is very great.
One day last spring a crime equal to the destruction of Rotterdam, Belgrade and Warsaw was entered in the "Crimes Book" of the Axis - when 300 of Kesselring's bombers strove to destroy the old and beautiful city of Valetta, the city built by Grand Master Jean de La Valette, the city built "by gentlemen for gentlemen," a veritable treasure-house of history and antiquity. In the sunny, cloudless afternoon the bombers made a deliberate, devastating, devilish attack. All those monuments, which took tens and even hundreds of years to build, were destroyed by the Luftwaffe in a few minutes. As the pall of dust and smoke slowly lifted, Valetta, the fair and proud city, showed to all its children the gaping wounds inflicted upon her by a merciless enemy. Among the irreplaceable losses are many a stately "Auberge" of the Knights, and Banqueting Hall and the Staircase of the Palace, and the Opera House. The people were stunned to witness such destruction; but they were still Maltese, who had inherited from their fathers that iron will to carry on, with bulldog tenacity, and never to stop fighting until victory was assured. Feeling the greatest sorrow for their devastated city, the filled every wall with the exhortation to "Bomb Rome." Valetta is as dear to us as Rome is to the Italians. A consoling element amid this destruction was that casualties numbered less than ten.
His Majesty the King, conscious of the island's full contribution towards the war effort, and informed of the terrible ordeal Malta was passing through, graciously awarded the George Cross to Malta - a singular honour, never given before to any community in the British Empire. The following is the text of the telegram received by his Excellency, General Sir William Dobbie, Governor and C.-in-C., Malta, from the Secretary of State for the Colonies,
"I have it in command from the King to convey to you the following message:-
"'To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the island fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history. -GEORGE R.I.'"
Words cannot express the satisfaction and pride felt by every Maltese and Serviceman as he heard of the King's most gracious award to the island. Faces brightened as the news was read over the B.B.C. The Daily Times of Malta, which displayed the welcome announcement, together with a photograph of his Majesty, was eagerly bought. Raids, bombs, and barrages were all forgotten. Malta was feeling very happy.
Far from damping their spirits, the 24-hour offensive against the British fortress in the Central Mediterranean has aroused in the Maltese nation a determination to carry on, unflinchingly and undaunted, with their usual jobs, and has kindled in their hearts an "offensive" spirit to carry the war to the enemy's door.