- Anthony Rogers
- ARRSE Rating
- 4.5 Mushroom Heads
Following Italy's declaration of war in 1940, Malta, a crown colony since 1814, became a prime target for bombers of the Italian Air Force (Regia Aeronautica) based on Sicily. The small island group was a prime target as it provided the Royal Navy with a resupply port for continued strikes against Axis shipping.
To counter the threat of the bombers, there were 34 heavy anti-aircraft guns, 8 Bofors Light anti-aircraft guns plus a number of coastal guns as well as twenty-four searchlights. The RAF had a radio direction finder station (RDF). A second station was added in July 1940. The only fighter defence aircraft for the island were a number of dilapidated RN Gloster Gladiators, taken over by the RAF. Although it was reported that there were six Gladiators on Malta, there were only ever three that were air-worthy at any one time. They were christened Faith, Hope and Charity.
By the end of June 1941, aircraft carriers had ferried more than 200 Hurricanes to Malta which resulted in a sharp shift in air power towards the defenders. Coupled with a desire by the Germans to equip their air force in Russia, the Malta squadrons were only fighting the Italians. Despite the attention of Italian bombers on the British convoys to Malta, they were increasingly emboldened by a disheartened enemy and most convoys arrived unscathed. In March 1942, 15 Spitfire Mk VBs were flown in from HMS Eagle, and with it's greater speed and manouverability, was able to turn the tide of enemy fighters and bombers. In April 1942, King George visited the islands and announced "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".
In late April, allied reconnaissance aircraft reported what appeared to be a build up of forces and construction of three airfields on the island of Sicily. It was assumed they were to be used for the invasion of Malta (codenamed Herkules). Ultimately, they were not used as Hitler directed more troops towards the Russian front. The Afrikakorps would be fought to a standstill in the Northern African desert and the balance of power swung towards the allies. The threat of invasion was over but for the people of Malta, it remained until the war ended.
Rogers' uses a large number of black and white photos taken by those serving on Malta during the seige. He also uses quite a selection of before and after shots featuring colour pictures. The book is well presented and well-researched, with excellent captioning to the many photographs. Due to the nature of the siege, most of the pictures revolve around the planes and aircrew involved with few references to the military presence in the island. There is, however, a wealth of information for the modeller and historian, and I can envisage a "Maltese Diorama" or two in the next few months.
The book makes interesting reading as a stand alone volume or as a collection concerning the war in the Mediterranean. There are some interesting accounts from the bomb disposal teams, which may be of interest to certain site members. On one occasion, where an unexploded bomb was found; it was disposed of by simply rolling it over a cliff! Reports of the soaking the troops got when the bomb exploded are hilarious!
Sensibly laid out with an introduction and maps followed by eight chapters devoted mainly to the air war, followed by the artillery and PBI (Poor Bloody Infantry) and the the Convoys. Chapter Seven is titled "The most bombed place on earth" and looking at the pictures, one immediately gets the impression that it must have been a real hell hole. The final chapter has the coloured pictures and some rather poignant photos of military wreckage.
On the whole, this is a very enjoyable book, depicting the struggle against overwhelming odds to defend one's home and country. The author, Anthony Rogers, is obviously an expert in this area of WW2 and this becomes apparent with his sympathetic attitude towards all combatants and the manner in which he captions the photos. From a personal point of view I would have welcomed a bit more information regarding the troops on the island, but the book deals with the main opponents in the siege with the Army playing a supporting role.
As a historical study the book is excellent and it also has a good deal of information for the modeller.
I would rate this book as a 4.5 out of 5