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The first was Erwin Rommel. Due to Kesselring's pounding of the island the supply lines to North Africa had been secured. He was able to gain the ascendancy in North Africa once again.
Although Rommel believed Malta should be invaded, he insisted the conquest of Egypt and the Suez Canal, not Malta, was the priority.
The second was Hitler himself. After the Battle of Crete in May—June , Hitler was nervous about using paratroopers to invade the island since the Crete campaign had cost this arm heavy losses, and he started to procrastinate in making a decision.
Kesselring complained. Hitler proposed a compromise. He suggested that if the Egyptian border was reached once again in the coming months the fighting at the time was taking place in Libya , the Axis could invade in July or August when a full moon would provide ideal conditions for a landing.
Although frustrated, Kesselring was relieved the operation had seemingly been postponed rather than shelved. Before the Spitfires arrived, other attempts were made to reduce losses.
Lloyd had requested a highly experienced combat leader be sent and Turner's experience flying with Douglas Bader over Europe meant he was qualified to lead the unit.
All but one reached the island. By 21 April just 27 Spitfires were still airworthy, and by evening that had fallen to The overwhelming Axis bombardments had also substantially eroded Malta's offensive naval and air capabilities.
Often, three to five Italian bombers would fly very low over their targets and drop their bombs with precision, regardless of the RAF attacks and ground fire.
Along with the advantage in the air, the Germans soon discovered that British submarines were operating from Manoel Island , not Grand Harbour, and exploited their air superiority to eliminate the threat.
The base came under attack, the vessels had to spend most of their time submerged, and the surrounding residences where crews had enjoyed brief rest periods were abandoned.
Hitler's strategy of neutralising Malta by siege seemed to be working. The Germans lost aircraft in the operations. The Allies moved to increase the number of Spitfires on the island.
On 9 May, the Italians announced 37 Axis losses. On 10 May, the Axis lost 65 aircraft destroyed or damaged in large air battles over the island.
The Hurricanes were able to focus on the Axis bombers and dive-bombers at lower heights, while the Spitfires, with their superior rate of climb, engaged enemy aircraft at higher levels.
With such a force established, the RAF had the firepower to deal with any Axis attacks. By the spring of , the Axis air forces ranged against the island were at their maximum strength.
Bomber units included Junkers Ju 88s of II. After the battles of May and June, the air attacks were much reduced in August and September.
The island appeared to the Axis forces to be neutralised as a threat to their convoys. Rommel could now look forward to offensive operations with the support of the Luftwaffe in North Africa.
Even so, he was soon back in Egypt fighting at El Alamein. Despite the reduction in direct air pressure over Malta itself, the situation on the island was serious.
It was running out of all essential commodities, particularly food and water, as the bombing had crippled pumps and distribution pipes. Clothing was also hard to come by.
All livestock had been slaughtered, and the lack of leather meant people were forced to use curtains and used tyres to replace clothing and shoe soles.
Although the civilian population was enduring, the threat of starvation was very real. The move was designed to split Axis naval forces attempting to intervene.
Although he could afford this diversion, he could maintain a standing patrol of only four Spitfires over the convoy. If Axis aircraft attacked as they were withdrawing, they had to stay and fight.
Baling out if the pilots ran low on fuel was the only alternative to landing on Malta. The pilots had to hope that they would be picked up by the ships.
The losses of the convoy were heavy. Three destroyers and 11 merchant vessels were also sunk. They torpedoed and sank the heavy cruiser Trento and damaged the battleship Littorio.
A further 16 Malta-based pilots were lost in the operations. In August, the Operation Pedestal convoy brought vital relief to the besieged island, but at heavy cost.
It was attacked from the sea and from the air. Moreover, the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle , one cruiser and three destroyers were sunk by a combined effort from the Italian Navy, Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe.
Nevertheless, the operation though costly in lives and ships, was vital in bringing in much-needed war materials and supplies. Indeed, according to Sadkovich and others, to pretend that the air offensive against Malta had been a purely German affair is misleading.
The Italians must thus get some share of the credit for the destruction of British fighters on Malta, and the sinking of 23 of 82 merchantmen dispatched to the island.
But the RAF preferred to credit its losses to the Germans, even though the Italians flew more fighter missions over the island, had almost as many fighters on Sicily as the Germans in the whole Mediterranean in November , and seem to have been better pilots, losing one aircraft per 63 sorties, compared to a German loss rate of one per 42 sorties.
The surface fleets were not the only supply line to Malta. British submarines also made a substantial effort.
She could not go as deep or dive as quickly as the T- and U-class types, but she still made nine supply missions to Malta, which was more than any other vessel of its type.
The ability of the submarine to carry large loads enabled it to be of great value in the campaign to lift the siege. It was felt that a man with past experience of fighter defence operations was needed.
For some reason, the Air Staff did not choose to do this earlier, when the bombing ceased in , and the RAF forces on Malta became primarily fighter-armed while the principal aim changed to one of air defence.
Park arrived on 14 July by flying boat. He landed in the midst of a raid although Lloyd had specifically requested he circle the harbour until it had passed.
Lloyd met Park and admonished him for taking an unnecessary risk. Park had faced Kesselring before during the Battle of Britain. During that battle, Park had advocated sending small numbers of fighters into battle to meet the enemy.
There were three fundamental reasons for this. First, there would always be fighters in the air covering those on the ground if one did not send their entire force to engage at once.
Second, small numbers were quicker to position and easier to move around. Third, the preservation of his force was critical.
The fewer fighters he had in the air he advocated 16 at most , the smaller target the numerically superior enemy would have.
Over Malta, he reversed these tactics owing to changed circumstances. With plenty of Spitfires to operate, Park sought to intercept the enemy and break up his formations before the bombers reached the island.
Until this point, the Spitfires had fought defensively. They scrambled and headed south to gain height, then turned around to engage the enemy over the island.
Now, with improved radar and quicker take off times two to three minutes and improved air-sea rescue, more offensive action became possible. Using three squadrons, Park asked the first to engage the escorting fighters by 'bouncing them' out of the sun.
The second would strike at the close escort, or, if unescorted, the bombers themselves. The third was to attack the bombers head-on. His Forward Interception Plan , issued officially on 25 July , forced the Axis to abandon daylight raids within six days.
Kesselring responded by sending in fighter sweeps at even higher altitudes to gain the tactical advantage.
The methods would have great effect in October when Kesselring returned. While the RAF and Royal Navy defensive operations dominated for the most part, offensive strikes were still being carried out.
Axis forces in North Africa were denied around half of their supplies and two-thirds of their oil. The submarines of Simpson's 10th Flotilla were on patrol constantly, except for the period May—July , when Kesselring made a considerable effort against their bases.
Their success was not easy to achieve, given most of them were the slow U-class types. Supported by S- and T-class vessels, they dropped mines.
British submarine commanders became aces while operating from Malta. It was one of the few German tankers exporting oil from Romania.
The loss of the ship led Hitler to complain directly to Karl Dönitz , while comparing the Kriegsmarine unfavourably with the Royal Navy.
Dönitz argued that he did not have the resources to protect the convoy, though the escort of the ship exceeded that which the Allies could have afforded to give a large convoy in the Atlantic at that point in the war.
It was fortunate for Dönitz that Hitler did not probe the defence of the ship further. The submarine proved to be one of the most potent weapons in the British armoury when combating Axis convoys.
Simpson, and George Phillips, who replaced him on 23 January , had much success. The island base, HMS Talbot , supplied 1, torpedoes at that time.
Wing Commander Patrick Gibbs and 39 Squadron , flew their Beauforts against shipping and increased the pressure on Rommel by attacking his supply lines in September.
Rommel's position was now critical. He complained to the OKW that he was severely short of ammunition and fuel for offensive action.
The Axis organised a convoy to relieve the difficulties. Ultra intercepted the Axis communications, and Wellingtons of 69 Squadron confirmed the Axis operation was real.
Gibbs's Beauforts sank two ships and one of Simpson's submarines sank a third. Rommel still hoped another tanker, San Andreas , would deliver the 3, tons of fuel needed for the Battle of Alam el Halfa.
Rommel did not wait for it to dock, and launched the offensive before its arrival. The ship was sunk by an attack led by Gibbs.
The Beauforts were having a devastating impact on Axis fuel supplies which were now nearly used up. On 1 September, Rommel was forced to retreat.
Kesselring handed over Luftwaffe fuel, but this merely denied the German air units the means to protect the ground forces, thereby increasing the effectiveness of British air superiority over the frontline.
In August, Malta's strike forces had contributed to the Axis' difficulties in trying to force an advance into Egypt. Many of these supplies had to be brought in via Tripoli, many kilometres behind the battle front.
Two fuel-carrying ships were sunk, and another lost its cargo despite the crew managing to salvage the ship. As the British offensive at El Alamein began on 23 October , Ultra intelligence was gaining a clear picture of the desperate Axis fuel situation.
On 25 October, three tankers and one cargo ship carrying fuel and ammunition were sent under heavy air and sea escort, and were likely to be the last ships to reach Rommel while he was at El Alamein.
Ultra intelligence intercepted the planned convoy route, and alerted Malta's air units. The three fuel-carrying vessels were sunk by 28 October.
By August , Spitfires were on hand to defend Malta; were serviceable. Despite the success of Allied convoys in getting through, the month was as bad as any other, combining bombing with food shortages.
In response to the threat Malta was now posing to Axis supply lines, the Luftwaffe renewed its attacks on Malta in October RAF losses amounted to 23 Spitfires shot down and 20 crash-landed.
The British lost 12 pilots killed. It reported that the Angevin galleys were beached under the castle walls.
Roger moved his galleys into line abreast at the entrance to the harbor, silencing the guard boats in the process, and connected his ships together.
At about dawn he ordered a trumpet challenge to be sounded. His reason for doing this is not clear. Perhaps he wanted to show the bravery and boldness of his crews, or to prevent anyone from saying he couldn't have won if the enemy hadn't been asleep, but since he later attacked a sleeping enemy, it would seem that he did it to draw the Angevins out to his prepared position.
It would've been difficult for him to attack in the confines of the harbor, and he would've lost the element of surprise anyway. Also, beached galleys were almost impossible to defeat in close combat, as they could be continually reinforced from shore.
The Angevin crews rushed to launch their galleys, and they moved out in a disorganized manner. By the end of August, and after a series of costly attacks, Mustafa attempted to break through with siege towers, but each time the towers were destroyed.
As Mustafa settled in for a long siege, news arrived that a Christian relief force had landed on the north of the island. Mustafa retreated, but the forces clashed and less than half of the Ottoman force managed to board the boats.
The invasion had failed, and the Maltese received the admiration of Christian Europe and funds to build stronger defenses. For the Ottomans, this was their worst reversal in more than a century, and it gave Christian Europe hope that Turkish expansion could be halted.
Siege of Malta Article Additional Info. Print Cite. Facebook Twitter. Give Feedback External Websites. Let us know if you have suggestions to improve this article requires login.
External Websites. Tony Bunting Tony Bunting is a historian who has recently completed a research project at the University of Central Lancashire on the evolution of nineteenth-century British imperialism.
He was a contributor to The Knights, with approximately 2, footsoldiers and Maltese men, women, and children, withstood the siege and repelled the invaders.
This victory became one of the most celebrated events of sixteenth-century Europe, to the point that Voltaire said: "Nothing is better known than the siege of Malta.
The siege was the climax of an escalating contest between the Christian alliances and the Islamic Ottoman Empire for control of the Mediterranean, a contest that included the Turkish attack on Malta in , the Ottoman destruction of an allied Christian fleet at the Battle of Djerba in , and the decisive Battle of Lepanto in By the end of , Suleiman the Magnificent , the Ottoman Sultan, had forcibly ejected the Knights from their base on Rhodes after the six-month Siege of Rhodes.
From to the Order lacked a permanent home. Charles also required the Knights to garrison Tripoli on the North African coast, which was in territory that the Barbary Corsairs , allies of the Ottomans, controlled.
The Knights accepted the offer reluctantly. Malta was a small, desolate island, and for some time, many of the Knights clung to the dream of recapturing Rhodes.
Nevertheless, the Order soon turned Malta into a naval base. The island's position in the centre of the Mediterranean made it a strategically crucial gateway between East and West, especially as the Barbary Corsairs increased their forays into the western Mediterranean throughout the s and s.
In particular, the corsair Dragut was proving to be a major threat to the Christian nations of the central Mediterranean.
Dragut and the Knights were continually at loggerheads. In , Dragut and the Ottoman admiral Sinan decided to take Malta and invaded the island with a force of about 10, men.
After only a few days, however, Dragut broke off the siege and moved to the neighbouring island of Gozo, where he bombarded the Cittadella for several days.
The Knights' governor on Gozo, Gelatian de Sessa , having decided that resistance was futile, threw open the doors to the Cittadella.
The corsairs sacked the town and took virtually the entire population of Gozo approximately 5, people into captivity.
Dragut and Sinan then sailed south to Tripoli, where they soon seized the Knights' garrison there. They initially installed a local leader, Aga Morat , as governor, but subsequently Dragut himself took control of the area.
The two new forts were built in the remarkably short period of six months in All three forts proved crucial during the Great Siege. The next several years were relatively calm, although the guerre de course , or running battle , between Muslims and Christians continued unabated.
He continued his raids on non-Christian shipping, and his private vessels are known to have taken some 3, Muslim and Jewish slaves during his tenure as Grand Master.
By Dragut was causing the Christian powers such distress, even raiding the coasts of Spain, that Philip II organized the largest naval expedition in fifty years to evict the corsair from Tripoli.
The Knights joined the expedition, which consisted of about 54 galleys and 14, men. This ill-fated campaign climaxed in the Battle of Djerba in May , when Ottoman admiral Piyale Pasha surprised the Christian fleet off the Tunisian island of Djerba , capturing or sinking about half the Christian ships.
The battle was a disaster for the Christians and it marked the high point of Ottoman domination of the Mediterranean. After Djerba there could be little doubt that the Turks would eventually attack Malta again.
Malta was of immense strategic importance to the Ottoman long-term plan to conquer more of Europe, since Malta was a stepping stone to Sicily , and Sicily in turn could be a base for an invasion of the Kingdom of Naples.
Meanwhile, the Spaniards continued to prey on Turkish shipping. In mid, Romegas , the Order's most notorious seafarer, captured several large merchantmen, including one that belonged to the Chief Eunuch of the Seraglio , and took numerous high-ranking prisoners, including the governor of Cairo, the governor of Alexandria, and the former nurse of Sultan Suleiman's daughter.
Romegas' exploits gave the Turks a casus belli , and by the end of , Suleiman had resolved to wipe the Knights of Malta off the face of the earth.
By early , Grand Master de Valette's network of spies in Constantinople had informed him that the invasion was imminent. The Turkish armada, which set sail from Constantinople on 22 March, was by all accounts one of the largest assembled since antiquity.
According to one of the earliest and most complete histories of the siege, that of the Order's official historian Giacomo Bosio , the fleet consisted of vessels, which included galleys , seven galliots small galleys , and four galleasses large galleys , the remainder being transport vessels, etc.
The Italian mercenary Francisco Balbi di Correggio , serving as an arquebusier in the Spanish corps , gave the forces as: .
The Knight Hipolito Sans, in a lesser-known account, also lists about 48, invaders, although it is not clear how independent his work is from Balbi's.
In a letter written to Philip II only four days after the siege began, de Valette himself says that "the number of soldiers that will make land is between 15, and 16,, including seven thousand arquebusiers or more, that is four thousand janissaries and three thousand sipahis.
Indeed, a letter written during the siege by the liaison with Sicily, Captain Vincenzo Anastagi , states the enemy force was only 22, and several other letters of the time give similar numbers.
Before the Turks arrived, de Valette ordered the harvesting of all the crops, including unripened grain, to deprive the enemy of any local food supplies.
Furthermore, the Knights poisoned all wells with bitter herbs and dead animals. The Turkish armada arrived at dawn on Friday, 18 May, but did not at once make land.
Piyale wished to shelter it at Marsamxett Harbour , just north of the Grand Harbour, in order to avoid the sirocco and be nearer the action, but Mustafa disagreed, because to anchor the fleet there would require first reducing Fort St.
Elmo, which guarded the entrance to the harbour. Mustafa intended, according to these accounts, to attack the poorly defended former capital Mdina , which stood in the centre of the island, then attack Forts St.
Angelo and Michael by land. If so, an attack on Fort St. Elmo would have been entirely unnecessary. Nevertheless, Mustafa relented, apparently believing only a few days would be necessary to destroy St.
After the Turks were able to emplace their guns, at the end of May they commenced a bombardment. It certainly seems true that Suleiman had seriously blundered in splitting the command three ways.