ISLAND OF MALTA
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 06/1940 - 10/1942
Malta was subjected to 3,215 air raid warnings - an average of one every 7 hours for 2 and a half years between June 1940 and October 1942. Some 14,000 tons of bombs were dropped on the island, killing 1,468 civilians, destroying or damaging 24,000 buildings and 1,129 aircraft. The battle began on 10th June 1940, the defence of Malta resting on three Gloster Gladiator biplanes known as Faith, Hope and Charity. For three weeks they took on the full weight of the Italian Air Force. However, at the end of June 4 Hurricanes arrived to bolster the defences, to face nearly 200 enemy aircraft. Over the next two years HMS Argus and HMS Illustrious were involved in the defence of Malta.
On Friday, March 23rd, three ships of Convoy MW 10 had arrived at Malta from Alexandria after a bitter naval battle against superior Italian naval forces and Axis aircraft sorties. The Luftwaffe did not target the ships in force on Saturday because of very bad weather and the work of unloading the ships started but was halted on Sunday on the orders of the Governor who was a very religious person. But the Luftwaffe attacked in waves on Monday and the ships were sunk and the cargoes lost. The three services chiefs and the lieutenant-governor were furious at the governor and they petitioned the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, to replace him as “a tired man”. Churchill recalled General Lord Gort from Governor of Gibraltar to take over from Dobbie and to assess the situation, even to consider the surrender of Malta.
On 15th April 1942, the King announced the George Cross for the island. The award was a personal gesture of the King and not a decision of the British government. It was announced by Buckingham Palace with the publication of a citation written in the King’s hand in the form of a letter sent the Governor, General Sir William Dobbie.
It said: “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.” The award of the George Cross to Malta was never been officially published in the London Gazette. The George Cross medal was handed to the new Governor who carried it to Malta in his pocket on the flight to the island in a Sunderland flying-boat. It landed at Kalafrana at night on May 7th during a raid on the RAF base when some members of the welcoming party were injured.
The George Cross was formally presented to the people and garrison at a ceremony on the Palace Square in Valletta on September 13 later in the year when the raids had declined in intensity. The final raid on the island was on 11th October 1942. The medal had been displayed in turn at each town and village in Malta and in Gozo. After the war it was displayed annually on the Palace Square on the anniversary of the award until 1971 when a Labour Government led by Dom Mintoff, in a bitter dispute with the British government and reflecting the mood of its leader, withdrew it from view altogether.
There were threats that the George Cross, kept at the public library in Valletta, would be stolen and the Director of Museums F. X. Mallia, voiced his concern while on a visit to London to his friend, George Dougall, who had been broadcasting from the BBC a weekly programme called Maltese Miscellany. He took Mr Mallia to the medallist firm of Spink and they bought a replica which was displayed instead of the original. The medal is now displayed at the National War Museum, Fort Elmo, Valletta.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NATIONAL WAR MUSEUM, VALLETTA, MALTA.
Malta's George Cross on display at National War Museum, Valletta