The Battle for Malta (2013) Movie Script

An island of ancient legend
and warrior knights.
A link between Europe and North Africa.
And, in 1940, a pivotal British
base in the Mediterranean.
For two years during the Second World War,
the people of the island were
forced underground in terror
as the Axis powers unleashed on them
one of the greatest aerial
bombardments in history.
If Malta fell, the British feared,
then so would North Africa, the Suez Canal
and the oilfields of the Middle East.
The King himself recognised the suffering,
awarding the entire
island the George Cross.
The tale is ingrained
in the island's legend,
but Malta's story is more than its siege.
This was a desperate fight for life
won by the narrowest of margins.
A fight for the seas, a
struggle for the skies,
the battle for Malta itself.
Looking out over the
peaceful harbours today,
it's almost impossible to imagine
that, during the war,
this was hell on earth.
The battle for Malta was
one of the most vicious
of the Second World War.
Malta is just 17 miles long,
but it endured a concentrated
attack so violent
it became the most bombed place on earth.
This may seem out of all
proportion to the island's size,
but it underlined its crucial importance,
for this tiny piece of rock
in the middle of the sea
held the key to the entire
war in the Mediterranean.
And it all started with a speech in Rome.
When Italian dictator Benito
Mussolini declared war on Britain,
it meant war for Malta, too.
Malta had been British since 1814,
home to the Mediterranean Fleet
and an important base in Britain's
Empire across the seas.
But it was now vulnerable
to Italian ambition.
You don't have to travel
very far out from Malta
to realise how isolated this place was.
The nearest British port
was Alexandria in Egypt,
820 miles away to the east.
To the west, you have to
travel 990 miles to Gibraltar.
But 60 miles to the north, and
swarming with enemy aircraft,
lay Sicily, just 15 minutes'
flying time from Malta.
For Mussolini, the island
was an obvious target,
one he believed was ripe for the taking.
When the bombs started coming down,
the first reaction was terror.
Italy and Malta shared a close bond,
but overnight they were at war.
What we call the rude awakening
of the 11th of June.
Eight sorties in a day.
15 civilians casualties, over 200 wounded.
Our brothers, the Italians,
did not take care of what
was being said in Malta.
They just bombed us and killed us.
Malta held great value to the British,
but the first priority was
saving her own shores.
By 10th June 1940, the Nazis
had swept across Europe
and pushed the defeated British
Army back to the Channel coast.
No wonder Mussolini was confident.
France was about to fall,
and it looked like Great
Britain would be next.
Peter Caddick-Adams
is a lecturer in military history
at Cranfield University.
He believes Italy was gambling
on Britain's exit from the war.
The timing is key.
What Mussolini is doing is jumping
on the coat-tails of Germany.
He wouldn't dare do anything
against Britain before,
but now it looks as though
Britain is about to be swamped
by the German war machine,
and all of a sudden Malta finds
itself on the front line.
And Malta's role will be important.
Mussolini had dreamed
of creating a new Rome.
Malta would cement the link between
Italy and his empire in Africa.
And with Britain out of the war,
it would be the easy prize it needed to be.
The thing to remember with
Mussolini's declaration of war
is it takes the Italian
military by surprise,
as well as the rest of the world.
The Italians are not geared up
to fight any kind of a war
in any shape or form.
In the First World War, Italy
had lost a huge number of men.
It had completely destroyed the
nation's love of war-making,
any kind of enthusiasm
for military adventures.
While Mussolini waited for
the British surrender,
his bombers still flew over.
Anne Agius Ferrante was 16 in 1940
and remembers those early attacks well.
At first we were frightened.
We got very used to the bombing,
because for the first
few months of the war,
when the Italians were bombing us,
they had absolutely no idea where to bomb.
They were much happier to...
to put the bombs in the sea and go home.
As a matter of fact,
there was a caricature in the paper
saying, "Corraggio, fuggiamo. "
"Courage, let's run away. "
By the autumn, the island
was still in British hands.
Il Duce's gamble had failed.
Italy's bombing campaign had
been spectacularly ineffective,
even though in June 1940 Malta
had been left under-defended.
Mussolini had assumed the
British would roll over,
but they'd fought on,
winning the Battle of Britain
in their own shores.
Now, with every week, more guns
and more aircraft were arriving.
For Italy, the opportunity to take
the island quickly had slipped away.
Mussolini had missed his chance.
Italy's inability to take Malta quickly
had allowed the British to rearm.
Mussolini also overreached in Africa.
The situation had reversed.
Italy now faced defeat and
had only one place to turn.
One man's blunder had brought a
new player to the Mediterranean -
In December 1940, Hitler sent
Fliegerkorps X to Sicily.
Their impact was immediate.
When the Italians used to come,
they used to drop the bombs
and then go away, but not the Germans.
The Germans used to make sure
that they dive on the place that they want,
and they never used to
come in threes and fives.
They used to come in big rows.
Meme Turner was a 19-year-old nurse
working at Imtarfa Military Hospital.
We used to watch them right from our mess,
coming over the Grand Harbour, rows of ten,
and they used to come right
down, boom-boom-boom.
They'd do it and off they'd go,
and then the other lot comes.
Concentration of force had been
key to German success in the war.
With the Luftwaffe over
Malta, nowhere was safe.
This place may have been
designed as a military hospital,
but no-one had ever imagined that
it would come directly under fire.
Like much of the island, this
hospital was now on the front line.
Malta was now dependent on convoys
from Alexandria and Gibraltar,
convoys the Luftwaffe had to stop.
While Britain was trying to supply Malta,
Germany was about to follow
Italy into North Africa
and had to protect troops being sent there.
It was becoming clear
the war in North Africa would
be a battle of logistics
and that Malta was at the crux.
In January 1941, the Luftwaffe
attacked a convoy to the island.
Badly damaged,
the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious
steamed to Malta for urgent repairs.
From the blitz of the Illustrious,
it really bombed the
engine room quite direct,
and that's where the fire starts.
And so many that died come in to hospital
or as soon as they got into the bed.
And we always used to remember -
lie a Union Jack over them
to take them down to the mortuary.
We were in the next berth to Illustrious
when, um... she was bombed
pretty heavily.
We watched these aeroplanes come in
and saw the bombs coming
down over our heads,
and all we had was a little Lewis Gun,
which wasn't much good.
We knew they were aiming at Illustrious,
but we knew that some
might miss Illustrious
and, um... come fairly close to us.
Lots of things were hammering away,
but the Stukas got through all right.
The Luftwaffe struck hard,
but Illustrious had been well
protected by British reinforcements.
Six months in, Malta's anti-aircraft
guns were formidable.
With Britain now safe from invasion,
Malta continued to be rearmed.
Among the reinforcements was
Battle of Britain ace Tom Neil,
leading a flight of
Hurricanes from Gibraltar.
Following a guide from an aircraft carrier,
but still over water, fuel was running low.
We'd been going for almost six hours,
and I said to the bloke in front,
"If you don't get us down within ten
minutes, we're all in the water. "
And then, magically,
Malta appeared by my left elbow.
It suddenly appeared out of the cloud.
And as we crossed the cliffs,
all the ack-ack guns began to fire at us.
But I didn't give a damn,
I just wanted to get my
wheels on the ground.
And as I approached Luqa,
suddenly the airfield erupted.
Aircraft were bombed and burst into flames,
and for the first time I looked up,
and above me were 50,
60, 70 Germans bombing.
They knew what we were
doing long before we did.
We landed eventually, the air
raid was still in progress.
Aircraft were burning
all the way around us.
And then a man appeared, smoking a pipe.
And he came, and he jumped
on board my aircraft.
He said, "There's an air raid on!"
I said, "I know it, mate I've
just landed in the middle of it. "
With Malta's defenders
still greatly outnumbered,
new pilots were thrown
straight into the action.
We'd been there about 20 minutes
when three Germans appeared over the hill
and wrote off what was
left of the squadron.
And before we'd even taken off,
we were reduced to impotence
with three aeroplanes.
And quarter of an hour
later, I was scrambled.
I remember climbing up
above Malta, thinking,
"What on earth has happened to us?"
The infrastructure of the island
was being reduced to rubble.
Thousands lost their homes.
Electricity and water mains were damaged,
and distribution of goods became harder.
These events were recorded each
day by the Times of Malta.
It was run by Mabel Strickland.
We publish seven days a week.
And by the way, tremendous
credit goes to the newsboys.
It would have been useless to have printed
if we hadn't been able to distribute.
Were your printing machines underground?
No, that wasn't possible,
but they were sited around a deep
shelter my father had prepared.
Despite huge bomb damage,
the Times was printed on every
single day of the siege.
Each edition is kept here, at the
National Library in Valletta.
On Friday 10th April,
there's a piece about the
problems facing the island
and distribution of food and so on
and how they're proposing to tackle them.
And it's interesting,
because it reassures them
that that it's the breakdown of
communication that's the problem,
not the shortage of food.
'These editions also give an
insight into the public mood. '
There's a lovely advert
on the back page of the
Thursday June 12th 1941 edition
by CH Bernard and Sons,
who are military tailors.
And it says, "We were blasted well out.
"But we have blasted well started again. "
Nobody escaped the hardship.
Margaret Crawford had
remained on the island
while her father served with the Navy.
One snatched food when you
could, and water, of course.
The shortage of water was a terrible thing.
You had a bucket of water,
which had to do everything for the day.
And do you remember reading
the Times of Malta?
Oh, yes.
- We couldn't do without the Times of Malta.
- Yes!
- I know.
- It...
- It was used for everything!
- Yeah, I...
- Not only reading!
- Yes.
Although the suffering was
shared, for Anne Agius Ferrante,
there was a marked divide
between British and Maltese.
My father was really
very fond of the British
but disapproved certain things,
like us girls during the war
going a bit wild with the...
.. RAF and others.
But there was this colonialism,
and we were treated as colonials.
But there was no ill feeling as such.
It was just that they
felt we were inferior,
rather than that we were no good.
But as historian Simon Cozens has found,
it's a sentiment that could cut both ways.
This is a diary for the whole of 1941.
This belonged to a Maltese
civilian who lived in Sliema.
"25th of October 1941.
"Today is the worst day of my life.
"At noon, Italian planes
bombed a petrol dump
"which blazed fiercely indeed.
"In the afternoon,
"we discovered that Gemma
"has been carrying on with an airman.
"With the atrocious name of Clive!
"She told us a packet of lies
"and has indeed disgraced us. "
The relationship between
the Maltese and British
may have been uneasy at times,
but most accepted they were
fighting for a common cause.
In a very real sense, they
were all in it together.
But each had their own set of problems.
Malta was a very difficult
place to fly from,
because the island itself was just
a series of very small fields
with rock barriers everywhere.
And if you had an engine failure in
Malta, you usually killed yourself,
because flying into a rock barrier,
er... the aircraft burst into flames.
But one of our great problems was
the aircraft weren't up to it,
and a lot of people were killed
as a result of engine failures.
Britain regarded Malta as a base
from which to attack Axis shipping.
It meant her defenders were neglected
in favour of strike forces.
This is the lazaretto on Manoel Island.
During the war it was home
to the 10th Flotilla,
Malta's submarine force.
Although never more than 12 submarines,
they sank half a million tonnes of
Axis shipping in just 18 months.
Tubby Crawford was second-in-command
of Britain's most successful submarine,
HMS Upholder.
Well, at that stage, it wasn't too bad.
Food and drink were there.
Each submarine had a cabin area,
the captain had his own cabin.
There was a big veranda
all round the lazaretto,
where armchairs and things were available
so you could relax out there.
At the lazaretto, the submariners
lived in some comfort,
a necessity for morale after the
appalling conditions at sea.
Operating on Malta was an intensely
claustrophobic experience.
You're on a tiny island
with no chance of escape,
being bombed to hell day in, day out.
But imagine being on a submarine,
which is even more cramped.
Whatever they were feeling on the island,
it was a hundred times
worse for the submariners.
Well, they are very cramped,
and the ship's company
live amongst the torpedoes
up in the front end.
We all got a bit stinky, so you
didn't notice it, you know!
The people, when you come ashore,
say you can't mistake the smell
diesel and everything else.
Malta is just a rock
sticking out of the sea.
It was a ghastly place for us.
The food was dreadful!
Everybody had Malta dog, or diarrhoea,
which used to produce
the most ghastly smell.
The fleas abounded,
mosquitoes bit us to death.
It was a very unpleasant place to be.
Unpleasant, but with the Axis
gaining in North Africa,
Malta had never been more important.
We knew very well
that we had to stop these
convoys getting over to Rommel
to help our army...
.. which is, er... the whole
purpose of being there, really.
General Erwin Rommel commanded
the Axis army in North Africa.
By mid-1941, he needed 70,000
tonnes of supplies each month,
nearly all shipped across
the Mediterranean.
Malta's submariners had
yet to make much impact,
but that was about to change.
In May, HMS Upholder,
led by Lieutenant Commander David Wanklyn,
was heading back to Malta
when Crawford spied an Axis
convoy on the horizon.
I was actually on watch
when we sighted her.
Our listening gear was out of action,
we had two torpedoes left,
it was just getting dark.
And I spotted a couple of shapes,
so I called Wanklyn into the control room,
and the attack started.
He just says, "Take her down,"
and so then up to the First Lieutenant
and the crew to carry the order out.
It stayed quiet,
except for the navigating officer
saying the speed for the enemy.
Orders to the planes went
from the First Lieutenant.
Speed, telegraphman.
They finally got off the two torpedoes.
We managed to hit with the two torpedoes,
and down she went.
And we went down as well,
to try and get clear.
Well, we knew we'd hit something,
we did hear a grating noise,
and it sounded almost like a
wire scraping down the side
of the submarine, and someone just
said, "Oh, that's all right. "
"That's the Conte Rosso
breaking up as she goes down. "
We had quite a heavy
depth-charging after that.
But you never know how
long it's going to take.
Meantime, you're all sort of
trying to zigzag and creep away.
It is frightening, yes.
It does shake, and some lights go out,
and you can hear the propellers
of the destroyers up top.
And as you hear the
thrashing of the propeller,
as it gets louder and louder,
you know, everybody starts crouching,
and wondering when the
crash is going to come.
But there you are. You've
just got to wait for it.
And, finally, you throw them off.
In the battle for supplies, Rommel
felt the loss of every ship keenly.
Particularly because the Axis
was struggling to replace them.
This made the loss of the enormous
Conte Rosso a particular blow.
For Malta, it marked a
turning point in fortunes.
Submarines and aircraft
operating from the island
savaged Rommel supply lines,
and the Luftwaffe also departed.
Pressure had been lifted.
For months, the Maltese had
been driven underground,
into shelters cut into the rock,
but in the summer of 1941, the
bombing suddenly lessened,
as the Luftwaffe left Sicily
for the invasion of Russia.
The relief was huge, and life
improved, but it wasn't to last.
As the Russian winter brought a
freeze to the campaign in the east,
so Hitler turned once more to
the war here in the south.
The Luftwaffe had returned.
They come back to the Mediterranean,
and under Albert Kesselring's command,
Malta starts to take a beating
from his Luftwaffe squadrons.
And I think what's happening here
is that Kesselring has commanded an
air fleet in the Battle of Britain.
He is now back in the Mediterranean
with a miniature version
of the United Kingdom,
and what he wants to do
is return to his tactics
in the Battle of Britain,
but get it right this time,
using Malta as the punchbag,
and so what he's going to do
is grind Malta into the dust
with a huge bombing campaign
as a prelude to invasion.
A witness to the return of the
Luftwaffe was John Mizzi.
He lived in Birkirkara, in
the centre of the island.
They used to come in the
morning at breakfast.
You knew that from between eight
and nine they would come out.
They used to come at noon
until 1:30, you had an air raid.
Then they used to come at four
in the evening, five, six,
perhaps, so you could regulate your day.
We knew we were going to be beaten to
pieces, because they now had 109F's -
a more up-to-date model of the 109-
and they were patrolling Malta
as though it was their own base.
And eventually, we got to
the stage that the pilots
had no aeroplanes to fly, and we
were used as aircraft spotters.
So many people were lost unnecessarily.
Golden people, shot down.
And also as a result of aircraft failure.
We used to complain every day, all day.
The people who were leading us didn't
really know what was happening.
We were flying stuff we
should never have flown,
we weren't reinforced in the
manner that we should have been,
and our Air Marshal was
concentrating on other things.
Commanding the RAF on Malta was Air
Vice-Marshal Hugh Pughe Lloyd.
With a background in bombers,
he'd shown little understanding
of fighter tactics.
Tom Neal was confronted by Lloyd
after yet another pilot had been shot down.
He stood in front of me, and put his
face very close to mine and said,
"You know, Neal, it isn't the
aircraft, it's the man. "
And I must confess that, on
that particular occasion...
.. I came very close to
striking a senior officer.
Complacency was to blame for the
continued use of obsolete aircraft.
This was a result of
indifferent leadership.
There had been the chance to
build up a new fighter force
that hadn't been taken.
And it was the Maltese people
that were going to pay dearly.
"27th December, 1941. Mother found
a cannon shell in the terrace. "
"At about 8:30 PM, we saw
a German bomber crash
"and burn in the sea off Dragonara. "
"It was the most glorious show ever. "
This is New Year's Eve.
"Night raids started at
7:30 PM to last all night. "
"Awful ending for 1941."
And what's incredible about
that is that we know
it's only going to get a whole load worse.
Rommel was losing ground in North Africa,
as Malta's forces sank nearly
80% of all Axis convoys.
Subduing Malta was now a priority.
If you're here on the ground,
there's no doubt conditions were brutal,
but the truth is, up to this
point, Malta had got off lightly.
The Italians had failed to invade
when Malta had been defensively vulnerable,
and the Germans had never fully
focused on dealing with the island.
At the dawn of 1942, everything changed.
As Malta's strikeforces cut
increasing amounts of shipping,
so Axis forces in North
Africa began to suffer.
Germany realised that solving the
problem in Malta was the key
to winning in the Mediterranean.
Field Marshal Kesselring was
convinced that this meant invasion.
"In order to produce a safe
connection route from Italy
"to North Africa, the capture of
Malta is an absolute requirement. "
All that stood in his way was a
weak and inferior air defence.
"German fighters are fundamentally
superior to British fighters. "
"It is primarily important to crush
the enemy air force on the ground
"and in the air through
ongoing incessant attacks
"by bomber and fighter
planes, day and night. "
"Signed, Field Marshal Kesselring. "
When Kesselring had written
his report, he'd been right.
The Hurricanes were inferior.
Despite better planes being
available back in Britain,
the defenders of Malta
were still flying aircraft
that were underpowered and underarmed.
Malta's war leaders had been
slow to demand better fighters,
but Britain had now woken up
to the strategic importance
of the island's position.
Finally, in March 1942 came the
reassuring sound of an aircraft
that was more than a match for
the German and Italian fighters.
I was on the roof one morning,
and the next thing I saw
was two aircraft speeding
up right above our heads
and doing the victory roll.
And I recognised that they were Spitfires.
The cannon-armed Spitfire
had finally arrived.
It was a huge morale
boost for the islanders.
It wasn't just the fighter pilots
that were eagerly awaiting
the arrival of the Spitfires.
So, too, it seems was The Times of
Malta, who report with great glee
that Spitfires had gone into
action for the first time.
And then the very next day, March 12th,
"Spitfires over Malta. Their first kill. "
It says, "Spitfires engaging. "
"These dramatic two words
that have chilled the hearts
"of many German pilots
again made history today. "
"For the first time since the war
began, Spitfires were in battle
"over this tiny island fortress
in the central Mediterranean,"
"and they met with success
in their first engagement. "
It was an encouraging start,
but had it come too late?
Many more would be needed
to make a decisive impact.
On Sicily, Kesselring had more than 800
German and Italian
aircraft at his disposal.
Malta had 80 fighters.
When the Germans started
coming, they meant business.
And there were bombs, bombs and bombs.
With these raids, there were times
when we just couldn't breathe in between.
There were always raids, raids, raids.
But the thing was that we
had to carry on our work.
We still had to go to the
hospital to carry on work.
With much of the Mediterranean
now in Axis hands,
reaching the island was becoming
increasingly difficult.
By 1942, the situation got
desperate, extremely desperate.
Convoys were being sent, and
not much coming into Malta,
and seeing the ships coming
into harbour, convoys,
hearing of convoys coming
in and not making it.
And the great loss of life
and shipping, you name it.
That was really sounding ugly and
looking ugly and feeling ugly.
By the spring of 1942, Malta's
port facilities had been wrecked.
The island's infrastructure
was largely destroyed.
And it was now that strong
leadership was most needed.
As the battle of Malta intensified,
so the demands on her war
leaders became greater.
What had been adequate before
was now found wanting,
as the islanders discovered to their cost.
'In March, a four-ship convoy
was sent from Alexandria.
'It was the first attempted
since December. '
We always knew the convoys were
coming, because the Italians
always reported the early attacks
on them, so we knew that.
It's hard to express just how much
Malta needed the March convoy
to be a success, so when three
out of four ships reached
the island safely, the relief was immense.
But getting here was only half the job.
Incredibly, no extra hands were brought in
to help with the unloading.
Not one serviceman, and despite
low cloud preventing enemy raids,
for two whole nights, no
unloading took place at all.
When the skies cleared,
the Luftwaffe returned
and sank all three ships in harbour.
Of the 26,000 tonnes of precious
cargo, only 5,000 were salvaged.
It was nothing short of a disgrace.
The lost cargo was entirely
down to poor planning.
In failing to prepare for
the unloading of the ships,
Malta's war leadership
had failed the people.
It had directly contributed
to their mounting misery.
During the heavy, heavy
bombing, we had nothing.
We didn't dare go out
during the heavy bombing.
When there was nothing to eat,
the farmers were frightened to go to work,
the fishermen were
frightened to go out to sea,
because they use to machine-gun them.
So when the convoy didn't come in,
there was no food on the island.
If you had the money,
there was nothing to buy.
It was tough after the March convoy,
because more rationing was enforced.
But one didn't really
think about it, you know.
One got used to hunger, too.
We carried on above ground,
between the raids.
We ran like rabbits down into the shelters
if the bombers were too near.
Then the dockyard grimly moved
underground, into the living rock.
Soft, yellow limestone rock,
that trembles and vibrates under
direct hits, but doesn't yield.
Malta had been neutralised.
The island was on its
knees, gasping for life.
Above ground, the RAF was engaged
in one of its biggest ever aerial clashes.
The only time I'd been in the public
shelter was a terrible experience,
really, because it was a big
shelter under Valletta,
and the people had bunks,
and it was sort of dirty,
and it was like a sort of ghetto,
and the noise of the bombs,
the vibrations, was something terrible.
The poor people, most of
them didn't have a home.
They lived down there, so
they cooked down there,
they slept down there,
they made love down there,
they did everything down there.
This was the Malta Blitz.
Axis forces mounted
round-the-clock air attacks.
In eight weeks, nearly 7,000 tons
of explosives fell on the island.
Malta had become the most
bombed place on earth.
At the lazaretto,
the submariners had been forced
out of their comfortable digs.
The bombs were destroying
the submarine base,
so by expanding the old sewage system,
they were able to create
a labyrinth of tunnels.
Already living under the
sea when on patrol,
the submariners were now forced to
live underground when back on Malta.
These are their bunks.
It's hard to imagine a tougher existence.
And there was no let up in the raids.
We were all out having dinner,
and we left it rather a long time
before going down to the shelter.
Too late.
One of the bombs dropped,
and we got the blast.
It was a big, big window.
That blew right in.
And with it, we three, and I was
knocked out for a little while,
came to, and their voices saying,
you know, "Maggie, where are you?"
"Are you alive?"
And I must have sat up and said,
"I don't know, but I think so!"
And of course, they hooted with laughter.
But, of course, I had been injured.
It was a bad night.
It was hard going, because on
top of it all you were hungry,
you had nowhere to live
when your house was bombed,
but we had no alternative.
And when your back is to the wall,
you seem to have a lot more courage.
How do you put up with that kind
of incessant level of bombing?
If you're there...
.. you just have to, don't you?
Get on with it.
News broke that would
stiffen Maltese resolve
and cement British claims to the island.
The King made his award of the
George Cross on 15th April,
but it wasn't announced in The
Times of Malta until the 17th,
two days later.
But, interestingly, the very
next day, Saturday 18th,
now on the headline, alongside
The Times of Malta,
is a little image of the George Cross.
It was an image that remained on the
paper right throughout the war,
and, indeed, is on it still.
I was so proud that it was given
to Malta and the Maltese,
because of its heroism that it had.
Of all the people, and I always
say, right from a grandpa,
right down to a child, we all took part.
And if it wasn't for Malta,
they would have never won
the battle in Africa.
The award of the George Cross,
the King is thinking
about what we're doing.
We're not alone. That's
the most important thing.
There were some who grumbled that
we were better off not in the war,
or that it was better in the form
of food or whatever was needed,
but generally, it was that
feeling, a sign of courage.
You are not alone.
The George Cross was a symbolic
lift at a desperate moment.
But it was the material
boost of 47 new Spitfires
that gave the island the
chance to fight back.
Among the new pilots arriving on 20th April
was a promising young artist.
This is the diary of Dennis Barnham,
a Spitfire pilot who served here
in 1942, and I can honestly say
I've never read a better or more
vivid account of air fighting.
Just on these pages alone,
this is the description of
his first combat over Malta,
where he and two other Spitfires take off
to intercept more than 50 enemy aircraft.
What's so incredible is
the immediacy of it.
Each of these extracts written just
hours after the events took place.
"And I'm at Malta.
"It's an island of exquisite
peace for a while,
"and then violent fury
with death everywhere. "
'Two new squadrons of Spitfires was
a step in the right direction.
'But again, few plans had
been made for their arrival.
'Air Vice-Marshal Lloyd was now
increasingly out of his depth.
'On his first evening, Dennis Barnham
'and the other pilots were taken by bus
'up to the Xara Palace
for a pep talk by Lloyd.
'It was a talk that did little
to calm Dennis's nerves. '
Lloyd had barely begun, when
suddenly a aircraft roared overhead.
Bombs whistled down, then
exploded almost on top of them.
The whole building shook,
but as the dust settled,
Lloyd merely cleared his throat and said,
"As I was saying, the Germans
are cowards and bullies. "
He conceded that the task facing
the new pilots was a tough one,
but to help them, now had
ten twin-engined bombers
with which to take the attack to the enemy.
Compared with what they were up against,
it was clear to all that ten bombers
was hardly going to make much difference.
No wonder Dennis left feeling
even more terrified than ever.
His unease was soon proved right.
'The long-promised Wellingtons
arrived, ten of them.
'Throughout the last week
they tried their hardest -
'six of them were blitzed on the ground.
'After the raids, clouds
of smoke would roll back
'from the Lucca drome, changed to a
hazy red dust that would drift away
'with the wind and reveal
another Wellington burning.
'When they operated,
they did magnificently,
'making three trips to Sicily in one night.
'Of the four Wellingtons still serviceable,
'two did not return from that raid.
'In the big bedroom in the
house, 12 beds were empty. '
There were few Spitfires left either.
Within 48 hours, just seven remained.
Exposed and unprotected, they
were shot up on the ground.
One day, I did see a plane coming down,
and I thought, "That's not our plane. "
It was one of the Messerschmitts.
He did really machine-gun all the
Spitfires that were laying there.
'On the ground, Spitfires were
easy pickings for Axis aircraft.
'Targets that should never have been there.
'Deep in the rocks,
'Malta now had the most
sophisticated ground control
'outside Britain.
'The new fighter planes should
have made a big difference. '
The operation rooms used so successfully
in the Battle of Britain
were also replicated here,
from the plotting table through
to the coloured clocks
and the squadron tote boards.
In the spring of 1942, there
was one major difference,
as you can see from that
conspicuously empty squadron board.
On Sicily, there were
hundreds of enemy aircraft.
Here on Malta, for five
separate days in April 1942,
there was just one aircraft available.
And on two days, none at all.
'But without aircraft, the
operations room was redundant. '
'Plans for their arrival had to improve. '
'At Berchtesgaden, Hitler met
with Mussolini to discuss plans
'to invade Malta, codenamed
Operation Hercules.
'Germany would supply airborne
troops and air power,
'but the invasion itself would
be Italy's responsibility. '
"German parachutists and equipment
should be made available
"to the Italians who want to take Malta
"through a surprise raid
around the end of May. "
Weakened and vulnerable, the
island was braced for invasion.
Dennis Barnham was among the
few still defending Malta.
"Two 109's were coming in from my side.
"There was a loud report from my engine.
"Blue smoke came into my cockpit,
"and I was upside down and spinning again.
"I saw the blue seas and
cliffs hanging over my head.
"They seemed very close. 'Am I going
to be killed now?', I thought.
"I remember saying to myself,
" 'You'll have to hurry, Dennis, old chap. '
"There's not much time!
"But I must put on opposite rudder,
for she came out of the spin. "
A week after his arrival,
Barnham came here,
to the RAF rest camp in St Paul's Bay.
It's pretty clear from the diary
that he was already exhausted,
and filthy.
As he says, "My hair was dusty,
my clothes were sticking to me,
and my socks smelled. "
So, stripping off, he
jumped into the cool water.
It was, he says, "Quite
unutterably glorious. "
But even here, with spent
cannon shells lying all around,
what should have been a respite
came to a dramatic halt
with the arrival of yet
more enemy aircraft.
Pilot Officer Herbert Mitchell
summed it up perfectly.
"The tempo of life here is indescribable.
"It all makes the Battle of
Britain seem like child's play. "
The scars of that air battle remain.
You can still find evidence of
the war all over the island,
even in a tiny field like this.
How about this?
This may look like a rusty fence post,
but in actual fact, it's
a 20mm Oerlikon cannon.
And look over there. There's the other one.
15 feet apart, exactly the spacing
they would have been on a Spitfire.
Fortunately, the pilot,
a Canadian called McCann,
was able to bail out,
but his Spitfire plunged
deep into the ground,
the wings disintegrated as it landed.
The cannons were thrust deep into the soil.
70 years on, they're still here.
Time was running out.
Unsurprisingly, many were
losing their grip on humanity.
A plane was shot down.
And it actually landed in the
rubble of the opera house,
and everybody cheered like mad.
It was terrible really, in war, isn't it?
German pilot Walter Schwarz
came down near Attard,
in the centre of the island.
The German 109 crashed about
a mile away from our house.
When I got there, there
were more dogs than people.
And the dogs were eating bits
of flesh from the pilot.
By the middle of May, Dennis
Barnham was at breaking point.
He'd not been on the island a month.
For pilots like Barnham,
Malta was veiled by an
atmosphere of doom and violence.
But the island's defences
were steadily improving.
More Spitfires arrived on the 9th of May.
The control room had them
airborne again in minutes.
In the next raid, the RAF
shot down 60 Axis aircraft.
And the enemy was releasing pressure too.
"Thereupon the Fuhrer expressed
the following dramatically
"and was very dissatisfied.
"No confidence whatsoever in the
confidentiality of the Italians.
"The British are more likely
to have an articulate picture
"of Italian intentions than
the Italian commanders.
"The Italian assault forces
are completely insufficient
"and no confidence whatsoever
in the Italian fleet.
Kesselring had planned to eradicate Malta.
But the island received
an unlikely reprieve.
Rommel had persuaded Hitler to
back a new push in North Africa
that would require maximum resources.
Plans to invade Malta were quietly dropped.
German interest in taking Malta had waned.
But the suffering of the
people was still to increase.
The island was starving.
You really get a sense of
how the shortages of food
are really starting to kick in.
There's a piece here,
"The Feeding Problem. "
It says, "Keepers of poultry"
and rabbits are their wits' end
"to solve the problem
as to how to feed them.
"The ration allowed by the government
"does not even go halfway
to meet the necessity. "
There's another piece about
firewood for bakeries.
There's no firewood left
because all the wood on the
island has been burned already.
"One commodity stocks which must
be rigidly conserved is coal. "
This is the absolute last resort.
If you can't have fires,
you can't bake bread.
The problems in producing enough
food by the end of June 1942
are just getting worse and worse.
It was in June, when the
siege settled down on Malta
good and proper, grim and cruel.
The phrase "target date"
was introduced too.
It's when the bread runs out, along
with the ammunition and fuel.
And the realisation that
this was actually the test
of how long we could make everything last.
We were very rationed.
We were to have only one slice of bread.
And there were times when
we could have only one egg
and we used to get them because
there was the farmers beside us.
The staple food of the
Maltese workman is bread.
They were given a slice
or so per head a day.
The bread became black.
The government set up a feeding scheme
called the "victory kitchens".
With few supplies,
the island had to feed over
250,000 mouths every day.
You had to go with a bit of
paper worth three pence.
You used to get a bowl of disgusting soup.
Or a tin between four of McConnachies
herrings in tomato sauce
or something like that.
When the authorities start off
instituting victory kitchens,
they were in a way unpopular,
but they were a necessity.
You couldn't do without them in a way.
Because you don't have any food at home.
And sanitation was worsening.
The documents here...
Simon Cousins has unearthed official papers
that demonstrate how bad
things have become.
And even the people in highest
office have to cut corners.
Break their own rules.
For example, "The flushing of
lavatory pans after urination
"to be prohibited.
"And I'm not permitting anybody
"to wash their hands under running water. "
But that's incredible because the
flushing of loos and washing hands
in particular, are one of the
number-one tenets of hygiene.
Most basic.
And this is addressed to the
district medical officers.
"It is particularly necessary to
economise in the issue of drugs,
"cotton wool and dressings.
"As an example, bandages
should not be used once only,
"but washed when necessary
and used repeatedly
"until they are completely unserviceable. "
The island had survived is blitz,
but beating starvation
would be a greater test.
I wondered sometimes whether we
would ever leave the island.
And the Maltese people, you know,
the more bombs that were dropped,
the louder their prayers.
It was quite amazing really.
They were really stoic.
They always believed that
it would be all right.
I think they were rather marvellous.
On the 10th of August 1942, a convoy
of 14 ships set sail from Gibraltar.
It was the last chance to save the island.
With much of the North
African coast in Axis hands,
the convoy could expect to
be attacked the entire way.
The chances of getting through
seemed desperately remote.
On Malta, the island was
now ready to unload
and distribute the goods quickly.
There was no secret about it at all.
A fortnight before, all the
roads had been signposted,
saying where the trucks
with the supplies had to go
to dump the food, the ammunition.
Everybody knew that the convoy was due.
With lessons of past failures
learned, nothing was left to chance.
Making its way across the sea
was a convoy that carried
more than food and fuel.
It carried deliverance.
For those here on Malta, all
they could do now was wait.
At sea, the convoy was repeatedly attacked.
The ships were the most
defended of the war,
but the forces arrayed
against them were immense.
We could hear the poor, wretched
ships as they got nearer,
being bombarded and so on.
One could see from the
rooftops the battle going on.
The most important ship of
the convoy was the SS Ohio,
a tanker filled with vital fuel.
Already hit ten times, and taking on water,
three destroyers hurried to its rescue.
From the roof of my house, I could
see the entrance of the harbour
and I could see ships coming in.
Three at one time, one on its own.
Of the 14 ships, nine had been sunk.
One more was still at sea.
The Ohio was inching towards land.
With a destroyer strapped either
side and a third leading her in,
as dawn broke, the Ohio finally
came within sight of Grand Harbour.
Now tantalisingly close,
but travelling at no
more than walking speed,
there was still no certainty she
would make her destination.
The Ohio, I remember, a ship,
a big ship with its decks completely awash,
no-one on board, like a ghost,
being brought in by a destroyer
and two tugs going very slowly.
All along the bastions,
crowds watched Ohio's
agonisingly slow progress.
But at 8am, she finally
passed through the breakwater
and into Grand Harbour.
It was the 15th of August 1942,
the most important date
in Malta's calendar -
the feast day of Santa Maria.
I don't think I've ever
cried with so much emotion.
And the Army were throwing their hats
up in the air on the quay there.
And people were crying and
singing and clapping.
The convoy of Santa Maria was so welcome
because that really brought everything.
I think at the end, if it
wasn't for that convoy,
we would have been down then.
Even children took place to see
that they were all emptied,
to take them away and put them in
storage somewhere, the rations.
Because otherwise we would
have been really starved -
no ammunition, no medicines, no nothing.
That was the most momentous moment
because we realised that
was the saviour really.
I don't think there was
a dry eye, you know,
people all wept with joy.
The tanker Ohio managed to
come into Grand Harbour,
plus the four merchant men -
ammunition, fuel and foodstuffs.
And subsequently aeroplanes
could fly and people could eat.
Dress a bit and eventually hit
back hard at the Axis powers.
Just two weeks after the
Ohio reach the island,
four Axis tankers were
sent to Rommel's aid.
Malta's now stronger and better
organised forces sank them all.
The island had seen out its darkest day.
Malta's ordeal was far from over,
but she'd faced down her
stiffest challenge.
The siege had been lifted and the
convoys were getting through.
In a matter of months, the island's
fortunes had reversed completely.
The RAF had regained control of the skies,
her strike forces were sinking more
Axis shipping than ever before
and she had in place the leadership
upon which could depend.
But it was the change in Axis
strategy that spared Malta.
Kasselring's fears had been realised.
Fortress Malta proved
decisive in North Africa.
In the desert, Rommel's
supplies were drained
as Malta was crippling his supply lines.
40% of fuel was sunk in August.
Another 20% lost in September.
The Axis adventure in
North Africa was doomed.
The struggle of the Maltese
people to defend their islands
has become a famous one and the
debt the Allies owe them is huge.
But Malta's importance
lay in the wider battle.
Its offensive role was vital.
In July 1943, the Allies
turned north to Sicily.
Spearheading the invasion,
lying just 60 miles away,
and now swarming with aircraft, was Malta.
Churchill later identified the
defence of Malta as the keystone
to Britain's position in
Egypt and the Middle East.
It was more than a great
tale of hardship and valour.
Indeed, success in North
Africa started and hinged on
the battle for Malta.