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They then began a counter-offensive and drove the British back into Egypt. But operating overseas in Africa meant most of the supplies to Axis forces would come via the sea.
This made Malta a dangerous threat to Axis logistical concerns. The British submarines failed to interdict the German ships transporting the German forces to Libya.
The damaging of the 7,ton German ship Duisburg was the only noteworthy attack. On 9 February , three submarines missed the same convoy bringing supplies to Tripoli , the principal Italian port in Libya.
The Italians deployed 54, mines around Malta to prevent it being supplied. The failure to intercept Axis shipping was evident in the figures which extended far beyond February By the start of the first German operation, Geisler had 95 aircraft and 14, men in Sicily.
Geisler persuaded the OKL to give him four more dive-bomber gruppen Groups. On 10 January, he could muster serviceable aircraft including dive and medium bombers.
The first was I. This led to a notable increase in the bombing of Malta. A Stabsstaffel of Sturzkampfgeschwader 3 StG 3 arrived.
One particular target was aircraft carriers. The Luftwaffe crews believed four direct hits would sink the ship and began practice operations on floating mock-ups off the Sicilian coast.
An opportunity to attack the vessel came on 6 January. The British Operation Excess was launched, which included a series of convoy operations by the British across the Mediterranean Sea.
Some 10 Ju 87s attacked the carrier unopposed. One destroyed a gun, another hit near her bow, a third demolished another gun, while two hit the lift, wrecking the aircraft below deck, causing explosions of fuel and ammunition.
Another went through the armoured deck and exploded deep inside the ship. Two further attacks were made without result.
Badly damaged, but with her main engines still intact, she steered for the now dubious haven of Malta. The British operation should not have been launched: Hits were scored on both; Southampton was so badly damaged her navy escorts scuttled her.
Over the next 12 days, the workers at the shipyard in the Grand Harbour repaired the carrier under determined air attack so that she might make Alexandria.
On 18 January, the Germans switched to attacking the airfields at Hal Far and Luqa in an attempt to win air superiority before returning to Illustrious.
On 20 January, two near misses breached the hull below the water line and hurled her hull against the wharf. Nevertheless, the engineers won the battle.
On 23 January, she slipped out of Grand Harbour, and arrived in Alexandria two days later. The carrier later sailed to America where she was kept out of action for a year.
The Luftwaffe had failed to sink the carrier. Both the British and Italian navies digested their experiences over Taranto and Malta.
The appearance in February of Messerschmitt Bf E-7 fighters of 7. Five Hurricanes arrived at Malta in early March, another six on the 18 March but five Hurricanes were lost along with five pilots.
On 1 March, the Luftwaffe attacks on airfields destroyed all of the Wellingtons brought in in October. Royal Navy warships and Sunderland flying boats could not use the island for offensive operations and the main fighter squadrons, Nos.
The flotilla had been officially formed on 8 April , in response to the need for a Malta Strike Force. This formation was to interdict Axis convoys.
The strike force had considerable success, which justified basing it at Malta despite the danger from air attack.
On 21 May, the force was sent to join the Battle of Crete. It was several months before the depleted strike force returned. Further success was had by the Malta Convoys.
The Axis air forces maintained air superiority; Hitler ordered Fliegerkorps X to protect Axis shipping, prevent Allied shipping passing through the central Mediterranean and neutralise Malta as an Allied base.
Around German and Italian aircraft carried out the operation and the RAF struggled to fly more than six or eight fighter sorties. Occasionally, 12 Hurricanes were flown in from British carriers but the replacements were soon used up.
From 11 April — 10 May, Axis raids were carried out against military installations on Malta. Most of the heavy equipment in Grand Harbour was destroyed and the dry-docks could only be operated by hand.
It was many more times the tonnage dropped by the Italians but far short of the amount dropped the following year. More than 2, civilian buildings were destroyed as opposed to only during the Italian siege.
Eventually, 2, miners and stonemasons were recruited to build public shelters but the pay was poor and the miners threatened to strike action and were threatened with conscription into the army.
The workers capitulated but instituted a go-slow, trebling the cost of the work. In April, Hitler was forced to intervene in the Balkans which led to the campaign of that name; it was also known as the German invasion of Yugoslavia and included the Battle of Greece.
The subsequent campaign and the heavy German losses in the Battle of Crete convinced Hitler that air drops behind enemy lines, using paratroopers, were no longer feasible unless surprise was achieved.
He acknowledged that the chances of success in an air operation of that kind were low. Hitler lived up to his word, the German airborne forces did not undertake any such operations again.
This had important consequences for Malta, as it indicated the island was only at risk from an Axis siege. When, in June, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union under Operation Barbarossa , Fliegerkorps X departed for the Eastern Front, and the Regia Aeronautica was left to continue its highly effective air campaign against Malta in the coming months.
Supply issues were bad, the small German force left was forced to abandon operations on 22 April By early May , the Luftwaffe had flown 1, bomber, 1, fighter and reconnaissance missions for just 44 losses.
Still, he had every intention of taking the offensive. Outside his office, in the underground headquarters at Lascaris , he hung a sign outside; "Less depends on the size of the dog in the fight than on the size of the fight in the dog".
Within a few hours Lloyd had made an inspection tour of the airfields and the main workshops at Kalafrana. The state of the island was worse than he expected.
The slackening of German air activity had allowed the number of aircraft to increase, but the RAF still had fewer than 60 machines of all types.
Hardly any spare or replacement parts were available. Spares had to be obtained by sifting through the debris of wrecks or by cannibalising undamaged aircraft.
Furthermore, the airfields were too small; there was no heavy equipment to work with; and even the commonest sorts of tools, such as hammers and wrenches, were all but impossible to find.
All refuelling had to be done by hand from individual drums. The shelter was also inadequate, so there was little protection for what equipment they did have.
Most aircraft were clustered together on open runways, presenting tempting targets. At Kalafrana, all the buildings were close together and above ground.
The single engine-repair facility on Malta was located right next to the only test benches. Lloyd himself said, "a few bombs on Kalafrana in the summer of would have ruined any hope of Malta ever operating an air force".
Usually, the protection of air defences and naval assets on the island would have had priority. Certainly bringing in more supplies would have made greater strategic sense, before risking going on to the offensive and thus in turn risking the wrath of the enemy.
But the period was an eventful one. RAF forces on Malta could not afford to sit idle. Malta was the only place from where British strike aircraft could launch their attacks.
Only then did the surface fleets return to Malta to support the offensive. With the exception of coal, fodder, kerosene and essential civilian supplies were such that a reserve of 8—15 months was built up.
Operation Substance was particularly successful in July The supplies included spares and aircraft. Around 60 bombers and Hurricanes were now available.
This convoy proved critical to saving Malta, as its supplies were deemed to be essential when the Germans returned in December.
In mid, new squadrons—No. Naval carriers flew in a total of 81 more fighters in April—May. By 12 May, there were 50 Hurricanes on the island.
On 21 May, No. By early August, Malta now had 75 fighters and anti-aircraft guns. Bristol Blenheim bombers also joined the defenders and began offensive operations.
Besides preparing for offensive operations and reinforcing the RAF on the island, Lloyd also rectified many of the deficiencies. Thousands of Maltese and 3, British Army soldiers were drafted in to better protect the airfields.
Even technical staff, clerks and flight crews helped when required. Dispersal strips were built, repair shops were moved underground from dockyards and airfields.
Underground shelters were also created in the belief that the Luftwaffe would soon return. In the attack, 15 men were killed and 18 captured, and most of the boats were lost.
The bridge was never restored, and it was only in that a new one was built in its place. Lloyd asked his bombers to attack at mast-height, increasing accuracy but making them easier targets for Italian anti-aircraft defences.
Part of the reason for this favourable outcome in November , was the arrival of Force K of the Royal Navy, which during the Battle of the Duisburg Convoy sank all the ships, which practically blockaded Libyan ports.
Following the disaster and with a resurgence of the Axis aerial bombardment of Malta, surface ships were withdrawn from the central Mediterranean in January While Italian bombing was again proving successful against the British, the Luftwaffe returned in force in December to renew intensive bombing.
Eight Marylands, two other aircraft, three Beaufighters, one Blenheim fighter and many bombers were also lost. Geisler was to be returned to Sicily with his remaining air strength to solve the issue.
However, the Germans backed down over Italian protests. On 6 October Geisler did extend his air sector responsibilities to cover the Tripoli-Naples sea route to curtail losses.
In the first two months, around 20 RAF bombers and reconnaissance aircraft were shot down. The only notable triumph was the sinking of the 13,ton Victoria merchant ship, one of the fastest merchantmen afloat, by a Fairey Albacore of Squadron, flown by Lieutenant Baxter Ellis, on 23 January.
Over the island, the defensive arm of the RAF was also put under pressure. It was the 1,th raid of the war.
Of the fighters that had passed through or stayed on the island since the war began, only 28 remained. One-third of all raids were directed against airfields.
The usual tactic would involve a sweep ahead of the bombers by German fighters to clear the skies. This worked, and air superiority was maintained.
Only slight losses were suffered by the bombers. Dobbie and the British naval and air commanders argued for modern aircraft, particularly Spitfires , to be sent to Malta.
The pilots told Embry that the Hurricanes were useless and that the Spitfire was their only hope. The squadron leaders argued the inferiority of their aircraft was affecting morale.
Embry agreed and recommended the Spitfires be sent and the type began arriving in March On 29—30 April , a plan for the invasion of the island was approved by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini during a meeting at Berchtesgaden.
It envisaged an airborne assault with one German and one Italian airborne division, under the command of German General Kurt Student. This would have been followed by a seaborne landing of two or three divisions protected by the Regia Marina.
The Italians, in agreement with Kesselring, made the invasion of Malta the priority in the region. However, two major factors stopped Hitler from giving the operation the green light.
The first was Erwin Rommel. 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.
Hitler proposed a compromise. Lauria quickly organised his galleys and having surrounded the three Angevin scouts, blocked their escape.
Roger of Lauria soon learned all the Angevin plans regarding Malta. He quickly set sail for Messina, taking the three Angevin vessels with him.
After landing his men and taking aboard fresh recruits, he left Messina and set sail for Malta. A barge had arrived from Gozo with news that the enemy fleet was already at Malta.
The day after, the Aragonese set sail southwards, leaving Syracuse and reaching Capo Passero. After resting overnight, the Aragonese fleet set sail for the south east coast of Sicily, rather than head for Malta directly.
After putting in at Fonte di Scicli , Lauria landed all his men to rest in Scicli to prepare themselves for the coming battle. Before leaving Scicli, the Aragonese took with them a small barge, with eight oars.
Their plan was to use it to scout Grand Harbour secretly, without being seen. The fleet embarked early, and reached the entrance of Grand Harbour at daybreak, just before matins.
Two small scouting galleys entered the port, led by the small barge at a " distance of a cross-bow shot. The barge approached the castle, and found all the Angevin galleys with their oars unshipped and beached.
Counting twenty-two galleys and two smaller ships the Aragonese barge then returned to Lauria to report its findings. Roger of Lauria ordered his followers to put on their armour and set his galleys in order of battle.
The Aragonese sailors wanted to enter harbour quickly and use the element of surprise, crying to " Let us attack, for they are all ours.
Lauria sounded his trumpets and began to enter Grand Harbour with his galleys formed in line and lashed together. A hundred noble Frenchmen quickly came down from the castle, and reinforced the sailors in the galleys which put to sea.
The fleets met in the middle of Grand Harbour, in an " attack so vigorous, that the prow of every galley was shattered, and the battle was most cruel and fierce.
Detaching their lashings, the individual Aragonese galleys then moved in for the ship-to-ship assault. Once the Angevin galleys were grappled, the almogavars boarded the enemy ships, with the exhausted and heavily armoured French knights being no match for the agile Aragonese infantry.
The battle, which had begun at sunrise, lasted until the hour of vespers , with Muntaner remarking that " never could any man see more cruel a battle.
Muntaner states that Cornut fell in single-combat with Lauria. The Aragonese captured the remaining Angevin galleys, with one of the lighter Angevin scouting ships managing to put out to sea and escape.
The ship, according to Muntaner, made its way to Naples and Marseilles with news of the Angevin disaster. The rest were either sunk, or captured.
Lauria took his galleys and landed his troops on the western point of Grand Harbour, with his losses counted at three hundred dead and two hundred injured.
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