SIEGE OF MALTA 1940-1942

Reviewed by: D J CHILDS

Having been born on the George Cross Island shortly after the end of the war, I have always taken an interest in her several sieges and the heroics accompanying them.  Most of my information has come from the printed word so it is a pleasure to be able to look at well over a hundred photographs taken at the time when Malta was subjected to wave after wave of Axis air raids.  The collection covers the period from June 1940 until late 1942 during which Malta became the most bombed place on earth.  A short introduction and a few paragraphs of writing at the beginning of each chapter of photographs give sufficient information to guide the reader/viewer through the main episodes of the siege.  The photographs are mainly of aircraft, often wrecked, and the men who flew them, often while relaxing between sorties, including, in one case getting married.  Sadly, the marriage was short-lived with the groom being shot down and lost in January 1942.  Indeed, it is the personal cost of that heroic defence which is so evident from these photographs many of whose aircrew subjects died in defence of the island.

It is not surprising, given the nature of the siege, that the air war dominates the collection.  Yet …  for most of us the siege has two most memorable icons.  Quite rightly, the first photograph in the collection shows the first of those icons, the three Gloster Gladiators, Faith, Hope and Charity that at the very beginning, before the arrival of Hurricanes and Spitfires, pluckily took to the air to face the incoming raids. The second, not included in this collection, is the image of the tanker Ohio, her decks awash, being coaxed into Grand Harbour by HM Ships Ledbury and Penn lashed to her sides at the end of the heroic Operation PEDESTAL.  The story of that operation (the subject of a recent book by Max Hastings), which your biased reviewer considers rivals the mythical voyages of Ulysses and Aeneas in these same waters, gets scarce a mention, indeed the naval effort to keep Malta resupplied is covered in just 13 photographs.  Thus, although this is a worthy photographic record of a major saga, it is felt it will not have as great appeal to a naval readership as it will to those who wear or have worn a lighter blue uniform.