This is one of those books where the sub-title is more accurate than the title. Malta Strikes Back suggests a focus on the offensive aspects of the island’s role in this key period of the war, and although that area of the story does get attention, this is a more rounded account than that might suggest, covering the long siege of Malta – the constant air raids and the costly efforts to run supplies through to the island, as well as the attacking role of the island’s aircraft.
This is actually part two of a three part history of the air war in the Mediterranean, following on from the same author’s Desert Air Force in World War II 1940-42, which covers the same time period but from the perspective of units base in North Africa. Part three is going to look at the last three years of the air war, when the Allies went onto the offensive after Operation Torch and El Alamein.
The author has found some interesting high level documents that illustrate the problems faced by the British commanders during this period. Malta and the Middle East both needed experienced pilots and aircrews and a regular supply of the best possible aircraft, but there weren’t enough of either to satisfy them both. As a result there appears to have been a fairly constant suspision that Malta was keeping pilots who were meant for the Middle East, while the air officer in command at Malta often had to request more experienced men, arguing that the fighting on Malta was so intense that there was no time for pilots to get up to speed.
The defensive air battle over Malta is a familiar topic, but where this book differs is the coverage of the attacking aircraft that were based on the island. Even during the long siege there were periods when bombers were able to operate from Malta. I was aware that torpedo bombers had been based on Malta, but didn’t realise that Wellingtons had used the island, attacking targets in Italy and North Africa. A variety of light bombers were also based on Malta for parts of this period, and there were frequent debates about the best way to use them, the correct tactics for attacking enemy shipping and the wear and tear on the squadrons.
This is a detailed account of the air war based around Malta during the long siege of the island, giving a more balanced picture of the island’s role than is normally the case.
1 - Introduction
2 - The Italian Campaign: June 1940 to December 1940
3 - Luftwaffe Round One: January 1941 to May 1941
4 - Back on the Offensive: June 1941-November 1941
5 - Luftwaffe Round Two: December 1941 to May 1942
6 - Dominating the Sea Lanes: May 1942 to November 1942
Author: Ken Delve
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation