Surviving The Siege Of Malta | Battlefield Mysteries | Timeline

published on June 30, 2020

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this is grand harbour Malta and today

it's a popular tourist resort but in the

Second World War it was the most

important Harbor on the eastern

Mediterranean and it was so important

that the Germans had to control it but

they would lose the war in North Africa

and to do that they employed siege

techniques starve out the population and

to bomb them into submission

Malta became the most bomb place on

earth we've come back to Malta to tell

the story of the Great Siege one of the

most important battles of the Second

World War we want to look into the

people who are here the civilians the

gunners the Navy and the Merchant Navy

and of course the legendary fighter

pilots who won the siege of Malta



this is Republic Street in Valletta and

it's the most popular tourist

destination the tourists come to Malta

for a lot of reasons one is to buy stuff

from the shops the great tourist

trinkets the other is for the Sun and to

party but Malta also has an incredible

history that goes back over 6,000 years

in fact there are wounds from 3600 BC

this is a room from a more modern time

this is not a Roman ruin this is what's

left of the Valletta Opera House it was

carpet bombed by the Germans in April

1942 and much of Malta was like this

this was a beautiful building here you

can see what's left of one of the

columns from the Grand Opera House you

can see where the bombs are shrapnel

really fragments from the bomb would

have taken off a piece of it and this is

really a symbol of what happened to

Malta during the Second World War the

most severe raids took place in 1942 but

the first one came over with the

Italians on June 11th 1940

in the late spring of 1940 the tiny

island of Malta is a quiet British

outpost in the middle of the

Mediterranean far on the war raging in

Western Europe with the entry of Italy

in its colonies into the conflict on

June 10th Malta becomes a principal

target for the Italian Air Force

the island now lies at the heart of a

vast access empire to the south some

250,000 Italian and colonial troops are

within striking distance of the oil

fields of the Middle East oil that could

fuel the Axis war machine for years to


seeing Malta as a threat against their

Mediterranean supply lines Italy

unleashes its formidable air force in a

bombing campaign against the island

with only 4,000 troops and no fighter

aircraft to speak of multi is all but

written off by Allied commanders now the

islands last remaining hope lies with a

small force of anti-aircraft Gunners


I'm with major Morris edges of the world

Malta artillery and this is one of his

gun emplacements during the great battle

for Malta so I want you to explain to me

how you laid out your battery yes well

we had a command post I was there right

and four guns starting from number one

on the left of the two guns

I'm the three gun and number four gun

here this is where the gun would have it

that's right yes it used to be stuck to

the ground by means of nuts and bolts it

was a three point seven inch heavy

attack gun the shell was 28 pounds 28

and a half pounds and the cartridge was

about that high

your objective was to shoot down this

little ass that's right

I used to come at 23,000 25,000 feet and

never change direction of a change

height and a change speak as soon as you

see a sparkle in the sky and when they

get too close and they saw a deeper dive

then you can't find the mourn and the

opera's is Ramu so who's the order

barrage 6000 feet in position is given a

an area in the sky to shoot that this

strategy known as the box barrage forces

attacking bombers to ascend to higher

altitudes of the antenna

hindering their ability to bomb

accurately as planes approach

anti-aircraft units unleashed

sustained mirages at predetermined

angles creating a box of withering fire

and will blast any aircraft attempting

to fly through from the sky

and one plane is short down

thank you good another so and a second

cake and okay new you know

oh five a short down and they are lay

months it was the Gunners actually save

the defenders managed to hold out

through the mid summer of 1940 hoping to

capitalize on their success

the Allies send a twenty four hurricane

fighters to Malta along with experienced

pilots from all over the Commonwealth

who quickly chased the Italian bombers

from the island stars

it's the first of two devastating

setbacks for Italy in the latter half of

1940 in December the Italian 10th army

is defeated in Egypt by a much smaller

British force by the end of the year the

axis is in real danger of losing its

foothold in Africa the Allies are on the


at last but for Malta this new optimism

will be short-lived

after the initial attacks by the

Italians in June 1940 things been pretty

quiet in Malta a lot of the people

returned to their homes and war didn't

seem to be such a bad thing after all

but in North Africa things were changing

the Italians were failing miserably

against the British and now the Germans

were to step in so once again Malta was

going to be a target this time the

German Luftwaffe



January 1941 a small british-led force

on the tiny Mediterranean island of

Malta is held out against six months of

attacks by Italian bombers with Malta

skies clear the Allies begin using the

island as a base to attack axis supply


bound for North Africa

fearing the total loss of axis holdings

in North Africa the Germans dispatched

General Erwin Rommel to regain control

of the situation

but if Rommel is to defeat the Allies of

the desert axis supply routes across the

Mediterranean must remain open in

January the axis resumes its bombing of

Malta this time under German command

their mission is to bring Malta to its

knees among the civilians seeking

shelter from the bombardment is Joseph


I'll have to go down slowly and go down

slow steady or my next so yeah tell me

how things changed in January 1941 well

yeah a good amount of the bombs dropped

on this place here that was blown down

to the ground this oldest building we

had 40 people block down there trapped

because there is decrypt down there and

it was used as a shelter I came here and

I went through the church and from there

there was the beginning of the rubble

but I couldn't get down to them for a

couple of days we could hear the morning

there were some of them who are still


and tears coming to my eyes I was so

close to them and yet so far do we found

the baby which was still alive I pulled

it out together with the others and that

was the only person we saved from death

the others were all dead

those are the names of the people were

trapped and killed here I consider



but most of them I know personally those


when I know

for example let's miss her name that

gotcha teen Argentina no Chitina

was a young girl of my own age

she had very good looks I was carrying

the baby I saved it was not my baby

yes yet well I remember Jetta


through early 1941 the bombing campaign


but in May Malta is granted to reprieve

when the Luftwaffe force attacking the

island is reassigned to the Eastern

Front the Allies take full advantage sue

mning their raids and access supply

lines to North Africa at the end of 1941

they are inflicting eighty percent

losses on axis shipping but in December

with Rommel in full retreat Luftwaffe is

ordered back to the Mediterranean with

orders to destroy Maltese Defense Force

in advance of a planned invasion at this

time the Germans have a new weapon the

high speed me-109 F these new fighters

easily outmatched the Allies hurricanes

which are shot out of the sky

alarming numbers this is the city of

Rabat and a lot of the RAF pilots were

billeted here and this is where they

found their entertainments February and

March 1942 were terrible months for the

fighter pilots their hurricanes were

grossly outnumbered by the Luftwaffe and

the me-109 F the modified fighter was

just too much for the Hurricanes


so fuck McNair the Canadian ace decided

to take some of the pilots of 249

squadron out for relaxation so on the

night of March 21st 1942 they went down

to the theater to watch a film in the

middle of the film the air-raid siren

went off they decided to leave and they

had to come along this street hiding in

each doorway just to be safe from the

bombing when they finally got to this

point they're gonna go over to the point

of view which was the officers mess for

a stiff drink and as they went through

this door they started to approach it

and all of a sudden bang the bomb went

off when McNair awoke he was on the

second floor and didn't know what

happened and when he made his way down

he found the bodies of his friends the

building still shows a lot of damage

from the one bomb you can see holes here

all along the wall even on the ceiling

in March in April 1942 no place was safe

at Malta the Germans were literally

neutralizing it they're bombing

everywhere and everything in their

preparations for the invasion


the Germans attacked the island day and

night rotten harbors airfields and

civilian targets

Malta's cities and towns are reduced to


forcing virtually the entire population

to seek refuge underground


this is one of the camino bomb shelters

in vittorio salt in malta and this is

where the whole population of malta

would live or at least they live

underground you can see that this is all

limestone and it's all hand chiseled to

here the pic marks up here and the

advantage to the Maltese is that their

whole island is a limestone rock which

is quite soft meant they could dig in so

when the Germans bombed the whole

population went underground



this shelter is about a hundred and

fifty feet underground because it's

built into the REM parts of an old fort

you can see here this is the sleeping

quarters and you can imagine how cramped

that conditions would be and how stale

the air personally I don't like small

places I don't know how long I'd last

but I'd much rather be under here than

having to face the bombs these little

holes are very well-planned ventilation

shafts and of course they'd have to

drill them all the way through to the

top to get some fresh air because the

air down here would be totally stale

even now with just a couple people

around you can tell it wouldn't be very

comfortable and they've had a whole

bunch of people families hundreds of

people here they probably couldn't wait

to go upstairs but during April 1942 the

Germans were bombing so often every few

hours that they had to stay down here

almost 24 hours a day

they didn't realize it but the Germans

had dubbed Malta the hornet's nest and

now they're gonna smoke it out to do

this they brought 600 aircraft including

300 fighters now the people could stay

underground and they'd be protected from

the bombs but that wouldn't save Walt

Walt that needs a new fighter they

needed Spitfires





April 1942 the Mediterranean island of

Malta is under constant attack by the

Luftwaffe speedy me-109 f fighters have

overwhelmed the islands force of

hurricanes opening shipping lanes to

resupply Rommels Afrika core allowing

bombers to release their payloads on the

island with little or no opposition for

the few pilots still flying in multis

defense death seems only a matter of

time as the Luftwaffe hounds them



this is the callee airfield and during

the Second World War this is one of the

most important fighter bases for the

defense of Malta and now the only

Airport that this serves is for the

model airplane guys and you can hear

their engines going and flying around

here this was the original base of the

Hurricanes 249 squadron in May 1941 and

this was the centerpiece for the defense

of Malta and of course the Germans knew

this and it was constantly strafed and

bombed they come over six seven eight

times a day with a hundred bombers and

they just pound the hell out of this

place and by the spring of 42 there's

only half a dozen serviceable hurricanes

in operation and they were no match for

the miss Schmitz they had been upgraded

so the only way Malta was going to

survive was to bring in Spitfires and a

lot of them but delivering the fighters

to multiples is a significant problem

Gibraltar the nearest British air base

is 1,200 miles to the west well beyond

the Spitfires range the solution is

simple but risky

the Allies load the fighters onto

aircraft carriers and sail them to

within 700 miles of Walton from their

pilots take off and run a terrifying

gauntlet of prowling me-109 hoping to

reach multiple for running out of fuel

I'm here with Ian McLennan who flew

Spitfires in the defense of Malta

he arrived in July 1942 and he shot down

seven aircraft and was a Malta ace

so within landing even in 24 hours you

saw your first German airplanes oh well

when we were landing there were Germans

all over the place of course it was

being strafed and bombed you could just

see I've never seen him my life before

109 is coming right at you the guns

firing bombs wrong I'd never seen like

in my life it was a hectic time you know

what I mean

there were no time to be scared you just

what you're doing get your spitfire down

and and then running someone wave at you

and you run and get down in the cover

so this was the old Tattaglia runway

right and of course it would have been

grasped yo there was nothing like this

it was just a grass grass storm out was

you always being mended because they

were trying always to to kill the air

fields the trick was to stay alive so

once the Spitfires came in down here

they'd be pulled off into a splinter pen

they'd be refueled rearmed the pilot

would get out a fresh pot would get in

and go up and join the melee yeah sure


yeah he'll didn't get up too long 30,000

feet food hanging on your props waiting

for the boss

they're coming at you from Sicily and

you're sitting in the Sun and they can't

see you

you see these tiny little specks and

maybe there'd be 40 Junkers 88 and maybe

30 40 50 109 you made sure it gave you

guys the best chance for the first

bounce down we go

so nobody in trouble somebody coming up

the break and if you didn't know who it

was you say break and everybody pull

I remember once getting bounced so I

just went into a spit and left my

aircrafts been all the way down all

these day I was shot down and then when

I got right down the water and you're

all the panel's up there then I pulled

it out


see a play dead yeah oh yeah I can

remember I remember the first time I did

that thinking this is very bright cuz I

got away with it he's a guy I'm sure he

went back inside got this guy he went

into the sea he's dead


the trick was to get up close give him a

bit of a lead and if you were find right

behind him split the above shut me down


126 MIT fires that reach Malta have an

immediate impact of the islands dire

situation and daylight bombing raids on

the island are drastically reduced and

despite being outnumbered nearly two to

one the Spitfires down 270 enemy

aircraft in their first two months of



the aircraft that made the difference in

the battle for Malta was the Spitfire

and this is an example here most

graceful and what all most beautiful

aircraft isn't it really yes it's a

wonderful design well these are the

things that did the greatest damage this

is a 20 millimeter and a sappy

ammunition semi armor-piercing

incendiary explosive so it would go

through steel first everything these are

the things that blew things apart

machine guns didn't do as much damage

but mind you it could kill 20 seconds 30

seconds fire so that means you learn to

nurse it because once you're out of

ammunition you're very vulnerable

nothing obviously but still it's it you

didn't have to get out of the fight

these are 20 millimeter shells and it is

armor-piercing and it's explosive so

it's a very deadly weapon going into

another aircraft

whereas machine guns just go through and

hits you're dead or if he hit something

vital is dead but these things do a lot

of damage blow controls away and all

that sort of thing the wing will come

off a tail will come off devastating

look hey look at you guys chocks away

looks familiar

really familiar well this is the

joystick this is the firing machine this

is you flush that to get machine guns

press that you get everything cannons

and machine guns there's one thing here

which is for emergency if you're facing

death you can't get away from some guy

and you need power you take this thing

and you push it forward and it adds

water to the gas and gives this engine

tremendous power and boost you have to

look over this boost thing there it is

and you couldn't leave it on for more

than a few seconds or the engine would

burst to simply I remember several times

looking at it flirting with the idea I'm

going to use this bloody boost if I

don't get out of this fairly quickly and

I think I did it once but you really

didn't want to do it and I think if I

did I probably did that and then did

that and I caught away


are you proud to have served on Malta

have fought a mountain from I guess so

yes okay I'm not a shaking but you know


yeah well there were a lot of guy he's

like you know

despite the best efforts of the newly

arrived pilots Malta's fate still hangs

in the balance

in June to supply convoys set out for

the island but access forces still

control the surrounding sea and skies

even with heavy escort only two Allied

ships that needs to arrive safely

by mid-summer with no further relief on

the horizon the island is on the brink

of capitulation the population is down

to its last rations and will not be able

to hold out through fall the pilots too

are feeling the strain plagued by poor

food an extreme lack of sleep

they were stressful tiring times you get

up at three or four o'clock in the

morning you're on service to two till


that might go on for three or four days


I think everybody was hungry all the

time somehow and the wall teams people

were practically starving and every now

and then you'd get ill you get small to

jog where they called dysentery and that

kind of stuff

everything would seem to be bought do

you know what it means rubble was

everywhere you're cleaning up the rubble

and people are walking through and it

stays that way perhaps for months so it

was walking through a beleaguered city

full of Lord


and there were air-raid shelters down

underneath that all this limestone

stairs and everything going down and I

remember on one occasion I started for

it and then I saw a woman sort of

running towards it and I feel I didn't

like feel yeah that thing she was

terrified I thought she's gonna hurt

herself so I started to try to cut her

off to reassure her and slow her down

but I missed her and don't you went and

when I went down she was dead

distressing very distressing this was

happening all over Malta yeah no yeah

every day just with a bad time



August 1942 the war for North Africa

enters its climactic phase the Allies

have stopped the advance of llamas

Africa Corps at the First Battle of El

Alamein a victory due in great part of

multiple attacks on axis supply ships

for the Germans the situation is now

clear if they hope for a victory in

North Africa it is imperative they

eliminate the threat from Malta once and

for all in the late summer of 1942 dog

fights between Spitfires and me-109 rage

over the island as the Luftwaffe

attempts to wear down the outnumbered

allied defenders this is the Chara

palace in Medina and now it's a

five-star hotel but in 1942 it was an

officer's mess for 249 squadron as well

as one or two other fighter squadrons

that served at the callee airfield and

of course from this position you can see

– Callie airfield just over here and the

pilots who weren't flying could get an

excellent view of the dogfights it would

go on so you'd watch the dogfight so on

your day off from time to time yes you

know you can imagine that they were way

up there there a high and and it's

fascinating he's like a small opera but

you can't tell who's who really but it

can change suddenly dogfights varied

there could be six Spitfires going after

the three 109 is stated right in front

of me under 2,000 feet

almost you can touch it the skirt guns

are blazing for our motive leads so it's

quite dangerous you can hear the bangs

in the crash

malte had a lot of great fighter aces

and of course George Burling was at the

top of the list what made him different

well that he was phenomenal fighter

pilot well yeah didn't didn't argue

about it the guy was coming down the

kills all the time nobody else could

match it nobody and there was some great

fighter pilots in Malta a Burling had

great eyesight

you know if the beetle specs okay

against yep my whole life at that time

was little specs every time you went up

and you were called look towards

accessory for the little specs I

scrambled to take on to junker 88s

escorted by about twenty me-109 s2m

knees got the drop on I did a quick wing

over and got unto ones tail he saw me

coming and tried to climb away I figured

he must have been about eight hundred

yards away from me when I got him into

my sights at this distance Burling is

engaged in a war of invisible numbers

his Spitfires traveling at 250 miles per


well the me-109 is climbing at a rate of

over 50 feet per second the equation

grows even more complicated when he

factors in the velocity of his weapons

in essence Burling must not shoot

directly at his enemy rather at a point

in space where his enemy and his fire

will precisely lead I gave him a three

second verse

smack onto his starboard flank and got

it an attack it was a full deflection



he was a pilot who was better than

anybody else he would have been

difficult to handle in the squadron

because he's so bloody bright and knows

what he's got to be doing he he's been

around of anybody else on the squadron

and he knows they know it which is not

it like an enduring trait to be better

than everybody else he didn't have the

freedom he knew he was frustrated that

problem and that made him a troubled guy

and a trouble to anybody who had to have

them I'm sure but he could have been

handled if somebody took mine to say

look we've got ourselves an ace here



my August Burling was already a legend

in Malta he had 15 kills he had at least

half a dozen probables and damaged was

the number one fighter pilot on Malta

but every pilot knew at some point his

number could come up oddest 819 242

burling's number came up a bunch of

yellow gnomes Debby 109s been waiting

for us

and every mother's son of them stayed to

fight I quickly turned again under one

of them and gave him a two and a half

second burst

I hadn't any more than begun to die when

I got mine

we're trying to find buzz burling's

crash site of August 8th 1942 the

passage of time makes examining any

battlefield difficult of course

specifically exactly where it took place

in the field well that's another story

then you need an eyewitness


this is the village of Kuja and thus

near Luqa Airport and we think we found

somebody who witnessed the Burling crash

this is quite amazing considering how

few people would have seen in the first

place so I'm going to talk to him


hello Joseph hi I came to find out about

the buzz Burling crash site you're the

eyewitness we're looking for so Giuseppe

what did you see when the Spitfire came

down come ahead so he's maneuverable and

he's coming into the ground close

together so much a gentleman I just saw

a large they fail Airport so uh oh

mighty pigeon

I will prove what on it and at least

come endoscope the L they provide but

right as I referred and now where did

the plane crash yeah between what da

Cunha yeah village and tell here


we're just on the outskirts of gujja and

we're gonna try to find out where Berlin

came down in his famous and very lucky

crash on August 8 1942 they were chasing

after a gaggle of Germans over in this

area that were going after Grand Harbor

and just somewhere to the east over

there in the sky a dogfight developed

furling had already had 15 kills he went

in it was some very fine deflection

shooting he had a 60 Jimmy 109 went down

the problem was somebody got him and he

got hitting the engine and his engine

cut out and died and he's stuck in the

middle of a dogfight with no engine the

old Merlin wouldn't give me any more

than a hundred and sixty miles an hour

and was heating up fast his spit was

sinking slowly and begun to look like a

failing job

by the time he gets us harness all set

he's down to 200 feet he's got to be

going about a hundred miles an hour he

came down gradually by that church over

there right ahead I can see a nice

plowed field about an acre in size

surrounded by low stone walls now the

danger here is all these stone walls if

a Spitfire hits 100 miles an hour you're

a dead man I slid it along cutting the

glide fine but not too fine it's damned

easy to put these spits and spit in

gotta try to keep that nose high

burling's Spitfire came across this

field makes a belly landing and just as

it's about to hit the wall he tips the

wing down


and stops cold climbs out of the cockpit

inspects the plane he had nothing but a

cut he'd escaped his first dangerous

clash with death left to fight another



but struggle as they may fighters alone

cannot save malta the island is nearly

out of food fuel and ammunition in

August the Allies launch one last effort

at resupply this convoy must reach motor

or aw levers to defend the tiny island

have been in vain





by the end of July 1942 Malta was in

dire straits

the Spitfires had alleviated the attacks

on the island but it was simply rubble

they had bombed everything into oblivion

and now the people were starving

they had no ammunition and their fuel

was low they knew that the only way to

survive was a do-or-die convoy and it

was codenamed Operation pedestal and at

left England in early August 1942


tensions run high on both sides as the

convoy enters the Mediterranean the

Germans know that if they are to conquer

North Africa they must force Malta to

surrender the intercept force lies in

wait until the allied convoy enters the

Strait between Tunisia and Sicily there

they attacked


one by one the ships of operation

pedestal are sent to the bottom

but the ultimate prize for axis Gunners

is the tanker Ohio bearing precious fuel

for Maltese aircraft the lightly armed

ship struggles forward under murderous



within a week we would have surrendered

definitely we were in our last days

before extinction everybody knew who had

no rations no ammunition that Rowland

had almost finished

no fighters could go up we'd have better

if there is no donkey we can't be lost

did any important one was it anger so

really this is the end

well definitely the end there was a week

just a week supplies


we were just hoping that something comes

down from heaven that's why we call the

arrival of the convoy of the Santa Maria


as a miracle they were trained in

churches – Santa Maria to do something

to let something to save Malta we held a

fire when when it was attacked near

Sisley there was a warning sounded a red

warning and the people some of them from

the shelter but there were those who

remain still here

it appeared between two lighthouses

they're being created on two cables held

by two destroyers



and of course there were discipline

structure or mangled with the bombs and

the torpedo then everybody followed Ohio

until it went there they started


I convinced out I was enjoy a round



it was move I think it was the most

smooth excite and whole well in the war

for us

after the Ohio things quieten down in

Malta in fact the Germans didn't come

back until October 10th that's when they

brought all their bombers back and they

were gonna punish Malta once again but

this time it's pits were waiting for

them and they shot them down but it


in five days Burling added eight was



but of course that was his last battle

of the war he was shot down injured he

never flew again over Malta Eden

McLennan added five to his tally

including two Junkers in one day


but the real changes were taking place

in North Africa on October 23rd the 8th

army attacked Rommels Afrika Corps and

started driving them back towards

Tunisia in November Americans landed in

North Africa and they started a pincer

movement and basically the warden with

Africa was over it was just a matter of

time after two and a half years of

aerial bombardments the siege of Malta

was over


this is Kappa teeny Naval Cemetery south

of Grand Harbor it was used by the

British for more than a hundred years

there are 700 Second World War burials

here you can see how they're laid out

that the men are buried in crypts and

really a collective grave in a crypt and

a large slab is put over top and the

details of the burials on top with the

cap badge of the associated unit it also

is in many ways the history of the Malta

campaign buried in this crypt there four

of the men killed at the bombing at Pont

of view and you can see here Baker Garin

the Australian Paulus Hallett and

water-filled were all killed in the

doorway of the hotel


this one here pilot officer Doug Lego

was shot down on the 20th of March 1942

and in his situation is quite infamous

he actually parachuted out of his plane


the German went over and machine-gunners

canopy so the parachute collapsed and

Lego fell to his death


7,000 people died in the defense of

Malta and by second world war standards

that's a small number for such a

decisive victory all great campaigns are

made up of a few mistakes a few myths

and a few miracles and Malta was no

different but really it was the courage

and tenacity of all the people who were

here that saved the day whether they be

civilians dock workers Gunners Merchant

Navy Royal Navy or Air Force and its

really to these people that we should

remember that they changed the course of

the Second World War





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