Malta awarded the George Cross

A heavily bomb-damaged street in Valletta, Malta. This street is Kingsway, the principle street in Valletta. Service personnel and civilians are present clearing up the debris.

The sustained air attack on Malta reached its peak in April 1942 with over 280 air raids during the whole month, almost 10 a day. The brunt of the attack was borne by the civilian population with most of the small towns having between 60 and 70 per cent of their houses destroyed or seriously damaged. Casualties were in their hundreds every month with many more seriously injured.

Resupplying the island was now a major undertaking, any ship making for Malta had to travel in convoy and run a gauntlet of German and Italian bombers and torpedo planes, in addition to the threat from surface ships and U-boats. Food supplies were now running short. Invasion itself seemed imminent. It was in recognition of these threats that the King made the exceptional gesture of awarding the George Cross to the whole island. There was no shortage of heroism amongst the island’s military defenders but this was recognition of what the island’s population was enduring.

The letter written by the King on 15th April 1942 awarding the honour of a George Cross to the 'Island Fortress'.

In air raids on Malta during the week H.M. Destroyer Kingston was sunk in dock and H.M. Destroyer Lance was further damaged. An immense amount of damage has been done on the island, and among familiar landmarks which have been destroyed or seriously damaged are both Admiralty Houses (at Valetta and Vittoriosa), St. Angelo, the Customs House, the Castille, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Opera House and the great dome of the church at Musta. The Rinella wireless station and the Naval Canteen were also hit, and minor damage was caused in H.M. Dockyard.

From the Naval Situation Report for the week ending 16th April as reported to the British War Cabinet, see TNA CAB66/23/44.

The intense air attacks meant it was not possible to hold a formal ceremony for some months. Governor General and Commander-in-Chief in Malta, Field Marshal John Gort, VC, presents the George Cross to Sir George Borg, the Maltese Chief Justice and President of the Court of Appeal, who received it on behalf of the people of Malta in the ruins of Palace Square, Valletta, in September 1942.

The immediate threat was invasion. Instructors address troops from a Matilda tank in distinctive Malta camouflage, 13 April 1942.

Daily progress of the campaign can be followed at Malta GC at 70.

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