The Luftwaffe and the Regia Aeronautica Italiana now began stepping up their bombing attacks on British occupied Malta.
The island lies at the crossroads of the Mediterranean. It was ideally placed for launching attacks on the supply route to the Afrika Korps in Libya – provided the island base itself could be defended. As it lay between British bases of Gibraltar, 1000 miles to the west, and Alexandria, 1000 miles to the east, keeping the the island supplied was turning into a major challenge for both the Royal Navy and the RAF. Malta rapidly became ‘the most bombed place on earth’ over the next few weeks as the struggle intensified. Daily progress of the campaign can be followed at Malta GC at 70. For more background see feature on Malta bombing.
The enemy attacks on the island and shipping in the vicinity were on a very heavy scale, involving approximately 940 sorties. This is at least 60 per cent, in excess of the total for the previous week.
The heaviest attack which has yet been delivered against Malta was made on the 21st March, when Takali aerodrome was the main objective. A mixed force of nearly 220 enemy aircraft participated in this raid, and great devastation was caused among buildings, and a reservoir was destroyed. During the day small reinforcements of Spitfires and Blenheims reached the island.
During the air attacks on our shipping [a resupply convoy] the limited force of Spitfires and Hurricanes available was continuously in action. In one of these attacks by 30 Ju. 88s heavily escorted by fighters, our fighters either destroyed or seriously damaged 16 of the attackers.
Other targets attacked during the week were Halfar, Luqa, Grand Harbour and the submarine bases. Considerable damage to property resulted and there were a number of service and civilian casualties. Fourteen of our aircraft were destroyed on the ground and 34 others were damaged.
In all a total of thirty-one enemy aircraft were shot down and a greater number damaged. Nearly half of these enemy casualties were caused by A.A. fire.
From the Air Situation Report for the week as reported to the British War Cabinet, see TNA CAB66/23/16
Somewhat belatedly the decision had been made to re-enforce Malta with Spitfires, to augment the ageing Hurricanes. This meant conveying them on aircraft carriers as far eastwards as possible in the Mediterranean and then launching them with long range tanks for the flight over the sea to Malta. Fifteen Spitfires had successfully flown from HMS Eagle on 7th March and a further nine left on 21st March as part of Operation Picket.