By Mark McConville
INCREDIBLE black and white images have shed light on a ferocious but oft-forgotten chapter of WW2 – the RAF air battle over Malta.
The stunning pictures show British Royal Air Force pilots proudly displaying Swastika-clad trophies from downed Luftwaffe planes on the island.
Other shots show children playing among the plane wreckage, pilots posing with their planes and surviving participants of the battle revisiting Malta, which was a British colony at the time, years later.
The rare snaps are showcased in a new book, Air Battle of Malta, by Anthony Rogers and published by Pen and Sword.
“Malta was a strategically situated outpost of the British Empire and a threat to the ambitions of Italy and Germany,” he said.
“In order to remove the threat, it was first necessary to neutralise Malta’s defensive capability and the best way to do so, prior to inserting ground forces, was by using air power and attaining air superiority.
“Very simply put, Malta is situated in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, thus providing British forces with an ideal naval and air base from which to strike at Axis supply routes between Italy and North Africa.”
Malta was one of the most intensively bombed areas during the war, suffering three thousand bombing raids over two years as the Nazis sought to destroy the RAF defences and ports.
The Axis powers had to divert forces to battles raging in North Africa, notably the Battle of Tunisia, and the attacks on Malta rapidly reduced. The siege effectively ended in November 1942.
Air and sea forces based in Malta quickly went on the offensive and sunk 230 Axis ships in 164 days, the highest Allied sinking rate of the war.
Life on Malta during this period certainly posed some hardships, as explained by Mr Rogers.
“Certainly, there was a very serious shortage of everyday essentials, not least food, which made life extremely difficult,” he added.
“One had to contend with the bombing day and night, the blackout and the very real threat of invasion. But, for some, particularly the children, it was undoubtedly an exciting time.”
Malta holds a fond place in Mr Roger’s heart, having grown up there as his mother was a native Maltese, and later returned to serve with the Royal Marines.
“I enjoy history generally and find Malta’s past particularly interesting, not least the island’s role during the Second World War,” he said.
“Much has been written about the latter period. I decided to be different, to present a vivid retelling of events, focussing on the loss of British, Italian and German aircraft and, frequently, their pilots and crews.
“At the same time I wanted to provide a detailed record of where those events occurred, thus creating a book that will continue to be valued by future generations.”