Middle East 1930 - 1947:
Malta 1930 - 1945
Malta is an island in the central Mediterranean. Under the Treaty of Paris, which was signed in 1814, Malta became part of the British Empire. Its strategic position in the middle of the Mediterranean halfway between Gibraltar and Egypt made it an ideal naval base for the Royal Navy.
The Grand Harbour in Malta is reputed to be the largest natural harbour in the region, and is suitable for large ships with significant drafts. In the Twentieth century and for first half of the Twenty-First, the United Kingdom was primarily a naval power and maritime nation.
Britain’s naval power was projected across the world, including the Mediterranean. One of the reasons the Mediterranean was so important to the United Kingdom was that with the opening of the Suez Canal, it was the main sea route from Europe to the Far East, including British India. The United Kingdom had three key naval bases in the Mediterranean; Gibraltar in the west (and at the entrance to the sea), Malta in the middle and Alexandria in Egypt in the east.
Each of British territories had an Army garrison to protect the naval base and provide internal security. The Army garrison also provided a visible reminder to the civilian population of the power of the British Empire. Malta had a small garrison between the First World War and the Second. This usually consisted of between two and four infantry battalions. The other main Army presence was coastal artillery to protect the naval base. There was a small presence of Royal Engineers and other supporting arms and services.
The representative of the Monarchy on Malta was the Governor-General, who also acted as the Commander-in-Chief of the military forces on the island. Following the First World War, the Governor was a senior General in the British Army, usually at the end of the operational career. There was a small staff, headed by a Brigadier who was in charge of administration.
As the Second World War approached, the garrison on Malta was slowly increased, but it was not until the entry of Italy into war on the 11 June 1940 that a serious military threat to the island appeared. The first bombs fell on Malta on the same day, and the air campaign against the island of Malta started. A threat of invasion of Malta also increased, by either air or sea requiring an increase in the Army garrison on the island. At its peak, no less than four infantry brigades were located on the cramped island with fifteen infantry battalions under command.
As the Army garrison in the island grew, so did the Army staff needed to administer them. A Major General was appointed to be the commander of troops on Malta. Malta Command came under command of General Headquarters (G.H.Q.), Middle East Forces on the 11 March 1942.
Malta sustained a most heavy aerial bombardment over many months. In addition, the difficulty in supplying the island meant that supplies were scarce. The resilience of the Maltese people resulted in His Majesty awarding the island the George Cross, the highest civilian award of the United Kingdom. Malta is the only country ever to be granted a gallantry award.
The Allied forces invaded Italy on the 3 September 1943, and the Italian government agreed to an armistice. This signalled the removal of military threat to Malta, and peace came to the island. Malta Command ceased to be under command of G.H.Q. Middle East Forces on the 2 December 1944 and returned to be an independent command. Malta became an independent nation on the 21 September 1964 and a republic on 13 December 1974. The British maintained a military presence on the island of Malta until 31 March 1979.