On 21st February the 1st Hampshire left Egypt for Malta to be part of the Malta Infantry Brigade, serving with 2nd Devons and 1st Dorsets. They were to undergo together the bombing of Malta, the famine and all the hardships of the siege.
Their role was the defence of the island against German airborne invasion and protection of the 30 miles of coastline.
Although at first life on Malta seemed comfortable with plenty of food, soon air raids were frequent and violent as the enemy was determined to ‘neutralise’ Malta.
Towards this end of 1941 the Luftwaffe moved to Sicily and German aircraft began to make concerted attacks on Malta. The few Hurricanes, originally stationed on Malta were soon put out of action, as gradually the Luftwaffe gained mastery of the air. The convoys which were badly needed for supplies had to run the gauntlet and fight their way through to the island. No ships were able to get through between November 1941 and 23rd March 1942.
The morale of the Malta Garrison was high; the worse things got the better the morale. The garrison’s anxiety may well have been measured by the amount of smoke coming from the chimney of the islands’ brewery. Beer was short and by spring 1942 everything was short.
On 8th May 1942, 65 Spitfires arrived on the island and by the 10th they had dealt the Germans a blow which marked the end of the mass attacks over Malta. In July the food situation was really serious and rations were cut again. Everyone was hungry and petrol, ammunition, cigarettes and extras were non-existent, with soldiers having to resort to using bicycles for nearly all transport.
Other duties for 1st Hampshire were dock work, the unloading of ships of their cargo when they were able to struggle through. Prodigious efforts were made by the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy to get supplies through and at last after one of the most heroic voyages of the war – a tanker and four merchant ships reached the harbour.
By November 1942, the success of the 1st and 8th Armies in North Africa meant that the Siege of Malta was raised. However, there was still much for the troops to do and the laboured in the docks, airfields and towns.
1st Hampshire had been abroad since 1920 and when it left Malta on 30th March 1943, they were destined for Egypt where they started to train for the assault landing of Sicily.
A new book has just been published about the role of the Hampshires, Devons and Dorsets during this period in Malta, copies are available here