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In a letter written to Philip II only four days after the siege began, de Valette himself says that "the number of soldiers that will make land is between 15, and 16,, including seven thousand arquebusiers or more, that is four thousand janissaries and three thousand sipahis.
Indeed, a letter written during the siege by the liaison with Sicily, Captain Vincenzo Anastagi , states the enemy force was only 22, and several other letters of the time give similar numbers.
Before the Turks arrived, de Valette ordered the harvesting of all the crops, including unripened grain, to deprive the enemy of any local food supplies.
Furthermore, the Knights poisoned all wells with bitter herbs and dead animals. The Turkish armada arrived at dawn on Friday, 18 May, but did not at once make land.
Piyale wished to shelter it at Marsamxett Harbour , just north of the Grand Harbour, in order to avoid the sirocco and be nearer the action, but Mustafa disagreed, because to anchor the fleet there would require first reducing Fort St.
Elmo, which guarded the entrance to the harbour. Mustafa intended, according to these accounts, to attack the poorly defended former capital Mdina , which stood in the centre of the island, then attack Forts St.
Angelo and Michael by land. If so, an attack on Fort St. Elmo would have been entirely unnecessary.
Nevertheless, Mustafa relented, apparently believing only a few days would be necessary to destroy St. After the Turks were able to emplace their guns, at the end of May they commenced a bombardment.
It certainly seems true that Suleiman had seriously blundered in splitting the command three ways. He not only split command between Piyale and Mustafa, but he ordered both of them to defer to Dragut when he arrived from Tripoli.
Contemporary letters from spies in Constantinople, however, suggest that the plan had always been to take Fort St.
Elmo first. While the Ottomans were landing, the knights and Maltese made some last-minute improvements to the defences of Birgu and Senglea.
The Ottomans set up their main camp in Marsa , which was close to the Knights' fortifications. The darkness of the night then became as bright as day, due to the vast quantity of artificial fires.
So bright was it indeed that we could see St Elmo quite clearly. The gunners of St Angelo Having correctly calculated that the Turks would seek to secure a disembarkation point for their fleet and would thus begin the campaign by attempting to capture Fort St Elmo, de Valette sent reinforcements and concentrated half of his heavy artillery within the fort.
The unremitting bombardment of the fort from three dozen guns on the higher ground of Mt. Sciberras began on 27 May,  and reduced the fort to rubble within a week, but de Valette evacuated the wounded nightly and resupplied the fort from across the harbour.
After arriving in May, Dragut set up new batteries to imperil the ferry lifeline. On 3 June, a party of Janissaries managed to seize the fort's ravelin and ditch.
The Turks attacked the damaged walls on June 10 and 15, and made an all out assault on June 16, during which even the slave and hired galley oarsmen housed in St Elmo, as well as the native Maltese soldiers, reportedly fought and died "almost as bravely as the Knights themselves.
At Dragut's insistence a cannon's aim was lowered, but the aim was too low, and when fired its ball detached part of the trench which hit Dragut in the head, killing him,  although according to Bosio, it was a lucky shot from Fort St.
Angelo that mortally wounded him. Finally, on 23 June, the Turks seized what was left of Fort St. A small number of Maltese managed to escape by swimming across the harbour.
Although the Turks did succeed in capturing St. Elmo, allowing Piyale to anchor his fleet in Marsamxett, the siege of Fort St.
Elmo had cost the Turks at least 6, men, including half of their Janissaries. Mustafa had the bodies of the knights decapitated and their bodies floated across the bay on mock crucifixes.
In response, de Valette beheaded all his Turkish prisoners, loaded their heads into his cannons and fired them into the Turkish camp.
By this time, word of the siege was spreading. As soldiers and adventurers gathered in Sicily for Don Garcia's relief, panic spread as well.
There can be little doubt that the stakes were high, perhaps higher than at any other time in the contest between the Ottoman Empire and Europe.
Queen Elizabeth I of England wrote: . If the Turks should prevail against the Isle of Malta, it is uncertain what further peril might follow to the rest of Christendom.
All contemporary sources indicate the Turks intended to proceed to the Tunisian fortress of La Goletta and wrest it from the Spaniards, and Suleiman had also spoken of invading Europe through Italy.
However, modern scholars tend to disagree with this interpretation of the siege's importance. Sire, a historian who has written a history of the Order, is of the opinion that the siege represented an overextension of Ottoman forces, and argues that if the island had fallen, it would have quickly been retaken by a massive Spanish counterattack.
Although Don Garcia did not at once send the promised relief troops were still being levied , he was persuaded to release an advance force of some men under the command of Don Melchior de Robles, a Spanish knight.
After several attempts, this piccolo soccorso Italian : small relief managed to land on Malta in early July and sneak into Birgu, raising the spirits of the besieged garrison immensely.
On 15 July, Mustafa ordered a double attack against the Senglea peninsula. He had transported small vessels across Mt. Sciberras to the Grand Harbour, thus avoiding the strong cannons of Fort St.
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Kingdom of Naples. This led to a notable increase in the bombing of Malta. A Stabsstaffel of Sturzkampfgeschwader 3 StG 3 arrived. One particular target was aircraft carriers.
It had played the key role in the Battle of Taranto, handing naval supremacy to the British, hence it became top of the Axis' target list.
The Luftwaffe crews believed four direct hits would sink the ship and began practice operations on floating mock-ups off the Sicilian coast.
An opportunity to attack the vessel came on 6 January. The British Operation Excess was launched, which included a series of convoy operations by the British across the Mediterranean Sea.
Some 10 Ju 87s attacked the carrier unopposed. One destroyed a gun, another hit near her bow, a third demolished another gun, while two hit the lift, wrecking the aircraft below deck, causing explosions of fuel and ammunition.
Another went through the armoured deck and exploded deep inside the ship. Two further attacks were made without result.
Badly damaged, but with her main engines still intact, she steered for the now dubious haven of Malta. The British operation should not have been launched: Ultra had informed the Air Ministry of Fliegerkorps X ' s presence on Sicily as early as 4 January.
Hits were scored on both; Southampton was so badly damaged her navy escorts scuttled her. Over the next 12 days, the workers at the shipyard in the Grand Harbour repaired the carrier under determined air attack so that she might make Alexandria.
On 18 January, the Germans switched to attacking the airfields at Hal Far and Luqa in an attempt to win air superiority before returning to Illustrious.
On 20 January, two near misses breached the hull below the water line and hurled her hull against the wharf.
Nevertheless, the engineers won the battle. On 23 January, she slipped out of Grand Harbour, and arrived in Alexandria two days later.
The carrier later sailed to America where she was kept out of action for a year. The Luftwaffe had failed to sink the carrier.
They withdrew their fleet's heavy units from the central Mediterranean and risked no more than trying to send cruisers through the Sicilian Narrows.
Both the British and Italian navies digested their experiences over Taranto and Malta. The appearance in February of Messerschmitt Bf E-7 fighters of 7.
Staffel squadron Jagdgeschwader 26 26th Fighter Wing or JG 26 , led by Oberleutnant Joachim Müncheberg , quickly led to a rise in RAF losses; the German fighter pilots were experienced, confident, tactically astute, better-equipped and well-trained.
Five Hurricanes arrived at Malta in early March, another six on 18 March. On 1 March, the Luftwaffe attacks on airfields destroyed all of the Wellingtons brought in in October.
Royal Navy warships and Sunderland flying boats could not use the island for offensive operations, and the main fighter squadrons, Nos. The flotilla had been officially formed on 8 April , in response to the need for a Malta Strike Force.
This formation was to interdict Axis convoys. Commander Lord Louis Mountbatten 's 5th Destroyer Flotilla was later ordered to merge with Mack's fleet to increase its striking power.
The strike force had considerable success, which justified basing it at Malta despite the danger from air attack. On 21 May, the force was sent to join the Battle of Crete.
It was several months before the depleted strike force returned. Further success was had by the Malta Convoys. The Axis air forces maintained air superiority; Hitler ordered Fliegerkorps X to protect Axis shipping, prevent Allied shipping passing through the central Mediterranean and neutralise Malta as an Allied base.
Around German and Italian aircraft carried out the operation, and the RAF struggled to fly more than six or eight fighter sorties. Occasionally, 12 Hurricanes were flown in from British carriers but the replacements were soon used up.
From 11 April — 10 May, Axis raids were carried out against military installations on Malta. Most of the heavy equipment in Grand Harbour was destroyed and the dry-docks could only be operated by hand.
It was many more times the tonnage dropped by the Italians, but far short of the amount dropped the following year. More than 2, civilian buildings were destroyed as opposed to only during the Italian siege.
Eventually, 2, miners and stonemasons were recruited to build public shelters but the pay was poor and the miners threatened to strike, and were threatened with conscription into the army.
The workers capitulated but instituted a go-slow, trebling the cost of the work. In April, Hitler was forced to intervene in the Balkans which led to the campaign of that name; it was also known as the German invasion of Yugoslavia and included the Battle of Greece.
The subsequent campaign and the heavy German losses in the Battle of Crete convinced Hitler that air drops behind enemy lines, using paratroopers, were no longer feasible unless surprise was achieved.
He acknowledged that the chances of success in an air operation of that kind were low; German airborne forces did not undertake any such operations again.
This had important consequences for Malta, as it indicated the island was only at risk from an Axis siege. When, in June, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union under Operation Barbarossa , Fliegerkorps X departed for the Eastern Front, and the Regia Aeronautica was left to continue its highly effective air campaign against Malta in the coming months.
Supply issues were bad, the small German force left was forced to abandon operations on 22 April By early May , the Luftwaffe had flown 1, bomber, 1, fighter and reconnaissance missions for just 44 losses.
Still, he had every intention of taking the offensive. Outside his office, in the underground headquarters at Lascaris , he hung a sign outside; "Less depends on the size of the dog in the fight than on the size of the fight in the dog".
Within a few hours Lloyd had made an inspection tour of the airfields and the main workshops at Kalafrana. The state of the island was worse than he expected.
The slackening of German air activity had allowed the number of aircraft to increase, but the RAF still had fewer than 60 machines of all types.
Maintenance was difficult. Hardly any spare or replacement parts were available—spares had to be obtained by sifting through the debris of wrecks or by cannibalising undamaged aircraft.
Furthermore, the airfields were too small; there was no heavy equipment to work with; and even the commonest sorts of tools, such as hammers and wrenches, were all but impossible to find.
All refuelling had to be done by hand from individual drums. The shelter was also inadequate, so there was little protection for what equipment they did have.
Most aircraft were clustered together on open runways, presenting tempting targets. At Kalafrana, all the buildings were close together and above ground.
The single engine-repair facility on Malta was located right next to the only test benches. Lloyd himself said, "a few bombs on Kalafrana in the summer of would have ruined any hope of Malta ever operating an air force".
Usually, the protection of air defences and naval assets on the island would have had priority.
Certainly bringing in more supplies would have made greater strategic sense, before risking going on to the offensive and thus in turn risking the wrath of the enemy.
But the period was an eventful one. RAF forces on Malta could not afford to sit idle; they could prevent Rommel's advance, or slow it down, by striking at his supply lines.
Malta was the only place from where British strike aircraft could launch their attacks. Lloyd's bombers and a small flotilla of submarines were the only forces available to harass Rommel's supply lines into the autumn.
Only then did the surface fleets return to Malta to support the offensive. With the exception of coal, fodder, kerosene and essential civilian supplies were such that a reserve of 8—15 months was built up.
Operation Substance was particularly successful in July The supplies included spares and aircraft. Around 60 bombers and Hurricanes were now available.
This convoy proved critical to saving Malta, as its supplies were deemed to be essential when the Germans returned in December.
In mid, new squadrons—No. Naval carriers flew in a total of 81 more fighters in April—May. By 12 May, there were 50 Hurricanes on the island.
On 21 May, No. By early August, Malta now had 75 fighters and anti-aircraft guns. Bristol Blenheim bombers also joined the defenders and began offensive operations.
Besides preparing for offensive operations and reinforcing the RAF on the island, Lloyd also rectified many of the deficiencies.
Thousands of Maltese and 3, British Army soldiers were drafted in to better protect the airfields. Even technical staff, clerks and flight crews helped when required.
Dispersal strips were built, repair shops were moved underground from dockyards and airfields. Underground shelters were also created in the belief that the Luftwaffe would soon return.
In the attack, 15 men were killed and 18 captured, and most of the boats were lost. The bridge was never restored, and it was only in that a new one was built in its place.
Lloyd asked his bombers to attack at mast-height, increasing accuracy but making them easier targets for Italian anti-aircraft defences. Part of the reason for this favourable outcome in November , was the arrival of Force K of the Royal Navy, which during the Battle of the Duisburg Convoy sank all the ships, which practically blockaded Libyan ports.
Following the disaster and with a resurgence of the Axis aerial bombardment of Malta, surface ships were withdrawn from the central Mediterranean in January While Italian bombing was again proving successful against the British, the Luftwaffe returned in force in December to renew intensive bombing.
Eight Marylands, two other aircraft, three Beaufighters, one Blenheim fighter and many bombers were also lost. The mounting shipping supply losses affected Geisler's ability to support Erwin Rommel and his forces, which caused tension between the Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe.
Geisler was to be returned to Sicily with his remaining air strength to solve the issue. However, the Germans backed down over Italian protests.
On 6 October Geisler did extend his air sector responsibilities to cover the Tripoli-Naples sea route to curtail losses. They quickly eliminated Malta's striking force, which was beyond the range of fighter escort while over the Mediterranean.
In the first two months, around 20 RAF bombers and reconnaissance aircraft were shot down. The only notable triumph was the sinking of the 13,ton Victoria merchant ship, one of the fastest merchantmen afloat, by a Fairey Albacore of Squadron, flown by Lieutenant Baxter Ellis, on 23 January.
Over the island, the defensive arm of the RAF was also put under pressure. Kesselring began with a raid on New Year's Day, the 1,th raid of the war.
Of the fighters that had passed through or stayed on the island since the war began, only 28 remained. One-third of all raids were directed against airfields.
The usual tactic involved a sweep ahead of the bombers by German fighters to clear the skies; this worked, and air superiority was maintained.
Only slight losses were suffered by the bombers. Dobbie and the British naval and air commanders argued for modern aircraft, particularly Spitfires , to be sent to Malta.
The pilots told Embry that the Hurricanes were useless and that the Spitfire was their only hope. The squadron leaders argued the inferiority of their aircraft was affecting morale.
Embry agreed and recommended that Spitfires be sent; the type began arriving in March On 29—30 April , a plan for the invasion of the island was approved by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini during a meeting at Berchtesgaden.
It envisaged an airborne assault with one German and one Italian airborne division, under the command of German General Kurt Student. This would have been followed by a seaborne landing of two or three divisions protected by the Regia Marina.
The Italians, in agreement with Kesselring, made the invasion of Malta the priority in the region. Print Cite. Facebook Twitter.
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