K.O.M.R: The King’s Own Malta Regiment
In 1800, the British would set foot in Malta. After two years fighting the French blockade, the islands would come under yet another foreign power. The Empire’s might would use Malta as a stepping stone to the Central and Eastern Mediterranean. Later on when the Suez Canal opened it would become an important waypoint for the red sea, India, and more. But such a prized jewel was eyed by many. Apart from the Royal Navy and British infantry regiments, Malta needed its own local defence.
For centuries fine soldiers were raised from the local Maltese population even before the British. The Order of St. John made good use of local privateers at sea, and skilled artillerists on land, to mention a few. The British would raise and disband a local fighting force whenever it needed to bolster its garrison. They raised the Maltese Light Infantry in 1800, and the Maltese militia between 1852 and 57. In 1889 the Royal Malta Regiment of Militia was created, re-named King’s Own Royal Malta Regiment of Militia in 1903, and disbanded in 1921.
Three times the Maltese formed part of the British army under their own standard. However, in 1931 it would be re-erected once again under the title of ‘King’s Own Malta Regiment’. Under this name, they would fight through Malta’s second world war.
Like any other regiment in the British army, they were trained infantrymen with bren-gun carriers to operate, defences to man and coastlines to patrol. Unlike other regiments, they would be equipped with the older SMLE No. 1 mk III instead of the more modern No. 4. Cloth shoulder titles and the iconic stone-coloured blanco would further set them apart but blend them right into limestone Malta.
They were split into the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 10th battalions in several parts of the island. By 1942, the defence of Malta was split into four sectors: North, South, East, and West. The KOMR would be tasked with the defence of the northernmost regions of Mellieha, Buġibba and Bahar ic-Cagħaq, as well as the coastline in Ġnejna and Military (Golden) bay. They would also defend Malta’s rocky underbelly between Hal Far and Żurrieq.
A particular defence post manned by the KOMR is documented in a personal memoir by Col. Borg. Writing about the arrival of MK VIII ammunition, he explains that:
Early in 1940 no one seemed to be a great expert at anything and, on occasions, the most incredible things happened at the most inconvenient times. This is being said because at the time, without any warning whatsoever or any instructions verbal or written, Ordnance suddenly supplied us at the Wied iż-Żurrieq and the Għar Lapsi Beach Posts with a great amount of Mark VIII Z ammunition and a streamlines barrel for Vickers 303 Medium Machine Gun (Borg, p. 25)
The KOMR would fight on through the war across the islands. Apart from patrolling and defending certain areas and coasts, they would also organise fatigue parties sent to assist in unloading convoys in the grand harbour, crater-filling, rubble clearing at the airfields, and much more. After the war, in 1965, the KOMR would form part of the Malta Land Force before being disbanded in 1972.
If there is one distinctive feature of the British Army in Malta it is the rubble-wall camouflage. Although particular to Malta, similar patterns were used elsewhere such as during Operation husky and the Germans in the Aegean. It is highly effective wherever the countryside is dominated by limestone walls. In Malta, every rural path is flanked by yellow stones of myriad shapes and sizes as if bric-a-brac but carefully placed to make slender tall walls. They complement the rugged garigue landscape, extend the rocky coastlines and seem almost woven into Malta’s stone-built villages. If the British needed to blend in, limestone stone was the best way to do it.
The Mk II helmet was usually issued in Olive green. The soldiers stationed on Malta, upon being ordered to camouflage themselves accordingly, painted yellow ‘circles’ of varying qualities. Using the existing olive colour, they would create space between the yellow splodges separating each ‘stone’.
If soldiers came from North Africa, such as the Hampshires, and already had a tan helmet, they could use brown paint to make the dividing lines and create stone-camo. Both original olive coating and added brown lines can be observed on malta-camo helmets.
Malta-camo was not only reserved for helmets. Anti-aircraft guns, field artillery, motorcycles, trucks, tanks, Bren gun carriers, and even entire defence posts/pillboxes were transformed into rubble walls using this technique. Together with standard tan paint, using local limestone as a guide Malta’s garrison saved countless lives from aerial reconnaissance and occasional strafing by enemy fighters.
Borg, C. (1990). Salute to Maltese Infantrymen. Marsa Press; Marsa.
Wismayer, J. (1989) The History of the King’s Own Malta Regiment. Said International.
AFM, K.O.M.R – Malta’s Infantrymen.Available online at: https://afm.gov.mt/en/info/history/Pages/KOMR.aspx