Malta is Invaded. Now what?

At school, we were all taught about the Romans, Arabs, and Knights of St. John. We even learned about some important events such as the sieges of 1565 and 1942. In the second world war Malta served, as it always did, as a strategic base. With heroic accounts of spitfire pilots, Royal Navy convoys, and civilians in shelters, we have come to understand the war as a long but endured bombing campaign of our island. This was a far from likely conclusion to the war in 1942: Germany and Italy were planning to invade Malta. 

The attack was well underway with training and logistical planning complete. Despite the forces assembled in Sicily ready to embark landing craft and board planes, the plan (Operation ‘Herkules’ and ‘C3’ for the Germans and Italians respectively) kept being postponed. For the unaware British in Malta, it was expected at any moment. The invasion was not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’. To this end the British, learning from their experience in Crete, devised meticulously detailed plans to be executed in the event of an invasion. These plans survive as the ‘Malta Defence Scheme of 1942’. 

The German invasion of Crete. © IWM A 4154

In this top secret document, the British authorities describe what every branch of the army, civilian organisations, and people in villages should do in the event that parachutists start descending on Malta, and ships laden with axis soldiers fight their way to Ġnejna or Marsaxlokk. 

Every person was to stay put. Explicit orders were issued not to leave one’s village or city. Meanwhile, the army would arm thousands of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, traps, and other defences around Malta. Pillboxes, concrete defence posts, would be manned and ready for any enemy in their sights. Personnel on leave would be immediately recalled to take up their battle positions.

National Archives of Malta (ARP 6339)

Should the German and Italians attempt an operation on the scale of Crete, the British had some additional aces up their sleeve. One of which was mined landing strips. Both Safi & Qrendi strips were set to detonate as soon as an invading force was approaching, denying the likely airborne enemy valuable landing grounds for parachutists, gliders, and other aircraft. RAF Ta’ Qali, Luqa and Hal Far, would be defended by infantry and artillery as exceptionally crucial points of defence. Should their loss be immenent, they would be disabled with ‘tubular scaffolding’ to deny enemy aircraft any space for landing once the men retreat.

HM Goverment, Beach scaffolding defence; trial, UK National Archives (WO 1991618 )
National Archives of Malta (LG 587 41)

To protect the island against a sea-borne invasion, hundreds of defence posts were set up specifically around beaches and inlets. Their aim was to hold back the enemy to be eliminated on the landing ground with the help of mobile reserves. Should this task not be achieved, further lines of defence would come into action such as secondary and tertiary stop-lines and several roadblocks set up by the Malta Volunteer Defence Force (M.V.D.F), also known as the Malta Home Guard. They would all work towards repelling the enemy away from the centre of defence: Valletta.

National Archives of Malta (LG 587 41)

The British garrison certainly took an aggressive approach towards Malta’s defence. Even men stationed in concrete ‘bunkers’ were ordered to organise a party to attack any landing parachutists. If allowed to regroup and find the rifles and machine-guns dropped off behind them in a separate cannister-parachute, they would be a much more difficult enemy to deal with. It was therefore important to attack first, wherever, whenever, and however the enemy landed in Malta. 

If the invasion could not be repelled, wives and children of British servicemen would be evacuated. This was only proposed tentatively, for the loss of Malta was a scenario few dared to imagine. However, an invasion the likes of Crete or worse was accepted and expected, especially in 1942.