The place of Malta in British strategic policy 1925-1943
This study examines the part that Malta played in British military strategy in the period between the mid-1920s and the end of the war in North Africa in May 1943. A well-equipped British naval base had been established at Malta in the nineteenth century, and its importance increased after the end of the First World War. This was because it was chosen as the base for the Royal Navy's 'Main Fleet', largely to allow it to move more rapidly to the Far East in the event of war with Japan. It was essential that such an important base be adequately protected against sea or air attack, especially after Anglo-Italian relations deteriorated during the Abyssinian crisis of 1935-6, but the completion of an effective defence scheme was continually deferred. The reasons for this delay, and its impact on Malta's strategic value, are considered in the first part of this study, and the conclusion is reached that, given Britain's scarce resources, Malta was not unduly neglected. When Italy declared war on 10 June 1940 Malta was immediately bombed, but no attempt was made to capture the island. This allowed the British authorities to strengthen Malta's defensive and offensive capabilities in order, primarily, to reduce the flow of supplies to the Axis forces in North Africa. The second part of this study examines the factors that, at times, limited Malta's offensive operations and weighs these failures against the successes achieved at other times. This analysis concludes that the British derived significant operational advantages from the use of bases at Malta. In particular, during three critical periods when Allied offensives were in progress naval and air forces operating from Malta by sinking and damaging enemy shipping significantly reduced the flow of enemy supplies to North Africa and thereby made a major contribution to reducing Axis strength.