Battle Honour MALTA 1940

Event
Tuesday, 11 June, 1940

The distinction MALTA 1940, a Theatre Honour, is emblazoned on the Queen's Colours of The Royal Irish Regiment.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the 2nd Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers (2nd Faughs) was stationed in Malta and remained there until May 1943. From 11 January 1938, the Battalion had been stationed in Malta and the nearby island of Gozo. Strategically situated at the narrowest part of the Mediterranean Sea, whoever controlled Malta controlled the Mediterranean. During the ‘Sitzkrieg’ period, or Phoney War, the Battalion spent much of its time preparing and improving the island’s defences. It was the lull before the storm.

On 10 June 1940, Mussolini declared war on France and Britain and entered the war as an ally of Nazi Germany. Thus began the Siege of Malta and on the following day, 11 June, Italy’s Regia Aeronautica carried out air raids against airfields, dockyards and the capital city, Valetta. That afternoon, a patrol from the 2nd Faughs searched the Pembroke area for downed Italian pilots but found none. The island was subjected to continuous attack and bombing from the Italian and German air forces. From the end of 1940, the German Navy sank most of the ships that tried to re-supply the island people and their defenders. It was only when the Axis forces began to be defeated in North Africa from August 1942, that supplies got through and in November 1942, the siege of Malta was finally over.

The diary of Major John Shepherd from Armagh records that when the first ships got through, the soldiers and inhabitants had only cabbage and water left to eat, all animals from goats to rats and all birds had been eaten. All through the siege, the people of Malta refused to surrender to the Axis Forces and in recognition of this, King George VI awarded the George Cross to the island. The islanders knew that they could not have survived without the steadfast Royal Irish Fusiliers who suffered significant casualties, twenty-one of whom are buried in Malta’s war cemeteries. In appreciation three of the main villages presented gifts to the Regiment, the village of Naxxar presented a silver model of an ancient Maltese cannon.