Malta is an archipelago in the central Mediterranean between Sicily and the North African coast. It was a British colony for almost 150 years before gaining independence in 1964. The island has a proven history and has been ruled by many nations from Roman times. It is dotted with many fortresses, megalithic temples, as well as an underground complex of burial chambers and chambers. Called? Al Saflieni Hypogeum, these date from 4000 BC.
The island came under British control in 1814 after the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Its importance as a stopover destination for shipping increased enormously with the opening of the Suez Canal and it became a major stopover point on the way to India. The island’s importance increased during WWII and was a constant source of irritation to the German-Italian axis, especially when they were operating in North Africa.
During World War II, Malta was close to the axis of the shipping lines and was repeatedly bombarded by German and Italian bombers. The British had a naval presence and a submarine base and launched attacks on the axis’ sea lanes. More importantly, it was used as a listening post for the coded Enigma messages of the Axis powers.
The Italian high command had realized the importance of Malta and Mussolini was eager to capture the island. By early 1941, however, he had realized that capturing the island was not going to be easy. The Italian general staff did not trust the success of an amphibious attack. As it is, the Italian army was having a difficult time against the British army led by General Wavell and they could not think of an assault on Malta.
After the capture of thousands of Italians as prisoners of war by the British-Indian army, Adolf Hitler turned his attention to North Africa and it was then that the problem of Malta was thrown at him. During a meeting of April 29-30, 1942 between Hitler and Mussolini it was agreed that the island of Malta would be invaded. Hitler appointed General Kurt Student, chief of the German paratroopers, to prepare plans for the invasion of the island. At the back of Hitler’s mind was the German invasion of the island of Crete in May 1941. During the Battle of Crete, waves of German paratroopers had landed on the island to secure vital airports and facilities until the arrival of German troops. on gliders. German paratroopers suffered heavy casualties and Hitler was wary of launching a similar attack on Malta. However, plans were formulated to capture the island. Now General Student was asked to prepare a three-stage plan for the capture of Malta and the capital, Valletta. “Operation Herkules” was sanctioned.
The Italians had carried out a thorough reconnaissance of the island and the positions of the guns and even their caliber and the location of the port and corrals had been carefully mapped.
The first assault was to be carried out by airborne troops of the Italian and German army under the general command of General Kurt Student. The general had been in charge of the airborne assault on Crete and was able to draw on his experience in that battle.
In the first phase, the Axis Powers planned to land 29,000 troops. To do this, they planned to use the JU 52 and DFS 30 and GO 42 gliders. The DFS 30 could carry 10 paratroopers, while the Jio 42 could carry 23. In addition, 24 giant Messerschmitt ME 321 gliders would be used towed by HE111 bombers that could carry 200 soldiers. The Luftwaffe was to put into operation 500 aircraft. The Italian Air Force agreed to collaborate with 180 to 200 aircraft for the invasion.
The troops who were to participate in the operation were even identified. They were the German Flieger 7 Division and the Italian 185 Airborne Division. The Italians were also to use the 80th Infantry Division of about 10,500 men for the landing.
After phase 1, phase 2 would be launched and this would include 70,000 Italian troops landing on the beaches of Malta to promote the conquest. Italian warships were supposed to provide cover for the landing troops. The paratroopers were expected to have neutralized and taken control of most vital positions on the island.
The Axis Powers were aware that Malta was defended by 15 battalions approximately 26,000 soldiers and capturing the island was not going to be easy.
Phase 3 of the operation was a complete capture of the island and the taking of British soldiers as prisoners of war.
The operation was never carried out
The British had fortified the island with cannons at strategic points. The operation was scheduled for mid-1942. General Rommel was aware of this plan and asked Hitler to be given general command of the assault on Malta. Rommel was well aware of the importance of capturing Malta and had also suggested that he would not mind transferring some of his troops for the operation from Libya, but Herman Goering, the head of the Luftwaffe, opposed this invasion. He feared a disaster similar to that in Crete and voted against it. Field Marshal Kesselring was in favor of the invasion, but was deterred when he was told that too many units would be withdrawn from the German lines of advance in Egypt for the Malta capture operation. Hitler himself had his doubts and by then the operation in Russia was in full swing. In the minds of the OKH and Adolf Hitler, Malta lost its importance. This was a strategic mistake that Hitler could not have imagined at the time. Rommel was the only man who could understand the importance of the capture of Malta, which would have given a tremendous boost to the German Axis battles in North Africa. It was revoked and in November 1942 the entire operation was canceled.
This was to be the most important phase of the battle and the Luftwaffe was to carry out the regular bombardment of the island and the Italian Navy was supposed to provide fire cover for the landing troops.