Award of the George Cross to Malta
The George Cross was awarded to the island of Malta by King George VI in a letter to the island's Governor, Lieutenant-General Sir William Dobbie, so as to "bear witness to the heroism and devotion of its people" during the great siege they underwent in the early part of World War II. Italy and Germany besieged Malta, then a British colony, from 1940 to 1942. The George Cross was incorporated into the Flag of Malta beginning in 1943 and remains on the current design of the flag.
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While Italian and German bombers brought havoc to the Maltese islands, the problem of supplies was soon felt. An invasion threat in July 1941 ended in complete failure when coast defenders spotted torpedo boats of the Italian Decima MAS special forces. Whilst people suffered hunger, a final assault to neutralise the island was ordered by the German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring. However, the people's heroism withstood every attack. On 15 April 1942 King George VI awarded the George Cross to the people of Malta in appreciation of their heroism.
The George Cross was awarded during the worst period for the Allies during the Second World War, as the Axis-force clearly appeared to have the upper hand. German planes were striking the island around the clock, day and night, with an incredible amount of bombs and munitions in an attempt to neutralise the British bases in Malta, since these were constantly getting in the way of their naval attempts to supply Rommel's North African campaign. Malta's geographic position, wedged as it is between Italy and North Africa, as well as dividing the Mediterranean basin into east and west put the islands in heavy danger. Malta-based British aircraft could reach as far as Tripoli in Libya to the south, Tunisia to the west and right over German bases in Italy; on Pantelleria, Sicily and even as far as the port of Naples farther to the north. Thus, standing right on the route of Italian convoys supplying Rommel's Afrika Korps.
At the time of the George Cross award, military resources and food rations in Malta were practically finished. Fuel was restricted to military action and heavily rationed, the population was on the brink of starvation, and even ammunition was running out, so much that Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns could only fire a few rounds per day.
Italian battleships of the Regia Marina out-gunned the British, yet the Royal Navy was far from out-classed. The German airforce had superior aircraft until late in the day, when Spitfires were finally sent to Malta. Also at this time, German and Italian strategists were planning Operation Herkules, a sea and air invasion of the Maltese Islands, an effort continuously postponed – until it was too late, because the Maltese Islands finally received their vital supply of fuel, food and munitions.
On 15 August 1942 (feast of Santa Maria) a convoy of Royal and Merchant Navy ships made port at Valletta's Grand Harbour, after completing one of the most heroic maritime episodes in recent history. To-date, this event remains commemorated in Malta in remembrance of that gift from heaven, the Convoy of Santa Maria, and all the men who lived and died in this and previous attempts to bring supplies to Malta.
The George Cross Award
The George Cross was instituted by King George VI, on 24 September 1940, replacing the Empire Gallantry Medal. It is the civilian equivalent to the Victoria Cross. While intended mainly for civilians, it is awarded also to certain fighting services, confined however to actions for which purely military honours are not normally given. This medal is awarded only for acts of the greatest heroism or the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.
Awarded to Malta
To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history.
Lieutenant-General Sir William Dobbie answered:
By God's help Malta will not weaken but will endure until victory is won.
The Cross and the King's message are today found in the War Museum in Fort Saint Elmo, Valletta. The fortitude of the population under sustained enemy air raids and a naval blockade which almost saw them starved into submission, won widespread admiration in Britain and other Allied nations. Some historians argue that the award could have been a propaganda gesture to justify the huge losses sustained by Britain to prevent Malta from capitulating as Singapore had done in the Battle of Singapore.
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- Which could not therefore be recognised by a military decoration, given that they typically require gallantry in the face of the enemy.
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- The other being that to the Royal Ulster Constabulary
- Image of handwritten letter World War II today
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