Malta Command

Malta Command was an independent command of the British Army. It commanded all army units involved in the defence of Malta. Once mobilised the Command deployed its headquarters to underground hardened shelters[1] and its combat units were deployed to fixed points in the Maltese countryside, from where they operated from. This mobilised, but largely static army garrison would be tested by aerial bombardment and naval blockade during the Second World War.[2] Whilst Malta Command was already a functioning command structure before 1939, it had existed in the Great War and was specifically mentioned in a House of Commons debate of 12 February 1917; the Second World War would see the Command operate as a genuine war-fighting headquarters,[3] albeit in a static defensive role.

Malta Command
Croix de Malte.svg
Malta Command's Insignia and Shoulder Flash.
Founded1915
Disbanded1977
Service branchesOperations, Plans, Intelligence, Logistics, Communications and Medical
HeadquartersValletta, Malta
Personnel
ConscriptionRegular British and Maltese Army
Malta Command staff officers plotting troop positions on a wall map in the Command's underground Lascaris HQ operations room.
Malta Command hosted the combined British command staff as they planned the Allied assault on Sicily in 1943 (Operation Husky).
A high-level meeting involving senior US and UK staffs was hosted on Malta on 31 July 1945, General of the Army George C. Marshall is sat on the right facing the camera.
A Royal Artillery 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun and crew defending Malta.
British Troops come ashore from ships in Grand Harbour, Valletta.
British troops help clear a bomb-damaged Kingsway in Valletta, 11 May 1942.
A pair of RTR Matilda tanks (painted in distinctive Malta camouflage) taking part in a gunnery demonstration.
Infantry 3 inch mortars firing during an exercise. Note helmets are painted in Malta camouflage and the soldiers are carrying SMLE .303 rifles.
A Vickers MkVIc Light Tank on patrol in the Maltese countryside
A 4.5-inch anti-aircraft gun engages Axis aircraft during an air raid on Malta.
The crew of a Vickers Mk VIb Light Tank servicing one of their Vickers Machine Guns in the field. Note stone wall camouflage paintwork unique to Malta Command.
In muddy conditions an army Bren gun carrier is used to tow a trolley-load of 250-lb bombs to a Vickers Wellington at RAF Luqa.
Soldiers organised in a fatigue party wait to board a merchant ship to unload supplies at one of Valletta's docks.
Bomb damage to 32 Company RASC's motor transport depot in Floriana, 20 March 1942.
A 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun position overlooking Grand Harbour, located at Upper Barrakka Gardens looking across the harbour to Fort St Michael.

On 15 April 1942 the Island of Malta was awarded the George Cross by King George VI in recognition of the stalwart defence and fortitude of service personnel and civilians against a much more powerful Axis foe. Malta an Island of only 117 square miles had been more heavily bombed than London had been during their blitz.[4]

World War 1 and the Interwar YearsEdit

There is evidence that Malta Command existed in 1916,[5] 1917[6] and in 1929.[7]

Between 1935 and 1936 the following infantry battalions were on the Island and part of Malta Command:[8]

1939 - the Peacetime Garrison Transitions to War[9]Edit

Malta's garrison was a single infantry brigade; comprising the 2nd Battalion the Devonshire Regiment, 2nd Battalion the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment, 1st Battalion the Dorsetshire Regiment and the 2nd Battalion the Royal Irish Fusiliers. An infantry territorial unit was also present, the 1st Battalion The King's Own Malta Regiment. The Malta garrison's artillery was largely fixed and consisted of light and heavy anti-aircraft; and coastal defence artillery regiments drawn from the Royal Artillery (RA) and Royal Malta Artillery (RMA). The Royal Engineers were also in evidence with British and Maltese serving in the Corps on the Island.[10][11]

The Reinforced Army GarrisonEdit

On 11 March 1942 Malta Command became subordinate to General Headquarters (GHQ) Middle East.[12]

InfantryEdit

In late 1939 the pre-war garrison was reinforced up to an infantry division (commanded by Major General Sir Sanford John Palairet Scobell).[13] The original infantry garrison, plus the three brigades that reinforced the island's regular British Army were titled 1, 2, 3, and 4 Brigades; but were subsequently renumbered in 1943 as follows:[14]

Light Support WeaponsEdit

Name Type Photo Numbers on Island & Remarks
Two-inch mortar Light infantry mortar Each infantry battalion had 3 tubes per fighting platoon - circa 30
. 55-inch Boys anti-tank rifle Platoon anti-tank weapon Each infantry battalion had one per fighting platoon - circa 10. It was not a popular weapon to fire because of its extreme recoil and German tank armour was too difficult to penetrate, it was phased out in favour of weapons like the PIAT
.303 Lewis Light Machine Gun (LMG) Platoon fire support weapon Some infantry battalion (e.g. KOMR) had Lewis Guns in lieu of Bren LMGs. This was a WW1 design weapon but highly regarded because of the gun's magazine capacity and rate of fire
.303 Bren LMG Platoon fire support weapon Each infantry battalion had three per fighting platoon and on other fire support vehicles - circa 40

Personal weapons such as the .303-in SMLE, 9mm Sten or .38 service revolver are not included in this study.

ArtilleryEdit

  • The Island's regular Royal Artillery force component was like its Maltese counterpart performing a mainly fixed defence role, even wheeled artillery tended to occupy fixed positions to defend against a hostile landing at beaches:
    • 4th Coast Regiment, RA made up of (a HQ Battery, 6th, 10th & 23rd Coast Batteries)
    • 12th Field Regiment RA - initially equipped with 18 Pounder Field Guns, but later equipped with 25 Pounder Field Guns (the only real mobile artillery support for the infantry brigades).[17]
    • 26th Defence Regiment, RA made up of (a HQ Battery, 15th/40th & 48th/71st Defence Batteries).
  • The Royal Malta Artillery
    • Headquarters, RMA
    • 1st Coast Regiment, RMA composed of (a HQ Battery, 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th Heavy Batteries)

The anti-aircraft defence was understandably dense and British and Maltese anti-aircraft (AA) units were interwoven into the following ORBAT:[18]

Heavy Support WeaponsEdit

By 1940 Malta Command had a small amount of modern mobile field artillery, much of its artillery was located in fixed positions in the anti-aircraft and coastal defence royal. It was manned by members of the Royal Artillery and Royal Malta Artillery.

Name Type Photo Numbers on Island and Remarks
.303 Vickers Heavy Machine Gun Battalion fire support weapon Each infantry battalion had four guns normally in a single Machine Gun Platoon
3 Inch Mortar Infantry mortar - battalion indirect fire support Each infantry battalion had 6 mortar tubes[19]
2 Pounder Gun Infantry anti-tank weapon Each infantry battalion had two carried portee or dismounted in a 15cwt truck
18 Pounder Field gun/Howitzer Multi-role mobile field artillery One RA coastal defence regiment of 24 guns
25 Pounder Field gun/Howitzer Multi-role mobile field artillery One RA field regiment of 24 guns

For details of fixed artillery see Royal Malta Artillery's equipment list.

Royal Armoured CorpsEdit

Armour on IslandEdit

By 1942 Malta Command Tanks had a small mixed force of Royal Tank Regiment tanks known as "Malta Tanks" during its time on the Island. The only other armoured vehicles were the Universal Carriers of the infantry units.[20]

Name Type Photo Armament & Numbers on Island
Vickers Light Tank (Marks VIb&c) Reconnaissance Tank Dual turret fit of a Vickers .5in and .303 or Dual turret fit of a Besa 15mm and 7.92 mm Machine Guns - Three Deployed
Matilda (Mark II) Infantry Support Tank 2 Pounder 40mm gun & Besa 7.92 mm coaxial machine gun - Four Deployed
Cruiser (Mark III or A13) Cruiser Tank 2 Pounder 40mm gun & Besa 7.92 mm coaxial machine gun - Eight Deployed
Valentine (Mark III) Infantry Support Tank 2 Pounder 40mm gun & Besa 7.92 mm coaxial machine gun - Four Deployed
Bren Gun Carrier Lightly armoured tracked Infantry Weapons Carrier .55 Boys anti-tank rifle and/or .303 Bren Light Machine Gun - 10 deployed with each infantry battalion[21]

Combat & Service Support Units[22]Edit

Local Maltese Units (Regular and Territorial)Edit

Critical to the success and resilience of Malta's was local commitment and bravery the following units were fully integrated in Malta Command:[24]

The War Draws to a Close and the Post War PeriodEdit

On 2 December 1944 Malta Command regained its status as an independent command and it ceased its command relationship with GHQ Middle East in Cairo. The British would remember the war in a somewhat detached and romanticised fashion in films like The Malta Story; the Maltese never had a chance to record their views being viewed as 'plucky' citizens of a British colony.

In 1954 Headquarters Malta Command occupied the Auberge de Castille, known locally as "The Castille".[25] British Troops Malta became again part of Middle East Land Forces in 1960.

Forces in Maltawould be reduced from 1964 and this led to acrimony between the Maltese and British Governments, and the post independence period was a period of bitterness, British forces on the Island in the front line of Maltese antipathy. Major-General Henry Hovell-Thurlow-Cumming-Bruce, 7th Baron Thurlow commanded in 1962-63. In 1965, 4th (Leicestershire) Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment arrived to join Malta Garrison at St. Patrick's Barracks on the north coast of Malta. Under Brigadier Lord Grimthorpe OBE, Malta Garrison consisted of 4 R Anglian; 1 Battalion The Loyal Regiment; 1st Regiment Royal Malta Artillery (partially a transport regiment); and 1st Battalion King's Own Malta Regiment (TA). Malta Garrison was in turn responsible to HQ Malta and Libya, under Major-General J D Frost, with the other components being HQ Cyrenaica Area and HQ Tripolitania Area in Libya.[26]

Malta Command was largely wound up by 1977 with all major units repatriated to the UK. Salerno Company of 41 Commando Royal Marines finally left the island aboard a Royal Fleet Auxiliary Sir Lancelot Landing Ship Logistic on 31 March 1979.[27]

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Weldon, H E C. (2016). Drama In Malta. Pickle Partners Publishing. ISBN 9781786258496. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  2. ^ "British Military History - Malta 1930 - 1945". www.britishmilitaryhistory.co.uk. Archived from the original on 15 July 2014. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  3. ^ "Votes of Credit Debate. (Hansard, 12 February 1917), Section 360". hansard.millbanksystems.com. Hansard. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  4. ^ "BBC - WW2 People's War - Battle For Malta (A Soldier's Story)". www.bbc.co.uk. BBC. Retrieved 17 July 2017.
  5. ^ "THE HISTORY OF ANESTHESIA SOCIETY PROCEEDINGS" (PDF). 48. 2015: 79. Retrieved 17 July 2017. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ Light, Sue. "1-15 June 1917 - Scarlet Finders". www.scarletfinders.co.uk. Retrieved 17 July 2017.
  7. ^ "Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (1 December 2004) Serial 1477". www.dnw.co.uk. Dix Noonan. Retrieved 17 July 2017.
  8. ^ Royal Lincolnshire and Royal Anglian Regimental, Association. "The Royal Lincolnshire and Royal Anglian Regimental Association". www.thelincolnshireregiment.org. Retrieved 17 July 2017.
  9. ^ "History - The Land Forces". Malta at War Museum. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  10. ^ "History 2". Malta at War Museum. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  11. ^ "British Military History - Malta Command 1939" (PDF). Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  12. ^ "GHQ Middle East". www.ordersofbattle.com. Retrieved 17 July 2017.
  13. ^ "Malta Garrison 1940 - Infantry Brigades". maltaramc.com. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  14. ^ "Malta Command (1943)" (PDF). British Military History. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  15. ^ UK, National Archives. "Malta Command: Infantry: 8 Manchester Regiment". discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk. Retrieved 17 July 2017.
  16. ^ UK, National Archives. "Malta Command: Infantry: 2 Royal West Kent Regiment". discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk. Retrieved 17 July 2017.
  17. ^ Doherty, Richard (2016). Ubique: The Royal Artillery in the Second World War. History Press. ISBN 9780750979313. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  18. ^ "WO 373 Awards WO 373/78". www.hut-six.co.uk. Retrieved 17 July 2017.
  19. ^ "British Infantry Battalion TO&E" (PDF). British Military Hospital. Retrieved 16 July 2017.
  20. ^ "WWII Vehicles: The British Universal (or "Bren Gun") Carrier". warfarehistorynetwork.com. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  21. ^ "Universal Carrier". www.tanks-encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  22. ^ "WO 373 Awards WO 373/78". www.hut-six.co.uk. Retrieved 17 July 2017.
  23. ^ "Malta Garrison 1946". maltaramc.com. Retrieved 17 July 2017.
  24. ^ "Maltese Serving with the British Forces". www.iwm.org.uk. Imperial War Museum. Retrieved 17 July 2017.
  25. ^ Richards, Brian (2008). Malta. New Holland Publishers. ISBN 9781845378714. Retrieved 18 July 2017.
  26. ^ Michael Goldschmidt, Marching with the Tigers: The History of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment, via Google Books.
  27. ^ "Naval & Military - Salerno Company 41 CDO RM - Tal-Ħandaq Nostalgia". www.talhandaqnostalgia.org. Retrieved 18 July 2017.