Saturday 6 November 2010

Operation Husky, Malta in 1943

My chosen reading for a recent trip to Malta was 'D Day' by John Gunther. Not, as you might imagine, a book about the Normandy landings in 1944 but actually an eye witness account of the assault on Sicily in 1943 - Operation Husky. By a happy coincidence my wife and I found ourselves staying at the Hotel Phoenicia, the same hotel which was used by the author during his visit to the war torn island of Malta. For it was on the island of Malta that the operation was planned.

A short walk from the Hotel and quite close to the RAF Memorial, one cannot miss the huge medieval bastions surrounding the old town of Valetta. It was below these city walls, at the foot of the Lascaris Bastion, that Eisenhower planned the invasion of Sicily.

I'm told that the site is about to be turned into a tourist attraction. However, I was lucky in getting to see this historic place in its 'natural' state. Gunther recalls going down into the tunnels to what was known as '947' and meeting the General in a room that he described as a 'cubby hole'. Some 67 years later and after negotiating my way through a series of tunnels and  rubbish strewn passageways, I was able to identify vestiges of the original military presence. The following photographs show the complex as it is now.

One doesn't need to go far to see evidence of the impact of WWII on the Island of Malta. The decaying ruins of Valetta Opera House are testimony to the punishment visited upon the brave islanders as a result of Malta's strategic importance in protecting supply routes across the Mediterranean. (Bravery that was recognised by the award of a George Cross to the entire population).

Malta has many fascinating historical sights many of the most interesting which go back to time of the Knights of the Templar in the Middle Ages. For this trip my interest was drawn towards the vestiges of 19th and 20th century military architecture - sturdy legacies of the British occupation of the island which eventually ended in 1974. There are a number of interesting sites scattered around the island - these in addition to the major cocentrations in the area of the Grand Harbour, Valetta. One such site away from the main conurbations is Imtarfa. Here, the old Officer's Mess (above) is easy to find, situated as it is, in Officer's Mess Road.

The barracks themselves are now apartments. I found the original pediment sitting by the side of an access road (above). Other sites worth visiting include the empty Pembroke barracks, the airfield at Takali and the dilapidated Naval Hospital in Valetta. We visited in April, before the heat of summer and hired a car to explore this fascinating island. To see all of the sites we covered please click here.