The small Mediterranean island of Malta played a pivotal role in the courses of both the two world wars. Based on several reasons, with the main one being the island’s strategic geographical position, Malta found itself deeply involved in direct military and indirect aspects of World War I and II…
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The dynamics of this involvement took different courses for the two wars, as Malta played different but crucial roles. A common aspect, however, is the interaction of Malta with the main countries involved in the war. These include UK, France, Italy and Turkey among others. The structure of the paper entails a look at the role of the island in World War I, followed by its role in World War II. In each case, a background on the state of Malta just before the war will start off the discussion, followed by analyzing the role it played in the given war in terms of its interactions with the world powers. The guiding thesis to this study is that Malta played a vital role in determining the course and outcomes of the world wars. Malta’s Role in World War I A brief overview of the state of Malta before World War I indicates that the island was a British Colony. In 1814, Britain had acquired Malta as part of its empire following the Treaty of Paris. The main attractions that Malta held were its geographical location in the Mediterranean Sea. The island is situated in approximately the middle-point of the Mediterranean Sea, which makes it a strategic position as a continental gateway between Europe and Africa. For Britain, Malta’s centrality between Gibraltar and the Suez Canal made the island an essential stop on the way to India, where Britain had historically strong interests. As a British colony preceding World War I, Malta served as shipping way stop and as a headquarter for British and other nations’ fleets. Britain’s interaction with Malta makes the country the first to be studied in terms of its interaction with the island during the First World War. An important point to note is that Malta did not play an active and substantial military role during World War I. The first instance of British-Malta interaction in terms of World War I happened in 1914 as Britain joined Russia and France in war against Germany. According to Austin (2004), Malta held a British Mediterranean Fleet of about 14 battleships prior to the First World War. The author states that Britain’s involvement in the war resulted in a rapid withdrawal of this fleet to meet the threat posed by Germany. British military was traditionally involved in patrol-like tendencies due to its strong navy, hence the need to involve the Mediterranean Fleet in war. Sciberras (2004) details the next level of interaction between Britain and Malta as the war progressed. According to this author, February 1915 saw an early enquiry of the possibility of hospital accommodation in Malta. The first arrivals of injured British (and other Allies’) soldiers were treated in the available hospitals, in Malta, during this period. The present hospital resource in Malta at the time was merely four small hospital facilities with 278 bed capacity (Rudolf and Berg, 2010). However, the projected increasing in number of casualties meant that the available hospital resources would be overwhelmed. Hence, there was provision of extra nursing accommodation in barracks and Maltese schools, with the available hospital resources expanded to make a total of 25,000 beds. The first convoys of wounded British soldiers arrived in Maltese hospitals in March 1915, and by September of the same year, Malta held about 10,000 soldiers under treatment. The Maltese population of the time took part in the treatment of these soldiers. With the progression of the war, Malta increasingly became a significant center for nursing British and Allies’ soldiers owing to its proximity to the areas of war and its ease of accessibility in comparison to the home countries. To highlight the importance of Malta’
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