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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Camilleri

The World War Two Siege of Malta in Numbers

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

Bombed-out ruins in Valletta

270,000 - Population of Malta and Gozo during the war.

1,581 - Civilians killed as a result of enemy action.

3,780 - People injured.

50,000 - People made homeless as a result of enemy bombings. This equates to 18.5% of the total population.

People queueing up for their daily meal from their local Victory Kitchen. During WW2, the people of Malta were to suffer extreme hardship, including the danger of constant bombing and the threat of starvation.

7,500 - Servicemen and merchant seamen killed on operations related to the Battle for Malta. This includes those lost at sea or shot down from the skies.

8 - Air raids on the first day of bombings. The very first raid took place on 11th June 1940 at 6.55 am. The last alert was sounded in Malta just over 4 years later, on 28th August 1944 at 8.45 pm, and the last all-clear at 9 pm.

A Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 bomber of the Italian Regia Aeronautica flying over Valletta during a bombing raid on the Grand Harbour.

3,343 - Air raids in total during that period. 2,031 (60%) of these raids came in 1942 alone.

282 - the largest amount of air raids in a single month came in April 1942, the worst month of the war for Malta, which saw the destruction of countless well-known landmarks, such as the Royal Opera House in Valletta, although scores of people were spared when a bomb which hit Mosta Church failed to explode.

2,357 - Total hours spent by the Maltese under air raids, equivalent to 98 days.

For the duration of the siege, people would be forced to spend long hours and sleepless nights in the underground air-raid shelters. Apart from offering some degree of protection from the near-constant attacks, the shelters also became the new home of those whose houses had been bombed.

154 - Successive days and nights under aerial attack in the Spring of 1942, meaning Malta holds the unenviable record for the heaviest, sustained bombing attack.

1 - 24-hour stretch without a single alert in the whole period of January to June 1942.

15,000 - Tons of bombs dropped on the Maltese Islands, almost 4 times the amount of bombs dropped by the Allies in the notorious attack on Dresden in February 1945.

6,700 - tons of these bombs were dropped in just 1 month - April 1942.

10,761 - Buildings destroyed, or extensively damaged and needing reconstruction. The vast majority were private dwellings.

The level of carnage and destruction caused by the heavy air raids on Malta is perhaps best epitomised by this image of Victory Street in Senglea following the so-called Illustrious Blitz in January 1941.

20,000 - Other private dwellings suffered damage and had to be repaired.

7,433 - Unexploded bombs dealt with by the Royal Engineers. They were busiest in 1942, with 5,448 (73% of the total).

A small number of specialist bomb disposal teams from the Royal Engineers were kept very busy defusing large numbers of unexploded bombs following - and sometimes during - air raids. The job was extremely perilous as they often had to deal with time delay fuzes, without any idea when the timer was going to run out, as well as anti-tampering devices designed to detonate the bomb as soon as anyone tried to render it safe.

27 - Allied warships or merchant vessels sunk by enemy bombing or mines in Malta’s harbours or in the immediate vicinity.

42 - Anti-aircraft guns to defend Malta in the first week of June 1940, as opposed to the 172 that had been recommended by the Committee of Imperial Defence in July 1939.

369 - British fighter planes shot down while defending Malta from air attack. Another 64 were destroyed on the ground during bombing raids on the airfields.

532 - Axis aircraft confirmed destroyed by the defenders. Of these, 357 belonged to the German Luftwaffe, and 175 to the Italian Regia Aeronautica.

An Italian aircraft shot down over the Maltese countryside. Malta's defence against air attack improved gradually and Axis losses increased. German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring once remarked that any German airman daily engaged in more than one risky sortie over Malta developed a state of tension defined as ‘Maltese sickness’.

241 - Axis aircraft destroyed by anti-aircraft guns. Another 48 were listed as probably shot down but could not be confirmed.

102 - Axis aircraft destroyed by Malta’s anti-aircraft guns in just 1 month! This figure was reached in April 1942.

The month of April 1942 was particularly succesful for Malta's anti-aircraft guns: they managed to shoot down no less than 102 enemy aircraft. Of course, many more would have also been brought down by the Royal Air Force fighter planes that also defended the skies above the island.

27 - Axis aircraft shot down by Canadian pilot George Beurling in a period of only 14 flying days, making him the most successful Allied fighter pilot of the air battle for Malta.

George "Screwball" Beurling, DSO, DFC, DFM & Bar was the most successful Canadian fighter pilot of WW2. He got most of his kills in Malta, when he was credited with shooting down 27 Axis aircraft in just 14 flying days over the besieged island. Beurling was tragically killed in a flying accident, aged just 26, after the war ended.

390,660 - Tons of Axis shipping sunk by Malta-based submarines in the period of 1st January 1941 to 1st May 1942.

During WW2, Allied submarines regularly operated from Malta. A submarine base was established at the Lazzaretto, a former quarantine hospital on Manoel Island, and commissioned as HMS Talbot. This small but deadly force was tasked with stopping all Axis supplies from Italy to Tripoli, and to wreak havoc among enemy shipping in the Mediterranean. The enormous losses they inflicted on the enemy were to prove decisive in the battles in North Africa.

128,353 - Tons of Axis shipping was sunk by just 1 submarine - HMS Upholder, the most successful of all British submarines. In 25 patrols while based at Malta, she sank 2 destroyers, 3 submarines, 3 troop transports, 10 supply ships, 2 tankers and 1 trawler.

8 - U Class submarines from Malta were lost while on patrol, including HMS Upholder, lost with all hands on her 25th patrol, which was to have been her last before she returned to the UK.

HMS Upholder was commanded by Lt. Cdr. Malcolm Wanklyn VC, DSO & Two Bars (left), who became the Allies' most successful submariner in terms of tonnage sunk - 128,353 tons according to estimates - including the heavily defended Italian troop transport SS Conte Rosso, for which feat he was awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest award for gallantry. Upholder was lost with all hands on 14th April 1942.

17 - Major convoy operations to Malta between 1940 and 1942.

65 - vessels formed part of the escort and support group for Operation Pedestal, making it the largest convoy operation ever undertaken up to that point. This consisted of 4 aircraft carriers, 2 battleships, 7 cruisers, 32 destroyers, 4 corvettes, 4 minesweepers, 8 submarines, 2 fleet oilers and 2 tug boats.

14 - Merchant ships took part in Operation Pedestal. 9 of them were sunk, with only 5 reaching their destination - Malta’s Grand Harbour.

The MV Brisbane Star was one of five merchant ships from Operation Pedestal - the famed Santa Marija Convoy - that somehow made it through to Malta, despite having her bow almost torn off after being hit by an aerial torpedo.

32,000 - Tons of supplies delivered by the surviving ships of Operation Pedestal, including around 10,000 tons of fuel brought in by the famous SS Ohio.

350 - Approximate number of Royal Navy and Merchant Navy personnel killed during Operation Pedestal.

The SS Ohio limping into Grand Harbour after a perilous journey in which she had been torpedoed, suffered two direct hits from enemy bombs and several close calls that caused serious damage, and even had two shot down enemy aircraft crashing onto her decks.

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