Independence did not come at an easy price for many countries throughout history, however, when you are speaking about Malta s Independence, the self-governance system only began in 1921 with the political landscape split into three factions:
- The pro-British group was in favour of growing the English language and culture in addition to the spread of the Maltese language.
- The pro-Italian group that called for the use of English and Italian languages but an increase in Italian cultural influences.
- The Labour Party, which was new to Maltese politics, with a program of mandatory education, the promotion of the Maltese and English languages and the development of socio-economic conditions.
Many conflicts occurred between the factions and their supporters, leading to elections being called off and the removal of the Constitution in 1930.
When elections were finally held, the Church supported the pro-Italian party pushing them to an overwhelming victory at the polls. More political crisis ensued leading to the Constitution being revoked once again and Malta returning to colonial rule about a year later. The British Government was back in full control of Malta and imposed Maltese and English as the two official languages. These are still in use today while Italian was forced out of use in official capacities.
Malta holds a strategic position in the Mediterranean Sea being just 81km south of Sicily and 355km north of the Libyan capital Tripoli.
The granting of a new Constitution came just as World War II started. Italy joined Germany as allies and Malta became a part of the war. The first consequence of the outbreak of war was an attack by Italian bombers on 11th June 1940. The Maltese people fled from the towns to hide in the countryside.
Old catacombs and an abandoned railway tunnel were converted to bomb shelters when the air raids intensified. Soon after, the Maltese began to build more tunnels inside the rocks to shelter. The Mediterranean theatre had never seen this type of war before, and the small island nation was practically defenceless with just four old Gloster Gladiator fighter planes. Despite the later addition of Hawker Hurricanes, they were still no match for the more than two hundred aircraft of the Italian Regia Aeronautica. The Axis powers desperately wanted to occupy Malta to ensure that vital supply lines between Sicily and North Africa were not disrupted. The Germans soon joined the air attacks on Malta, severely damaging most of the areas close to the airfields and harbour.
After Hitler had attacked Russia in June 1941, the German airforce was redeployed to the eastern front, reducing the severity of air raids on Malta. Coincidentally, Malta also received reinforcements that enabled her to go on the attack with about 24 Maltese submarines and land-based aircraft. Maltese forces began attacking Axis shipping and land targets in Sardinia, Sicily and North Africa. These attacks cut off the flow of essential supplies to Rommel. On 26th July 1941, Italian E-Boats attempted a seaborne offensive against the Grand Harbour of Malta which ultimately proved a failure due to radar sensors forewarning Maltese forces, allowing them to scuttle the attacks.
Soon after the failed attack, the Luftwaffe returned to Sicily in full force and resumed bombing campaigns on Malta. Soon, faced with the might and volume of the Germans, they began to run low on ammunition, supplies and food became scarce.
Despite their numerical disadvantages and lack of vital supplies and food, the Maltese held back the Germans and refused to be vanquished. The bravery and effectiveness of the Maltese defence were ultimately rewarded on the 15th of April 1942 by King George VI, who awarded the brave people of Malta the George Cross Medal.
The crippling food and munitions situation was at last salvaged in August 1942 when the Santa Marija Convoy eluded hundreds of Axis fighter planes and U-Boats to arrive safely in Valletta's ancient Grand Harbour. The replenishment of supplies had an enormous impact on Maltese spirit and morale which had been fast running out. They were once again resilient in defending the Island and finally Malta was declared safe enough for King George to visit in June 1943, to a raucous welcome by the brave islanders.
After another month of fighting Allied forces finally invaded Sicily, using Malta as an advanced base and war finally moved away from the island.
As a reward for their service and sacrifice during the War, Great Britain returned rule to Malta. New elections were organised, and the pro-Italian faction was removed. Because of the devastation brought about by the Axis bombing campaign, most inhabitants had lost their homes. The newly appointed Labour Government made rebuilding and improving social conditions their top priority, and the workers of the shipyards and docks began to join the burgeoning trade unions, making them a powerful political force.
Afte three years, the Nationalist Party split from the Labour Party to form a Coalition Government. This party now began to seek Dominion Status for the Island. Most of the party members were from the old pro-Italian party, but this image was gradually changing, in fact, many accused them of being pro-British. Instead of attracting the middle and upper classes of Maltese society they swelled their numbers with workers and trade union members.
When the British Labour Party came to power in the UK, Maltese representatives initially made a request for integration. However, the Labour Party changed plans and wanted independence leading to many conflicts and eventually resulting in the Labour Party losing substantial support in Parliament.
A new Labour Government came into power, and Malta was declared a Republic with Sir Anthony Mamo as its first President. By 31st March 1979, Malta and Britain had ended their Military Base Agreement, and the last British serviceman left the country, ushering Malta into an era of neutrality.
Today, tourism is one of the main sources of national income alongside local manufacturing industries boosted by expatriate financing also playing an important economic role.
The Maltese are still fiercely independent and proud, but deep down they understood that Malta needed to integrate with the larger European economies. The Labour Party wanted collaboration with Britain, and the veteran Nationalists pushed for association with Italy. Malta finally achieved its ambition of integration while retaining national sovereignty by becoming a member state of the EU in 2004.
If you wish to know more about Malta and it's impactful hisory, make sure to check out our other blog posts.
Italian Bombing of the Grand Harbour: By Unknown - http://dati.acs.beniculturali.it/SecondaGuerraMondiale/, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link