SGM Herbert A. Friedman (Ret.)

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Map of Malta

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 Malta Flag

The lapel badge worn by the members of the Comitato d’azione maltese during the war.

After Italy foolishly sent an unprepared military force to North Africa, Germany was forced to come to its weaker allies aid. Many scholars think that the German adventure in Africa, and later in the Balkans, on the behalf of Italy threw them so far behind in their schedule that they ultimately lost the war in a bitter Russian winter.

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Field Marshal Erwin Rommel

Rommel was in North Africa fighting the British to a draw, but to keep him supplied, fuel. Ammunition and war materials had to cross the Mediterranean. The British controlled island of Malta sat alone along the precious Axis supply route and was in a position to starve the German troops. The answer was simple, bomb Malta into submission and then the supplies could be easily sent to the Desert Fox. Since I want to talk about the propaganda leaflets of this battle I will use Wikipedia to give the reader the background of the battle.

This Battle of Malta in the Second World War was a military campaign in the Mediterranean Theatre from 1940 to 1942. The fight for the control of the strategically important island of Malta, then a British colony, pitted the air forces and navies of Italy and Germany against the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy.

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Many Maltese backed the Fascist government of Italy and sabotage and espionage were always a British concern. A significant part of the Maltese population wanted to join the Kingdom of Italy, especially after the advent of Fascism that claimed that Malta was Italian. "7 June" is one of the national holidays in Malta . It commemorates the events of June 7, 1919, when British troops fired on the unarmed crowd demonstrating against rising bread prices as a result of new taxes introduced by the British authorities. This event strengthened the pro-Italian feelings of many of the Maltese population. Carlo Mallia founded the Maltese Action Committee in Rome. With the onset of hostilities, numerous activists living on Malta were arrested by the British government and deported to prison camps in Uganda.

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Carmelo Borg Pasini

Carmelo Borg Pisani was born in Senglea on 10 August 1915 to a well-known Maltese Catholic and nationalist family. He believed that the British were destroying the Italian soul of Malta and that it was necessary to drive the British out. He joined the Fascist Party in Italy and became a “Blackshirt.” He enlisted in the Militia obtaining the Blackshirt rank of Sotto Capo Manipolo (Platoon sub-chief), which is equal to an American Second Lieutenant. He also became part of the Military Information Service. He obtained Italian citizenship by renouncing the British one and returning his passport through the US embassy in Rome which represented the United Kingdom. He volunteered for a reconnaissance expedition to Malta in preparation for the invasion of the island. On 18 May 1942 he secretly landed at the "Cliffs of Dingli" of Ras id-Dawwara. He was discovered by the British and tried for espionage in secret to avoid the protests of the Maltese Nationalists. Despite having renounced British citizenship in favor of the Italian, he was not recognized as a prisoner of war, and he was sentenced to death by hanging. He was executed on 28 November 1942 in the Corradino prison. He said:

Malta is not English for usurpation and I am not a British subject because of this usurpation. My true homeland is Italy. It is therefore for her that I must fight.

King Vittorio Emanuele III of Italy awarded him the gold medal for military valor.

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Italian bombing of the Grand Harbor

The opening of a new front in North Africa in June 1940 increased Malta's already considerable value. British air and sea forces based on the island could attack Axis ships transporting vital supplies and reinforcements from Europe; Churchill called the island an “unsinkable aircraft carrier.” General Erwin Rommel, in command of Axis forces in North Africa, recognized its importance quickly. In May 1941, he warned that “Without Malta the Axis will end by losing control of North Africa.”

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A heavily bomb-damaged street in Valletta, Malta

The Axis resolved to bomb or starve Malta into submission, by attacking its ports, towns, cities, and Allied shipping supplying the island. Malta was one of the most intensively bombed areas during the war. The Luftwaffe and the Regia Aeronautica flew a total of 3,000 bombing raids over a period of two years in an effort to destroy RAF defenses and the ports. Success would have made possible a combined German–Italian amphibious landing to be named Operation Herkules supported by German Fallschirmjäger (airborne forces). The Germans and Italians failed. Allied convoys were able to supply and reinforce Malta, while the RAF defended its airspace at great cost in material and lives. In November 1942, the Axis lost the Second Battle of El Alamein, and the Allies landed forces in Vichy French Morocco and Algeria under Operation Torch. The Axis diverted their forces to the Battle of Tunisia, and attacks on Malta were rapidly reduced. The Battle of Malta effectively ended in November 1942.

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British Spitfires

In December 1942, air and sea forces operating from Malta went over to the offensive. By May 1943, they had sunk 230 Axis ships in 164 days, the highest Allied sinking rate of the war. The Allied victory in Malta played a major role in the eventual Allied success in North Africa.

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Your Spitfires in Action

This poster and the next were printed in Malta by Maltese Lithographers. They are part of a collection of “Thank You Malta” Posters. The posters were produced to publicly acknowledge the role played by the Maltese public in raising much needed funds for two Spitfire fighter aircraft for the defense of Britain during the crucial Battle of Britain.

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The Spitfire "Malta" under Construction

A news-clipping dated 14 September 1940, says that the Anglo-Maltese League had sent 4,000 pounds to the British Minister of Aircraft Production bringing the total sent to 10,000 pounds. This was the second installment toward paying for a Spitfire. The President of the League ends with a hope that the balance required to fully pay for the plane will soon be collected. 

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Your Mobile Canteen in Action

This “Thank You Malta” Poster was for funding a mobile canteen. Other funds went to buy medical supplies for the British Red Cross and the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade. The fundraising was mostly carried out early in the war by the Anglo-Maltese League. During the Battle for Malta a UK based “Malta Relief Fund” was started in return which raised far bigger funds to help out the beleaguered islanders with food, clothing and medicine.

On 15 April 1942, King George VI awarded the George Cross (the highest civilian award for gallantry) to the island fortress of Malta — its people and defenders. Franklin D. Roosevelt arrived on 8 December 1943, and presented a United States Presidential Citation to the people of Malta on behalf of the people of United States. It read in part: “Under repeated fire from the skies, Malta stood alone and unafraid in the center of the sea, one tiny bright flame in the darkness – a beacon of hope for the clearer days which have come.”

The Leaflet War

Unfortunately we do not have a good example of Allied leaflets that mention Malta. We do have a set of eight Italian leaflets to the people of Malta, reminding them that they are Italian. We have found a few British leaflets, but in general they are newsletters that just mention the Island in passing. Malta was a British operation and we do not find much data in American records. I studied the Archives on the Falling Leaf, the journal of the old international PSYWAR Society and found 11 references but none were worth adding to this story. I looked through German records without much luck. My friend Lee Richards had 14 examples of British propaganda in his leaflet archive on that mentioned Malta, but just a few were illustrated. In general, this was a small battle fought in the middle of the Mediterranean with little hoopla or publicity in the United States. The Italian fleet did surrender at Malta so there were some news stories on that event. So, although we know we will not have all the images we usually find in such battles, we will try to give a balanced look at the Siege of Malta.

Early in the war it was difficult for Great Britain to drop leaflets on Italy, even though they believed that Italy was the weakest and most vulnerable of the Axis partners. They could drop leaflets from Malta which was just a short distant from the boot of Italy. According to Richard Overy in The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945, in November of 1940, the British prepared their first leaflet on Malta to be dropped on the Italians. It called for revolution:

On hearing the great signal all of you on to the square armed with whatever you can lay your hands on: Hoes, pickaxes, shotguns, even sticks. Create a civilized and democratic Italy and be ready for the call to COUNTER- REVOLUTION.

10,000 leaflets printed in January 1941 were titled Mussolini or Bombs? and threatened the Italians with bombing.

In April 1941 a leaflet printed in Malta was titled Rome in Danger. The British threatened to bomb Rome if the Italians bombed Athens or Cairo.

We start with the Italian leaflets.

Italian Leaflets

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The Island of Malta…

The Island of Malta is evidently the property of the King of Naples, and any discussion about this would be useless.  Lord Nelson, October 13, 1798.

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The Maltese fought…

The Maltese fought valiantly for that political liberty of which we have so shamefully deprived them.  [Robert Montgomery] Martin, History of the British Colonies.

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And you, Mother Italy…

And you, Mother Italy, the most beautiful among the most beautiful lands in the world, our mother for this lovely language that rings from our lips, caress of velvet, murmur of the waves, whispering of angels, tell me, don’t you see how they push us ever more into your arms, we who dream you, who admire you, who sing you, poets? You well know that I availed myself of poetry to sing hymns to my motherland, and of my motherland, to give a soul to my rhymes. And in these my late and heavy years, I want to throw at your feet, Mother most holy, and beautiful and glorious, my last words – a poem – inspired today by the thought of my motherland! Hail, Italy, hail!  Ramiro Barbaro di San Giorgio, Maltese poet and patriot, 1840-1920.

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Malta must be returned…

Malta must be returned to Italy, because it is Italian by race, by culture, by religion and by history. Because England occupied it in the name of the King of Naples and with troops under the command of a British officer wearing a Bourbon uniform. Because the Bourbons have never recognised as legitimate England’s possession of Malta. Because the Kings of Italy are the successors to the rights of the Bourbons over the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Issued by the Comitato d’azione maltese.

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England has never kept promises…

England has never kept promises made to the Maltese. ‘You will not find, in the history of humanity, a government so shamelessly scandalous. Promises are sacred even to barbarians. Even by barbarians who are not thoroughly savage, promises are kept. They are not respected only by peoples who have fallen so low on the scale of civilisation, that they ignore the most rudimentary laws of honesty.'  Antonio Cini, Maltese patriot, 1847-1903.

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The Emperor Napoleon…

The Emperor Napoleon would have desired to be exiled to Malta. ‘Malta would have been quite convenient for me, and at least for a year or so, I would have found myself well. Its climate would have reminded me of Africa and Italy, theatres of my victories; the language spoken there would have reminded me of Corsica, my native land.’  Napoleon, in his counter-memorial of St Helena to Hudson Lowe.

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We Mediterraneans…

We Mediterraneans will not allow the imposition of a northern language which in the Mediterranean is senseless, an illusory and violent fiction. We indomitable insular people, will not lend a docile flank to an artificial and criminal degeneration of our nature, to ensure that, having lost our special characteristics, our backs will then be better able to adapt themselves to the British burden.  Antonio Cini, Maltese patriot, 1847-1903.

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What an entertaining account…

What an entertaining account could be written about the theft of Malta committed by England, from the pocket of her friend and ally, the court of the Two Sicilies! The deceits of Scarpino and the delinquencies of Lascarillo would be well surpassed.  [Albert] Gagnière, French historian, ‘Queen Caroline of Naples, according to some new documents.’

British Leaflets

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Leaflets dropped over Libya

We don’t have a great number of reports of leaflet operations from Malta but we know that on 13 August 1941, an aircraft based in Malta was shot down while dropping anti-Axis leaflets on Libya. The report states:

One of Malta’s reconnaissance aircraft failed to return to base today after a mission to drop propaganda leaflets over Tunisia. Destinations for the leaflet drop were the towns of Bizerta, Tunis and Sfax, areas ruled by the Vichy French but currently being used by Axis troops.

The Maryland aircraft of 69 Squadron would have to dive to very low altitude to release the tens of thousands of leaflets over the target. An intelligence report has suggested that the aircraft was attacked during the mission and shot down over the sea. However, according to the report only two of the three crew members were rescued from the water and taken prisoner.

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Le Courrier de l'Air Illustré, Coded F.7

The British regularly dropped a propaganda newspaper, Le Courrier de l'Air, over France. This issue is the 4th edition, coded F7. This item was prepared by the Political Warfare Executive and dropped from dropped from about 1 January to 15 February 1942. The newspaper has a number of different stories, including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill visiting the United States, Soviet forces taking Mojaisk, British, Free French and Polish troops occupying Halfaya on the Egypt-Libyan frontier, and the following story about Malta:


On January 16th the Island of Malta “celebrated” the anniversary of the first attack by the Luftwaffe, which it underwent at the beginning of 1941.

It is Malta which, up to now, holds the record for air-raid alarms. Since Italy entered the war, the siren of Malta has screamed more than 1,250 times, announcing the approach of enemy airplanes. About one third of these raids were accompanied by the dropping of bombs on the Island.

When Mussolini declared war, the Italians boasted that they could wipe out the base of Malta in a few days. Being given the nearness of the Italian Air and Naval bases, many were inclined to think then right. Malta was regarded as untenable. However, the Governor of Malta, the Military authorities of the Fortress, and especially the population of the Island (numbering about 200,000) did not see things in this light. Responding to the appeal of the Governor, the people decided to follow the example of the Londoners, who were then bearing fierce bombing without flinching.

Senior Officers found among the equipment left behind by the RAF, 3 airplanes packed in cases. They were unpacked and armed, and three officers of a certain age, pilots of the last war, set off to attack the Italian bombers. They shot down several of them. Since then, thanks to the courage of its inhabitants and to the impotence of the Italian Navy, Malta has not only remained a strong point of the first strategic importance for the British forces in the Mediterranean. The Island has once more become an important base for the RAF. Squadrons of bombers and reconnaissance planes start from Malta to carry out their tasks of information or destruction.

It is largely due to the existence of this base for the RAF and also for British submarines and light flotillas, that the Army of the Axis in Libya has been deprived of material and reinforcements. The German and Italian bombers are hotly received by the Island’s fighter squadrons, and the AA guns of Malta are known to them for the accuracy and violence of their fire. Fighter planes and AA guns have now shot down hundreds of enemy planes.

For some time the Luftwaffe has been making a special effort to “neutralize” Malta, if not to prepare for its invasion. Attacks follow one another at the rate of 3 or 4 a day on the average. A week ago there were 17 alerts in 24 hours. The Maltese take advantage of an excellent system of shelters cut in the rock to bear these attacks with stoicism. None the less, several hundred civilians have been killed.

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Le Courrier de l'Air Illustré, Coded F.92, Dropped from 6 August to 19 October 1942

The edition has a number of stories such as: A “Sunderland” flying boat, flying over the Bay of Biscay, depth-charged a German submarine; the small village of Lidice was razed and of its 483 inhabitants, all male adults were executed; a Russian sniper, Sergeant P. Dorzheiv has killed 181 Germans. He has been decorated with the "Order of Lenin; and the following story about Malta:


The propaganda of the Axis has made much noise over the attacks on a British convoy on its way to Malta. The British have suffered losses, but the convoy got through. During the battle 43 enemy aircraft were certainly destroyed, and 22 others probably destroyed. A Savoia Marchetti 79 bomber was brought down by a British warship. The approach, bombs gone, banking away, a good target, hit, the dive, the end.

When patrolling the Mediterranean, a "Catalina" flying boat spotted a German submarine steaming on the surface. It fired its gun. The "Catalina" attempted to "land" to take survivors on board, but the rough seas damaged her hull.

The aircraft carrier “Argus,” guarded a convoy on its way to Malta. In spite of an avalanche of bombs, the convoy reached its destination. An enemy bomber was brought down in flames.

According to Lee Richards, other copies of the British newspaper Le Courrier de l'Air (The Mail of the Air) that mentioned Malta are numbers 13, 30, 118, and 137. Other known British leaflets to the Allies are Par Avian (by Airmail) issue 2 to France and Belgium, Vi Vil Vinne (We Will Win) issue 2 to Denmark, Revue de la Presse (Review of the Free Press) issues 6 and 18 to France, Le Convei de Malte (The Convoy to Malta) to France, Der Weg nach Tunis (The Tunis Booklet) to Germany, De Vliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman) to the Netherlands. And even one to Greece, (On the third anniversary of Malta's first Bombardment). It is clear that the British wanted to spread the news to all the occupied nations that Malta was still fighting. Although we do not have the illustration of these last leaflets we can translate some pertinent paragraphs from a few.

The Malta Convoy, British code F.122 dropped on France from 10 October to 4 November 1942 says in part:


For twenty-seven months Malta, besieged, has defended itself and ceaselessly repulsed the repeated attacks of the enemy. On the German’s own admission: “the only way to conquer Malta is to sink her”.

The aerial and naval forces of the Axis have never yet succeeded in preventing the convoys bringing munitions and supplies to the Island fortress from reaching their destination. You will see inside, how the last convoy which left Gibraltar on the 9th of August 1942 got through in spite of the enemy’s attacks.



For three days and three nights, British merchant ships, escorted by the Royal Navy, met the attacks of enemy submarines, surface ships and bombers to carry to the defenders of Malta the necessities of life and war. Fighters based on aircraft carriers and anti-aircraft guns brought down at least 66 enemy planes. It is probable that about a hundred others were damaged. They also sank two submarines. But the convoy did not get through without heavy losses. Commander Kimmins, who was on board one of the convoy ships, has described the adventures of a tanker in the following words: “First hit by a torpedo, its bridge and rudder were damaged. The following night its speed was considerably reduced and the convoy was compelled to abandon it to its fate after having signaled the following message: ‘Get to Malta by your own means if humanly possible. Malta has great need of you.’ But the tanker succeeded in rejoining the convoy. Twice it was struck by Stuka’s bombs. Fire broke out on board but the crew succeeded in putting it out and the tanker arrived in Malta with its cargo intact.”

The convoy was welcomed as it steamed into port by the acclamation of the population of Malta.



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The British Colonial Empire

The British WWII poster recognizes all of the Colonial Empire and emphasizes that Malta is an ally because it is part of the British Empire.

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Gladiators – Hurricanes – Spitfires

This British poster commemorates a British pilot who shot down the one thousandth enemy aircraft over Malta. It also tells the story of the air defense of the Island.


It was not just leaflets and posters used by both sides during the Siege of Malta; radio was also used. The Germans broadcast regularly about Malta’s eminent defeat and the British broadcast that it was still fighting the Fascists. In one case, the Allied propaganda radio seems to have helped in the surrender of the Italian fleet. This operation is mentioned in an article by Edward M. Kirby and Jack W. Harris titled Surrender of the Italian Fleet – 1943. The story says in part:

By September 1943, Italy was ready to surrender. But Mussolini was still alive and the Italian fleet prowled the Mediterranean. These hide-and-seek tactics hampered the Allied naval forces, for it meant that supplies to the Pacific must continue to be routed the long way around, instead of via the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal…The Psychological Warfare Division under General Robert McClure immediately recognized that this was a job for radio.

The Italians were forbidden to listen to radio, other than their own programs…One waveband was international, even in the midst of a world war. This was the international distress signal on 500 kilocycles. On this international frequency there was a good bet that a message would reach the Italian fleet. The American radio specialists were ordered to work only at night…No secret was more closely guarded than the fact that one faction of the Italian Government was plotting to overthrow Mussolini and to surrender Italy to the Allies.

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The surrendered Italian Fleet in Malta

An announcer was locked in a studio in Algiers. He completed a recording directed at the Italian fleet, declaring to them simply that their country had capitulated and on what terms. This statement included specific instructions to the Italian fleet leaders: they must surrender to the Allied fleet without resistance…The Italian fleet sailed into Malta to surrender.

British Admiral Cunningham said about this radio operation: “Congratulate the Americans for me. They have accomplished in one day with radio propaganda what I have been trying to do for three years with my fleet.”

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Four Italians Cruisers Surrender

Following the announcement of the Italian surrender, the bulk of the Italian fleet sailed for Malta - three battleships, cruisers and destroyers from Spezia and Genoa, and three more battleships and other vessels from Taranto and the Adriatic. Over 30 submarines headed for Allied ports.

Movie Propaganda

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The Malta Story

This section should not be in this story because the movie was made after the end of WWII. But I can remember seeing it as a child in 1953 and it was a wonderful testament to the British and told the story of a convoy bringing food, weapons and fuel to Malta during the war. The convey is under attack for the entire movie and the fuel ship with its vitally important cargo that is needed to keep the British Spitfires in the sky seems to be lost at sea. It is torpedoed, it is bombed. At the end of the movie there is a wonderful scene where the battered ship limps into the harbor at Malta and thousands of people on the docks and in the hills cheer. It was a wonderful piece of pro-British propaganda.

The real story is told in an article titled The Convoy that saved Malta from Surrender. The convoy was attacked by German and Italian aircraft and submarines. The damage was enormous with many ships sunk:

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The Crippled Tanker OHIO limps into Malta’s Harbor

A tremendous effort is made to tow the crippled tanker Ohio into harbor. Speed is worked up to a gratifying six knots, with a steady enough course. Morale rises accordingly and to cheer everyone up, Chattanooga Choo-Choo, is played loudly from HMS Penn’s PA system…On the feast of Santa Marija (the Assumption of Our Lady), the broken-backed and almost derelict hull of Ohio makes the tight turn inside the mole, rounds Ricasoli Point and heads up Grand Harbor. The crews on the ships are greeted by crowds, cheering deliriously, lining the ramparts and bastions while bands play God Save the King, The Star-Spangled Banner and Rule Britannia.

Although 53,000 of the 85,000 tons of supplies loaded on the merchant ships finished on the bottom of the Mediterranean, the remaining 32,000 tons enabled Malta to stave off the target date for the island’s surrender, which was the first week of September 1942.

This has been just a brief look at the use propaganda regarding Malta during WWII. Readers who wish to discuss the subject are encouraged to write to the author at