Why was Malta awarded the George Cross?

  • Jun 6, 2020

....this is indeed Malta’s pride during WW2

Since World War II, the George Cross has transformed itself into an undisputedly Maltese symbol. Its cultural position was cemented when, on the 21st of September 1964, it was adopted as an official part of the independent state’s flag.

However, few people outside Malta know the exact reasons why Malta was awarded the George Cross. This article aims to shed light on the historical moment that shaped Malta’s identity forever.

A British Affair

“To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history”.

This quote, written by King George VI himself, was part of the official announcement made by Buckingham Palace on the 15th of April 1942, at the height of the Second World War.

While this event was never officially published in the London Gazette, this medal (created by King George VI by Royal Warrant in 1941) is a visual reminder of Malta’s and the Maltese people’s heroism during World War II.

Malta’s involvement in World War II

The Siege of Malta (June 1940-November 1942) marked a bloody battle for power in the Mediterranean region – specifically targeting Malta. As a British stronghold, Malta’s strategic position meant that it connected the North to the South and the East to the West. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany soon realised Malta’s importance and started viciously attacking the islands.

These attacks resulted in massive starvation, raided towns and villages, and locals spending a considerable amount of time in underground shelters, fearing for the safety of their families and loved ones.

Italy, in particular, was planning to occupy the Maltese islands, expecting the people to surrender quickly. However, the July 1941 invasion plot was foiled when the coast guards spotted the ‘Italian Decima MAS’ torpedo boats from well beforehand.

The Axis forces did not give up – they attempted to occupy the islands once more. This time, it was a direct order from the German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring. Yet, the Axis’ plans failed once again, and Malta resisted Axis occupation.

The Feast of Saint Mary

The feast of Saint Mary on the 15th of August holds particular historical importance for the Maltese.

The George Cross happened to be awarded at a crucial time: the Maltese people were bearing the brunt of the Axis and the Allies’ Mediterranean scruffle. Military resources and food rations had depleted at an alarming rate. Fuel was restricted to the military and navy, and the Maltese were facing massive starvation and large numbers of deaths. Even basic ammunition was running out.

On the 15th of August 1942, the Maltese were collectively saved by the so-called “Konvoj ta’ Santa Marija” (Saint Mary’s Convoy). The convoy of Royal and Merchant ships miraculously managed to make its way to Valletta’s Grand Harbour, after facing a tonne of obstacles on the way. This mission is regarded as one of the most heroic marine operations of the 20th century that helped Malta with supplies of food, ammunition and fuel.

The George Cross & The Maltese Flag

The Cross – woven on the upper left-hand corner of the Maltese flag – continues to showcase Malta’s gallantry and the Maltese people’s fighting spirit every time the Maltese flag is flown both nationally and internationally.

Nowadays, visitors can view a replica of the George Cross at the Malta At War Museum in Vittoriosa. While visiting, they can witness original pieces from World War II and informative films documenting that turbulent era, consequently leading to a better understanding of the happenings that led to this award.