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Old 09-18-2009, 06:31 AM
 
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Winston Churchill called fortress Malta "the unsinkable aircraft carrier." And so it seemed to be, with its defenders sustaining some of the most intense bombing of WWII. I was wondering why this tiny piece of real estate was so crucial to the eventual Allied victory in the Mediterranean. Was Malta the key to stopping Rommel from taking Egypt, the Suez Canal and perhaps the mid-east?
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Old 09-18-2009, 07:12 AM
 
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No. Malta was just one of the many issues, certainly not THEE issue by any means - the others being the failure of the Italians (mainly in leadership), the priority Hitler put on the Russian Front, the influx of U.S. assistance (first armour, then men) to the British, etc.
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Old 09-18-2009, 08:41 AM
 
Location: Victoria TX
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However, it does raise another interesting conjectural question. If they couldn't even take Malta, why we were we so concerned that they would take Britain? Or America?
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Old 09-18-2009, 08:46 AM
 
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No. Even with Malta, Britain was still taking convoys around the Cape because of the U Boat danger.

When the US entered the war, they entered into the N. African Theatre via Morocco and Algeria so Malta would not have affected that.
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Old 09-18-2009, 09:01 AM
 
Location: Aloverton
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Walmsley View Post
Winston Churchill called fortress Malta "the unsinkable aircraft carrier." And so it seemed to be, with its defenders sustaining some of the most intense bombing of WWII. I was wondering why this tiny piece of real estate was so crucial to the eventual Allied victory in the Mediterranean. Was Malta the key to stopping Rommel from taking Egypt, the Suez Canal and perhaps the mid-east?
It may have been. Malta was a sharp stick up Adolf's rear, and a careful scan of the map will suggest the reason. The supplies needed by Axis forces in North Africa would have gotten through a lot more frequently had they had aero-naval cover from Malta rather than suffer aero-naval assaults from Malta. Numerous times, the lack of supplies (often sunk, meaning the loss of both transport ships and materiel) did more to halt the Axis advance than the Allies did, the valor of the polyglot Western Desert force notwithstanding. If it were possible to ship over two more German and four more Italian divisions and supply the whole lot, I'd say that might be more than the Allies could have handled.
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Old 09-18-2009, 09:08 AM
 
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Malta lay athwart the key Axis supply line from Italy to Tunisia and Libya. The North African campaign was a near-run thing as it was.
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Old 09-18-2009, 09:09 AM
 
Location: Aloverton
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Originally Posted by jtur88 View Post
However, it does raise another interesting conjectural question. If they couldn't even take Malta, why we were we so concerned that they would take Britain? Or America?
Had the Axis dropped both the pre-Crete 7 Fliegerkorps and the Folgore divisions on Malta in a concerted assault, well supported by sea follow-up, it is doubtful Malta could have repelled such an invasion. The Italian jumpers were not the peers of the Germans, but few units in the war were.

The Axis never tried to take Malta. They tried to reduce it through air assault and isolate it, but we never really learned if they could take it. They would have to be willing to lose half the force, but if I am in command of the Axis force and you offer me that bargain--50% losses in my two functional airborne divisions in exchange for Malta--I'll take it before you change your mind. Control of Malta would give me the upper hand in supplying Rommel, make the Allies mostly go the long way around the Cape, and enable me to start chipping away at the Royal Navy through air attacks if it dares come near. Excellent deal, cheap at the price.

Of course, the main worry about Britain came earlier, when most of the BEF had just barely gotten home with only (or without even) their rifles. By 1941, with the Western Desert struggle heating up, Britain wasn't looking too vulnerable to Axis invasion.
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Old 09-18-2009, 09:33 AM
 
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Well, the other key factor was the Italian Navy which was probably the greatest 'might have been' in the Mediterranean theater. No, it was not the equal of the Royal Navy in fighting ability. That being said, a bolder use of its navy, given the considerable reach of the Axis air forces and a formidable submarine group might have been able to execute a surprise landing on Malta. In fact, I would offer that the employment of the fallschirmjagers would have been far better on Malta than on Crete.

Instead, the Germans threw away their parachute corps on an island of no strategic significance, the Italian surface navy sat at anchor until sunk by British carrier air, and the Axis air force carried out pointless raids. The Axis would have been better off to roll the dice and seize one of the key strategic objectives of the theater.

One last important assumption. This is only valid if the Axis codes had not been broken.
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Old 09-18-2009, 09:42 AM
 
Location: Aloverton
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Originally Posted by cpg35223 View Post
Well, the other key factor was the Italian Navy which was probably the greatest 'might have been' in the Mediterranean theater. No, it was not the equal of the Royal Navy in fighting ability. That being said, a bolder use of its navy, given the considerable reach of the Axis air forces and a formidable submarine group might have been able to execute a surprise landing on Malta. In fact, I would offer that the employment of the fallschirmjagers would have been far better on Malta than on Crete.

Instead, the Germans threw away their parachute corps on an island of no strategic significance, the Italian surface navy sat at anchor until sunk by British carrier air, and the Axis air force carried out pointless raids. The Axis would have been better off to roll the dice and seize one of the key strategic objectives of the theater.
I firmly agree with most of what you say. Here is one thing I often question: was Crete really so insignificant? It proved useless to the Axis, granted, but let's think of its denial to the Allies. How much trouble could the Allies have caused in Greece and Yugoslavia with a much nearer base? Might it have influenced Turkey a bit, made the Axis hold on Aegean islands difficult or impossible to sustain? What of the increased ease of raids upon Ploesti? Had we held Crete, the Greek government would have had a national base in exile. One wonders if all the intra-Hellenic political conflict, both during the war and immediately after, might have been reduced.
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Old 09-18-2009, 10:00 AM
 
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Originally Posted by j_k_k View Post
I firmly agree with most of what you say. Here is one thing I often question: was Crete really so insignificant? It proved useless to the Axis, granted, but let's think of its denial to the Allies. How much trouble could the Allies have caused in Greece and Yugoslavia with a much nearer base? Might it have influenced Turkey a bit, made the Axis hold on Aegean islands difficult or impossible to sustain? What of the increased ease of raids upon Ploesti? Had we held Crete, the Greek government would have had a national base in exile. One wonders if all the intra-Hellenic political conflict, both during the war and immediately after, might have been reduced.
Well, those are good points. My response is that Hitler never had Hellenic aspirations to begin with. He only invaded Greece to bail out Mussolini and evacuated the country in 1944 without a shot. So really Greece, and by extension Crete, held no strategic value to Germany at all.
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