• Short Summary

    Since ancient times, the "Fortress Island" of Malta has owed its importance to its strategic position in the Western Mediterranean.

  • Description

    Since ancient times, the "Fortress Island" of Malta has owed its importance to its strategic position in the Western Mediterranean. Rome, Carthage, the Arabs, the Normans, and later the Napoleonic French have struggled for possession of its garrisons. Even today, as the island approaches its general election starting June 12th, defence commitment is still the number one issue under review.

    But the islanders are finding that defence is an increasingly difficult commodity to sell. Britain, Malta's ally for the last 150 years, has been running down her bases on the island. The closure of the Suez Canal has brought a slump to the island's vast shipyards.

    With this weekend's elections in mind, this library compilation takes a look at Malta's role in world affairs during the last 30 years.

    It's a period steeped in greatness. It was during the early 1940s that Malta won the "Island Fortress" tag -- it was inscribed on the George Medal presented to the entire island by king George VI, in recognition of a heroic three-year defence against Axis air power.

    It's also a period of struggle and reorientation. Self-government and full independence within the Commonwealth went hand in hand with the run-down of British commitments. Prime Minister George Borg Olivier spoke bitterly of defence cuts in 1967:
    But the dispute has been patched up. Dr. Borg Olivier has resisted past bids to establish closer relations with other countries, including the Soviet Union. And both he, and his chief opponent in the election. Labour Party leader Dom Mintoff, are pledged to continue defence pacts with Britain in the future.

    SYNOPSIS: Malta. The aptly dubbed "Fortress Island" commanding the seaways of the Western Mediterranean. The island is currently in the grip of a general election. And now, as during the preceding twenty-five centuries, the major point at issue is defence. For the last hundred and fifty years, the island has been a major British base of operations in the Mediterranean. The British took it from Napoleon's forces. In modern times because of the British presence, the island has had increasing importance to North Atlantic Treat Organization. During this exercise in defence coordination, British aircraft and ships were joined by task forces from the United States France, Italy and Greece. In racer years, British economies have led to defence cuts. To offset this there have been suggestions during the current election campaign that Malta should make bases available to NATO powers on a full-time basis.

    But the Maltese generally are reluctant to lose their traditional tie with Britain. In the early days of World War Two, the two peoples shared in one of the most glorious moment sin the island turbulent history. A thousand miles from the nearest British positions Malta withstood a three year siege by Axis air power.

    A few squadrons of Hurricanes and Spitfires, greatly outnumbered, held the German and Italian bomber at bay. An even smeller number of torpedo bombers harried Axis shipping on the supply routes to North Africa. At the height of the siege, the only supplies to reach the island came by submarine.

    Malta took a terrible beating. Over thirty-seven-thousand buildings were destroyed and at the war's end, the British government was to pay out thirty-million pounds sterling in compensation.

    In 1942, the George Cross Medal was presented to the entire island by King George the Sixth. It was inscribed: "To the Island fortress to bear witness to the heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history."
    After the war, self-government was followed by full independence within the British Commonwealth. But British defence cuts caused strained relations. Workers in the vast shipyards went on strike. Prime Minister George Borg Olivier spoke bitterly of a British betrayal.

    But the dispute had been patched up, and whatever the Election result, the future of remaining British bases seems assured.

    This man, opposition Labour Party leader Dom Mintoff, created a sensation by saying that for economic reasons, Malta should offer to lease bases to any country. He later excluded the U.S., Soviet Union and Italy.

    Mintoff feels this could encourage Britain to pay more. But both he and his chief opponent, Nationalist Party leader Borg Olivier -- addressing this rally -- believe agreements with Britain can be renewed when they expire in 1974. So Malta's proud tradition as the Island Fortress of the Mediterranean is likely to continue throu ???

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