The Presentation of the George Cross to the people ofMalta.
The George Crosswas awarded to the island of Malta by King George VI of the United Kingdomin a letter dated 15 April 1942 to the island's Governor Lieutenant-General SirWilliamDobbie, so as to "bear witness to the heroism and devotion ofits people"during the great siege it underwent in the earlyparts of World War II. The George Cross is woven into the Flag of Maltaand can be seen wherever the flag is flown.
While Italian and German bombers brought havoc to theMaltese islands, the problem of supplies was soon felt. An invasion threat inJuly 1941 ended in complete failure when coast defenders spotted E-boats of theItalian Decima Flottiglia 10th Fleet MAS.Whilst people suffered hunger, a final assault to neutralise the island wasordered by the German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring. However, thepeople's heroism withstood every attack. On 15 April 1942 King George VIawarded the George Cross to the people of Malta in appreciation of theirheroism.
The George Cross was awarded during the worst periodfor the Alliesduring the Second World War, as the Axis-force clearly appeared to have theupper hand. German planes were striking the island aroundthe clock, day and night, with an incredible amount of bombs and munitions inan attempt to neutralise the British bases in Malta, since these wereconstantly getting in the way of their naval attempts to supply Rommel's North African campaign. Malta's geographicposition, wedged as it is between Italy and North Africa, as well as dividingthe Mediterranean basin into east and west put the islands in heavy danger.Malta-based British aircraft could reach as far as Tripoliin Libyato the south, Tunisiato the west and right over German bases in Italy; on Pantelleria,Sicilyand even as far as the port of Naples farther to the north. Thus, standing right on the routeof Italian convoys supplying Rommel's Afrika Korps.
At the time of the George Cross award, militaryresources and food rations in Malta were practically finished. Fuel wasrestricted to military action and heavily rationed, the population was on thebrink of starvation, and even ammunition was running out, so much thatAnti-Aircraft (AA) guns could only fire a few rounds per day.
Italian battleships of the Regia Marinaout-gunned the British, yet the Royal Navywas far from out-classed. The Germanairforce, had superior aircraft until late in the day, when Spitfires were finally sent to Malta. Alsoat this time, German and Italian strategists were planning Operation Herkules, a sea and air invasion ofthe Maltese Islands, an effort continuously postponed — until it was too late,because the Maltese Islands finally received their vital supply of fuel, foodand munitions.
On 15 August 1942, on the feast of Santa Maria, aconvoy of Royal and Merchant Navy ships made port at Valletta'sGrand Harbour,after completing one of the more heroic maritime episodes in recent history.To-date, this event remains commemorated in Malta in remembrance of that giftfrom heaven, the Convoy of Santa Maria, and all the men wholived and died in this and previous attempts to bring supplies to Malta.
The George Cross is a decoration, of equal status withthe VictoriaCross, instituted by George VI on 24 September 1940, replacing the Empire Gallantry Medal. While intendedmainly for civilians, it is awarded also to certain fighting services, confinedhowever to actions for which purely military honours are not normally given. This medal isawarded only for acts of the greatest heroism or the most conspicuous couragein circumstances of extreme danger.[ One of only two collective awards of the George Cross wasthe award to Malta.This award was made by King George VI to the Governor ofMalta by letter dated 15 April 1942:
"To honour her brave people I award the GeorgeCross to the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotionthat will long be famous in history.", (sgd) George R.I.
Lieutenant-General Sir WilliamDobbie answered:
By God's help Malta will not weaken but will endureuntil victory is won.
The citation read by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he visitedMalta in December 1943, also commemorating the fortitude and strength of theisland reads:
"In the name of the USA I salute the Island ofMalta, its people and its defenders, who, in the cause of freedom and justiceand decency throughout the world, have rendered valorous service far above andbeyond the call of duty. Under repeated fire from the skies Malta stood aloneand unafraid in the centre of the sea, one tiny, bright flame in the darkness -a beacon of hope in the clearer days when which have come. Malta's bright storyof human fortitude and courage will be read by posterity with wonder andgratitude through all the ages. What was done in this island maintains all thehighest traditions of gallant men and women who from the beginning of time havelived and died to preserve the civilisation for all mankind.", (sgd)Franklin D. Roosevelt, 7 December 1943.