Celebrated author, journalist and historian Sir Max Hastings is soon to present his new book about a crucial wartime naval battle at a webinar for the Save the Valletta Skyline Appeal. Speaking to Laura Bonnici, he explains why Malta’s Santa Marija Convoy was a pivotal moment during World War II.

In August 1942, at the height of World War II, Malta was in a dire situation. After two years of relentless attack by the Axis powers the population was on the brink of starvation, while the stationed British Armed Forces lacked the fuel and other basic supplies required to defend the nation.

It was at this moment that one of Malta’s most celebrated historic events played out. Known to locals as the Santa Marija Convoy, people danced and cheered in the streets as they watched merchant ships, packed with food and fuel supplies, enter the Grand Harbour. However, this victory came at heavy cost. For in the days prior, a bloody naval battle had waged in the Mediterranean Sea between the assembled might of the Royal Navy and Hitler’s forces, all to ensure that this small convoy of only 14 merchant ships – of which just five would survive – might make it to Malta.

“The Maltese people were on their knees, and Churchill was faced with the difficult decision to surrender Malta, or to save it,” explains Sir Max Hastings, acclaimed author of Operation Pedestal – The Fleet that Battled to Malta 1942.

“We must remember that 1942 was likely Churchill’s worst point in the war. The British people were fed up, following defeat after defeat, despite speeches about a coming victory. Neither the Americans nor the Russians believed the Brits were capable of winning a war – and even Churchill’s own circle and the Maltese authorities thought that Malta was going to fall. Sending almost the entire remaining fleet of the Royal Navy, with vital aircraft carriers and around 20,000 men, to save Malta was a monumental risk for Churchill to take then. But he even wrote to Stalin highlighting how much blood and how many ships the British were willing to sacrifice to prevail in the Mediterranean.”

I wanted to honour the real bond between the Maltese and English, both then and now

Indeed, Operation Pedestal, as the enterprise was codenamed, resulted in some of the heaviest casualties encountered by the British forces throughout the war. Yet, this pivotal event remains little-known by the British – inspiring Hastings to pen a book highlighting this important chapter in wartime history.

“I wanted to honour the real bond bet­ween the Maltese and the British, both then and now,” he continues.

“My research for the book made me realise just how bad things were for the Maltese and just how horrific the battle was for the Royal Navy. Yet Operation Pedestal boosted morale for both nations at that critical moment in the war – and, I believe, ultimately paved the way towards victory three years later.” Sir Max Hastings is the author of almost 30 books, while also serving bet­ween 1986 and 2002 as editor-in-chief of the Daily Telegraph, then editor of the Evening Standard. As well as receiving multiple awards for his books and journalism, he is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, an Hon­o­rary Fellow of King’s College, London, and was knighted in 2002.

He will be sharing his fascinating insights into Operation Pedestal at an exclusive event on June 1, in support of the Save the Valletta Skyline Appeal, which aims to raise more than €8 million to fund vital restoration works to St Paul’s Anglican Pro-Cathedral in Valletta.

Hosted by The Malta Business Network (MBN), the Zoom webinar will include a live Q&A session with the author following his presentation and a welcome by the chairman of the UK Chapter of MBN, David Walsh. Sir Martin Laing, chairman of the Save the Valletta Skyline Appeal, will close the event with a message of thanks to all involved.

“I hope that guests to the webinar will gain a new appreciation for quite how significant Operation Pedestal was in the context of the wider war,” Sir Max Hastings says.

“I am delighted to be able to support the Save the Valletta Skyline Appeal through this event – why not support an historic structure in Malta through exploring a key moment in Malta’s history?

“Malta is a small island and yet it has a passionate pride and nationalism that I admire. Anything the Maltese feel so strongly about deserves our support and appreciation – and it is so important to preserve history, in all its forms, for the next generation.”

The webinar with Sir Max Hastings will be held online via Zoom on June 1 at 4pm BST or 5pm in Malta (CET). Registration to attend should be completed in advance at https://bit.ly/2SAZJbI. While there is no fee for registration, donations are requested in aid of the Save the Valletta Skyline Appeal at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/savevallettasskyline. More information about the Save the Valletta Skyline Appeal can be found online at www.stpaulspromalta.org, and about The Malta Business Network at www.maltabusinessnetwork.com.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us