King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
West of Suez: Britain and the Mediterranean, 1704-1967

The Grand Harbour of Valletta and naval base in 1948

Photograph showing the Grand Harbour of Valletta and the British naval base, with various sizes of ship visibleThe Grand Harbour of Valletta and the British naval baseThe island of Malta was home to the Mediterranean Fleet from the early 1800s until the 1930s, after which the fleet was moved to Alexandria because of the fear of bomber attack from Italy.

This left the island largely undefended and the Siege of Malta by Axis powers from June 1940 to November 1942 saw huge damage inflicted on the island and population from bombing raids, as German and Italian naval and air forces attempted to disable the British base and bomb the island into submission.

In late 1942, with allied gains in North Africa and Spitfires and Navy submarines combatting Axis threats, the Siege of Malta effectively ended. Allied convoys were now increasingly able to travel in the Mediterranean theatre of the war, and their forces could attack Axis ships.

The island was collectively awarded the George Cross in April 1942 and the award citation delivered by George VI recorded that this honour would ‘bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history’.

This photograph is of the Grand Harbour of Valletta and the naval base, which was used by Britain until 1959. Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) and her husband Prince Philip lived at Villa Guardamangia, on the outskirts of Valletta, while Philip undertook naval service between 1949 and 1951. It is the only time the present Queen has lived abroad and their time on Malta is said to be remembered fondly by the royal couple.

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