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Malta and British Strategic Policy, 1925-1943, by Douglas Austin

London / New York: Routledge, 2012. Pp. xx, 244. Illus., maps, tables, append., notes, biblio., index. $44.95 paper. ISBN: 0415649862.

The Island at the Heart of British Global Strategy

While there have been a number of books about the role of Malta in the Mediterranean war from mid-1940 through early 1943, they have primarily been devoted to the heroic defense of the Island against the Axis.  Malta and British Strategic Policy, originally published in a costly hardback in 2004, and now available at a more reasonable price, looks at how the island base fitted into the evolution of British Mediterranean strategy the from the aftermath of the Great War through the surrender of Italy. Austin, a British banker who took up history upon retirement and has proven an excellent scholar, marshals a great deal of evidence to demonstrate that the accepted belief that Imperial strategists had written Malta off as indefensible is incorrect. 

While British planners recognized the island’s vulnerabilities, to both amphibious and air attack, they also saw it as an essential bastion to maintain control of the Mediterranean and secure communications with India and the Pacific Dominions. As a result, they struggled hard to keep Malta in the war , as demonstrated by the efforts to resupply the island bastion, despite often extraordinary cost; Malta convoys often suffered heavier losses than those on the Murmansk run.   

Austin bolsters his case with evidence from the Axis side . He argues, for example, that the proposed Italian amphibious attack early in the war well might have succeeded, given the poor state of the defenses, but Mussolini’s planners greatly overestimated the British resources, and in any case no action was taken because the Duce expected the war to be short.  On the other hand, later Axis plans to take the island were much less likely to have succeeded.  

This is an important read for anyone interested in the European war or British strategic thought.

Note: The hardback 2004 edition of Malta and British Strategic Policy, is still available, at $198.00,  ISBN 978-0-7146-5545-1, and e-editions are also available. 

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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