The 10 tonne bronze Great Siege Bell memorial was inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth and the President of Malta, Dr. Censu Tabone on 29 May 1992, the 50th anniversary of the awarding of the George Cross of Bravery to the island of Malta in 1942. It is rung daily at noon.
The bell is mounted in a limestone tower. At the foot of the bell tower is a bronze figure representing the 7000 who died in the siege. The gallery contains pictures of the plaques. The memorial was built on the initiative of the "George Cross Island Association" based on the idea of a local member, Philip Pullicino.
Due to its strategic location in the middle of the Mediterranean, Malta has been subjected to many attacks and sieges. The two most significant are the Great Siege of 1565 when the Turk Moslems captured much of the island and Fort St Elmo and the siege by the Axis powers, Germany and Italy from 1940 to 1943. In both cases Malta was at the point of capitulation and starvation but persevered. More bombs were dropped on Malta during the siege than on Britain during the blitz. In the first six months of 1942 there was only one 24 hour period without an air raid.
The George Medal was awarded to the island on 15 April 1942 and the partial success of Operation Pedestal, a supply convoy involving 14 merchant ships and 44 war ships. Nine of the merchant ships were sunk, the tanker Ohio limped into harbour severely damaged, with no power and kept afloat slung between two destroyers. One aircraft carrier, two cruisers and one destroyer were sunk and one aircraft carrier and two cruisers were severely damaged. The Operation Pedestal y was a tactical disaster but a significant strategic victory. The siege continued but now malta had the aircraft, fuel, ammunition, food and moral to fight back.
For Malta the war was not just defensive but offensive. British submarines based in Malta were very successful in sinking German and Italy ships attempting to supply Rommel’s forces in North Africa. The RAF attacked Italian ports and air bases and forced the Italian Navy to retreat from Sicily. This is what defeated Rommel in North Africa. In a similar fashion the failure of the Turkish fleet to capture Malta in 1565 led to the defeat of the Moslems in the battle of Lepanto in 1571 that saved Europe from conquest by the Ottoman Sultans. This small but strategic island has changed the course of history.
We had a personal connection as my father-in law served through the war in the Royal Navy as the Catapult officer on a small escort aircraft carrier, HMS Pursuer. He survived the North Atlantic and Murmansk convoys, Malta and the invasion of Sicily, D-Day, and the Pacific. He told us of his memories of Malta from 1943, after the siege and before the Allied invasion of Sicily. One story a visit to see his uncle,an officer on one of the submarines based in Malta at Manoel Island. Like most of the submariners and pilots based in Malta, he did not survive the war. His submarine was sunk and all men lost. The Siege Bell is his memorial along with 7000 others.