This film is held by the Imperial War Museum (ID: CCE 203).


Film about the Axis air offensive against Malta.

British supply effort, upon which the island is dependent, is rendered difficult by the great distance of the island from British bases and its closeness to Italian airfields. Strategic importance of Malta. History of Malta. Peaceful disposition of the populace. German air raids. Tonnage of bombs dropped on the island. German losses of aircraft and pilots. The population of Valletta is seen emerging from shelters to survey the damage inflicted by Malta's 1774th air raid. In the devastation the Maltese have found a new unity - communal food storage and distribution, defence work. Offensive operations - anti-shipping strikes by torpedo aircraft prevented Rommel from being fully reinforced. Malta can claim her full share of the victory in North Africa. 'Times of Malta' newspaper. Award of the George Cross - a tribute from the people of England. Nearly 3000 raids have failed to subdue the Maltese but their suffering calls for adjustment - Malta-based Wellingtons take the offensive. From Malta's suffering will come eventual victory "Such is the will to freedom." Film features good footage of air raids, bomb damage - hospitals, churches, etc and crashed German aircraft.


Film: sequence showing Wellington bombers leaving Malta on a night raid is very dark - outlines of the aircraft are barely visible.

Credits: Director names derived from IMDB.



Situated centrally within the Mediterranean, Malta had long proved tempting to Empire builders. Sicilians, Phoenicians, Romans and Fatimids had all conquered the island before the British assumed control in 1814. For the British the island provided an ideal shipping stop halfway between Gibraltar and the Suez Canal.

During World War II Malta was in a pivotal position. It provided a staging post on the way to the Royal Navy’s main fleet base in Alexandria. It also stood on the supply route between Italy and her forces in Libya. There was nevertheless debate in Britain about the value of defending the island (Barnet, 1991, 212). Moreover, it has been argued that the efforts to keep the island supplied outweighed any advantages that came from using it as an attack base (Grove, 2002 and Barnet1991, 491-92, 525-26). Winston Churchill was prominent among those who argued that Malta should be a part of the war effort (Barnet, 1991, 212). The consequences for the island were profound. Between June 1940 and December 1942 Malta suffered ‘the longest siege in British history’ as it was subject to over 3000 bombing raids (Holland, 2003, 407).

On 15 April 1942 King George VI awarded Malta the George Cross – the ‘G.C.’ of this film’s title – in recognition of the islanders’ ‘heroism and devotion’ (The Times, 17 April 1942, 4). The George Cross is Britain’s highest civilian award for gallantry and this was the first time that it had been given collectively. The gesture redoubled the need to defend the island. Grove argued that ‘Having been awarded the George Cross as a propaganda gesture, the island of Malta could not be allowed to fall as Singapore had done’ (Grove, 2002). In Churchill’s words, ‘We are absolutely bound to save Malta in one way or another’ (Barnet, 1991, 492).

Befitting the island’s regal endorsement Malta G.C. was a prestigious documentary release. It was produced by the Crown Film Unit, in cooperation with the film units of the RAF and Army. The film received full-page advertising in The Cinema and it was accorded both a theatrical and a non-theatrical release, receiving its premiere on 24 January 1943 at the Gaumont, Haymarket.  Star billing went to Laurence Oliver, who provided the commentary, and Arnold Bax, Master of the King’s Musick, who composed the score. While the film is only a footnote in Olivier’s career, it was the first film score that Bax had composed, and it received much commendation. Hubert Clifford claimed that the music was of ‘the highest distinction’ (Clifford, 1944, 15) and Ernest Irving stated that the score provided an ‘excellent fit, giving that noble theme the illustration it requires’ (Irving, 1949/1950, 40). The music also had a life of its own, being performed in concert separately from the film.

The film was distributed widely in Europe, including France, Belgium and Italy (Hansard, 17 January 1945). In Malta itself it was ‘received with great enthusiasm with many queuing for hours to see it’ (Wirtartna, 2009). According to a review of the film on the Malta Heritage Trust website the film was the only professional documentary about the war in Malta and was made ‘on the specific wish of His Majesty King George VI’. The review further claims that the film ‘was shown all over the free world giving Malta its new name as “Malta G.C.”’ (Wirtartna, 2009).



George VI’s award for Malta was accompanied by a telegram, which stated that ‘To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the island fortress of Malta’ (The Times, 17 April 1942, 4). A tendency to collectivise the islanders and to represent them by means of the island itself is also evident in Malta G.C. In telling the story of ‘this little, brave George Cross island in the Mediterranean’ the film focuses on the damage that has been wrought on Malta’s landscapes and townscapes. When it talks of ‘her triumphant survival’ it is the island that is being referred to. During one of the many scenes of bomb damage the commentary states that the ‘piled rubble bears the symbol of her [Malta’s] stubborn courage’.

The camera does not dwell on the islanders as it does on the devastation; for the most part they have a background role. They are depicted as being ‘an old and proud people’ and also a ‘people of old traditions and simple manners’. We see the donkey-drawn carts that the farmers use, and we witness the islanders’ prayers and genuflections during a bombing raid. There is a brief summary of the island’s past: ‘Here came Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks and Vandals’, but the film makes little mention of the reasons for British rule, merely stating that Malta has ‘always looked to the outside world for most of her necessities’.

War activities are pictured in greater detail. There is extensive footage of supply ships, an enemy attack, and an Allied bombing raid. Although one reviewer commended the film’s ‘expressive photography and good continuity’ (The Cinema, 20 January 1943, 15) it is sometimes apparent that the military scenes are edited together from footage shot by different film units. Moreover, it is the variance in picture quality and lighting sources that gives this away. Some elements are staged, for example the shots of locals pointing and looking up into a clear sky, which is spliced with grainy footage of aircraft flying overhead. Similarly, the revelation of the award of the George Cross in the Malta Times is a sequence filmed retrospectively and performed for the camera. The narrative highlights real footage of military combat - ‘These scenes of Wellington bombers […] were taken when the storm was at its height’ –  and unsurprisingly  is the worst quality film on display.

These war activities are situated both geographically and historically. At the beginning of the film there is good use of maps, outlining Malta’s strategic position in the Mediterranean and illustrating the position of the enemy’s forces. The film is structured chronologically. After the description of Malta’s military importance, the film flashes back to the pre-war life of the island. It then alternates between scenes of the latest air raids and an account of the islanders’ progress throughout the war.

The film received largely positive reviews. The Cinema was the most effusive, both in its praise for the documentary and in valuing its usefulness: ‘Malta, G.C., must eventually be shown throughout the world, but meanwhile it demonstrates the glory of the British Empire in a fashion to thrill even the critical, while its propaganda value is immeasurable’ (The Cinema, 20 January 1943, 15). The Documentary News Letter was more downbeat, stating that ‘Malta obviously deserved a “we can take it” film if ever a place did’, but adding that ‘It is probably nobody’s fault if this kind of tribute seems nowadays to be a bit dated (DNL, January 1943, 170).The Kinematograph Weekly praised the ‘carefully phrased commentary, smoothly delivered by Laurence Olivier’ (KW, 4 February 1943, 25). To modern ears, however, Olivier can occasionally sound strident and overly dramatic. Nevertheless, although this narrative is at times triumphant – ‘This has been her life! This has been her history! This is her glory!’ – it is rarely overbearing. In fact, in many scenes it refrains from direct comment, allowing the images to speak for themselves. There is no detailing of the complications of defending the island, and the British resources that have been put into this operation are, if anything, downplayed. Instead, there is what one reviewer described as the film’s ‘religious overtone’ (DNL, January 1943, 170). Malta is ‘the island of St. Paul’ and has stood firm ‘against the infidel’, her suffering is helping to atone for the sins of the world: ‘she stood that freedom might survive.’

Richard Osborne (May 2009)


Works Cited

Barnett, Correlli, Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War (New York, London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991).

The Cinema, LX, 4829 (20 January 1943), 15.

Clifford, Hubert, ‘British Film Music’, Tempo, 8 (September 1944), 14-15.

Documentary News Letter, 4/1 (January 1943), 170.

‘George Cross for Malta: A Unique Award’, The Times , 17 April 1942, 4.

Grove, Eric, ‘The Siege of Malta in World War Two’ (2002)

Hansard, HC Deb 17 January 1945 vol 407 cc185-91W

Holland, James, Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege 1940-1943 (London: Phoenix, 2003).

Irving, Ernest, ‘Film Music’, Royal Musical Association, Proceedings, 76 (1949/1950), 35-45.

Kinematograph Weekly, 312, 1,868 (4 February 1943), 25.

Wirtartna, ‘Malta G.C. DVD’ (2009)




Technical Data

Running Time:
20 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
1816 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Cekalski, Eugene
de Marney, Derrick
Dalrymple, Ian Murray
Ministry of Information
Associate Producer
Monck, John
Best (Sgt)
music composer
Bax, Arnold
Olivier, Laurence
Production company
Army Film Unit
Production company
Crown Film Unit
Production company
RAF Film Unit