Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege 1940-1943 by James Holland - review by Tim Heald

Tim Heald

The Weight of History

Fortress Malta: An Island Under Siege 1940-1943


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AT FIRST GLANCE James Holland's book looks like a tremendously serious piece of history: 400-odd pages including detailed maps; appendices with the precise figures for Hurricane and Spitfire production from November 1940 to December 1941; a note on pronunciations explaining why the author has preferred British military usage to authentic native Maltese; ten pages of notes citingobscure files from the Imperial War Museum; a glossary telling us what 'folbot', 'sangar', 'scramble' and 'trim' mean in military parlance; eight pages of bibliography and sources, including the combat patrol reports of HMS/S Unseen. and interviews with thirty or so of those who were in Malta during the siege; and two pages of acknowledgements, beginning with a mention of the former fighter pilot and recent best-selling autobiographer, Geofh-ey Wellum, who had a seminal conversation with the author in a pub.

By the time I got to the bottom of page 4, however, I was confused.

Flashes of light pulsing across his wing catch his eye, then a loud crack and the plane reels as though punched by a giant fist. A lurch in his chest and a glance in the mirror - Messerschmitts, two of them, and his Hurricane has been badly hit. Where the

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