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Eighty years ago, the Luftwaffe joins the assault on Malta

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    HMS Illustrious , one of the Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carriers which had launched the devastating strike against the Italian fleet at Taranto, was sailing to help escort ships taking assistance to Greece when she was attacked by Luftwaffe Ju87 dive-bombers. She was hit by six bombs and severely damaged. Her Fulmar two-seat fighters had provided little protection. She made for Malta for urgent repairs and was again bombed by German aircraft in Valetta harbour. But for her armoured flight-deck, she would probably have been sunk. Her ship’s bell was riddled with shrapnel. The attacks came to be known by the Maltese as the Illustrious Blitz. It was a significant escalation of earlier Italian raids on the island, which was to become the most heavily bombed area of Europe in the years that followed as the Axis strove to neutralize it as a key base for attacks on surface shipping in the central Mediterranean. Malta was only 60miles (100km) from airbases in Sicily and thus severely e

Eighty years ago, another resounding defeat of the Italian army in Libya

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    The Italian fortress town of Bardia fell to Australian troops in part of General Wavell’s Operation Compass push into Libya. The attackers were outnumbered almost three to one by the defenders but did have an enormous qualitative superiority in tanks. 27 Matilda MkIIs faced 13 M13/40 medium tanks and over one hundred near worthless L3 tankettes. The M13/40s carried a similar gun to the Matilda’s but it could not penetrate the Matilda’s armour. The attackers’ casualties were almost negligible but the Italians lost heavily and about 36,000 were taken prisoner. The Italian commander Hannibale “Electric Whiskers” Bergonzoli, who had promised Mussolini to fight to the last, and his three divisional commanders escaped. The commander of the last Italian post to offer resistance wore a British MC awarded to him when the countries were allied in the First World War. The attackers continued their drive towards their next objective, Tobruk. Hitler’s intentions in the Balkans gave rise to e

Eighty years ago, German bombing creates an iconic image of British resilience

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    London suffered probably its most spectacular and damaging air raids of the Blitz, sometimes called the “Second Great Fire of London.” Human casualties were mercifully low: around 160 deaths including 12 of the firemen who fought the blazes, but the City of London financial business district was devastated. A combination of low tide and early bomb damage to a water main left the fire-fighters struggling for water, leading to near-uncontrollable fires throughout the area. The mediaeval Guildhall, seat of the City’s Corporation or local government, was gutted as were eight Wren churches. The print and publishing business concentrated in the narrow lanes around St. Paul’s Cathedral were hard hit but the cathedral itself survived intact. The image of St. Pauls surrounded by smoke and fire was taken by the Daily Mail’s chief photographer from the newspaper’s own office, just down Ludgate Hill. It is probably the most famous image of the Blitz and an icon of British defiance and resilie