Drums & Pipes of the Faughs marching down a bombed-out Strade Reale on July 4th, 1941
The Royal Irish Fusiliers was an Irish line infantry regiment of the British Army. In 1881 the 87th (Prince of Wales’s Irish) Regiment of Foot & the 89th (Princess Victoria’s) Regiment of Foot were amalgamated creating the Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers), changed in 1920 to the Royal Irish Fusiliers (Princess Victoria’s)
87th Regiment of Foot The Amalgamated Units 89th Regiment of Foot
The RIF's Regimental Holiday held annually every 5th March is known as Barossa Day. Barossa Day commemorates 05.03.1811 when the 87th Rgt. of Foot captured the Eagle standard of the French 8th Regiment at Battle of Barossa during the Napoleonic-era Peninsular Wars. After commending the regiment for such a victory, the Prince Regent directed the eagle be worn on colours. When the formation was reformed as the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the eagle was adopted for use in regimental insignia and on uniform buttons.
The Captured French Eagle Standard would later be adopted on Regimental Buttons & Insignia
The regiment's 2nd Battalion served throughout the Siege of Malta from 1940 to 1943 with the 2nd (Malta) Infantry Brigade, later renumbered 232th Infantry Brigade. The Battalion embarked from Southampton on 04.01.1938 and arrived to Malta on 10.01.1938. Billeted at Mtarfa Barracks, the Battalion was composed of 21 Officers and 466 other ranks totalling 487 men. By the end of June the unit strength was notched up to 657 men.
Departure from Southampton & Arrival in Malta - Mtarfa Barracks (l/o Rabat)
After a few months on the Island, the 2nd Battalion was redeployed to the Middle East due to rising tensions in Palestine, leaving Malta for Haifa between the 10-15.10.1938. Amidst the prospect of another major war in Europe, the battalion was ordered back to Malta in April 1939.
HMS Neuralia ferried the 2nd Btn. to Haifa, Palestine in 1938. It was shipped back to Malta by HMT Dunera in 1939
Upon its return to Malta, the battalion was billeted at St. Andrew's Barracks. Its strength by the end of June was 25 Officers and 631 Men. In January 1940, the Faughs moved out of A,E, & G Blocks at St. Andrews Barracks, occupying Block D and retaining Block J, Australia Hall, a new cook house, dining hall, sports facility, and petrol store.
Top left: The Australia Hall - Bottom Left: St. Andrew's Barracks - Right: RIF Marching Out
The battalion was then moved out of barracks and committed to beach defence construction & Beach Post Duties with all posts manned by April 1940. In May 1940, the 2nd Battalion's Headquarters moved to S. Pawl tat-Targa GR 4128 and garrisons placed at Post R5a Qala Hill, R6, R7, R8 / R9 Wardija Battery / Church, R10 Gebel Ghauzara & R11.1 Battalion strength at the end of June was 22 Officers and 691 other ranks, typically sectioned into 24-Man circa Platoons comprising a number of Rifle Companies. At this time the battalion was under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel A. Low M.C. Reinforcements trickled in between August and September, when a large draught of men from Lancashire and Cheshire joined the battalion. This allowed a fourth platoon to be added to each rifle company, for each sector to have a minute reserve.
A 2nd Battalion RIF Platoon
On 30.08.1940 Malta's Infantry was re-organised into Northern & Southern Infantry Brigades (NIB / SIB) - The Faughs were posted with NIB and deployed to the East of Wardija Hill, Qala Hill, Bidnija, Mosta, Naxxar, Gharghur, Madliena, and Pembroke, along with the underlying plains and shorelines such as Burmarrad, Maghtab, Salina and Ghallis. Responsibility for Wardija was split between a detachment of Fusiliers stationed in St. Paul's Hutments and the 8th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. The latter was shipped to Malta from Gibraltar in May 1940 and were assigned to the NIB covering the sector stretching West from Wardija (l/o St. Paul's Bay) to Ghajn Tuffieha. The area further North of the British detachments was guarded by the 1st Battalion of the King's Own Malta Regiment
Dividing Line in red between the Northern & Southern Infantry Brigades - KOMR, Manchester & Fusilier Battalion Sectors
Defence of the Northern Sector was based on a network of Pillboxes built at strategic points, making best use of the terrain, to trap an invading enemy force in a deadly crossfire and serve as stop-lines. They were divided into three categories, with the forward positions being referred to as Beach Posts. Pillboxes forming part of the second line were known as Depth Posts, while Reserve Posts comprised a third line further inland. Each of these posts had its own identification code and was manned by 7 to 8 men armed with Bren / Medium Machine Guns and a variety of small arms and grenades. These outposts were surrounded by barbed wire perimeters and occasionally by mines and boobytraps.
Typical Pillbox Layout & Mounted Bren Machine Gun - Pillbox defence Network in the Northern Sector (red dots)
Although the men stationed in these defensive positions were relatively safe from Axis air raids, since there were mainly focused on Airfields and the Grand Harbour, field living conditions and Malta's hot humid autumn contributed to widespread cases of scabies & pediculosis. The practice of wearing thick woollen socks all year round to protect feet from heavy drill ankle boots, couple with the use of puttees, could cause 'trench foot' from trapped moisture worsened by potential sores deriving from Malta's rugged terrain. The Battalion was kitted out in standard British Army Infantry Battledress and accessories. Summer-wear included short sleeved shirts and shorts.
British Army Battledress & Accessories RIF Shoulder Flashes, Coat Button and Cap Badge (not to scale)
The following excerpt taken from Commanding Officer Low's memoirs renders a clear picture of the hardship experienced by the Fusiliers and other line infantry battalions defending Malta.
"The four months after Italy's entry to the war were perhaps the greatest strain of my time in the Island. Men were always short, there was much work to be done, and all posts kept day and night watch. The strain on the men of this constant readiness was severe. Practically nobody for months on end ever got more than four hours sleep at a stretch, and the effect could be seen in their eyes, which seemed to be always peering and straining..."
An afternoon patrol for downed Italian airmen became the first active duty for the Faughs in wartime Malta. A Company was duly stationed at Ta' Qali to fill craters and assist groundcrews and the regimental band was dissolved with its men assigned stretcher-bearer duties. B Coy (company) was moved to Villa Remigio in Madliena in mid-November. Victor Ronald "Taffy" Kenchington2 was one of the band boys who put away his clarinet to hold a stretcher. His words are another testimony of the limitations endured by the local garrison:
"...We did all sorts of work being infantry men at war, filling in bomb holes on the Airfield, Takali (Ta' Qali) was our drome. Or we may be unloading ships in Valletta. We had about 4,000 Air Raids whilst we were there, having more bombs in a month than England had during the Blitz... Our food rations were sometimes very small, and we had 15 cigarettes a week during the siege... When we left (Malta) we went on double rations to get some of our weight back!"
In late December 1940, the Germans entered the fray after the Luftwaffe's Fliegerkorps X was redeployed to Sicily. The first half of 1941 brought about a determined aerial offensive by the Axis, in view of neutralising its defences and offensive capability. An unnamed Fusilier remarked in jest:
"On the whole, life carried on much as usual during these night visits. It added a zest to the game of Tombola, when one was wondering which would be the first 'sweat' to turn up, all the 8's or 8 & 7."
This in reference to Lutfwaffe Junkers 88 bombers and Junkers 87 Dive-Bombers On the 11th April the Faughs claimed downing one such machine, a German Junkers JU-87 'Stuka' Dive-Bomber with small arms fire. The aircraft has been identified as Ju-87 5724/ J9+BL of 9/ Sturzkampfgeschwader 1.3
A German Junkers 87 Dive-Bomber from Fliegerkorps X flying over Malta in 1941 & RIF Trophy from Ju-87
As fears of a potential invasion grew, more reinforcements were poured into the island and the 2nd Battalion's strength at the end of June consisted of 34 Officers and 891 Men, augmented to 48 Officers & 927 Men by early September 1941. The RIF was now under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel A.A.J. Allen, who had taken over from Low in April of that year. With the arrival of the 1st Btn. of the Durham Light Infantry on 26.01.1942, Malta Command re-organised the NIB and SIB into four Infantry Brigades. The 2nd. Btn. RIF, along with the 8th Btn. Manchester Rgt., and 8th Btn. King's Own Royal Lancaster Rgt. were grouped together with the 1st Btn., King's Own Malta Regiment to form the 2nd Malta Infantry Brigade, retaining their positions in the North of the Island.
KOMR 1ST BTN RI FUSILIERS 2ND BTN KOR LANCASTER RGT 8TH BATTALION MANCHESTER RGT 8TH BTN
Cap Badges worn by the 2nd Malta Infantry Brigade Infantry Battalions (not to scale)
This was just in time to withstand a second major Luftwaffe offensive through the first half of 1942. Several men were killed in the Regent Cinema tragedy in Valletta following a direct hit on the building.4 At least 26 servicemen were killed, including two RIF Captains and Fusilier Albert Huance. Peter Francis Low was the battalion adjutant captain and Captain Hugh Gough was the commanding officer of D Coy (Company). The regimental funeral held at St. Andrew's Cemetery on the 17th February was attended by the 2nd Brigade's commanding officer, Brigadier Oxley, and representatives from all Military Units.
A Direct Hit on the Regent Cinema in Valletta on 15.4.1942 cost the RIF the loss of two Captains and a Fusilier
In January 1942, the 2nd Battalion of the King's Own Malta Regiment was given the responsibility of manning beach defences in St. Paul's Bay, Ghajn Tuffieha and other areas in the sector, to release British units for other duties. The Faughs were hence withdrawn from their posts during daytime to help out at Ta' Qali Airbase and unload convoy supply ships in harbour.
Wartime View of Ta' Qali Air Base with Mosta Dome and Torre Cumbo in the Background
Working in the airfield necessitated the use of many working parties, transport, fuel and lots of heavy work in a dangerous setting due to the constant menace from the air. Commencing daily at dawn and finishing after dark, the men built stone pens around the aerodrome and in dispersal areas to protect aircraft from shrapnel and strafing. This was alternated by filling in bomb craters and repairing runways, belt-fitting, refuelling and aircraft maintenance, while remaining alert and protecting the facility from low-flying attacks.
Ta' Qali Aerodrome under Attack
One morning, a working party from D Company, under the command of Lieutenant Critchley-Salmonson came under attack. The company was caught off-guard with the men running for any cover they could find, but suffered no casualties despite bombs whistling down on all sides. The Lieutenant recorded the incident as follows: "After it was all over, and the dust cleared away, heads began to peep up in all directions, and the only cries to be heard were the moans and groans over the amount of craters which would now have to be filled in" The battalion would not always be so lucky. A German pilot or crewman was taken prisoner after landing by parachute on March 21st, 1942, but the day ended tragically for the RIF when four of its men were killed by a direct hit on the Quarter Master’s store at Ta' Qali. Then on April 29th, St. Andrew's Barracks was hit along with 39 General Hospital. The barracks was then occupied by families of the battalion. Corporal Poynter RIF one of those killed in the raid.
Corporal Baldwin was one of the RIF men KIA at Ta' Qali Aerodrome
The RIF endured siege conditions along with the rest of the garrison between 1940 and early 1943. A diary kept by William Shepherd5, RIF Regimental Sergeant Major, bears witness to the nature of Malta's struggle. At the peak of the siege in mid-1942, before the arrival of Operation Pedestal's relief convoy, he writes that the only food left for servicemen and civilians alike was cabbage and water, after all living animals including rats and birds had been eaten.
RSM Bill Shepherd & Valletta's devastation in the Spring of 1942
Leaving the Island was just as perilous as getting here. P.M. Marjoribanks-Egerton, another RIF Major was on a homeward bound when his transport ship, the Duchess of Atholl was torpedoed in the Atlantic in October, 1942. Luckily, the majority of those aboard were rescued. At around this time, Lieutenant-Colonel Maurice French replaced Allen as General Officer, Commanding of the 2nd Battalion. The defeat of the Axis in North Africa and German setbacks on the Russian Front in early 1943 brought some respite. As the scales tipped further in favour of the Allied cause, orders were circulated to relieve the British infantry battalions defending Malta and remobilise them where needed most. Beginning in Spring, the individual units were shipped out to North Africa for rest, refit and redeployment to other Fronts.
Abandoned German Helmets after the Axis defeat in North Africa of May, 1943
The RIF's turn came in June when the battalion embarked for Alexandria, Egypt on June 11th, 1943. Shepherd described the scene in the following words: "Our old friend H.M.T. Neuralia moved slowly through the Grand Harbour...past the breakwater, where H.E. Lord Gort V.C. acknowledged from his launch the cheers of all on board the troopship, out to sea, passing a long line of L.C.T.s forming for the coming Battle of Italy... 234 Infantry Brigade was now leaving for fresh fields..."6 Twenty-one Men would remain behind, having succumbed to injuries or sickness, lying in the peace of local military cemeteries.
Pembroke Military Cemetery at St. Andrews, Malta
Before their departure, the battalion was given a celebratory farewell by the grateful Maltese. The Faughs shared an affinity with the locals since several of the battalion's men were practicing Roman Catholics. It was not uncommon for members of the unit showing up for mass in one of the many churches and chapels within their sector and a few even married Maltese women. The respect gained by the RIF culminated with the award of symbolic trophies in three separate ceremonies held within the parish churches of Mosta, Naxxar and Gharghur.7
Models of a Silver Gozo Boat and an Ornamental Cannon awarded to the RIF by Mosta & Naxxar Parishes
The following excerpt, taken from an edition of the regimental gazette summarises the sentiment of the civilian population with eloquence. The names were purposely left blank in view of wartime censor regulations.
The 2nd Battalion proceeded to Alexandria in June and deployed to the Greek Island of Leros in late September 1943 as part of the reformed 234 Brigade under the command of Major General F.G.R. Brittorous. The General had served in Malta as commanding officer of the Manchester battalion, but was relieved of his command at Leros in November, reportedly due a bad relationship with his subordinates. He was replaced by Brigadier Robert Tilney, merely a week before a German paratrooper attack resulted in a massive British defeat.
Brigadier Tilney surrenders to General Muller British POWS, some still wearing helmets with Malta Camo pattern
Lieutenant-Colonel Maurice French, the RIF 2nd battalion's commander was killed in action along with several of his men, with the rest being wounded of taken into captivity until the end of the war. Only 27 men managed to get away, ordered to regroup in Palestine then returned to England via a transit camp in Egypt. In a sad twist of fate the invasion averted in Malta happened nevertheless, in another Mediterranean Island, effectively destroying the Battalion and other British formations in Leros. Apart from the many killed, 2300 men mostly from 234 brigade were taken prisoner, leading to its disbandment in mid-January 1944.8 In recognition of the gallantry demonstrated by the RIF in defending our islands, the title 'MALTA 1940' was bestowed and added to the regimental colours (flag) of the Royal Irish Regiment.
To read more about the individual men and their eyewitness accounts or to view the individual outposts they manned, kindly access the links below.
1. All military positions had a unique identification code for quick identification and to avoid the mention of actual place names. 2. Kenchington was one of the lucky few to evade capture in Leros, going on to serve with the regiment and eventually being promoted to Sergeant. Another Faugh also remarked about the scarcity of cigarettes on the Island and the availability of Woodbines on the black market at an exorbitant 10 Shillings for a packet of 20.
3. The German designation 9/ Sturzkampfgeschwader 1 translates to the 9th Section of the 1st (of 3) Dive-attack Squadron(s), based in Trapani, Sicily. A fragment of the downed aircraft was recovered as a trophy and is now on display at RIF Armagh Museum.
4. The Cinema Auditorium was packed with servicemen enjoying their Sunday leave as well as civilians for the afternoon airing of the film Northwest Mounted Police starring Gary Cooper and Madeliene Carroll. Francis Lauri, a young man survived by leaving before the film's end and witnessed the hit on the cinema. He was a first cousin to Frances Lauri, wife of Joseph Camilleri Demajo, Gunner RMA. The Couple are the maternal grandparents of the AAFM's Director.
5. RSM William Shepherd was promoted to the rank of Major and awarded the Medal of the British Empire (MBE) in recognition of his service in Malta. He was taken POW in 1943, probably at Leros. He retired from the military in 1955 and passed away in 1983.
6. HMS Neuralia was the same ship that ferried the RIF 2nd Btn to Malta back in 1938. L.C.T.s are amphibious Landing Craft for Tanks. The battalion became part of 234 Infantry Brigade after its departure from Malta. On a personal note it is sad to consider Shepherds optimistic reference about leaving for fresh fields, considering the impending destruction of the battalion in Leros and his own subsequent detention as a POW.
7. The Gharghur Parish awarded the RIF with a two Ceremonial Chalices.
8. British losses including POWs have been estimated at around 5,000 Men. The 2nd battalion RIF was reformed in June 1944.
The Victoria Lines in WWII - Ray Cachia Zammit
Malta Command 1943 - Britishmilitaryhistory.co.uk
The Malta Garrison (various pages) - Maltaramc.com
Defending St. Paul's Bay from a WW2 Invasion - Charles Debono via Timesofmalta.com
Wartime Memories of a Young Man from Valletta - Alfred Conti Borda via Ditto
A Brief History of the RIF during WWII - Royalirishfusliersmuseum.com
Royal Irish: The Irish Soldier in the British Army (various pages) - Royal-Irish.com
The Wartime Memories Project: World War Two (various pages) - Wartimememoriesproject.com
Faugh-a-Ballagh: The Regimental Gazette of the RIF via Lennonwylie.co.uk The Royal Irish Fusiliers 1793-1950 by Marcus Cunliffe - Excerpt via Drew 5233 at Ww2talk.com (forum)
Cover Collage - AAFM Graphic RIF Parade before leaving Malta painting by Edward Caruana Dingli - RIF Museum via Artuk.org Regimental History Collages (x2) - AAFM RIF Embarkation at Southampton Docks - Unrecorded RIF Arrival in Malta - Steven Sipson via Wartimememoriesproject.com Mtarfa Barracks Military Mess - Ebay.com His Majesty's Ship HMS Nueralia - Ditto Hired Mobile Transport (Ship) RMT Dunera - Ebay.com RIF in Palestine - Untraceable source Australia Hall - Dinlarthelwa.org St. Andrews Barracks - Unrecorded source RIF Parade - Steven Sipson via Wartimememoriesproject.com Fred Sipson's platoon, 2nd Btn. RIF - Steven Sipson via Wartimememoriesproject.com NIB / SIB Distribution Map - Maltaramc.com Battalion Dispersal - AAFM Graphic Pillbox Layout Diagram - Stephen C. Spiteri Land Defences in the North - F.W.A. via Timesofmalta.com Bren MG mounted in a Pillbox - Malta Command Re-enactment Group (Maltacommand.com) British WWII Battledress - Period publication
RIF Button and Insignia - AAFM Collection & Photos Ju-87 Stuka over Malta - Historyimages.blogspot.com RIF Trophy - Anthony Rogers via Mediadrumworld.com Cap Insignia Collage - AAFM Collection & Photography Regent Cinema Collage - Malta at War (vol.4) by J. Mizzi & M.A. Vella via Timesofmalta.com Ta' Qali Air Base in WW2 - AAFM (original photo)~ Ta' Qali under Attack - Through Their Eyes (Ebay.co.uk) Captain Low Headstone - Maltaramc.com Corporal Baldwin Headstone - Ditto RSM Bill Shepherd - Unrecorded source The 1942 Blitz - Malta Independent via Independent.com.mt Abandoned German Helmets -Historyimages.blogspot.com Pembroke Cemetery - Commonwealth War Graves Commission via Cwg.org RIF Parish Tributes - Royalirishfusliersmuseum.com Gharghur Ceremony Blurb - Faugh-a-Ballagh RIF Regimental Gazette via Lennonwylie.co.uk (Gazette cover image featured in title graphic at the top of this page) Tilney surrender - Ww2gravestone.com British POWs including Malta Siege Veterans - Timesofmalta.com Battle Honour Malta 1940 - Royal-Irish.com