Bomb Disposal has got a pretty high profile at the moment, what with the recent award of the George Cross to two British Army Bomb Disposal experts, and the film The Hurt Locker. Therefore its probably as apprpopriate a time as any to take a look at the incredibly brave men who worked on Bomb Disposal in Malta during the Second World War, and this book dedicated to telling their story.
After Italy entered the war in 1940 Malta became strategically important; a thorn in the side of Axis ambitions in the Mediterranean. From Malta British bombers could attack Italy and convoys heading for North Africa. Converesely, Malta also acted as a staging post for Allied Convoys. Therefore the Italians and Germans launched repeated and concerted attempts to obliterate Malta. Particularly between 1940 and 1942, for its size Malta was the most bombed place on earth. And with 15% of bombs failing to explode, there was much work for the Bomb Disposal teams.
Yet it was by no means a simple matter of exploding the bombs. Obviously this could not always be done. And with the wide array of bombs – from the tiny but deadly incendiaries and ‘butterfly bombs’ to the giant Hermann and Satan bombs – and the complex fuzes – anti-handing, delayed activation, for example – every job seems to have presented its own challenges. And with many bombs impacting and penetrating feet into the ground, digging them out was often hard work.
What is really incredible to read, is that despite years of frenetic work dealing with hundreds of bombs, none of Malta’s Bomb Disposal Engineers were killed on he job – testament indeed to their professionalism. And when we consider that for most of the war the team consisted of two young officers in their early twenties and but a handful of men, their service seems all the more sterling.
What stands out for me most of all is how evocative the book is. It is impossible not to read the countless stories and reflect on whether you could display that kind of steely cold bravery, all day every day for months indeed years on end. Yes, Bomb Disposal takes a particular kind of courage – the infantryman in the second world war might experience short, sharp periods of battle, and maybe the occasional prolonged fight. But the Bomb Disposal Sappers in Malta were dealing with countless incidents every day that could have killed them at any second.
This book is fine tribute to those remarkably brave men who saved many lives. Hudson more than does justice to these incredible human beings. And there are such strong parallels with the men out in Afghanistan right now dealing with IED’s.