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Malta-nurse of the Mediterranean

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BerichtGeplaatst: 22 Aug 2008 16:50    Onderwerp: Malta-nurse of the Mediterranean Reageer met quote

During the First World War (1914-1918), Malta was nicknamed the ‘nurse of the Mediterranean’. Thousands of injured allied troops from the Gallipoli front received treatment in hospitals and medical centres all over Malta.

However, Malta’s role serving as a camp for Prisoners of War - mostly for German and pro-German Austrian, Egyptian and Turkish prisoners - is history’s missing link. The most well-known German and Turkish POW’s were held in Malta, some for months while others for years or until the end of the war.

The British used Malta as a huge concentration camp, an important role almost forgotten in the historic events of the first great world war.

This highly secretive operation by the British kept the Maltese in the dark. Even people living in the surrounding houses in Cospicua had no idea who the prisoners at Verdala Barracks were. The surrounding tent camps in the Cottonera area were completely cut off and no communication was allowed between camps.

Some of the most illustrious German officers were locked up at the Verdala fortification in Cospicua. Common German sailors and soldiers were kept in tents outside Cospicua in St Clements’s Camp and at San Salvatore bastions in Kalkara.

Food was poor and the tents were not protective. Some Germans POW died from excessive heat or cold during their imprisonment in Malta. These were buried in the Kalkara War Graves cemetery.

Two of the most famous German Navy captains who were imprisoned at Verdala were Franz Joseph Prinz von Hohenzollern and Karl Fredrick Max von Muller, the captain of the German raider ship “Emden” that sunk many allied ships in the Far East.

In Germany, Franz Joseph Prinz was a national hero. A postal stamp was issued in his honour. Being the first cousin of the German Kaiser, the British kept him in high esteem. His sister was the queen of Portugal.

Muller’s legendary ship, the “Emden”, was surrounded and scuttled on an island off Indonesia. He was secretly shipped to Malta on a British navy ship. He had a big welcome by fellow prisoners as he arrived at Verdala. Military and civilian prisoners considered him a great German hero.

The British used the presence of Muller and Franz Joseph Prinz at Verdala as a propaganda ploy. They were both given their own room on an upper storey rather than a cell. They were free to exercise, write, keep domestic animals and mix with other prisoners. However, they refused these privileges knowing that their crews were held in terrible conditions outside Verdala.

One German officer even had a chandelier fixed in his room. Through their influence, German officers were even allowed to print a magazine in German which they titled “Camp Nachrichten”. It was distributed to all prisoners at Verdala. The hand printed magazine often poked fun at their British captors with fine line drawings and text in the German language.

During the first months, security was very flexible. Most guards were Maltese soldiers and some prisoners were even escorted to visit Valletta for a short time. But all this changed when two prisoners, one German and one Austrian, escaped and disappeared from Malta.

The British also discovered that some German prisoners were noting all naval movements in the Grand Harbour and somehow were sending the sensitive information back to Germany.

Following this discovery, all windows with a panorama of the Grand Harbour were barred and covered. The Germans protested with the British camp commandant and constantly complained about poor quality of food, lack of water and mail delivery from their homeland. Some of these mass protests were so loud, that they could be heard as far as Valletta, where people complained they could not sleep because of the noise created by the German prisoners at night.

But another German officer also imprisoned at Verdala kept a low profile and more to himself. A young proud submarine captain, he consumed his time locked up at Verdala barracks by plotting to launch the feared and treacherous U-Boat wolf pack tactics in case of another war. Under his command, during Second World War, hundreds of allied ships were sunk by German U-boats and 30,000 allied sailors and civilians were killed. His name was Karl Donitz.

An ambitious proud German, Karl was to become a Grand Admiral and eventually Adolf Hitler’s successor after the Fuehrer committed suicide. A title he held just for 20 days, before his imprisonment by the victorious Allies.

His connection with Malta during the First World War is an intriguing story of sheer courage and determination. An unbeaten German officer who lost his submarine and some of his Karl Donitzcrew in the Mediterranean, Donitz’s war exploits are still followed by thousands of people. On the internet site YouTube, there is a rare interview with Karl Donitz which was probably filmed some time before his death in Hamburg on Christmas eve of 1980.

He explains that he was the captain of a German UB 58 when his submarine attacked a British convoy off Gozo.

“It was a dark night on October 4, 1918 when we attacked and sunk a British cargo ship. But as a single submarine we became too exposed and were hit and had to abandon the sub and sink her.”

His chief engineer and six other crew members voluntary stayed in the sub to die for their motherland in order to make sure that the sub sank and did not fall in the enemy’s hands.

“During my nine months imprisonment (in Malta), it dawned to me that submarines are more effective if they attack as a group.”

Secretive from his British captors, he continued to developed new tactics while a prisoner at Verdala.

During the second world war, under Donitz’s command, now an admiral, U-Boats were the most feared Nazi weapons. They became known as the “wolf packs”.

But how did Donitz behave during his imprisonment at Verdala?

Marc James Small from the Marine History Information Group sends me this unique information: “Donitz was imprisoned in Malta when his submarine was sunk by the British some miles off the island. In prison he managed to convince the authorities that he was insane, as I recall, by playing with china dogs he purchased in the camp canteen. He was repatriated but arrived home too late to play a further role in the First War”.

Many believe that Donitz’s innocent looking toys helped him to plan his wolf pack submarine tactics.

Before his death, although beaten by old age, Donitz stated that he had no regrets and would do the same if he had another chance, despite the fact that he lost both his sons in submarine warfare. Three out of every four German U-Boats never returned and were lost with their young crews.

In the Nuremberg trials, Donitz was accused of war crimes. Many believe that considering the situation, the German U-boats fought hard but fair, and Donitz was punished for being too efficient. He served 11 years and 8 months in Berlin-Spandau prison, quite a huge contrast from his previous prison in Malta. After his release in 1956, he went to live in a quite village outside Hamburg.

The only Maltese who can recall that he met Donitz is marine historian and owner of the only private marine museum in Malta, Victor Wickman.

“Yes, I met him briefly. In his old age, he still showed the same pride of his golden sea sagas. He told me that he still remembers when he was a prisoner of war in Malta. He did not try to go into details, but he appreciated that he was treated quite well at Verdala Barracks,” recalls Victor during one of the many interviews we had about his love - Malta’s historic connections with the sea.

Stephen Petroni is a great collector of German war ‘souvenirs‘, from old German patrol armed carriers to army uniforms and armaments used by German forces during the Second World War. He has a collection of unique valuable rare documents connected with Verdala Barracks when used as prisoners of war camp during the First World War. Through his initiative, he wanted to reserve part of the barracks, still neglected and used as a rubbish dump, for restoration and exhibitions project.

Stephen is convinced that if the true historical facts of Verdala’s role in the First World War are known in Germany, thousands will visit Malta just to see where their great grand German ancestors, captains and admirals were held as POW’s. However, he found no response from the former Cospicua Local Council and Government Authorities.

After more than 80 years, the huge building of Verdala has stood the test of time. The entrance door of the old fortifications is in a state of deep erosion, but the huge bastions and the inside quarters are reasonably in good conditions. From the outside, one can still see the thick iron bars that blocked the outside bastion windows.

One wonders how many secrets were locked amongst the prisoners held on the inside.

The grounds where the prisoners paraded and spent their free time is still there but covered with tarmac. The granite steps and stairs that lead to the upper cells are still original. When the barracks were transformed into a housing estate for Maltese families, the barracks suffered from constant rape of its original fortifications. No voices of protest were ever heard.
Many facades were painted in different colours and aluminium doors and windows replaced the originals. Most residents were permitted to connect rooms destroying original walls to make room for bigger premises.

It may be far too late to restore Verdala Barracks back to its old glory and its rightful place in the history books. As years rolled on, all captors and captives are all gone. For generations to come, there is not even one trace or memory dedicated to the illustrious German prisoners who walked the corridors of Verdala during their captivity in Malta.

Some of the prisoners of Verdala changed the course of world history, but their presence at Verdala and other POW camps in Malta is completely forgotten.

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Geregistreerd op: 11-8-2006
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BerichtGeplaatst: 22 Aug 2008 19:13    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Er kwam ook een antwoord op:

Wayne Saillard / 8/22/2008

Mr Mizzi is to be commended for his excellent attempt to raise awareness of the First World War heritage related to the Prisoners of War detained on the island during that conflict.

However, there are a couple of points I would like to make for the benefit of your readers with regards Captain Muller of the Emden being "secretly shipped to Malta" and that his ship was "surrounded and scuttled." On 9 November 1914, the German light cruiser SMS Emden landed some men to destroy the telegraph station on Direction Island - which forms part of the Cocos Islands. This was a vital communication link between the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

Upon sighting the enemy warship the telegraph station issued a call for assistance which was picked up by a convoy taking the first contingent of Australian and New Zealand troops to Egypt. This convoy was being escorted by four allied warships. As the convoy was passing a short distance from the Cocoas Islands when it received the signal about the Emden, the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney was diverted to attack the German warship. When the Sydney was sighted Captain Muller had to raise anchor and leave the landing party to deal with the threat. In the ship to ship combat which followed, the Emden suffered severe damage at the hands of the superior armed Sydney. Seeing no way out, Captain Muller ordered the Emden to be run aground on North Keeling Island to prevent great loss of life should the ship sink.

The landing party on Direction Island managed to escape during the battle and eventually return to Germany. After their surrender, the Germans were taken to Colombo where the majority were divided into small groups among the troop transports - except for the wounded who were landed for more specialised medical treatment. The others were put aboard the HMS Hampshire for internment on Malta. Upon arrival on 7 December 1914, the crew was split with the officers being sent to Verdala Barracks and the others to Fort Salvatore.

On 8 October 1916 Captain Muller was escorted to HMS London and transferred to England, where he was interned in a camp at Sutton Bonington. Muller escaped from here on 26 September 1917 - but was recaptured a few hours later. In January 1918, as a result of his suffering from bouts of malaria, he was sent to the Netherlands as part of a humanitarian exchange before being repatriated in October 1918. For those readers who would like to delve further into this story, there are numerous websites and books to choose from.
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