Copyright The Malta Historical Society, 2005.

Source: Melita Historica. [Malta Historical Society]. 7(1977)2(186-187)

T. MARCON, Augusta 1940-43. Cronache della piazzaforte, Mendola Press, Augusta (Sicily), 1977, 208 pp. including bibliography and index; illus.

This is the story of the civilian population and the military stronghold of the Sicilian town of Augusta during the war years 1940-1943. In many ways the story of this Sicilian fortress is of special interest to Malta, as Augusta was the southernmost Italian naval port originally aimed to harass enemy shipping in the Central and Eastern Mediterranean. Though Augusta served to harbour a small number of destroyers, minelayers, torpedo boats, seaplanes and other small craft, the Italian naval force was withdrawn early in the war. This dejected both the civilian population as well as the defenders who had hardly any means of stopping sneaking British aerial and sea attacks, even though these were rare and hardly comparable to the Italian and German attacks on Malta. Augusta was also the place from where the unsuccessful E-boat attack on Malta and the equally unsuccessful landing of Borg Pisani and Giuseppe Guglielmi originated.

With the retreat of the Afrika Korps along the African littoral, panic struck the city and the stronghold. The civilian population deserted the city and found shelter in the hinterland. Augusta had no landward defences and both German and Italian defenders either retreated or simply melted away, leaving only a skeleton force behind. The 8th Army landings in Sicily, including a landing in Augusta itself, were practically unopposed and the city was turned into a base for reinforcements, food and ammunition. A hastily collected reinforcement of German and Italian forces sent to the area from Southern Italy provided sporadic opposition to the advancing British army. More effective were the German and Italian raids (by sea as well as by air) on the city of Augusta itself and on the ships that were plying in and out of the harbour carrying men, armaments and supplies. But nothing could stop the British advance. The fame of the 8th Army advanced before it along the east coast of Sicily.

Signer Tullio Marcon has been able to narrate the history of this stronghold objectively by consulting a number of war histories and libraries including the Historical Office of the Italian Army, the Historical Office of the Italian Navy, the Historical Office of the Italian Air Force, the Naval [p.187] Historical Branch of the British Ministry of Defence, the British Public Records Office, the Historical Division of the United States Air Force and the Deutsche Dienststelle of the Federal Republic of Germany. Photographs have been supplied by the various Italian War Historical Offices, the Imperial War Museum (UK) and the Historical Office of the Royal Australian Air Force. The civilian side of the story was collected from the records of the municipality of Augusta, diaries and eye-witness accounts. This aspect of the history of Augusta, and the able manner in which it is blended with the history of the port, is the chief asset of the book and makes it a veritable history of the city of Augusta. I must say I enjoyed reading the book tremendously and I consider that it should be a valuable addition to anyone interested in the history of Malta during the same period as well.

J. Zammit Mangion