From 1940 to 1943 this island fortress and its naval and air base stood against repeated Regia Aeronautica and then Luftwaffe bombing attack, while under constant threat of Axis invasion. The Italians wanted to invade Malta because they saw it playing the same strategic role the British did: as key to control of the central Mediterranean. Adolf Hitler balked at the thought of an invasion, recalling severe casualties his Fallschirmjäger suffered in taking Crete. He was additionally wary of the Royal Navy’s ability to intercept any invasion convoy. He therefore canceled a proposed HERCULES invasion plan, and Malta survived to play a vital role in disruption of Axis sea supply lines to North Africa during the later desert campaigns and fighting in Tunisia in 1943. Malta was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe, but its increasingly sophisticated air defenses inflicted a high toll on inadequate German and Italian bombers. Malta was used by the Allies as a base for launching invasions of Sicily and Italy and bombing the Balkans. The population was collectively awarded a decoration for valor after the war.
Italian air attacks were conducted against the Suez Canal and targets in North Africa, to no effect whatever. The Italian Air Force then sent several squadrons to fly on the Eastern Front from 1941 to 1943. Its main wartime achievements came in the Mediterranean, especially against British convoys making the run from Gibraltar to Malta. But even there, undersized bombs and primitive tactics led to minimal success against merchantmen. Almost nothing was achieved against enemy warships before new models of aircraft and bombs were introduced in 1942.