[WATCH] Malta celebrates Santa Marija feast, marking 75 years since arrival of convoy

For the 75th time in Malta's history, locals and tourists alike prepare for fireworks, food stalls, horse races and other celebrations in memory of the Ohio's arrival to the Maltese harbour

Santa Marija feast celebrations underway in Mosta. (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Santa Marija feast celebrations underway in Mosta. (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Malta celebrates Santa Marija feast, marking 75 years since arrival of convoy

As has become tradition on the Maltese islands, 15 August brings celebrations, fireworks and blue-clad feast revellers.

The date marks the day Malta was saved from starvation and critically low supply of fuel during World War II, with the arrival of British-manned American convoys.

Celebrations of the feast are characterised by fireworks and Catherine wheels dominating the night skies in many villages, as well as religious processions, food stalls, horse races, bands, parades and all-night parties. This year’s celebrations are expected to be even more extravagant, as Maltese mark the 75th anniversary of the events.

Photos: James Bianchi/MediaToday
Photos: James Bianchi/MediaToday

But how did the Maltese come to this much-loved feast?

In the midst of World War II, as Malta was the only barrier to the Nazi’s invasion of North Africa, being the United Kingdom’s only foothold in the Mediterranean. Add to this, an Italy under Moussolini’s reign in such close proximity, the Maltese islands bore witness to heavy bombings by sea and air from 1940 to 1942.

As a result, food, fuel and fighting supplies were running critically low, setting the wheels in motion for Malta to ultimately surrender. This was sure to happen by the end of August 1942.

However, 14 merchant ships, led by the Ohio, a British-manned, American vessel in Operation Pedestal, were on their way to Malta with much-needed supplies. But only a few days away from Maltese shores, the convoy was bombed by bomber planes and submarines, prompting the Maltese, with their hopes fleeting, to pray to Santa Marija for a miracle.

On 14 August, a day before The Feast of the Assumption marking the ascent into heaven by the Virgin Mary, three ships sailed into port, with the Ohio, which was carrying a large supply of fuel, reaching the island the following morning, though half underwater.

The vessel was greeted with crowds cheering and waving both British and American flags. The Maltese firmly believed it was divine intervention that brought the vessel to harbour, thus saving the nation from starvation and surrender to the Germans.

Soon after the events of that day, the ships became known as the Convoy of Santa Marija.

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