The Royal Marines in Malta

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NATO's Southern Flank

In the early 1950s the NATO countries agreed that Britain should assume responsibility for protecting Europe’s Southern Flank . As a result, 3 Commando Brigade, comprising 40, 42 and 45 Commando, Royal Marines, was moved from Singapore and Hong Kong to Malta.

The Brigade also served and trained in other parts of the Mediterranean and in Britain, and were required to be able to react to emergency situations, both military and civil, in various parts of the world.

As the Cold War situation eased so the necessity for maintaining this large concentration of an elite force on Malta reduced. In 1970 NATO members decided that the Brigade could be UK-based with their units regularly deployed to Malta.

Early in 1971 they changed their minds and decided to base 41 Commando Group together with 79 (Commando) Battery, Royal Artillery (RA), permanently on Malta. As a result, the sole remaining Army Battalion on Malta returned to the UK.

Planning to base these forces on Malta caused a major diplomatic row. Malta had sought, and won, independence in 1964. Part of the Defence Agreement signed by Britain and Malta was that UK forces could operate from the island – but only for seven years, a period that finished at the end of 1971.

The advance party from 41 Commando RM flew to Malta but the diplomatic row had reached the point that Britain withdrew them and the Commando carried out its next NATO deployment from Britain.

What turned out to be a rather fragile agreement between Britain, NATO and Malta was brokered and 79 Commando Battery (RA) flew to Malta followed by their families. The Malta Government then had a change of heart and returned to the position of demanding that the British forces leave the island by the last day of 1971.

The British Government then announced that British forces would leave much earlier than this and, as a result of this mixture of argument and diplomacy, a new seven year agreement was signed between Britain and Malta.

HMS Bulwark brought 41 Commando Group RM and their artillery support 29 Commando Regiment RA back to Malta in July 1971. The Commando Group stayed St Andrew's Barracks whilst the Gunners went to St George's Barracks.