Gozo’s steeped in history, and when it comes to World War II inspirations, the island offers a variety of exciting and significant sites. So, if you’re a World War II enthusiast and seeking more places to visit and things to do in Gozo, rest assured that these five spots will give you a fuller picture of what Gozo went through in World War II.
Words by VISITGOZO / MINISTRY FOR GOZO | Extract taken from April's 2023 Il-Bizzilla Magazine | Read more here
Gozo was not only the Gozitans’ home during World War II. It also became home to several thousands of Maltese refugees who left mainland Malta and moved to Gozo. Gozo was not only a safer place to live, but famine was less of a threat too. Despite the hardships, the rural island of Gozo was better off. Gozo’s history books show that between 1941 and 1942, many underground shelters were excavated. While there are many private underground shelters in houses, Gozo has around 170 public shelters too. Shelters were a crucial part of the defence for the civilians as the island of Gozo had nothing to mitigate attacks. These shelters are notoriously found in the villages’ main squares and central points, with interlinking tunnels between them. An extensive shelter complex consisting of 32 rooms and tunnels runs underneath the St Martin demi-bastion at the Citadel. This complex is not open to the public, but make sure you’ve listed the shelter located at the St John’s demi bastion at the Citadel on your list of things to do in Gozo.
In terms of bombings and air raids, Gozo was spared the devastation inflicted on Malta. Malta is considered to have been the most bombed country during World War II. Gozo, on the other hand, had a less harrowing experience. Initially, Gozo was only struck by random bombs dropped by the Italian and German fighter planes seeking to release their load on their flight back home. From 1941 to 1943, Gozo experienced a war rampage through seven major bombings in Victoria, Nadur, Xewkija, Għajnsielem, Xagħra, Għarb and Ta’ Sannat. The worst attack was the bombing in 1942 on the village of Ta’ Sannat. That bombing hit a bakery in the middle of the morning, leaving 18 dead and over 70 injured. The day saw many causalities, and historians consider it a significant catastrophe in Gozo’s modern history. In those days, the island’s hospital was the building that today houses the Ministry for Gozo in Saint Frances’ Square. The stress and panic lived on the day are visible even in the hospital’s records. If you’re visiting the village of Ta’ Sannat, you can stop by the church, where a plaque, including bomb shrapnel, commemorates those who died in this tragedy. Further uphill, at Xelina Square and in Main Street, where the bombing occurred, one can visit the official memorial on site.
Ġurdan Hill & Xewkija Airfield
Ġurdan Hill is notorious for its lighthouse and scenic views, but few know about this hilltop’s curious role in World War II. In July of 1943, the Allies were focused on the invasion of Sicily. Operation Husky, as it was code-named, saw Ġurdan Hill as the vantage point which housed the radar unit for this manoeuvre. Hike up Ġurdan Hill and think of what the spot meant for those involved. Operation Husky also needed an airfield built on the Ta’ Lambert site in Xewkija. Considered one of the forgotten airfields of Europe, part of the site has become the road leading from Mġarr to Xewkija. Once the Allies gained a foothold in Sicily, the US contingent moved to Sicily’s liberated airfields as they proceeded with the Italian campaign and this airfield was dismantled.
World War II Memorial
At It-Tokk or Independence Square, the island’s main square, stop for a coffee, and you will be under the gaze of the Christ the King monument. This memorial, which the late Queen Elizabeth II unveiled, commemorated the Gozitan World War II victims. The monument lists the names of the fallen and has bronze bas-relief engravings representing the navy, infantry, air force and nursing arms.
Undoubtedly, World War II is a valid chapter in Gozo’s history. The landmark points mentioned above can be part of your itinerary of things to do in Gozo. Once your interest is piqued, you might be hungry for more in-depth Gozo history stories. If that’s the case, visit a local bookshop to find enriching books about Malta’s and Gozo’s wartime stories.