Britain withdrew her best ships to face the menace of the German navy in home waters.20 Throughout the First World War the Mediterranean stations provided convoy facilities and Malta succoured the wounded from Galipoli and the Mid- dle East campaign. By the 1930's the whole defence situation had again changed with the introduction of airpower against which Malta was inadequately pro- tected. The Italians, with bomber and fighter airfields a mere hundred miles from the British base, seemed poised to overpower any anti-aircraft defences which might be installed. It was largely as a result of the effective protection afforded to the battle-scarred aircraft-carrier Illustrious in 1941, while she was undergo- ing basic repairs in the dockyard to damage inflicted by the Luftwaffe, that the decision was taken to hold on to Malta at all costs in the face of air bombard- ment. Fighter and anti-aircraft protection was built up and reinforcements, food and fuel pushed into the island against stupendous odds and with high losses, so that Malta was able to stand out, an "unsinkable aircraft-carrier", until the Allies pushed the Axis armies out of North Africa.
The threat of attack on Gibraltar during the Second World War never ma- terialised because General Franco remained neutral and refused to allow the pas- sage of a German strike force across Spanish territory. 21
The coastal defences of the two naval stations were very much as they had been at the beginning of the twentieth century, consisting in the main of 9.2 inch and 6 inch quick-firing guns in their original battery positions, the marks of the guns from time to time upgraded, supplemented by Oerlikon cannon. No major fleet action was attempted against either naval station although planning for the invasion of Malta was carried to an advanced stage.22 The only threat to develop was from Italian explosive motor boats and human torpedoes which moved in to attack shipping in the two harbours of Malta in the early hours of 26 July 1941. Bad luck and a rapid response on the part of the Maltese gunners destroyed all chance of success and the Italian force was decimated.
By the 1950's the British, impoverished by two wars and the loss of a huge empire, had reduced their commitments and lost interest in the power game of the Middle Sea. The Navy was withdrawn from Malta and the island granted its independence. Gibraltar was, for the time being, retained out of sentiment and from an inability to resolve the conflict of interests between the local population and Spain, but more and more the place assumed the aspect of a holiday resort rather than a great naval base. The power struggle in the Mediterranean was taken up by other forces.
The plan in SIR HENRY SHERE Discourse concerning the Mediterranean Sea, London 1705 states "01. Cromwell had a design upon this place, and would have cut this neck of land to make Gibraltar".