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27 September 1942: Beaufighter Shot Down by Friendly Fire
A RAF pilot has died and his observer is in a critical condition after friendly fire struck their aircraft over Malta. The Beaufighter of 89 Squadron was one of two which had to return early from a patrol to intercept enemy raiders. As they approached, the Island’s anti-aircraft positions were on ‘Guns Tight’, orders to shoot only at aircraft once they had been identified. However, the guns covering the approach to Luqa airfield were still on ‘Guns Free’ – ready to fire at any aircraft.
Spotting an unidentified aircraft headed for Luqa, the gunners opened fire. The Beaufighter pilot took evasive action, turning away from the airfield and looping back to make another attempt at landing. But the aircraft had lost too much height and he was forced to crash land. The Beaufighter burst into flames. The pilot escaped from the top hatch as Royal Artillery personnel rushed to the scene, managing to rescue the observer, Pilot Officer Alfred Cumbers, who was badly burned. Despite suffering relatively minor burns the pilot, Flight Lieutenant John Waddingham, died later in hospital from shock.
AIR RAIDS DAWN 27 SEPTEMBER TO DAWN 28 SEPTEMBER 1942
Weather Good; visibility good.
No air raid warnings.
0735-0820 hrs Five Spitfires 185 Squadron are scrambled on intercept patrol: nothing sighted.
Military casualties Flight Lieutenant John Waddingham, Royal Air Force.
Civilian casualties Nil.
OPERATIONS REPORTS SUNDAY 27 SEPTEMBER 1942
ROYAL NAVY P 35 attacked a large escorted merchant vessel but, as the first torpedo failed to sink her, she later followed up and attacked by moonlight, and obtained a further hit. ML 459 and Swona carried out sweeping operations in St. Paul’s Bay and approaches. No mines were swept. Beauforts unsuccessfully attacked an enemy convoy with torpedoes.
AIR HQ Night Three Beauforts of 39 Squadron were despatched to attack a southbound enemy convoy in the Ionian Sea. Only one aircraft found the convoy which comprised four destroyers and a 5000 ton merchant vessel 120 miles south west of Cape Matapan proceeding on a sourtherly course at 12 knots. One torpedo was dropped but owing to poor visibility the results were not observed. Arrivals One Liberator from LG 224; one Beaufort, one Wellington, one Hudson from Gibraltar.
HAL FAR 1100-1205 hrs Five Spitfires 185 Squadron made a reconnaissance patrol over Sicily: no enemy activity.
TA QALI No operations by 229 or 249 Squadrons.
28 September 1942: Navy Air Squadron in Convoy Attacks
Two night attacks were carried out tonight against shipping near Cape Spartivento, one by a Wellington of 69 Squadron and another by two Swordfish and two Albacores of the Royal Naval Air Service squadron based at Hal Far.
The Wellington left Malta this evening on the tail of a convoy of one 4000 ton merchant vessel and three destroyers which he located five miles north east of Spartivento, heading westwards. The bomber launched a stick of four 500lb bombs at the merchantman and one burst very close to the stern. Photographs taken later showed a merchant vessel, believed to be the one attacked, beached off Locri.
Two hours later the four RNAS aircraft took off with orders to search for an enemy merchant vessel but found only a single Navigator Class destroyer about 20 miles off the toe of Italy. They released two torpedoes, forcing the destroyer to take violent evasive action. They reported a hit amidships followed by a large flash. One Swordfish experienced intense and accurate light Ack Ack fire and was slightly damaged but returned safely to Hal Far.
AIR RAIDS DAWN 28 SEPTEMBER TO DAWN 29 SEPTEMBER 1942
Weather Fine; visibility 10-15 miles.
1705-1735 hrs Air raid alert. 14 enemy fighters approach; only three cross the coast while the remainder patrolled to the north of the Island. Four Spitfires 249 Squadron Ta Qali are scrambled to intercept: no engagement.
1815-1900 hrs Two Spitfires 249 Squadron on anti-E boat patrol: nothing sighted.
Military casualties Nil. Civilian casualties Nil.
OPERATIONS REPORTS MONDAY 28 SEPTEMBER 1942
ROYAL NAVY Sweep of St Paul’s Bay completed and area now considered clear. Rye swept P 44 out for patrol.
AIR HQ Spitfires carried out two offensive reconnaissances over Sicily: no enemy aircraft sighted. Arrivals Two Marylands from ADU 201 Group; three Beauforts, two Hudsons from Gibraltar. Departures One Hudson to Gibraltar; one Liberator to LG 224; one Cant 506 to Aboukir.
TA QALI 229 Squadron stood down. 1325-1425 hrs Five Spitfires 249 Squadron on reconnaissance patrol (one spare returned early): no sightings.
1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT 1130-1300 hrs 100 Men of B Company and 100 of C Company stood by in the Dockyard in case of rioting. Trouble was expected as the ASM was seeing a delegation of workmen who advocated more pay etc. No incidents of any kind occurred: everything was quite normal.
2nd Bn ROYAL IRISH FUSILIERS Three day scheme began to test mobile role of Battalion.
29 September 1942: Enemy Fighter Strength Up
AOC MED CONGRATULATES RAF LUQA
Two messages have been received at RAF Luqa from Air Officer Commanding, RAF Mediterranean:
“Well done 69 Squadron. Your good reconnaissance made possible torpedo attack on a fat enemy merchant vessel. Keep it up.”
“Well done 39 Squadron. Lieutenant Tilley put up a first rate show in his determination to attack in most unpleasant weather conditions. A good job well carried out.”
AIR RAIDS DAWN 29 SEPTEMBER TO DAWN 30 SEPTEMBER 1942
Weather Fine; visibility good.
0930-1020 hrs Five Spitfires 185 Squadron Hal Far on patrol: nothing sighted.
1112-1205 hrs Air raid alert. 30 ME 109s approach the Island in four or five waves. Ten Spitfires 185 Squadron are scrambled to intercept but do not engage. Only 15 enemy fighters cross the coast. Heavy Ack Ack engage.
1610-1635 hrs Air raid alert. Six ME 109s cross the coast and then patrol south of Filfla. Heavy Ack Ack fire.
1600-1720 hrs Nine Spitfires 249 Squadron are scrambled to intercept enemy aircraft (one spare returned early). Enemy fighters are sighted but turn ‘up sun’ and get away. Five Spitfires 185 Squadron are also scrambled: nothing sighted.
1815-1905 hrs Two Spitfires Ta Qali on anti-shipping patrol: no sightings.
2100-2110 hrs Air raid alert for a single enemy bomber: bombs in the sea.
Military casualties Nil.
Civilian casualties Mgarr Santo Abela, age 14.
OPERATIONS REPORTS TUESDAY 29 SEPTEMBER 1942
AIR HQ 23 Spitfire sorties over Sicily during the day: no combats. Arrivals One DC3 from LG 224; three Hudsons, two Beauforts from Gibraltar. Departures Two Hudsons to Gibraltar; one Spitfire to Heliopolis. Aircraft casualties One Beaufort missing in transit between Gibraltar and Malta.
HAL FAR 1345-1545 hrs Five Spitfires carried out a sweep over south east Sicily. Enemy aircraft were sighted taking off from Comiso aerodrome and two E boats seen two miles off the coast: no combats.
TA QALI 0915-1010 hrs Four Spitfires 229 Squadron on reconnaissance patrol over Sicily. Enemy fighters were sighted but no combat took place.
1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT 1130-1300 hrs B and C Companies stood by again in the Dockyard in case of trouble.
30 September 1942: Meat and Fish Only Once a Week
The Government has announced a new menu for the Victory Kitchens, reducing the service of meat and fish to only once a week each (1):
- Monday Balbuljata (i) with peas
- Tuesday Macaroni with tomatoes
- Wednesday Minestra (ii)
- Thursday Tinned fish, beans and tomatoes
- Friday Macaroni with tomatoes
- Saturday Minestra
- Sunday Meat with tomatoes and tinned beans
AIR RAID STATISTICS SEPTEMBER 1942
- Total number of alerts to date 2927
- Total number of alerts this month 57
- Air raid alerts night 17
- Number of Blank Days 6
- Number of Night raids 17
- Raid Free Nights 13
- Alerts for Own Planes 7
- Total time from air raid alert to raiders passed 1 day, 2 hrs, 5 mins
- Average length of alert 27.5 mins
AIR RAIDS DAWN 30 SEPTEMBER TO DAWN 1 OCTOBER 1942
Weather Fine; visibility good.
0815-0830 hrs Air raid alert. Five Spitfires 229 Squadron Ta Qali are scrambled to intercept: no sightings. Alert believed to be triggered by returning friendly aircraft.
0845-0850 hrs Air raid alert. Four Spitfires 229 Squadron are scrambled to intercept: no sightings. Alert also believed due to friendly aircraft.
Military casualties Nil. Civilian casualties Nil.
OPERATIONS REPORTS WEDNESDAY 30 SEPTEMBER 1942
AIR HQ 1540-1630 hrs Offensive reconnaissance by four Spitfires over Sicily: no enemy aircraft sighted. Departures One Hudson to Gibraltar; four Beauforts to LG 224. Aircraft casualties One Beaufort missing in transit between Malta and LG 224.
HAL FAR 185 Squadron released.
TA QALI 1540-1630 hrs Four Spitfires 249 Squadron on reconnaissance patrol: no sightings. 1755-1850 hrs Four Spitfires 249 Squadron on reconnaissance patrol crossed over Biscari and Comiso aerodromes: no enemy aircraft sighted.
1st Bn DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY Strength of Battalion: 30 Officers, 614 Other Ranks.
4th Bn THE BUFFS (ROYAL EAST KENT REGIMENT) Personnel engaged on co-operational duties at Luqa aerodrome: 1 Officer, 62 Other Ranks night; 1 Officer, 108 Other Ranks day.
1st BN HAMPSHIRE REGT Throughout September two twin Lewis guns were manned during daylight on Safi strips for anti-aircraft defence. No rounds were fired at hostile aircraft. Throughout the month working parties at Hal Far aerodrome were: two impressed lorries, four Other Ranks manning the lorries; one Other Rank with motor-cycle on special police duties.
4th HEAVY ACK ACK REGIMENT During the month the Regiment has only fired 90 rounds ARBT. A new form of night barrage has been evolved in which each RCR as before works out the datas for its own gun positions. Plots are obtained from the GL at very 10th second immediately following the buzz made in the circuit from RCR; the buzzes are also made in the guns circuit. The FCO [Fire Control Orders] orders ‘Immediate – height’ on the next buzz guns start a stop watch on each position. The FCO now works out the co-ordinates of the barrage point, based on a time from the executive buzz of 55 seconds and orders the co-ordinates. Guns work out the date and apply it; gun positions subtract the time of flight (say 17 seconds) from 55 and fire when their stop watch shows 38 seconds.
1st Bn KINGS OWN MALTA REGIMENT The coast in the Battalion sector was vigilantly patrolled each night in September and a mobile platoon is also performing intensive patrolling on the Island of Gozo.
1 October 1942: Diseases Pose Greater Threat Than Bombs
EPIDEMIC CLAIMS MALTA MEDIC
Major Douglas Armstrong of the Royal Army Medical Corps whose death was announced last Thursday [24 September], lost his life due to a disease from which he had saved countless others. Still in his twenties Major Armstrong, who had commanded Malta’s Field Hygiene Section since January 1941, struggled through the intense blitz of Malta while every other senior medical officer was lost to the service. Fighting an epidemic which was proving an even greater threat to the Island’s population than enemy bombing, the Glasgow born doctor himself finally succumbed to the infection.
A typhoid outbreak among civilians was first identified some months ago, with a concentration of cases around the Luqa area. The disease was believed to be carried by flies rather than water-borne.
A significant percentage of Malta’s civilian population has been affected by scabies. A figure of 20 per cent quoted in June is now believed to have at least doubled. Causes include hygiene problems due to the scarcity of water and soap, and the crowded conditions in the Island’s shelters and emergency housing which make washing difficult and aid the spread of this highly contagious disease. Troops have also been affected, at about half the rate of the population at large. “It was the general belief then that scabies is caused by a combination of under nourishment and lack of hygiene…Scabies was rampant in 1942. There might have been cases earlier. I was stricken by scabies in 1943, at a time when it was supposed to have been relieving. Large red boils covered my feet, hands and my bottom. They itched a lot and made me scratch frantically…” J A Zahra, 2011
A debilitating condition now threatens to undermine the effectiveness of the Island’s fighting forces. An unpleasant form of dysentery known to the troops as ‘Malta Dog’ attacks suddenly and weakens the constitution of servicemen already significantly underweight due to reduced rations. Sufferers can be confined to bed for several days, unable to return to duties until their condition stabilises.
“For about a fortnight I was really off colour with symptoms I will not mention, beyond saying that all food tasted like fat, and was difficult to swallow. In addition I had a prolonged attack of [‘Malta Dog’] a form of dysentry, painful and exhausting, but that seemed to be always with us.” (2)
“One morning I woke with a splitting headache and high temperature which persisted all day. This with long hours of duty with little leisure at last forced me to go to see the Naval Surgeon. As I walked in he greeted me with ‘Hello Mr. Austin!, got Jaundice?’ So that was it.
‘I am sorry to say that you can’t go to Hospital, Imtarfa and Bighi are full and St Patricks has over 500 cases of Jaundice. It is caused by rat contaminated butter’. He continued. ‘Beyond Epsom salts I have nothing else to prescribe. What you need is plenty of green salads, which are not available. You must go to bed, eat only dry toast and potatoes boiled in their jackets, tea without sugar and milk, and nothing else whatsoever’. (2)
SHORTAGE OF MEDICAL SUPPLIES
The lack of regular supplies to Malta creates worrying shortages of medical supplies to tackle and prevent disease as well as to treat wounds. The severely reduced rations, as well as threatening to cause malnutrition, weakens the immune system and aids the spread of infection. Without the emergency ‘magic carpet’ deliveries of essential items by submarine, the Island will face possible multiple epidemics.
AIR RAIDS DAWN 1 OCTOBER TO DAWN 2 OCTOBER 1942
Weather Cloudy, then fair to fine.
0634-1310 hrs; 1517-1940 hrs Four Baltimores 69 Squadron Luqa carry out a search to the south east of Malta for a missing Beaufort dinghy – not found.
1005-1010 hrs Air raid alert. Three plus fighters approach to within 15 miles of St Paul’s Bay. Nine Spitfires 229 Squadron are scrambled to intercept but see nothing. The raiders do not cross the Island.
2112-2136 hrs Air raid alert for three approaching enemy aircraft. One Beaufighter 89 Squadron Luqa is airborne to intercept but sees nothing. Bombs are dropped in the sea 30 miles north of the Island.
Military casualties Flight Sergeant Joseph Menard, Royal Canadian Air Force.
Civilian casualties Nil.
OPERATIONS REPORTS THURSDAY 1 OCTOBER 1942
ROYAL NAVY P 35 swept in by Hythe, and P 46 to sea. P 35 reported having sunk on escorted merchant vessel south west of Stravothi. A flash and the sound of an explosion were reported by the military at about 2000 hrs, 8 miles west of El Blate. As P 46 was estimated to be in this position at the time, she was ordered to report, which she did at 2020.
AIR HQ Spitfires carried out offensive reconnaissance over Sicily. 2130 hrs Beaufighter on intruder patrol over Sicily. Arrivals One Hudson from Gibraltar. Departures Eight Beauforts to Shallufa.
HAL FAR Owing to a severe crosswind 185 Squadron were not scrambled all day.
LUQA 0825 hrs One Spitfire 69 Squadron photographs one 6-7000 ton merchant vessel with an escort of two destroyers off Cape Armi. 0920-1035 hrs Two Spitfires 1435 Squadron carried out reconnaissance patrol. Two RE 2001s were sighted: S/Ldr Lovell damaged one. 1510 hrs One Spitfire 69 Squadron sighted two destroyers and two motor torpedo boats off Cape San Taranto.
TA QALI 1725-1820 hrs Four Spitfires 229 Squadron on reconnaissance patrol: nothing sighted.
2 October 1942: Axis Troops Sick From Lack of Food
A lack of food and water is causing significant sickness among Axis troops as Allied attacks disrupt supply runs through the Mediterranean. Rommel’s Afrika Korps is now getting just a quarter of the supplies they need, thanks to combined air and sea offensives from Malta.
The German Field Marshal had informed Berlin that he needed 50,000 tons of supplies if his forces were to continue effective operations in North Africa. During September alone, Allied Air and Naval forces in the Mediterranean have sunk 34000 tons of shipping at sea. Daily attacks on enemy convoys by Malta’s bombers and submarines have disrupted convoys, crippling Axis tankers and merchant vessels. Any supplies which did get through had to be landed at Tripoli and transported many miles to the battle front.
AIR RAIDS DAWN 2 OCTOBER TO DAWN 3 OCTOBER 1942
Weather Fair to cloudy at first; fair in the evening.
0746-0914 hrs Eight Spitfires 185 Squadron Hal Far are scrambled. Blue Section patrols over Grand Harbour while Black Section carry out a sweep over south east Sicily: no enemy aircraft sighted.
1010-1130 hrs Eight Spitfires 126 Squadron Luqa are scrambled for reported raiders which do not approach close to Malta: no enemy aircraft sighted.
1420-1550 hrs Four Spitfires 249 Squadron Ta Qali on intercept patrol: no sightings.
1615-1645 hrs Five Spitfires 185 Squadron are airborne to provide cover for friendly aircraft: no enemy seen.
1800-1915 hrs Four Spitfires 249 Squadron on anti-E boat patrol: no sightings.
2140-2205 hrs Air raid alert. Three enemy bombers approach close to the north east of Malta between 24000 and 28000 feet. Two of the aircraft drop bombs in the sea, one five to ten miles east of Ta Silch and the other five miles north of Gharghur. One Beaufighter 89 Squadron Luqa is scrambled to intercept but does not encounter the aircraft.
2200-0030 hrs One Beaufighter 89 Squadron airborne on patrol: no enemy aircraft sighted.
Military casualties Nil. Civilian casualties Nil.
OPERATIONS REPORTS FRIDAY 2 OCTOBER 1942
ROYAL NAVY Rorqual swept into Grand Harbour by Rye having arrived from Beirut with stores.
AIR HQ 2200 hrs Beaufighter on intruder patrol Sicily. Arrivals One Liberator from LG 224; one Spitfire from LG 28; one Mosquito from Benson. Departures Three Hudsons to Gibraltar; one Wellington, one Liberator to LG 224; six Beauforts to Shallufa; one Wellington to LG 208.
LUQA 0650-0750 hrs Four Spitfires 126 Squadron were airborne on reconnaissance patrol: no enemy aircraft sighted.
TA QALI 0740-0850 hrs Five Spitfires 229 Squadron (one spare returned early) on reconnaissance patrol over Sicily: no sightings. 0915-1035 hrs Nine Spitfires 249 Squadron on reconnaissance patrol sighted two Macchi 202s and four ME 109s. F/Sgt De Lara damaged one Macchi.
1st Bn DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY Thirty one Other Ranks were admitted to hospital suffering from suspected food poisoning.
1st Bn KINGS OWN MALTA REGIMENT 17 Platoon relieved 18 Platoon in Gozo.
3 October 1942: Enemy Bomber Force in Sicily Increased
Reports are coming in from Malta’s photo-reconnaissance pilots that enemy bomber numbers in Sicily are increasing. After careful analysis of photographs covering Sicilian airfields at the end of September has produced estimates of 403 aircraft of all types. Of these 83 are German bombers and 145 Italian bombers; 172 are Italian and German fighters.
PR SPITFIRE SPOTS CONVOY TARGET
This afternoon a Malta reconnaissance pilot reported an enemy convoy consisting of a 5000 ton merchant vessel escorted by three destroyers crawling south from Taranto. Four Wellingtons – two carrying bombs and flares and two carrying torpedoes – were despatched to make a night attack on the convoy. They found the ships 33 miles south east of Cape Santa Maria di Leuca. Only one torpedo was launched and this scored a hit amidships on the merchant vessel, producing a red glow. Four 1000 lb bombs were also dropped but the results could not be seen. All aircraft returned safely to base.
FOOD POISONING HITS BATTALION
A possible outbreak of food poisoning has been reported by 1st Battalion Durham Light Infantry. 31 Other Ranks were admitted to hospital yesterday, followed by another 11 today, bringing the total number of cases to 42 out of a total of 614 men.
MILITARY SITUATION REPORT WEEK ENDING 3 OCTOBER 1942
From: Governor & C in C Malta To: C in C Middle East Rptd: War Office
1. Enemy air – daylight: six alerts for fighter sweeps totalling 92 aircraft. No combats. Night: six aircraft approached – bombs in the sea.
2. Own air – daylight: Over 70 sorties of Spitfires over Sicily. One RE 2001 damaged. No losses. Night: Total five Wellingtons sorties to attack convoys: near-misses bombs on two merchant vessels, probably torpedo hit merchant vessel. Two Swordfish, two Albacore sorties to attack convoy: one torpedo hit amidships on destroyer. No losses.
3. Military damage and casualties: nil.
AIR RAIDS DAWN 3 OCTOBER TO DAWN 4 OCTOBER 1942
Weather Fair to fine. Lightning late evening.
0645-0810 hrs Four Spitfires 249 Squadron Ta Qali on anti-E boat patrol.
0905-0941 hrs Air raid alert. 21 ME 109s and RE 2001s carry out a fighter sweep: about half cross the coast at 28-32000 feet. Heavy Ack Ack fire pointer rounds. Eight Spitfires 1435 Squadron Luqa are scrambled with fighters of other Squadrons to intercept. Enemy aircraft are sighted but no combat takes place.
0920-1000 hrs Two Spitfires 185 Squadron Hal Far are airborne to cover the minesweepers off Grand Harbour.
1019-1032 hrs Air raid alert for 12 enemy aircraft approaching the Island. Sixteen Spitfires are scrambled to intercept but the raiders recede when 25 miles off St Paul’s Bay.
1115-1155 hrs Air raid alert: aircraft are identified as friendly.
1515-1630 hrs Seven Spitfires 1435 Squadron are scrambled to intercept reported enemy raiders but they do not approach Malta – no aircraft are sighted.
2258-2309 hrs Air raid alert: are identified as friendly.
Military casualties Flight Sergeant Harold Sansome, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
Civilian casualties Nil.
OPERATIONS REPORTS SATURDAY 3 OCTOBER 1942
ROYAL NAVY Hythe swept Utmost out on patrol and then Parthian in with cargo from Gibraltar, followed by P 43 returning from patrol.
AIR HQ 12 Spitfire sorties on offensive reconnaissance over Sicily. Arrivals One DC3 from LG 224; two Hudsons from Gibraltar. Departures One DC3 to LG 224.
LUQA One Spitfire 69 Squadron carried out photo-reconnaissance from Taranto to Cape Maria Leuca.
1st Bn DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY Total number of personnel in hospital suffering from suspected food poisoning is forty-two.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB Reported 1. Dealt with: High Explosives nil; anti-personnel bombs 17; oil incendiaries 11.
(i) normally eggs scrambled with tomatoes and onions – in this case powdered eggs were used
(ii) soup with vegetables and pasta
(1) Adapted from Malta Diary of a War, Michael Galea, PEG Ltd 1992
(2) Extract from Autobiography of Leonard (Len) Austin, Foreman of Malta Dockyard, August 1939 – March 1943
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