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11 June 1940: Malta’s First Day at War

11 Jun

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  • Seven air raid alerts
  • Three bombing raids by 35 enemy aircraft
  • Casualties reported: military 13; civilian 16
Lt Gen Sir William Dobbie

Lt Gen Sir William Dobbie

GOVERNOR CONFIRMS MALTA AT WAR

Lt General Sir William Dobbie today addressed the population of Malta in response to last night’s announcement from Italy:  “Whereas I have received information that War has broken out with Italy, I hereby announce to His Majesty’s Subjects in the Islands the outbreak of hostilities in humble trust in the guidance and protection of Divide Providence, and in assured confidence of the cordial support and tried fidelity and determination of the people of Malta.”

The Governor and Commander in Chief followed up his announcement with a visit to several Army Battalions across the Island.  A night-time curfew has also been announced from today until futher notice, to begin at 8.30pm.  The bus service will cease at 7pm each evening.

EYE-WITNESS ACCOUNTS

SPECIAL CONSTABULARY 0650 hrs  Philo Pullicino, Adjutant, age 24

“I was rudely awakened…by a novel sound which swept across the whole length and breadth of the Island…there were cries of ‘the sirens’ and ‘air raid’…we rushed to the shelter.  For one hour we crouched to the accompaniment of the roar of distant guns…

I put on my uniform and hurried out as we heard the long steady note of the sirens giving the ‘raiders passed’.  Everyone thought it was a well-timed rehearsal, though it was difficult to explain the guns.  I had not been out ten minutes when for the second time the wailing sirens sent us scuttling for shelter… I jumped into my car and rushed to the office…I found out that it had been a pukka raid.  [High explosive] bombs had been dropped and had killed people…  I admit I was scared at this swift murderous blow from the skies… (1)

SOLDIER 0700 hrs  Corporal John Kelly, 2nd Bn Royal Irish Fusiliers, St Andrews Barracks

“We had ‘Stand To’ at dawn, and after ‘Stand Down’ had returned to our garage. We were still in battle order, when at 7 am the sirens started howling ‘Air Raid Warning’, as the Italian Air Force flew in to attack Malta. In our first ever air raid we heard the roar of A A guns and the crash of bombs, in a rolling thunder, sounding closer and closer to us.

Our Sergeant, Billy Strawbridge, roared out over the terrible din, “Double over to the slit trenches and stand by”. As one man, we raced across to the slit trenches 200 yards away, led by Fusilier ‘Popeye’ Byrne, a small man. As he ran he approached a piece of masonry – five feet high. Popeye paused for a second, then an A A Battery 400 yards away opened up with a shattering crash. Popeye with a startled shout bounded over this high obstacle, as though it was nothing and continued his run. An amazing jump for a small man. When we reached the slit trenches and stood by, ready to dive if the bombs came any closer, I stared at Popeye with admiration and prayed that he would be picked to represent Ireland in the post war Olympics, in the high jump…”  (2)

PARISH PRIEST 0720 hrs  Mgr Lorenzo Spiteri, parish priest, Mqabba

Porte des Bombes

Porte des Bombes

“On 10th June 1940, as I was listening to the radio with a friend of mine, Guzeppi Ellul, we heard Mussolini declare war on Britain.  We were struck dumb.  On the following morning at about seven we had the first air raid.  From the church roof I watched as the Italian planes released their bomb-loads.  I turned to my companion, a priest, and suggested we give each other absolution in case of sudden death.  My friend made light of my proposal and said, ‘Let’s not panic; this is the time when everyone has to play his part.’  On that first day Guzeppi Ellul was to lose his life as he was on his way to report for duty; instead of getting off at Blata l-Bajda as usual, he decided to stop at Porte des Bombes, where he was killed by one of the first bombs to be dropped ever Malta.” (3)

AIR RAID PRECAUTIONS (ARP) 1925 hrs  Zabbar ARP Centre: hit by bombs

“The sound of crushing masonry, the screaming of the bombs, the explosions – all new to the men – caused concern among the personel.’  The superintendent, L Demajo Albanese, calmed his men…He later wrote in his logbook:  “Soon bombs were heard exploding in my area.  All of a sudden we saw dense clouds coming from Rock Gate and some casualties started coming in the Centre to receive some treatment.  [They informed] us that houses were demolished and that there were several casualties.  Sergeant Lorenzo Attard took his squad with him…he found two dead bodies near Rock Gate and several other casualties which were inside the demolished houses and could not get out.  Attard worked magnificently with the help of his squad and in a short time six persons were brought out, put in an ambulance and rushed to the Centre.”  (3)

ARP 1925 hrs  Cottonera ARP Centre

Convent of St Teresa

Convent of St Teresa

“One bomb hit the Centre and another two the Convent of St Teresa adjoining…Ordered my men to collect picks, bandages, cotton wool and disinfectants that lay scattered about and rushed out… Opened rock tunnel near Silver Jubilee Gate on the road to Zabbar and organised a First Aid post – everyone suffering from serious shock.

Attended to about 40 wounded in two motor trucks and despatched same to…hospital.  Attended to about 20 walking casualties and sent them to their homes.  Attended to six casualties on motor lorry (military) coming from the direction of Zabbar Gate. 

Rescued casualties from under the debris…Number of houses demolished and partly demolished and damaged by blast may be considered to be above 250 (conservative figure)…dead bodies sent to Central Civil Hospital.”  The Cottonera ARP centre handled 82 casualties of whom 22 were found to be dead.  Cottenera ARP Centre logbook  (3)

CIVILIAN 1925 hrs  Emanual Scicluna, Married Quarters, 4B Zabbar Gate

“Myself, and my married daughter Maria Bujega, and her husband Anthony, with ten children were taken to the Central Hospital, all injured; my wife Concetta and my daughter Giuzepppa, 34 years of age who was a caretaker at the Cospicua School…were seriously injured.  Since then I have seen my dead wife at the Central Hospital but as regards my daughter I have not yet heard of her to this day, and I do not know whether she is dead or alive.” (3)

SPECIAL CONSTABULARY 1925 hrs  Philo Pullicino, Adjutant, age 24

“…another raid, this time a big one.  It lasted from 7.25pm to 8.30pm…We heard the planes droning continuously – and the firing: God, it was a nightmare!  Every gun in the neighbourhood blazed away at machine-gun speed.  The monitor HMS Terror barked above them all with her 4.7s…[A] lull in the storm saw us tearing down to the Duluri Church with thirteen blankets [for refugees] on our heads.  We dumped them there and, stopping a truck, we made him drive us both to Gzira.  The ‘Raiders Passed’ signal had not sounded yet…

HMS Terror

HMS Terror

The streets were deserted and we got to Manoel Bridge in record time.  About five hundred yards on we came upon disaster.  Three houses had receive direct hits (on their facades) and had strewn the main road with debris… In the gathering darkness the scene was terrifying: there was a strong smell of gas…Telephone and electricity wires hung limply across the road.  I ran up Ponsonby Street.  A house had disappeared…Further on, more commotion, more ruin, more disaster.  Corpses and casualties were being unearthed.  People, white and haggard, peeped frightened from broken windows and doorways…Six persons rushed up to me, I being in uniform, and asked me to take them somewhere – anywhere!…

I told them to wait on the pavement…soon more came.  These I also lined up.  But presently they came in hundreds and swamped me.  What could I do?  Where should I send them?  Then…I remembered vaguely that it was stated that refugees could go into churches.

I ordered, asked, persuaded people to walk towards Msida and Hamrun and Birkirkara.  I said transport would follow and pick them up; they were to stop cars and ask for lifts…I stopped a bus, asked the driver where he was going, but before he could answer the bus was full!  I ordered him to take the to the place he was proceeding to, no matter where it was.

A family jumped into a boat and started rowing out.  I yelled and pulled them back, and pushed them along with the packed, walking mass…  (1)

ARP 2200 hrs  Gzira

“Extensive damage was done to Gzira… word was received at 10 o’clock at night that persons were lying buried under demolished buildings.  In a house in Ponsonby Street, a girl aged ten had been completely buried in a ruined house.  Joseph Pirotta who was one of the rescue party…managed to extricate a girl alive at great personal danger working in darkness.”  Msida ARP Centre logbook  (3)

AIR RAIDS DAWN 11 JUNE TO DAWN 12 JUNE 1940

Weather  Fine and warm; light westerly breeze.

0415 hrs  Malta troops ordered to stand to.

0452 hrs  Marsaxlokk reports both parties of distinguished persons safely on board flying boat.

0655 hrs  Air raid alert.  Ten Italian SM79 bombers in two formations escorted by Macchi 200 fighters approach the Island at 14000 feet, crossing the coast over Kalafrana and Hal Far, and heading towards Grand Harbour.

0659 hrs  Anti-Aircraft fire is reported over St Pauls Bay and Luqa.

0706 hrs  Sixteen 250lb bombs are dropped on Hal Far causing craters on the aerodrome and damaging vehicles; two land within 15 yards of HQ shelter and the Officers’ Mess.

0710 hrs  Another thirty bombs fall between Fort Benghaisa, Birzebbugia and Kalafrana, where buses, a searchlight and vehicles are damaged.  One aircraft carries out a low-flying attack on Fort St Elmo, dropping a stick of bombs between the lighthouse and the Harbour Fire Command post, killing six members of the Royal Malta Artillery and wounding several others.  One gun is put out of action.  Damage to the Dockyard is slight.  Enemy aircraft are engaged by fighters and Ack Ack; two are reported shot down in the sea by Maltese gunners – one near Filfla and the second north of the Island. 

0714 hrs  Bombers are reported Kalafrana, and then bomb Hal Far again.

0715 hrs  Wardia reports two aircraft breaking north west: one over Marfa Ridge, the other over the Victoria Lines.

0720 hrs  A second attack of fifteen enemy bombers with fighter escort approaches from the same direction.  They attack Corradino, Portes des Bombes, Pieta Creek, Sa Maison and the new St Luke’s Hospital.  Two bombs hit the Water and Electricity Department at Portes des Bombes, killing two Maltese workmen.  Another bomb hits St Luke’s Hospital, destroying a nearby house.  A bomb on Msida destroys a house, killing two civilians.

0725 hrs  Marsa reports light machine gun fire in the Cospicua area.

0736 hrs  Giordano Lighthouse, Gozo, reports that 11 aircraft are seen heading for Sicily.

0820 hrs  All clear.

0845-0920 hrs  Air raid alert for aircraft which cross the Island on reconnaissance.

0957 hrs  Royal Malta Artillery at Delimara report an aircraft sunk off Benghaisa.

1009 hrs  Air raid alert for three aircraft which cross the Island on reconnaissance.

1045 hrs  Church bells sound to signal the all clear.

1115 hrs  Vice Admiral Malta reports two cables cut in position 37 degrees 24’ north, 10 degrees 50’ east.

1123-1145 hrs  Air raid alert for a formation of four enemy aircraft approaching from Gozo and heading towards Valletta at high altitude – no attack.

1400 hrs  One NCO and 13 Other Ranks 2nd Bn Royal West Kent Regiment are sent to post a guard on a ship in Grand Harbour.

1433-1452 hrs  Air raid alert for aircraft which cross the Island on reconnaissance.

1925 hrs  Air raid alert at sunset.  25 Italian aircraft in formations of five approach the Island at 15000 feet from Armier Bay to Torri L’Ahmar, passing east to west over the north of the Island.  Bombs are dropped on Zabbar, Tarxien, Marsa, Cospicua, and Pieta, Gzira, Tigne and Sliema, causing civilian casualties.  Bombs damage the Modern Imperial Hotel, Rudolph Street, and land on Parallel Street, in Sliema.  Bombs also damage property in Ponsonby Street, Gzira. Two direct hits on Verdala Barracks cause severe damage and injure 15 servicemen; several more bombs demolish houses nearby.  Petroleum tanks in Corradino are destroyed.  One enemy raider is shot down by Ack Ack fire and another by Malta’s Gladiator aircraft.

1945 hrs  One enemy airman is believed to have bailed out.  A patrol of 2nd Bn Royal Irish Fusiliers carries out a search in the Pembroke area but finds nothing.  Three motorboats spotted off Grand Harbour.  Believing them to be hostile, guns of Forts San Rocco, Ricasoli and St Elmo open fire, sinking two of the boats.  They are later confirmed as friendly; 1st Bn Dorset Regiment rescue five of the crew.

1955 hrs  A naval signal station reports parachutists at Gargur.  A gun battery at St Pauls Bay reports a sighting of parachutists in the direction of Sliema.  Reports are later amended to one parachutist.  Two patrols are sent out to investigate.

2017 hrs  Qawra Tower reports two unidentified warships 45 degrees east of Valletta making smoke.

2050 hrs  All clear.

2142 hrs  A small motor boat spotted heading to sea off Qawra Tower is challenged and returns to St Paul’s Bay.  The boat was found to contain Lieutenant Giddings, naval contraband control officer.

0505 hrs  A boat is reported 3 miles out heading north east; believed to be a mine sweeper.

Military casualties  Leading Seaman Joseph Caruana; Stoker 1c Joseph Farrugia; Stoker 1c Hector G Gittos; Stoker 1c Salvatore Lautier; Stoker 1c Carmelo Rodo; HMS St Angelo.  Lt Evan E Wellman, MPK.  Gunner Thomas Taylor, 7th Heavy Ack Ack Regiment, Royal Artillery; Boy Philip Busuttil (age 16); Gunner Carmel Cordina; Gunner Paul Debono; Bombardier Joseph Galea; Gunner Richard Micallef; Gunner Michael Saliba, 1 Heavy Ack Ack Regiment, Royal Malta Artillery.

Civilian casualties   Birkirkara  Carmel Galea, age 40.  Cospicua  Joseph Ancilleri; Doris Galea, 5 mths; Romeo Pace, age 35.  Gzira  Michael Camenzuli, age 39; Mary Doublet,age 46; Lilian Doublet, age 7; Julian Micallef, age 65; John Trapani, age 48; Rosina Vassallo, age 33.  Mqabba  Joseph Ellul, age 36.  Msida  Paul Galea, age 37.  Pieta  Antonia Farrugia, age 25; Anthony Farrugia, age 5; Joseph Farrugia, age 4; Josephine Mangion, age 4.

OPERATIONS REPORTS TUESDAY 11 JUNE 1940

HAL FAR  Air raid damage report: 16 bombs in total on the aerodrome and beyond the boundary severe damage to a few buses, a chance-light and private cars.  Bombs believed 250lb; all exploded on impact or within one second.

KALAFRANA  Married families successfully evacuated.  Two Maltese recruits examined for fitness in RAF.

2nd Bn DEVONSHIRE REGIMENT  Bombs dropped near HQ and Officers’ Mess affecting electric light cables and telephones.  Ack Ack battery position claims to have hit enemy plane.  No casualties.

ROYAL ARMY ORDNANCE CORPS: Bomb Disposal UXB  Dealt with 1 incendiary Cospicua.

2nd Bn ROYAL IRISH FUSILIERS  A Company Reserve Platoon moved to Tigne Barracks.

2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  Private MacKay wounded at Verdala Barracks.

(1) The Road to Rome, Philo Pullicino, MPI Publishing 2012

(2)  RSM John Kelly, MBE, DCM, BA, Royal Irish Fusiliers – Malta Family History

 (3)  When Malta Stood Alone, Joseph Micallef, Interprint Malta, 1981

All written content © maltagc70 unless otherwise attributed.  For conditions of use contact bdmalta@btinternet.com

 

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