17 January 1941: Malta in Shock but Enemy Counts Heavy Losses

17 Jan

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Enemy aircraft stayed clear of Malta’s coastline today as they as well as the Island counted the cost of yesterday’s heavy attack on Grand Harbour. A total of 16 enemy aircraft were destroyed or damaged during the raid – some twenty per cent of the total raiders involved in the attack.  Fighters are confirmed to have destroyed five enemy bombers and damaged another three; anti-aircraft guns also destroyed five, possibly six bombers and damaged a further two.


In communities surrounding Grand Harbour, rescue parties are working in perilous conditions while all round them dazed people are coming to terms with the loss of life and property. In many places, precarious masonry threatens to collapse on rescuers as they work, making the job especially difficult and hazardous.  Dozens are believed still trapped in cellars and shelters, under tons of debris of smashed buildings. 

Cospicua ruinsEdward Zammit and his family survived in their shelter which was rocked by the repeated explosions. They were too terrified to leave the shelter until this morning, when they emerged to find a scene of devastation:  “everywhere buildings lay in ruins, mounds of rubble lay all around and the streets were blocked. My mother, rather fearful in nature, had by now become a bundle of verves, almost paralysed by terror.  There and then my father went to our house, collected a few things, lifted my mother up to take her through the fallen masonry and informed us we would be going to Gozo immediately.” (1)

Some criticism has been levelled at rescue workers who downed tools overnight.   However, the Director of the Public Works Department defended his Demolition gangs: “The number of men available was insufficient to cope with the occasion…When the men worked long and strenuously during daytime (and stone-heaving is a job that saps one’s energies) they could not reasonably be expected to protect their neighbours into the night.” Yet some gangs did continue, especially where they detected signs of life.  Civil defence authorities also called for a massive input of organised help this morning to relieve their exhausted men.  Squads from ARP Centres outside the Three Cities have now been drafted in. (2)

Rescue parties worked desperately for hours to free young priest Rev Canon John Theuma, professor at the University of Malta, who with his sisters and nieces was buried in the cellar under their ruined house in Victory Street, Senglea. After part of the priest’s cassock was found, followed by a woman’s shoe diggers worked frantically, only to discover that the family had all perished.  Rev Theuma and his sisters were originally evacuated to Attard last June but had moved back to Senglea out of affection for their home and with the hope of finding good shelters.


Weather  Stormy.

No air raids.

1414-1423 hrs  Air raid alert for enemy aircraft spotted 21 miles north of the Island. They attempt reconnaissance in very bad weather. 

2020-2035 hrs Air raid alert for enemy aircraft reported off the coast. Flashes are seen in the direction of San Pietro.  The aircraft do not cross the coast and no raid materialises.

Civilian casualties  Qormi Carmel Sammut, age 42; Tarxien John Callega, age 32.


ROYAL NAVY  Usk arrived to join First Submarine Flotilla.

AIR HQ  Bad weather prevented any reconnaissance today.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 3; dealt with 2 (Bofors shells).

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  Some officers attended a demonstration of tanks in support of infantry attack. Part of the roof of Strickland House (accommodation of E Company) collapsed, with one serious casualty: CQSM Lawrence’s thigh was broken. 

(1) The People’s War, Malta: 1940/43, Laurence Mizzi, Progress Press 2002

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


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Posted by on January 17, 2016 in 1941, January 1941


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