18 January 1941: Luftwaffe Blitz Malta Airfields

18 Jan

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JU 87 dive bombing

JU 87 dive-bombing attack


German Fliegerkorps 10 launched another series of heavy bombing raids on Malta today; this time the target was the airfields. For over 90 minutes this afternoon, Luftwaffe dive-bombers pummelled Hal Far and Luqa in turn, dropping over a hundred high explosive bombs, most of them 500kg.  Hangars, accommodation and aircraft were badly hit, and power and communication lines cut on both airfields.  Runways were badly cratered: Luqa was put out of action; only one landing strip at Hal Far is still serviceable.  Malta fighters and ground defences fought back bravely: five enemy aircraft are confirmed destroyed and at least another ten damaged, for the loss of two Fulmars.


One of the Fulmars was destroyed in a dogfight with an enemy raider. The pilot ditched the aircraft in the sea close about 40 yards from the shore at Kalafrana.  Ignoring the rough weather, Sapper Spiro Zammit of the Royal Engineers immediately dived into the water and swam out to the aircraft.  He managed to reach the Fulmar’s struggling crewman and held him up until the high-speed launch arrived to rescue them.    

Sapper Zammit has been warmly praised by military commanders for his actions in saving the life of the Naval airman, who has been named as A S Rush. (1)


The Governor, the Archbishop and the Lieutenant Governor separately visited Senglea and Vittoriosa today to see for themselves the damage resulting from Thursday’s raids and to review progress on the rescue operations. Faced with the sheer scale of the devastation, Lt Gen Dobbie decided to evacuate the Three Cities with immediate effect. 

The Governor also called immediately on Military commanders for assistance with the recovery efforts. Since Thursday, volunteers in their hundreds have been working day and night, clawing at the wreckage in a desperate attempt to find survivors.  The Royal Engineers, Royal Malta Artillery and King’s Own Malta Regiment will work alongside members of the Public Works Department and the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) personnel in round the clock shifts to clear the debris from the bomb battered areas.


Twelve people were rescued from a family air raid shelter today, almost 48 hours after masses of fallen masonry entombed them underground. The Costa and Mizzi families took to the shelter under 91 Two Gates Street, Senglea, after the alert which heralded the heavy raid on Illustrious on Thursday afternoon. A relative of the family, Joseph Savona, discovered their plight and raised the alarm later that day but it was not until Friday morning that rescue work began.  Concerned at the lack of progress, Savona paid for additional help at his own expense and at 10 o’clock this morning rescue workers made contact with the trapped families.  At 1.30pm five members of the Costa family, four of the Mizzi family and three Gozitan miners who had been digging the shelter walked out alive.  Only William Mizzi needed hospital treatment for shock.  He later recalled:

“For two days we were huddled on top of each other in complete darkness and, as time passed, we suffered from suffocation, and water and food shortage.  There was no panic; we just stood there exchanging an occasional word unaware that we were buried under forty feet of rubble.  When we had almost given up hope, we felt some gravel filtering into the shelter and shortly afterwards we could see a speck of light through the mound of masonry.  The hole was enlarged and we were asked if we were all well.” (2)


Weather  Stormy in the morning; finer later.

0940-1000 hrs Air raid alert for a single enemy aircraft which crosses the Island at a great height on reconnaissance. Light anti-aircraft guns engage; no claims. 

1415 hrs Air raid alert for eighty enemy raiders spotted 18 miles off and heading for the Island. Three Fulmars and five Hurricane fighters are scrambled.  A large formation of dive bombers crosses the coast and attacks Hal Far, dropping 40 high explosive 500kg bombs, destroying one hangar and writing off a Hurricane inside, and setting two other hangars on fire.  The officers’ mess is destroyed, telephone communications are cut and water mains hit.  There are several craters on the runways but the north-west to south-east strip is still serviceable.

1458 hrs  Another large formation of enemy raiders is spotted heading inland over Delimara.  The raiders dive-bomb Luqa, dropping 40 more 500kg bombs, destroying two hangars and badly damaging two more.  The Signal Section, a barrack block and a decontamination centre are destroyed; other offices and the NAAFI are damaged.  Several bombs cause craters on the runway and the aerodrome is rendered unserviceable.  Electric power, telephone communications and water supplies are cut off.  One Wellington is burned out, one Hurricane destroyed and one Maryland badly damaged.  All remaining aircraft on the ground are slightly damaged by shrapnel.

1527 hrs  Another formation of eight enemy aircraft crosses over St Thomas Bay and attacks Hal Far, damaging the aerodrome and buildings. Three Swordfish aircraft are burned out, another is a total loss; several more receive minor damage.  An object is reported floating down over Marsa, possibly a mine. 

The raiders are engaged by the aerodromes’ ground defences; several hits are claimed. One enemy aircraft is reported in flames near Tarxien. Three Hurricanes and three Fulmars are airborne.  One Fulmar is lost over Grand Harbour with no survivors. Another claims an enemy loss but the aircraft is hit in the dog fight and ditches in the sea off Kalafrana; one of the crew is saved. 

Minutes later five more enemy aircraft cross the coast at great height and fly over the Island. Anti-aircraft guns engage the raiders; no bombs are dropped.

In total Malta fighters claim five enemy losses confirmed. One enemy aircraft is reported crashing into the sea off Wied Zurrieq; ten more are believed damaged.  An unexploded bomb is reported in a building at Marsaxlokk.

1610 hrs  All clear.

1630-1645 hrs Air raid alert for a formation of three enemy aircraft reported 18 miles off the coast. Three Hurricanes are scrambled and anti-aircraft guns open fire; no raid materialises.

Military casualties  Aircraftsman Trevor David Backes, Royal Air Force, 148 Squadron; Aircraftsman Edward Shirley Barlow, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve; Gunner Norman Brady Goatley, 7 HAA Regiment, Royal Artillery.                                          

Enemy casualties  Leutnant Horst Dunkel, 7/LG1, pilot of JU 88; Unteroffizier Arthur Haner, 7/LG1, JU 88 crew member; Gefreiter Heinrich Mueller, I/StG 1, gunner of JU 87 Stuka; Unteroffizier Heinrich Schurmann, 7/LG1, JU 88 crew member; Unteroffizier Richard Zehetmair, I/StG1, pilot of JU 87 Stuka.


AIR HQ  No reconnaissance due to heavy swell and aircraft unserviceability.

KALAFRANA The high speed launch picked up the two-man crew of a Fulmar which has crashed near Delimara.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS The civil authorities requested assistance from the Royal Engineers in Heavy Rescue work at Senglea and Vittoriosa. This carried out by sections of 24 Fortress Company and Nos 1 & 2 Works Companies working shifts day and night. Bomb Disposal UXB reported 1.

MALTA SIGNAL COMPANY  Cables damaged by enemy action at main route Hal Far-Kalafrana and at Luqa.

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  The Brigadier and all officers attended a lecture on German methods of warfare and means of defeating them. E Company removed to Ghain Tuffieha camp. 

(1) Sapper Spiro Zammit No 576, Royal Engineers (T) was later awarded the British Empire Medal for bravery for the rescue.

(2) Malta: Blitzed but not Beaten, Philip Vella, Progress Press 1985) 


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Posted by on January 18, 2016 in 1941, January 1941


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3 responses to “18 January 1941: Luftwaffe Blitz Malta Airfields

  1. Alex zammit

    April 25, 2016 at 4:35 am

    I’m a descendant of Spiro Zammit.
    This is the first story where the rescued man is named.
    I’ve heard this story plenty of times. But I’m intrigued to find out more of A S Rush.
    Do you have anymore information about A S Rush?
    If so please feel free to email me. As i would like to learn more of A S Rush.
    Thank you
    Alex Zammit.

    • Nick Metcalfe

      November 5, 2016 at 2:38 pm

      Lieutenant (A) Philip Donald Julian Sparke DSC**, Royal Navy, and Leading Airman Alfred Samuel Rush, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, of 806 Naval Air Squadron, flying off HMS Formidable were lost when their Fairey Fulmar collided with a Ju88 during operations to provide air cover for Operation TIGER, a resupply run from Gibraltar to Alexandria. Neither body was recovered and both men are commemorated on the Fleet Air Arm Memorial at Lee-on-Solent.


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