19 January 1941: All Hell Let Loose in Second Blitz on Illustrious

19 Jan

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“Malta appears likely to face the fiercest attacks of its stormy career within the next few weeks.”  Air Correspondent, Sunday Times, London.


Our Lady of Victory, Senglea (NWMA)

Our Lady of Victory, Senglea (NWMA)

All hell let loose over Grand Harbour today as the Luftwaffe made yet one more desperate attempt to destroy HMS Illustrious.  Over 80 enemy aircraft dive-bombed the harbour in two separate raids.  In the first attack after breakfast the carrier was damaged by a near miss and is now sitting down at the stern.  There was also extensive damage across the Dockyard.  Heavier bombs were deployed in both raids – many 1000kg high explosives were used, increasing the damage caused in each strike.

What had survived of the church of Our Lady of Victory at Senglea suffered a direct hit and has now been reduced to a mass of wreckage by another direct hit. Another direct hit destroyed the priory of the Dominican Fathers at Vittoriosa.  Fr Rik Attard was in the refectory finishing lunch when the air raid alert sounded.  “We ran out of the building to seek shelter near the police station. Bombs were falling around us with ear-splitting and earth-shaking explosions.  On going back to the priory we saw that all the buildings with the exception of the church were in ruins; a few days later the church collapsed too.  We lost all our possessions in that one raid…That same evening we made our way to the Rabat priory.” (1)


Military commanders have commented that enemy dive bombing was “appreciably less determined” during air raids today. As Luftwaffe commanders send increasing numbers of bombers each day to attack, Malta the Island’s defences are proving equally determined, destroying over 30 enemy planes in the first two days of raids by the newly-arrived German Fliegerkorps X. 

“We can take it and enemy morale is visibly affected,” wrote Governor and Commander in Chief Lt Gen Dobbie in his daily report to the War Office. Again today the harbour barrage and Malta fighters launched fierce counter-attacks.  At least 22 more Luftwaffe losses were added by the end of the day, bringing the total to over 50, compared to just five losses from Malta’s fighter defence forces.

Having claimed his fifth success against the enemy today, Hurricane pilot Flt Lt Jay MacLachan noted in his journal: “The Squadron’s total score for the day was eleven confirmed and two possibles. A Gladiator from Kalafrana [sic] got one and the AA boys got five, making a grand total of seventeen.  Altogether a most exciting and enjoyable day.” (2)


Weather  Clear.

HMS Imperial (c) IWM FL 14057

HMS Imperial (c) IWM FL 14057

0930-1010 hrs Air raid alert for forty JU 87 and JU 88s which approach the Island and dive-bomb Grand Harbour. 500kg and 1000kg bombs are dropped, severely damaging civilian property in Senglea, causing heavy casualties, and badly damaging buildings.  Bombs on Bakery Wharf and near the electricity sub-station damage many buildings and put power cranes, electricity supplies and telephone communications out of action.  No 3 Dock suffers a direct hit; Imperial escapes without damage but bombs damage nearby buildings and a pumping station.  A large bomb explodes in No 2 dock, causing a small crater.  The minesweeper Beryl is damaged by a near miss. Illustrious is damaged again by a near-miss close to the engine room.  One raider crashes in the sea in flames off Delimara, two are brought down over Grand Harbour and another in the sea off Della Grazia.  

1024-1045 hrs  An enemy flying boat with red cross marking, accompanied by a CR 42, circles north east of the Island.

1208-1225 hrs  Air raid alert for an Italian Cant aircraft spotted eight miles north of Grand Harbour, evidently searching for missing aircraft. Four Hurricane fighters are scrambled and the aircraft turns away.  Meanwhile the flying boat continues circling 22 miles off the coast.  No raid occurs.

1242 hrs  Air raid alert for two approaching formations ten miles off, heading for the Island. Two Hurricanes are scrambled.  Three more formations are then spotted between 24 and 40 miles away, heading for Malta.  Raiders total forty aircraft.

1302 hrs  30 dive-bombers launch a fierce attack on Grand Harbour, damaging civilian and Naval property and starting a fire between Corradino and the civilian prison.  500kg and 1000kg bombs damage buildings across Senglea and the Dockyard, and cause damage to Carbine and Crossbow.  All electric, water and telephone lines are severed.  A 500kg armour-piercing bomb lands on Hamilton Wharf but fails to explode.  Two further unexploded bombs are rendered safe at Corradino.  Two bombs are dropped on Luqa aerodrome, causing slight damage.  Malta fighters are scrambled and engage the enemy: six Hurricanes, one Fulmar and one Gladiator are airborne at any one time.

The harbour defences send up a terrific barrage. Many enemy aircraft are hit; several are observed losing height.  Four JU 88s, five JU 87s, one CR 42 and one Cant are confirmed destroyed by Malta fighters; one JU 87, one JU 88 and one CR42 unconfirmed; two JU 88s, one JU 87 and one CR42 damaged.  In addition, Ack Ack claim at least three JU 87s and three JU 88s destroyed.  One raider is brought down near Luqa, another crashes near Paola and a third off Delimara.  A third is spotted heading out to sea over St Thomas’ Tower, emitting smoke.  A raider is reported in flames over Bir id Deheb.  One raider is reported baling out near Tarxien and another near St Thomas’ Tower.  Two bodies are seen floating in the sea; the high speed launch sets out from Kalafrana.

1320 hrs  Raiders passed. 

1454-1500 hrs  Air raid alert; raid does not materialise.

1800 hrs  It is reported that 17 enemy aircraft were brought down during air raids today; one fighter was lost.

Civilian casualties  Three Cities  Five females and two males unidentified.

Military casualties Sergeant Eric Norman Kelsey, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 261 Squadron; Lance Bombardier John Rowley, 10 Battery, 7 HAA Regiment, Royal Artillery.

Enemy casualties  Franz Buczek, 2/StG 1, gunner of JU 87 Stuka; Hauptmann Wilhelm Durbeck, pilot of JU 88; Sergente Maggiore Ezio Iaconne, 70a Squadriglia, 23o Gruppo Autonomo, the Pilot of a CR.42 fighter, baled out; Obergefreiter Hans Kusters, II/StG 2, pilot of JU 87 Stuka; Unteroffizier Rudolf Vater, 1/StG 1, pilot of JU 87 Stuka; Franz Walburg; Oberfeldwebel 2/StG 1, pilot of JU 87 Stuka; pilot Fritz Nakosky; pilot Richard Zehetmanir.


ROYAL NAVY  Departure of Illustrious departure delayed by damage. Naval and military working parties used to unload Essex as Maltese dockyard workers in shelter. 

AIR HQ Arrivals 1 Spitfire. A photo-reconnaissance Spitfire from RAF Benson in England landed at Ta Qali after a mission to photograph Genoa; he had insufficient fuel to return to base.  The aircraft will be employed locally.  

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Heavy rescue work at Senglea and Vittoriosa continues. Bomb Disposal UXB reported 19; dealt with 1 (250kg).

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  Part of the crew of HMS Illustrious were moved into accommodation at Ghain Tuffieha camp. 

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

(2) Gladiators Over Malta, Brian Cull and Frederick Galea, Wise Owl Publications 2008


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1 Comment

Posted by on January 19, 2016 in 1941, January 1941


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One response to “19 January 1941: All Hell Let Loose in Second Blitz on Illustrious

  1. Michael montebello

    January 20, 2016 at 5:32 am

    My name Michael Montebello
    When we left our love love Senglea the 17 th January the whole family of 18 of us hired two dghajsa’s and we went to hamrun in butterfly street istayed there for only two daysthen one of my uncle heard the shelter Ta- wills under the bastion of Santa Lucia in Valletta so we left that Sunday the 19th on the way that bigger raid and we to shelter at marsa power house when we arrived the supervisor make us all welcome and stayed in hat shelter till the end of the war in that shelter we were over one hundred people
    The name of the supervisor was pupulu bondin
    That was my memories of World War Two.


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