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“HMS ILLUSTRIOUS SAILED, MUCH TO EVERYBODY’S RELIEF”
War Diary, General Staff Malta, 23 January 1941
HMS Illustrious left Malta at 1846 hrs this evening, escorted by destroyers Greyhound, Janus, Jervis and Juno which have been deployed from Souda Bay for the task. The ships steered immediately south, to move as quickly as possible away from Luftwaffe air bases in Sicily as concerns remain about the potential speed of Illustrious.
Dockyard workers have worked round the clock and through atrocious weather since Friday 10 January to complete sufficient repairs to render the carrier seaworthy, pausing only while the ship was under direct enemy attack. Although Illustrious was never hit during the raids on Grand Harbour, progress on repairs was set back several times when near-misses caused further damage and flooding under the waterline.
Admiral Cunningham, Commander in Chief Mediterranean Fleet, has especially praised the Malta’s dockyard workers and the anti-aircraft barrage for their contribution to the survival of the vital aircraft carrier. Naval and military chiefs have monitored the repair work closely, anxious that Illustrious should leave Malta as soon as possible. Fingers were firmly crossed that there would be no air raid today, to undo all that had been achieved.
Passing the Dockyard late this afternoon, Rev Reginald Nicholls looked down at the carrier: “Illustrious was obviously raising steam. On and off after that I was praying for darkness to fall before any reconnaissance plane came over. Later, I noticed that the two destroyers in Sliema Harbour had cast off their cables from the buoy, and were held only by a wire. It has been dark now for two hours and I pray that the ships have got out.” (1)
Illustrious is believed to be heading for Alexandria where she will receive further attention before embarking for the United States for major repairs.
MALTA BOMBERS SUCCESS OVER SICILY
Naval and Air Chiefs today reported to the War Cabinet in London on the effectiveness of air raids on Sicily by Malta-based Wellington bombers. According to their report, successful bombing of Catania aerodrome a week ago has been followed by three further determined attacks on the nights of 15-16, 20-21 and 22-23 January, when nearly 35 tons of bombs were dropped. Two hangars were hit and set alight, and a fire which was caused in the Administrative building was visible many miles distant. Bombs fell among aircraft on the ground and a number of these burst into flames. Single aircraft also attacked aerodromes at Comiso and Augusta, and targets at Syracuse.
AIR RAIDS DAWN 23 JANUARY TO DAWN 24 JANUARY 1941
No air raids.
Military casualties Gunner Edward William Jones, 10 Battery, 7 HAA Regiment, Royal Artillery.
OPERATIONS REPORTS THURSDAY 23 JANUARY 1941
ROYAL NAVY Illustrious repairs completed sufficiently to make her seaworthy, thanks to a lack of air raids since 19 January. She sailed to the eastward escorted by Jervis, Juno, Janus and Greyhound.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB reported 0; dealt with 3 (1 x 1000kg – weight uncertain; 1 x 750kg).
8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT No 1 Works Company commenced work on an Ack Ack position at Ta Karach. Naxxar crusher and quarry was taken over by No 1 Works Company.
(1) Extract from diary of Reverend Reginald M. Nicholls, Chancellor of St.Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Valletta. Courtesy of website: Malta Family History
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