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11 HURRICANES BATTLE VALIANTLY AGAINST 100 RAIDERS
Malta’s tiny fighter force is inadequate to counter mass enemy raids such as the blitz on the Island today, according to the Governor and Commander in Chief in a telegram to the War Office today:
“A blitz raid of several formations totally certainly not less than 100 aircraft of which at least 60 bombers attacked Hal Far today. A few of these aircraft dropped bombs and machine-gunned Kalafrana, where damage to buildings and aircraft is slight; one Sunderland will be unserviceable for a few days.”
The damage to Hal Far was still being assessed this evening. Preliminary reports find that one Swordfish and one Gladiator are burned out and all other aircraft rendered temporarily unserviceable. The runway is also out of action. All barrack blocks are now unserviceable; one has been completely demolished; hangars have also been badly damaged. Water and power have been cut off.
Adjutant of the Special Constabulary Philo Pullicino saw the raid as it unfolded:
“I was awe-stricken as I saw the sky filled with planes overhead. In various formations they flew over us towards Hal Far and when just past us they dived into the barrage. On my left I counted ten in triple V formation, just behind them came fifteen more in two lines, then from the right came eighteen in one single line and they all dived in a follow-my-leader fashion. Above, fighters whirled and banked. Our brave fighters, greatly outnumbered (there were about ten of ours up!), flew at the enemy at all heights even right inside our own barrage. They are a brave lot! God bless them!” (1)
Eleven Malta fighters were scrambled and destroyed two JU 88s, two JU 87s, one Dornier 215 and two ME109s confirmed, plus one JU 88 probable. One Hurricane was lost in a dog-fight; the pilot, Sgt Charles Macdougal – a veteran of the Battle of Britain – was killed. Anti-aircraft guns destroyed nine enemy aircraft and damaged one JU 88 and three JU 87s. There were probably more enemy aircraft too damaged to reach their base but this has yet to be confirmed.
“For this blitz every serviceable Hurricane and every available pilot was put up and they achieved results against very heavy odds,” Lt Gen Dobbie told the War Office. “The only answer to this kind of thing is obviously more fighters and those must somehow be provided if the air defence of Malta is to be maintained.”
AIR RAIDS DAWN 5 MARCH TO DAWN 6 MARCH 1941
0713-0725 hrs Air raid alert for an enemy HE 111 aircraft which approaches the Island from the north west at low altitude and machine-guns Sunderland flying boats in St Paul’s Bay. It heads southwards over the Island and drops bombs some distance out to sea off Delimara. The raider is engaged by small arms and heavy anti-aircraft fire; no claims. Malta fighters are scrambled; no results.
1710-1800 hrs Air raid alert for large formations totaling 60 enemy bombers and 40 escorting fighters approaching from the north. They fly eastwards along the north coast, turn south and cross the coast, dive-bombing Hal Far aerodrome in two waves, badly damaging hangars, Naval stores and other buildings. Four aircraft (Swordfish, Seals and a Gladiator) are burned out and two more Gladiators and two Fulmars are damaged and temporarily unserviceable. The runway is badly cratered and will be unserviceable for 36-48 hours. One infantry post of 2nd Bn Devonshire Regt is circled by 26 high explosive and anti-personnel bombs landing within 60 yards. Kalafrana is also attacked, causing slight damage to buildings and one Sunderland aircraft.
Anti-aircraft guns fire a fixed-height barrage at 2500-3000 feet with marked success, destroying nine raiders and damaging at least four more. Malta fighters are scrambled. One Hurricane flies through the anti-aircraft barrage to attack an enemy bomber over Luqa aerodrome. The bomber is seen to lose height as it retreats towards the coast. Three Hurricanes launch a further attack and the bomber crashes in the direction of Marsaxlokk Bay. Fighters destroy a total of seven raiders, plus another probable, and damage three. One Hurricane and its pilot are lost in combat.
Military casualties Sergeant Charles White Macdougal, Pilot, 811002, Royal Air Force (Aux), 261 Squadron.
OPERATIONS REPORTS WEDNESDAY 5 MARCH 1941
ROYAL NAVY As a result of air reconnaissance of the approaches to Tripoli it was decided to sail Upright and Utmost at once for offensive patrols on the Tripoli convoy routes. Truant also sailed for coastal patrol in the Gulf of Sirte.
AIR HQ 0735 hrs Maryland photoreconnaissance of Tripoli (prior to intended operations tonight by 80 Fleet Air Arm Squadron), and Mellaha. Sgt Morton, 228 Squadron, awarded the DFM.
LUQA 69 Squadron Photoreconnaissance Tripoli and Mellaha aerodrome.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB reported 1; dealt with 1 (1000kg).
(1) The Road to Rome, Philo Pullicino, mpi Publishing, 2012
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