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CIVILIANS PERISH TRYING TO ENTER BUSY SHELTER
21 civilians were killed and another 36 injured tonight when high explosive bombs struck St Rita Street in the residential district of Sliema. Many of the victims were caught in the narrow street as they desperately tried to enter an overcrowded shelter. Ten houses were completely demolished and 25 others badly damaged in the blast. Some 70 people were rendered homeless and had to be accommodated at the Sliema ARP Centre and the Blue Sisters Hospital.
Young Charles Grech was talking with friends outside his local shelter: “…we heard a terrible screech. ‘Falling bombs!’ somebody shouted and there was a general rush to the friary door and down to the shelter which was already full of people. Somebody had tripped on the top of the stairs and fallen down and this added to the confusion. When the explosion came, somebody panicked and tried to close the front door of the friary. I found myself face down on the ground with the crowd treading over me. The coat I was wearing was torn…More people who had remained at home started arriving when they heard the explosion but they could not enter the friary, as it was full up…” (1)
After the raid local residents rushed to St Rita Street. One described later what he saw: “It all appeared to me to be a dream or rather a nightmare and all I could think of was the absolutely unreal inhumanity of it all. The bright moonlight bathed the scene of utter devastation, the acrid reek of explosive filled the cool night air. The uncanny silence was broken only by muffled groans and long drawn sighs.” (2)
The bombing was part of an unusually heavy raid on the coast west of Marsamxett Harbour which has escaped attack in recent weeks. Residents became concerned earlier today when Plumleaf was towed into Sliema Creek, the first vessel to be berthed there since HMS Terror left for North Africa last November.
AIR RAIDS DAWN 11 MARCH TO DAWN 12 MARCH 1941
1020-1100 hrs Air raid alert for five enemy formations approaching the Island from the direction of Comiso. Identified as ME 109 fighters, they remain at 5 miles’ distance. They are believed to be standing by to draw the fire of Hurricanes while reconnaissance is carried out. Eight Hurricanes are scrambled; no engagement.
1220-1242 hrs Air raid alert; for enemy aircraft approaching from the direction of Comiso. One JU 88 bomber crosses the Island at 23000 feet on reconnaissance. Anti-aircraft guns engage; no claims.
1630 hrs Two enemy aircraft are picked up by RDF heading northwards some 20 miles from the coast of Malta. Their speed suggests JU 52 transport planes. Seven Malta Hurricanes are despatched to intercept but the enemy turn away out of tracking range.
2210-2259 hrs Air raid alert for seven to ten enemy aircraft which approach and carry out a concerted attack at various points. One high explosive bomb on Msida scores a direct hit on a torpedo depot, seriously damaging an entire block. Another explodes near a defensive position at St George’s, causing some blast damage. Bombs on Sliema demolish 10 houses and damage 25 others. 21 civilians are killed and 36 injured. Bombs are also dropped in the sea off Delimara, Kalafrana, Hal Far, Tigne and St Julians, and on land north east of Ta Qali. Searchlights illuminate one Heinkel HE 111. A Malta night fighter engages, damaging one raider.
0135-0155 hrs Air raid alert; raid does not materialise.
Military casualties Aircraftsman J Azzopardi, Royal Air Force (VR); Gunner Saviour Borg, 2AA Regiment, Royal Malta Artillery.
Civilian casualties Sliema Giovanni Borg, age 24; Saverio Borg, age 20; Giuseppe Borg, age 13; Emmanuel Buttigieg, age 40; Anthony Buttigiege, age 30; James Churchill, age 50; James Henry Churchill, age 9; Dorothy Churchill, age 4; George Churchill, age 6 weeks; Andrea Degiovanni, age 43; Doris (Dolores) Calleja, age 17; Annie Farrugia, age 67; Mary Grech, age 18; Alex Grech, age 15; Annie Grech, age 11; Teresa Grech, age 3; Aneglo Saliba, age 16; Nazarreno Scicluna, age 50; John Scicluna, age 44; Benedict Scicluna, age 17; Dolores (Doris) Zahra, age 60.
OPERATIONS REPORTS TUESDAY 11 MARCH 1941
ROYAL NAVY 830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm Five Swordfish on anti-convoy patrol of Tripoli Harbour; all returned safely.
AIR HQ Departures 2 Sunderlands.
KALAFRANA One Sunderland left for Gibraltar with passengers and freight. One Sunderland left for Middle East with Air Officer Commanding and other passengers.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB reported 1; dealt with 4 (1 x 200kg;3 x 500kg).
8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT Evening stand-to altered to 1900-2000 hrs; morning stand-to altered to 0600-0700 hrs.
2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT A mine on the beach in the Rinella sector was exploded by the Royal Navy mine disposal unit.
(1) Raiders Passed, Charles B Grech (translated by Joseph Galea Debono) Midsea Books 1998
(2) When Malta Stood Alone, Joseph Micallef, Interprint 1981
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