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“WE THOUGHT WE HAD THE EDGE” SAYS PILOT
Five RAF fighter pilots lost their lives today in the defence of Malta. The five fighters were among eight Hurricanes of 261 Squadron scrambled this afternoon to engage a large force of enemy raiders on a bombing raid across the east of the Island and Grand Harbour. As the ten bombers turned back for Sicily, the fighters set off in pursuit, intercepting their target some 35 miles to the north of the Island. 14 Messerschmitt 109 fighters escorting the bombers then turned on the Hurricanes. One pilot whose Hurricane was badly damaged in an engagement managed to return fire on the attacking ME 109 and destroy it. Four other Hurricanes are missing.
Pilot Officer John Pain was one of the survivors. “This was one day when we thought we had the edge. It was the first time we had managed to get eight aircraft into the air in one formation in the two months I had been on the Island.” P/O Pain joined the search for survivors but found only the marks of crashed aircraft. (1)
The missing Hurricane pilots have now been named. Flying Officer James Foxton served as a reconnaissance pilot with 431 Flight in Malta from September until January, when he transferred to 261 Squadron to fly Hurricanes. Pilot Officer Thomas Garland, Pilot Officer Dennis Knight and Flying Officer John Southwell arrived in Malta just five days ago to join the Squadron. Sergeant Richard Spyer had a lucky escape on his way to Malta when the Hurricane he flew off HMS Argus ran out of fuel 40 miles short of the Island and fell into the sea; he baled out and was rescued. Sadly today despite an extensive search no trace of the missing pilots could be found.
AIR RAIDS DAWN 22 MARCH TO DAWN 23 MARCH 1941
0758-0835 hrs Air raid alert for an enemy JU 88 bomber which crosses the Island on reconnaissance, escorted by two ME 109 fighters. Three Hurricanes engage; one of them attacks a raider from close range but without visible results. Anti-aircraft guns engage; no claims.
1605-1625 hrs Air raid alert for three enemy formations totalling ten JU 88s and 14 ME 109 fighters approaching the Island from the north and north east. The ten bombers cross the Island at 22000 feet and drop bombs in a line from St Thomas Bay to Grand Harbour, the first in the neighbourhood of Bidni and the last on Senglea. Houses and Dockyard buildings are damaged; part of Verdala Barracks is hit. A sergeant of 4th Bn The Buffs is killed, apparently by a delayed action bomb. One civilian is killed and three injured. Hurricanes are scrambled and engage the raiders; one ME 109 is shot down. The tail fins of an enemy aircraft are picked up near Luqa aerodrome.
Eight Hurricanes follow the enemy bombers as they head back towards Sicily and engage them 35 miles north of Malta. The ME 109s arrive to join the air battle: one Hurricane is shot down by a ME 109 which he then in turn shoots down. Both aircraft hit the sea. Four more Hurricanes fail to return. It is not known whether they lost their bearings in the cloudy conditions or were shot down as they were out of radio range. The RAF launch heads out to the north east to search for survivors of crashed aircraft.
1820-1850 hrs Air raid alert for twelve enemy aircraft approaching the Island from the north east. They split up north east of the Island and only six approach, proceeding along the north coast. One crosses the coast, passing over Rinella towards Grand Harbour and then out to sea. Eight Hurricanes are scrambled; no engagement reported.
2230-2246 hrs Air raid alert for some three or four bombers which approach singly, passing over the Island. There is a slight mist and no moon. No searchlights are exposed, nor Malta fighters airborne. The enemy pilots seem unsure of their location and unable to find target. They drop bombs in isolated areas between Siggiewi and Gudja, on Hal Far and to the west of Luqa aerodrome, on the Marsa area and in the sea off St George’s. Bombs are also dropped on the Dingli area. One farmhouse is hit, injuring the farmer and his son; two other civilians are hurt.
Military casualties Sergeant Martin M Boland, 4th Battalion, The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment); Flying Officer James H T Foxton; Pilot Officer Thomas B Garland; Pilot Officer Dennis F Knight; Flying Officer John S Southwell; Sergeant Richard A Spyer, pilots, Royal Air Force, 261 Squadron.
Civilian casualties Zabbar Francis Cassar, age 14.
OPERATIONS REPORTS SATURDAY 22 MARCH 1941
ROYAL NAVY Rorqual arrived to embark mines for operations north west of Sicily.
AIR HQ Arrivals 1 Sunderland. Sunderland Suda Bay carried out patrol western Ionian Sea then alighted in Malta. 69 Squadron 1212-1600 hrs Maryland closing patrol northern Ionian Sea for enemy shipping; nil report.
KALAFRANA One Sunderland arrived from the Middle East.
TA QALI No 122 Eucharistic Congress Street, Mosta, taken over for overflow sleeping accommodation for officers.
NORTHERN INFANTRY BRIGADE Troops move to Gozo for an exercise.
4th Bn THE BUFFS (ROYAL EAST KENT REGIMENT) Sgt Boland, B Company, Bofors Troop was killed; The Buffs’ first fatal casualty in Malta. A Company gave a demonstation of a company in attack in the area Tal Wied Rini to Gen Scobell GOC who afterwards congratulated them on a fine show.
1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT 1800 hrs A small force was despatched to Gozo, consisting of one platoon and one section, both reduced in numbers.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Lt Runacres posted to the temporary garrison on Gozo. Bomb Disposal UXB reported 4; dealt with 1 (50kg).
3rd Bn KINGS OWN MALTA REGIMENT 1000 hrs His Excellency Sir William Dobbie awards the Military Medal to Sergeant A Kitney of C Company. Representatives from all Companies attend on the Parade Ground at Battalion HQ.
2nd Bn ROYAL IRISH FUSILIERS One platoon travelled to Gozo for an exercise.
2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT E Company established in Gozo with HQ in the Citadel, Victoria.
(1) Hurricanes Over Malta, Brian Cull with Frederick Galea, Grub Street 2002
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