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12 HURRICANES MK II FLOWN OFF ARK ROYAL
The first delivery of twelve faster, more powerful and better armed Hurricane Mk IIAs to Malta was successfully completed today. The long-awaited new Hurricanes will be a significant improvement on the earlier models currently on the Island, which coped well with Italian aircraft and German bombers but have been easily outmanoeuvred by the Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters now engaged in air raids.
The high rate of Malta’s Hurricane losses in recent weeks have all but wiped out recent reinforcements from the Middle East. The War Office called on the Royal Navy to transport new Mk II aircraft direct from the UK. Under ‘Operation Winch’, the Hurricanes left Gibraltar at 0300 hrs yesterday aboard aircraft carrier Ark Royal, protected by Force H, including the flagship Renown, cruiser Sheffield and five destroyers. The ‘club run’ also brought nine Fulmar fighters of 800 Squadron to reinforce Malta’s air forces.
The RAF pilots were woken at 0400 hrs this morning and the first of the Hurricanes took off from the aircraft carrier just over two hours later. They were guided on their route towards Malta in two formations by two Skuas of 800 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm.
A Maryland and a Sunderland aircraft were sent out from Malta to rendezvous in turn with the approaching formations and guide the Hurricanes on the final approach to the Island. However, the first formation did not appear at the appointed time. The second met with the Sunderland and all aircraft were guided in to land. The Maryland stayed at the rendezvous but the pilot later realised he must have missed the formation and returned to base.
The RAF high speed launch which had been sent out to 40 miles off Malta in case of any forced sea landings from enemy attack was fired on by Italian fighters. One Hurricane crashed on landing; the pilot was uninjured, the aircraft is repairable but it will take time. The guiding Skuas were intended to return to their carrier, but adverse weather conditions forced them to land.
The War Office in London was immediately informed of the success of Operation Winch. (1)
AIR RAIDS DAWN 3 APRIL TO DAWN 4 APRIL 1941
0800 hrs Two Italian SM 79 bombers escorted by six CR 42 fighters machine-gun the high speed launch which has been positioned 40 miles west of Malta in case of forced landings by the newly-arrived Hurricanes.
0901-0923 hrs Air raid alert for six Italian CR 42 fighters which approach the Island from the north and circle six miles east of Grand Harbour. Anti-aircraft guns at St Julians fire a pointer round; the fighters retreat. Four Hurricane fighters are scrambled; no engagement.
1323-1404 hrs Air raid alert for four JU 88 bombers escorted by 14 ME 109 fighters which approach the coast and bomb minesweeping trawlers Jade and Abingdon off the island of Filfla. Abingdon suffers seven near misses from bombs which cause superficial damage. The fighters also attack a RAF launch 40 miles off the coast. Anti-aircraft guns engage: one JU 88 is probably destroyed. Hurricane fighters are scrambled; no engagement.
OPERATIONS REPORTS THURSDAY 3 APRIL 1941
ROYAL NAVY Abingdon attacked by German dive-bombers while carrying out routine mine-sweeping and sustained slight damage.
AIR HQ Arrivals 12 Hurricane, 2 Skua. 69 Squadron Maryland reconnaissance of eastern coast of Tunisia for enemy shipping.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB reported 0; dealt with 1 (43lb incendiary).
2nd Bn ROYAL IRISH FUSILIERS 1100 hrs L/Cpl M Whelan buried at St Andrews Cemetery.
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