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FIRST RAID ON FLORIANA “A MOST TERRIFYING EXPERIENCE”
Nine servicemen of the Royal Engineers and one civilian employee were killed and many more RE personnel wounded, along with three members of Royal Malta Artillery and two of 3rd Bn Kings Own Malta Regiment when two parachute mines landed on Floriana during an air raid this evening. In a two hour attack by 30 Luftwaffe bombers which started just before 9pm, dozens of mines and bombs were dropped across the Dockyard area. This is the first time Floriana has been badly hit in an air raid.
Lance Sergeant Jack Lockett was standing on the bastions at the edge of Lintorn Barracks with his friend ‘Blondie’ Webber watching the raid in progress: “The searchlights were weaving about the sky, and one of the beams crossed an object falling beneath its chute and obviously into the barracks. We thought this to be a parachute flare, many of which were dropping to illuminate the harbour. This one, however, had not ignited, and the parachute would be a valuable find. They were of a high quality of material, very fine… One could get some nice shirts made by bartering part of the material, and they were much prized.
Blondie was faster than I to realize what was happening, and was five yards ahead of me when he rounded the corner of the cookhouse. Sad to relate, the parachute supported not a flare, but a sea mine, which exploded on contact with the ground. The blast of the explosion was deflected from me by the corner of the building, and I was able to pull up unhurt. Blondie, however was already round the corner, and caught the full blast. We found nothing of him but his left hand, identifiable by a signet ring he wore.” (1)
The blast wave from the exploding mine smashed the doors of St Publius Church and reached as far back as the Church sanctuary, sweeping everything in its wake and tearing to shreds a painting of St Publius. The church clock was stopped by the blast, its iron hands pointing at 9.40.
Emmanuel Tonna was in the Air Raid Precautions shelter nearby which was shaken by the blast. All ARP personnel rushed across the Granaries to the scene of the explosion: “they all started collecting lumps of flesh – the remains of [three] servicemen who were mutilated by the explosion. Captain G Clerk, RE, was found trapped in the basement of the Pavilion (Montgomery House) and was brought to the ARP Centre and treated for shock.” (2)
Meanwhile a second mine had landed between Casemate Barracks and the Central Hospital and exploded. 18 year old Carmelo Calafato, RAOC, was in the Barracks: “…window and doors were blown in and all the contents of the barrack room in which I was billeted – iron bedsteads, lockers, rifle racks – were twisted and battered beyond repair.
Sharing the barrack room with us were some sappers from the Royal Engineers, of whom five were killed and several injured. Luck was with me on that night. A cloud of thick dust filled the barrack room and I felt as if I was choking. I staggered to the guard room, picking my way through the rubble, twisted iron and shattered furniture and when I got there I suddenly realised that I could not hear a thing. My ear-drums had almost burst and it was a full week before I could hear properly again.” (3)
Reports soon reached the Floriana ARP Centre that the Central Civil Hospital had been hit: several wards and offices had been demolished. Every available ARP warden set off to help. Operations had already started to rescue the Hospital’s 100 patients, with the assistance of 17 Sappers stationed at Lintorn Barracks. Walking cases from the Hospital were taken to the Old Railway tunnel, suffering from shock and other ailments. Bedridden cases were evacuated by ambulance to St Aloysious College emergency hospital in Birkirkara and Cini Hospital, Hamrun. (2)
AIR RAIDS DAWN 3 MAY TO DAWN 4 MAY 1941
0715-0750 hrs Air raid alert for enemy fighters which approach the Island and carry out a patrol off the coast; no air raid.
1438-1515 hrs Air raid alert for a single JU 88 bomber which carries out reconnaissance with an escort of ME 109s. The JU 88 is engaged by heavy anti-aircraft guns; no claims. Hurricane fighters are also scrambled. During the raid a Beaufighter takes off for a local test despite signals from the aerodrome trying to stop it. The Beaufighter flies towards a Sunderland moored at Kalafrana at high speed, raising the suspicions of the Hurricanes which turn and attack with long-range fire, before recognising the friendly aircraft. The Beaufighter’s undercarriage is damaged and the pilot Flt/Lt William Riley has to make a forced landing on the aerodrome; the crew are all safe.
2045-2245 hrs Air raid alert for 30 HE 111 and JU 88 bombers which approach from the north and carry out a heavy mine-laying and bombing raid on the Dockyard, Valletta, Floriana and Luqa, causing considerable damage to civilian property, chiefly in Valletta which is hit by mines and bombs. A bank, a church and the main civil hospital are hit; over 100 houses are demolished, gas and water mains are damaged; 4 civilians are killed and 5 wounded.
Casemate Barracks is hit by a mine and another lands close to Floriana Pavilion; both buildings are severely damaged. Eight Royal Engineers (RE) and one civilian employee of Royal Army Service Corps are killed, five RE seriously injured and several more slightly injured. Three members of Royal Malta Artillery and two of 3rd Bn Kings Own Malta Regiment are wounded.
Anti-aircraft guns launch 13 barrages. One raider is confirmed destroyed plus another possible by Bofors guns. A Malta night fighter is scrambled but does not engage as searchlights illuminate raiders only briefly.
0145-0323 hrs Air raid alert for 15-20 enemy aircraft which approach from the north and drop bombs in the areas of Luqa, Hal Far, Grand Harbour, Floriana and Zabbar. In the Dockyard workshops and stores are damaged, a large crater is blown in Oil Wharf which partially collapses. HMS Fermoy in No 5 dock is hit again, this time amidships; she floods and sinks. Parachute mines are laid inside and outside Grand Harbour and Marsamxett Harbour. Night Hurricane up but illuminations too brief for interception. Bombs create several craters on Luqa aerodrome and damage equipment. Anti-aircraft guns fire 12 barrages; no claims. A night fighter is scrambled; no engagement.
Military casualties Sergeant Raymond Ottey, RAF, 261 Squadron; Sergeant John Harrington, Royal Engineers, Lance Corporal Arthur Edward Garnham, Sapper Bernard Hart, Corporal William Paul O’Grady, Sapper Charles Albert Taylor, Sapper John Henry Wadsworth, all 16 Fortress Company, Royal Engineers. Lance Sergeant William Moore, Albert Bodiam and Lance Corporal Peter Webber, all 24 Fortress Company, Royal Engineers.
Civilian casualties J Fearnley.
OPERATIONS REPORTS SATURDAY 3 MAY 1941
ROYAL NAVY Heavy minelaying and bombing raids on Grand Harbour: Fermoy sunk in dock; Jade near-missed. Operations started to clear the wreck of Jersey from Grand Harbour entrance. 830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm Swordfish overnight operations minelaying approaches to Tripoli.
AIR HQ Arrivals 1 Sunderland with passenger Sir Arthur Longmore en route to UK. Departures 1 Sunderland. 69 Squadron Two Maryland reconnaissance Tunisian coast. 21 Squadron 4 Blenheims despatched on a sweep of Tripoli and Benghazi for enemy supply ships; nil report.
HAL FAR Three aircraft 830 Squadron took off on operational flight; all returned safely.
LUQA One Maryland B crew arrived from Middle East by Sunderland.
1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT All medium machine guns have now been fired with the exception of beach posts. Some light machine guns have also been fired. Major General Percival who commanded the 2nd Bn in Malta 1932-34 paid us a flying visit on his way to Singapore.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB reported 52; dealt with 24 (22 x 50kg; 1 x 250kg; 1 x 500kg).
1st Bn HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT 60 x 250kg bombs fell in the Battalion area.
(1) Diary of Corporal Jack Lockett © IWM
(2) Floriana in Wartime, Emmanuel S Tonna, Malta 1969
(3) The People’s War, Malta:1940-43, Laurence Mizzi, Progress Press 1998
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