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24 July 1941: Malta Convoy Enters Grand Harbour to Loud Cheers

24 Jul

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CONVOY GETS THROUGH DESPITE DETERMINED ENEMY ATTACKS

MV Sydney Star (1)

MV Sydney Star (1)

Civilians and servicemen lined the bastions of Grand Harbour this afternoon to welcome the ships of Malta’s largest supply convoy of the war to date. Melbourne Star, Sydney Star, City of Pretoria, Deucalion, Durham and Port Chalmers arrived with their escorting warships after an eventful night in the Mediterranean.

Having survived an air attack which sank one destroyer of their escort and damaged a second, the convoy ships progressed undisturbed until they were 150 miles from Malta. In the early hours of this morning monitors detected the sound of engines: the convoy had run into an eight-strong Italian E-boat patrol.  The convoy ships attacked the E-boats which immediately took evasive action.  In the confusion that followed, three E-boats were damaged but several convoy ships were also hit by friendly fire. Sydney Star was hit by a torpedo and was soon listing badly.

As the merchant ship slowed, the Master gave the order to abandon ship and 484 troops of 32nd Light Ack Ack Regiment went to the lifeboats. While the destroyer Nestor stood by to pick up survivors, the Sydney Star’s Master, Captain Horn, decided to stay on board with a skeleton crew to nurse the stricken ship slowly towards Malta. 

At daybreak she was spotted by two Italian SM 79 bombers which approached and circled the merchantman and Nestor.  With no trained gunners on board, Captain Horn asked for volunteers to man the Bofors guns.  Their erratic fire and the evasive action of both vessels was enough to deter the attackers who turned away. 

An hour later another air attack was driven off by fire from the destroyer Nestor.  However, the alert had been raised; fighters from Malta were scrambled to defend the ships and the battle cruiser Hermione also arrived to assist.  But by then the Regia Aeronautica was ready for a co-ordinated attack: five SM 79s and three dive bombers launched a determined attack. Hermione and Nestor’s guns put up an effective barrage while two Beaufighters from Malta attacked the dive-bombers.

By 10.00am Sydney Star was within sight of Malta when a formation of SM 79 torpedo bombers swooped down on the Navy ships while another formation bombed the merchantman.  They were followed by a third formation, of JU 87 Stuka dive-bombers.  While Beaufighters again counter-attacked and her crew fired round after round at the attackers, torpedo and bomb near-misses and shrapnel caused more damage to Sydney Star.  Captain Horn had to get into Malta quickly but his ship might capsize in the attempt.  He took a calculated risk and two hours later they were entering Grand Harbour.  He later received a message:  “The Royal Navy offer you their congratulations on a very fine piece of seamanship.” (2)

ITALIAN AIR COMMANDER KILLED IN ATTACK ON CONVOY

During the attacks on the convoy, 12 enemy aircraft were destroyed, two more were probably destroyed and two were damaged. Malta losses were six aircraft, of which four crews were rescued. 

According to military intelligence, one of the pilots shot down by Hurricanes today was Italian Air General Fedrighi. He was flying in one of six JU 87 Stuka dive-bombers which attacked the convoy just after ten this morning.  His aircraft was chased towards Sicily and shot down by Beaufighters patrolling over the convoy.  General Fedrighi was in command of the Italian Mediterranean airfields.

Among the Axis vessels which attacked the convoy, one enemy E-boat was sunk and another probably damaged, and a U-boat whose torpedoes narrowly missed Renown was attacked and possibly sunk by the destroyer Nestor.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 24 JULY TO DAWN 25 JULY 1941

Weather  Sunny and hot.

1015 hrs  Six JU 87 Stuka bombers attack a British convoy approaching Malta. Beaufighters are on patrol over the convoy; one chases the raiders half way to Sicily and shoots down one JU 87 in flames and another which crashes into the sea.

1400 hrs  A convoy enters Grand Harbour.

1739-1754 hrs  Air raid alert for two enemy aircraft heading towards Malta; they turn back before reaching the Island.

2154-2230 hrs  Air raid alert for three enemy aircraft which approach the Island singly. The first heads towards Gozo and circles south west of the Island before dropping bombs in the sea west of Mellieha.  The second crosses the coast near St Julians and drops bombs near Luqa.  The third crosses over St Paul’s Bay and recedes south east of Ghain Tuffieha, passes to the south of Filfla, turns and crosses the coast again and drops bombs near Nigret.  Hurricane fighters are scrambled.  Searchlights illuminate one raider but the Hurricanes are unable to close in time.

0015-0050 hrs  Air raid alert for a single enemy aircraft approaching the coast. Searchlights illuminate the raider and a Hurricane engages the raider, firing short machine-gun bursts; no results are seen.  The raider drops bombs in the sea and turns away. 

Military casualties  Fusilier John Millar, 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers

OPERATIONS REPORTS THURSDAY 24 JULY 1941

ROYAL NAVY Operation Substance arrived safely, less Leinster, who had run ashore at Gibraltar.  Sydney Star torpedoed, but arrived safely, drawing 40 feet forward.  Farndale remained behind with condenser trouble.  Captain Wright, Royal Navy, sailed for United Kingdom.  830 Squadron maintained continuous anti-submarine patrol over Operation Substance from daylight.  1 of 4 Swordfish on anti-submarine patrol force landed in the sea due to engine failure and was lost; the crew were rescued.  HM Submarine Upright attacked a floating dock which was proceeding in tow around Cape Spartivent to the westward.

AIR HQ  Departures 1 Wellington. 69 Squadron Maryland reconnaissance Taranto, Trapani, Palermo, Messina.  2 Fulmars patrolling Pantelleria to Sicily covering the convoy.  6 Marylands patrol Marittimo Island to Cape Carbonara from dawn to 1630 hrs covering convoy.  9 Beaufighters escorting British convoy from the west to Malta.

NORTHERN INFANTRY BRIGADE  Central Infantry Brigade formed out of 1st Bn Cheshire Regiment, 2nd Bn Royal West Kent Regiment and 11th Bn Lancashire Fusiliers.

4th Bn THE BUFFS (ROYAL EAST KENT REGIMENT)  30 Maltese recruits posted to Battalion for training.

1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT  The Battalion provided reception duties for HQ and 2 Companies of 11th Bn Lancashire Fusiliers.  They were moved into their billets by 1700 hrs. 

1st Bn DORSETSHIRE REGIMENT  60 other ranks arrived as reinforcements from UK.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  No 173 Tunnelling Coy (7 officers, 223 O.Rs) arrived and attached to Fortress Royal Engineers; billeted in Msida Bastion quarters.

11th Bn LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS  5 officers, 160 other rans billeted at Gharghur Schools in the sector of 2nd Bn Royal Irish Fusiliers.

MALTA SIGNALS COMPANY  62 other ranks disembarked ex UK.

ROYAL ARMY ORDNANCE CORPS  61 other ranks disembarked ex UK.

(1) www.bluestarline.org

(2)  Red Duster, White Ensign, Ian Cameron, Futura Publications 1975

 

All written content © maltagc70 unless otherwise attributed. For conditions of use contact bdmalta@btinternet.com

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Posted by on July 24, 2016 in 1941, July 1941

 

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