5 August 1941: Captured Italian Orders Reveal Plan of Attack on Malta

05 Aug

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Captured Italian orders have revealed for the first time the plan of attack for last month’s seaborne raid on Grand Harbour. The War Office in London has written to military commanders across the Empire giving details of the raid and its successful defeat by Malta’s gunners to use as an example for future similar engagements.

To: C in Cs Gibraltar, India, Middle East, West Africa, Palestine & Transjordan, Iceland, Malaya, Hong Kong, Burma, East Africa, Faroes, Aden, St Helena, Ceylon, Cyprus, Falkland Islands, Trinidad, Jamaica, Bermuda and Mauritius

Italian MTB (NWMA Malta)

Italian MTB (NWMA Malta)

Notes on Seaborne Attack Malta Harbour 26 July 1941 – for information

The attacking force consisted of:

  • One two-man motor torpedo boat (MTS – carrying the leader)
  • Nine one-man motor torpedo boats (MTB)
  • Two two-man submarines (SLCs) with detachable explosive bow
  • One motor boat to carry two SLCs (crew of about 6)
  • Two MAS large motor boats to rescue the crews of the MTBs

In addition a large fast torpedo-boat carrier transported the MTBs from Augusta in Sicily to about 7 miles from Malta Harbour. The carrier then retired.

Plan of attack (based on captured Italian operation orders)

A submarine (SLC) having affected a breach in the viaduct of St Elmo Breakwater, MTBs were to pass through and attack vessels in harbour, the targets having been previously arranged as a result of photographic reconnaissance.

Extracts from orders to motor boat pilots:

  • “If ships are seen entering or leaving harbour, MTBs are to enter by the gate which will then be open.
  • If the group is heard, seen or illuminated and fired upon, they will turn back at full speed and wait till dawn. It is important to maintain contact. If, however, MTNs are caught in the beam of the searchlights but not fired on they are to reduce speed to a minimum.
  • At dawn the attack will take place in the same way as at night except that when fired upon by the enemy the MTBs will proceed at full speed to attack.”

Actual attack

  • At 2055 hrs on 25 July, RDF detected a surface plot south of Sicily approaching Malta.
  • By 2300 hrs the plot had approached within 14 miles of Malta. All guns were manned and the air raid was sounded.
  • Thereafter the sounds of motor engines were heard at various points along the north east coast of Malta but too far out to sea to warrant exposure of coastal searchlights, except at 0130 hrs when a motor boat was heard closing on Grand Harbour. The coastal searchlights were illuminated but exposed nothing, yet the boat withdrew.
  • An air raid lasted from 0413 hrs to 0446 hrs when the All Clear was sounded. One minute later an explosion broke up the breakwater viaduct at St Elmo. 
  • Searchlights were exposed and guns opened fire on [two] vessels at ranges from 1000 to 3000 yards. Within a few minutes both were sunk and exploded under water.
  • By this time Hurricane fighters were in the air gunning the retreating boats. It seems reasonable to believe that not a single boat escaped back to Sicily.
  • During the later stages Bofors guns were used with good effect. It is understood that machine-guns were also employed.


  • One submarine exploded in attacking the viaduct.
  • One submarine ran aground.
  • Six MTBs, the MTS and the MTL destroyed by shore defences.
  • Three MTBs and two rescue launches destroyed by the RAF.


  1. Although the night was calm and visibility good, craft in the last stages of their approach moved so slowly that possibly three vessels reached 300 yards offshore without making an appreciable sound.
  2. The illuminated area was very effective up to 1800 yards but fighting lights are necessary beyond this range.
  3. The distribution of fire scheme at Malta allots one twin equipment to each fixed light. While the scheme could not be tested entirely as enemy vessels kept close together, it is considered by local authorities that the present scheme is fit for purpose.
  4. One formation of five boats in ‘line ahead’ were broken up by sinking the first three; the others appeared disabled but later came into action.
  5. The MTBs were very hard to discover as they were not easily distinguished from the wreckage. Crews may abandon boats which are apparently disabled and then return to them later if they are sound.
  6. Manoeuvrability of the craft was better than anticipated; 180 degree turns were executed in an incredibly short time. This increased the difficulties of No’s 1 in correcting their fire.
  7. Tracer ammunition proved invaluable at short ranges.
  8. Electric fans inside the [gun turret] shield proved of great value in clearing smoke from telescopes.
  9. No director sights being available, the gun commander had to stand outside the shield to direct the gun layers onto the proper targets, owing to the very limited view from within.
  10. Eight six-pounder twins fired a total of 585 rounds.


Weather  Sunny and hot.

2138-2315 hrs  Air raid alert for six enemy bombers which approach from the north east and drop bombs on Ricasoli, Tigne, Valletta, Marsa, Paola, Tarxien, Zonqor and Latnia. At Rinella a bomb puts a Bofors gun out of action; the crew is badly shaken.  Two bombs on Cospicua damage houses.  Hurricane fighters are scrambled and searchlights illuminate so that they can engage.  P/O Barnwell shoots down one BR 20 and another unidentified bomber in flames.  F/O Cassidy spots a raider on the edge of the formation and closes in.  The raider opens fire first and after several volleys at each other parts of the enemy aircraft are seen to fly off and it rapidly loses height.  Catania HQ is later heard signalling to Syracuse rescue station to report the loss of a pilot.

2346-0055 hrs  Air raid alert for three enemy aircraft approaching in succession. The first crosses the south-east coast of the Island and drops bombs on Zonqor point, receding to the north east where it is engaged by a Hurricane.  The second raider crosses the coast in the Grand Harbour and drops bombs four miles from Luqa and in the sea off Dingli.  The third aircraft recedes without crossing the coast.

Enemy casualties  Tenente Colonello Nello Brambilla, 99o Gruppo, 43o Stormo, Sottotenente Antonio Romeo, 99o Gruppo, 43o Stormo, pilot of BR 20.


ROYAL NAVY  6 Swordfish attacked Augusta with bombs.  All returned.

AIR HQ  Arrivals 2 Blenheim. Departures 2 Blenheim. 69 Squadron Maryland patrols of Tunisian coast, western Ionian Sea, Pantellaria-Marittimo-Empedocle.  Photo-reconnaissance Catania, Augusta, Syracuse. San Giovanni and Messina. 105 Squadron 4 Blenheims sent to attack merchant ships failed to locate but attacked coastal vessels.  2 Blenheims sent to attack shipping in Gulf of Sirte but not sighted; bombed barracks in Misurata. 830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm 2 Fulmar patrolled Catania and Gerbini aerodromes dropped bombs on Gerbini. 

HAL FAR  830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm Six Swordfish successfully attacked the submarine base at Augusta, causing several large fires. 2 Fulmars patrolled over Catania and Gerbini aerodromes, dropping bombs on the flarepath of Gerbini.  One Fulmar later gunned a searchlight position at Augusta.

1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT  For the last week the Battalion has provided large working parties for unloading of convoy ships. A high explosive bomb landed near part of D Company billets rendering them unsafe for habitation. 

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 2.

1st Bn HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT  Battalion in Gozo.


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Posted by on August 5, 2016 in 1941, August 1941


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