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28 September 1941: Malta Convoy Arrival a ‘Marvellous Sight’

28 Sep

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Troops ready to disembark in Grand Harbour today (c) IWM A5771

Troops ready to disembark in Grand Harbour today (c) IWM A5771

IMMENSE CROWDS OUT TO WELCOME SHIPS

The remaining eight merchant ships of the convoy under ‘Operation Halberd’ entered Grand Harbour today bringing supplies and military reinforcements to Malta. SS City of Calcutta, Ajax, Rowallan Castle, Clan Ferguson, Clan Macdonald, Dunedin Star, City of Lincoln and HMS Breconshire docked this afternoon, the third major supply convoy to reach the Island this year.  Nearly 40 merchant ships have successfully landed their supplies; only one has been lost, the SS Imperial Star which was torpedoed yesterday.  The cost to the Royal Navy has been one cruiser and a destroyer sunk, and a battleship, carrier and two cruisers damaged.

After the enemy air attacks overnight, security measures on the convoy escort ships were on high alert. The cruiser Hermione launched an attack on Pantellaria to give the impression that the convoy was passing the island while it was well to the north.

No further enemy attacks on the convoy were launched and at dawn today fighters from Malta commenced continuous air cover. At 0830 hrs four ships of the Naval escort moved ahead of the convoy, arriving at Malta three hours later to a rousing welcome. Guards and bands paraded, to cheers from immense crowds ashore.  Reverend Reginald M. Nicholls, Chancellor of St.Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Valletta, noted the events in his diary:

“There were vague rumours of it; lightermen were summoned on the local Broadcast; a churchwarden rang up to say he would be unable to read the lessons on Sunday, and two faithful choirmen sent word that they would be detained in the Dockyard.  After Mattins we had our first Carol practice, and in the middle Clement called out from his seat in the loggia “Convoy!” We rushed out of the drawing room and there on the horizon, a marvellous sight. The biggest Convoy since the war. We counted about 15 ships…

They were twice attacked off Sicily, once by day – easily beaten off – and once by night, bombers again. Nelson was slightly damaged and lost some speed. One merchantman, Imperial Star, was hit on the propellers and steering gear, but in no danger of sinking. She was too big to tow, especially as she would not steer; and the necessary escort could not be spared. So we sank her by gunfire. But what a pity!

These ‘Star’ ships are all pretty new – only about 4 years – and they cost a million to build (for the Australian chilled meat trade). I wonder what her cargo was worth. A million at least, I should imagine…

One wonders whether they brought some of the things which we are so short of. Here are some of them (NB. NAAFI has monopoly, but we may not buy there.): torches, nails, wood, toilet paper – but even as I write I realise that we are short of practically everything. The chemists have practically nothing and one realises how much one relies upon them for one’s needs – aspirin, throat lozenges, and a dozen other things, including some of the patent foods such as Sanatogen which would be so useful at this time. Ordinary food is also difficult to get. A vast cargo of beef went down on the Imperial Star – some say as much as 3000 tons. This will be greatly missed.

The Army has vast stores – enough for six months, and they live very well. It is a different proposition for the poor civilian. Indeed the wives, whether rich or poor have a hard task at their daily marketing, poor dears. And most of them can talk of little else. Those who are connected to the NAAFI are better off, as that maligned institution has many things which the private shops do not possess. Some folk are not too particular about dealing there when legally they have no such right; and I fancy the Manager has extended the privilege to a few. But I would not wish to ask favours, though as a retired officer I should have a higher moral claim than some who are allowed to use it.” (1)

Total military reinforcements brought by the convoy include a 600 bed hospital, 36 officers, 507 other ranks. The supplies included 8093 tons of kerosene and 1131 tons of motor transport fuel.  Having disembarked their troops and stores, the Naval vessels sailed again at 1830 hrs.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 28 SEPTEMBER TO DAWN 29 SEPTEMBER 1941

Weather  Fine and warm.

1230 hrs  A convoy of eight merchant ships plus escort arrives at Malta.

1530-1555 hrs  Air raid alert for two Macchi 200 fighters which approach to within half a mile of the coast, follow the coast line southwards and turn south east at Grand Harbour. Two heavy anti-aircraft guns fire pointer rounds; no claims.  Eight Hurricanes are scrambled; no interceptions.

2221-2340 hrs  Air raid alert for five unidentified enemy bombers approaching the Island separately. Only two cross the coast at Kalafrana and Grand Harbour.  Searchlights illuminate one aircraft which  is barraged by heavy anti-aircraft guns.  The raiders drop bombs in the sea off Grand Harbour and off Tigne and retreat. 

Military casualties  Flight Sergeant Harry Crossley, Royal Air Force (RAF), 113 Squadron; Flight Sergeant Albert E Smith, RAF, 113 Squadron; Flight Sergeant John Swan, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 113 Squadron; Able Seaman James H Phillips, Merchant Navy, MV Dunedin Star.

OPERATIONS REPORTS SUNDAY 28 SEPTEMBER 1941

ROYAL NAVY  Operation Halberd successfully completed, with the exception of the loss of Imperial Star in the Skerki Channel; no casualties.

AIR HQ Departures 1 Wellington. 38 Squadron 12 Wellingtons attacked Palermo. 69 Squadron 1 Maryland on patrol, 1 Maryland photoreconnaissance Taranto.  Marylands reconnaissance Pantelleria and westwards, Messina, Naples; Marylands shadowing enemy fleet; one Maryland on patrol. 107 Squadron 1 Blenheim patrol eastern Sicily.  2 Blenheims search for damaged merchant ship.  1 Blenheim patrol Cape Passero.    113 Squadron  2 Blenheims at a time on two anti-submarine patrols.  2 Blenheims on anti e-boat patrol off Pantelleria; Sgt Crossley failed to return.  2 Blenheims anti e-boat patrol Trapani. 272 Squadron 2 Beaufighters attack 2 e-boats.  10 Beaufighters attacked a convoy escort. 

TA QALI  344 airmen arrived from home establishment by convoy. Palazzo Parisio, Naxxar, taken over and 15 airmen housed there.  50 airmen are housed in the Manchester Regiment barrack block at Imtarfa.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 1.

2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  140 other ranks and one officer billeted at the Poor House.

(1) Courtesy of website: Malta Family History

 

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Posted by on September 28, 2016 in 1941, September 1941

 

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