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BOMBS MUST BE CLEARED FROM THE OPERA HOUSE
“I had to get the bombs out. I couldn’t carry them: depending as they did on vibration to explode, they could go off and destroy me…” Lt George Carroll, RE Bomb Disposal Officer Malta, 1941-42
Malta’s Bomb Disposal Officer Lt Carroll and his squad have been working for a month without a break, dealing with 533 unexploded bombs, including over 450 “Thermos” anti-personnel cluster bombs. Today Lt Carroll headed into central Valletta, to begin his greatest challenge yet: to remove 19 highly-sensitive Thermos bombs from the Opera House.
As Bomb Disposal Officer he must carry out the dangerous operation himself – to avoid unnecessary loss of life. He has spent hours in the past month devising a method of lifting and transport the bombs safely out of the building, one at a time. Every single one could kill him.
From War Diary, Fortress Engineers Malta, Appendix F:
“On 1st Nov 1941 the Police of Valletta unwittingly risking their lives, stored 19 complete Thermos bombs, and 15 fuzes from same (complete with detonators) in a lower basement room of the Royal Opera House. Removal of the complete bombs was inconvenient at the time owing to demands of more bombs lying in the open. The basement was heavily sandbagged, and research and experiment commenced to devise a means of removing the bombs when opportunity presented itself. The detonators were unscrewed and removed.
The Thermos bomb is designed to explode under movement induced by vibration or handling, after impact. Falling on hard ground, the mechanism of the fuze may become so distorted as to act progressively on handling, and not instantaneously. This was the state of the bombs in the Opera House.
By means of a second cord the suspended bomb was caused to travel along the curtain railway, until it was opposite to the basement window. In this position a further cord was affixed which passed outside the window, over pulleys, and was operated from cover by a party in a shelter across the street. By balancing the tensions of the two cords, one suspending it and the other pulling out of the window, the bomb was manoeuvred over a tray carrying sand, resting in the bottom of the window bay, and lowered into it.
Lying in the sand, the grab was slid clear of the bomb and the tray hauled to street level by means of a third tackle, operated by the outside party. When clear of the building this lifting tackle was allowed to run out from the face of the Opera House, lifting the tray with it, until the latter was free to be lowered into a sandbag emplacement built in the roadway. By means of a spilling loop the bomb was then thrown into the emplacement onto 2′ of sand therein. Steel plates lined the emplacement to economise in sandbags and the bombs were blown up in it singly.
The 19 bombs were taken out on two successive days. The bombs were in two shelves. The afternoon of the first day was spent shifting the curtain railway. The system did not work perfectly, for two bombs which were in most remote positions fell out of the grab, due to indirect and uneven lifting. They did not explode and were picked up again by the grab.
The Lieut. Governor wrote thanking us for this successful operation.” (1)
AIR RAIDS DAWN 2 DECEMBER TO DAWN 3 DECEMBER 1941
No air raids.
OPERATIONS REPORTS TUESDAY 2 DECEMBER 1941
0034 hrs Air raid alarm. No engagement.
1848 hrs Air raid alarm. No engagement. Bombs in sea.
ROYAL NAVY Force “K” arrived, having intercepted and sunk one destroyer, one tanker and one merchant vessel. Four Albacores left for operations, but returned owing to weather.
LUQA Two Marylands 69 Squadron SF 1 patrol. One Maryland 69 Squadron SF 9B patrol. One Maryland 69 Squadron SF6 patrol. Two Beaufighters attacked petrol tankers and lorries on road between Sirte and Homs.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB Dealt with 7 (Thermos).
(1) Extract from UXB Malta, S A M Hudson, History Press 2010
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