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CAPTURED LUFTWAFFE CREW REVEAL INVASION PLANS
On Sunday every serviceman not required for duty can do as the Maltese and attend church. Their prayers are timely, as the Island faces a new threat. Following interrogation of the Luftwaffe bomber crew detained yesterday, Malta’s military commanders are facing the prospect of imminent invasion. Orders are issued to all forces to raise the state of alert to “Asia Minor” – readiness for airborne invasion. Every possible site where enemy troops could make a parachute landing must be manned until further notice. Reconnaissance aircraft are dispatched to scour the air space and sea approaches to Malta. Until they report back, there is nothing to do but wait.
MALTA FIGHTS BACK
RAF air reconnaissance has spotted a massive build-up of enemy aircraft on the ground at Castelvetrano aerodrome in Sicily. Facing the threat of a possible airborne invasion, Malta’s air forces plan a pre-emptive strike but after the heavy mid-morning air raid Luqa’s runway is badly cratered. Army troops work flat out, and by 1400 hrs the airfield is ready.
Four Blenheim aircraft from 107 Squadron and six from 18 Squadron RAF take off and head northwards. They launch a surprise attack on Castelvetrano, destroying 44 enemy aircraft in one of the most successful operations carried out from Malta to date. (1)
Retaliation is not long in coming. Under a nearly full moon, fifteen bombers conduct almost continuous raids throughout the night, dropping heavy bombs across the Island and damaging civilian property as well as Luqa airfield.
AIR RAIDS 0001 HRS TO 2359 HRS 4 JANUARY 1942
Weather Warm in the morning – clear sky; clouding over and cold later in the day; wind freshening.
1012-1055 hrs 30 bombers and fighter aircraft approach from the South East in two formations. One JU 88 with escorting fighters carries out reconnaissance over the Island. Six Hurricanes from Hal Far engage a formation of ten ME 109s, damaging one. Two Hurricanes are slightly damaged in the engagement but pilots are unhurt.
A second formation of two JU 88 and escorting fighters approaches Luqa under cover of cloud, diving steeply from 18000 to 7000 feet to attack. Heavy Ack Ack (HAA) Gunners are unable to see enemy aircraft in time to fire a barrage but one JU 88 is destroyed by HAA and Bofors guns. Fifteen Hurricanes engage the enemy: one JU 88 is seen to burst into flames and fall into the see.
No aircraft are damaged on Luqa airfield but the runways are badly cratered. Army troops get to work immediately and the runways are repaired and cleared for operations to resume by 1400 hrs.
1130-1255 hrs Infantry Brigades are ordered to Policy “ASIA MINOR”. Anti-parachute posts are manned at “Stand To” but no anti-tank minefields are laid. Day and night sentries are mounted at selected beach posts.
1406-1533 hrs Four JU 88 escorted by twelve plus ME 109s approach from the north in three formations. The first raid circles the Island at 10000 feet. The second raid of three JU 88s and escorting fighters crosses the Island from south to north and drops bombs on Balzan and Attard. The third raid of one JU 88 and escorting fighters crosses the Island on reconnaissance. Heavy Ack Ack is engaged; no Hurricanes are airborne.
1650-1756 hrs Four JU 88s and fifty fighters approach from the north. While enemy fighters patrol round the Island. Four JU 88s with fighter escort carry out a shallow dive-bombing attack on Luqa and Ta Qali.
Two JU88s bomb Ta Qali aerodrome near Chateau Bertrand and the dispersal areas, damaging the Chateau and the HQ building, and a bowser fuel tank. One Maryland and three Hurricanes of 126 Squadron are damaged on the ground. Heavy [High Explosive] bombs cause serious damage to dispersal roads. The airfield’s own personnel start repairs.
2225-0150 hrs During this period 15 aircraft approach from the north. Bombs are dropped in areas Ta Qali, Il Bidni, Balzan, Zebbug, Safi strip and Luqa aerodrome, Hal Far, Hagiar Qim, Delimara and Gozo. Heavy Ack Ack fires eleven immediate barrages; barrage over Grand Harbour and Luqa also fired. Both barrages appear effective. One aircraft probably destroyed.
2240 hrs Bombs are dropped on Ta Qali aerodrome. One petrol bowser is burned out, one damaged by splinters. Six craters are left near 126 Squadron dispersal area. Six bombs fall close to the Sergeants Mess: one barrack block and eight Hurricanes are slightly damaged.
2350 hrs Two bombs land ten yards from 8 Platoon HQ, 1st Bn The Dorset Regiment. A building is demolished and one Officer is slightly injured. Thirteen bombs fall near Fort Ta Silch. Five bombs within 150 yards of a defence post, four more near Munshar Villa and two on Lombardi Ridge.
Military casualties Flight Sergeant Frederick Lewthwaite, Royal New Zealand Air Force.
OPERATIONS REPORTS: SUNDAY 4 JANUARY 1942
HAL FAR Two Swordfish 830 Squadron despatched to lay mines outside Tripoli Harbour. Owing to bad weather target not located and aircraft returned with mines. One Albacore 828 Squadron carried out mine laying operation outside Tripoli Harbour.
LUQA 69 Squadron one Beaufighter photo-reconnaissance (PR) Taranto; one Maryland SF6 patrol; one Maryland special search Italian fleet, one Beaufighter PR Tripoli. 107 Squadron Four Blenheims attacked aircraft at Castel Vetrano aerodrome. 18 Squadron Six Blenheims attacked aircraft at Castel Vetrano aerodrome. S/D Flight one Wellington on special search. 40 Squadron Five Wellingtons returned and then took off again with the exception of one aircraft. In the second attack on Castel Vetrano aerodrome: Sgt Lewthwaite failed to return.
TA QALI AM Six Blenheim aircraft took off to return to Luqa. One could not rise and jettisoned bombs near Mosta: one exploded. Five Hurricanes were scrambled. PM Raid on caused slight damage to Hurricanes. No fighter aircraft are airborne. Ack Ack claims two possibly three JU 88s damaged.
11TH BATTALION THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS 1945 hrs A working party of 76 Other Ranks of 11th Bn The Lancashire Fusiliers reported to Luqa, to repair bomb damage to taxi-strips. The work was finished in half the scheduled time “due to excellent spirit with which men tackled the job”.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB Reported 11; dealt with 2 (1 x 50kg; 1 x 500kg).
(1) “My father, the late Group Captain W H A (Bill) Bradshaw was an air gunner on 18 Squadron at the time and flew on the raid… I recall clearly the particular pleasure everyone had at catching the planes on the ground and being able to destroy so many…” John Bradshaw
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