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25 March 1942: Battle to Save Stricken Supply Ship, Passengers and Cargo

25 Mar

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HMS Breconshire

HMS Breconshire

ROYAL NAVY, MERCHANT MARINE AND AIR FORCE IN DESPERATE BID TO RESCUE SHIP

Since noon on Wednesday bad weather has prevented the disabled supply ship Breconshire from being towed into the safety of Grand Harbour.  For 36 hours she has lain off Zonkor Point, her passengers and crew stranded and vulnerable to the continuous enemy air attacks.  Her precious cargo includes the only oil – 5000 tons – carried by the convoy but this, coupled with tons of ammunition and bombs, makes her a floating time bomb under fire.

Heavy raids on the airfields have made it impossible for Malta’s fighters get airborne and drive off enemy raiders.  Only the guns of destroyer Southwold, standing by to provide cover, could deter them.  But yesterday she struck a mine and then sank after further damage from an enemy bomb.  The heavy swell was driving Breconshire dangerously close to the same minefield and prevented the tug Ancient from attaching a secure towing line.

HMS Southwold

HMS Southwold

The trawler Beryl made three attempts to get alongside and take off the military personnel, but without success. Finally, in the early hours of this morning two tugs, Ancient and Robust, managed to secure a tow and ease the stricken merchantman towards Delimara Point.  With more help from the destroyer Eridge, Breconshire made the turn round Delimara into Marsaxlokk Harbour, where she reached mooring at noon today.

WAR DIARY, GENERAL STAFF, MALTA 24 MARCH 1942

Breconshire moved from Zonkor to No 1 Buoy, Kalafrana. Persistent raids by JU88 and Stukas against her and other shipping in Grand Harbour. Our fighters, HAA active. No hits on Breconshire.  Discharging cargo by lighter in Marsa Scirocco bay. W/T interception through approaching pilots gave indication of targets.  Other targets: direct hit on 3.7″ gun position St Julians and Fd Bty HQ Paola: four OR killed. Many bombs dropped in districts bordering Grand Harbour, Sliema, St Julians.  Maj P J D Johnson taking over duties of GSO1.  In order to deal with enemy attacks on Breconshire the following RA dispositions were made: four 18 pounder Delimara Peninsula and four 25 pounders Birzebuggia task direct fire Marsaxlokk Bay, four 3″ HAA guns Benghaisa Point, 12 Bofors to area Kalafrana-Marsaxlokk Bay under command 3 LAA Regt RMA. LO from ME (Maj C M L Andrews) arrived in Malta.”

AIR RAIDS DAWN 25 MARCH TO DAWN 26 MARCH 1942

Weather  Wind south; 80% cloud.

0855-1040 hrs  ME 109s patrol the Island.

1052 hrs  A delayed Action bomb explodes south of Safi village.

1107-1123 hrs  Air raid alert.  Raid does not materialise.

1241 hrs  Air raid alert for incoming enemy aircraft.

1339 hrs  JU 87s and JU 88s escorted by ME 109s attack Grand Harbour and Marsaxlokk Bay, where Breconshire is now tied up.  Bombs are dropped through the clouds as well as from a dive.

1530 hrs  Raiders passed.

1545 hrs  Ta Qali’s fighter squadrons operating from Luqa are scrambled to intercept incoming raiders and defend Breconshire.  S/L Grant shoots down one ME 109 and damages one JU 87.  They are joined by eight Hurricanes from Hal Far: 185 Squadron pilots Sgt Eastman, Sgt Horrocks, Sgt Wilson and Sgt Robb account for one JU 87 ‘probably destroyed’; P/O Ormrod and P/O Wigley share a ‘confirmed destroyed’; F/L Lloyd and Sgt Horrocks, P/O Milburn claim one damaged.

1603 hrs  JU 87s and JU 88s again attack Grand Harbour.  SS Essex is hit through the bows and sustains some damage in her engine room.  The Joiners Shop at the Naval Armament Depot is demolished.  King George V hospital is damaged.  Breconshire is attacked in Marsaxlokk Bay but most of the bombs fall in the sea off Fort St Lucian.

1610 hrs   Ta Qali’s fighter squadrons engage the enemy again.  P/O Peck damages one JU 87.  P/O Nash damages one JU 87.  F/O Lee damages one JU 87.  P/O Plagis damages two JU 87s.  P/O McLeod destroys one ME 109. Ack Ack destroy one JU 88 and damage two, as well as numerous JU 87s.

1625 hrs  Two bombs explode near the Quartermaster’s Stores in Paola and one by the Dockyard wall.  Capt Vassallo of 3rd Bn Kings Own Malta Regt is slightly hurt.

1630 hrs  One ME 109 is engaged by two guns of 225 Light Ack Ack Battery; no claim.

1700-1715 hrs  JU 88s drop bombs from above the clouds on Luqa airfield, damaging one Blenheim, and across the Zurrieq-Mqabba area. Four sticks land near Tal Hniena Church, one stick close to Mqabba, demolishing three houses, and one stick north of Kirkop.  Post L22 of 1st Bn Dorsetshire Regt fires one magazine at a JU 88: no claim.

Night 25/26th  Continuous raids on shipping and dock facilities in Grand Harbour. The enemy uses parachute flares to illuminate their targets. Bombs are also dropped on Breconshire in Marsaxlokk Bay. Bombs, including many delayed action, are dropped across the Island, including 24 high explosives on Gozo.

0325 hrs  Four enemy boats are reported 40 miles off the coast.  All Beach Companies are informed.

0355 hrs  A large number of incendiary bombs is dropped on the Officers’ Lines at Battalion Headquarters 1 Durham.  They are quickly extinguished.

Military casualties  Stoker J Paszek, Polish Submarine Sokol; Private Joseph Abela, King’s Own Malta Regiment; Gunner Percy Morris, Sergeant Joseph Davies, 26th Defence Regiment, Royal Artillery; Gunner Paul Vella, Gunner Pius Tedesco, Gunner Joseph Camilleri, 2nd Heavy Ack Ack Regiment, Royal Malta Artillery.

Civilian casualties  Floriana  Publio Mercieca, age 16. Gzira  Alfred Bellizzi, age 50.  Marsa  Felice Gatt, age 80.  Sliema  Mary Alvarese, age 88.

OPERATIONS REPORTS WEDNESDAY 25 MARCH 1942

ROYAL NAVY  One Albacore on shipping search east of Malta sighted nothing and crashed on landing: crew unhurt.  Poor visibility – moderate air attacks; no particular damage.  2000 hrs  Carlisle and four ‘Hunts’ sailed for Alexandria.

AIR HQ  Arrivals  Four Wellingtons from Gibraltar; one Wellington from LG 09.

TA QALI  Skeleton Orderly Room established on No 10 Cave.  F/L Gibson, Med, admitted to 90 General Hospital.  249 Squadron operating from Luqa.  No scrambles.  Aerodrome nearly serviceable.   Night operations from Luqa; no interceptions.

NORTHERN INFANTRY BRIGADE  1105 hrs  Storm conditions NORAH and KATE cancelled.

1st BN THE CHESHIRE REGIMENT  Petrol-less day.  Luqa working parties as usual: 2 Officers, 50 men.  68 ME 109s, JU 87s and JU 88s raid Grand Harbour.  Two ME 109s and three JU 87s destroyed.

1ST BN THE DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY  Breconshire was beached near Marsaxlokk and the remainder of A Company arrived at Battalion camp by 1300 hrs.

8TH BN THE MANCHESTER REGIMENT  Battalion supplied working party of two Officers and 100 Other Ranks to work at Ta Qali aerodrome.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB  Reported 1.

 

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Posted by on March 25, 2017 in 1942, March 1942

 

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