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“Never during the War years was I overtaken by fear more than on the night of the 26th March 1942” (1)
- Massed air raids on shipping in Grand Harbour
- Plumleaf, Talabot, Pampas hit as well as Sliema Ferry
- Breconshire hit again – on fire amidships
- Targets outside harbour badly damaged – Marsa HAA gun position hit
- Four JU 88s and three JU 87s destroyed; many more damaged
LUFTWAFFE PINPOINT BOMBING DESTROYS SHIPS IN GRAND HARBOUR
For nearly six hours today, 120 enemy bombers accompanied by massed fighters attacked in wave after wave, dropping over 350 high explosive (HE) bombs of 250kg and 500kg on ships, docks and gun positions in Grand Harbour and 40 more on Breconshire in Marsaxlokk Bay.
“Unfortunately on this day the German Air Force achieved a degree of accuracy with their bombing which they had never attained either before or since. Talabot, Pampas and Plumleaf were all hit in a single raid and in the evening Breconshire too was hit and set on fire.
By the evening with Legion sunk, Penelope badly damaged and a large part of the small craft in the harbour sunk or out of action from near misses it was felt that there was little further injury that the enemy could do…Talabot which caught fire and blazed furiously as a result of her hit, had to be scuttled to avoid her cargo of ammunition exploding. All her holds were flooded and the ship was aground with her gunwale just above water…” (2)
FLORIANA IS A FURNACE
“The odds were that the Talabot with considerable ammunition in its holds would, at any time, explode and damage would have been terrific. The tragic situation was communicated to us in Floriana with strict instructions to evacuate all in Floriana residing in …the part overlooking the Grand Harbour where the Talabot was anchored.
At sunset Floriana became immersed in a reddish glow, deepening into an inferno-like colour as night set in. All the surrounding areas in the Grand Harbour assumed a reddish incandescence: the skies were red, the sea was red; red prevailed everywhere – such a scene was never witnessed before. In the meantime flames were still belching from the Talabot, uncontrolled, and presaging doom. Floriana looked like a furnace!
As soon as orders for evacuation reached us we [advised] the people to leave their houses and their shelters, move to the northern area and use what shelter space was available. Many obeyed; others did not as they preferred to watch the flaming scene from vantage points without realising the danger they were exposing themselves to, should the ship explode and blow up vast areas in Valletta, Floriana, Marsa and the three cities.” (1)
Desperate attempts to unload the two merchant ships, Talabot and Pampas, were hampered by conditions in the harbour and the constant heavy bombing of ships, docks and salvage equipment. By the end of today, of the convoy escort which accompanied the supply ships to Malta, HM Ships Legion and Southwold were sunk, Kingston further damaged by bombs and Penelope has serious structural damage from near misses.
AIR RAIDS DAWN 26 MARCH TO DAWN 27 MARCH 1942
Weather Wind south; 100% low cloud.
0700 hrs One aircraft approaches from the north east but recedes before crossing the coast.
1022-1610 hrs 68 enemy aircraft – JU 87s, JU 88s and ME 109s – attack Grand Harbour. Fighters destroy two JU 87s and two JU 88s, and damage one JU 87 and three JU 88. One JU 88 is shot down in south Comino Channel and four German prisoners are captured in Gozo. Ack Ack destroy one JU 88.
1210 hrs S/L Gracie leading six Spitfires from Luqa attacks a JU 88 and sees strikes. He himself is them jumped and his aircraft is damaged. P/O Ormerod in a Hurricane chases a JU 88 through the barrage; his aircraft is damaged and he returns to Luqa.
1230 hrs Talabot is hit by a 500kg bomb which explodes in the engine room, which starts to fill with oil; a large fire breaks out. Firefighters and crew of other ships join the efforts to control the blaze while enemy bombs continue to fall close to the ship. Both pumps in No 2 fire float and one in No 1 float are put out of action by the near miss.
Plumleaf at Parlatorio receives a direct hit and is sunk. Tug West Cocker at Boiler Wharf is damaged and starts taking water. Front walls and doors in B and C Yards, Marsa are demolished with some damage to lighters.
High explosive bombs hit dockyard buildings and wharves. The verandah and structure of 10-14 Stores on Stores Wharf and No 2 Caisson are damaged; the south end of No 8 Store demolished. The north end of Hamilton Wharf is badly shaken. No 3 Boiler Shop entrance doors and offices are smashed by blast. Crane No 623 and 2/3 Dock Pumping Station are damaged. Explosions cause a large crater in front of No 1 Boiler Shop and others on Canteen Wharf and the Scrap Ground.
1335 hrs Four Spitfires are scrambled from Luqa. Sgt Brennan damages a JU 88.
1400 hrs A stick of bombs falls close to Pampas. Luqa Spitfire P/O McNair gets on its tail and despatches it. F/L Johnston damages two JU 87s – both probably destroyed. F/L Connell severely damages a JU 87 and a JU 88. P/O McNair destroys a JU 88.
1430 hrs A 500kg bomb falls down the funnel of Pampas and explodes, flooding the engine room and starting a fire amidships.
1550 hrs The drowned body of German pilot Winkler is discovered by 3rd Bn Kings Own Malta Regiment, washed ashore near Wied Zurrieq. They also find some naval garments washed ashore at Wied Zurrieq and Ghar Lapsi.
Six Hurricanes from Hal Far are airborne to intercept a formation of JU 88s and JU 87s. Hurricanes attack the bombers over Kalafrana and later over Grand Harbour. Sgt Steele (cannon) accounts for one JU 88. Sgt Broad hits two JU 88s. F/Sgt Fletcher scores hits on two JU 88s, one ME 109 and one JU 87.
1632 hrs A raid in three waves: 50 JU 88s drop bombs on Grand Harbour: Penelope is near missed and flooded forward; tug Ancient is hit and beached; submarine P39’s back is broken; Sokol is near missed; Legion sunk; Avonvale hit (damage not very serious).
10 JU 88s attack Breconshire in Marsaxlokk Bay. The ship is hit, causing a fire on board. Fighters and Ack Ack engage. Heavy and Light Ack Ack destroy one JU 87 and two JU 88s, and damage others.
1725 hrs F/L Connell (Ta Qali) damages a JU 88. Sgt Brennan damages a JU 88.
1730 hrs 225 Light Ack Ack Battery (LAA) engage two JU 88s: one hit claimed. Post SA4 of 1st Bn Dorsetshire Regt engages two JU 88s, expending two magazines.
1740 hrs 225 LAA engage three JU 88s: one gun claims four hits. One gun and personnel transfers to the Nigret area.
1750 hrs P/O McNair (Ta Qali) damages two JU 88s.
1808 hrs Bombs land near Fort Ta Silch.
1815 hrs Bombs are dropped near Hamria.
1915-1930 hrs An enemy flying boat carries out rescue work to the north of the Island.
2230 hrs Enemy boats are reported 12 miles south east of the Island. Beach Companies are warned to keep a strict look-out.
Night 26/27th No enemy aircraft activity although E Boats are plotted off E coast of the Island. The fire on Talabot is contained but the blaze on Breconshire is getting out of control.
Military casualties Able Seaman Alfred Keylock, Mentioned in Despatches, HMS Avonvale; Able Seaman Albert Bowman, HMS Avondale; Able Seaman James Warwick, HMS Legion; Able Seaman Ernest Lynch, HMS Avonvale.
Civilian casualties Balzan Valent Sammut, age 33. Mosta Alfred St John, age 2. Sliema Carmel Coppola, age 50; Doris Coppola, age 17; Herman Mifsud, age 42. St Paul’s Bay Rita Vella, age 6.
Enemy casualties Paul Winkler.
OPERATIONS REPORTS THURSDAY 26 MARCH 1942
ROYAL NAVY Upholder returned from patrol, having sunk a U boat and trawler off Brindisi and missed a battleship off Taranto owing to very heavy weather and zig-zag on firing.
AIR HQ Departures Five Beaufighters, two Blenheims, eight Wellingtons to 108 MU; one Wellington to Shalufa.
HAL FAR 828 and 830 Squadrons amalgamated as Naval Air Squadron, Malta on instructions from Vice Admiral Malta, pending Admiralty confirmation. PM One Albacore on shipping search. Nothing sighted.
LUQA 0753-1545 hrs One Maryland 69 Squadron special search.
TA QALI No night operations.
1ST BN THE DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY A Company proceeds from Boschetto Gardens to camp at the Pumping Station between Rabat and Dingli.
2ND BN THE ROYAL IRISH FUSILIERS CO attends funeral of SSO1.
8TH BN THE MANCHESTER REGIMENT Working party at Ta Qali aerodrome.
2ND BN THE ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT A and B Companies changed over: A Company to Marsa, B Company to Luqa. Private Ryan wounded at Luqa by enemy action.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB Reported 22.
(1) Floriana in Wartime, Emanuel S Tonna, Malta 1969
(2) War Diary, Vice Admiral Malta, March 1942
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