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‘MALTA’S DARKEST HOUR’ – SPITFIRE PILOT BUCK MCNAIR
“Within an hour of landing the radar plotters showed the Luftwaffe were up and leaving their bases in Sicily. It took three hours to get all of the Spitfires refuelled, and rearmed due to the excessive security. Also, despite assurances the cannons had not been air-tested in England and had to be set-up and there was a problem with faulty ammunition. All of the regular hands took off in what new Spits were ready and were into the first of a series of heavy raids intended to destroy as many of the new fighters on the ground as possible. The Germans were quite successful. Forty-eight hours later only seven of the forty-six Spitfires remained fit to fly. The old hands could only look at each other. It was Malta‘s darkest hour.” Robert Wendell “Buck” McNair (1)
AIRMEN FIRE ON ENEMY RAIDERS FROM THE GROUND
Airmen are encouraged to fire rifles from slit trenches at low-flying enemy aircraft. Many rifle brigades are formed and the morale of airmen considerably improved. During raids 21st and 22nd April from the machine-gun site on top of the caves: W/O Satchell damaged one JU 88 and two ME 109s; S/L Westmacott damaged one JU 88 and one ME 109. In the morning raid, W/C Satchell hit three JU 88s. War Diary, Ta Qali, April 1942
AIR RAIDS DAWN 22 APRIL TO DAWN 23 APRIL 1942
Weather Strong south-westerly wind. 100% medium cloud.
0435-0500 hrs; 0728-0759 hrs Air raid alert sounds for incoming aircraft: nothing transpires.
0915 hrs 36 enemy bombers with fighter escort approach the Island. Four Spitfires 601 Squadron are scrambled from Luqa to intercept incoming enemy aircraft: one JU 88 probably destroyed.
0932 hrs 11 JU 88s drop bombs from a high level on Luqa near Schinas Reservoir, and on the Safi strip. One Wellington is damaged by shrapnel.
0945 hrs Three guns of 225 Light Ack Ack Battery engage one JU 88: hits claimed.
Seven Spitfires 249 & 603 Squadrons are airborne from Ta Qali and see 20 JU 88s heading inland over St Paul’s Bay. They attack. Four Spitfires return to Luqa after a few minutes. P/O West (249) attacks a second wave of JU 88s, damaging one, and also later attacks and damages the reconnaissance aircraft. F/Sgt Hurst destroys one ME 109. P/O Murray does not return. Two Spitfires crash on landing: pilots unhurt. Total destroyed 1; damaged 2.
1000 hrs 25 JU 88s drop over 100 high explosive bombs on Ta Qali, causing craters and further damage to buildings.
1018-1120 hrs Air raid alert. Four ME 109 fighter-bombers attack Ta Qali.
1219 hrs Approximately 50 enemy bombers with fighter escort approach the Island. 15 JU 88s carry out a high level bombing attack on Ta Qali and Mosta. 22 JU 87 Stukas and 12 JU 88s attack the Grand Harbour area, dropping bombs across a wide area including Valletta and Floriana, Corradino and Addolorata. In Floriana bombs explode on the Central Civil Hospital, St Calcedonio Square and St Johns Ditch.
1349 hrs Air raid alert. Raid does not materialise.
1705 hrs Massed formations of enemy aircraft approach the Island from the North, splitting into various plots to attack Ta Qali, Luca and Safi, Hal Far and the Grand Harbour area.
1724 hrs Six Spitfires 601 Squadron are scrambled from Luqa to intercept incoming enemy aircraft. P/O Jemmett is believed to have been shot down near Rabat.
Two Hurricanes from Hal Far are airborne and intercept 12 JU 88s heading for the airfield with a fighter escort of ME 109s. P/O Wigley probably destroys one ME 109. P/O Ormrod, DFC, is missing.
1730 hrs Twelve JU 88s carry out a high level bomb attack on Luqa, damaging workshops and equipment stores. One Hudson previously written off is now burned out. Two Wellingtons and a Blenheim are damaged. A bombing raid on Hal Far by five JU 88s partly demolishes the Torpedo Shop and damages one Hurricane. A raid on Ta Qali by 13 JU 88s leaves further craters and buildings damaged. The enemy concentrate on cuttings which they apparently believe are underground hangars.
1740-1750 hrs 12 JU 88s drop bombs on the Safi strip.
1740-1810 hrs Guns of 225 Light Ack Ack Battery engage numerous JU 88s: hits claimed by five guns. One gun claims two hits on one aircraft and flames emitted.
1750 hrs 21 JU 87s and 26 JU 88s attack Grand Harbour, including Valletta and Floriana, Kalkara and the Dockyard. Bombs land between ADS Zabbar and the Cottonera Lines.
Bombers target several anti-aircraft guns. Two Light Ack Ack gun positions are hit by bombs, killing five Other Ranks and wounding seven, including one seriously. A bomb explodes close to Tal Handaq Heavy Ack Ack gun position wounding one Other Rank and putting two guns out of action. Others land close to San Pietru gun position, setting ammunition on fire, and Gudia searchlight position wounding one Other Rank.
1800 hrs Four ME 109 fighter bombers raid Ta Qali, demolishing the main billet at Bukana Camp.
1850 hrs All clear.
2200 hrs 3rd Bn Kings Own Malta Regiment at Ghar Lapsi report a boat showing a light four miles offshore.
2240-2251 hrs The alert sounds for one aircraft which does not cross the coast.
0225 hrs One aircraft approaches the Island and drops bombs in the sea off Torri l’Abjad.
0300-0330 hrs One aircraft comes in from the north east and drops mines on Zonqor Point.
Military casualties Pilot Officer Frank Jemmett, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (VR), 601 Squadron; Pilot Officer Gordon Murray, Royal Canadian Air Force, 603 Squadron; Pilot Officer Oliver Ormrod, Royal Air Force VR, 185 Squadron; Squadron Leader Stewart Surridge, MC, Royal Air Force VR.
Private James Barrowman and Private Roy Douglass, 1st Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry.
Gunner Tom Berry, Gunner James Booth, Gunner Michael Kelly, all 223 Bty, 32 Light Ack Ack Regiment, Royal Artillery; Gunner Cecil French, Bombardier Harry Gentle, Gunner William Gilbert 182 Bty, Gunner Gilbert Nixon, Bombardier Albert Norris, all 4 Heavy Ack Ack Regiment, Royal Artillery; Sergeant Bernard Alliston, 276 Bty, 68 Heavy Ack Ack Regiment, Royal Artillery.
Civilian casualties Birkirkara Emmanuela Gatt, age 60. Valletta Vincent Schembri, age 60. Zejtun Joseph Scicluna, age 18. Zurrieq Emanual Mangion, age 18.
OPERATIONS REPORTS WEDNESDAY 22 APRIL 1942
ROYAL NAVY Urge returned from uneventful patrol south of Pantellaria.
AIR HQ Arrivals One Hudson from Gambut; one Wellington, one Beaufort from Gibraltar. Departures One Wellington to 108 MU.
LUQA 0605-0650 hrs Two Spitfires 601 Squadron are scrambled to intercept enemy aircraft on interceptions: no combat. 1408-1457 hrs One Spitfire 69 Squadron on photo-reconnaissance east Sicilian aerodromes. 2105-0540 hrs Six Wellingtons S/D Flight despatched to attack a convoy: bombs dropped but no results seen. 2040-0555 hrs Twelve Wellingtons 148 Squadron are despatched in three waves to attack Comiso aerodrome. Bombs are dropped in the dispersal area but no fires seen.
TA QALI Two senior NCOs and 35 airmen attached from Kalafrana for temporary duties. A salvage section is attached from Luqa. An attachment of 48 airmen from Kalafrana is accommodated in Boschetto Gardens. No night operations.
1st BN THE CHESHIRE REGIMENT Working parties continue as yesterday; B Company still salvaging.
1ST BN THE DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY Seven Other Ranks were wounded by enemy action on Ta Qali: one died same day. One Other Rank killed by enemy action on Ta Qali.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bombs at Haywharf – Offices, Stores and Equipment destroyed, 2 engines damaged. Bomb nr NAAFI Lintorn damaging 24Coy store and destroying depth charge – no casualties. Bomb Disposal UXB Reported 19; dealt with 17 (1 x 500kg, 3 x 250kg, 12 x 50kg; 1 x 15kg anti-personnel).
2ND BN THE ROYAL IRISH FUSILIERS Working parties from Battalion on aerodrome.
11TH BN THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS 2100 hrs Luqa and Hal Far working parties continued.
225TH LIGHT ACK ACK BATTERY, ROYAL ARTILLERY Two unexploded bombs of 250kg and 500kg are reported 400 yards south of a gun position; not evacuated.
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