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HITLER AND MUSSOLINI APPROVE ‘OPERATION HERKULES’
The fate of Malta was in the balance today at a summit conference between Hitler and Mussolini with their military Chiefs of Staff in Berchtesgaden, Germany. Two days of talks sealed plans for Operation Herkules, an invasion of the Island using paratroops, followed by a seaborne landing of infantry forces.
Believing Malta has now been neutralised as a base for offensive operations against the Axis, ‘Il Duce’ and Air Field Marshall Kesselring proposed the time is right to take the Island. However, Field Marshall Rommel argued that this new freedom for Axis supply convoys to operate through the Mediterranean provides an opportunity to secure Egypt and the Suez Canal.
With Hitler hesitating, anxious to avoid heavy paratroop losses on a par with Crete in 1942, Rommel won the day. Plans for the invasion of Malta have been approved but placed on hold, pending the outcome of offensives in North Africa. Film of Berchtesgaden Summit: Click Here
APRIL 1942: A MONTH OF MASS BOMBING
At the beginning of this month the enemy continued his mass bombing attacks on the Island. The average number of bombers over the Island each day was approx 200 of which anything from 30 to 70 would be JU 87 and the remainder JU 88s. Large daily totals of bombers of the Island are: 14th April 244; 20th April 297; 25th April 259. Bomber formations always came over with strong fighter escorts.
Targets during the beginning of the month remained similar to last month: in particular the Dockyard area, submarine base and aerodromes and dispersal areas received most of the bombs. About the middle of the month the Heavy Ack Ack [HAA] gun positions were singled out for attention and as hits were scored on several of these positions it became necessary to split them up wherever possible. The enemy also selected as targets large buildings such as stores, workshops, etc and has on occasions made deliberate attacks on Valletta, great damage being done to that City.
It is interesting to compare the success of the various arms in the defence of Malta during this peak month of enemy bombing. The Ack Ack defence was shared between the HAA, mainly 4.5” and 3.7” guns, the Light Ack Ack Bofors guns, and the Ack Ack light machine guns (Bren and Lewis guns) which were manned by the Infantry.
Up to 20th April the RAF had never been able to put more than about 10 fighters in the air at one time. This was usually a mixed force of Spitfires and Hurricanes and was hopelessly outnumbered by the enemy fighters. On 20th of this month [came] the arrival of 47 more Spitfires. Despite this large addition only a fraction of this number appeared to take to the air at any one time. The reason for this was that there was insufficient protection on the ground when they arrived and the enemy bombers were able to knock out a large number in this way. This deficiency in aircraft pens the Infantry have since been working hard to remedy. The RAF experienced serious difficulties in maintenance due to the bombing of their workshops.
Although this increase in our fighter strength undoubtedly caused an increase in the number of enemy planes shot down, the results were very disappointing. On the other hand the Ack Ack defence was increasingly successful despite the fact that ammunition was rationed. The Ack Ack light machine guns [LMG] of the Infantry were permitted to fire at low flying aircraft [shooting down enemy planes and contributing] to the destruction of many more.
On 25th of the month the enemy switched his attack to military camps, barrack buildings, hospitals and HAA gun positions in the north of the Island. There was a great increase in military casualties as a result of these attacks…On 27th of the month Italian bombers made their appearance over the Island and the number of German bombers was reduced considerably. Since then the scale of the attack was only about one third of its previous intensity. War Diary, Southern Infantry Brigade, Malta, April 1942
AIR RAIDS DAWN 30 APRIL TO DAWN 1 MAY 1942
Weather Wind southerly: no cloud. Warm haze.
0855-0925 hrs Six enemy fighters patrol north of the Island.
1110 hrs Four Spitfires 126 Squadron are scrambled from Luqa to intercept an approaching formation of 30 enemy bombers plus fighter escort. Four Spitfires 603 Squadron are also airborne from Ta Qali.
1115 hrs One Spitfire from the interception force has engine trouble and lands at Luqa.
1120 hrs 18 JU 87 Stukas dive-bomb Luqa aerodrome. Bombs explode on the short runway and in dispersal areas. Two lorries are burned out and a Beaufort night-fighter damaged. Luqa personnel with Ack Ack light machine guns engage enemy aircraft: no claims.
Three Spitfires 126 Squadron attack twelve JU 88s. F/Lt Barton damages one JU 88 and P/O Bailey another.
1120 hrs Ten JU 88s and three ME 109 fighter bombers raid Hal Far. F/Sgt Gibbs is killed and other Fleet Air Arm personnel are injured; one civilian is seriously injured. Bombs are dropped on the barrack block at Hal Far and near defence posts. The main road is blocked but is immediately cleared by 2nd Bn Devonshire Regt. The Regt also fire 2800 rounds at enemy aircraft: no claims.
Four Spitfires 603 Squadron attack twelve JU 88s which have just bombed Hal Far. F/Sgt Hurst probably destroys one JU 88 and F/Lt Buckston damages another. Many ME 109s attack in a circuit over the aerodrome and one is hit by Spitfire guns.
Four JU 88s and one ME 109 are engaged by eight guns of 225 Light Ack Ack Battery. Two guns claim hits on two separate JU 88s.
1130 hrs Three JU 87s are engaged by HQ 1st Bn Dorsetshire Regt: no hits claimed.
1132 hrs four ME 109s machine-gun Delimara Fort and Ack Ack battery.
1135 hrs Bombs explode near San Pietru.
1200-1210 hrs Small arms fire from Ta Qali personnel brings down one ME 109 which is trying to intercept Spitfires landing on the airfield’s runway.
1215 hrs Raiders passed.
1322 hrs; 1346 hrs Air raid alerts. ME 109s are observed in the vicinity of the Island but no raids materialise.
1615-1700 hrs Four Spitfires 601 Squadron are scrambled from Luqa to intercept enemy aircraft: no engagement.
1728 hrs Four Italian Cant Z 1007 bombers cross the north coast and drop 50kg bombs to the south of Mellieha. They fly on towards Ta Qali and drop further 50kg bombs on Mosta and to the north of the airfield.
1740 hrs A formation of twelve JU 88s plus five ME 109 fighter bombers and fighter escort approaches the Island.
1745 hrs Twelve JU 88s and five ME 109s dive-bomb Luqa aerodrome, destroying 69 Squadron wireless section office. One Spitfire, already written off, is completely destroyed. Bombs are dropped on the Kirkop area and Loreto Church, as well as Tal Handaq and Siggiewi.
One ME 109 machine-guns Hal Far and is engaged by B Company 2nd Bn Devonshire Regt. and is later seen to crash in the sea. The pilot bails out: credit for the plane is given to 2nd Bn Devonshire Regt and 1st Bn Hampshire Regt.
1753 hrs Two ME 109s are engaged by four guns of 225 Light Ack Ack Battery. One gun claims a hit on one ME 109 which is observed receding smoking.
1800 hrs Raiders passed.
1855-1922 hrs A German DO24 flying boat lands on the water on almost the same spot as the crashed ME 109 and takes off again.
2147-2200 hrs One enemy raider comes in from the north and drops high explosive bombs on the Luqa and Safi area, and incendiaries nearby which are extinguished by the army. Eight bombs are dropped from Ta Liebru to Loreto Church.
Night Five more alerts for thirteen enemy aircraft which drop bombs on Luqa, Hal Far, Ghar Lapsi, Siggiew, Zurrieq, Kirkop and Safi strip.
Military casualties Flight Sergeant Harold Gibbs, Royal Air Force.
Civilian casualties Mellieha Joseph Debono, age 40. Mosta Concetta Mifsud, age 80. Senglea Mary Zarb, age 10.
OPERATIONS REPORTS THURSDAY 30 APRIL 1942
ROYAL NAVY Una returned from patrol off Pantelleria. Nothing to report.
AIR HQ Arrivals Four Wellingtons, three Hudson, one Beaufort from Gibraltar. Departures Seven Wellingtons to 108 MU; one Hudson to Gibraltar; one Hudson to Gambut; one Wellington to Fayid.
LUQA 0945-1100 hrs One Spitfire on photo-reconnaissance of Catania, Pachino and Gala aerodromes.
SOUTHERN INFANTRY BRIGADE 0515 hrs Exercise “Stand to” issued by Southern Infantry Brigade. 0600 hrs Exercise “Action stations” issued. 0815 hrs Exercise ends and Signal Exercise begins.
ROYAL ARMY ORDNANCE CORPS Strengths 32 Officers, 190 Other Ranks.
1st BN THE CHESHIRE REGIMENT D Company still employed at Ospizio Depot. Remainder of the Battalion carrying out administration and interior economy and salvaging their own kit where necessary. 1610 hrs At last we have got the lights mended after fumbling in the gloom for two days in the orderly room: we can now see what we are doing.
1ST BN THE DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY Work on the aerodromes continues at night. Strengths: 33 Officers; 646 Other Ranks.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB Reported 1; dealt with 7 (1 x 500kg, 2 x 250kg, 4 x 50kg).
KINGS OWN MALTA REGIMENT Guns of A Company, 2nd Bn shot down one Messerschmitt.
8TH BN THE KINGS OWN ROYAL REGIMENT Working party of 450 Other Ranks and 15 Officers still employed on Hal Far. Strengths: A Company Ta Karceppu 5 Officers, 120 Other Ranks (OR); B Coy Ta Salvatur 5 Officers 122 OR; C Coy Ta Hasluk 5 Officers 133 OR; D Coy Villa Azzopardi, Zebbug 5 Officers 125 OR; HQ Coy Ta Salvatur 14 Officers 272 OR. Chaplain & Medical Officer also attached.
11TH BN THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS 2000 hrs Luqa working parties continued. Definite lull in mass air attacks.
225TH LIGHT ACK ACK BATTERY, ROYAL ARTILLERY 1230 hrs F Troop return from rest camp and occupy their gun positions which had been manned in their absence by E Troop, 196 Battery Royal Artillery.
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