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23 August 1942: RAF Begins ‘Circus’ Operations
Three bomb-carrying Hurricanes (Hurri-bombers) escorted by Spitfires today carried out a ‘circus’ raid today on Gela aerodrome in southern Sicily. Circus operations, introduced in 1941, involve sending a formation of bombers escorted by a larger number of fighters whose to act as bait and entice German fighters into combat on the RAF’s own terms.
The Hurricanes, of the Royal Naval Air Service based at Hal Far, took off at 1540 hrs this afternoon, accompanied by twelve Spitfires from Ta Qali. Thick cloud obscured the intended target but S/Lt Pratt dropped his two 250lb bombs on military buildings north east of Gela town. S/Lt White dropped his bombs on the town itself and S/Lt Elliot bombed Biscari Aerodrome. In the poor visibility the enemy did not mount a counter attack and the mission returned safely to Malta at 1712 hrs.
LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR COLLAPSES
Malta’s Lieutenant Governor Sir Edward Jackson collapsed today. Initial reports suggest a possible heart attack. He has been deputising for the Governor since Wednesday, while Lord Gort is in the Middle East.
AIR RAIDS DAWN 23 AUGUST TO DAWN 24 AUGUST 1942
Two fighter sweeps of six and eight enemy aircraft.
Military casualties Nil. Civilian casualties Nil.
OPERATIONS REPORTS SUNDAY 23 AUGUST 1942
ROYAL NAVY While sweeping Rorqual and P 34 from sea to Marsamxett, Hythe had a gyro compass failure and while turning outside the swept channel in the vicinity 3, she cut two moored mines.
AIR HQ Departures Two Hudsons to Gibraltar; four Beaufighters to EDCU.
24 August 1942: ‘Malta Punishes Enemy Raiders’
“On Friday afternoon Royal Air Force fighters destroyed five enemy aircraft over Malta. After a raidless night, a fair-sized enemy fighter sweep approached the coast yesterday, but turned back and avoided combat when they saw British aircraft approaching.” The Mercury, Hobart, Tasmania, 24 August 1942
Malta Spitfires launched their first ‘Rodeo’ attacks over Sicily today. These hit and run fighter sweeps are designed to be surprise attacks on selected targets, in which Spitfires swoop to very low level and strafe airfields, dockyards and road and rail transport installations. Despite the high risk involved in such attacks, all 15 Spitfires engaged in today’s raid returned safely.
AIR RAIDS DAWN 24 AUGUST TO DAWN 25 AUGUST 1942
Day Three enemy aircraft approach the Island but do not cross the coast. Spitfires are scrambled on intercept patrols: no engagement.
Night No air raids.
Military casualties Pilot Officer Lawrence Dewhurst, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAF VR), 39 Squadron; Flying Officer Albert Turner, RAF VR, 39 Squadron; Sergeant George Leadbeater, RAF VR, 39 Squadron; Sergeant John Littlewood, RAF VR, 39 Squadron.
Civilian casualties Nil.
OPERATIONS REPORTS MONDAY 24 AUGUST 1942
ROYAL NAVY P 43 was swept in and P 46 out to sea on patrol. The tanker attacked on 21st August was reported ashore in Saiada Bay.
AIR HQ Eight Beauforts of 39 Squadron and eight Beaufighters of 227 Squadron of which three carried bombs attacked a convoy of two destroyers and a 7000 ton tanker, in position 272 degrees, Antipaxos 39 miles, course 130 degrees, 11 knots. Although no claims were made, an apparent explosion was seen on the tanker, further results were unobserved. One Beaufort was shot down during the attack. Beaufighters dropped three 250lb GP bombs which slightly overshot. One JU 88 was shot down over the convoy by Beaufighters.
Night Two Wellingtons were despatched to attack the enemy tanker which had been beached in Saiada Bay, Corfu, after the Beaufort strike on 21 August. Thirty-five 45lb fire bombs were dropped, all falling within 400 yards of the vessel, resulting in small explosions on the water and flames lasting about six minutes, followed by black smoke for another five minutes.
Arrivals One Catalina, four Beauforts, four Hudsons from Gibraltar. Departures One Catalina to Aboukir. Aircraft casualties One Beaufort failed to return from shipping strike:crew missing. One Beaufort’s tyre burst and crash landed: crew uninjured.
25 August 1942: Pedestal Commander Reports on Convoy
Vice-Admiral E N Syfret today submitted his full report on Operation Pedestal to the Admiralty. The report gives a detailed account of the convoy, from the assembly of ships in the Clyde, their first passage to Gibraltar and the repeated enemy attacks through the Mediterranean.
READ OPERATION PEDESTAL FULL REPORT – CLICK HERE
RAF ATTACK TANKER
21 Spitfires today carried out a second Rodeo raid over Sicily and six Beaufighters escorted by six Spitfires attacked an Axis fuel tanker off Tripoli. The raids were not without casualties: two Spitfires ditched into the sea with the loss of their pilots. A Baltimore sent on search patrol failed to return.
AIR RAIDS DAWN 25 AUGUST TO DAWN 26 AUGUST 1942
AM His Excellency the Governor and Commander in Chief returns from the Middle East.
1139 hrs 30 plus enemy fighter aircraft approach the Island but only half cross the coast. Spitfires engage.
1520 hrs Six enemy aircraft approach the Island, believed to be on reconnaissance. Malta Spitfires scrambled: no engagement.
Military casualties Pilot Officer Basil Butler; Royal Canadian Air Force; Flying Officer Reginald Round, Royal New Zealand Air Force; both 249 Squadron. Sergeant Eric Cragg, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAF VR); Flying Officer John Foster, RAF VR; Flight Sergeant Raymond Harvey, RAF VR; Sergeant Mervyn McCrea, RAF VR; all 69 Squadron.
Civilian casualties Nil.
OPERATIONS REPORTS TUESDAY 25 AUGUST 1942
ROYAL NAVY Hebe swept Utmost to sea on patrol.
AIR HQ Arrivals One DC3 from Bilbeis; two Beauforts, eight Wellingtons from Gibraltar. Departures Four Hudsons to Gibraltar; two DC3s, four Wellingtons to LG 224. Aircraft casualties Two Spitfires shot down in the sea: pilots missing, believed killed. One Baltimore failed to return from search: crew missing.
LUQA During the period 21-25 August there were no attacks on the aerodrome. Station strength is decreasing. Camp Cinema cleared and is running.
26 August 1942: Spitfire Pilots Shot Down in Defence of Malta
Two Spitfires pilots of 229 Squadron were lost this morning after they went to intercept a large formation of enemy aircraft approaching from Sicily:
“Ten miles north-east of the island of Comino the Squadron sighted a pair of Messerschmitts at 27,000 feet and then six more unidentified fighters at sea level. One section dived to investigate the unidentified aircraft during which Sergeant Cornish crashed into the sea, either shot down or having failed to pull out of the dive. Flying Officer Newman flying V S Spitfire EP190 reported that he was circling an aircraft in the sea; this was the last contact with him. Both pilots failed to return. It is thought that Flying Officer Newman had fallen victim to the guns of Ltn Schiess of Stab/JG53, although another pilot of Stab/JG53 also claimed a Spitfire during the same sortie, this was not confirmed.” (1)
AIR RAIDS DAWN 26 AUGUST TO DAWN 27 AUGUST 1942
Day Two air raid alerts for a total of 56 enemy aircraft: only a few fighters cross the coast. Army General Officer Commanding visited various gun sites with Commander, Royal Artillery.
Night Two alerts for a total of 18 aircraft: 13 cross the coast and drop bombs on Luqa and Hal Far. One JU 88 is destroyed.
0008-0110 hrs Thirteen German and Italian aircraft drop high explosive and incendiary bombs on Luqa and the Safi strip, causing superficial damage, and on Hal Far, damaging NAS Offices. Houses are demolished at Kirkop.
Military casualties Sergeant Clifford Cornish, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAF VR); Flying Officer Dudley Newman, RAF VR; both 229 Squadron. Gunner Alec Balaam, 168 Battery, 74 LAA Regiment, Royal Artillery.
Civilian casualties Nil.
Enemy casualties Crew of JU 88 bomber, shot down and killed: Unteroffizier Franz Diedl, Air Gunner and Unteroffizier Franz Rohringer, Observer. Survived and taken prisoner: Feldwebel Ernst Klaus, Pilot and Unteroffizier Kurt Klawitter, Wireless Operator.
OPERATIONS REPORTS WEDNESDAY 26 AUGUST 1942
ROYAL NAVY Rye swept Rorqual to sea.
AIR HQ Two [bomb-carrying] Hurricanes RNAS, operating with a “Circus” [of Spitfires], dropped bombs on Biscari aerodromes and military buildings. Results were unobserved.
Night One Beaufighter 89 Squadron made a successful machine-gun and cannon attack on Marsala flying boat station. One merchant vessel with a chance light was attacked and the light extinguished, and one De 18 was shot down in flames.
Arrivals One DC3 from Shallufa; one Bisley, one Wellington, three Hudsons from Gibraltar. Departures Three Beauforts, one DC3, four Wellingtons to LG 224. Aircraft casualties Two Spitfires missing on patrol; presumed enemy action: both pilots missing.
27 August 1942: Malta’s Air and Sea Forces Disrupt Rommel’s Supplies
SPITFIRE RODEO STRIKE SUCCESS
A bold series of Rodeo operations was mounted from Malta today on the aerodromes of Sicily. Following recent photo-reconnaissance reports of increased numbers of Axis bombers in the area, three Spitfire Squadrons – a total of over 30 aircraft – were sent to carry out the high-risk low-level raids on Biscara, Comiso and Gela. 29 Axis aircraft were destroyed on the ground and 10 more in air combat, plus others damaged – for the loss of two Spitfires. Wing Commander Arthur Donaldson recalled the loss of his second in command as they attacked Biscara:
“We maintained complete RT silence so as to arrive unheralded. My Squadron was to attack Biscara. The flak was intense. I looked across at poor old Walter Churchill, and at that very moment he was shot down in flames, crashing in the middle of the aerodrome. I saw a Dornier bomber about to take off and by the time he was in my sights he was airborne. I chased him for about twenty miles. He had smoke pouring out of him and he was losing height; and disappeared below a small hill. I was not able to see him hit the ground, but it was obvious that he was a dead duck.” (2)
AXIS FORCES HARASSED
Meanwhile attacks by Malta-based forces on southbound Axis convoys are hitting home, as war in the Western Desert reaches a critical point. Beauforts and Beaufighters sank a merchant vessel and damaged its escorting destroyer north of Benghazi, with the loss of one Beaufighter. A Malta-based submarine sank a second merchant vessel in a torpedo strike. The attacks are key to deterring a major planned offensive by German forces in North Africa, according to a US news agency:
“An attack in Egypt by Rommel is expected at any time, according to a radio dispatch from the special correspondent of the “New York Times” in the Western Desert. He says that the RAF is attacking streams of German trucks and supplies which are moving up to the front. They are causing death and havoc, but the stream continues to move up, bringing nearer “Der Tag” [The Day] which many observers believe will be an August day.
There is an air of alertness and expectancy along the El A|amein front: “It may be tonight,” said one British captain. “Our tanks are standing by in case anything happens.” It is not thought that Rommel will delay much longer, unless he has experienced greater supply difficulties than the British observers expected. The British and Dominion forces are taking the utmost precautions to keep themselves informed of Rommel’s movements. They are determined to avert a surprise attack.” The Advertiser, Adelaide, 28 August 1942
AIR RAIDS DAWN 27 AUGUST TO DAWN 28 AUGUST 1942
Day Two air raid alerts for a total of eleven enemy aircraft which approach the Island Spitfires intercept and no aircraft cross the coast.
Night No raids.
Military casualties Group Captain Walter Myers Churchill, DSO, DFC, Royal Air Force (Auxiliary Force), 605 Squadron; Flying Officer Percy Johnston, Royal Canadian Air Force, 200 Squadron; Flight Sergeant Eric O’Hara, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAF VR), 227 Squadron; Sergeant Kenneth Seddon, RAF VR, Navigator with 227 Squadron.
Civilian casualties (see Air Raids 26 to 27 Aug) Mqabba Michael Cachia, age 11; Emmanual Zammit, age 7; Joseph Zammit, age 6. Qormi Spiru Saliba, age 40.
OPERATIONS REPORTS THURSDAY 27 AUGUST 1942
ROYAL NAVY P 35 reported having sunk a southbound MV in position 35-39N, 23-05E and Beaufort aircraft sank another MV in 33-59N, 20-57E.
AIR HQ Eight Beauforts 39 Squadron and nine Beaufighters 227 Squadron, five with bombs, attacked a convoy comprising one destroyer and one 6000 ton merchant vessel, patrolled by one JU 88 and one Cant Z 1007, in position 329 degrees Cape Aamer 73 miles, course 190 degrees, speed 10 knots. Beaufighters attacked first, dropping seven 250lb GP bombs and scoring one hit on the stern of the merchant vessel. They also raked the merchant vessel and destroyer with machine guns and cannons from deck level. The destroyer was left smoking from the stern. Beauforts then attacked with torpedoes, scoring three hits on the merchant vessel which blew up and was left ablaze, and sinking with decks awash and back broken. The escorting Cant was destroyed by Beaufighters which also damaged the JU 88.
Night Two Hurricanes made a bombing attack on Gela and Comiso aerodromes. Results were unobserved owing to intense flak. One Beaufighter 89 Squadron attacked the seaplane hangar at Syracuse with machine gun and cannon fire, scoring many hits. Motor transport near Pachino was also attacked and damaged.
Arrivals One DC3 from Shallufa; one Spitfire from Burg el Arab; two Beauforts from Gibraltar. Departures Three Hudsons to Gibraltar; one DC3 to LG 224. Aircraft casualties One Spitfire missing on operation due to enemy action: pilot missing, believed killed. One Spitfire failed to return from fighter sweep; believed force-landed: pilot missing. One Beaufighter believed hit by enemy flak while on shipping strike: crew missing.
28 August 1942: Malta Must Survive on Minimum Supplies, Warns Governor
In a radio broadcast today, the Governor and Commander in Chief warned the people of Malta of further hardships to come. He asked their help to ensure the survival of the Island until a future convoy can reach them:
“Recently we have seen four merchant ships and an oiler reach Malta; this represents the largest number of ships which has arrived in the GrandHarbour since September of last year. No sight could have been more welcome to us all than the arrival of the convoy after so many weeks of anxious waiting…
When the last ship of the convoy, the US tanker Ohio, entered Grand Harbour as the sun rose on August 15, everyone in Malta was mindful of how the nine days of united prayer had been answered and was thankful. We are also conscious that, when so many have risked so much and when so many lives have been lost to bring supplies to us from Britain, we also have a duty to perform ourselves. These convoys are very hazardous operations and, were we to be improvident about the supplies which have reached us, we would do a real disservice not only to those who dared all to succour us, but also to ourselves. It is our bounded duty to eke out our available stores to carry us forward as far as possible on the road to victory…
Convoys, such as this last convoy, are magnificent achievements, but they cannot be constantly repeated, and we must now steel ourselves to last out until a new target date. We will play our part, as Malta has consistently played it in the past. Our aim must be to keep our consumption of all foodstuffs and other commodities at the lowest possible level and so put off, for as long as we can, the date when another convoy has to reach our shores.” (3)
AIR RAIDS DAWN 28 AUGUST TO DAWN 29 AUGUST 1942
Day One air raid alert for 14 enemy fighters on patrol.
Night Three air raid alerts for a total of four Italian aircraft, two of which drop bombs in the sea.
Military casualties Pilot Officer George Bishop, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve; Flight Sergeant Donald Leitch, Royal Canadian Air Force; Flight Lieutenant Ernest Magruder, Royal Air Force, 229 Squadron; Flight Lieutenant John Wallis, Royal Air Force, 42 Squadron.
Civilian casualties Nil.
OPERATIONS REPORTS FRIDAY 28 AUGUST 1942
AIR HQ Rodeo attack by 16 Spitfires over south east Sicily. Night Three Hurricanes RNAS carried out an intruder patrol over Comiso aerodrome; bombs were dropped but no results seen.
Arrivals One Hudson from Gibraltar. Aircraft casualties One Spitfire missing over the sea: pilot missing. One Spitfire had airscrew failure and crashed on land: pilot uninjured.
29 August 1942: Electricity to Stay Off Until 1 October
CONVOY CREWS VIP WELCOME
The General Officer Commanding Major General Scobie performed the official opening of a boxing match at the Command Fair. The match, also attended by the Governor, was organised in aid of the Malta Convoy Fund recently set up to assist the widows and families of those lost during Operation Pedestal. Free seats were allocated to the Merchant Navy for the event. During his opening speech, Major General Scobie paid tribute to the seamen and thanked them for bringing the surviving convoy ships safely into Grand Harbour.
Today’s free match tickets are part of a series of events to show Malta’s appreciation of the ordeal during the Santa Marija convoy experienced by the merchant seamen. Welcomed by enthusiastic crowds everywhere, their itineraries have included a tour of Mdina and a visit to Mosta Rotunda, as well as a demonstration of small arms fire at the Weapon Training School at Ghajn Tuffieha Bay. Despite their exhaustion, a Merchant Navy team managed to hold Sliema Wanderers to a 1-1 draw in a football match at the Empire Stadium in Gzira.
MILITARY SITUATION REPORT WEEK ENDING 29 AUG 42
From: Governor & C in C Malta To: C in C Middle East Rpt: The War Office
1. Enemy air: activity during daylight confined to small fighter sweeps. Approx 148 fighters approached Island. One HE 111, one ME 109 destroyed; three ME 109s probably destroyed; four ME 109s, one MC 202 damaged. Four Spitfires missing, four damaged (pilots safe). Approx 25 bombers approached at night, only 13 crossed coast. Bombs aerodrome area. No military damage. One JU 88 destroyed by Beaufighter; one JU 88 destroyed, one damaged by Ack Ack.
2. Own air: offensive sweeps by Spitfires over Sicily destroyed six enemy aircraft, four probable, one damaged in the air, others on the ground; shot up personnel and buildings. Two day attacks by escorted Hurribombers on Sicilian aerodromes. Beaufighters and Hurribombers also over Sicily by night. Nine Beauforts and eight Beaufighters sunk one merchant vessel, destroyed two JU 88s, one Cant; damaged one JU 88, for loos of two aircraft. Other strike unsuccessful.
3. Military damage and casualties nil.
4. Convoy completely unloaded without incident. Slight increase in civilian bread ration announced; kerosene ration increased; electricity to be restored from 1 October; other slight improvements. Motor transport spirit cut further. TOO nil.
AIR RAIDS DAWN 29 AUGUST TO DAWN 30 AUGUST 1942
Day One enemy fighter sweep by 15 aircraft.
Night One Italian bomber approached and dropped bombs in the sea.
Military casualties Pilot Officer Dennis Pollock, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 1435 Squadron; Private Michael Debono, 3rd Battalion, King’s Own Malta Regiment; Gunner Arthur Mundy, 186 Battery, 74 LAA Regiment, Royal Artillery.
Civilian casualties Nil.
OPERATIONS REPORTS SATURDAY 29 AUGUST 1942
ROYAL NAVY Hythe sailed and anchored at Marsaxlokk for the night.
AIR HQ Eight Beaufighters 39 Squadron and eight Beaufighters 227 Squadron, four with bombs, attacked an enemy convoy comprising one 4-5000 ton tanker and one destroyer, escorted by one flying boat, one JU 88 and seven Macchi 202s, in position 120 degrees Ugento 10 miles, course 180 degrees 8 knots. The Beaufighters attacked first, raking the tanker and destroyer with machine-gun and cannon fire, and dropping six 250lb bombs on the tanker, scoring near misses. Beauforts then dropped four torpedoes scoring one direct hit amidships and one probable hit. The tanker immediately blew up and burst into flames. Later photos show the whole tanker ablaze, emitting dense clouds of black smoke.
Arrivals One DC3 from Shallufa. Departures One Hudson to Gibraltar; one DC3 to LG 224. Aircraft casualties One Spitfire overshot on landing; struck hole in aerodrome: pilot uninjured. One Spitfire believed shot down by enemy fighters: pilot missing, believed killed.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB Reported 29. Dealt with: 4 High Explosives (1 x 500kg; 2 x 250kg; 1 x 50kg); 55 anti-personnel bombs.
(1) From http://chippenham1939-1945; source Wiltshire Gazette, 3 Sept 1942 and Spitfires Over Malta, Brian Cull and Frederick Galea
(2) Papers of Group Arthur Donaldson from The Air Battle for Malta, James Douglas-Hamilton, Pen & Sword 2006
(3) Malta Diary of a War, Michael Galea, PEG Ltd, 1992
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