23 November 1940: Heavy Air Raids Return to Malta

23 Nov

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HMS Breconshire is on its way with supplies

HMS Breconshire is on its way with supplies


After nearly a week without air raids, Malta’s two fighter airfields were targeted for heavy bombing today. High explosives and incendiaries were used in two attacks during daylight.  This morning five Italian bombers launched an attack on the newly established fighter station at Ta Qali.  The raid was witnessed by Adjutant of the Special Constabulary, Philip Pullicino:  “Ta Qali is missed badly and our house [in Mdina] is nearly hit: we get a stick of four HEs about two hundred yards away below the Bastions and we are quite shaken.  Luqa aerodrome is also missed and the bombs claim a horse, a donkey and five pigs.” (1)

The second raid in mid-afternoon was focused on Luqa, with some bombs falling on the Marsa area. The raid was watched by young Charles Grech:  “The residents of Casa Depiro [Mdina], as usual, went down to the basement.  However, I had devised a way to watch the air raids and keep track of all that was happening outside.  I had discovered a room far inside the basement which, back in time, when the palace was in its hey-day, was probably used as a stable as there were traces of dry animal excrement.  This room had a window hewn through the bastion wall and I used to stay there, exactly as if I was on the verandah, looking down at the view of the Island.  All the others were in the main room of the basement which used to be the kitchen of the palace.  It was the strongest room because the ceiling was vaulted and had big wide arches  The bombs which were dropped by Italian bombers in the early days of the war, weighing between 150 and 250 pounds, would not have threatened its safety.

I could hear gunfire in the distance. On Luqa airfield I could see smoke from exploding bombs.  Looking through a pair of theatre binoculars, which I secretly used to take down with me to the basement, I could identify them as Savoia Marchetti SM 79s.  These were three-engined bombers which could fly at a speed of 260 miles per hour and could carry a bomb load of 2205 pounds.  Shortly afterwards, I heard a whistling sound followed by a tremendous explosion and a very strong blast.  I was thrown inwards and found myself sprawled on the floor.  I got up quickly and, terrified, rushed to where the others were.  They were in a state of panic.  Some were crying and one or two were unconscious.  Others were asking whether their relatives were unharmed.

Considering the confusion there was in there, one would have thought that there had been a direct hit on the palace. When the air raid was over, I quickly ran to the verandah to spot where the bombs had fallen.  As I was rushing up, father asked me where the devil I had been, as he had been looking for me everywhere and mother was very worried when she had not seen me in the confusion.  I had to tell him a lie, as I did not want to give away my secret ‘hideout’, from where I could observe the air raids.

The bombs had fallen in a field about 400 yards away from the Despuig Bastion and had only caused three craters in the soil. Nonetheless, everybody was dazed.  Nobody had any experience of war.  We were in for far worse things.   Other bombs fell in the fields between Saqqajja and Tal-Virtu.

As usual, everyone had his own different views about the matter. Some said that the bombs were meant for that dummy aircraft at Ta’ Qali and that it was not right for the authorities to put it there.  Others blamed the old cannons, from the time of the Knights, lying in front of the Cathedral.  These guns and another small one, which was on Despuig Bastion, were removed shortly afterwards.” (2)

Clan Macaulay (3)

Clan Macaulay (3)


The fast transport ship Breconshire set sail from Alexandria today with supplies for Malta, along with the freighters Clan Ferguson, Clan Macaulay and Memnon.   The convoy is escorted by cruisers Calcutta and Coventry, and destroyers Greyhound, Vampire, Vendetta and Voyager.  The main Mediterranean Fleet is also currently at sea and will be on hand if required to provide additional protection to the convoy.


Weather  Fine.

0900 hrs  Nine Wellington bombers arrive at Luqa.

1135-1210 hrs  Air raid alert for two enemy formations of five Italian bombers, escorted by 16 CR42 fighters, which approach at 20000 feet and cross the Island, dropping sticks of high explosives and incendiaries in a line from Salina to Filfla, including on Ta Qali. Nine Hurricanes are scrambled and damage one enemy fighter which escapes into cloud.  One Hurricane is slightly damaged.

1515-1547 hrs  Air raid alert for twelve Italian fighters accompanying five SM 79 bombers which cross the Island at 17000 feet, dropping high explosives and incendiary bombs on the aerodromes and on Marsa. One high explosive hits the edge of Luqa aerodrome.  A water main pipe is burst on a road leading to the aerodrome.  Malta fighters are scrambled and damage two enemy aircraft which are possibly brought down.

Military casualties  Leading Aircraftsman Vincent Dawes, RAF.


AIR HQ Arrivals 9 Wellingtons.

TA QALI  P/O J Bourne arrived from UK on posting for duty as Station Signals Officer.

2nd Bn KINGS OWN MALTA REGIMENT  Three unexploded bombs round and reported to Northern Infantry Brigade.

(1) The Road to Rome, Philo Pullicino, MPI Publishing 2012

(2) Raiders Passed, Charles B Grech, trans Joseph Galea de Bono, Midsea Books 2002



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Posted by on November 23, 2020 in 1940, November 1940


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