12 January 1941: Illustrious Attack Marks Dramatic Development of War

12 Jan

Malta – World War 2. First visit to maltagc70? CLICK HERE  

Get daily updates direct to your computer – sign up to follow maltagc70 (see R) 


By Rev Reginald Nicholls, Chancellor of St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral:

“A fortnight ago Goering or Goebbels announced a dramatic development of the war in the Mediterranean. This has happened. A Gibraltar Convoy passed from East to West and that part destined for Malta, very precious ammunition, and among other things seed potatoes for us, arrived [today]. The rest passed onto Greece. The whole Mediterranean Fleet seems to have been out from Gibraltar to Alexandria spread over a vast front. The Convoy got through safely. But times have changed.

HMS Southampton under attack

HMS Southampton under attack

Germany has at last decided to come to the help of Italy, which is said to be full of German troops and aeroplanes. The escort was fiercely attacked on Friday 10th as it passed Pantelleria by German dive-bombers. The Aircraft carrier Illustrious was hit 6 times, and her after deck was a mass of flame. But the fire was put out and the ship reached Malta under her own steam… The Southampton was also hit and set on fire. Blazing from stem to stern she had to be sunk by one of our own ships. Gallant hit a mine and the whole of her bows were neatly cut off at the bridge. She was towed to Malta stern-foremost, she had about 70 killed… The Ark Royal was also engaged, but we think arrived unhurt at Gib.

The Chaplain and First Lieutenant of HMS Illustrious who came to arrange a Memorial and Thanksgiving Service told me that the attacks were magnificent; superb low-diving and marvellously accurate bombing. But the planes eventually left her, and she came to Malta under her own steam, arriving [on Friday] night.” (1)


Malta’s successful RAF reconnaissance operation, 431 Flight, has been strengthened and renamed 69 Squadron. Formed last August and equipped with the American Maryland Maryland aircraft, 431 carries out patrols of the Central Mediterranean on the hunt for potential enemy shipping targets.  Their greatest success to date is the photographic reconnaissance of Taranto Harbour prior to the Fleet Air Arm attack on 10 November last.  The flight is to be expanded along with its designation as a full Squadron. 


Weather  Clear

0826-0840 hrs  Air raid alert for six JU88 aircraft reported which fly over Grand Harbour from the north east, apparently on reconnaissance, then turn south over Luqa airfield before departing.  Four Hurricanes are scrambled. Three Fulmars are also airborne at the time and are engaged by anti-aircraft fire, whereupon they fire the recognition signal.  Fortunately there are no hits before the friendly aircraft are identified and they and land at Hal Far without damage .

0140-0150 hrs  Air raid alert; raid does not materialise.

Military casualties  Able Seaman Joseph Arthur Pritchard, HMS Gallant; Sergeant G C Hall, Royal Air Force, 148 Squadron; Flying Officer G K Noble, Royal Air Force, 148 Squadron.


AIR HQ 0557-1532 hrs Sunderland on patrol western Ionian Sea for enemy shipping movements. 0720-1230 hrs Maryland special photo-reconnaissance as ordered but mission not fulfilled due to bad weather in target area; further attempt will be made. 0937-1644 hrs Maryland heading for reconnaissance Taranto when 40 miles north east of Malta was attacked by Macchi 200; intercommunication gear unserviceable so decided to abandon mission. 1045-1325 hrs Maryland recce Augusta and Catania; aerodrome photographed – 16 fighters and 18 bombers seen dispersed, probably more. 2100-0700 hrs Sunderland effected anti-convoy patrol between Malta and Tunisia; nil report.  2100-0050 hrs Sunderland special mission successfully accomplished.

ROYAL NAVY  Triumph and Upholder arrived to join First Submarine Flotilla. 

LUQA 69 Squadron (431 Flight): 1 Maryland special reconnaissance unsuccessful owing to bad weather.  1 Maryland reconnaissance Taranto prevented by Macchi 200; 1 Maryland reconnaissance Augusta and Catania.  148 Squadron: 10 Wellingtons bombing raid on Catania – one aircraft force-landed, crew saved; another was shot down – crew missing.  Two Wellingtons conducted two trips each.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  No1 Works Company began work on accommodation and magazines at Birzebuggia.

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  One Section of Bren Carriers stationed at Ta Qali.

(1) Extract from diary of Reverend Reginald M. Nicholls, Chancellor of St.Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Valletta. Courtesy of website: Malta Family History


All written content © maltagc70 unless otherwise attributed. For conditions of use contact

Leave a comment

Posted by on January 12, 2021 in 1941, January 1941


Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: