24 January 1941: Massive Unexploded Bomb in Ruins of Three Cities

24 Jan

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Demolition squads and military forces are facing an additional threat as they work to repair the damage from last week’s raids: unexploded bombs. Over 30 have been reported in the past week, 14 of which have been for high explosives from 250kg to 1000kg. Three have been uncovered by men working to clear the rubble of damaged buildings in the Three Cities.

RE Bomb Disposal, January 1941

RE Bomb Disposal, January 1941

On Sunday a foreman called his working party to an immediate halt and ordered them to withdraw after traces of an unexploded bomb were spotted among the debris beneath a large building. He reported the bomb to the local ARP warden who put in an urgent call to Royal Engineers HQ.  Bomb Disposal Officer Lt Edward E Talbot, with L/Sgt Reginald Parker and his squad of Sappers had to clamber over piles of rubble to reach the scene. They were faced with a building steadily crumbling into ruins.  As L/Sgt Parker recalled later:

“It had been several storeys high and was originally attached to similar buildings on either side. The adjacent buildings were now also in a very shaky state.  It was obvious that we either had something very large in the form of a bomb, or that something large had crashed into it…In this early stage we were hampered by herds of wild cats.  These were the poor animals left behind by the inhabitants.  They were herded together in fear and were starving.  They stubbornly barred our way and were very vicious and in the end we had to shoot some of them. “

With no mechanical equipment available to them in this location, the Sappers faced a mammoth task working with only picks and shovels to remove the remains of the collapsed upper floors of the building layer by layer in their search for the bomb. It was painstaking work: any sudden movement could collapse the building – and could detonate the UXB.

Cospicua nun wdc2151It was several days before they found any trace of the bomb, and several more before they had removed enough debris to expose the bomb itself. L/Sgt Parker was concerned; this was nothing like any bomb he had worked on before: “We found it to be the largest we had seen to date, and of such shape that we had not before encountered. As the bomb lay we could not see any fuzes…”  

Lt Talbot returned to examine the bomb, declaring it was an armour-piercing type designed to penetrate the armoured decks of capital ships. But in order to make it safe he needed to get at the fuze.  Carefully, the Sappers rolled the bomb over, conscious all the while that any disturbance could cause it to explode.  At last the fuze was exposed and, thankfully, it was not fitted with a clock which could be set to detonate at any time.  However, it was so damaged that removal proved impossible. 

Lt Talbot and his men were left with two options: to explode the bomb where it lay, or to remove it with its fuze in place. He rejected an explosion – a bomb of this size would cause devastation over a massive area in this already crippled City. Nevertheless to move the bomb still fuzed would be dangerous, apart from getting it out of the tricky location of cellars, crumbling funnel shaped excavation and the street of steps to get it away. There was the problem of moving it out of the densely built up area of the Three Cities.  But also this was a new type of bomb; if possible Lt Talbot should examine it thoroughly and report full details to the War Office in London.

L/Sgt Parker received his orders: “We were told [we had] to recover it fuzed or not. But take every precaution possible.  To get this unusual shape (slim egg shaped with pointed nose…) weighing…(over a ton) out of the cellars, up the crumbling funnel shape, and out on to the street of steps, still with the fuze in it was a worrying problem.  By means of blocks and tackles, the rigging of steel girders across the excavation to adjacent shaky buildings, and using brute force where all else failed, we managed at last to get the ‘beast’ on to the street of steps…” (1)


Weather  Fair.

1045-1110 hrs  Air raid alert for six enemy aircraft approaching from the north in two formations. Six Hurricanes, two Fulmars and one Gladiator are scrambled; no interception.  At ten miles off Grand Harbour the raiders retreat without crossing the coast.

Enemy casualties  Obergefreiter Eugen Lehmann, crewman; Unteroffizier Karl-Heinz Pollzien, crewman; Gefreiter Heinrich Steffen, crewman; Unteroffizier Gustav Ullrich, pilot; 4/LG 1 all of JU 88 bomber.


AIR HQ 0510-1320 hrs Sunderland despatched to cover track of Illustrious proceeding to Alexandria.  Did not sight Illustrious which is presumed to have made greater speed than anticipated but visibility poor with surface haze.  1 Cant Z506 seen on return journey but not engaged. 0550-1545 hrs Sunderland patrolled western Ionian Sea for enemy shipping.  0920-1317 hrs  Maryland photoreconnaissance Gela, Sciacca, Castel Vetrano and Syracuse.  Castel Vetrano 3 SM 79s, 8 dark twin-engined aircraft.  Gela 4 unidentified single-engined aircraft.  Other sites not seen. 0105-1348 hrs Swordfish patrolled eastern Tunisian coast for enemy shipping.      

LUQA 69 Squadron (431 Flight): 1 Maryland photo reconnaissance Gela, Sciacca, Castel-Vetrano, Syracuse aerodromes.  Photos unsuccessful due to freezing temperatures.

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  An 18 pounder gun manned by personnel of HQ Company was mounted on hill feature 443.  

2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  0945 hrs Bren guns C Company return to Marsa from anti-aircraft positions at Luqa. One platoon posted to Senglea for guard duty. 

(1) For this achievement L/Sgt Parker was awarded the George Medal; Lt E E Talbot was specially commended, as were Sprs James Lee Leonard, Lawrence Miller and Daniel McCarthy.

(2) UXB Malta, S A M Hudson, History Press 2010/2012


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Posted by on January 24, 2021 in 1941, January 1941


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