31 January 1941: Malta Must Have Underground Shelters

31 Jan

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Malta needs shelters

Malta needs shelters

“A hard month has come to an end at last! Fifty-three raids – and what raids!  The night offensives have resulted in a clamour for rock shelters…Volunteers start digging.  Posters appear everywhere to dig, dig, dig.  ‘Wanted: – picks and shovels’ ‘Work one hour a day and be safe’ ‘Dig for victory’.” (1)

Civilians shocked by the severity of recent air raids have begun calling for many more underground shelters to ensure their safety. Many believe that only shelters hewn from Malta’s rock can protect them against the determined dive bombers seen in this month’s attacks. 


Malta urgently needs balloon barrages for the defence of the Dockyard, in addition to other air defences, according to the Island’s Governor and C in C. The need was identified in a review of defences during the raids on HMS Illustrious in Grand Harbour.

Lt Gen Dobbie has already applied to the C in C Middle East for supplies but the 25 available there are not considered sufficient to maintain an effective barrage. He has now written to the War Office in London asking for another 25 or so plus accessory equipment to be sent out immediately by flying boat, stressing that the additional protection is really important.


  • 69 Squadron (431 Flight) and 228 Squadron carried out reconnaissance on most days during the month.
  • 148 Squadron carried out 10 air raids, most of which were highly successful. The losses were one aircraft missing and one force-landed in the sea.  The latter crew were rescued by a British trawler but one died of wounds on admission to hospital. 
  • 830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm carried out several patrols and attacked shipping with reasonable results.
  • There were 46 air raid alerts. Bombs were dropped in 11 air raids. 
  • 80 enemy aircraft were confirmed destroyed, 23 unconfirmed and 13 damaged.


Weather  Clear.

1050-1128 hrs  Air raid alert for four enemy aircraft approaching the Island in two pairs from different directions. Six Hurricanes, one Wellington, one Fulmar and one Gladiator are scrambled.  Four Swordfish and one Glen Martin approach the Island and land safely.  No air raid materialises.

2320-0020 hrs  Air raid alert for two aircraft approaching the Island. They cross the coast and are picked up by searchlights as they circle over the Island.  One is identified as a JU 88 bomber.  Anti-aircraft guns open fire: no claims.  The raiders turn away, dropping bombs four bombs on open land near Grand Harbour and others in the sea off Rinella.


AIR HQ 0445-0906 hrs Sunderland patrolling eastern Tunisian coast for enemy shipping signalled two merchant vessels. Four Swordfish patrolling same area with torpedoes informed.  They sighted the vessels but did not attack as they were in Tunisian territorial waters. 0907-1147 hrs Maryland photoreconnaissance Tripoli area confirmed munitions depot; photos to be forwarded to Middle East.  Tripoli Harbour five destroyers, 15 merchant vessels (one damaged), two fleet auxiliary plus small craft.  Mellaha 30-40 aircraft. 0719-1032 hrs Maryland photoreconnaissance Catania, Comiso and Gela aerodromes.  Catania approximately 100 aircraft; Gela and Catania no visual contact. 0705-1054 hrs Maryland photoreconnaissance Syracuse, Augusta, Catania, Messina ports.  Syracuse six seaplanes, four merchant vessels, three cruisers plus two destroyers and one merchantman in the Straits.  Reggio Calabria aerodrome 25-30 dark bombers.   

KALAFRANA 23 long patrols were undertaken by Sunderlands of 228 Squadron on 18 days during the month, mainly to observe enemy naval and merchant shipping movements.

LUQA 69 Squadron (431 Flight): 1 Maryland reconnaissance Catania, Comiso and Gela; 1 Maryland reconnaissance Tripoli area; 1 Maryland reconnaissance Catania, Messina, Augusta and Syracuse. 148 Squadron: 6 Wellingtons bomb Tripoli.

1st Bn DORSETSHIRE REGIMENT  Strengths: officers 28, other ranks 237, RAOC (attached) 2.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB  21-31 January reported 9.  Total unexploded bombs during month: reported 50; dealt with 15.

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  During the month anti-tank mines have been laid on beaches at St Paul’s bay. Beach wire in the Bay was repaired following storm damage.  The Battalion has been called upon to provide blood donors: the number of volunteers greatly exceeded the number required. 

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


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Posted by on January 31, 2021 in 1941, January 1941


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