Monthly Archives: January 2021

21 January 1941: Churchill Congratulates ‘Heroic’ Malta

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British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (IWM MH26392)

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (IWM MH26392)

“I send you on behalf of the War Cabinet heartfelt congratulations upon the magnificent and ever memorable defence which your heroic garrison and citizens, assisted by the Navy and above all by the Royal Air Force, are making against the Italian and German attacks. The eyes of all Britain and indeed of the whole British Empire are watching Malta in her struggle day by day, and we are sure that success, as well as glory, will reward your efforts.”

The Prime Minister’s message came in response to an upbeat message from the Air Officer Commanding, Malta which was read out to the British War Cabinet yesterday. The AOC reported that some 37 enemy aircraft had been brought down by Malta fighters and anti-aircraft guns during the heavy attacks aimed at HMS Illustrious in Grand Harbour.  He confirmed that the carrier was never hit during the bombing raids, but near-misses caused her serious damage, putting one engine and one boiler-room out of action, as well as causing extensive damage to the Dockyard area and the surrounding communities.


The Governor and Commander in Chief, Lt Gen Dobbie, issued his own broadcast to the people of Malta following the recent heavy air raids:

“We are living in stirring times and Malta, like other parts of the British Empire, is taking its share in the momentous happenings.” (1)


Weather  Overcast.

0800 hrs Nine Bren guns of C Company, 2nd Bn Royal West Kent Regiment take up position to the east of Luqa for defence against low-flying attack.

1410-1425 hrs Air raid alert for a report of a single enemy aircraft approaching at great height. It flies over Grand Harbour, probably on reconnaissance.  Anti-aircraft guns at Tarxien open fire; no claims.


AIR HQ 1242-1530 hrs A Spitfire of the Photo Reconnaissance Unit surveys the Sicilian aerodromes and ports at 23000 feet: at Comiso 5 JU 88s, 9 Macchi 200s; at Palermo 12 JU 87s, 30 Macchi 200s or CR 42s, 1 JU 52, 3 JU 86; at Trapani 2 SM 79s, one large unidentified aircraft, 57 fighters; at Catania 48 JU87s of which 14 damaged or destroyed, 4 JU 88s, 3 SM 79s, 6 BR 20s, 11 Macchi 200s of which 2 damaged, 1 S 82. However, interpretation being treated with reserve. 

4th Bn THE BUFFS (ROYAL EAST KENT REGIMENT)  Battalion ordered to ‘stand to’ at dawn for modified Asia status.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS No 2 Company began work on four barrack rooms at Bizbizia Ack Ack Battery. Bomb Disposal UXB reported 0; dealt with 5 (1 x 750kg, 1 x 250kg, 2 x Ack Ack shells, 1 x  Bofors fuze).

(1) Malta Diary of a War, Michael Galea, PEG Ltd, 1992


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Posted by on January 21, 2021 in 1941, January 1941, Uncategorized


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20 January 1941: 9000 Refugees on the Move in Malta

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Floriana refugeesThe mass evacuation of the Three Cities since Saturday is once more putting pressure on Malta’s outlying communities. In an operation co-ordinated by the military it is anticipated that some 9000 people are again on the move away from the Dockyard communities, which now once again resemble a ghost town. 

Adjutant of the Special Constabulary Philo Pullicino is co-ordinating refugee operations at Rabat: “Endless streams of refugee and evacuees carrying bags and bundles, on carts, asses, cars cabs and buses. Big job to find accommodation for them.  Most of them scared, and without clothing, bedding or furniture.  A distressing sight on all roads, especially when a big family with young and aged are seen walking, and seen madly seeking shelter when the alarm sounds…

I was at Rabat receiving busload after busload of refugees from the Three Cities. They were being sent out with all possible haste.  As they came they reported to me…and I posted them to schools, churches, garages – anywhere under a roof.  Few had brought clothing or even bedding, most of them had lost everything!…The plight of refugees at Rabat made me think of other villages and I therefore made a tour of the chief evacuee centres, where I found conditions pitiable…” (1)

Mattresses and bedding have been distributed by the Malta Relief Fund and communal feeding centres have been set up in refugee reception areas. The Help the Homeless Committee has appealed for contributions to help the stricken refugees: “demands have been increasing rapidly in this cold weather. There are many, including tiny children, who are shivering with cold through lack of clothing and blankets.”  Collection and distribution depots have been opened in Valletta, Mdina, Rabat, Birkirkara, Dingli and Siggiewi, where sewing parties are also active making and mending clothes of all sorts. (2)


Weather  Fine.

0836-0845 hrs  Air raid alert for three enemy aircraft reported 10 miles south east of Delimara; raid does not materialise.

1206-1220 hrs  Air raid alert. One JU 88 aircraft carries out reconnaissance over Grand Harbour.

1755 hrs  A single unidentified aircraft is observed nearing Grand Harbour, then retreating northwards without crossing the coast.

2015 hrs  Modified ‘Asia’ commenced.

0145-0430 hrs Air raid alert for a series of solo attacks by up to ten enemy aircraft. The raiders cross over the coast at intervals, dropping bombs indiscriminately in seven different areas.  The target appears to be Luqa but is not accurately located.  Four houses are demolished and 34 damaged; one civilian is seriously injured.  Searchlights are illuminated but unable to locate the raiders, who remain at very high altitude.  One Hurricane is scrambled but does not engage.

0515 hrs  Asia: troops ordered to ‘stand to’. ‘Stand down’ ordered at 0645 hrs.

Civilian casualties Zabbar  Joseph Attard, age 33.


AIR HQ Arrivals 1 Sunderland. 0530-1540 hrs Sunderland reconnaissance Ionian Sea.  A Sunderland returning from the Middle East was shadowed by a JU 88 for 10 minutes on its approach to Malta; no attack. 

KALAFRANA  One Sunderland returned from Middle East.

LUQA 148 Squadron: 8 Wellingtons bombing attack on Catania.

4th Bn THE BUFFS (ROYAL EAST KENT REGIMENT)  A working party is sent to unload Essex following damage in an air raid.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Rescue work was handed over to 2nd Bn Royal West Kent Regiment as people still entombed under bombed buildings are all now believed dead. Altogether about 30 corpses were brought out of the ruins and six people were rescued alive after being entombed 48 hours. No 1 Company completed Bofors position at Marina and commenced work on accommodation at Wolsley Battery, and a hut at Leonardo.  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 0; dealt with 6 (2 x 200kg, 3 x 250kg, 1 x Ack Ack shell).

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  Working parties assisting with unloading of munitions from HMS Essex.  Partial ‘Asia’ in place: anti-parachutist posts are manned on morning and evening Stand To.  Ta Saliba and Ghain Tuffieha anti-tank bridges are raised 2100 hrs to morning stand down. 

2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  Orders in place for new anti-aircraft defences. Tank Hunting Platoon moved from Marsa to Zabbar.

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

(2) When Malta Stood Alone, Joseph Micallef, Interprint 1981


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Posted by on January 20, 2021 in 1941, January 1941


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19 January 1941: All Hell Let Loose in Second Blitz on Illustrious

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“Malta appears likely to face the fiercest attacks of its stormy career within the next few weeks.”  Air Correspondent, Sunday Times, London.


Our Lady of Victory, Senglea (NWMA)

Our Lady of Victory, Senglea (NWMA)

All hell let loose over Grand Harbour today as the Luftwaffe made yet one more desperate attempt to destroy HMS Illustrious.  Over 80 enemy aircraft dive-bombed the harbour in two separate raids.  In the first attack after breakfast the carrier was damaged by a near miss and is now sitting down at the stern.  There was also extensive damage across the Dockyard.  Heavier bombs were deployed in both raids – many 1000kg high explosives were used, increasing the damage caused in each strike.

What had survived of the church of Our Lady of Victory at Senglea suffered a direct hit and has now been reduced to a mass of wreckage by another direct hit. Another direct hit destroyed the priory of the Dominican Fathers at Vittoriosa.  Fr Rik Attard was in the refectory finishing lunch when the air raid alert sounded.  “We ran out of the building to seek shelter near the police station. Bombs were falling around us with ear-splitting and earth-shaking explosions.  On going back to the priory we saw that all the buildings with the exception of the church were in ruins; a few days later the church collapsed too.  We lost all our possessions in that one raid…That same evening we made our way to the Rabat priory.” (1)


Military commanders have commented that enemy dive bombing was “appreciably less determined” during air raids today. As Luftwaffe commanders send increasing numbers of bombers each day to attack, Malta the Island’s defences are proving equally determined, destroying over 30 enemy planes in the first two days of raids by the newly-arrived German Fliegerkorps X. 

“We can take it and enemy morale is visibly affected,” wrote Governor and Commander in Chief Lt Gen Dobbie in his daily report to the War Office. Again today the harbour barrage and Malta fighters launched fierce counter-attacks.  At least 22 more Luftwaffe losses were added by the end of the day, bringing the total to over 50, compared to just five losses from Malta’s fighter defence forces.

Having claimed his fifth success against the enemy today, Hurricane pilot Flt Lt Jay MacLachan noted in his journal: “The Squadron’s total score for the day was eleven confirmed and two possibles. A Gladiator from Kalafrana [sic] got one and the AA boys got five, making a grand total of seventeen.  Altogether a most exciting and enjoyable day.” (2)


Weather  Clear.

HMS Imperial (c) IWM FL 14057

HMS Imperial (c) IWM FL 14057

0930-1010 hrs Air raid alert for forty JU 87 and JU 88s which approach the Island and dive-bomb Grand Harbour. 500kg and 1000kg bombs are dropped, severely damaging civilian property in Senglea, causing heavy casualties, and badly damaging buildings.  Bombs on Bakery Wharf and near the electricity sub-station damage many buildings and put power cranes, electricity supplies and telephone communications out of action.  No 3 Dock suffers a direct hit; Imperial escapes without damage but bombs damage nearby buildings and a pumping station.  A large bomb explodes in No 2 dock, causing a small crater.  The minesweeper Beryl is damaged by a near miss. Illustrious is damaged again by a near-miss close to the engine room.  One raider crashes in the sea in flames off Delimara, two are brought down over Grand Harbour and another in the sea off Della Grazia.  

1024-1045 hrs  An enemy flying boat with red cross marking, accompanied by a CR 42, circles north east of the Island.

1208-1225 hrs  Air raid alert for an Italian Cant aircraft spotted eight miles north of Grand Harbour, evidently searching for missing aircraft. Four Hurricane fighters are scrambled and the aircraft turns away.  Meanwhile the flying boat continues circling 22 miles off the coast.  No raid occurs.

1242 hrs  Air raid alert for two approaching formations ten miles off, heading for the Island. Two Hurricanes are scrambled.  Three more formations are then spotted between 24 and 40 miles away, heading for Malta.  Raiders total forty aircraft.

1302 hrs  30 dive-bombers launch a fierce attack on Grand Harbour, damaging civilian and Naval property and starting a fire between Corradino and the civilian prison.  500kg and 1000kg bombs damage buildings across Senglea and the Dockyard, and cause damage to Carbine and Crossbow.  All electric, water and telephone lines are severed.  A 500kg armour-piercing bomb lands on Hamilton Wharf but fails to explode.  Two further unexploded bombs are rendered safe at Corradino.  Two bombs are dropped on Luqa aerodrome, causing slight damage.  Malta fighters are scrambled and engage the enemy: six Hurricanes, one Fulmar and one Gladiator are airborne at any one time.

The harbour defences send up a terrific barrage. Many enemy aircraft are hit; several are observed losing height.  Four JU 88s, five JU 87s, one CR 42 and one Cant are confirmed destroyed by Malta fighters; one JU 87, one JU 88 and one CR42 unconfirmed; two JU 88s, one JU 87 and one CR42 damaged.  In addition, Ack Ack claim at least three JU 87s and three JU 88s destroyed.  One raider is brought down near Luqa, another crashes near Paola and a third off Delimara.  A third is spotted heading out to sea over St Thomas’ Tower, emitting smoke.  A raider is reported in flames over Bir id Deheb.  One raider is reported baling out near Tarxien and another near St Thomas’ Tower.  Two bodies are seen floating in the sea; the high speed launch sets out from Kalafrana.

1320 hrs  Raiders passed. 

1454-1500 hrs  Air raid alert; raid does not materialise.

1800 hrs  It is reported that 17 enemy aircraft were brought down during air raids today; one fighter was lost.

Civilian casualties  Three Cities  Five females and two males unidentified.

Military casualties Sergeant Eric Norman Kelsey, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 261 Squadron; Lance Bombardier John Rowley, 10 Battery, 7 HAA Regiment, Royal Artillery.

Enemy casualties  Franz Buczek, 2/StG 1, gunner of JU 87 Stuka; Hauptmann Wilhelm Durbeck, pilot of JU 88; Sergente Maggiore Ezio Iaconne, 70a Squadriglia, 23o Gruppo Autonomo, the Pilot of a CR.42 fighter, baled out; Obergefreiter Hans Kusters, II/StG 2, pilot of JU 87 Stuka; Unteroffizier Rudolf Vater, 1/StG 1, pilot of JU 87 Stuka; Franz Walburg; Oberfeldwebel 2/StG 1, pilot of JU 87 Stuka; pilot Fritz Nakosky; pilot Richard Zehetmanir.


ROYAL NAVY  Departure of Illustrious departure delayed by damage. Naval and military working parties used to unload Essex as Maltese dockyard workers in shelter. 

AIR HQ Arrivals 1 Spitfire. A photo-reconnaissance Spitfire from RAF Benson in England landed at Ta Qali after a mission to photograph Genoa; he had insufficient fuel to return to base.  The aircraft will be employed locally.  

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Heavy rescue work at Senglea and Vittoriosa continues. Bomb Disposal UXB reported 19; dealt with 1 (250kg).

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  Part of the crew of HMS Illustrious were moved into accommodation at Ghain Tuffieha camp. 

(1) The People’s War, Malta: 1940-43, Laurence Mizzi, Progress Press 2002

(2) Gladiators Over Malta, Brian Cull and Frederick Galea, Wise Owl Publications 2008


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Posted by on January 19, 2021 in 1941, January 1941


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18 January 1941: Luftwaffe Blitz Malta Airfields

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JU 87 dive bombing

JU 87 dive-bombing attack


German Fliegerkorps 10 launched another series of heavy bombing raids on Malta today; this time the target was the airfields. For over 90 minutes this afternoon, Luftwaffe dive-bombers pummelled Hal Far and Luqa in turn, dropping over a hundred high explosive bombs, most of them 500kg.  Hangars, accommodation and aircraft were badly hit, and power and communication lines cut on both airfields.  Runways were badly cratered: Luqa was put out of action; only one landing strip at Hal Far is still serviceable.  Malta fighters and ground defences fought back bravely: five enemy aircraft are confirmed destroyed and at least another ten damaged, for the loss of two Fulmars.


One of the Fulmars was destroyed in a dogfight with an enemy raider. The pilot ditched the aircraft in the sea close about 40 yards from the shore at Kalafrana.  Ignoring the rough weather, Sapper Spiro Zammit of the Royal Engineers immediately dived into the water and swam out to the aircraft.  He managed to reach the Fulmar’s struggling crewman and held him up until the high-speed launch arrived to rescue them.    

Sapper Zammit has been warmly praised by military commanders for his actions in saving the life of the Naval airman, who has been named as A S Rush. (1)


The Governor, the Archbishop and the Lieutenant Governor separately visited Senglea and Vittoriosa today to see for themselves the damage resulting from Thursday’s raids and to review progress on the rescue operations. Faced with the sheer scale of the devastation, Lt Gen Dobbie decided to evacuate the Three Cities with immediate effect. 

The Governor also called immediately on Military commanders for assistance with the recovery efforts. Since Thursday, volunteers in their hundreds have been working day and night, clawing at the wreckage in a desperate attempt to find survivors.  The Royal Engineers, Royal Malta Artillery and King’s Own Malta Regiment will work alongside members of the Public Works Department and the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) personnel in round the clock shifts to clear the debris from the bomb battered areas.


Twelve people were rescued from a family air raid shelter today, almost 48 hours after masses of fallen masonry entombed them underground. The Costa and Mizzi families took to the shelter under 91 Two Gates Street, Senglea, after the alert which heralded the heavy raid on Illustrious on Thursday afternoon. A relative of the family, Joseph Savona, discovered their plight and raised the alarm later that day but it was not until Friday morning that rescue work began.  Concerned at the lack of progress, Savona paid for additional help at his own expense and at 10 o’clock this morning rescue workers made contact with the trapped families.  At 1.30pm five members of the Costa family, four of the Mizzi family and three Gozitan miners who had been digging the shelter walked out alive.  Only William Mizzi needed hospital treatment for shock.  He later recalled:

“For two days we were huddled on top of each other in complete darkness and, as time passed, we suffered from suffocation, and water and food shortage.  There was no panic; we just stood there exchanging an occasional word unaware that we were buried under forty feet of rubble.  When we had almost given up hope, we felt some gravel filtering into the shelter and shortly afterwards we could see a speck of light through the mound of masonry.  The hole was enlarged and we were asked if we were all well.” (2)


Weather  Stormy in the morning; finer later.

0940-1000 hrs Air raid alert for a single enemy aircraft which crosses the Island at a great height on reconnaissance. Light anti-aircraft guns engage; no claims. 

1415 hrs Air raid alert for eighty enemy raiders spotted 18 miles off and heading for the Island. Three Fulmars and five Hurricane fighters are scrambled.  A large formation of dive bombers crosses the coast and attacks Hal Far, dropping 40 high explosive 500kg bombs, destroying one hangar and writing off a Hurricane inside, and setting two other hangars on fire.  The officers’ mess is destroyed, telephone communications are cut and water mains hit.  There are several craters on the runways but the north-west to south-east strip is still serviceable.

1458 hrs  Another large formation of enemy raiders is spotted heading inland over Delimara.  The raiders dive-bomb Luqa, dropping 40 more 500kg bombs, destroying two hangars and badly damaging two more.  The Signal Section, a barrack block and a decontamination centre are destroyed; other offices and the NAAFI are damaged.  Several bombs cause craters on the runway and the aerodrome is rendered unserviceable.  Electric power, telephone communications and water supplies are cut off.  One Wellington is burned out, one Hurricane destroyed and one Maryland badly damaged.  All remaining aircraft on the ground are slightly damaged by shrapnel.

1527 hrs  Another formation of eight enemy aircraft crosses over St Thomas Bay and attacks Hal Far, damaging the aerodrome and buildings. Three Swordfish aircraft are burned out, another is a total loss; several more receive minor damage.  An object is reported floating down over Marsa, possibly a mine. 

The raiders are engaged by the aerodromes’ ground defences; several hits are claimed. One enemy aircraft is reported in flames near Tarxien. Three Hurricanes and three Fulmars are airborne.  One Fulmar is lost over Grand Harbour with no survivors. Another claims an enemy loss but the aircraft is hit in the dog fight and ditches in the sea off Kalafrana; one of the crew is saved. 

Minutes later five more enemy aircraft cross the coast at great height and fly over the Island. Anti-aircraft guns engage the raiders; no bombs are dropped.

In total Malta fighters claim five enemy losses confirmed. One enemy aircraft is reported crashing into the sea off Wied Zurrieq; ten more are believed damaged.  An unexploded bomb is reported in a building at Marsaxlokk.

1610 hrs  All clear.

1630-1645 hrs Air raid alert for a formation of three enemy aircraft reported 18 miles off the coast. Three Hurricanes are scrambled and anti-aircraft guns open fire; no raid materialises.

Military casualties  Aircraftsman Trevor David Backes, Royal Air Force, 148 Squadron; Aircraftsman Edward Shirley Barlow, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve; Gunner Norman Brady Goatley, 7 HAA Regiment, Royal Artillery.                                          

Enemy casualties  Leutnant Horst Dunkel, 7/LG1, pilot of JU 88; Unteroffizier Arthur Haner, 7/LG1, JU 88 crew member; Gefreiter Heinrich Mueller, I/StG 1, gunner of JU 87 Stuka; Unteroffizier Heinrich Schurmann, 7/LG1, JU 88 crew member; Unteroffizier Richard Zehetmair, I/StG1, pilot of JU 87 Stuka.


AIR HQ  No reconnaissance due to heavy swell and aircraft unserviceability.

KALAFRANA The high speed launch picked up the two-man crew of a Fulmar which has crashed near Delimara.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS The civil authorities requested assistance from the Royal Engineers in Heavy Rescue work at Senglea and Vittoriosa. This carried out by sections of 24 Fortress Company and Nos 1 & 2 Works Companies working shifts day and night. Bomb Disposal UXB reported 1.

MALTA SIGNAL COMPANY  Cables damaged by enemy action at main route Hal Far-Kalafrana and at Luqa.

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  The Brigadier and all officers attended a lecture on German methods of warfare and means of defeating them. E Company removed to Ghain Tuffieha camp. 

(1) Sapper Spiro Zammit No 576, Royal Engineers (T) was later awarded the British Empire Medal for bravery for the rescue.

(2) Malta: Blitzed but not Beaten, Philip Vella, Progress Press 1985) 


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Posted by on January 18, 2021 in 1941, January 1941


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17 January 1941: Malta in Shock but Enemy Counts Heavy Losses

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Enemy aircraft stayed clear of Malta’s coastline today as they as well as the Island counted the cost of yesterday’s heavy attack on Grand Harbour. A total of 16 enemy aircraft were destroyed or damaged during the raid – some twenty per cent of the total raiders involved in the attack.  Fighters are confirmed to have destroyed five enemy bombers and damaged another three; anti-aircraft guns also destroyed five, possibly six bombers and damaged a further two.


In communities surrounding Grand Harbour, rescue parties are working in perilous conditions while all round them dazed people are coming to terms with the loss of life and property. In many places, precarious masonry threatens to collapse on rescuers as they work, making the job especially difficult and hazardous.  Dozens are believed still trapped in cellars and shelters, under tons of debris of smashed buildings. 

Cospicua ruinsEdward Zammit and his family survived in their shelter which was rocked by the repeated explosions. They were too terrified to leave the shelter until this morning, when they emerged to find a scene of devastation:  “everywhere buildings lay in ruins, mounds of rubble lay all around and the streets were blocked. My mother, rather fearful in nature, had by now become a bundle of verves, almost paralysed by terror.  There and then my father went to our house, collected a few things, lifted my mother up to take her through the fallen masonry and informed us we would be going to Gozo immediately.” (1)

Some criticism has been levelled at rescue workers who downed tools overnight.   However, the Director of the Public Works Department defended his Demolition gangs: “The number of men available was insufficient to cope with the occasion…When the men worked long and strenuously during daytime (and stone-heaving is a job that saps one’s energies) they could not reasonably be expected to protect their neighbours into the night.” Yet some gangs did continue, especially where they detected signs of life.  Civil defence authorities also called for a massive input of organised help this morning to relieve their exhausted men.  Squads from ARP Centres outside the Three Cities have now been drafted in. (2)

Rescue parties worked desperately for hours to free young priest Rev Canon John Theuma, professor at the University of Malta, who with his sisters and nieces was buried in the cellar under their ruined house in Victory Street, Senglea. After part of the priest’s cassock was found, followed by a woman’s shoe diggers worked frantically, only to discover that the family had all perished.  Rev Theuma and his sisters were originally evacuated to Attard last June but had moved back to Senglea out of affection for their home and with the hope of finding good shelters.


Weather  Stormy.

No air raids.

1414-1423 hrs  Air raid alert for enemy aircraft spotted 21 miles north of the Island. They attempt reconnaissance in very bad weather. 

2020-2035 hrs Air raid alert for enemy aircraft reported off the coast. Flashes are seen in the direction of San Pietro.  The aircraft do not cross the coast and no raid materialises.

Civilian casualties  Qormi Carmel Sammut, age 42; Tarxien John Callega, age 32.


ROYAL NAVY  Usk arrived to join First Submarine Flotilla.

AIR HQ  Bad weather prevented any reconnaissance today.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 3; dealt with 2 (Bofors shells).

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  Some officers attended a demonstration of tanks in support of infantry attack. Part of the roof of Strickland House (accommodation of E Company) collapsed, with one serious casualty: CQSM Lawrence’s thigh was broken. 

(1) The People’s War, Malta: 1940/43, Laurence Mizzi, Progress Press 2002

(2) When Malta Stood Alone, Joseph Micallef, Interprint 1981


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Posted by on January 17, 2021 in 1941, January 1941


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16 January 1941: Ferocious Luftwaffe Blitz Illustrious at Malta

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The Luftwaffe today launched their first concentrated and ferocious attack of the war in the Mediterranean.  Early this afternoon the sun burned away the morning cloud to leave a clear bright sky.  Suddenly out of the blue a formation of Stuka dive-bombers screamed across the skies over Grand Harbour and HMS Illustrious, berthed at Parlatorio Wharf.  Wave after wave of Luftwaffe aircraft followed in their wake – more than seventy of them, raining bombs on the Dockyard and surrounding areas.

Bombing of Illustrious strikes Three Cities (NWMA Malta)

Bombing of Illustrious strikes Three Cities (NWMA Malta)

“Hordes and hordes of dive-bombers came over in big waves for over an hour and dived from all angles in a suicidal manner to within a hundred feet of the harbour, where they let go their enormous bombs.

The anti-aircraft barrage was as terrific as it was awe-inspiring. Bofors guns banged and crashed at a determined height, above them burst pom-pom shells and the heavier shells, below them spluttered the rifle and machine gun bullets, till the whole sky was one mass of boiling bubbling explosions completely blotting out the blue canopy above.  The prolonged din merged with the continuous echo to produce an eerie mumble which rose and fell but never slackened(2)

Forty dockyard workers huddling in communal prayer in a shelter hewn from rock under heavy bastions could feel the impact of the bombing:  “The whole shelter seemed to be trembling and shuddering as if we were in the middle of a gigantic earthquake. Sometimes it felt as if express trains with a strange kind of echo were running at full speed under our feet.  Occasionally the sharp blasts of heavy gunfire would penetrate the shelter but would quickly be drowned out by the surrounding din.” (3)

Barely able to prepare for the onslaught, Malta’s few defending Hurricane and Fulmar aircraft took to the air to try and repel the raiders.  The valiant response succeeded in preventing all but one bomb from falling on Illustrious. The merchant ship Essex was hit by a heavy bomb, killing fifteen crew and seven Maltese dockyard workers.

“The show never seemed to end, but when the last plane had gone, and the thunder of guns changed into an echo and then, too, disappeared, a pall of white smoke covered the whole harbour area.” (2)


Dozens of bombs intended for Illustrious rained down on the surrounding ‘Three Cities’ of Senglea, Vittoriosa and Cospicua.  Malta’s oldest urban communities established and fortified in the 16th century by the Knights of Malta, are now reduced to rubble. It is estimated some 200 houses have been destroyed and another 500 damaged.  Casualties are reported to be high: with reported dead – men, women and children; most survivors have lost their homes and everything they own; hundreds are still believed trapped under collapsed buildings. The sacristy of the parish church of St Lawrence, Vittoriosa, suffered a direct hit, entombing 35 people who were sheltering in the crypt. 

The effect on the population has been devastating.  The majority had fled their homes to take refuge inland during the early raids of June 1940 but through the quieter autumn many have drifted back home to rejoin Dockyard workers who had stayed behind. 

Adjutant of the Special Constabulary, Philo Pullicino, hurried to Senglea after the raid:

Senglea after the raid

Senglea after the raid

“Pale people of all ages, carrying bundles of clothing; the dismal banging of doors and windows forced open by blast; the frequent shattering of glass and the continuous stream of dust and stones from demolished houses; all this greeted me and made me pause as I entered Senglea…

Approaching the top of the long broad stretch that was Victory Street with its gentle inviting slope, I beheld little else but stones, dust and debris blocking the entire roadway at different places.  As I walked down the street, climbing over high piles of shattered masonry littered with broken furniture, I glanced down the side streets and noticed with sullen anger and amazement that these too were blocked to a height of one storey…and all the while the sickly smell of gas touched my nostrils…  At the Wharf the scene was still bad. Great voids in blocks of houses marked the trail of the bombs.  The promenade was littered with balconies, broken dghajsas, shop signs and goods…” (2)

Valletta, too, was badly hit, sending its citizens scurrying for shelter.  “The noise in our Crypt was just terrible. There were about 250 people there huddled together, many of them crying, but many were very brave. The roar was like the loudest thunder one has ever heard, but absolutely continuous, and it was not possible really to distinguish the guns from the bombs, except when one fell close to us – about 70 yards. That brought down a block of flats and 5 people were killed. We sat, holding hands and praying aloud.” (4)

Bombs had struck five buildings in Old Mint Street, Valletta, including a six-storey block of flats. Men rushed to the rescue, saving three children and over a dozen adults from the ruins, but five lost their lives.

The call has gone out for demolition squads and volunteers who are urgently needed for rescue work across Valletta and the Three Cities. (5)


Weather  Heavy morning cloud; clear afternoon.

1047-1053 hrs  Air raid alert for enemy aircraft reported approaching Grand Harbour. Six Swordfish patrol across the Island in formation from north east to south west; three Fulmars are also airborne.  The raiders do not cross the coast.

1355-1530 hrs  Air raid alert for formations of German bombers approaching the Island. 15 JU 88s approach from the north over Tigne at 8-12000 feet, wheel east and dive-bomb Grand Harbour before turning away over Ricasoli and Zonqor. The raiders are met by an extremely heavy barrage from all the heavy and light guns of the Dockyard, Luqa and Birzebbuga.  Malta fighters are scrambled.

The first attack is followed in by several more large formations of JU 87 Stuka dive-bombers, totalling some 50 aircraft, which swoop down singly from 14000 feet to a very low altitude to launch their bombs. Again the guns respond with a massive barrage and Malta fighters engage in dogfights with enemy aircraft.

Bombs dropped from as little as a few hundred feet severely damage much civilian property and buildings across the Dockyard. No 2 boiler shop is badly damaged and part of No 2 dock destroyed.  A large crater is blown in Sawmills Wharf; flying debris and splinters damage surround windows.  MV Essex is hit in the engine room by a large bomb, killing 14 or 15 men and wounding another 15.  Her vital cargo of guns, ammunition, torpedoes and other service stores is undamaged. HMS Illustrious is hit in the quarterdeck by one bomb. HMS Perth suffers a near-miss and is damaged underwater. 

Several unexploded bombs are reported in the Dockyard and creeks.  Eleven raiders are confirmed shot down and another six damaged, some by fighter aircraft and the remainder by anti-aircraft fire.

1605-1640 hrs  Air raid alert for approaching enemy aircraft. One JU88 approaches from the east and is later seen flying away from the coast to the south west, pursued by Malta fighters; the raider is believed damaged.  No bombs are dropped.

Military casualties  Stoker 1st Class Harry Hague, HMS Triumph.

Civilian casualties Floriana  Robert Grech (21); Hamrun  Pawlu Gauci (25); Marsa  Dominic Vassallo (15); Senglea  Elicio Briccio (70), Nicola Buhagiar (70), Emanuel Caruana (50), Giovanna Cassar (20), Rita Cassar (18) and Tessie Cassar (8), Antonia Farrell (27) and William Farrell (38), Mary Farrugia (8), Jane Gatt (64), Vincenza Grima (50), Angelina Kamm (50), Michael Mallia (65), Rosina Remigio (35), Rev Canon Profs John Theuma (28), Carmela Theuma (30) and Bice Theuma (5), Emily Teuma (21), Evelyn Vella (17); Valletta Vincent Cachia (40), Mary Healey (66), Carmela Mamo (44), Teresa Mamo (80), Assunta Rapinett (43), Mary Rapinett (6), Emanuel Spiteri (48);  Vittoriosa  Mary Cardona, Erminia D’Agostino (12), Joseph D’Agostino (11), Josephine D’Agostino (41), Lawrence D’Agostino, Sosa Darmanin (50), Alfonso Degabriele (67), Joseph Degabriele (21), Lawrence Degabriele (56), Francis Falzon (16), Anna Galea (9), Carmela Gatt, Cettina Gatt, Dolores Gatt (24), Laurence Gatt,  Mary Gatt (23), Lorenza German (11), Anthony Hili, Emanuel Mallia, Francis Mallia, Laurence Mallia (55), Lora Mallia, Albert Mizzi, Anthony Mizzi, Francis Mizzi (32), Lorenza Pisani (32), Vincent Pisani, Lorenzo Zarb (44); Zeitun  Albert Brignoli (51); plus 6 unidentified females and 9 unidentified males. 

Enemy casualties  Oberleutnant LG1 Kurt Pickler, Pilot, JU 88 bomber.


ROYAL NAVY  Perth sailed after dark to the eastward.

LUQA  69 Squadron (431 Flight): 1 Maryland reconnaissance Taranto intercepted by two Macchi 200s.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB reported 2; dealt with 2 (Ack Ack shell and petrol tank).

MALTA SIGNAL COMPANY  Cables damaged by enemy action at Rocco, Ricasoli and Lascaris-Ghain Dwielli.

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  Some officers attended a demonstration of 25lb gun-hows and 6in Howitzers.

2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  Battalion commanders reconnaissance of new positions for machine gun posts at Tal Handaq and Luqa.

(1) Joseph Attard of Cospicua, son of a Dockyard worker, The Battle of Malta, Joseph Attard, Hamlyn Paperbacks 1980

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

(3) Illustrious Blitz: Joseph Stephens Remembers

(4) Diary of Rev Reginald Nicholls, Chancellor of St Pauls Anglican Cathedral, courtesy of website: Malta Family History

(5) Main text from UXB Malta, S A M Hudson, History Press 2010/2012


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Posted by on January 16, 2021 in 1941, January 1941


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15 January 1941: Malta Endures Longest Air Raid

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Tonight the people of Malta endured their longest uninterrupted air raid of the war so far.   The alert sounded at twenty minutes to nine this evening as the first enemy aircraft approached the Island.  They were followed by more, in ones and twos, stretched over a period of more than two and a half hours. 

Searchlight operators were frustrated in their efforts to illuminate the raiders by low cloud, which prevented anti-aircraft guns from launching a counter-attack. The poor visibility also hampered the raiders who were seemingly unable to locate their targets, circling several times before dropping bombs on random locations across the Island, and in the sea. 

The raid was the second approach by enemy aircraft this evening. Two hours earlier raiders circled over the Island for half an hour in low cloud but left without dropping any bombs.  


This morning an enemy aircraft appeared over the east of Malta bearing a red cross in a white circle.   Flying at high altitude, the aircraft was clearly carrying out reconnaissance under the protection of a marking which normally gives immunity from attack.  However, this deception by the Luftwaffe is well known in the UK, where such planes are now fired on by RAF fighters and anti-aircraft batteries.


Weather  Hazy skies.

1107-1115 hrs  Air raid alert for one enemy aircraft reported already over the Island, circling over Grand Harbour; identified as a Heinkel 111 or Junkers 88. No Malta fighters can be scrambled in time.  A Glen Martin heads in for landing at Luqa and is followed in by an enemy aircraft marked with a Red Cross.  A few anti-aircraft guns open fire on the Maryland before recognition but cause no damage.  No bombs are dropped.

1940-2050 hrs  Air raid alert. Searchlights illuminated over Grand Harbour detect three enemy aircraft to the north.  Searchlights at Sliema, St Thomas Bay and Hal Far are illuminated and one Hurricane fighter is scrambled.  Due to low cloud, aircraft are heard but not seen circling over Luqa, Hal Far and Grand Harbour apparently searching for their target – presumed to be the Harbour.  They leave without launching an attack.

2139-0015 hrs  Air raid alert for enemy aircraft which approach singly and in pairs. Low cloud prevents searchlights from illuminating the aircraft.  The raiders circle targets before dropping bombs in the sea off Grand Harbour, one between Hompesch and Zabbar one near Latnia crossroads, two near Bofors gun positions at Pretty Bay and one near a gun position at Pembroke. One Wellington lands at Luqa during the raid. 

0115-0130 hrs Air raid alert; raid does not materialise.


AIR HQ Maryland standing by to shadow Junkers if they appeared. 0500-1000 hrs Maryland reconnaissance Maddelena but abandoned when near target due to bad weather.  Sunderland recce of western Ionian Sea abandoned as impossible to take off during heavy swell. 0837-1114 hrs Maryland recce Taranto Harbour (abandoned due to bad weather) and Catania aerodrome: about 100 aircraft, of which 25 Junkers 87 and 88, seven Fiat BR 20, 20 Macchi 200, four SM 79 and 30-40 aircraft burned out or severely damaged – damage from raid of 13 January.  West side hangar a total wreck and another badly damaged, others partly damaged.  Damage on central administrative buildings and many bomb craters on the aerodrome.  Two Macchis patrolling; one attacked the Maryland from very close range scoring with explosive bullets in the main spars of both wings and one tyre.  Maryland’s rear gunners first pan jammed and the Macchi was too far away by the time the second pan adjusted.  No further damage done on landing but aircraft temporarily unserviceable.  Crew unwounded.

LUQA 69 Squadron (431 Flight): 1 Maryland reconnaissance Catania aerodrome hit by Macchi 200; 1 Maryland reconnaissance Palermo and Catania, weather bad; 1 Maryland special reconnaissance Naples unsuccessful; 1 Maryland reconnaissance Maddalena abandoned due to bad weather. 148 Squadron: 9 Wellingtons bombing raid on Catania aerodrome.  

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 1; dealt with 1 (HE 43lb).


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Posted by on January 15, 2021 in 1941, January 1941


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14 January 1941: Artillery and Ambulance Troops Arrive Malta

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HMS Orion enters Grand Harbour

HMS Orion enters Grand Harbour

Vice Admiral, Light Forces, Mediterranean, Sir H D Pridham-Wippell KCB CVO, arrived in Malta today with the light cruisers HMS Orion and HMAS Perth carrying military personnel.  The two light cruisers were part of ME6, a convoy of Operation Excess, from which they detached on Saturday to head for Malta. En route Orion was called into action following the bombing of HMS Southampton and was one of two cruisers ordered to sink the abandoned vessel with torpedoes.

On arrival at Malta, Orion and Perth disembarked reinforcements for the Island’s garrison, including 190 Heavy Ack Ack Battery Royal Artillery (RA) officers 3, other ranks 129; 484 Searchlight Battery RA officers 1, other ranks 43; RAOC officers 9; 161 Field Ambulance RAMC officers 9, other ranks 154; RASC officers 3 other ranks 37.

After a rapid unloading, Orion sailed at dusk with light cruiser Bonaventure and destroyer Jaguar sailed to rejoin the Mediterranean Fleet.  HMAS Perth remained in dock for repairs to her boilers.  After dark, Rover arrived from patrol with a defective battery.


From: Governor & Commander in Chief   To:  War Office

Your recent telegram confirms approval of third searchlights at Rocco and Sliema. No further information has been received.  The provision of these lights is still necessary.  Please say when they may be expected.


Weather  Thick cloud at 2500 feet.

No air raids.

Military casualties  Sergeant Geoffrey Charles Hall, Pilot, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 148 Squadron.


ROYAL NAVY Orion and Perth arrived with military personnel ex convoy Excess. Orion, Bonaventure and Jaguar sailed at dusk to join the Mediterranean Fleet, leaving Perth to repair her boilers.  After dark, HMS Submarine Rover arrived from patrol with a defective battery. 

AIR HQ  0620-1503 hrs Sunderland patrolled western Ionian Sea. 1609-1936 hrs Sunderland effected anti-convoy patrol between Malta and Tunis sighted Italian merchant vessels in French territorial waters.  They fired ineffectively at the Sunderland which was recalled due to a rising swell in Malta. 0651-1150 hrs Maryland photo-reconnaissance Palermo Harbour and aerodrome and Catania aerodrome; latter prevented by bad weather.  Intense Ack Ack fire from Palermo port – Maryland holded in tail plane by near burst.  At Palermo aerodrome one large camouflaged aircraft, three SM79s, 15 medium bombers (single-engined), 17 CR 42s, three Macchi fighters. 0745-1055 hrs Maryland reconnaissance Naples harbour and to take photographs as per secret telegram: bad weather prevented mission completion.  

KALAFRANA One Sunderland left for Middle East with passengers and mail.

LUQA 69 Squadron (431 Flight): 1 Maryland reconnaissance Palermo and Catania – weather bad; 1 Maryland special reconnaissance Naples unsuccessful.

1st Bn DORSETSHIRE REGIMENT  Four passed Classification of Signallers course.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS No 2 Works Company began work at Znuber on three gun positions including a building 1/2 mile off the road.


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Posted by on January 14, 2021 in 1941, January 1941


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13 January 1941: Malta Needs More Anti-Aircraft Gunners

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Ack Ack gunners

Ack Ack gunners under strain


From: Governor & Commander in Chief                     To:  War Office

Prolonged continuous manning with small artillery establishments and deficiencies is proving a very severe strain. 13 MCD Regiment and 4th Heavy Ack Ack Regiment are both 25 per cent below strength and efficiency is impaired.  I must press for reinforcements in the following priority:  first, 259 Ack Ack 100 Coast Defence 50 field; second, 250 Ack Ack 50 coast defence, 50 field. Numbers include Ack Ack specialists already asked for.  We can accept the remainder with any degree of training.


From: Governor & Commander in Chief                                    To: War Office

Present total strength in Malta of artificers and fitters in Malta 79 and of electricians and electrical fitters 15. Artillery are therefore short of 25 artificers and fitters, and ten electricians and electrical fitters.  I do not consider any artificers Royal Artillery can be spared for other duties until these deficiencies are made up with fully qualified tradesmen. 


From: War Office                                                                      To: Governor & Commander in Chief

Demands for arms and equipment for police, local forces and other civil authorities should be met as far as possible form local military reserves and included in future demands by you. Any outstanding indents made by police, local forces, etc on Crown Agents for the Colonies should be considered cancelled except those for items which are not standard Army equipment or clothing.  Demands for such items will continue to be placed at present.


Weather  Clear.

0932-1002 hrs  Air raid alert for six JU88 aircraft which approach from the north, circle to the east and carry out reconnaissance over Grand Harbour.  Six Hurricanes, three Fulmars, three Swordfish and one Glen Martin Maryland are airborne; no claims. 

1120-1130 hrs  Air raid alert for three enemy aircraft flying very high across the Island from the south west to the north. Six Hurricanes and three Fulmars are scrambled and anti-aircraft guns open fire; no claims.

Military casualties  Sergeant James Reardon, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 148 Squadron.


AIR HQ 0629-1224 hrs Maryland mission to reconnoitre Naples with instructions to execute if possible additional recce requested in secret signal. Reaching Gulf of Salerno observed heavy cloud which rendered special objective impossible.  Enemy fleet sighted over Naples and on receiving signal to the effect another Maryland was despatched. 1315-1512 hrs Maryland reconnaissance to discover enemy and return immediately after sending sighting report: nil report despite excellent visibility. 1040-1338 hrs Maryland reconnaissance Catania to examine damage by Wellington operations; cloud prevented recce. 0535-1510 hrs Sunderland patrol western Ionian Sea.    

LUQA 69 Squadron (431 Flight): 1 Maryland reconnaissance Naples and special mission (unsuccessful); 1 Maryland reconnaissance unsuccessful attempt to locate convoy; 1 Maryland reconnaissance Catania unsuccessful due to clouds.

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  B Company post at Dingli taken over by 2nd Bn Kings Own Malta Regiment.   


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Posted by on January 13, 2021 in 1941, January 1941


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12 January 1941: Illustrious Attack Marks Dramatic Development of War

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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


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


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