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MASSIVE DAYLIGHT RAID ON LUQA DESTROYS AIRCRAFT, BUILDINGS AND HOMES
Some 100 aircraft launched a massive bombing attack on Luqa airfield today, destroying or grounding the aircraft of Malta’s bomber squadron, damaging military buildings across the airfield and injuring six military personnel. Bombs also smashed into the nearby village of Luqa, destroying homes, injuring 14 civilians:
“The bombs just rained down all over and about the place. The village square hardly has a house standing… The Church of St Andrew escaped a direct hit, but bears the scars of battle all over. Some people who remained in their homes had miraculous escapes…There were several soldiers in the square who just managed to reach the cover of an ordinary cellar shelter propped up with wood support. The house they were in a moment before crashed on the top of the cellar, but it did not give way to the weight of the masonry.” (1)
The third raid alert of the day sounded at 1245 pm, as over forty bombers and thirty fighters headed towards the Island’s north coast and on to Luqa. “Dive-bombers approach and attack in heavy waves. After what appears to be a preliminary skirmish with our fighters, the Malta barrage opens fire. The first wave appears to dive the lowest. They approach at a high altitude, then break up and dive singly. The barrage concentrates over the enemy’s objective. To reach it with any chance of getting close hits, the bombers, diving almost vertically, have to dash at high speed right into a veritable fire of bursting shells. They seem to release four bombs at a time. Clouds of smoke rise from the bursting bombs and from those enemy aircraft which dive straight to earth. Just as one wave of attackers appears to have been dealt with, another follows in quick succession, mostly from the same direction as the first wave.” (2) 150 bombs were dropped on the airfield alone during the raid, eleven failed to explode – seven remain on the runway which is currently closed.
Malta’s fighters launched a determined counter-attack, with eight Hurricanes of 261 Squadron led by Flying Officer F F ‘Eric’ Taylor DFC destroying three Junkers bombers and probably destroying seven. One JU 87 attacked by anti-aircraft fire drops its bombs on Gudja village before crashing nearby, killing a civilian. However, in the fierce dogfight four Hurricanes were destroyed, including that of F/O Taylor who was one of the first Hurricane pilots to join the defence of Malta. Two other pilots, P/O P Kearsey and P/O C E Langdon, were also killed.
Anti-aircraft guns launched a heavy barrage over Luqa, destroying five bombers confirmed and four probable, and damaging several more. “I saw one Junkers 87 still burning on Luqa hill. It was the first to dive and never got out of the dive. The pilots were sitting in the burning plane, a mass of smouldering, charred bones. A ghastly sight.”
DEVASTATION IN LUQA – 75 PER CENT OF HOMES DAMAGED OR DESTROYED
The village of Luqa has been all but destroyed in the air raid today – which is Ash Wednesday, one of the holiest days in the Malta calendar. A reporter from the Times of Malta who visited the village after the raid writes:
“There is hardly a street without a demolished house or one seriously damaged or shaken. The debris is still piled up on the streets…The villagers told me that tons of bombs have fallen in or about the village. There were signs of destruction everywhere. 77 houses have been completely demolished, 25 others seriously damaged and uninhabitable, and it is reckoned that only about 25 per cent of the homes there have so far escaped completely unscathed.
So many bombs – some of them the biggest ever dropped – have fallen all around the village…that almost all houses and farms on the outskirts facing the fields bear marks of the shrapnel, which bit holes into the walls. But Luqa’s remarkable record is that although so many of its homes have been levelled, it has had only one casualty…” (1)
Despite the destruction, reports have praised the behaviour of Luqa’s villagers. “They would not hear of leaving the village, and accommodated themselves without fuss in their neighbours’ houses where they were given food and drink. By the evening, notwithstanding the battered state of the village, business went on as usual.” (1)
AIR RAIDS DAWN 26 FEBRUARY TO DAWN 27 FEBRUARY 1941
0730-0755 hrs Air raid alert for one JU 88 bomber escorted by six ME 109 fighters which approach the Island. Four of them attack a Gladiator over Hal Far, causing no damage. Anti aircraft guns engage and the raiders turn away without launching an attack.
1030-1055 hrs Air raid alert for a large formation of enemy fighters which approach the Island and split up as they cross the coast. One Messerschmitt attacks a meteorological Gladiator without success. Eight Hurricane fighters are scrambled and anti-aircraft guns engage; no claims
1245-1345 hrs Air raid alert for 30 JU 87 and12 JU 88 bombers, escorted by 30 mixed ME 109 and BR 42 fighters which approach the Island and carry out a heavy raid on Luqa aerodrome, dropping some 150 bombs. Six Wellingtons are burned out on the ground and seven others badly damaged, of which four will be out of action for 2-3 months. Seven others will be unserviceable for up to a month. One Glenn Martin Maryland is a probable write-off, three others will be unserviceable for at least a week, another is slightly damaged. One Miles Magister is slightly damaged.
Bombs also damage buildings, including two hangars, an officers’ mess, the airmen’s cookhouse, the NAAFI, three barrack blocks and a ration store room, and the HQ of 12 Field Regiment Luqa. One 200 gallon fuel tank is burned out, one lorry written off and several others damaged. The aerodrome surface is badly cratered and likely to be unserviceable for 48 hours. Four men of 2nd Bn Royal West Kent Regiment and two of the Royal Artillery are wounded. Four unexploded bombs lie within the camp and seven others on the aerodrome, mostly on the runways. Damage to civilian property in Luqa village is considerable. One JU 87 attacked by anti-aircraft fire drops its bombs on Gudja village before crashing nearby.
Towards the end of the attack 10 Dornier 215 and 10 Heinkel 111 bombers approach the Island but drop no bombs. Malta fighters are scrambled and engage the enemy, destroying three Junkers bombers and probably destroying seven. Anti-aircraft guns engage, launching a heavy barrage over Luqa, destroying five Junkers confirmed and four probable, and damaging several more. They also damage one Dornier 215. Three Malta fighters do not return after the raid. One civilian is killed and 14 injured.
1345-1409 hrs Air raid alert for two JU 88 bombers which fly over the Island at high altitude but drop no bombs. Three Hurricanes are scrambled but the raiders evade engagement.
1558-1700 hrs Air raid alert for one enemy Red Cross seaplane accompanied by an escort of twenty fighters on a mission to pick up casualties. They search the seas around the northern part of the Island for an hour. Eight Malta fighters are scrambled and engage the escorting Messerschmitts from time to time, along with anti-aircraft guns. One ME 109 is severely damaged.
Two German prisoners whose JU 87 crashed in the sea during this morning’s raid are rescued by the High Speed Launch, brought ashore and interrogated at Kalafrana.
1742-50 hrs Air raid alert for two enemy formations approaching the Island. Five Hurricanes are scrambled and with enemy withdraw without crossing the coast.
0625-0730 hrs Air raid alert; raid does not materialise.
Military casualties Pilot Officer Philip James Kearsey; Pilot Officer Charles Edwaard Langdon; Flying Officer Frederic Frank Taylor, Royal Air Force, 261 Squadron.
Civilian casualties Gudja Angelo Caruana, age 84.
Enemy casualties Feldwebel Johannes Braun, 4/StG 1, pilot of Junkers JU 87 Stuka shot down; Unteroffizier Heinz Langreder, 4/StG 1, pilot of JU 87 Stuka shot down and died; Oberleutnant Kurt Reumann, commander of the 6/StG 1, pilot of a JU 87 Stuka, shot down; Gefreiter Erwin Suckow, crewman of JU 87 Stuka, shot down and died.
OPERATIONS REPORTS WEDNESDAY 26 FEBRUARY 1941
AIR HQ 0830-1136 hrs Maryland photoreconnaissance of Tripoli Harbour, Mellaha and the Gulf of Gabez.
LUQA 69 Squadron One Maryland photoreconnaissance Tripoli harbour and search for Sorman aerodrome; his aircraft was chased out by ME 109s.
1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT 1245-1345 hrs Air raid. Luqa aerodrome is about two miles from Battalian HQ which, being high up, made an excellent grandstand. Never has this unit seen such an exhibition. The Ack Ack barrage was terrific but the Germans dived straight into it to loose their bombs.” Posts SJ2, 3 and 4 handed over to the Regt by 2nd Bn Royal Irish Fusiliers.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB reported 17; dealt with 6 (4 x 50kg, 2 x 500kg German).
(1) When Malta Stood Alone, Joseph Micallef, Interprint 1981
(2) Malta Diary of A War, Michael Galea, Peg 1992
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