23 March 1941: Newly Arrived Convoy Bombed in Grand Harbour

23 Mar

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SS Perthshire was set on fire

SS Perthshire was set on fire


Four freighters of convoy MW6 arrived safely at Malta today guided through the eastern Mediterranean under the Royal Navy operation MC 9. Three merchant ships City of Manchester, Clan Ferguson and Perthshire sailed from Haifa on Wednesday last escorted by destroyers Griffin and Hotspur. City of Lincoln also embarked from Alexandria escorted by the destroyer Greyhound. The ships made a successful rendezvous north of Alexandria and sailed close to western Crete which provided fighter cover.

The convoy was covered by the main Mediterranean Fleet, including battleships Barham, Valiant and Warspite, the carrier Formidable and nine destroyers sailed from Alexandria to cover the convoy which they came upon at noon on Friday, just as enemy aircraft were approaching for attack; no damage was caused.

By 1600 hrs six more cruisers and three more destroyers joined the escort, followed by three more cruisers and a destroyer later that evening. With this heavy protection the convoy approached Malta, which then detached last night under cover of darkness to complete the final leg of its journey to Grand Harbour with a small detachment as protection.  Having negotiated the approach to harbor through a channel cleared of mines, all vessels docked safely just after 0700 hrs this morning.

Within an hour an enemy JU 88 bomber with fighter protection flew over Grand Harbour on reconnaissance. The ships’ presence was reported back to enemy HQ and later this morning a 30 strong attack was launched on the convoy.  Malta’s gunners were ready and a heavy barrage, along with a 12 strong Hurricane fighter force, drove the raiders off before they could press home their attack.  Later this afternoon the raiders were back – their strength increased to 45 – and they launched a fierce dive-bombing attack on the warships and merchant vessels.  One bomb hit the bridge of City of Lincoln; SS Perthshire was hit by an incendiary bomb and set on fire. The cruiser Bonaventure and the destroyer Griffin were both damaged by bomb splinters.

Fourteen Hurricanes were scrambled and destroyed or damaged twelve JU 87s. Hurricane pilot Sgt Frederick Robertson, DFM, had a lucky escape when his aircraft was attacked by a JU 87; the fuel tank was hit, setting his plane on fire but he managed to bale out and landed safely. His aircraft crashed near Rabat.


The Army Cup Final was in progress this afternoon when the air raid alert sounded.  The match between the Royal Engineers and 1st Bn Dorsetshire Regiment was well underway as enemy raiders approached the Island and the decision was taken to continue the game, unless the raid developed directly overhead.  Players struggled to concentrate as the bombers roared over Grand Harbour but the game carried on.  The Royal Engineers won the match by 3 goals to nil.


Infantry troops are in the process of moving to Gozo to provide defence for the Island in the light of the anticipated enemy invasion. The troop movements have been organised under the guise of a major exercise.  The code name ‘Picnic’ will be used to refer to troops in Gozo.


Weather  Fine.

0700 hrs  A convoy of four merchant vessels with escort arrives in Malta.

0750-0825 hrs Air raid alert for a formation of enemy fighters accompanying one JU 88 bomber which flies over Grand Harbour at 24000 feet, evidently on reconnaissance. Ten Hurricanes are scrambled and anti-aircraft guns engage; no claims.

1150-1220 hrs Air raid alert for a formation of 15 ME 109 fighters escorting 15 JU 87 Stukas which dive-bomb the newly-arrived convoy in Grand Harbour. The harbour barrage is put up: some JU 87s dive through the barrage but others release their bombs from above it.  One bomber is observed having difficulty coming out of its dive; it flies out over the coast and is later reported crashing out to sea.  12 Hurricanes are scrambled and take to the air in two formations.  One formation engages the JU 87s and are then attacked by ME 109s.  The bombing raid is not fully pressed home and the JU 87s turn away to sea immediately, with the ME 109s in close attendance.  Most of the bombs fall on land in the area of Corradino Civil Prison and to the east of the target; several people are reported injured.  The shelter of Rear HQ 1st Bn Dorset Regiment is hit by a heavy bomb; no casualties.  No ships are hit.  Ack Ack guns claim one enemy raider destroyed and two damaged.

1540-1620 hrs  Air raid alert for a force of 25 JU 87 Stukas and 20 ME 109 fighters which approach the Island and carry out a dive-bombing attack, dropping 500kg and 1000kg bombs on warships and merchant ships in Grand Harbour. Several land on the Dockyard area, damaging buildings.  One bomb in the grounds of Bighi Hospital causes a camouflet crater, another explodes on a boundary wall; a third fails to explode and is recovered from an officer’s garden.  There is some damage to merchant ships: the bridge of City of Lincoln is demolished by a direct hit.  One incendiary bomb lands in the hold of SS Perthshire; the fire is put out by a scratch firefighting crew collected by Captain K J Body, Staff Captain ‘Q’ and Commander Price, RN.  Some of the cargo is destroyed.  No warships are hit; there is some splinter damage to Bonaventure and Griffin A sergeant of 4th Bn The Buffs who was manning a Bofors gun position is killed, apparently by a delayed action bomb.  Thirteen enemy aircraft are shot down. 

Fourteen Hurricanes are scrambled in two formations, destroying nine JU 87s plus one probable and two damaged. One Hurricane is shot down; the pilot bales out and is rescued.  Anti-aircraft guns destroy four JU 87s and damage four.

Military casualties  Marine James Beazley, Royal Marines, HMS St.Angelo; Stoker 2nd Class Victor Campbell, HMS Bonaventure.

Civilian casualties Dingli  Joseph Zahra, age 27.


ROYAL NAVY Convoy MW6 and escort arrived at dawn using the searched channel north of Hurd Bank. The escort left at dusk to proceed to Alexandria.  The convoy was apparently not sighted at sea, but enemy reconnaissance aircraft which came over the Island as they were berthing did locate them.  Severe dive-bombing attacks on Grand Harbour followed which damaged City of Lincoln and Perthshire and caused slight splinter damage to Bonaventure and Griffin.  

AIR HQ Departures 2 Sunderlands. Sunderland patrol of Ionian Sea.  Maryland reconnaissance northern Ionian Sea. 69 Squadron Sea patrol east to Corfu.  

KALAFRANA Two Sunderlands left for the Middle East with passengers and freight.

NORTHERN INFANTRY BRIGADE Troops continue move to Gozo for an exercise.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Royal Engineers won Army Cup Final defeating 1st Bn Dorset Regt by 3 goals to nil – the sappers are only team to win 3 seasons running. The game continued during a spectacular dive bombing attack on Grand Harbour. Bomb Disposal UXB reported 5; dealt with 1 (50kg).


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Posted by on March 23, 2021 in 1941, March 1941


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