24 March 1941: Strain on Malta Pilots Equal to London Blitz

24 Mar

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From the diary of Flying Officer C D Whittingham, 261 Squadron:

“The convoy is still in, and it means the whole squadron at full strength the whole time, with double the usual shifts. I can only arrange a day off once in six days. In the circumstances the strain on pilots is equivalent to that of last September [London] blitz. We are having a steady flow of casualties, and are equipped with inferior [aircraft] than those which come over in great numbers. God knows why they don’t try to fight us more. I don’t see how we could cope for long, if they did. So far they have only taken obvious opportunities, such as diving on a straggler but they are there always, all the same, and so devilish hard to see, little silver camouflaged things. The Squadron-Leader, Lambert, ought to go down in history for the calm courage and the complete lack of bullshit he shows. A complete inspiration to every member of the squadron, and this who we all know that he was shanghaied here over six months ago – then a ferry pilot – that at heart he has not the liking or the inclination to be a fighter pilot, and in reality hates the life and the Island that with others such as Trumble etc. He could have gone, but has stayed on through sheer willpower, to be the very fine example that he is.” (1)


Strongly worded notices have been issued telling the public not to remove parts and equipment from crashed enemy aircraft. Despite previous warnings, civilians have again been rushing to the scene of downed planes and there have been several instances of items being taken as souvenirs.  As well as the serious danger of injury from fire or exploding bomb loads, aircraft parts may provide vital information to the military.  The notices expressly forbid anyone from approaching aircraft and from taking anything from them before police or military authorities have arrived.


The War Cabinet today received a report of air raids on Malta over the past two days. In five air raids, three by day and two at night, 14 enemy aircraft have been destroyed compared to six Hurricanes.  In the two daylight raids on the convoy in Grand Harbour, it was confirmed that some of the vital cargo was destroyed by fire when two merchant ships suffered direct hits.  Two Royal Navy vessels were slightly damaged by near misses, one rating was killed and two seriously wounded.  The other attacks caused some damage in HM Dockyard, with slight casualties.


A new post of Military Liaison Officer is expected to be appointed to assist with the leadership of Malta’s conscripts. The post will be at the rank of Captain, bringing the number of Maltese Captains to nine.  The Governor and Commander in Chief has written to the War Office seeking approval for the additional rank, which is needed following the increase in local troops since the introduction of conscription laws.  The Military Liaison Officer will support the Director of Compulsory Service.


Weather  Fine.

0607-0628 hrs Dawn air raid alert for six unidentified enemy aircraft which approach the Island and dive-bomb the Dockyard, causing some damage to buildings and to ex-Italian vessel SS Adigo.  Four Hurricanes are scrambled but no enemy aircraft are illuminated.  Anti-aircraft guns also engage; no claims.  One Royal Artillery gunner is killed and three slightly wounded.

0858-0935 hrs  Air raid alert for one JU 88 bomber which carries out reconnaissance of Grand Harbour at 24000 feet, with an escort of three ME 109 fighters. Eight Hurricanes are scrambled and ascend to a suitable height to deter dive-bombing.  Anti-aircraft guns engage; no claims.

1825-1913 hrs Air raid alert for a formation of ten Junkers 87 dive-bombers escorted by 20 ME 109 fighters which approach the Island and carry out a high level bombing attack on Grand Harbour. Eighteen Hurricanes are scrambled and take to the air in two formations but the raiders evade contact.  Anti-aircraft guns open up a barrage and bring down one bomber, damaging another two.

Military casualties  Gunner Stanley Crankshaw, 7th HAA Regiment, Royal Artillery.


AIR HQ 69 Squadron Maryland patrolled area between Tunisian coast and Malta.  

4th Bn THE BUFFS (ROYAL EAST KENT REGIMENT)  Tallymen supplied to assist with convoy.

1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT  Machine gun course started for 12 instructors. During a raid at 1900 hrs several bombs fell in the D Company area, two within 20 yards of their HQ and another 50 yards away.  One bomb fell just 5 yards away but failed to explode.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 1; dealt with 2 (1 flare; 1 x 500kg).

2nd Bn KINGS OWN MALTA REGIMENT  17 conscript recruits joined the Battalion.

(1) Malta – the Hurricane Years, Christopher Shores, Brian Cull, Nicola Malizia, Grub Street 1987


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


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