22 June 1941: RAF Observer Flies Stricken Blenheim Back to Malta

22 Jun

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According to the BBC. In a pre-dawn offensive, German troops pushed into the USSR today from the south and west, with a third force making their way from the north towards Leningrad.

Bristol Blenheim

Bristol Blenheim


RAF Observer Sergeant J S Sargent has been praised today for taking the controls of the Blenheim aircraft of which he was crew member and flying the aircraft back to Malta. The Blenheim was one of six of 82 Squadron was on their first mission since arriving on the Island two days ago.  Their task was to attack an enemy convoy of three merchant ships with destroyer escort heading for Tripoli.

The Blenheims caught up with the convoy off the island of Lampedusa and dived in turn to release their bombs over the ships from a low level. The escort destroyers launched a heavy burst of defensive fire badly wounding the pilot F/Lt T J Watkins in both legs.

As the Blenheim’s Air Gunner Sgt Eric Chandler recalled: “Black puffs of smoke could be observed and after an interval, which seemed like ages, the sea both ahead and to each side of us started to erupt, as heavy shells hit the water…

“A sharp jolt to our machine not only indicated that we had also been hit but threw me violently against the side of my turret. An unbelievable pain paralysed my right arm.  I ducked down to check the arm, quite expecting to find it had been blown off!.  As I did so, a snaking line of Bofors tracer played across the aircraft, passing through the Perspex cover of my turret.  This brought me to life with a vengeance and a determination to fight back.” (1)  An Italian CR 42 had attacked the Blenheim; Chandler opened fire and shot the fighter down into the sea.

Seriously injured and losing a lot of blood, the pilot F/Lt Watkins began to lose consciousness. Sgt Sargent volunteered to take the controls of the Blenheim and managed to fly the aircraft back to Malta.  As they approached the Island, F/Lt Watkins was helped back into the pilot’s seat and landed the aircraft safely.   

All six Blenheims released their 250lb bombs in the raid and one merchant ship is believed damaged. Two other Blenheims were hit during the raid.  Squadron Leader J Harrison-Broadley and his crew have been reported missing after their Blenheim was hit, caught fire and ditched into the sea.  A rubber dinghy was seen leaving the aircraft and it is hoped that the crew survived.  Another Blenheim was attacked hit by a CR 42 fighter; the pilot was injured but returned safely. (2)


Weather  Hot and sunny.

1118-1135 hrs Air raid alert for four separate formations of two or more aircraft approaching from the north. One formation turns at 35 miles and recedes.  A second circles at about 45 miles from Malta.  Two Macchi 200s approach to within eight miles of Gozo.  27 Hurricanes are scrambled, of which six intercept and attack, shooting down one Macchi 200 fighter into the sea.  A search finds no survivors.  A second escapes by executing a spinning dive almost to sea level before pulling out.  The remaining enemy fighters in the area turn away on the approach of the Hurricanes.

2015 hrs  A submarine is reported surfacing three miles north of Marsalforn Bay, Gozo.


ROYAL NAVY  Union successful attack, sank 2800 ton ship.

AIR HQ  Arrivals 4 Blenheim. Departures 69 Squadron  5 Marylands on reconnaissance; 1 Hurricane on photo-reconnaissance. 82 Squadron 6 Blenheims attacked convoy; one failed to return.

KALAFRANA  A Swordfish floatplane manned by personnel of Fleet Air Arm was allocated permanently to Kalafrana to augment existing facilities for rescue work.

(1) Fortress Island Malta: Defence & Re-supply During the Siege, Peter Jacobs, Casemate Publishers 2016

(2) F/Lt T J Watkins was subsequently awarded the DSO, and Sergeants Chandler and Sargent the DFM


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Posted by on June 22, 2021 in 1941, June 1941


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