14 July 1941: Malta Reconnaissance Pilot Launches Surprise Attack

14 Jul

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F/O Adrian Warburton

F/O Adrian Warburton


A Malta reconnaissance pilot took advantage of an Italian air force ground crew mistake to carry out an audacious attack on a Sicilian aerodrome today. F/O Adrian Warburton DFC of 69 Squadron was carrying out a routine photo-reconnaissance mission over the aerodrome in Catania in Sicily.  Encountering significant cloud cover, he decided to drop down low to take oblique, rather than high-altitude, photographs. 

As he approached the target, F/O Warburton saw a green light being signalled from the airfield. He realised that aerodrome control had mistaken him for an Italian aircraft and he was being signalled to land.  Instead of turning away, the Malta reconnaissance pilot put down his wheels and approached the runway.

Johnny Spires, one of his crewmen, yelled at him: ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing? This is Catania not Luqa!’ ‘I know,’ Warby replied calmly, then began shooting at the aircraft lined up on the ground. (1)


Weather  Hot and humid.

0205-0335 hrs; 0403-0440 hrs  Air raid alerts for a total of three enemy aircraft which approach the Island from the north at intervals. One aircraft drops bombs between Il Gzira and Kalafrana and on a road in open country. Bombs are also dropped on Birzebbuga destroying 15 houses but causing no casualties, on Zurrieq, Marsaxlokk and near Luqa, and in the sea.  During the first raid three Hurricanes 249 Squadron are scrambled; searchlights do not illuminate and there are no engagements.  During the second alert a single raider approaches as the aerodrome beacon is illuminated for Wellington bombers coming in to land.

0500-0507 hrs  Air raid alert triggered by the return of a Wellington not showing appropriate identification lights.


ROYAL NAVY  Union sailed at 0100 for position 10 miles south of Pantelleria to intercept northbound convoy.

AIR HQ  Arrivals 5 Blenheim, 1 Sunderland, 1 Wellington. Departures 1 Wellington. 69 Squadron Marylands reconnaissance Taranto. 110 Squadron 3 Blenheims attacked Zuara aerodrome. 148 Squadron 8 Wellingtons attacked Messina causing extensive fires.   830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm 6 Swordfish left to look for convoy leaving Tripoli, but returned owing to poor visibility and low clouds.

HAL FAR  A Fulmar took off for Catania and Gerbini but returned due to a glycol leak.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 3.

1st Bn HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT  Battalion moved to Gozo for training. A small near party remained at Bn HQ.

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  D Company left Gozo and returned to the unit, to be billeted in Strickland House.

(1) Story from Fortress Malta An Island Under Siege, James Holland, Phoenix 2003


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


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