26 August 1941: Malta to Gibraltar Sea Route Too Dangerous

26 Aug

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SS Deucalion (1)

SS Deucalion (1)


All sailings from Malta through the western Mediterranean have been cancelled due to the heightened threat of enemy attack and mine damage. Naval Commanders have taken the decision following damage to SS Deucalion which sailed unescorted from the Island today.  She was followed later in the day by the destroyer HMS Farndale which had been undergoing repairs at Malta and could now provide an escort.

In order to escape enemy detection the merchant ship followed a route close to the Tunisian coast but she struck mines which exploded, causing her some damage. Still able to proceed at speed, Deucalion continued westwards but was then tracked and attacked by enemy aircraft. 

Deucalion is the second from July’s Operation Substance convoy to be attacked while attempt a similar passage in the past week. The fast freighter SS Durham sailed unescorted last Thursday under cover of darkness but she also struck mines off the Tunisian coast, although she was able to reach Gibraltar safely on Sunday. 

It is now believed that the Italian air force is fully aware of the vessels’ route and as a result it has been decided to send no further ships from Malta through the western Mediterranean for the foreseeable future.


A crew of RAF 105 Squadron was killed tonight when their Blenheim collided with a target ship during an attack on an enemy merchant vessel off the north African coast. Flight Sergeant Ronald Scott was piloting one of two Blenheims sent to photograph one merchant ship and to attack a second.  Sgt Scott dived low over the vessel to release his bombs on target but the Blenheim hit the ship’s mast and burst into flames.  There were no survivors.

The Blenheim’s crew have been named as Sergeant S G Bastin, Wireless Operator/Air Gunner, and Sergeant Walter B Healy, Observer. The crew arrived at Luqa airfield in July and had already received notice of their return to the UK, having completed their tour of duty in Malta.


Weather  Sunny and hot.    

1705 hrs 15 Macchi 200 fighters are spotted circling 40-50miles north of the Island.   18 Hurricanes are scrambled and successfully intercept the raiders who are in three formations.  One Macchi is destroyed and one probably destroyed.  The Hurricane of Sgt J Maltby fails to return.  An extensive search by Swordfish and Hurricanes finds no trace of his aircraft.   

2244-2326 hrs  Raid no 826 Air raid alert for two enemy BR 20 bombers which approach the Island from the north and cross the coast singly, dropping hundreds of incendiary bombs on the Dockyard Victualling Yard, Boiler Wharf and a nearby depot, as well as Vittoriosa, Marsa, Birkirkara and Hamrun. Most incendiaries were quickly dealt with before they had time to start fires. Hurricane fighters are scrambled. One bomber is illuminated by searchlights and turns away towards the south.  Hurricanes follow and attack; the raider’s rear gunner returns fire but the bomber is badly damaged. The second is illuminated and heads away to the south west where it is engaged by Hurricanes and badly damaged.  The first aircraft is seen to turn upside down and the second begins to lose height, smoking badly.   

Military casualties  Sergeant Stuart G Bastin, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR); Sergeant Walter B Healy, RAFVR, 105 Squadron; Sergeant John F E Maltby, RAFVR, 126 Squadron; Flight Sergeant Ronald J Scott, RAFVR, 105 Squadron.


ROYAL NAVY  Deucalion sailed at 1100 for Gibraltar. Farndale sailed at 2000 for Gibraltar. HM Submarine Urge damaged a 5000 ton ship and sank a tanker in a southbound convoy off the west of Sicily.

AIR HQ 69 Squadron Marylands on striking force patrols. Maryland reconnaissance of south Sardinian waters for enemy warships.  Special photoreconnaissance of Calabrian and western Sicilian coasts. 38 Squadron 8 Wellingtons despatched to attack Tripoli in 3 waves.  Most bombs struck the target area, causing fires and damage to buildings. 105 Squadron 2 Blenheims sent to photograph a badly damaged merchant ship east of Kuriat, then to attack another north west of Kerkennah.  Sgt Scott dived to drop two bombs, scoring direct hits on the vessel, but then his aircraft collided with the ship’s mast and burst into flames before hitting the sea. 

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB dealt with 27 (2kg incendiary).



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Posted by on August 26, 2021 in 1941, August 1941


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