1 January 1942: 25 Civilians Killed in ‘Fireball’ Attack

01 Jan

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“The paper said we have had 99 air raids in the last twelve days. I can believe it.” (1)

At one minute before midnight tonight a fireball with a tail of flame is seen descending towards the military barracks at Floriana, just outside the walls of Valletta.  It skims the roof of a Mess building and crashes into the road 30 yards away, exploding with a massive roar.  Observers report seeing a single enemy aircraft drop from 10000 feet into a steep dive, releasing his bomb load at about 2,000 feet.

The Canteen at Corradino (NWMA Malta)

Within minutes, two more flaming missiles strike the heart of the Dockyard and explode.  One scores a direct hit on a Naval Canteen in Corradino, burying stores and injuring one Army officer.  A fourth is observed heading for Floriana again; it descends with a swishing sound, but this time it hits the ground with a thud.

The next ball of flame swoops down towards a residential area of Gzira, crashing into houses, and explodes, killing 25 civilians.  Reports soon come in of an unusual bomb with a burning tail which has exploded in Marsascala Bay.

The military authorities are baffled and concerned: this is clearly a powerful weapon, like nothing they have come across before.  However, reports of an unexploded bomb in Floriana may provide the answer.  The Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal Officers have been called to deal with this as yet unknown UXB.  (to be continued 2 January)


Weather  Cold and showers.

0203-0300 hrs  Air raid alarm. One enemy aircraft drops bombs on Luqa.

0326-0600 hrs  Alarm three enemy aircraft patrol the Island trying to intercept returning Wellingtons. Eventually they cross the coast dropping bombs on Ta Qali.  Heavy Ack Ack engaged. Searchlights: one illumination of 30 seconds.

0935-1015 hrs  Alarm.  Reconnaissance raid by 1 JU88 with Messerschmitt escort.

1123-1215 hrs  Alarm. Three JU 88s escorted by fourteen ME 109s make a shallow dive-bombing attack on Ta Qali aerodrome and Qrendi landing strip.  No damage.  Heavy Ack Ack fire several barrages.

1442-1535 hrs  Alarm.  Four ME109s carry out a shipping sweep round the Island.  Heavy Ack Ack engaged.

1547-1635 hrs  Alarm.  Fifteen enemy fighters in two formations carry out a shipping sweep round the Island, down to 50 feet above sea level.  Heavy Ack Ack engaged.

2024-2213 hrs  Alarm. One enemy aircraft patrols south of the Island crossing the south east coast four times. High Explosive and incendiary bombs are dropped on Hal Far aerodrome and Safi landing strip.  One short illumination by searchlights.

2230 hrs  Report of E-boats off Zonkor Point and south of Filfla. Beach posts stood to.  Nothing materialises however.

2305-0117 hrs  Alarm. Royal Artillery reports a fighter up, and orders guns to engage up to 6000 feet.  Searchlights are exposed.  Twelve enemy aircraft approach from the north. The first patrols south of Island.

2346 hrs  Intruder Phase III is put into operation owing to returning Wellingtons.

2359 hrs  Phase I reinstated.  Ten aircraft approach Grand Harbour, each aircraft about five miles apart at 10-12000 feet; they dive to 2-3000 feet to release bombs on the Dockyard, with one direct hit on the Naval Canteen at Corrodino (one slight casualty), as well as Floriana, Marsascala Bay, and at Gzira, where there are civilian casualties.

0035 hrs Royal Artillery HQ orders ‘Guns Engage’.  A fighter was sent south of the Island.  Heavy Ack Ack fire four immediate barrages of 10-13000 feet, which have a marked deterrent effect on the enemy.  Bofors engage the low-flying aircraft.  Three illuminations (two for ½ minute and one for 1½ minutes).  The Hurricane does not engage the enemy.

Military casualties  Private Charles Row, 2nd Battalion, The Devonshire Regiment.

Civilian casualties  Gzira Joseph. Abdilla, age 32; Josephine Azzopardi, age 30; George Debono, age 32; Saviour Debono, age 24; John Filletti, age 34; Mary Filletti, age 22; Stella Micallef, age 13; Violet Micallef, age 13; Albert Mifsud, age 10; Alfred Mifsud, age 2; Blanche Mifsud, age 14; Joseph Mifsud, age 13; Mary Mifsud, age 36; Tancred Mifsud, age 15; Winnie Mifsud, age 4; Giorgia Schembri, age 56; Carmela Spiteri, age 10; Benedetta Spiteri, age 15; Alfred Spiteri, age 7 months; Emanuel Spiteri, age 2; Domenic Spiteri, age 10; Domenic Spiteri, age 50; Josephine Spiteri, age 5; Mary Spiteri, age 12; Vincenza Spiteri, age 3.  Plus 14 injured.


AIR HQ  Departures  4 Hudson, 1 Wellington, 1 Beaufort.

HAL FAR    Four Hudson aircraft (Delivery Flight) left for Middle East AM.  22 Airmen attached from Luqa for Delivery Flight duties.  No operations during the day.  Night 1/2nd Three Albacores, 828 Squadron, despatched on minelaying operations outside Zuara Harbour.  One Albacore failed to return. Missing crew S/Lt Pettit (pilot) and S/Lt Capes (observer).

LUQA  69 Squadron One Maryland SF6 patrol.  18 Squadron One Blenheim SF14 patrol.  Three Blenheims Attacked shipping and motor transport Homs and Buerat.  107 Squadron One Blenheim attacked motor transport Homs-Ras el Hallab.  S/D Flight one Wellington special search; 40 Squadron: one Wellington Tripoli nuisance raid.

TA QALI  Four Hudson aircraft (Delivery Flight) left for Middle East AM.  22 Airmen attached from Luqa for Delivery Flight duties.  No operations during the day.  12 noon  Seven bombs on aerodrome near Pottery and Chateau Bertrant.  Blackout and windows damaged.  Two unexploded bombs located.  One of Kings Own Malta Regiment sustained chest injuries.

1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT  The New Year started off with more air raids; the all clear was not given until 0600 hrs. Normal work and training continued during the day.  B Coy carried on with its gas work; A and D Companies continued building posts for the MVDF.

During the night low bombing raids were carried out against the harbour.  Bombs fell very close to HQ Coy and A Coy, and a direct hit was scored on B Coy Officers’ Mess and lay stores in the dockyard.  2/Lt Gerwin was lacerated about the head and face and was taken to hospital.  Much of the officers’ private kit and the Coy stores will be lost, though a certain amount may be salvaged.

8th Bn KINGS OWN ROYAL LANCASTER REGIMENT  Five alerts during day.  During early morning six bombs were dropped 320 yards east of Tal Providence.  Slight damage to walls and civilian property.  Battalion HQ was moved to Ta Kandia quarries in furtherance of a plan to disperse the troops as much as possible.

(1) Extract from “A Flyer’s Diary”,  Joe White, WWII (from Air Shared Magazine)

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Posted by on January 1, 2022 in 1942, January 1942, Uncategorized


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