20 February 1942: Time Bombs Set to Terrorise Malta

20 Feb

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Tal Virtu

“[Royal Engineers] Bomb Disposal HQ received the news they had been dreading since the previous December: the bombs …were delayed-action.  The Luftwaffe had added a terrifying new tactic to their bombing campaign against the Island: unpredictability.  From now on, anyone finding or working on an unexploded HE bomb faced a fearful prospect: it could be a time bomb and set to explode at any moment – maybe even as they approached.

Both [RE] Bomb Disposal Officers had experience of Type 17 delayed-action [DA] fuzes on the Home Front.  Lt Carroll remembered how their introduction during the Blitz on London in 1940 reduced the life expectancy of Bomb Disposal Officers to a matter of weeks:

‘The Germans were amazed that their excellent bombs were not going off.  The only way they could tackle the matter was to kill the people who were dealing with the bombs.  They devised a clock, which would be set for any period between a few minutes and [eighty] hours.  So from then on the first requirement was to listen to the bomb.  If there was ticking, there was a clock inside which had to be stopped.’

…Overnight, the task facing the two Bomb Disposal Officers became significantly more hazardous and time-consuming.  Already hard-pressed to cope with the increasing numbers and weight of unexploded bombs on the Island, Lt Blackwell and Lt Carroll were now constantly on the alert for possible DA bombs.  In the four weeks following the 21 February raid, out of 177 UXB reports a dozen more bombs had DA fuzes.  As bombs became more complex and dangerous, the two BD Officers had to be much more involved with each one of them.

But every single buried bomb would now require a longer and more delicate bomb disposal operation.  The Germans did not need to drop a high percentage of delayed-action bombs to cause the extra disruption: once they started using them, the threat of an explosion without warning was achieved with every bomb that fell.”  (1)


Weather  Wind southerly.  100% low cloud; rain.

0646 hrs  Air raid alert: raid does not materialise.

0847-0902 hrs  One twin-engined aircraft crosses the coast near St Paul’s Bay and recedes over Ghain Tuffieha without dropping bombs.  Fighters up; no interceptions.  Heavy Ack Ack do not engage.

0922-1010 hrs  One JU 88 approaches from the south east, circles to the east and north, crosses the coast at St Paul’s Bay, flies over Grand Harbour and drops bombs in the Bighi area.  Fighters are up and an interception made.  Heavy Ack Ack engages.

1033-1122 hrs  Two bombers escorted by two ME 109s approach from the north.  One bomber drops bombs in the sea north of the Island, the other crosses the coast and drops bombs on Senglea from above the clouds, then recedes north. Malta’s fighters are airborne; no interceptions. Heavy Ack Ack engage.

1232-1303 hrs  One unidentified bomber approaches from the north and crosses the coast over Grand Harbour.  Bombs are dropped in Cospicua and Zeitun.  Aircraft then recede north.  Heavy Ack Ack engage. Malta’s fighters are up; an interception is made.

1423-1540 hrs  Four JU 88s approach from the north and drop bombs in the sea off Grand Harbour, and on Ta Qali, near the reservoir, and in the Mosta area. Malta’s fighters are up; no interceptions.  Heavy Ack Ack engage.

1545-1559 hrs  Air raid alarm: raid does not materialise.

1641-1719 hrs  Four unidentified aircraft approach from the north and drop bombs on the runway at Luqa.  Fighters are up near the enemy so Heavy Ack Ack do not engage.

1722-1739 hrs  One aircraft approaches from the south east, turns three miles from the coast and recedes.

2152-2215 hrs  One aircraft approaches from the north west and drops bombs in the Kalafrana area.  Heavy Ack Ack engage.

2242-2252 hrs  One aircraft approaches from the south east, turns 15 miles south west of the Island and recedes south east.

0205-0308 hrs  Two aircraft approach from the north west.  Bombs are dropped in the sea; others dropped on Tal Virtu area do not explode.

0312-0317 hrs  One aircraft approaches from the north east and drops bombs in Kalafrana Bay.  Heavy Ack Ack engage.

Civilian casualties  Edward Griffiths; Mosta  Jimmy Gauci (age 3); Jessie Haig (age 40);  Zabbar  William Miller (age 55).


AIR HQ  Arrivals  Two Wellingtons from Gibraltar.  Departures  Seven Wellingtons to Shallufa.

LUQA  69 Squadron  One Beaufighter photo-reconnaissance Sicilian aerodromes; one Maryland Just 1 patrol; one Maryland SF1 patrol.  S/D Flight  One Wellington search Messina – C Colonne.

TA QALI  Further planes took off and landed at Luqa to operate there.  30 ground crews attached to Luqa.  Ta Qali aerodrome unserviceable except for take-off.

1st BN THE CHESHIRE REGIMENT  Normal work and training.  Brigade conference in the afternoon followed by COs conference.  Party returned from Tal Minsia operations.

1ST BN THE DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY  Observation Post at Tal Minsia manned by the Intelligence Section.

11TH BN THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS  Still very wet.  This unit takes over Observation Post at Tal Virtu for a week.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB  Reported 4; dealt with 3 (1 x 50kg; 1 x 250kg; 1 x 500kg) not including anti-personnel bombs and incendiaries.

(1)  UXB Malta, S A M Hudson, History Press 2010

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Posted by on February 20, 2022 in 1942, February 1942


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