24 February 1942: Bombs Target Cathedral – Civilians Buried Under Debris

24 Feb

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This afternoon enemy raiders drop bombs from a height of 5000 feet on the city of Valletta.  They land just yards from St John’s Cathedral, demolishing houses and shops in Zachary Street.  Civilians are reported buried under the debris.  The call goes out to Army units for rescue parties to help in the rescue operation.

S/Ldr Percival Stanley “Stan” Turner, DFC & Bar (courtesy Canadian Air Aces & Heroes)


Squadron Leader Percival Stanley (Stan) Turner DFC & Bar – recently posted to Malta to improve fighter operations – takes to the skies to demonstrate the tactics he believes are needed to win the air battle against the Luftwaffe:

One morning – it was 24 February – Turner took me by the arm in the Mess at Mdina and led me out onto the balcony overlooking the airfield… ‘Look here,’ he said, ‘you’ll be one of the flight commanders in the Squadron and I shall look to you to help me with changing the flying pattern here. We can’t have any more of this goddam VIC formations otherwise we’ll all get bumped, that’s for sure. I want you to learn this line-abreast stuff with me. And quickly.’ …’a couple of guys will never get bounced: attacked maybe, yes; but never surprised, no kidding.’

Reflective, yet impatient, he looked down at the airfield. ‘They’ve got several serviceable aeroplanes down there this morning. If Ops have got nothing on the table we’ll grab a couple of aircraft and run the sequences through. If a raid develops while we’re up, we’ll get stuck into it.’

My log book shows that we were airborne for thirty-five minutes in our clapped-out Hurricane IIs. My recollection is that during that time it seemed that Stan had the throttle of his aircraft permanently ‘through the gate’. It was all I could do to keep station. His taut nerves dictated his air speed. All the while, Woodhall, controlling from the ‘hole’ in Valletta, was in touch over the R/T, his deep, unhurried voice dispensing confidence.

‘Stan,’ he said, rejecting the Squadron’s ‘Tiger’ call sign, ‘there are some little jobs at angels 20 going south very fast. They may be working round up-sun behind you. Keep a good look out.’

‘OK, Woody,’ said Stan, ‘I can see them.’ With that, he seemed to find a bit of extra boost and headed up towards the sun. ‘We’ll just have a swing round,’ he said, over the R/T, ‘and see if we can get at the bastards.’ There wasn’t a chance of it.

Nothing doing, we went back to Takali and landed having done few of the manoeuvres Stan had been talking about. We walked back to what had once been 249’s dispersal hut from our aircraft in their sandbagged pens. The CO lit his pipe. ‘That’s it then,’ he said, ‘all there is to it. Just remember to keep the speed up. It’s no good floating about round here.’” (1)


Weather Improved: less wind; brighter periods; warmer.  Wind south.

0801-0813 hrs  Air raid alarm.  Raid does not materialise.

0930-0943 hrs  Air raid alarm.  Raid does not materialise.

1126 hrs  Eleven Hurricanes are scrambled from Ta Qali – four of 1435 Flight, the balance of 242 Squadron.  They attack two JU 88s: no claims.  A number of ME 109s patrol around the Island.

1145 hrs  One JU 88 comes in and drops bombs on Ta Qali aerodrome, damaging buildings, cratering the runways and cutting the RAF line to the dispersal area. P/O MacNamara is killed; F/O Lloyd and A/C Smith are injured and taken to hospital.  The aerodrome remains serviceable.

1210 hrs  The remaining two JU 88s follow and drop bombs between Safi and Hal Far, straddling Xleili Tower.

1227 hrs   All clear.

1510 hrs  Eight Hurricanes of 249 Squadron are scrambled from Ta Qali.

1530 hrs  Eight JU 88s escorted by ME 109s attack in waves of twos and threes.  Bombs are dropped on Valletta, Hal Far, Safi and Luqa.  Heavy and Light Ack Ack engage.  Malta’s fighters engage ME 109s: no claims.  P/O Tedford is reported missing.  S/Ldr Turner crash lands at Luqa.

1700 hrs  Five Hurricanes scrambled to search for P/O Tedford: no results.

1727 hrs  Bombs are dropped on Zachary Street, near St John’s Cathedral, Valletta, demolishing houses and shops, and burying civilians under debris.

1800 hrs  1st Bn The Cheshire Regt and 2nd Bn Royal West Kent Regiment are called in to help remove the debris.  They work in shifts through the night in an attempt to rescue survivors.

1817 hrs  Bombs are dropped on the Safi landing strip.

1842 hrs  All clear.

2022-2045 hrs  One JU 88 approaches from the north; Heavy Ack Ack engage and bombs are dropped in the sea.

2232-2310 hrs  One aircraft approaches from the north and drops bombs on Qrendi strip.  One stick of 250kg bombs straddles D Company HQ, of 3rd Bn Kings Own Malta Regiment: no serious damage or casualties.  Heavy Ack Ack engage.

0020-0043 hrs  One aircraft approaches from the north.  Heavy Ack Ack engage and bombs are dropped in the sea.

0342-0356 hrs  One aircraft approaches from the north, turns at 25 miles and recedes.

Military casualties  Pilot Officer Thady Brian McNamara, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 242 Squadron; Pilot Officer Donald Tedford, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

Civilian casualties  Cospicua  John Borg, age 51; Ghaxaq  Ubaldesca Vella, age 32; Sliema  John Brincat, age 32.


AIR HQ  Arrivals  Six Wellingtons from 231 Wing; three Beaufighters, one Beaufort, one Blenheim from Gibraltar.  Departures  One Wellington to LG 224.

HAL FAR  Night 24/25th  One Swordfish 830 Squadron on search for pilot of missing Hurricane off coast of Malta.  Nothing sighted.  Three Albacores 828 Squadron Fleet Air Arm despatched to attack two merchant vessels and one destroyer.  Owing to very bad weather nothing was sighted.

LUQA  69 Squadron  One Maryland SF2 patrol; one Maryland SF1 patrol; one Maryland photo-reconnaissance Tripoli.  S/D Flight  One Wellington special search.

1st BN THE CHESHIRE REGIMENT 1430 hrs All Companies did their cross country run.  1727 hrs  Bombs dropped on Valletta.  Working party of 1 Officer and 30 Other Ranks sent to clear debris.  Worked from 1800-2100 hrs and 0001-0300 hrs.

11TH BN THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS  Working party at Luqa.

225TH LIGHT ACK ACK BATTERY, ROYAL ARTILLERY  L/Bdr H L Glover and Gunner N Burrows are interred at St Andrews Military Ceremony.

2ND BN THE ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  4 ARWs during day – bombs on aerodromes and Valletta.  Bn provided working party to clear Zachary Street.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB  Reported 21 February-15 March 128 (average 6 per day).

(1)  Memories of Flt Lt Laddie Lucas, 1942, courtesy of Canadian Air Aces and Heroes, WWI, WWII and Korea

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Posted by on February 24, 2022 in 1942, February 1942


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