23 April 1942: Malta’s Airfields ‘Complete Shambles’ Warns Air Commander

23 Apr

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Ta Qali: craters April 1942 (NWMA Malta)

AIR OFFICER COMMANDING WARNS MALTA ‘MUST HAVE ABUNDANCE OF SPITFIRES’                                               

Message AOC Malta to C in C Middle East Air Command 23 April 1942

 “Both places (Takali 377 tons of bombs…Luqa 122 tons) a complete shambles in spite of soldiers working day and night…Have made every effort to get Spitfires off the ground…All Spits in pens widely dispersed, some with complete cover from blast…In spite of this, 9 destroyed on the ground – direct hits, 29 damaged splintered rocks.  Owing to heavy fighter escort, our battle casualties 8 Spitfires destroyed and 75% of remainder damaged in combat…Army filling bomb holes day and night. Airmen work all day and, in shifts, throughout the night.  Cannot do more to protect Wellingtons or Spitfires.  Here everything liable to attack. German intention appears to be air blockade into submission…Aim now is to destroy harbour facilities so that when convoy arrives it will be difficult to unload…Also to destroy aerodromes and all equipment for handling aircraft. To hold this Islandmust have abundance of Spitfires and hope to get them into air before next raid which was 90 minutes on this occasion.” (1) 


There has been extreme difficulty owing to the scale of attacks on Malta, in obtaining any large effort on work in dangerous areas from the civil population.  During April very little actual work was done on aerodromes by civilians other than those employed by the RAF in the normal way.  On the other hand, machinery was set up which may cause a greater effort in future, when the Labour Battalions have got into their stride, and people have accustomed themselves to work in the same conditions as the military.

…By April 23rd 100 men for each of Ta Qali and Luqa were organized to work under officers of the Malta Volunteer Defence Force.  Buses had to be provided to take the men to rock shelters whenever the alarm went, but it is hoped that when they come under the Compulsory Service Scheme and get the same dependents’ and injury allowance as the [Kings Own Malta Regiment] they will…work away from rock shelters.

Excellent work pen building, etc, was done by the Detachments of Malta Police who worked in exactly the same conditions as the soldiers.  War Diary, Air HQ, Malta, April 1942


Weather  Wind south-westerly; cold.  50% cloud.

0625-0715 hrs  At dawn, four ME 109s dive-bomb Grand Harbour.  A bomb outside No 31 Refuge wrecking entrance and Section HQ of the Dockyard kills two and causes minor injuries to several others.

0655 hrs  Two unexploded bombs are reported on Bidni Ridge.

1025 hrs  Massed plots of enemy aircraft – one of 39 bombers plus fighters and another of 66 bombers and fighter-bombers with fighter escort – are reported approaching the Island.  Four Hurricanes 185 Squadron and two Hurricanes 229 Squadron are scrambled from Hal Far to intercept.  SGt Tweedale destroys one JU 87 and Sgt Todd damages another.  Three Spitfires 601 Squadron are also scrambled from Luqa on interceptions: one is damaged by Messerschmitts.

1050 hrs  The first formation of 39 JU 88s attacks Grand Harbour, including Corradino, Marsa, Valletta and Floriana, as well as inland.  In Floriana bombs explode on St Anne’s Street, Filippo Sceberras Square and Pietro Floriani Street causing considerable damage to buildings.

1048 hrs  The second plot divides of 40 JU 88s and 22 JU 87s and 4 ME 109s plus fighters divides into formations to attack the aerodromes.  Hurricanes and Spitfires are airborne, destroying two JU 87s and one JU 88.  Another JU 88 is damaged by Ack Ack fire.

1105 hrs  Guns of 225 Light Ack Ack Battery engage numerous JU 87s: many hits claimed.  One gun claims a hit on the nose of a JU 87 which crashes into the sea.  Another claims two hits on one JU 87 which recedes smoking and rapidly losing height.

1114 hrs  Five JU 88s raid Hal Far, damaging one Wellington pen and writing off one Hurricane.

1115 hrs  A raid on Luqa and the Safi strip by 13 JU 88s causes craters on the runways and leaves several unexploded bombs on runways and dispersal areas – suspected delayed-action.  A bomb explodes near Tal Handaq gun position, wounding four Other Ranks.  Guns are also damaged at Benghaisa and Targa.

1125 hrs  One JU 87 is reported crashing in the sea.

1130 hrs  A heavy raid on Ta Qali leaves craters on the runway and the southern dispersal area.  Unexploded bombs are reported – suspected delayed-action.  A working party of 8th Bn Manchester Regt suffers two casualties: Cpl Wood, Carrier Platoon, is hit by shrapnel; Pte Clare is injured by falling debris.

1155 hrs  Raiders passed.  Malta’s fighters come in to land.  1205 hrs  All clear.

1326-1430 hrs  Air raid alert: no attacks over the Island.

1525 hrs  A large plot of enemy raiders approaches the Island, dividing into several formations to attack the airfields.  A second large formation follows minutes later and bombs Grand Harbour and French Creek.

Two Spitfires 601 Squadron are scrambled from Luqa to intercept enemy aircraft: claims two JU 87s probably destroyed.  Four Hurricanes 229 Squadron are airborne from Hal Far and go after six JU 88s with an escort of ME 109s.  S/L Beatty and P/O Nixon engage: results not observed.

1555 hrs  Ten JU 88s dive-bomb Luqa: one Wellington and one Spitfire are burned out and photo-reconnaissance Spitfire slightly damaged.

1600 hrs  Eight JU 88s bomb Ta Qali, leaving craters on the runway (which remains serviceable) and damaging buildings.

1610 hrs  Four JU 88s and two ME 109s raid Hal Far, damaging one Fordson tractor, writing off one Albacore and slightly damaging another, plus one Hurricane.

1620 hrs  Two Spitfires 126 Squadron from Luqa attack JU 87s.  S/L Gracie probably destroys one JU 88 and F/Sgt Schade probably destroys one JU 87.

1620-1650 hrs  Guns of 225 Light Ack Ack Battery engage one JU 88 and two ME 109s.  One gun claims hits on the fuselage of one ME 109.

1630 hrs  In the second wave of raiders, 19 JU 87 Stukas and 12 JU 88s attack the Grand Harbour area, including Marsa and Msida.  Bombs also land between Hompesch and Paola.

1702 hrs  All clear.

1805 hrs  A small formation of enemy aircraft approaches the Island, accompanied by a fighter escort.  Malta’s fighters are airborne to intercept.

1810 hrs  A Spitfire is attacked by three ME 109s, crashes on a hillside near the observation post at Tal Virtu and bursts into flames.  Personnel of 11th Bn Lancashire Fusiliers manning the observation post (2/Lt J D Brown and Fusiliers Brownbill, Grundy, Davies and Moore) reach the plane and extricate the pilot, who is seriously wounded and burnt. The soldiers apply first aid and the Intelligence Section puts out the fire and removes the aircraft’s ammunition.  No-one apart from the pilot is hurt.

1822 hrs  Nine JU 88s drop bombs on Luqa and the Safi strip.

1840 hrs  One JU 88 is engaged by light machine gun fire from the HQ of 1st Bn Dorsetshire Regt: hits claimed.

1905 hrs  Raiders passed.

1915-1955 hrs  Four ME 109s bomb Ta Qali.

2112-2129 hrs; 2145-2205 hrs; 2226-2240 hrs  Air raid alerts. Three delayed-action bombs explode on Safi strip during the night.

2316-2342 hrs  A raid by unidentified aircraft which drop bombs on Luqa airfield.  One Corporal of Durham Light Infantry is injured: he dies on admission to Imtarfa hospital.

Military casualties  Aircraftsman A. Moriarty, Royal Air Force; Pilot Officer Peter Pimblett, 139 Squadron, Royal Air Force; Bombardier Harold Naylor 223 Battery, 32 Light Ack Ack Regiment, Royal Artillery.

Civilian casualties Paola  Vincent Scerri, age 64; Joseph Vella, age 43. Gozo (Xaghra)  Francesco Azzopardi, age 58.


AIR HQ  Two Wellingtons left Malta for 108 MU: both missing, no further news.  Arrivals  Two Wellingtons from 235 Wing; one Cataline, one Hudson from Gibraltar.  Departures  One Hudson to Gambut; one Beaufort to 108 MU.

LUQA  1212-1417 hrs  One Spitfire 69 Squadorn on photo-reconnaissance of Sicilian aerodromes.  2040-2300 hrs  Seven Wellingtons S/D Flight despatched to attack convoy: two merchant vessels and three destroyers located; bombs fell ahead of ships.  2040-0333 hrs  Nine Wellingtons 148 Squadron in two waves despatched on offensive.  All bombs hit target area; at least one fire started.  One Wellington is badly damaged by Ack Ack; another fails to return.  Pilot F/O Harper, crew Sgts King, Wear, Perrin, Hosking, Powell.  0220-0440 hrs  Two merchant vessels and three destroyers located: possible hit on one merchant vessel or very near miss.

TA QALI  Aerodrome runway serviceable – repairs proceeding.  No night operations.

1st BN THE CHESHIRE REGIMENT  A working party of one Officer and 40 men to work near Marsa Basin.  Other working parties continue.  On last raid a JU 87 hit Battalion HQ with three bombs in the yard.  Pioneers and Armourers shop hit, also PAD store – all the upper part of the building is untenable.  Three near misses on the other side of the ravelin made most of the old orderly room block untenable.

1ST BN THE DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY  Work on aerodromes now starts at 1930 hours until 0300 hrs.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bombs at Haywharf, buildings damaged, no casualties.  Bomb Disposal UXB  Reported 9; dealt with 5 (1 x 500kg, 3 x 250kg, 1 x 50kg).

11TH BN THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS  2100 hrs  Luqa and Hal Far working parties continued.

(1) From diary of Robert Wendell ‘Buck’ McNair, Canadian Air Aces and Heroes, WWI, WWII and Korea

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Posted by on April 23, 2022 in 1942, April 1942


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