28 April 1942: ‘Blackest Day’ as Enemy Targets Church Killing 13

28 Apr

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“There will not be a St Publius Church for tourists to see after the war…All that remains is a memory and a pile of broken masonry”  German Radio 1942 (1)

St Publius Church bomb damage (NWMA Malta)


“On the morning of April 28, at about 8am…four separate formations of enemy bombers, some forty in all, appeared on the skyline…Then three enemy bombers detached themselves from the last formation and, diving low over the picturesque Church of St Publius in Floriana, they dropped their loads, leaving behind a heart-breaking wreck. 

One bomb struck the dome, crashed down on the high altar and penetrated into the crypt, where about a dozen persons taking cover were killed instantaneously, among them one of the best loved and respected members of the clergy, Rev Pawl Portelli.  Another bomb dropped between the two belfries, tearing away part of the façade, destroying the statue of Our Lady and blowing off the top section of the inner pillars of the church.  Yet another of the enemy’s bombs exploded inside the church and damaged the beautiful statue of the patron saint.

All of a sudden, as if whipped by a strong hand, the people rushed out shouting, weeping and protesting against the dastardly deed.  A mantle of heavy dust still hung over the battered church when the rescue-party arrived; but work was impossible as chaos and pandemonium reigned supreme.  Finally the bad news that several had been killed was broken, and parents and relatives pressed their way through the crowd to see for themselves.” J Xerri (1)

Enemy’s Fury Concentrated on Church

Today has been described as the blackest day for Floriana.  Apart from other places hit, the enemy’s fury was concentrated on St Publius Parish Church which sustained very heavy damage.  When the Church Crypt collapsed, thirteen persons were killed, five were seriously injured and six were slightly injured.  Nothing in the war to date has shaken Floriana as much.


Extensive preparations are underway at Ta Qali for the arrival of further Spitfires.  No date has yet been given for the delivery.  Administrative Staff have pointed out to Air Command that, due to excessive secrecy, a lack of instructions last time until the planes actually landed at Ta Qali left the ground organisation unprepared for their arrival.  This will be remedied.


Weather  Wind south-westerly; 70% cloud (haze) at 15,000 feet.

0750 hrs  The air raid alert sounds for an incoming formation of 100 enemy aircraft.

0807 hrs  Eight JU 88s bomb Mellieha Camp and four fly on to bomb Ghain Tuffieha.

0810 hrs  38 bombers with fighters as escort bomb the Grand Harbour area, including Corradino, Manoel Island, Msida, Sliema and Tigne.

15 JU 88s attack Valletta and Floriana.  St Publius Church, Floriana, is hit by several bombs. The dome and the crypt are demolished, and a number of houses in St Publius Street partly demolished.  Other buildings are destroyed in St Anne Square, St Thomas Street, Strait Street, Gunlayer Street and Capuchin Street.

0825 hrs  One JU 88 crossing from Hompesch  towards Zonqor is engaged by light machine gun fire by 1st Bn Dorsetshire Regt: hits claimed.

0830 hrs  Three Spitfires 603 Squadron fly out to sea to intercept incoming aircraft and on their return run into four ME 109s.  P/O Stade damages one ME 109.

21 JU 87s dive-bomb Luqa, destroying the Electrical Section, Officers’ quarters and mess, Sergeants’ quarters and a van.  Many other barracks and buildings and a mobile crane are destroyed.  The Sick Quarters and Fighter Flight officers are half demolished.

Three Spitfires 261 Squadron are airborne from Luqa and intercept the JU 87s after the raid.  F/Lt Johnston damages one JU 87.  P/O McLean lands at Ta Qali.

11 JU 88s drop bombs on Hal Far aerodrome and dispersal areas, and on Benghaisa gun position, wounding one Other Rank.

0840 hrs  Two ME 109s machine-gun Torri l’Abjad, damaging the building.

0845 hrs  Two JU 88s are engaged by guns of 225 Light Ack Ack Battery: two hits claimed on one JU 88.

0915 hrs  Bombs are dropped on Misrah Blandun and the Safi strip area.

0917 hrs  Raiders passed.

1020-1033 hrs  Two ME 109s circle to the north of the Island.

1245 pm  A total plot of 90 enemy aircraft approach Malta from the north.  30 ME 109s carry out a fighter sweep across the Island before bombers cross the coast and attack the Grand Harbour area, Luqa and Ta Qali airfields.

Three Hurricanes 185 Squadron are scrambled from Hal Far to intercept the enemy bombers.  P/O McKay and Sgt Boyd engage: results unknown.  P/L Fletcher fails to return.

20 JU 87s attack the Dockyard and French Creek.  A bomb hits the Carmine Tunnel and the EEM’s Drawing Office is demolished. Bombs on Store Wharf cause road blocks and sink lighters, a fire float and water vessel, as well as a tug alongside.  The Officers’ Mess at Marsa gun position is destroyed.  The entrance of a shelter in Senglea Wharf is hit by a bomb, killing 13 and fatally injuring two others.

10 JU 88s attack Valletta and Floriana.  Two bombs explode on Hastings Gardens, another hits a former barracks, demolishing stores and blocking a road.   9 JU 88s bomb Msida, Tigne and Manoel.

1305 hrs  14 JU 88s carry out mid-level and dive-bombing attacks on Luqa and the Safi strip.  One Wellington is destroyed and the dispersal areas cratered.

13 JU 88s attack Ta Qali, cratering runways and dispersal areas and further damaging buildings on the aerodrome.

1330 hrs  One stick of bombs explodes immediately north of Zejtun village.  JU 88s crossing Fort Ta Silch after an attack on Luqa are engaged by guns of 1st Bn Dorsetshire Regt: hits claimed.

1339 hrs  Raiders passed.

1725 hrs  Four Spitfires 601 Squadron are scrambled from Luqa to intercept an incoming formation of 52 enemy bombers with fighter escort: one ME 109 is damaged.  Enemy bombers divide into four formations to attack Fort Tigne, Ta Qali, Luqa and Hal Far airfields.

1733 hrs  20 JU 87s and JU 88s carry out mid-level and dive-bombing attacks on Luqa.  Bombs hit the Sergeants’ Mess shelter and a surface shelter outside the Photographic Section.  A water main is penetrated and quarters of the Kings Own Malta Regiment at Poor House are damaged.  Two RAF personnel and one Maltese airman are slightly injured.

1734 hrs  14 JU 88s attack Ta Qali, further cratering the aerodrome and runways.

Four Hurricanes 185 Squadron are airborne from Hal Far and intercept 10 JU 88s and six JU 87s.  Sgt Dodd engages two JU 88s and one JU 87: no results observed.

1747 hrs  An air raid on Hal Far by six JU 88s causes craters on the aerodrome and damages the officers’ quarters.  One Albacore is slightly damaged.

1810 hrs  One JU 88 is engaged by one gun of 225 Light Ack Ack Battery: no claim.

1832 hrs  Raiders passed.

Night  No alerts.

Enemy losses  By Malta fighters  One ME 109 and one JU 87 damaged.  By Ack Ack: one JU 88 destroyed, three JU 88s and one JU 87 damaged.  By Ack Ack fire   2 JU88 destroyed, 3 JU88 damaged, 1 JU87 damaged by Ack Ack fire.

Military casualties  Pilot Officer John Fletcher, Royal Canadian Air Force, 186 Squadron; Pilot Officer Thomas Foley, Royal Canadian Air Force, 229 Squadron; Pilot Officer John McFarlane, Royal Canadian Air Force.

Gunner John Keegan 196th Bty, 65 Light Ack Ack Regiment, Royal Artillery; Private Arthur Suter, 2nd Battalion, Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment; Private Arthur Taylor, 1st Battalion, Cheshire Regiment; Lance-Corporal Publius Xuereb, 1st Battalion, King’s Own Malta Regiment.

Civilian casualties  Balzan  Annunziato Callus, age 65.  Floriana  Annetta Barbara, age 41; Calcedonio Cardona, age 79; Joseph Enriquez, age 65; Joseph Grima, age 64; Mary Mangion, age 74; Salvatore Morana, age 68; Revd Paul Portelli, age 52; Calcedonio Scerri, age 63; Assunta Tabone, age 48.  Hamrun  Vincent Vella, age 50.  Paola  Saviour Salsero, age 66.  Qormi  Carmelo Calleja, age 58.  Senglea  Carmela Borg, age 27; Carmel Borg, age 3; Lawrence Gatt, age 62; Adelaide Gatt, age 60; Carrie Gellel, age 20; Carrie Green, age 20; William Iles, age 24; Mary Micallef, age 39; Josephine Saguna, age 50; Antonia Sizeland, age 46; Charles Sizeland, age 8.  Valletta  Joseph Dalli, age 62; Joseph Grech, age 62; Charles Rapinett, age 50.  Zabbar  Vincent Pulis, age 37.


AIR HQ  Arrivals  Six Wellingtons, one Hudson, one Beaufort from Gibraltar.  Departures  Three Wellingtons to Fayid, one Hudson to Gibralter, one Hudson to Gambut, one Wellington, one Beaufort to 108 MU.

HAL FAR  One Hurricane 229 Squadron crashed during an air test and caught fire.  Pilot P/O Foley is killed.

TA QALI   40 NCOs and airmen from Luqa Salvage Corps accommodated in tents at Boschetto Gardens owing to bombing of San Salvatore Barracks.

1st BN THE CHESHIRE REGIMENT  C Company billets receive a direct hit during the first raid: Pte A Tayor is killed.  Bombs fall at the entrance to Battalion HQ.  The RE store is hit.  The Officers’ Mess moved into St Francis Ravelin again: the old mess had to be evacuated due to bad drains.  Slight damage to B Company billet at Church Hall in the Dockyard.  Power station hit.  The Orderly Room is now almost in darkness: only candles or hurricane lamps available.

1ST BN THE DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY  Work on the aerodromes continues at night.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Further bombs on Casemate Barracks: more damage to RE WO/Sgts Mess. No casualties.  Bomb Disposal UXB  Reported 33; dealt with 6 (2 x 250kg, 4 x 50kg).

KINGS OWN MALTA REGIMENT 1st Bn  L/Cpl P Xuereb dies through enemy action while on leave in Floriana.

11TH BN THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS  2000 hrs  Luqa working parties continued.

(1) From When Malta Stood Alone, Joseph Micallef, Interprint Malta 1981


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Posted by on April 28, 2022 in 1942, April 1942


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