17 May 1942: Stealth E-Boat Attack Repulsed

17 May

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German Schnellboot (E-boat)

In the early hours of this morning Malta’s early warning systems picked up the presence of enemy vessels close to the coastline.  In an unprecedented co-operative effort, the Island’s coastal defenders, gunners and fighter aces thwarted an evidently top secret mission by German E boats.

0105 hrs  A shipping plot is detected by radio direction finder off the Island: engines are heard north of St Elmo.  Their movements are followed and searchlights are exposed but nothing is detected.  Campbell Battery fires two rounds by the plot at an unseen target.

0204 hrs  Four E boats illuminated by coastal searchlights suspected of attempting to lay mines.  Royal Artillery guns at Tigne Battery engage the boats at 10,000 yards.  The boats retire under cover of smoke.

0215 hrs  The E boats are illuminated again: this time both Tigne and Rocco forts engage, firing 22 rounds. The enemy again create a smoke screen and retire northwards.

0235 hrs  An explosion is heard bearing 050 degrees from St. Elmo and the Royal Artillery claim an E boat probably destroyed and one immobilised.

Daybreak  One E boat is observed stopped in position 073 degrees St. Elmo at 10,000 yards. Fort Rocco engages and scores a direct hit.

0515 hrs  Four Hurricanes 229 Squadron are scrambled from Hal Far on anti E boat patrol.  One of the Hurricanes returns almost immediately with a minor defect.  The remaining three find and attack an E boat five miles east of the Island.  All three fire from 150 to 50 yards and score many strikes.  Return fire very soon ceases and they leave the boat disabled with no signs of life on board.  Hurricanes land at 0605 hrs untouched.

0600 hrs  One Dornier 24 with strong escort approaches the Island on search.

0610 hrs  Four ME 109s reconnoiter and then attack the immobilised E boat, setting her on fire.  She finally sinks in position 097 degrees 15,800 yards.

Only two boats are detected retreating after the action; at least two are considered sunk.


Weather  Wind south-south-westerly; 30% cloud.  Good visibility.

0652 hrs  Fifteen Caproni Re 2001 Falco Italian fighters complete a sweep at very high level, the first time the aircraft has appeared in strength over the Island.  One JU 88 approaches with an escort of ME 109s.

0700-0750 hrs  Two Spitfires 249 Squadron from Ta Qali are ordered to attack the JU 88.  F/Lt Buchanan engages the JU 88 off St Paul’s Bay and destroys it.

0730-0815 hrs  Four Spitfires 603 Squadron are airborne from Ta Qali: no engagement.

0806 hrs  Five Spitfires 126 Squadron are airborne from Luqa to intercept enemy air sea rescue service.  Sgt Goldsmith on taxiing out runs into a partly filled bomb crater and is unable to take off.

0844 hrs  One Dornier 24 carries out a search for survivors of the E boats.  F/Sgt Parks, 126 Squadron attacks the Dornier, claims destroyed.

0912 hrs  An unknown number of ME 109s approach.  One is destroyed by Spitfires.

1008-1112 hrs  Two Spitfires 185 Squadron are airborne from Hal Far: no interception.

1012 hrs  Five ME 109s approach, apparently searching for the pilot of a plane destroyed in the previous raid.

1110-1140 hrs  Two Spitfires 249 Squadron are airborne from Ta Qali: no engagement.

1116 hrs  Two ME 109s and two Macchi 202s approach from the north.  The Macchis machine-gun Hal Far, injuring six RAF personnel working on a pen.

1130 hrs  One Macchi 202 is engaged by three guns of 225 Light Ack Ack Battery; no claims.

1155-1300 hrs  Two Spitfires 249 Squadron and six 603 Squadron from Ta Qali are ordered to climb up and bounce fifteen ME 109s a Dornier 24 flying boat searching near the Island.  F/Sgt Verrall destroys one ME 109 and damages another.  P/O Nash destroys one ME 109 and P/O King damages one.  Sgt Hurst and P/O Barlow both attacke and damage a Dornier 24 flying boat.  P/O Nash is shot down near Dingli and killed.

1307 hrs  Four ME 109s continue the search.

1347-1411 hrs  Two Spitfires are airborne from Luqa on defensive patrol: no combat.

1450 hrs   One Dornier 24 escorted by twelve ME 109s carries out a search ten miles north east of the Island.

1715-1810 hrs  Two Spitfires 603 Squadron are airborne from Ta Qali: no engagement.

1732 hrs  15 Caproni Re 2001 Falcos accompanied by 15 ME 109s and Macchi 202s approach from the north at 20,000 feet and split up into twos and threes as they near the Island.

1805-1900 hrs  Four Spitfires 249 Squadron are airborne from Ta Qali and sight the enemy formations.  They climb to intercept the bombers as they head in to attack St Paul’s Bay – but instead turn back without dropping their bombs.

Seven Spitfires from Luqa intercept some eight of the Caproni Re 2001s.  P/O Boyle and P/O Le Bas claim two probably destroyed; W/O Belcher claims one damaged.  Sgt Howard is shot up and crash lands; he is seriously injured.

1900-2015 hrs  Six plus enemy aircraft patrol ten miles south east of the Island. Six Spitfires 603 Squadron are airborne from Ta Qali: no engagement.

Night  Two alert sound for single aircraft, one of which turns out to be friendly.

0155-0240 hrs  One Beaufighter is airborne on patrol to intercept enemy aircraft and destroys one Italian BR 20.  No bombs are dropped on land.

Military casualties  Pilot Officer Peter Nash, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 249 Squadron.

Civilian casualties Ghaxaq  Michael Abela, age 26.  Mdina  Stella Sant Manduca, age 76.  Zabbar  Mary Fava, age 8.


ROYAL NAVY  Albacores returned from an unsuccessful sortie against shipping.

AIR HQ  Arrivals  Four Beauforts, two Wellingtons, one Hudson from Gibraltar; one Lodestar from Gambut.  Departures  Two Hudsons, one CW 20 to Gibraltar; one Lodestar to Heliopolis.  Aircraft casualties  One Spitfire shot down in combat; pilot killed.  One Spitfire damaged in combat and crashed on landing; pilot killed.  One Wellington crashed on take-off; crew injured.

LUQA  No bombs on the aerodrome.  0905-1154 hrs  One Spitfire photo-reconnaissance of Sicilian harbours and aerodromes.  2337-0450 hrs  One Wellington on search for enemy shipping.  Located two merchant vessels and three destroyers.  A smoke screen was put up and no attack made.  Wellingtons dropped flares for Albacores.

TA QALI  20 airmen attached to this station from Kalafrana for the purpose of the special operations returned to their unit.  Gallows erected on stations.

4th BN THE BUFFS (ROYAL EAST KENT) REGIMENT  0900-1700 hrs  Working party of 9 Officers and 200 Other Ranks plus 8 x 15 cwt trucks daily for reconstruction of pens for aircraft at Luqa aerodrome.

1ST BN THE DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY  Working parties on Luqa aerodrome continued.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB  Reported 3; dealt with nil.

1ST BN THE HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT  4 Officers, 192 Other Ranks and 17 trucks working on Hal Far building pens.

8TH BN THE MANCHESTER REGIMENT  Unit supplied belt fillers, armourers party and a working party of 50 men with 100 men standing by for Ta Qali aerodrome.

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Posted by on May 17, 2022 in 1942, May 1942


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