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

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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) 

CIVILIAN WORKERS JOIN AIRFIELD LABOUR FORCE

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

AIR RAIDS DAWN 23 APRIL TO DAWN 24 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.

OPERATIONS REPORTS THURSDAY 23 APRIL 1942

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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4 January 1942: Invasion of Malta ‘Imminent’

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CAPTURED LUFTWAFFE CREW REVEAL INVASION PLANS

On Sunday every serviceman not required for duty can do as the Maltese and attend church.  Their prayers are timely, as the Island faces a new threat.  Following interrogation of the Luftwaffe bomber crew detained yesterday, Malta’s military commanders are facing the prospect of imminent invasion.  Orders are issued to all forces to raise the state of alert to “Asia Minor” – readiness for airborne invasion.  Every possible site where enemy troops could make a parachute landing must be manned until further notice.  Reconnaissance aircraft are dispatched to scour the air space and sea approaches to Malta.  Until they report back, there is nothing to do but wait.

Castel Vetrano aerodrome 1942

MALTA FIGHTS BACK

RAF air reconnaissance has spotted a massive build-up of enemy aircraft on the ground at Castelvetrano aerodrome in Sicily.  Facing the threat of a possible airborne invasion, Malta’s air forces plan a pre-emptive strike but after the heavy mid-morning air raid Luqa’s runway is badly cratered.  Army troops work flat out, and by 1400 hrs the airfield is ready.

Four Blenheim aircraft from 107 Squadron and six from 18 Squadron RAF take off and head northwards.  They launch a surprise attack on Castelvetrano, destroying 44 enemy aircraft in one of the most successful operations carried out from Malta to date. (1)

Retaliation is not long in coming.  Under a nearly full moon, fifteen bombers conduct almost continuous raids throughout the night, dropping heavy bombs across the Island and damaging civilian property as well as Luqa airfield.

AIR RAIDS 0001 HRS TO 2359 HRS 4 JANUARY 1942

Weather  Warm in the morning – clear sky; clouding over and cold later in the day; wind freshening.

1012-1055 hrs  30 bombers and fighter aircraft approach from the South East in two formations.  One JU 88 with escorting fighters carries out reconnaissance over the Island.  Six Hurricanes from Hal Far engage a formation of ten ME 109s, damaging one. Two Hurricanes are slightly damaged in the engagement but pilots are unhurt.

A second formation of two JU 88 and escorting fighters approaches Luqa under cover of cloud, diving steeply from 18000 to 7000 feet to attack.  Heavy Ack Ack (HAA) Gunners are unable to see enemy aircraft in time to fire a barrage but one JU 88 is destroyed by HAA and Bofors guns.  Fifteen Hurricanes engage the enemy: one JU 88 is seen to burst into flames and fall into the see.

No aircraft are damaged on Luqa airfield but the runways are badly cratered.  Army troops get to work immediately and the runways are repaired and cleared for operations to resume by 1400 hrs.

1130-1255 hrs Infantry Brigades are ordered to Policy “ASIA MINOR”.  Anti-parachute posts are manned at “Stand To” but no anti-tank minefields are laid.  Day and night sentries are mounted at selected beach posts.

1406-1533 hrs  Four JU 88 escorted by twelve plus ME 109s approach from the north in three formations.  The first raid circles the Island at 10000 feet.  The second raid of three JU 88s and escorting fighters crosses the Island from south to north and drops bombs on Balzan and Attard.  The third raid of one JU 88 and escorting fighters crosses the Island on reconnaissance.  Heavy Ack Ack is engaged; no Hurricanes are airborne.

1650-1756 hrs Four JU 88s and fifty fighters approach from the north.  While enemy fighters patrol round the Island.  Four JU 88s with fighter escort carry out a shallow dive-bombing attack on Luqa and Ta Qali.

Two JU88s bomb Ta Qali aerodrome near Chateau Bertrand and the dispersal areas, damaging the Chateau and the HQ building, and a bowser fuel tank.  One Maryland and three Hurricanes of 126 Squadron are damaged on the ground.  Heavy [High Explosive] bombs cause serious damage to dispersal roads.  The airfield’s own personnel start repairs.

2225-0150 hrs  During this period 15 aircraft approach from the north.  Bombs are dropped in areas Ta Qali, Il Bidni, Balzan, Zebbug, Safi strip and Luqa aerodrome, Hal Far, Hagiar Qim, Delimara and Gozo.  Heavy Ack Ack fires eleven immediate barrages; barrage over Grand Harbour and Luqa also fired.  Both barrages appear effective.  One aircraft probably destroyed.

2240 hrs Bombs are dropped on Ta Qali aerodrome.  One petrol bowser is burned out, one damaged by splinters.  Six craters are left near 126 Squadron dispersal area.  Six bombs fall close to the Sergeants Mess: one barrack block and eight Hurricanes are slightly damaged.

2350 hrs Two bombs land ten yards from 8 Platoon HQ, 1st Bn The Dorset Regiment.  A building is demolished and one Officer is slightly injured.  Thirteen bombs fall near Fort Ta Silch.  Five bombs within 150 yards of a defence post, four more near Munshar Villa and two on Lombardi Ridge.

Military casualties  Flight Sergeant Frederick Lewthwaite, Royal New Zealand Air Force.

OPERATIONS REPORTS: SUNDAY 4 JANUARY 1942

HAL FAR  Two Swordfish 830 Squadron despatched to lay mines outside Tripoli Harbour.  Owing to bad weather target not located and aircraft returned with mines.  One Albacore 828 Squadron carried out mine laying operation outside Tripoli Harbour.

LUQA  69 Squadron one Beaufighter photo-reconnaissance (PR) Taranto; one Maryland SF6 patrol; one Maryland special search Italian fleet, one Beaufighter PR Tripoli.  107 Squadron  Four Blenheims attacked aircraft at Castel Vetrano aerodrome.  18 Squadron  Six Blenheims attacked aircraft at Castel Vetrano aerodrome.  S/D Flight one Wellington on special search.  40 Squadron Five Wellingtons returned and then took off again with the exception of one aircraft.  In the second attack on Castel Vetrano aerodrome: Sgt Lewthwaite failed to return.

TA QALI  AM  Six Blenheim aircraft took off to return to Luqa.  One could not rise and jettisoned bombs near Mosta: one exploded.  Five Hurricanes were scrambled.  PM  Raid on caused slight damage to Hurricanes. No fighter aircraft are airborne. Ack Ack claims two possibly three JU 88s damaged.

11TH BATTALION THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS  1945 hrs   A working party of 76 Other Ranks of 11th Bn The Lancashire Fusiliers reported to Luqa, to repair bomb damage to taxi-strips.  The work was finished in half the scheduled time “due to excellent spirit with which men tackled the job”. 

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB  Reported 11; dealt with 2 (1 x 50kg; 1 x 500kg).

(1) “My father, the late Group Captain W H A (Bill) Bradshaw was an air gunner on 18 Squadron at the time and flew on the raid… I recall clearly the particular pleasure everyone had at catching the planes on the ground and being able to destroy so many…”  John Bradshaw

 

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Posted by on January 4, 2022 in 1942, January 1942

 

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