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9 May 1942: 60 Spitfires Reach Malta

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Spitfires 601 Squadron

Commanders in Malta are in celebratory mood tonight after the second major attempt to supply the Island with a Spitfire force proved a resounding success.  Under ‘Operation Bowery’ 60 new fighters reached the Island today out of a total of 64 which took off from the aircraft carriers USS Wasp and HMS Eagle.  From the early hours of this morning Malta’s three airfields of Hal Far, Luqa and Ta Qali stood ready for the new arrivals.  The Island’s artillery loaded their guns, ready to fight off enemy attacks intent on destroying the Spitfires. 

The first arrivals came into view just before 10 am and ground crews went into action.  Each aircraft was allocated a number which matched them to a specific ground crew, before being taken to a protective pen to refuel and re-arm.  Within minutes, every new Spitfire was ready for a fresh pilot to take off to fight off enemy attacks on the next arrivals.  The new measures ensured there was no repeat of the heavy losses following the previous delivery attempt in April.

  • RAF fighter sorties: 125 by Spitfires, 9 by Hurricanes
  • RAF casualties: 2 Spitfires destroyed
  • Enemy bomber sorties: 24 JU 88s, 17 JU 87s, 10 Cant 1007s, 5 BR 20
  • Enemy casualties: destroyed 4 ME 109s, 3 Cant 1007s; probably destroyed 2 ME 109s, 3 JU 87s, 1 Macchi, 1 BR 20; damaged 7 ME 109s, 3 JU 88s, 2 JU 87s, 2 Macchi 202


Weather  Wind southerly; no cloud – haze.

0400 hrs  Malta airfields – reveille at Ta Qali, Luqa and Hal Far.  Working parties are picked and final arrangements confirmed for the arrival of Spitfires.  Royal Artillery raise ammunition restriction to cover arrival of Spitfires.

Ready to take off from Wasp

0500 hrs  USS Wasp and HMS Eagle, Western Mediterranean: ‘Operation Bowery’ – Spitfires ready to take off for Malta at first light.

0722 hrs  One JU 88 and six ME 109s carry out reconnaissance over Malta.

0800 hrs  Zero hour – Malta’s airfields at state of readiness.

0915 hrs  Five Italian bombers approach the Island with a mass formation of 53 ME 109 fighters.  A number of ME 109s are engaged by two Ack Ack light machine guns of 225 Light Ack Ack Battery (LAA): hits claimed.

0924 hrs  Five Cant 1007s drop bombs on the Marsa and Floriana areas.  Bombs hit Haywharf, causing a fire in the HQ of No 1 Section 24 Fortress Company Royal Engineers and destroying searchlight equipment.  In Marsa Private Shepherd B Coy 2nd Bn Devonshire Regt is injured in the leg by a cannon shell.

0940 hrs  Nine Hurricanes are airborne, six from Luqa and three from Hal Far, as escort for the arrival of Spitfires from the western Mediterranean.  Six Spitfires 242 Squadron are also scrambled from Ta Qali to give high cover.  242 Squadron are attacked by four ME 109s over Luqa.  F/Lt Sanders destroys one ME 109 and F/O Holland and P/O Mitchell between them destroy another.  One Spitfire ditches in the sea: F/Lt Buckstone is missing.

1000 hrs  Ta Qali logs the first 22 new Spitfires and their pilots to arrive over the next hour.  Each aircraft is numbered ready to be met by an allocated ground crew and taken to a protective pen to refuel, re-arm and repair as necessary, ready for a fresh pilot to take off within 20 minutes as cover for the next arrivals.

1015-1020 hrs  Ack Ack Light Machine Guns of 225 LAA  engage ME 109s at 3-600 feet: hits claimed.

1055 hrs  Ta Qali: 11 of the new Spitfires take to the air with experienced pilots of 249 Squadron and engage ME 109s.  P/O Nash destroys one and probably destroys another; F/Lt Buchanan probably destroys one.  P/O Milburn crashes near Safi and is killed.

1100 hrs  11 more new Spitfires arrive at Hal Far plus another flight at Luqa, all to be met, serviced and airborne within minutes.  Ack Ack guns defend them from attack by numerous ME 109s swarming over the airfield at 150-500 feet: hits claimed.

1145 hrs  Guns of 1st Bn Dorsetshire Regt at Wolseley Camp engage ME 109s heading in over Fort Ta Silch to attack Hal Far: no claims.

1200 hrs  Four Spitfires on patrol make visual contact with delivery aircraft heading in towards Malta: one new Spitfire is observed falling into the sea.  A ME 109 is spotted nearby and chased away.

1205 hrs  The last batch of new Spitfires lands.  60 have arrived out of a total of 64.

1258 hrs  Raiders passed.

1312 hrs  News of the delivery of Spitfires has reached the Luftwaffe in Sicily.  A formation of 14 JU 88s and 20 ME 109s is observed heading towards Malta.

1315 hrs  Eleven Spitfires 126 Squadron are scrambled to intercept enemy aircraft.  Two JU 88s claimed as damaged.  Eight Spitfires 249 Squadron are also airborne:  P/O Nash damages one ME 109.  Five Spitfires 185 Squadron are also up: Sgt Tweedale crashes at Luqa and is killed.

1330 hrs  Six JU 88s drop 24 high explosive bombs on Ta Qali, damaging two motor transport vehicles.  A delayed action bomb explodes near the caves, injuring A/C Oliver.  Three airmen slightly are injured in the Maintenance Quarry, Attard-Rabat Road.

1355 hrs  Nine JU 88s attack on Hal Far and Safi.  One bomb damages the runway and the aerodrome is unserviceable for an hour.  About six delayed action bombs are also scattered over the area.  One soldier is seriously injured and four others slightly injured.  Bombs are dropped on Wied Znuber: three Other Ranks 4th Bn Hampshire Reg are injured by bomb splinters.

1356-1415 hrs  Two JU 88s at 2-3000 feet engaged by guns of 225 LAA Bty.

1405 hrs  Four Spitfires from Hal Far and Luqa land at Ta Qali.  P/O Noble is shot up over Ta Qali.

1423 hrs  Raiders passed.

1531 hrs  One JU 88 carries out reconnaissance.

1550 hrs  12 Spitfires 603 Squadron are scrambled to intercept incoming ME 109 fighters.  F/O Holland, P/O Mitchell and F/Sgt Hurst each damage one ME 109.  One Spitfire is damaged.

1610 hrs  Messerschmitt 109s carry out a fighter sweep.

1615 hrs  14 JU87s with a 40-strong fighter escort dive-bomb the Safi and Siggiewi dispersal areas.  One Wellington already damaged is burned out. Three JU 87s break away to attack the San Pietru gun position, killing two Other Ranks and wounding five more, and drop bombs between Hompesch and St Clements Church.

1620 hrs  Five Spitfires 185 Squadron attack JU 87s over Grand Harbour.  F/Lt Lawrence damages one ME 109. Sgt Broad claims one JU 87 probably destroyed; he also damages one JU 87.  F/Lt Lawrence and P/O Wigley each claim  one JU 87 probably destroyed.

1630 hrs  One JU 87 is engaged by one gun of 225 LAA Bty: hits claimed.

1640 hrs  Four Spitfires 249 Squadron, Ta Qali, returning from a patrol over Sicily attack JU 87s who have been bombing Luqa and Grand Harbour.  P/O Nash probably destroys one.

1700 hrs  Raiders passed.

1727 hrs  11 Spitfires (4 of 601 Squadron and 7 of 126 Squadron) are scrambled from Luqa to intercept approaching enemy aircraft.  Nine aircraft engage in combat; two no contact.  Claims three probable Italian BR 20s destroyed; one Macchi 202 destroyed, two Macchi 202 damaged.

1744 hrs  Five Cant 1007s and numerous fighters attack, dropping fifty 100kg bombs on Attard camp and on Ta Qali airfield.

1805 hrs  Nine Spitfires 601 Squadron are scrambled from Luqa to intercept incoming enemy aircraft.  Four have combat; five make no contact.  Claims: one ME 109 and one JU 88 damaged.

1835 hrs  Eight Spitfires 603 Squadron and three Spitfires 249 Squadron are airborne from Ta Qali but did not manage to intercept five Cant 1007s and seven JU 88s which go on to attack the airfield.  F/Lt Douglas destroys one ME 109; F/O Slade damages another.  F/L Douglas goes into a bomb crater on landing and damages his aircraft.

1846-1934 hrs  Seven JU 88s drop 40 high explosive bombs on Ta Qali causing craters on the aerodrome.  Three Spitfires are damaged.

0040 hrs; 0230 hrs  Two air raid alerts: a total of 12 aircraft drop bombs in the Tal Handaq area, on Tigne parade ground and in the sea.  An E boat and some aircraft appear to be minelaying in the sea north of Grand Harbour.  Some damage is caused to gas and water pipes.  One JU 88 is probably destroyed by Ack Ack.

0050-0212 hrs; 0250-0520 hrs Two Beaufighters are airborne from Luqa on patrol to intercept enemy aircraft.  One BR 20 is claimed as probably destroyed.

0414-0421 hrs  Three German schnellboote lay a triangular minefield off Sliema point to cover one possible approach of HMS Welshman which has been reported by the Luftwaffe heading for Malta.

0438 hrs  Schnellboot S-31 collides with a loose mine and sinks.  13 men are rescued including her Commanding Officer and two Italian officers; 13 are lost.

Military casualties  Sergeant Alwyn Bentley, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (VR); Flight Lieutenant John Buckstone, Royal Air Force VR, 603 Squadron; Aircraftsman I John Clarke, Royal Air Force VR; Pilot Officer Harold Milburn, Royal Air Force VR, 245 Squadron.  Corporal Frederick Few, Royal Air Force, Squadron Leader John Gorringe-Smith, Royal Air Force, Flight Sergeant Thomas Grosvenor, Royal Air Force VR, Flying Officer John Leslie, Royal Air Force VR, Flying Officer William White, Royal Canadian Air Force; all 221 Squadron.  Sergeant John Jacklin, Flight Lieutenant Raymond Sly, Pilot Officer Gordon Tweedale, all Royal Australian Air Force.  Private Leonard Harvey, Private Lindon Lever, Corporal Thomas Maloney, Private Raymond Small, all 1st Battalion, Cheshire Regiment.  Gunner Seraphim Cauchi, 30 Bty, 3 LAA Regiment, Royal Malta Artillery; Gunner Joseph Falzon, 11th AA Regiment, Royal Malta Artillery; Gunner Peter Portelli, 11 HAA Regiment, Royal Malta Artillery.

Civilian casualties  Attard  Carmela Muscat, age 23.  Balzan  Sister Alexandra Borda, age 31.  Floriana  Mary Polidano, age 17.  Gzira  Joseph Mifsud, age 36.  Qormi  Teresa Sammut, age 20.  Zejtun  Gaetan Mifsud, age 54.


ROYAL NAVY  Further sweep of Grand Harbour entrance channel with all available minesweeping craft.

AIR HQ  Arrivals  One Lodestar from Gambut.  Departures  One Lodestar to Heliopolis, three Hudsons to Gibraltar, one Beaufort, one Wellington to 108 MU.  Aircraft casualties  One Spitfire shot down in combat; pilot killed.  One Spitfire shot down in the sea off Malta; pilot missing, believed killed.  One Hurricane straffed by ME 109s while landing; pilot uninjured.

LUQA  0847-1210 hrs  One Spitfire photo-reconnaissance and visual reconnaissance of Messina, Palermo and Trapani harbours and south Italian aerodromes.  1525-1730 hrs  Spitfire on search to locate enemy shipping Malta to Messina.  2123 hrs  One Wellington S/D Flight on special search: failed to return.  S/L Gorringe-Smith, P/O Leslie, P/O White, Sgt Bently, Sgt Grosvener, Sgt Jacklin, C/L Few missing.

TA QALI  3 Officers, 14 Airmen from HQ Mediterranean, 19 from Gzira, attached for temporary duties.  1535-1640 hrs  Four Spitfires 249 Squadron patrol over Sicily.

1st BN THE CHESHIRE REGIMENT  Special party four Officers and 100 Other Ranks required for work on Luqa on stand by to fill in bomb craters from 0500-1000 hrs daily.  Working party of 12 men to fill belts for RAF.  9 and 30 cwt lorries required for work at Luqa.  Large deliveries of Spitfires expected.  Italians dropped bombs from a great height in Bn area.  Cpl Maloney, Pte Lever, Pte Harvey, Pte Small killed; Pte Schooley very badly injured, not expected to live.  Capt Roddy slightly injured.  Very unfortunate as men were caught absolutely unawares.  Ptes Harvey and Small were manning the Ack Ack light machine gun.

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

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB  Reported 20; dealt with 10 (1 x 1000kg,  3 x 250kg, 4 x 50kg, two Italian anti-personnel bomb containers).

1ST BN THE HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT  17 trucks, 14 officers and 261 Other Ranks building pens and filling craters on Hal Far aerodrome.

2ND BN THE ROYAL IRISH FUSILIERS  Battalion assisting in maintaining and servicing of aerodromes: arrival of reinforcements of Spitfires.

11TH BN THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS  1430 hrs  This unit takes over Luqa working party from Durham Light Infantry.  No craters required filling today.

8TH BN THE MANCHESTER REGIMENT  This unit supplied a working party of 150 men: Spitfires arrived.

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Posted by on May 9, 2022 in 1942, May 1942, Uncategorized


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4 January 1942: Invasion of Malta ‘Imminent’

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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


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.


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.


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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