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21 June 1941: Malta Acts to Prevent Tank Invasion

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TANK TRAPS TEST LEAVES ENGINEER BEMUSED

Scaffold barriers in positionMalta’s military chiefs today conducted further tests to protect the Island’s key areas against an enemy invasion. Mines have already been laid at strategic points and last Saturday booby-traps were tested on the airfields to prevent the landing of enemy aircraft and parachutists.  Although most of the Island coastline is too rocky for the landing of military vehicles, some areas have been identified as vulnerable. 

Having reviewed the measures taken in 1940 against an expected seaborne invasion of England’s coast, Military commanders decided to try out ‘beach scaffolding’ structures to prevent the landing of tanks on Malta’s shores. The structures are normally erected on sandy beaches, half submerged in water so that tanks are stopped in their tracks and unable to gain traction to force their way forward due to the wet sand.

A specimen set of 50 scaffold poles and clips has been delivered to Malta to test the effectiveness of the system for the Island. Following last week’s trial of booby-traps at Luqa, the Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal Officer Lt G D Carroll – an engineering graduate – was asked to manage the construction of the barrier, assisted by men of 24 Fortress Company, RE.  The venue chosen was the Polo Ground at Marsa.  However, Lt Carroll was not impressed with the conduct of the test:  

Scaffolding diagramIf you’re going to build a fence to stop something, you don’t make it slope towards you – you slope it the other way: bracing, it’s called. So we duly erected this – it was about forty or fifty feet long and about 12 feet deep.  We had two tanks in Malta, one was an I-tank I think which was big, but not very, and one was called a light tank.

When we had got it all set up, the Colonel (the Chief Engineer) said we should use the light tank first, which was sensible. We got the light tank out on the correct side of the barrier and the driver stood off about five or six feet, revved the engine and then tore at the fence.  The tank went into the fence a yard or so – so sensibly the driver backed off and went in again, and the tank stopped; it wouldn’t move.  They examined it and one of the scaffolding poles had bent and gone in through the track of the tank and it couldn’t move. 

But then the Colonel said: ‘Right. Try it the other way.’  And the tank was sent round to the other side, where now the fence is sloping the wrong way.  The light tank tore into the back of the fence and went in about 12 feet or more and then it stopped.  And the Colonel’s words were: ‘That’s the way we’ll use it!’  Because on the correct side it had been stopped after eight feet and it had travelled 12 feet the other way!

I had to just sit and watch; I couldn’t say anything. I was flabbergasted: he was supposed to be the expert, he was the Chief Engineer.”

AIR RAIDS DAWN 21 JUNE TO DAWN 22 JUNE 1941

Weather  Hot and sunny.

No air raids.

0217-0245 hrs Air raid alert for four unidentified enemy aircraft which approach singly from the north east, crossing the coast at various points. Bombs are dropped near Della Grazia searchlight and in the sea off Delimara and Rinella.  Ten heavy anti-aircraft gun positions fire three barrages; no claims.  Hurricane fighters are scrambled but there are no searchlight illuminations and no engagements.

0256-0317 hrs  Air raid alert for two enemy aircraft approaching the Island. They turn away before reaching the coast.

OPERATIONS REPORTS SATURDAY 21 JUNE 1941

AIR HQ  Arrivals 6 Blenheim. Departures 3 Blenheim. 69 Squadron 2 Marylands on reconnaissance; 1 Hurricane on photo-reconnaissance.

1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT  0400 hrs An exercise was held to test the defences of Valletta, the Dockyard and Three Cities. Parachute troops were allowed in and appeared at various places and times.  The defences were successful and the majority of the ‘enemy’ were rounded up.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  24 Company commenced erecting tripods to obstruct likely landing grounds. Malta Command Exercise No 4 at 0400hrs to test defence of Valletta and Three Cities against parachute landings.  Standing patrol is Bomb Disposal Section. Officers to report in on 23 June at Marsa Club. Bomb Disposal UXB reported 0; dealt with 1 (15kg).

2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  Troops on parachutist exercise: defence of Three Cities.

 

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Posted by on June 21, 2021 in 1941, June 1941

 

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31 May 1941: Valletta Law Courts Collapse into Main Street

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Bombing Aub Auvergne now law courtsEXPLOSION IN TIGNE CAUSES LAW COURTS TO COLLAPSE

Passers-by in Valletta were lucky to escape injury this afternoon when a large building collapsed into the City’s main street. The ruins of the building which housed the former Courts of Justice, already badly damaged by the blast of an enemy mine, caved in without warning leaving large blocks of masonry blocking Kingsway.  The collapse of the building, formerly the Auberge d’Auvergne, was apparently caused by shock waves from an explosion in the Tigne area. (1)

GENERAL STAFF REVIEW OF THE MONTH

The month of May has been noticeable for a gradual but marked decrease in German air activity. During the first few days the heavy night raids on the Dockyard continued with bombing and minelaying.  The cruiser Gloucester and part of the Naval light striking force finally left Malta on 2 May, and the Germans turned their attention to the aerodromes.  After a few days these too ceased.  Reconnaissance by JU 88s continued and about the middle of the month a squadron of ME 109 fighter bombers was operating from Sicily by day.  Towards the end of the month these left and it was apparent from the tactics that the Italians had once more taken over the night raiding of Malta.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 31 MAY TO DAWN 1 JUNE 1941

Weather  Fine.

1030-1040 hrs  Air raid alert triggered by the return of a Glenn Martin Maryland.

No enemy air raids.

OPERATIONS REPORTS SATURDAY 31 MAY 1941

ROYAL NAVY During the month three or four submarines were continuously on patrol. 830 Squadron had only five flying crews through the month.  Blenheims of anti-ship bomber squadrons reported successful attacks on twelve merchant vessels and two destroyers.  The Bomb Safety Officer dealt with 14 unexploded 50kg bombs and one 500kg. 

AIR HQ  Arrivals 2 Sunderland. Departures 2 Sunderland; 1 Beaufighter.  69 Squadron  2 Marylands patrol eastern Tunisian coast AM and PM.  2 Marylands patrol PM Ionian Sea to Greek coast. 82 Squadron Three Blenheim bombers attacked Florida II off Sfax; direct hits were scored, causing explosions and volumes of black smoke. 

LUQA  One Beaufighter left for the Middle East.

1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT  As a result of General Alarm Exercise at beginning of week personnel are to be withdrawn from selected posts to form a mobile reserve. One platoon of 1st Bn Dorsetshire Regt will also come under this unit for operations.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal  Total unexploded bombs during month: reported 251; dealt with 109.

2nd Bn KINGS OWN MALTA REGIMENT  Strengths: officers 30; other ranks 684

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  69 conscripts enlisted during May.

ROYAL ARMY ORDNANCE CORPS  Strengths: officers 25, other ranks 123.

(1) Malta Blitzed But Not Beaten, Philip Vella, Progress Press 1985

 

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Posted by on May 31, 2021 in 1941, May 1941

 

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29 May 1941: New Anti-invasion Force for Malta

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CHESHIRES TO PROVIDE MOBILE MACHINE-GUN COMPANY

Cheshire machine guns cropA mobile machine-gun company is being set up ready to tackle enemy troops invading the Island. Their task will be to put a ‘stop’ in the event of the enemy gaining a footing on the Island, or to support a counter attack to drive the enemy into the sea.

1st Bn Cheshire Regiment have been detailed to provide manpower for the company, in addition to their existing role in the defence of the harbour and close-down of Valletta.  The machine-gun company will be part of the new anti-invasion Fortress Reserve and will be mobilised on receipt of orders from Fortress HQ.  On receipt of the code word ‘Libya’, personnel and equipment will be despatched by motor transport to the machine-gun company rendezvous as quickly as possible.

The Fortress Reserve also includes one troop of two ‘I’ tanks and one light tank at Marsa and the same at Birkirkara. They also form part of the defences of Luqa, Ta Qali and Hal Far aerodromes, and Kirkop landing strip, and work alongside Reserve Battalions from the Northern and Southern Infantry Brigades. 

LONG GRASS AND THISTLES TO BE CUT

Long grass and thistles close to military sites across Malta are to be cut back. The measure is to reduce the risk of fire spreading and causing damage to key facilities. 

AIR RAIDS DAWN 29 MAY TO DAWN 30 MAY 1941

Weather  Fine.

1032-1055 hrs  Air raid alert for a single JU 88 bomber escorted by 20 ME 109s which carries out reconnaissance at high altitude over the Island, passing over Luqa and Naxxar. Anti-aircraft guns engage and destroy the JU 88.

0259-0436 hrs  Air raid alert for five enemy aircraft which approach the Island individually from the north east. Four turn drop bombs in the sea to the north then turn back before reaching the coast.  One crosses the coast and drops bombs on fields the Grand Harbour area.  No anti-aircraft guns engage and no Hurricane fighters are scrambled.

OPERATIONS REPORTS THURSDAY 29 MAY 1941

AIR HQ  Arrivals 10 Beaufighter. 69 Squadron Maryland reconnaissance southern part of eastern Tunisian coast.  2 Marylands reconnaissance Greek coast report enemy ship movements.  Maryland reconnaissance of shipping route to east of Malta. 

LUQA  Ten Beaufighters arrived from Gibraltar.

1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT  Mobile Company on reconnaissance. A party is to be sent to Gozo again including one platoon of unit. 

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 0; dealt with 2 (2 x incendiary).

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  D Company embarked to “Gozo Training Camp”.

2nd Bn ROYAL IRISH FUSILIERS  The pipers played “Retreat” at Church Square, Mellieha.

2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  A Company embarks for ‘Gozo Training Camp’. E Company takes over mobile company duties at Luqa.  

 

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Posted by on May 29, 2021 in 1941, May 1941

 

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27 May 1941: Blenheim Bombers Lost in Attack on Convoy

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Blenheim Mk IV BBLENHEIMS EXPLODE DURING LOW-ALTITUDE BOMBING RUN

Two Blenheims of 82 Squadron were shot down today while engaging in an offensive operation in the southern Mediterranean. The Blenheims were among six sent to attack a large convoy escorted by destroyers as it headed for Tripoli in Libya.  Early this afternoon they reached the six merchant vessels with their escort of eight destroyers and launched their attack. 

The bombers flew in low over the ships to release their bombs in the midst of very heavy anti-aircraft fire. Two of the merchant ships were hit but two of the Blenheims were also destroyed as they dived down towards the vessels.  It has been suggested that the resulting explosions destroyed two of the Blenheims.  The pilots of the two bombers have been named as Flt/Lt G M Fairbairn and Sgt E B Inman.  Their crews were Sgt R J Austin, Sgt K P Collins (1), P/O P J Higgins and Sgt S W Kemp.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 27 MAY TO DAWN 28 MAY 1941

Weather  Fine.

0719-0745 hrs  Air raid alert for two Italian SM79 bombers which approach the Island possibly on their way south for reconnaissance. Anti-aircraft guns open fire; no claims.  Hurricane fighters are scrambled; no engagement.

0923-0957 hrs  Air raid alert for two SM 79 bombers escorted by 12 ME 109 fighters which cross over the Island from the north at high altitude, apparently on reconnaissance, then split formation, reform to the east of the Island and recede northwards. Heavy anti-aircraft guns engage; no claims.  Hurricane fighters are scrambled; no engagement.

2250-0010 hrs  Air raid alert for enemy aircraft which cross over Grand Harbour singly, laying mines. Anti-aircraft guns fire one short barrage; no claims.

0025-0050 hrs  Air raid alert for enemy aircraft approaching from the north. One stick of bombs is dropped on Gozo.

0335-0402 hrs  Air raid alert for a single enemy bomber which crosses the Island, dropping bombs near Qormi.

Military casualties  Sergeant Ronald Joseph Austin Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAF VR), Flight Lieutenant Garnet Mackenzie Fairbairn, RAFVR, Pilot Officer Peter John Higgins Royal Air Force VR, Sergeant Edwin Bentall Inman, RAFVR, Sergeant Stanley William Kemp, Royal Air Force all 82 Squadron; Sapper Joseph Chircop, Royal Engineers, Malta Territorial Force.

OPERATIONS REPORTS TUESDAY 27 MAY 1941

AIR HQ  Departures 1 Beaufighter. 69 Squadron Maryland reconnaissance east of Malta to Cape Stilo.   Maryland reconnaissance southern part of eastern Tunisian coast reports convoy.  Maryland sent to locate ships reported by RAF finds convoy 80 miles east of Malta, escorted by 4 SM 79s and one Cant Z501. 139 Squadron Six Blenheims (five of 82 Squadron, one of 139 Squadron) attacked a large convoy escorted by destroyers.  F/Lt Fairbairn and Sgt Inman were shot down.

LUQA  One Beaufighter 252 Squadron left for Middle East.

1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT  The unit was examined by the Petrol Commission but no means were found by which either vehicles or petrol consumption could be reduced. Motor Transport staff were commended on their fuel controls.  Command Signal Exercise held at 0430-0815 hrs involving Bn HQ and Signals.  The exercise was to test out communications.

2nd Bn DEVONSHIRE REGIMENT  0430-0815 hrs Bn and Company Headquarters took part in Malta Command Exercise No 2. The Battalion celebrated Bois des Buttes anniversary with a holiday: a Fur and Feather show was held during the morning and sports, games and entertainments in the evening.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 0; dealt with 3 (1 x 250kg; 2 x 500kg).

1st Bn HAMPSHIRE REGIMENT  Two companies to Xlejli Tower to take over defence of Luqa aerodrome. Remaining two companies disposed one at Zurrieq, one at Kirkop landing strip.

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  Command Signal exercise involving HQs down to Companies. Very little traffic through Battalion area. 

2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  HQ and all three companies all on bicycles to concentrate on Marsa in the Southern Infantry Brigade reserve. Warning for ‘Picnic’ force to move issued to A Company.  Night interrupted with raids all night.

(1) Sgt K P Collins was injured but survived and was taken prisoner.

 

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Posted by on May 27, 2021 in 1941, May 1941

 

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26 May 1941: Food Rationing Measures Tightened Up

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food queueCHANGES NEEDED TO ENSURE FAIR DISTRIBUTION

New measures have been introduced to tighten up the distribution of Malta’s food rations and ensure a fair distribution of supplies. Under rationing measures introduced in April, wholesalers have been allowed to supply any retailer in any part of the Island. However, there are concerns that competition may result in uneven distribution of food to populations, and possibly to price increases. 

Under the new regulations, the 100 wholesalers are each assigned an area in which to conduct their trade. The scheme is overseen by the Food Distribution Office which calculates entitlements for distribution to wholesalers and grocers of rationed goods, according to the number of their registered customers.  Grocers hold purchase permits which they hand to wholesalers in return for their fortnightly issue of ration supplies. 

CURFEW CHANGES

As from today the curfew ends at 0530 hrs. As a result, morning stand-to for troops will be at 0430 hrs and evening at 2015 hrs.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 26 MAY TO DAWN 27 MAY 1941

Weather  Fine.

1629-1644 hrs  Air raid alert for nine enemy aircraft which approach to within 12 miles of the north coast. 12 Hurricanes are scrambled but the enemy turns away northwards before any encounter.

1743-1812 hrs  Air raid alert for a single enemy aircraft which approaches to within sight of the east coast of Malta and then circles for some time apparently unable to sight land. One stick of bombs is dropped on the coast of Gozo.  Eight Hurricanes are scrambled; no interception.

2146-2303 hrs  Air raid alert for three unidentified aircraft; two approach from the north and one from the east. One from the north crosses the coast at St Paul’s Bay but is driven off by a heavy anti-aircraft barrage.  The other two retreat without launching any attack.

0305-0435 hrs  Air raid alert for three unidentified aircraft approaching from the north east. One crosses over Gozo and passes down the Malta coast to Dingli.  Flares and one bomb or mine are reported in the Mellieha Bay area.

OPERATIONS REPORTS MONDAY 26 MAY 1941

ROYAL NAVY  830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm Swordfish offensive operations.

AIR HQ Arrivals 2 Beaufighters. Departures Aircraft casualties  139 Squadron  Two Blenheims 139 Squadron dropped 8 x 250lb bombs on a merchant ship at anchor, scoring three direct hits which bounce off; no damage observed.  Two more Blenheims 139 Squadron attacked the same ship which was abandoned.  It was hit below the water line.  Three Blenheims despatched to attack two ships reported due to leave Sfax; ships seen stationary outside harbour but the Blenheims did not attack.  On the return they dropped 8 x 250lb bombs on an abandoned merchant vessel, scoring near misses.  All aircraft returned safely. 69 Squadron 2 Marylands patrol eastern Tunisian coast, one AM the other PM.  2 Marylands patrol eastern Sicilian coast, one AM the other PM.   

LUQA  Two Beaufighters arrived from Gibraltar.

1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT  General Alarm Exercise took place AM until 1630 hrs; all ranks rose at 0230 hrs. The Exercise was a great success and much was learned from it.  One the whole we held the enemy well but in places they were allowed by umpires to penetrate.  Where they did so, the need for mobile reserves which we have emphasised for so long was proved. 

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  D Company draws 120 bicycles.

2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  Malta Command Exercise ‘Defend Three Cities’.

 

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Posted by on May 26, 2021 in 1941, May 1941

 

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6 May 1941: New Anti-Aircraft Strategy a Great Success

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Searchlights vital in co-ordinated attack

Searchlights vital in co-ordinated attack

MALTA DEFENDERS LAUNCH CO-ORDINATED COUNTER-ATTACK

A new anti-aircraft gun policy put into force tonight has proved a great success. Under the new strategy, the enemy was engaged alternately by fighters and gunfire at varying periods.  The fighters closing in on any intersection of searchlights, ready to deal with an illuminated bomber.

The new tactic was employed for the first time during an air raid at 2020 hrs this evening, when 36 enemy aircraft came over in three waves to attack Grand Harbour and Luqa aerodrome. Two Hurricanes were scrambled during an initial period, while anti-aircraft fire was suspended.  They shot down one raider confirmed, plus one probable and one damaged.  The Hurricanes then withdrew while anti-aircraft guns fired predicted barrages. 

Two JU 88s were shot down by Bofors guns; one on land, one on the coast. Two more Hurricanes were then scrambled and engaged the raiders again.  Searchlights proved very effective throughout the combat, achieving a number of illuminations which enabled the fighters and gunners to find their targets.

Watching from their defence posts around Grand Harbour and Marsamxetto, 1st Bn Cheshire Regiment personnel commented in their War Diary: “…this was a most enjoyable and cheering raid.  Low-lying clouds forced the enemy lower than they normally lie to come, and the searchlights picked them up one after another while they were dealt with.  One enemy raider was hit almost over our Battalion HQ and at one moment it was thought it would land on us, but it actually came down ½ a mile away…A most satisfactory night.”

UXB exampleSAFETY MEASURES FOR UNEXPLODED BOMBS TIGHTENED

132 unexploded bombs (UXB) have been reported to Malta’s Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal Section in the first 5 days of this month. However, following concerns regarding the safety procedures surrounding UXB sites, new orders have today been issued to troops and civil defence across Malta for dealing with unexploded bombs.

From today unexploded bombs must only be approached by personnel of Bomb Disposal Section Royal Engineers, or personnel of other units who have attended bomb disposal reconnaissance courses – and any such approach will be for the purpose of identifying and reporting unexploded bombs only.

Under the new safety measures personnel from other units are expressly ordered never to dig for or touch the unexploded bombs. Digging will only be undertaken by members of other military units on request of the Royal Engineers, and will be under RE supervision.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 6 MAY TO DAWN 7 MAY 1941

Weather  Fine.

1154-1250 hrs  Air raid alert for six HE 111 bombers approaching the Island escorted by 30 ME 109 fighters.  They carry out a high level bombing raid on Luqa, dropping 15 high explosive bombs on the  aerodrome.  One Beaufighter is written off, two badly damaged and six slightly damaged.  A shelter of 2nd Battalion Royal West Kent Regiment is hit but no personnel are inside.  11 Hurricane fighters are scrambled and attack the bombers, one of which is last seen with its engine on fire and unlikely to reach base.  Hurricanes are shot down by raiders – the pilots bale out: Sgt R A Branson suffers burns to his right leg and P/O C K Gray is wounded in the left thigh.  A third Hurricane crash lands and is written off.  P/O A Dredge’s Hurricane crashes in flames on the airfield; he suffers severe burns. Pilot Officer P D Thompson’s Hurricane is damaged but he manages to land, despite suffering from a splinter wound in his leg.  One ME 109 is damaged by anti-aircraft fire.

1755-1830 hrs  Air raid alert for five JU 88 bombers, with an escort of 20 ME 109s.  The bombers carry out a second high level attack on Luqa.  A bomb hits tar barrels north of the aerodrome, starting a large fire.  Hurricanes are scrambled and shoot down one JU 88.

2020-2330 hrs  Air raid alert for 36 enemy aircraft which come over in three waves, including JU 87s, JU 88s and HE 111s.  Bombs are dropped on Luqa aerodrome; bombs and mines on the Grand Harbour area.  The Northern Petroleum tank at Marsa is destroyed, causing a large fire.  14 houses are destroyed in Casa Paola and Cospicua; one civilian is killed.  Luqa runway is damaged with craters and another shelter of 2nd Bn Royal West Kent Regiment is damaged.  Three Marylands are damaged and unserviceable but repairable.  In the Dockyard several workshops are extensively damaged, stores and sheds destroyed.  Parachute mines laid in and outside Marsamxetto and Grand Harbour.

A new defensive policy for anti-aircraft guns is put into operation, while searchlights achieve a good number of illuminations. Two Hurricanes are scrambled to 10000 and 15000 feet in the first part of the raid, with no Ack Ack fire.  They shoot down one raider confirmed, plus one probable and one damaged.  Ack Ack then engages with a barrage, followed by the scramble of further Hurricanes.  Heavy Ack Ack fire eight barrages.  Bofors guns fire at parachute mines and at all aircraft below 3000 feet, destroying two: one lands on the Ordnance Repair Shops at the Ospizio.

Air raid alert triggered by An enemy search party then circles the island 15 miles off the coast for 45 minutes.

Civilian casualties  Birkirkara  Joseph Calleja, age 40; Gudja Spiro Brincat, age 60. Tarxien Vincent Falzon, age 56.

OPERATIONS REPORTS TUESDAY 6 MAY 1941

ROYAL NAVY Usk is 72 hours overdue and is given up as lost.  6 mines were exploded off Grand Harbour. 830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm Operations against Tripoli. Lieutenant N K Cambell‘s aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire and ditched just off the Libyan coast.

AIR HQ  69 Squadron 2 Marylands patrolled eastern Tunisian coast. A Maryland carried out the shuttle service from the Middle East via Crete and Zante.  Two Marylands patrolled the Greek coast.  4 Beaufighters patrolled to 85 west of Malta.  The Hurricane of the photo-reconnaissance unit photographed Catania aerodrome at 30000 feet; visual reports give 20 twin-engined aircraft on the aerodrome.     

HAL FAR  Four Hurricane casualties from Hal Far as a result of enemy action. P/O Dredge crashed on the aerodrome in flames; he was seriously injured.  P/O Thompson sustained a small splinter wound in the leg.  P/O Gray baled out and was hurt in the left thigh.  Sgt Branson baled out, sustaining a burn to the right leg. 

LUQA  Maryland A crew left for Middle East but returned due to compass trouble after reaching Crete. D crew arrived PM; C crew took a machine on reconnaissance of the Ionian Sea and returned. 

1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT  A Company fired their rifle practises on the range.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB reported 0; dealt with 1 (1 x 50kg).

 

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Posted by on May 6, 2021 in 1941, May 1941

 

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23 April 1941: Malta Pilots’ Nerves Now ‘Frayed’

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“Valletta and Floriana are showing their battle scars today. Roads, avenues and houses have been hit, and water mains punctured.”  War Diary, 1st Bn Cheshire Regiment

COULD PILOT’S DEATH HAVE BEEN AVOIDED?

The morale of Malta’s fighter pilots took another hit today as one more of their number was lost following an air battle with Luftwaffe fighters. Canadian Flying Officer Henri F Auger was pilot of one of six Hurricanes of 261 Squadron scrambled to intercept five enemy fighters and a JU 88 on a reconnaissance mission over Malta early this evening. 

Auger’s Hurricane was hit and badly damaged in a dogfight and crashed into the sea off Delimara. Auger managed to bale out safely in the sea between Filfla and the mainland, where he was spotted by another aircraft, signaling his whereabouts.  However, the rescue launch was not sent out immediately as enemy aircraft were still in the vicinity.  When the launch did arrive at the scene some time later, there was no trace of F/O Auger. (1)

F/O C D Whittingham expressed the frustration of his fellow pilots in his diary for today: “Auger ran into a bunch of 109s. Saw his parachute coming down, south of the Island. But he was never picked up. The pilots in the squadron were all very indignant because they felt that control should have sent some searchers up. Things being as they are … people’s nerves somewhat frayed, what with the stream of so many casualties, bombing at night and bad news in Greece and Libya. There was a general moan, and Ginger got some pretty outspoken abuse from various members of the Squadron.” (2)

Italian auxiliary cruiser Egeo sunk today

Italian auxiliary cruiser Egeo sunk

MALTA DESTROYERS HEAD OUT TO ATTACK CONVOY

Malta-based destroyers Jervis, Jaguar, Janus and Juno set out today to attack a major German convoy in the Mediterranean.  Three merchant ships – to be carrying essential supplies to German military forces in North Africa – were spotted by reconnaissance steaming out of Naples with an escort of four destroyers.  Two more Axis destroyers and two light cruisers had also been seen nearby.

As they approached the point of interception with the convoy the Malta destroyers encountered an Italian armed motor ship steaming unprotected out of Benghasi towards Tripoli. The destroyers attacked and sank the Italian ship but the convoy managed to escape damage.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 23 APRIL TO DAWN 24 APRIL 1941

Weather  Fine.    

0840-0935 hrs  Air raid alert for a single JU 88 bomber escorted by six fighters. The JU 88 crosses the Island on reconnaissance from the south east to Grand Harbour.  Hurricanes and anti-aircraft guns engage; no claims.

0943-0950 hrs  Air raid alert; raid does not materialise.

1217-1250 hrs  Air raid alert for six enemy aircraft which patrol 15 miles off the east coast of Malta. Six Hurricanes are scrambled but the raiders do not cross the coast.

1741-1855 hrs  Air raid alert for one JU 88 which crosses the Island on reconnaissance escorted by five ME 109s. Six Hurricanes and anti-aircraft guns engage; no claims.  One Hurricane crashes; the pilot bales out.  A search is launched but the pilot is not located.

0032-0103 hrs  Air raid alert for a single JU 88 bomber which crosses the coast on reconnaissance at high altitude. Heavy anti-aircraft guns engage; no claims.

Military casualties  Flying Officer Henri Ferdinand Auger, Royal Air Force, 261 Squadron.

OPERATIONS REPORTS WEDNESDAY 23 APRIL 1941

ROYAL NAVY Destroyers sailed to intercept a southbound convoy covered by a force of two cruisers with destroyers. On the way out a northbound transport of 4000 tons was sunk but the convoy was possibly warned by this action and took evasive action, so not located.   

AIR HQ 69 Squadron Maryland patrol area between Cape Bon and Trapanix. Maryland patrols eastern Tunisian coast AM and PM. 148 Squadron 2 Wellington bombers night raid on Tripoli Harbour facilities. 

1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT  PM  The PAD Platoon were called out with their fire engine to assist with putting out a fire in Valletta.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 3; dealt with 0.

ROYAL ARMY ORDNANCE CORPS  Six storemen proceeded to Ordnance Dump, Gozo, for duty.

2nd Bn ROYAL IRISH FUSILIERS  One secton of carriers returned from Gozo.

(1) From website Battle of Britain London Monument 

(2) Diary of Flying Officer C D Whittingham, from Malta – the Hurricane Years, Christopher Shores, Brian Cull, Nicola Malizia, Grub Street 1987

 

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Posted by on April 23, 2021 in 1941, April 1941

 

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22 April 1941: Night Blitz on Valletta and Harbours

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Enemy flares illuminate bomb targets (NWMA, Malta)

Enemy flares illuminate bomb targets (NWMA, Malta)

OVER 300 BOMBS TOTALLING 34 TONS DROPPED IN A SINGLE RAID

A massive air raid was launched over Malta’s capital tonight in what is believed is an attempt to destroy the convoy which arrived yesterday. The air raid alert just after sunset was followed by what authorities described as an endless stream of aircraft heading towards the Island.  At least 40 bombers were involved in the raid, including JU 87 dive-bombers, JU 88 and Heinkel HE 111s, as well as accompanying ME 110 fighters. 

1st Bn Cheshire Regiment whose job is the defence of Valletta and the Dockyard areas describe what happened:

“Soon after dark Malta experienced what is now known as a ‘blitz’. Many aircraft were over for about 1¾  hours.  A large number of flares were dropped, making the night as bright as day.  Quantities of bombs were dropped, and some mines, a large percentage of which came down on civilian buildings. 

Two bombs landed about 20 yards outside our Battalion HQ, and a third landed right in the courtyard, hitting a slit trench, which was luckily empty – and narrowly missing one which was full of men. Other bombs fell in our Company areas but there were no casualties.” 

A total of 36 high explosive bombs of 500kg and 333 of 50kg were dropped, 40 houses around the Dockyard and across Valletta were demolished. Ten civilians are reported missing, believed buried under debris, four have been rescued so far, all seriously injured.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 22 APRIL TO DAWN 23 APRIL 1941

Weather  Fine; cloudy later.    

0625-0650 hrs  Air raid alert as enemy aircraft approaching the Island and carry out reconnaissance. Eight Hurricanes are scrambled; nothing to report.

1609-1730 hrs  Air raid alert for a large formation of ME 109s escorting one JU 88 bomber approaching the Island from the north. While the fighters circle, the bomber crosses the Island on reconnaissance at 2200 feet.  Eight Hurricanes are scrambled and engage the fighters, while anti-aircraft guns engage the JU 88; no claims.

1810-1840 hrs  Air raid alert for a single unidentified enemy aircraft which circles the Island, probably on meteorological reconnaissance. Four Hurricanes are scrambled but the aircraft does not cross the coast.

2038-2206 hrs  Air raid alert. An endless stream of aircraft is reported heading to Malta from Sicily.  40 enemy aircraft, including ME 110 fighters and JU 88 bombers which carry out a large-scale bombing raid, dropping numerous bombs and mines on the Dockyard, damaging offices and communications and destroying a Sergeants’ Mess.  Flares are used on a moonless night to illuminate targets.  A trawler is also damaged.  Bombs are also dropped on Hal Far, Zurrieq, Safi and Ta Qali.  A Hurricane night fighter is scrambled while searchlights illuminate the raiders but they are too far away for interception.  Heavy anti-aircraft guns engage with 13 predicted barrages and Bofors also engage; one JU 88 is damaged.  One enemy mine is exploded in mid-air.

Civilian casualties Valletta  Vincent Schembri, age 60.

OPERATIONS REPORTS TUESDAY 22 APRIL 1941

ROYAL NAVY Jervis (Captain D14) with Juno, Jaguar and Janus returned from Tripoli convoy operations.  Another heavy night bombing and minelaying attack by enemy aircraft. 

AIR HQ 69 Squadron Maryland special reconnaissance Tunisian coast, sighted two merchant vessels at sea on the same course and a destroyer hugging the coast.  

HAL FAR  New draft arrived to join 830 Squadron.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 20; dealt with 3 (3 x 50kg).

 

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Posted by on April 22, 2021 in 1941, April 1941

 

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25 March 1941: Churchill’s Top War Team In Malta

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Anthony Eden & Sir John Dill

Anthony Eden & General Sir John Dill

ANTHONY EDEN AND GENERAL SIR JOHN DILL ARRIVE FROM ATHENS

Rev Nicholls, Chancellor of St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, meets distinguished guests at San Anton Palace:

On Lady Day, when I reached the Palace about 6 o’clock after my day’s work, I was told that some distinguished guests were expected about midnight. I met them all next day at dinner. Anthony Eden, with his Principal Private Secretary (named Stevenson) and another Secretary called Dickson, also General Sir John Dill the [Chief of Imperial General Staff] and Brigadier Mallaby [Deputy Director of Military Operations, War Office].

They had flown in a Sunderland flying boat from Athens by night, and the weather being rough the boat could not take off again, so perforce they must wait here till the sea became calmer. They were all in good temper though very disappointed at being delayed. After dinner some played billiards, while Lady and Sybil Dobbie and I talked about Malta, etc., to Sir John Dill in front of the fire.

MORE FIELD SECURITY POLICE NEEDED…

From: Governor & Commander in Chief                         To:  War Office

The considerable increase in the strength of the Malta Garrison necessitates the strengthening of the Field Security Police. Owing to the peculiar conditions in Malta, the normal establishment of a Field Security section would not be suitable for our purposes and it is suggested that a modified establishment should be approved.  This would require a further Warrant Officer, four sergeants and three Field Security Policeman be despatched from the UK. 

AIR RAIDS DAWN 25 MARCH TO DAWN 26 MARCH 1941

Weather  Fine.

0615-1640 hrs, 0735-0835 hrs  Air raid alerts for enemy aircraft which approach and carry out reconnaissance over the Island.

Military casualties  Private Herbert Gunns, Royal Army Service Corps.

OPERATIONS REPORTS TUESDAY 25 MARCH 1941

AIR HQ Arrivals 1 Sunderland. 69 Squadron Maryland reconnaissance between Malta and Tunisian coast for enemy shipping.  228 Squadron was transferred to the Middle East Command today leaving a detachment of 25 men at Kalafrana, including maintenance personnel.

KALAFRANA  One Sunderland arrived from Middle East with Mr Anthony Eden and other distinguished passengers.

1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT  The Battalion is splitting up more and more, and once again a large number are leaving our command. Today we have had to provide 5 officers, 4 NCOs and 54 privates to work on unloading the ships of the convoy.  The hours of work are to be 1730 to approximately 2300 hrs.  The duty is liable to last for about 15 days.  We also sent off today 3 NCOs and 18 men to the 71 Mobile Coast Battery for training as anti-aircraft gunners.  On 31 March we are to send 2 officers and 45 other ranks to the anti-aircraft training school at Lija for training on Bofors and in mid-April we are to send a further 1 officer and 42 other ranks for Ack Ack training.  All these will be lost to us until more anti-aircraft gunners arrive on the Island, sufficient to man all weapons.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 3.

2nd Bn KINGS OWN MALTA REGIMENT  7 conscript recruits joined the Battalion.

(1)  Extract from diary of Reverend Reginald M. Nicholls, Chancellor of St.Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Valletta.  Courtesy of website: Malta Family History

 

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Posted by on March 25, 2021 in 1941, March 1941

 

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22 February 1941: New Battalion to Defend Harbour and Valletta

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1ST BATTALION CHESHIRE REGIMENT TO HAVE DUAL ROLE

Porte des Bombes

1 Cheshire will man exits from Valletta including Porte des Bombes

1st Bn Cheshire Regiment has been given the task of defending the surroundings of Grand Harbour and approaches to Valletta.  The 655 strong Battalion, which arrived in Malta yesterday, will have a dual role: defend the Harbour Sector from seaborne and airborne attack and also to control the movement of the civil population both into and out of Valletta, in the event of a land attack.  Their HQ will be established at St Francis Ravelin.

One Company will be disposed in the areas of Kalkara, Vittoriosa and Cospicua, where their special tasks will include the co-ordination of the defence of the Sector alongside the Royal Navy, and of the Corradino Heights in co-operation with the Dockyard Defence Battery. In the event of an enemy attack the Company will operate to prevent the entry of enemy airborne troops through the Cottonera Lines from the outlaying countryside as well as preventing the movement of the civilian population through these Lines.

A second Company will operate in Valletta with the role of the coastal defence of the City and control of the civilian population within, should the need arise. A third Company will operate in the area of Msida Bastion and Pieta, to man the exits from Valletta via the Porte des Bombes and to control the movement of the civilian population in or out of the City, with particular reference to civilians attempting to enter during active operations from the area Balzan, Birkirkara, Hamrun and Qormi.

A fourth Company will be allocated in the area Msida-Gzira-Tigne with the object of defending Marsamxetto Harbour from enemy attack and also of preventing movement by the population of Sliema into Valletta when necessary.

Two Platoons of 3rd Bn Kings Own Malta Regiment at present in the Harbour Sector will now revert to the Southern Infantry Brigade.  4th Bn Buffs will also return to their original locations and duties.  All other military personnel still stationed within the Harbour Sector will be responsible for their own local protection in the event of a general attack, including from parachutists, and will man their defences on receipt of the codewords ‘Defend Harbours’ which will be issued direct from the CO of 1st Bn Cheshire Regiment.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 22 FEBRUARY TO DAWN 23 FEBRUARY 1941

Weather  Fine.

0717-0800 hrs; 1127-1132 hrs  Air raid alert; raids do not materialise.

1400-1425 hrs  Air raid alert for three ME 109 fighters which cross the coast and circle over Grand Harbour at 15000 feet. Hurricanes are scrambled but the Messerschmitts recede without making an attack before the Malta fighters can reach sufficient height to attack them. 

1600 hrs  A mine is spotted floating in the water in Ghain Tuffieha Bay. The beach defence position is evacuated.

0455-0555 hrs  Air raid alert for two enemy aircraft which circle over the Island for an hour without dropping any bombs. The raiders are engaged by Ack Ack.

OPERATIONS REPORTS SATURDAY 22 FEBRUARY 1941

ROYAL NAVY  HMS Ursula from Malta attacked and sank a Sicilia class transport heading for Libya.

 

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Posted by on February 22, 2021 in 1941, February 1941

 

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