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- 300 tons of bombs on Ta Qali in 48 hours
- 146 high explosive bombs target Mosta
- 81 killed and many more wounded
- Bombs on shelter in Mosta cause mass casualties
- 5 enemy aircraft destroyed, 5 damaged
- 9 Spitfires land safely ex Gibraltar
MASS BOMBING RAIDS ON TA QALI AND MOSTA
Raids on Ta Qali continued today with increased intensity. In massive and widespread attacks this afternoon, communities surrounding the air base also suffered badly, as the enemy extended their targets to Mosta and surrounding communities of Rabat, Imtarfa and Balzan. Casualties known so far are 20 military and 61 civilians killed and over 100 wounded. 22 civilians were killed in Rabat; 30 were killed and 45 wounded in Mosta, where a large number of bombs fell.
Today’s raids bring the total number of bombs dropped on Ta Qali in the last 48 hours to 1600. Since Thursday night over 300 tons of bombs have left huge craters across the airfield, now said to resemble the surface of the moon.
A CHILD REMEMBERS
In Mosta, little Doris Vella was in the air-raid shelter with her mother. Her father had just left them, on urgent business, and her two older brothers had just escaped their mother’s grasp, to go up and watch the German bombers:
“The next instant a deafening explosion plunged the whole place into darkness and sent us reeling against the walls of the cubicle. In the ensuing panic I began to grope around and felt the heads of the three young ones. The straw mattresses on the bunks caught fire and burst into flames…As our eyes got accustomed to the dim light we saw dead bodies piled on top of each other. A number of RAF men appeared at the shelter entrance and picking their way through the pile of corpses grabbed us and took us outside. We walked in a state of shock towards our house and saw carts carrying bodies. We recognized that of Milda’s mother, a refugee from Vittoriosa, horribly mutilated. The walls of Gafa Street were black with the blast of the explosion. We learned later that three [bombs] had landed and exploded simultaneously at the entrance and the emergency exit of the shelter.” Doris lost her father and two brothers in the raid. (1)
SPITFIRE PILOT’S DAY IN HELL
One 1000kg bomb landed in front of the Point de Vue Hotel in Rabat, being used as a billet for RAF fighter pilots. Buck McNair had just arrived back at the hotel when the bomb exploded:
“When I came to, I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t feel I was dead, but I didn’t feel whole. My eyes were open, but my jaws and chest didn’t seem to be there…I felt for my tin hat, then I started to be able to see just as if the sun was coming up after a great darkness. I tested myself. I felt carefully with my fingers and found that I had a face and a chest, so I felt better…
As I became more conscious, I found I was upstairs; but I knew I shouldn’t be upstairs. I should be downstairs. Then I realized I had been blown upstairs either through a door or through an opening at the turn of the staircase. I’d been thrown up 20 or 30 feet …
I went out onto the roof and back down the main staircase which was barely hanging in place. I saw the bodies lying at the foot of it. They were in a heap. There was no blood. The raid was still on – the All Clear hadn’t sounded. But everything seemed very quiet. Heavy dust covered the bodies. I looked at them – studied them. One was headless, the head had been cut cleanly away from the top of the shoulders. I didn’t see the head, but I could recognize the man by his very broad shoulders …
I heard a moan, so I put my hand gently on the bodies to feel which of them was alive. One of them I noticed had a hole, more than a foot wide, right through the abdomen. Another’s head was split wide open into two halves, from back to front, by a piece of shrapnel. The face had expanded to twice its size. How the man managed still to be alive I didn’t know. I thought of shooting him with my revolver. As I felt for it, I heard Bud Connell’s voice behind me. ‘Look at this mess!’
I put my hand against the wall, but it slithered down it. It had seemed dry with all the dust, but when I took my hand away I found it was covered with blood with bits of meat stuck to it – like at the butcher’s when they’re chopping up meat and cleaning up a joint. I turned to Bud. ‘For God’s sake,’ I said, ‘don’t come in here.’ Then I noticed that my battledress and trousers were torn and ripped …
Ronnie West appeared. It seemed natural to see him. He had been in the building with us, but he didn’t say anything about me being there. He didn’t seem to want to talk …Now an ambulance and a doctor arrived. The doc asked me to help him with the bodies. I said ‘Get someone else, I’ve seen enough.’…The realization of what had happened began to dawn very slowly … My left arm had gone out of joint when I was blown upstairs by the bomb, but I had shoved it back in place … (2)
SPITFIRES LAND THROUGH THE FIRE
In the midst of the onslaught, a delivery flight of nine Spitfires managed to land safely, having flown off HMS Eagle ex Gibraltar. The aircraft were protected as they approached by Malta’s fighter squadrons. An expected delivery of seven more Spitfires failed to arrive. They were unable to take off from Eagle as a Blenheim aircraft due to escort them to Malta did not make rendezvous with the carrier.
AIR RAIDS DAWN 21 MARCH TO DAWN 22 MARCH 1942
Weather Wind south west; 80% cloud.
0900 hrs Seven Messerschmitts drop twelve 50kg high explosive (HE) bombs on Ta Qali, near the Rock Shelter and by underground hangers: one bowser is burned out.
1000 hrs Nearly 100 bombers, including several Heinkel HE 111, and about 20 fighters attack Ta Qali, in a repeat of last night’s raid, except that this time enemy aircraft approach in groups at greater height, not in ‘line ahead’.
Hundreds of HE bombs, mainly 250kg and 500kg, are dropped on and around the airfield, causing 27 craters and damaging the Pottery, control van and other vehicles. Many fires are started. Bombs which fell wide of the mark kill five military Other Ranks and wound another five, at Imtarfa. Two Other Ranks from a working party are wounded. Two Beaufighters, two Hurricanes and one Spitfire are damaged. One soldier and one civilian are killed; four soldiers, one pilot and two civilians are injured. All work is called to a halt, due to the number of delayed-action bombs on aerodrome. Ack Ack destroy one JU 88 and damaged two more.
1014 hrs Two JU 88 bombers drop one 1800kg bomb each on Manoel Island and Bighi Hospital.
1107 hrs Eight ME 110s with 25 ME 109s patrol the Island, then drop eight 250kg and twenty-seven 50kg HE bombs on Ta Qali and Rabat. Seven Hurricanes from Hal Far attack the ME 110s, claiming four destroyed. Pilots S/Ldr Mortimer-Rose, P/O Ormrod, P/O Beckett, P/O Allardice, P/O Wigley, Sgt Rose, P/O Milburn. One aircraft returns early due to engine trouble. Light Ack Ack gunners destroy one ME 109. Malta’s fighters are airborne, but occupied in escorting nine Spitfires arriving from Gibraltar.
1135 hrs Three JU 88s drop bombs on the Safi strip.
1436 hrs Between 60 and 70 bombers approach the Island from different directions with a relatively small fighter escort. Planes come in irregularly, in groups of two and three, at heights ranging from 10,000 to 16,000 feet. Consecutive aircraft do not follow each other into a steep dive. Hundreds of HE bombs are dropped from varying heights; mainly 250kg and 500kg but also several 1000kg, and some rocket bombs. The main target is Ta Qali, where main damage is to assembly areas and approaches, petrol installations and a reservoir. Heavy and Light Ack Ack engage: three JU 88s are destroyed and three damaged.
1545 hrs JU 88s and Messerschmitts carrying bombs target outlying districts, causing casualties and damage in Rabat and Imtarfa, Mosta, Balzan and San Anton.
Two JU 88s attack Tigne and Manoel, dropping one 1800kg HE bomb each and demolishing buildings at Tigne Barracks.
1658 hrs One JU 88 carries out reconnaissance at 20000 feet.
1944 hrs Two enemy aircraft drop bombs in the sea and on land near Dingli. Heavy Ack Ack engage.
2215 hrs All clear.
Military casualties Flight Lieutenant Cecil Baker, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve VR), 126 Squadron; Flying Officer John Booth, Royal Air Force (VR), 249 Squadron; Flying Officer James Guerin, Royal Australian Air Force; Pilot Officer William Hallett, Royal Air Force (VR), 126 Squadron; Pilot Officer Edward Streets, Royal Air Force (VR), 126 Squadron; Flight Lieutenant Arthur Waterfield Royal Air Force (VR).
Private Stephen Gardiner; Private James Garnick; Private Charles Levey; Private James Joseph Murray, Private Robert Sadler; Private John Wake; Private John William Dewhurst (died 22nd March); all 1st Battalion, Durham Light Infantry. Lance-Corporal Peter Thompson, Royal Army Service Corps, attached Field Ambulance Royal Army Medical Corps; Sergeant James Ure, Royal Army Service Corps, attached Royal Army Medical Corps; Private Raymond Siviour, 4th Battalion, The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment); Lance-Corporal Pacifico Falzon, Royal Engineers, Malta Territorial Force; Lance-Corporal Clarence (Terence) Gallagher; Corporal Douglas Baldwin; Lance-Corporal William Brown; Fusilier Harold Vernon; all 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers.
Civilian casualties Attard Anthony Pace, age 24. Balzan Sister Paola Agius, age 73; Joseph Muscat, age 32. Floriana Francis Azzopardi, age 16; Publio Mercieca, age 16. Mdina Vincent Mizzi, age 13. Mosta Doris Borg, age 6; Teresa Cuschieri, age 70; Gio Maria Cuschieri, age 37; Anthony Degiorgio, age 79; Carmela Degiorgio, age 77; Maria Degiorgio, age 34; Georgina Dougall, age 42; John Fabri, age 9; Carmelo Fenech, age 11; Joseph Fenech, age 11; Giovanni Galea, age 66; Victor Galea, age 39; Kalanc Gatt, age 42; Francis Gatt, age 13; Giuseppe Gatt, age 9; Maria Gauci, age 8; Censu Gauci, age 5; Mary Grech, age 54; Alfred Montanaro, age 63; Mary Montanaro, age 60; John Montanaro, age 18; Olga St John, age 26; Zareno St John, age 3 mths; Pina Tabone, age 22; Santu Tonna, age 32; Bartholomew Vella, age 41; Carmelo Vella, age 12; Giuseppe Vella, age 9; Vincent Zammit, age 39; Ganna Zarb, age 48; unidentified female; unidentified male. Msida Salvu Vella, age 45. Rabat Carmel Abela, age 63; Louis Adami, age 29; Mary Adami, age 6; Albert Adami, age 2; Catherine Azzopardi, age 80; Rev. Robert Calleja, age 58; Lewis Caruana, age 2 mths; Domenic Ceci, age 84; Angelina Ellul, age 73; Spiru Galea, age 63; Teresa Galea, age 42; Peter Giordimaina, age 65; Alb. Laferla, age 45; Dolor Mangani, age 20; Felicia Mifsud, age 26; Gisuarda Mifsud, age 10 mths; Albert Mifsud, age 19; Harriet O’Neil, age 56; Gisuardo Portelli, age 71; Dr A Stilon LLD, age 64; Margherita Vassallo, age 28; unidentified female. St Paul’s Bay Rita Vella, age 6. Zejtun Carmelo Zahra, age 15.
OPERATIONS REPORTS: 21 MARCH 1942
ROYAL NAVY Raid no 1843 Damage to Ricasoli Rifle Range. Surgeon Rear Admiral’s Residence at Royal Naval Hospital demolished.
AIR HQ Arrivals Nine Spitfires, two Blenheims from Gibraltar; one Sunderland from Aboukir. Departures Four Beaufighters, two Hudsons to 108 MU; one Wellington to Shalufa; one Hudson to Gibraltar; one Sunderland to Aboukir.
HAL FAR PM One Albacore despatched on shipping search: nothing sighted.
LUQA 0807-1246 hrs One Maryland 69 Squadron despatched on photo-reconnaissance of Taranto and Messina.
TA QALI 1600 hrs Third blitz on Ta Qali [this afternoon], damaging the Officers’ Mess at Rabat and killing six officers including AFL (F/O) Waterfield, Intelligence Officer, and five pilots. Over 1500 high explosive bombs plus incendiary bombs have been dropped on the camp in the last 24 hours. Immediate steps are taken to arrange alternative accommodation for officers and airmen. The entire personnel of 500 airmen have to be evacuated and housed in Rabat and St Edwards College. There are a large number of absentees: police patrols are inaugurated and all shelters are searched. Kitchen and ablutions are arranged and premises at Messina House are taken over. All officers and airmen are arranged for by dusk. All equipment is salvaged from the Orderly Room and Guard Room which are evacuated as the buildings are destroyed. By nightfall a new Orderly Room is operational and new sick quarters are set up. Equipment stores are installed in caves.
1st BN THE CHESHIRE REGIMENT 0915 hrs Battalion drill parade. AC HQ under the CO Floriana.
1ST BN THE DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY During a large scale air raid on Ta Qali aerodrome some bombs fell near Imtarfa Hospital for which B Company were supplying a guard. One scored a direct hit on a guard tent: five Other Ranks were killed outright; one died of wounds the same day and another died of wounds on 22nd. Four more Other Ranks were wounded and admitted to hospital.
2ND BN THE ROYAL IRISH FUSILIERS PM Blitz on Ta Qali: Quarter Master’s store hit. Cpl Baldwin, L/Cpl Gallagher, L/Cpl Brown, Fusilier Vernon killed. Battalion took one German parachutist prisoner.
4th BN THE BUFFS (ROYAL EAST KENT REGIMENT) Two more heavy raids on Ta Qali aerodrome. 4 Buffs working party one Other Rank killed, four Other Ranks injured.
11TH BN THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS Observation Post at Tal Virtu has several near misses during intense raids on Ta Qali during the past 24 hours. Bombs in this unit’s area at Hamrun, St George’s, St Julian’s, Balzan and Birkirkara.
8TH BN THE MANCHESTER REGIMENT Another very heavy raid on Ta Qali aerodrome and some of the billets and posts were damaged. Battalion suffers five casualties: one injured and four suffering from shock. A Spitfire, a petrol pump and an ammunition van are set on fire. Lt Cummins and his Platoon Sergeant Jones fought the fires and managed to put them out. Air Officer Commanding visited the scene and thanked the personnel for their good show.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB Reported 15.
(1) From The People’s War, Malta 1940-43, Laurence Mizzi, Progress Press 2002
(2) Diary of Robert Wendell ‘Buck’ McNair from Canadian Aces (Miles Constable)
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