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- Five-hour continuous air raid from 8am
- 114 high explosive bombs on Valletta and Grand Harbour
- 1800kg bombs dropped on the capital
- Cannon shells fired at civilian area
- 21 civilians, 5 military killed
- Army called in to repair Ta Qali runways
MASS FORMATIONS OF ENEMY RAIDERS
“’There was a red flag warning, I was making my way down the main street in Valletta, clambering over masses of rubble. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining. Looking up at the bright blue sky between the buildings, I watched as some 30 or more German bombers went over my head… they seemed headed towards Ta Qali. It was that sort of life. As far as I could tell, almost everyone else was in shelter or heading for shelter – which I respected. I was on my own out there.’
Lt Carroll was looking up at the forward party of the 74 aircraft attacking Ta Qali today. The enemy turned on the airfield with all their might, determined to destroy runways and write off all the aircraft…In just 24 hours, the Luftwaffe dropped nearly a thousand bombs, totalling almost 300 tons, on Ta Qali – an area the size of a small English village. In a similar period 500 tons of bombs were used across the entire city of Coventry in England. Here was the first ever instance of carpet bombing on such a scale against a military target. And it had just been inflicted on the tiny Island of Malta.
Delayed action bombs were scattered all over the airfield, holding up repair work on the runways. The RAF called on Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal to help with the sheer number of unexploded bombs (UXB). In two days, RE Bomb Disposal alone have received over 70 UXB reports.” (1)
AIR RAIDS DAWN 20 MARCH TO DAWN 21 MARCH 1942
Weather Wind south west; clear.
0805 hrs Four Hurricanes are scrambled from Ta Qali, joining seven others from Hal Far. Four Spitfires 249 Squadron are scrambled to act as top cover for the eleven Hurricanes. Spitfire pilots spot six ME 109s: P/O McNair attacks and destroys one.
0825 hrs P/O Leggo’s aircraft is attacked by ME 109s and loses its tail fin, causing it to spin downwards. P/O Leggo tries to regain control but without success, and bales out but at 100 feet his parachute has no time to open: he falls to his death. The aircraft crashes to the ground between Qrendi and Siggiewi.
0900 hrs Six JU 88s bomb Sliema and St Julians. Bombs land on St Julians Police Station and Rockyvale. L/Cpl Patt and Fusilier Russell of B Company, 11th Bn Lancashire Fusiliers is killed; two Fusiliers are injured and admitted to hospital. Heavy and Light Ack Ack engage and destroy one JU 88.
0920 hrs Two JU 88s approach and drop one 1800kg High Explosive bomb each near the Fish Market in Valletta, and in Grand Harbour.
One JU 88 carries out reconnaissance from the north to the south of the Island at 30000 feet. Five JU 88s approach Grand Harbour but are turned away by Heavy and Light Ack Ack, dropping all bombs in the sea off Ricasoli and St Elmo.
0950 hrs Six JU 88s approach and bomb Marsa, Jesuits Hill and Gzira. One gun position at Jesuits Hill receives a direct hit: no casualties. One JU 88 is damaged by Light Ack Ack. During the raid a Dornier flying boat searches north of the Island. Heavy Ack Ack engages at extreme range. Military casualties: two killed; two wounded.
1245 hrs Bombs land near D and R Companies of 11th Bn Lancashire Regt, south east of Cisk Brewery. Cannon shells are fired at Birkirkara, causing civilian casualties.
1250 hrs Guns of 225 Light Ack Ack Battery (LAA) engage one JU 88: one hit claimed.
1311 hrs All clear.
1618 hrs One JU 88 escorted by two ME 109s approaches, then recedes, at 25000 feet. Heavy Ack Ack engage.
1707 hrs Ten ME 109s patrol the Island. Heavy Ack Ack do not engage.
1720 hrs 44 JU 88s dive-bomb and machine-gun Ta Qali, killing 13 civilians. Bombs cause considerable damage to barrack blocks and ablutions, roads and pens. The aerodrome is cratered and unserviceable. Several aircraft are damaged and one airman slightly injured. Many fires are started. Many delayed action bombs are used. Ack Ack fires a strong response: four JU 88s are shot down and destroyed.
1816 hrs Four JU 88s escorted by sixteen ME 109s bomb Ta Qali. Heavy and Light Ack Ack engage. One JU 88 is damaged by Light Ack Ack.
1830 hrs Three bombers dropped six bombs on Ta Qali, damaging Camp Magister and one billet. LAC Armstrong is admitted to hospital, as is LAC Bond, who dies at 2345 hrs.
1919 hrs About 50 aircraft, including JU 88s and fighter escort, head towards Malta in from North formed up in line ahead, at about 10000 ft. Heavy Ack Ack engage and as the raiders come with range of Bofors guns, the Light Ack Ack gunners open fire. The shooting is extremely accurate in spite of difficult light.
Enemy bombers get through to carry out a concentrated bombing attack on Ta Qali. Bombs rain down on the airfield for half an hour causing numerous craters, though runways are not significantly damaged. Many of the high explosive bombs carry delayed action fuzes. Large numbers of incendiary bombs are dropped on the camp. Two RAF personnel are wounded. Other bombs fall near Mqabbe and Tal Liebru.
After dark, three further aircraft patrol to the south, then cross the coast and drop bombs near Mqabba and Tal Liebru and on Ta Qali.
2333 hrs All clear.
0047 hrs One enemy aircraft approaches from the north and crosses the Island without dropping any bombs.
0241-0609 hrs Four enemy aircraft drop bombs on Ghain Tuffieha, St Paul’s Bay and St Julian’s. Heavy Ack Ack engage.
Military casualties Pilot Officer Douglas Leggo, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 249 Squadron; Leading Aircraftman George Bond, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve; Lance-Corporal John Patt, 11th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers; Fusilier Harold (Joseph) Russell, 11th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers; Fusilier Edward Thompson, 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers.
Civilian casualties Attard Alessandro Camilleri, age 50; Salvo Gatt, age 49; Ganni Portelli, age 55; Emmanuele Vassallo, age 47. Birkirkara Anthony Gatt, age 12. Hamrun Carmelo Camilleri, age 11; Guisa Cuschieri, age 3; Francis Farrugia, age 13. Lija Salvu Mallia, age 45. Marsaxlokk Nardu Caruana, age 56. Mosta Salvu Dimech, age 70; Giovanna Frendo, age 75; Pietro Micallef, age 45; Rita Micallef, age 24; Duminka Micallef, age 18. Naxxar Zaru Grech, age 30; Joseph Sciberras, age 18. Pieta Lewis Camilleri, age 44. St Julian’s Joseph Debono, age 45. Valletta Margherita Buttigieg, age 44. Zejtun Salvu Spiteri, age 30.
OPERATIONS REPORTS FRIDAY 20 MARCH 1942
ROYAL NAVY Olympus arrived from Gibraltar with passengers and petrol. Three Albacores dropped two torpedoes aimed at one light cruiser and one merchant vessel, 2000 tons, escorted by one destroyer. Result unobserved. 0800 hrs – convoy MW10 sailed from Alexandria.
AIR HQ Arrivals Four Beaufighters, three Hudsons from Gibraltar. Departures Five Blenheims, four Beauforts , one Hudson from 108 MU; one Wellington from Shalufa.
HAL FAR PM Three Albacores 828 Squadron were despatched on a shipping search. 0415 hrs A Convoy of one 2000 ton merchant vessel, one light cruiser, one destroyer position 190 degrees Messina 23 miles course 200 degrees, speed 10 knots. Two torpedoes were aimed, one at the cruiser and one at the merchant vessel. Aircraft had to take avoiding action due to flak. Strikes not observed.
LUQA 1140-1710 hrs One Maryland 69 Squadron photo-reconnaissance Trapani, Palermo and Cagliari Harbours; Elman aerodrome and vis. of Pantelleria.
TA QALI Severest raids on aerodrome ever had. Large numbers of incendiary bombs. All officers proceeded to Camp immediately after first raid, to assist under direction of CO. Army contacted: immediate repair of aerodrome arranged. Lessons learned: underground alternative accommodation should have been provided months ago, both for aircraft and personnel.
NORTHERN INFANTRY BRIGADE Heavy raid by Luftwaffe on Ta Qali. Battalions of this Brigade provided working parties for filling up craters on the aerodrome.
11TH BN THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS 1800 hrs This unit takes over the Observation Post at Tal Virtu.
8TH BN THE MANCHESTER REGIMENT Extremely heavy raid by Luftwaffe on Ta Qali aerodrome. Battalion supplied working party for filling up bomb craters on the aerodrome.
FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB Reported 16-20 March 35 (average 7 per day).
(1 ) Adapted from UXB Malta, S A M Hudson, History Press 2010/2012
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