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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, 2016 in 1941, June 1941

 

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14 June 1941: Malta Airfields Booby-Trapped Against Parachutists

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BOMB DISPOSAL OFFICER TO LAY EXPLOSIVES

Military commanders are conducting tests to booby-trap Malta’s airfields to prevent the landing of enemy aircraft and parachutists. The Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal Officer has been asked to put his knowledge of explosives to use in an experiment to assess the potential.  He is overseeing a team from 24 Fortress Company which is digging a series of camouflets in a quarry adjacent to Luqa aerodrome.  The camouflets will contain naval depth charges which would be primed once the alert is raised that an invasion is underway.  A test will be undertaken to assess the potential effectiveness of the booby-traps to defend the aerodrome.

HMS Victorious

HMS Victorious

HURRICANE REINFORCEMENTS FOR MIDDLE EAST LAND IN MALTA

43 Hurricane fighters landed in Malta today along with four Hudsons as part of ‘Operation Tracer’, the latest initiative to deliver reinforcements to the Mediterranean. Originally 48 aircraft were loaded aboard the new fleet aircraft carrier HMS Victorious which sailed under escort for Gibraltar on 31 May.  On arrival, 26 Hurricanes were transferred to HMS Ark Royal and 22 remained on Victorious.  Both vessels left harbour early yesterday, escorted by the battlecruiser Renown and seven destroyers. 

Four Hudsons few out from Gibraltar to meet the carriers at a rendezvous point to the south of the Balearic Islands. 47 of the Hurricanes successfully took off from their carrier in four formations, each led by one of the Hudsons.  One was observed turning away from its formation and heading towards North Africa, presumably suffering from engine trouble. 

The last formation to take off encountered navigational problems and as a result ran very short of fuel. One crashed in the sea before reaching the Island, with the loss of its pilot.  The fuel shortage caused two others difficulties on landing.  One managed to alight safely at Luqa, the second crashed in Wied ik Kbir, killing the pilot.

The Hurricanes were divided between the three airfields of Hal Far, Luqa and Ta Qali. 21 of the Hurricanes were refuelled departed today for the Middle East.  Another 13 are expected to leave within days; the remaining nine will stay in Malta.       

AIR RAIDS DAWN 14 JUNE TO DAWN 15 JUNE 1941

Weather  Hot and sunny.

No air raids.

1500 hrs  Orders are issued to infantry battalions to man all anti-aircraft positions as of 1600 hrs today until further notice.

2130 hrs  Anti-aircraft positions ordered to stand down.

0315 hrs  One Bombay crashes into the sea off Marsaxlokk with the loss of all crew.

Military casualties  Sergeant Robert MacPherson, pilot, RAF Volunteer Reserve, 260 Squadron.

OPERATIONS REPORTS SATURDAY 14 JUNE 1941

AIR HQ  Arrivals 43 Hurricane, 4 Hudson. Departures 1 Wellington, 1 Sunderland, 21 Hurricane.  69 Squadron  3 Marylands on reconnaissance.

HAL FAR  11 Hurricanes arrived at Hal Far from Gibraltar.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  24 Fortress Company began work in quarry at Luqa for trial of naval Depth Charges for mining all aerodromes as protection against parachute landings.

2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  Defence scheme for Luqa aerodrome issued; 100% manning of anti-aircraft guns ordered. Bn mounted guard duty over a crashed aircraft in Wied il Kbir. 

 

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Posted by on June 14, 2016 in 1941, June 1941

 

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13 June 1940: Unexploded Bombs

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MALTA’S FIRST UNEXPLODED BOMB

Sapper R H Walter, age 20, 24 Fortress Company, Royal Engineers (1)

Just after 9 am Sgt Major Robinson came to us and said, ‘I’m looking for three volunteers for a dangerous job. What about it you three?’  We looked at one another, none of us eager to reply without knowing the nature of this dangerous job. After a silence Sapper Scott said ‘What is this job, Sir?’ The Sergeant Major said, ‘Digging out an unexploded bomb over at Sliema.’  After giving the matter some thought Sapper Scott said ‘I’ll go.’  Sapper McDonald looked at me, hesitated and then said ‘All right, I’ll go.’  To be honest I wasn’t at all keen to volunteer but couldn’t bear the thought of being branded a coward so I replied ‘I’ll go.’

Lt W M Eastman RAOC

Lt W M Eastman RAOC

After we had collected the necessary tools and equipment and a 30 cwt lorry we were to report to Sliema Police Station.  We were met by Lt William Eastman of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, who would be the Officer in Charge of the whole operation. This was because at that time we had no Royal Engineer Officers qualified in Bomb Disposal work.

The unexploded bomb was located along Rudolph Street, some 300 yards from the Police Station.  It was three feet from the South side pavement.  The hole was about one foot in diameter and 18 inches deep, quite neat around the edges.

Lt Eastman ordered us to open up a hole 5 feet square, digging with sandbag-covered spades, removing as much of the rubble as possible with gloved hands. Only two men would work in the hole. On finding any trace of the bomb Lieutenant Eastman was to be informed and we were to await further instructions.  He also told us not to go deeper than 3 feet, and to break for lunch at 1 pm at a local cafe.  Police Sergeant Orr informed us that a local barkeeper had left a case of beer for us which was brought down to where we were working. It was a very hot day and the beer was most appreciated and nearly gone by lunchtime, however we had a second case of beer brought to us during the afternoon.

We started digging at 11.30 am. We stripped off to the waist and were wearing khaki shorts – our normal summer dress. We broke the surface of the road with pickaxes and once through the first six inches of hard-core the spoil was easier to get out. The hessian sandbags on the shovels proved a waste of time. The compacted sandstone needed crowbars and shovels, but we worked all the time with caution, and removed a lot of the rubble with our gloved hands.

By 1 pm we had reached a depth of 18 inches and stopped for lunch in the local cafe.  Several of the local inhabitants had made a collection of money to provide us with a meal and the beer, for which we thanked them.  I noticed that during the meal – and for that matter for the whole time that we had been digging – we were all very quiet; none of the normally constant chatter when Sappers are at work. I was tensed up to the point of being frightened and I did not relish the job at all. I suspected that the rest of the lads felt the same, but something none of us would admit.

By 3 pm we had got down to a depth of 3 feet but had found nothing, so we stopped work as instructed. Lt Eastman returned and under his guidance we pressed on with the digging, though from now on only one man worked down the hole in spells of just 15 minutes each, while the rest of us waited 50 yards away. Lieutenant Eastman stayed at the hole and kept in touch with our NCO Corporal Brewer by field telephone, reporting to him exactly what we were doing.

The bomb had severed a sewer pipe and raw sewage was seeping into the hole. It didn’t smell very nice and the earth was wet. However we plugged it with sandbags which stopped the flow of sewage into the hole.  By 4 pm we had reached a depth of 4 feet 6 inches and exposed the fins of the bomb. Work stopped and Lt Eastman went into the hole by himself to remove them. He told us that it was a 250 lb bomb: from here on we carried on digging with much more care.

We carried on digging until the light began to fade and at 9pm Lt Eastman decided called a halt for the day. He told us that we should locate the bomb the next day and it should be a straight forward job to defuze it and make it safe.  We loaded up the tools and covered the hole with a tarpaulin, anchored it down and placed red hurricane lamps around. Lt Eastman informed Police Sergeant Orr that the area must remain out of bounds to all the local inhabitants overnight.  We would return the next day and start work at 9 am.

We returned to Floriana Barracks, had a bath and changed into clean clothes before going over to the cookhouse for a meal, after which we were just in time for a glass of beer in the canteen. The lads were not so quiet as they had been whilst digging for that bomb.   I was very tired and went to bed: I had a good nights sleep, despite my apprehension for the day ahead.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 13 JUNE TO DAWN 14 JUNE 1940

Weather  Fine; low cloud.

0610-0702 hrs  Air raid alert for two Italian aircraft which approach from the north, fly down the coast to within eight miles of Delimara, circle Filfla and fly on southwards.

0840-0850 hrs  Air raid alert for two Italian aircraft, reported passing over St Paul’s Bay heading south; no bombs dropped.

0901-0905 hrs  Air raid alert.  No bombs dropped.

1137 hrs  Defence posts are warned of a friendly aircraft approaching, flying in at 8000 feet.

1210 hrs  An enemy bomber approaches at a height of 20000 feet and drops six large bombs on Kalafrana and near Benghaisa.  No air raid alert has sounded.  An Army working party are assisting an RAF officer in the removal of an unexploded bomb when an enemy bomb falls nearby. Private H Kite and Private J Slade are killed, Lance Corporal F Martin and Private C Aldridge are wounded, along with one Maltese RAF labourer and one civilian.  RAF Squadron Leader Warfield is slightly wounded.

HMS Diamond

HMS Diamond

1320 hrs  HMS Diamond is attacked by two enemy aircraft 20 miles south west of Malta.

1400 hrs  Air raid alert.  A Malta Gladiator is scrambled to attack.  Seeing the Gladiator, the enemy bomber releases several bombs prematurely on Mellieha, causing some damage to buildings, then escapes into cloud.   2nd Bn Devonshire Regt report an enemy aircraft at 5000 feet dropping bombs on Kalafrana, Birzebuggia and Hal Far.

1430 hrs  Malta defences are warned that HMS Diamond and a destroyer will patrol off the west of the Island this evening.

1610-1700 hrs  Air raid alert.  Bombs are dropped on Mellieha village.

1945-2007 hrs  Air raid alert.

2105 hrs  HMS Galatea leaves Grand Harbour.

2340 hrs  A defence post of 2nd Bn Royal Irish Fusiliers reports hearing three bursts of light machine gunfire from the direction of Gharghur fort.  A further report suggests they came from behind the Roadhouse from the direction of the pumping station in Naxxar Gap.  On investigation, 2/Lt Salmonson establishes that sentries of Kings Own Malta Regiment at Mosta Fort fired six shots at that time.  Serjeant Parlato and two men went to investigate shots at 2400 hrs and were fired on from near a house by Targa Gap.  However, they saw neither a man nor the flash of a rifle.  They later spotted a man moving near the small chapel nearby and tried to round him up but failed to find him and withdrew.  They also report having seen a red light from the roof of the same house during the night.  A nearby defence post confirmed having occasionally seen a light on the Victoria Lines, including tonight, and also one from the direction of St Paul’s Bay.  The positions of both have been noted and possible sources will be investigated in the morning.

Military casualties  Private Henry Kite, Private John Slade, 2nd Battalion The Devonshire Regiment.  

Civilian casualties  Cospicua  Joseph Scicluna, age 24; two unidentified males; one unidentified female. 

OPERATIONS REPORTS THURSDAY 13 JUNE 1940

HAL FAR  Unexploded bomb destroyed.

KALAFRANA  A bomb fell 30 yards from the Accounts Section which suffered superficial damage.  S/Ldr J M Warfield (HQ Medit) wounded in left side of neck by bomb explosion; needed five stitches.  C E Portelli in same accident received minor abrasions with mild concussion; transferred to ADS Tarxien.  One unidentified male corpse removed from the sea; collected by police 2200 hrs.    

ROYAL ARMY ORDNANCE CORPS: Bomb Disposal UXB  Dealt with: incendiaries 3; HE 250lb in Sliema now uncovered.

(1)  Adapted from an account by Sapper Walter on www.maltafamilyhistory.com

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Posted by on June 13, 2015 in 1940, June 1940

 

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