Tag Archives: Battle of Sirte

22 March 1942: Ta Qali Repaired in 24 Hours – Malta Convoy Attacked

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Reviewing the devastation caused by carpet-bombing of Ta Qali over the past 72 hours, Air Officer Commanding, Air Marshall Sir Hugh Pughe Lloyd, concludes that the airfield is likely to be out of action for a week.  Responding to a call from Malta’s High Command, the Army joins forces with the RAF in an all out effort to repair the damage and get the runway operational.  Despite enemy bombing, and a heavy machine-gun attack by a formation of Messerschmitts, working parties labour tirelessly round the clock, and by dusk today the airfield was declared serviceable again.

HMS Kingston


Malta’s survival is under threat unless the Island gets essential supplies to keep going and withstand the enemy onslaught.  A small, fast-moving convoy of four freighters left Alexandria 48 hours ago with a large cruiser and destroyer escort, in an attempt to run essential items across the Mediterranean.  By 0930 hrs this morning the Italian Navy had closed on the convoy and attacked the escort ships.  Destroyers Havock and Kingston were hit during a day of engagement, before the attackers were beaten off at 1900 hrs.  The convoy is reported as still heading for Malta with its escort, including the damaged destroyers.


Weather  Wind southerly; 100% low cloud.

0655-0801 hrs  Six ME 109s carry out a patrol south east of the Island.

0815-0840 hrs  One JU 88 escorted by seven ME 109s approach the Island.  The ME 109s drop four 250kg and twelve 50kg high explosive (HE) bombs on Ta Qali while the JU 88 carries out reconnaissance.

0852-0907 hrs  Six ME 109s carry out a patrol round the Island.

0917-0937 hrs  Six ME 109s carry out a patrol round the Island.

0951 hrs  ME 109s patrol the Island while JU 88s carry out three bomb attacks.  Bombs are dropped on Luqa and Safi strip, and Ta Qali.  Malta’s fighters and Heavy Ack Ack engage. HAA damage one JU 88.

1020 hrs  Three JU 88s drop bombs in a line from Luqa to Siggiewi.  One Maryland and one Wellington are burned out, two Blenheims damaged.   Two RAF and two Army personnel are injured.

1026 hrs  Guns of 225 Light Ack Ack Battery (LAA) engage two JU 88s diving from 5000 to 2000 feet: two guns claim one hit each.  Seven Hurricanes 185 Squadron, Hal Far are scrambled to intercept three JU 88s.  Sighting their quarry over Filfla, pilots P/O Allardice, P/O Wigley and Sgt Robb attack, scoring hits on fuselage and wings.  P/O Allardice fails to return.

1145 hrs  B Company, 3rd Bn Kings Own Malta Regiment reports one fighter crashing into the sea off west Bassasa.

1235 hrs  Raiders passed.

1250-1305 hrs  Two ME 109s carry out a patrol east of the Island.

1318-1323 hrs  Two ME 109s carry out a patrol east of the Island.

1408 hrs  Ten ME 109s carry out a patrol, then swoop down over Ta Qali, machine-gunning the airfield.  Light Ack Ack engage and ground defences return heavy fire, damaging one ME 109.

1410 hrs  Two defence posts of 1st Bn Dorsetshire Regt spot one JU 88 flying low towards the coast and open fire: no claims made.

1440-1725 hrs  Enemy fighters patrol the Island.  ME 109s drop 16 HE bombs on Ta Qali. Malta’s fighters are up: no engagements.  Heavy Ack Ack engage.

1730 hrs  11th Bn Lancashire Regt reports aerial torpedo mines dropped around their coastline.

1733 hrs  Three Spitfires are airborne from Luqa to escort five Albacores.  20 miles from Malta the formation is attacked by two ME 109s.  F/L McQueen attacks one, closing to 50 yards, and sees the ME dive into the sea.

1738 hrs  Four enemy aircraft patrol east of the Island.  Heavy Ack Ack engage.

1827 hrs  One aircraft approaches to the north of Grand Harbour, then recedes.  HAA do not engage.

1919 hrs  Three aircraft approach to the north of Grand Harbour, then recede.  HAA do not engage.

1938 hrs  One aircraft approaches from the south east, then recedes.  HAA do not engage.

1940 hrs  All clear.

2158-2210 hrs  Air raid alarm.  Raid does not materialise.

Night  No air raids: weather deteriorating.

Military casualties  Signalman Claude Brown, HMS Havock; Ordinary Seaman Arthur Crane, HMS Havock.  Leading Stoker Henry Neuschaffer, HMS Kingston; Able Seaman Daniel Ferris, HMS Kingston; Pilot Officer Philip Allardice, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (VR), 185 Squadron; Gunner Alfred Segon, 4th Searchlight Regiment, Royal Artillery.

Civilian casualties  Mosta  Joseph Bartolo, age 40; Saverin Galea, age 45; Grezzju Schembri, age 9.  Valletta  John Cachia, age 48.


ROYAL NAVY  Olympus sailed for Gibraltar with passengers and stores.  Five Albacores carried out a shipping sweep without result.  An escort of three Spitfires accompanying the Albacores shot down an ME109.  One Albacore landed in the sea off Zonkor Point: two of the crew missing.  PM  Naval engagement: convoy very heavily bombed; no casualties.  Dark CS 15 returned to Alexandria.  Convoy split and proceeded independently to Malta.

AIR HQ  Departures  Six Beauforts, two Blenheims to 108 MU.

HAL FAR  PM  Five Albacores are despatched to attack an enemy convoy but are recalled.  One Albacore is attacked by an ME 109; no damage.

TA QALI   Large Army working parties and salvage parties arranged and work proceeded.  By nightfall runway made serviceable.

NORTHERN INFANTRY BRIGADE  1930 hrs  Storm conditions NORAH and KATE.

2ND BN THE ROYAL IRISH FUSILIERS  Cpl Brown, L/Cpl Thomas and Fusilier Surgent injured by shrapnel.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB  Reported 30.


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Posted by on March 22, 2022 in 1942, March 1942


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19 December 1941: Loss of Navy Ships “Due to Rashness”

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A source close to the Governor today disclosed that questions have been raised over the tactics of the Commander of HMS Neptune, appointed to lead yesterday’s operation on the approaches to Tripoli:

HMS Kandahar

“…the Governor and I lunched on board. The Admiral told me that HMS Ajax has a gamé leg – in other words a damaged shaft which cannot be mended here. The thing must come out from England, which means 4 or 5 months out of action. I said, ‘Will they not transfer you to Neptune?’ To which he replied softly, ‘There is no Neptune.’

Three nights before, the whole force bar Ajax had gone out and run on to a minefield. HMS Neptune sank with almost all hands, HMS Kandahar also (…150 saved). HMS Aurora was damaged, and HMS Penelope (though I do not know how badly).

Such are the vicissitudes of Naval war: one day a powerful force capable of making it extremely hot for enemy shipping; next day a very different thing. When we see ships go out, we always wonder whether they will come back.

The Captain of Upholder has been given the VC. His boat has done marvellously. Since writing this I have been told what I had heard whispered earlier, that the loss of those ships was due to rashness. K Force were very happy in their work with complete confidence in their Senior Officer, Captain Nicoll. They then found themselves under Rory O’Connor of Neptune.

A convoy was being searched for, and it was felt that they had missed it, and should turn back. The SO insisted on pushing on at a terrific speed, so much so the Engineer-Commander of one ship refused to do the speed (it being more than his horse-power) unless his Captain gave him orders in writing. Some ship signalled: ‘Could we not do one knot less?’. Then they found themselves in the minefield. This is only Force K’s view of course.” (1)


From the War Diary of Vice-Admiral Malta:

“Today signals were received from Kandahar stating that she was still afloat, and she was also sighted by reconnaissance aircraft.  At nightfall Jaguar was despatched to endeavour to rescue survivors and, if conditions were favourable, tow Kandahar back to Malta.  In spite of the assistance of a special Wellington it was not until 0400hrs that Jaguar found and went alongside Kandahar, bow to bow.

By this time the sea had become very rough and after a very few moments it was apparent that this method of rescuing survivors must be abandoned.  Jaguar then lay off from Kandahar and the crew of the latter swam across.  Kandahar was then sunk by torpedo and Jaguar returned to Malta with eight officers and 157 ratings of her ship’s company including the Captain, Commander W G A Robson, DSO.” 

Maltese casualties from HMS Kandahar were L/Ck (O) Joseph Azzopardi, PO Std Joseph Bertuello, L/Std Andrew Schembri, Malta Port Division.


0259-0432 hrs  Air raid alarm. Enemy aircraft on intruder patrols.

0837-1717 hrs  Five air raid alarms were sounded for 22 enemy aircraft approaching the Island.  No bombs were dropped.  Hurricanes intercepted on two occasions, damaging two enemy aircraft.  One Hurricane was lost.  Ack Ack engaged raiders during one alert.

2150 hrs  Air raid alarm.  Two enemy aircraft approached from north and patrolled south of Island before crossing coast.  Incendiary bombs dropped north west of Kalafrana and in Mqabba.  Heavy Ack Ack engaged by immediate and height control barrage.

Military casualties  Sergeant Cedric Tyson Brown, Royal Australian Air Force; Sergeant Alfred McLevy, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, 203 Squadron; Pilot Officer Edward Elmer Steele,  Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve; Flying Officer Arthur Thomas Read, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 203 Squadron.

Enemy casualties  Leutnant Wilhelm Brauns, pilot of JU 88 bomber, shot down and taken prisoner; Obergefreiter Erwin Hesse, Air Gunner of JU 88 bomber, shot down and taken prisoner; Gefreiter Johannes Matuschka, Wireless Operator of JU 88 bomber, shot down and died.


ROYAL NAVY  Utmost returned from patrol in Gulf of Taranto, having obtained a hit on a Garibaldi class merchant vessel.  Aurora, Penelope, Havock, Lance, Lively arrived.  Penelope and Aurora both damaged by mines.  Neptune sunk 30′ off Tripoli and Kandahar sinking.  Jaguar sailed to rescue survivors.

HAL FAR  Night 18/19th  828 Squadron Fleet Air Arm Six Albacores despatched to attack convoy of six destroyers and three merchant vessels approaching Tripoli harbour.  Two hits claimed on 2000 ton merchant vessel.  One Albacore failed to return: the missing crew Lt Greenwood, pilot, and Lt Commander Langmore, observer.  830 Squadron  Five Swordfish despatched to continue attack on the convoy previously attacked by the Albacores.  The convoy was not sighted.  One Swordfish crashed on landing.  Crew unhurt.

LUQA  69 Squadron  Three Marylands special search.  Photo-reconnaissance unit 2 Tripoli.  18 Squadron  Two Blenheims special search; three Blenheims despatched to attack convoy off Tripoli.  107 Squadron  One Blenheim special search; three Blenheims despatched to attack convoy off Tripoli.  S/D Flight   One Wellington search to locate Kandahar.

CENTRAL INFANTRY BRIGADE  High Explosive bombs dropped on Luqa and Safi during raid lasting throughout the night.  Some damage to Signals installations.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB  Dealt with 1 (50kg).

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

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Posted by on December 19, 2021 in 1941, December 1941, Uncategorized


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18 December 1941: Loss of HMS Neptune and Kandahar

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The supply ship Breconshire arrived at Malta at 1500 hrs today to deliver her much needed load of fuel oil and stores, accompanied by the ships of her protective force.

After yesterday’s encounter with the Italian Navy, the two British forces separated, as destroyers from Force B and Force K took on the task of escorting Breconshire safely to Malta.  Admiral Vian turned with his fleet towards Alexandria.  The Italian convoys also divided: three ships setting course for Tripoli and one for Benghazi.  This afternoon the Tripoli-bound vessels were located and a Malta Strike Force of three cruisers and four destroyers was assembled in pursuit. 

The official report from the Royal Navy War Diary for Malta relates what happened next…

HMS Neptune

“HM Ships Neptune (Captain R O’Connor, Senior Officer), Aurora, Penelope, Kandahar, Lance, Lively and Havock were despatched…18th December to intercept an important Italian convoy which had been sighted earlier, heading for Tripoli.  It was appreciated that if the convoy was not delayed it was likely to be at the entrance to Tripoli before our force could intercept, but it was hoped that attacks by torpedo bomber and bomber aircraft, which were arranged to take place during the night, would have the usual effect of delaying the enemy.

A special Wellington was co-operating to lead our air and surface striking forces to the enemy.  The enemy’s convoy and escorting warships were discovered and reported by the Wellington split into groups and covering many miles of water to the eastward of Tripoli.

Albacores and Swordfish aircraft were sent to attack.  Although it is believed that only one ship was damaged by them, their attack had the expected effect of disorganising and slowing up the Italian convoy.  As a result, and also probably because of mines which had been laid in the entrance to the harbour, the convoy did not enter Tripoli till late the following day.

Unfortunately, the information regarding the position of the convoy did not reach Neptune before disaster had overtaken our force.  Having proceeded at maximum speed towards a point east of Tripoli they had just eased down on reaching the 100 fathom line when Neptune struck a mine and was brought to a stop.  The remaining ships sheered off to port and starboard and then turned back to get clear of the minefield.  Whilst engaged in getting clear, Aurora and Penelope both struck mines but were able to steam.

Aurora, who was fairly badly damaged, set course for Malta at her best speed of 16 knots, escorted by Havock and Lance, whilst Penelope stood by to tow Neptune when she had drifted clear of the minefield.  Kandahar entered the minefield and attempted to close Neptune to take off personnel, but, whilst engaged in this, struck a mine and had her stern blown off.  Neptune meanwhile had drifted down onto more mines and, when the third or fourth mine exploded under her, she turned turtle and sank.

Nothing could be done to approach Kandahar through the minefield and Penelope with Lively reluctantly returned to Malta.” (1)


Only 30 members of Neptune’s crew of nearly 800 survived the sinking.  Their lifeboat was spotted five days later by an Italian torpedo boat: only one of its occupants was still alive.  Maltese casualties from HMS Neptune  were Steward Angelo Falzon, Steward Emanuel Montanaro, Malta Port Division.


0835-0854 hrs  Air raid alarm.  No engagement.

2311-0250 hrs  Air raid alarm.  Eight enemy aircraft raided Island.  Bombs were dropped in the sea and on land near Attard, Mgarr, Birkirkara and on Luqa aerodrome hitting a Wellington; one of crew was killed, another seriously injured.  Hal Far was machine-gunned and mines were possibly laid off Grand Harbour.  Ack Ack engaged enemy aircraft.

Military casualties  Sergeant pilot Frank Sunley, Sergeant Thomas Clarke, Royal Air Force.

Enemy casualties  Sottotenente Antonio Galati, pilot, 259a Squadriglia, 109o Gruppo, 36o Stormo, S84 crashed into the sea.  Maggiore Goffredo Gastaldi, 109o Gruppo, 36o Stormo, crewman on a S84, crashed into the sea.


ROYAL NAVY  Upright returned from patrol having sunk certainly one and probably two northbound merchant vessels in Gulf of Taranto.  Forces K and B, Decoy, Havock and Breconshire arrived.  Neptune, Aurora, Penelope, Lively, Lance, Havock and Kandahar sailed.  Six Albacores attacked a convoy of three cruisers and three merchant vessels approaching Tripoli and fired four torpedoes, hitting two merchant vessels.  One Albacore did not return.  Five Swordfish left to attack same convoy, but failed to locate target.  One Swordfish crashed on landing.  Crew hurt.

AIR HQ  Departures  Seven Beaufighters for 108 MU.

HAL FAR  Night 17th/18th  Four Swordfish 830 Squadron despatched on a shipping search, located a tanker 4-5000 tons with destroyer escort.  Two hits claimed on tanker and an explosion followed by a subsequent fire was seen.  Four Hurricanes 185 Squadron engaged three BR 20s forty miles south south west of Filfla.  One enemy aircraft observed to be hit in wings and fuselage.  One of own aircraft “K” hit in the tail.  All aircraft landed safely.

LUQA  S/D Flight one Wellington on special shipping search.  69 Squadron  Four Marylands special search.  Photo-Reconnaissance (PR) Unit 2  PR Palermo, Tripoli; one Maryland PR Tripoli Harbour and Castel Benito.  18 Squadron  One Blenheim special search Keliba-Kerkennah; six Blenheims attacked two schooners near Kuriat.  107 Squadron  One Blenheim special search Kerkennah-Kuriat; three Blenheims despatched to attack merchant vessel (no sightings made).  104 Squadron  Seven Wellingtons attacked Tripoli and mined harbour.

2nd BATTALION THE DEVONSHIRE REGIMENT  0025 hrs  One enemy aircraft machine gunned Hal Far area but no damage was done.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB  Reported 1; dealt with 4 (1 x 250kg HE; 1 x Thermos; 1 x incendiary; 1 x anti-personnel).

(1)  See also Neptune Association


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Posted by on December 18, 2021 in 1941, December 1941


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17 December 1941: First Battle of Sirte

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The transport ship Breconshire failed to arrive at the expected time today, causing concern to the Island’s high command.  As a fast-moving supply ship, she has become a lifeline for the Island.  She is capable of carrying 5000 tons of oil as well as other essential goods.

The operations of Force K from Malta have placed a heavy demand on stocks of fuel oil.  Regular deliveries are vital to keep the ships at sea but the nearest source is a thousand miles away, through hostile waters policed by increasing numbers of German U-boats.

Breconshire is reported to have left Alexandria on Monday, escorted by three cruisers and eight destroyers under Admiral Vian.  Three vessels turned back.  Yesterday, six destroyers and two light cruisers set out from Malta to meet the supply ship and cover her final journey to Grand Harbour.


At daylight this morning as the two forces reached the rendezvous point, British submarines reported the presence of Italian warships nearby.  The Allied convoy was crossing paths with an Axis convoy en route to Tripoli.

Admiral Vian’s force had already been spotted by an enemy reconnaissance pilot and Axis aircraft had attempted an engagement, without success.  By late afternoon the two opposing Naval forces were in sight of each other.  As a precaution, Breconshire was detached from the main convoy for protection, accompanied by two destroyers.

After a few minutes of largely defensive fire which produced only minor damage to two British destroyers, the Italian warships moved away, returning to formation to protect their convoy.  A possible sea battle had been avoided and Breconshire is reported as heading for Malta. 

But the threat to the Island’s naval forces is not yet over.   (To be continued)


A German attempt to blockade the entrance to Grand Harbour has been foiled.  Mines were located today during one of the regular minesweeping operations on all approaches to the Harbour.  The TMA mines were laid by Kriegsmarine S-Boats on Monday night.  The drifter HMS Swona, adapted for minesweeping duties, exploded two of the mines.  Located in the direct path of ships leaving Grand Harbour, they could have severely damaged part of Malta’s Strike Force and possibly blocked harbour approaches with damaged or sunken vessels.


0905-0924 hrs; 1324-1327 hrs; 1537-1550 hrs  Air raid alarms; raids do not materialise.

2252-2331 hrs  Air raid alarm.  One enemy aircraft approached from north.  Heavy Ack Ack fired three immediate barrages.   Bombs near Attard, Poorhouse and south of Marsa.


ROYAL NAVY  Neptune, Kandahar and Jaguar sailed at 1500 on operations.  Four Swordfish located a tanker with destroyer escort, and hit the former with two torpedoes.

AIR HQ  Arrivals  Five Blenheims and eight Beaufighters from Gibraltar.

HAL FAR  Night 16/17  Five Albacores 828 Squadron despatched to attack Catania aerodrome.  4940 lbs High Explosive and 300 lbs incendiaries dropped including thirteen delayed action bombs.  Opposition exceptionally intense and accurate at all heights.

LUQA  S/D Flight  Two Wellingtons special shipping search.  69 Squadron  Three Marylands on special search, one shadowing fleet.  Photo-reconnaissance (PR) Unit 2  One PR Taranto, one PR Sfax.  18 Squadron  Three Blenheims special search, one for merchant vessel.  Two Blenheims SF 1 patrol.  107 Squadron  Two Blenheims attacked transport between Pisida and Zuara.  Two Blenheims attacked transport between Sorman and Zuara.  P/O Keene failed to return. 

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB  Reported 4; dealt with 1 (German 50kg).


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Posted by on December 17, 2021 in 1941, December 1941


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