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10 July 1941: Massive Mine at St Paul’s Bay

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Lt Edward D Woolley RN (1)

Lt Edward D Woolley RN (1)

ROYAL NAVY OFFICER TAKES ON MINE DISPOSAL CHALLENGE

Enemy mines now encircling the coastal waters of Malta are presenting a serious threat to local boats as well as Royal Navy ships and approaching convoys. Lieutenant Edward D Woolley RN arrived in Malta on 13 June to take on the duties of Royal Navy Rendering Mines Safe and Minesweeping Maintenance Officer.  Today he received a call to deal with a mine off Malta’s north coast.

“I was taken to St Paul’s Bay where a fisherman had reported an object lying on the sea bed. We found the fisherman and he took me out a distance of some two or three miles in his small rowing boat.  As far as I was concerned there was just a lot of water and we were about a mile offshore, as he didn’t appear to have laid a marker buoy I didn’t see how the devil he was going to find the right place…he rowed on and on and then stopped, looked all round him and signified we had arrived.  I put the waterglass over the side and damn my eyes we were sitting slap on top of a very fine magnetic mine.  The water here was ninety feet deep but it was so clear through the waterglass that I could read the figures on the case which are less than two inches high…

We went out with one of the minesweepers but although we played about for hours we just couldn’t sweep it… later I prepared a charge and went out once more in a rowing boat and lowered it down to the mine. It all sounds very simple like that but it wasn’t.  It was a bit rought that day and the boat was bobbing up and down like a cork and on the move all the time.  I was leaning over the side with my stomach very uncomfortably bearing on the gunwhale, a very hot sun on my back, a waterglass in one hand with the weighted charge on in the other and trying to give instruction to my assistant which way to pull…  The first attempt to countermine was not successful…all I had done had been to blow it about thirty yards along the sea bed, so I had all the performance again of laying another charge.  This time, although to my disappointment the mine did not detonate, it was split in two and looked like a half-peeled banana so it was, to all intents and purposes, destroyed.” (1)

AIR RAIDS DAWN 10 JULY TO DAWN 11 JULY 1941

Weather  Cloudy.

0009-0112 hrs; 0136-0221 hrs  Air raid alert for four enemy aircraft in total which approach the Island singly. Three cross the coast from the south and south west.  Bombs are dropped on near Bardia Ridge, near Dingli and on Ghain Tuffieha camp.  One falls on the Ghain Tuffieha searchlight and fails to explode.  The site is evacuated.  Bombs are also dropped on Wardia Ridge and in the sea west of the Island.  Two Hurricanes are scrambled with each approach.  Searchlights illuminate raiders but there are no engagements.  Wellington aircraft come in to land during the raid, causing confusion among the Island’s defenders.

OPERATIONS REPORTS THURSDAY 10 JULY 1941

ROYAL NAVY Rorqual proceeded on patrol, but returned at 2200 hrs with engine defects. 4 Swordfish left to attack Tripoli, but returned as weather unsuitable.

AIR HQ  Arrivals 4 Blenheim (3 of 114 Squadron, 1 of 82 Squadron), 1 Sunderland. Departures 3 Blenheim, 1 Sunderland. 69 Squadron Marylands reconnaissance Tripoli and convoy search. 148 Squadron 9 Wellingtons night bombing attack on railway marshalling yards at Naples causing damage and fires plus a large explosion in an airframe factory.  1 Wellington was struck by lightning but returned safely. 

HAL FAR  A Fulmar patrolled the Catania area but returned due to bad weather.

KALAFRANA  Overnight 20 small 15kg bombs were dropped on the south slipway and barrack areas. Two small store buildings received direct hits and the flying boat hangar; the Heinkel float-plane housed within received superficial damage from bomb splinters.  Two Army personnel were injured by bomb splinters.

1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT  Under ‘Exercise Asia’ the Mobile Machine-gun Company was ordered out which proved a difficult procedure as many of the personnel were already employed in the anti-parachute platoons, wearing different dress and equipment.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 3; dealt with 1 (100kg HE).

(1) Mines Over Malta, Frederick R Galea, Wise Owl Publications

 

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Posted by on July 10, 2021 in 1941, July 1941

 

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11 March 1941: Bombs on Sliema Kill 21 Civilians and Injure 16

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RFA Plumleaf (3)

RFA Plumleaf (3)

CIVILIANS PERISH TRYING TO ENTER BUSY SHELTER

21 civilians were killed and another 36 injured tonight when high explosive bombs struck St Rita Street in the residential district of Sliema. Many of the victims were caught in the narrow street as they desperately tried to enter an overcrowded shelter.  Ten houses were completely demolished and 25 others badly damaged in the blast.  Some 70 people were rendered homeless and had to be accommodated at the Sliema ARP Centre and the Blue Sisters Hospital. 

Young Charles Grech was talking with friends outside his local shelter: “…we heard a terrible screech.   ‘Falling bombs!’ somebody shouted and there was a general rush to the friary door and down to the shelter which was already full of people.  Somebody had tripped on the top of the stairs and fallen down and this added to the confusion.  When the explosion came, somebody panicked and tried to close the front door of the friary.   I found myself face down on the ground with the crowd treading over me.  The coat I was wearing was torn…More people who had remained at home started arriving when they heard the explosion but they could not enter the friary, as it was full up…” (1)

After the raid local residents rushed to St Rita Street. One described later what he saw:  “It all appeared to me to be a dream or rather a nightmare and all I could think of was the absolutely unreal inhumanity of it all. The bright moonlight bathed the scene of utter devastation, the acrid reek of explosive filled the cool night air.  The uncanny silence was broken only by muffled groans and long drawn sighs.” (2)

The bombing was part of an unusually heavy raid on the coast west of Marsamxett Harbour which has escaped attack in recent weeks. Residents became concerned earlier today when Plumleaf was towed into Sliema Creek, the first vessel to be berthed there since HMS Terror left for North Africa last November.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 11 MARCH TO DAWN 12 MARCH 1941

Weather  Fine.

1020-1100 hrs  Air raid alert for five enemy formations approaching the Island from the direction of Comiso. Identified as ME 109 fighters, they remain at 5 miles’ distance.  They are believed to be standing by to draw the fire of Hurricanes while reconnaissance is carried out.  Eight Hurricanes are scrambled; no engagement.

1220-1242 hrs  Air raid alert; for enemy aircraft approaching from the direction of Comiso. One JU 88 bomber crosses the Island at 23000 feet on reconnaissance.   Anti-aircraft guns engage; no claims.

1630 hrs Two enemy aircraft are picked up by RDF heading northwards some 20 miles from the coast of Malta. Their speed suggests JU 52 transport planes.  Seven Malta Hurricanes are despatched to intercept but the enemy turn away out of tracking range.

2210-2259 hrs  Air raid alert for seven to ten enemy aircraft which approach and carry out a concerted attack at various points. One high explosive bomb on Msida scores a direct hit on a torpedo depot, seriously damaging an entire block.  Another explodes near a defensive position at St George’s, causing some blast damage.  Bombs on Sliema demolish 10 houses and damage 25 others.  21 civilians are killed and 36 injured.  Bombs are also dropped in the sea off Delimara, Kalafrana, Hal Far, Tigne and St Julians, and on land north east of Ta Qali.  Searchlights illuminate one Heinkel HE 111. A Malta night fighter engages, damaging one raider.

0135-0155 hrs  Air raid alert; raid does not materialise.

Military casualties  Aircraftsman J Azzopardi, Royal Air Force (VR); Gunner Saviour Borg, 2AA Regiment, Royal Malta Artillery.

Civilian casualties  Sliema  Giovanni Borg, age 24; Saverio Borg, age 20; Giuseppe Borg, age 13; Emmanuel Buttigieg, age 40; Anthony Buttigiege, age 30; James Churchill, age 50; James Henry Churchill, age 9; Dorothy Churchill, age 4; George Churchill, age 6 weeks; Andrea Degiovanni, age 43; Doris (Dolores) Calleja, age 17; Annie Farrugia, age 67; Mary Grech, age 18; Alex Grech, age 15; Annie Grech, age 11; Teresa Grech, age 3; Aneglo Saliba, age 16; Nazarreno Scicluna, age 50; John Scicluna, age 44; Benedict Scicluna, age 17; Dolores (Doris) Zahra, age 60.

OPERATIONS REPORTS TUESDAY 11 MARCH 1941

ROYAL NAVY  830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm  Five Swordfish on anti-convoy patrol of Tripoli Harbour; all returned safely.

AIR HQ  Departures 2 Sunderlands.

KALAFRANA  One Sunderland left for Gibraltar with passengers and freight. One Sunderland left for Middle East with Air Officer Commanding and other passengers.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 1; dealt with 4 (1 x 200kg;3 x 500kg).

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  Evening stand-to altered to 1900-2000 hrs; morning stand-to altered to 0600-0700 hrs.

2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  A mine on the beach in the Rinella sector was exploded by the Royal Navy mine disposal unit.

(1) Raiders Passed, Charles B Grech (translated by Joseph Galea Debono) Midsea Books 1998

(2) When Malta Stood Alone, Joseph Micallef, Interprint 1981

(3) Royal Fleet Auxiliary Historical Society

 

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Posted by on March 11, 2021 in 1941, March 1941

 

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