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12 February 1942: 58 Aircraft in One Raid – 42 Civilians Killed

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ATTACK ON GRAND HARBOUR ECLIPSES ILLUSTRIOUS BLITZ

42 civilians were killed this afternoon in a single massive air raid on Grand Harbour.  18 JU 88 bombers with a 40-strong Messerchmitt fighter escort swooped down the north coast just before two o’clock this afternoon.  They dropped bombs on Valletta, Ricasoli, Zabbar, Corradino, Marsa, Hamrun and Paola, as well as outlying districts.  Densely populated areas of Paola were particularly badly hit: 34 are reported dead in this area alone.

The sheer numbers of aircraft made it impossible for Malta’s Ack Ack gunners to prevent them reaching their targets.  It is estimated that over 150 bombs of up to 500kg were dropped in the raid, which lasted well over an hour.  Airfields were also heavily bombed: many bombs fell on Luqa and the Safi strip, and at least 14 High Explosive bombs are reported on Hal Far.

… “Paola was badly blitzed; whole streets are down, if we are to believe a godly soldier who is stationed there…A corner of Valletta Palace was knocked off; a bomb dropped in Palace Square; it was one of those which goes off on the slightest impact and does not bury itself in the earth. It made only a very small saucer-like hole, but walls within 100 yards have large chunks chipped out. But it killed at least two people.

A man who was there and heard it coming flung himself down and got away with it. But a lady continued her walk and was hit in the face; and a well known man Mr Reggie Smith who was going to the library had his leg blown off. He died a fortnight later. At his funeral which I took in the Chapel at Ta Braxia itself, a large number of Maltese actually came into the building, encouraged by Mr. Charles Edwards.”

Extract from diary of Reverend Reginald M. Nicholls, Chancellor of St.Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Valletta (1)

AIR RAIDS DAWN 12 FEBRUARY TO DAWN 13 FEBRUARY 1942

Weather   100% low cloud; rain.  Wind westerly.

0818-0951 hrs  Two JU 88 bombers, two ME 109 fighters and two unidentified aircraft approach from the north and carry out patrols at varying heights off the south east of the Island.  Malta’s fighters are up but do not intercept.  Heavy Ack Ack engage; all aircraft recede north.

1013-1023 hrs  One unidentified aircraft approaches from the north at 8000 feet and appears to be searching about 15 miles north of St Paul’s Bay, before finally receding north.  Fighters are up but do not intercept.  The plane does not come within range of Heavy Ack Ack guns.

1035-1050 hrs  Four aircraft approach from the north and again appear to be searching 15 miles north of St Paul’s Bay.  Malta’s fighters are not up; enemy aircraft do not cross the coast.

Dornier 24 Flying Boat

1120 hrs  Twelve Hurricanes are scrambled to intercept one JU 88, one Dornier 24 and a number of ME 109s.  P/O Ormerod attacks the JU 88 which catches fire and goes straight down into the sea.  The Dornier 24 and two ME 109s are also attacked and hit.  Two Hurricanes are also damaged: one crashes on landing, the other is missing: F/Lt Allan is reported missing.

1158-1241 hrs  Two JU 88s and two ME 109s approach from the north and drop bombs on the Safi strip.  Malta’s fighters are still up and engage the enemy.   Heavy and Light Ack Ack engage.

1345 hrs  Three aircraft of 249 Squadron mount a search for F/Lt Allan, with no result.  It is thought he was picked up by the Dornier 24 as he bailed out.

1351-1523 hrs  18 JU 88 and 40 ME 109s launch an attack on Grand Harbour, dropping bombs on Valletta, Ricasoli, Zabbar, Corradino, Marsa, Hamrun and Paola. There is significant damage to civilian areas with many casualties.  Heavy Ack Ack engage.

1413 hrs  Six JU 88s attack Hal Far, dropping fourteen bombs and causing blast damage to buildings.  One Swordfish and one Hurricane are damaged.  One soldier of 2nd Bn The Devonshire Regiment is seriously hurt.

1415 hrs  Bombs are dropped on the Safi Strip and Giacomo Ridge area.  Guns of 225 Light Ack Ack Battery engage, firing a total of 178 rounds.  Hits are claimed by four gun positions.  Gunner W Goulden is removed to No 45 General Hospital with fractured ribs.  There is damage to tent and accommodation at XLS 26 and billets at XLN 77.

1429 hrs  Bombs are dropped in the Mqabba area.

1520 hrs  Bombs are dropped across the area of 1st Bn The Dorsetshire Regiment: no military damage or casualties are reported.

1607-1835 hrs  One bomber and 25 ME 109s approach from the north and drop bombs on Luqa village.  The fighters carry out an offensive patrol.  Heavy Ack Ack engage.

2135-2200 hrs  One aircraft approaches from the north, turns three miles east of Gozo and recedes without dropping bombs.

2213-2236 hrs  One aircraft approaches from the north, crosses the coast over Mellieha and drops bombs in the sea before receding over Gozo.  Ack Ack do not engage.

0043-0057 hrs  One aircraft approaches from the north west, drops bombs in the sea west of Gozo and recedes without crossing the coast.

0339-0440 hrs  One aircraft approaches from the north west and is barraged as it approaches St Paul’s Bay, causing it to jettison bombs in the sea and recede north.

Military casualties  Sub-Lieutenant Alexander McDonald, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, pilot, HMS Grebe; SPO Joseph Fenech, Royal Navy, Lazzaretto; Sergeant Arthur Moore, WOAG, Royal Air Force; Private Reginald Panton, 2nd Bn The Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment; WOII Emanual Farrugia, 3rd Regt, Royal Malta Artillery; Gunner Jack Hart, 4th Heavy Ack Ack Regiment; Gunner William Jones, 4th Heavy Ack Ack Regiment.

Civilian casualties  Gharghur  Carmelo Micallef, age 8.  Marsa  Carmelo Calleja, age 54. 

Paola  Maria Agius, age 31; Victor Agius, age 29; Carmel Bugeja, age 76; Emanuel Busuttil, age 26; Antonia Busuttil, age 4; Carmela Cachia, age 52; Carmel Camilleri, age 30; John Desira, age 70; Joseph Fenech, age 35; Maria Fleri, age 29; Lilian Fleri, age 1; Jane Gatt, age 55; Anna Gera, age 75; Carmela Grech, age 53; Mary Grech, age 21; Aurelia Grech, age 19; Jane Grima, age 19; Rosina Mallia, age 56; Louis Mallia, age 9, John Mazzello, age 75; Carmela Morris, age 68; Regina Pace, age 64; Joseph Pisani, age 64; Jane Pisani, age 50; Carmela Pisani, age 34; Mary Salsero, age 17; Lawrence Scerri, age 55; Charles Theobold, age 77; John Vassallo, age 75; Stanley Warne, age 13; Andrea Zammit, age 76; Stephen Zammit, age 62; Carmelo Zammit, age 33; Marianna Zarb, age 50.

Qormi  Joseph Farrugia, age 36.  Tarxien  Alfonzon Camilleri, age 46; Gio Batta Cutajar, age 14; Michelina Grech, age 72.  Zejtun  Salvina Bonnici, age 15; Giusa Buttigieg, age 14.

Enemy casualties  Oberfeldwebel Heinz Bosch, pilot of a JU.88 bomber – shot down; Oberleutnant Herbert Doerz pilot of a JU 88 bomber – shot down and crashed into the sea.

OPERATIONS REPORTS: 12 FEBRUARY 1942

AIR HQ  Arrivals  one Cathay, three Hudsons, three Beaufighters from Gibraltar (one Beaufighter reported missing).  Departures  Four Hudsons to 108 MU; one Champion to Cairo.

LUQA  69 Squadron  One Maryland SF1 patrol; one Maryland SF2 patrol; one Maryland SF3 patrol.  40 Squadron  One Wellington Catania Aerodrome; six Wellingtons Tripoli shipping.  S/D Flight  One Wellington special search.

1st BN THE CHESHIRE REGIMENT  C Company handed over Della Grazia are to 1 Dorsets by 1200 hrs; retained Rinella in Battalion area.  A Company took over Valetta from 11 Lancs and moved into Camerata Barracks.  & Platoon B Company took over Corradino from 6 Platoon A Company; C Company took over Notre Dame from A Company.  Companies carried out fortnightly route march.  Working party on Luqa was bombed: four men wounded and admitted to hospital:   Private Dunn broken ankle and contusion of face; Private Bromley a broken femur; Private McNeice contusion of face.  Private Lea slightly wounded.

11TH BN THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS  Brigade boundaries altered to include 1st Bn Durham Light Infantry on south west coast.  1st Cheshire take over Whitehall-Sliema Creek area from this unit.  D Company hand over Valletta posts to 1st Cheshires and become mobile reserve.

2ND BN THE ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  Private Panton killed during afternoon. 

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB  Reported 4; dealt with 1 (50kg) not including anti-personnel bombs and incendiaries.

(1) Courtesy of website: Malta Family History

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Posted by on February 12, 2017 in 1942, February 1942

 

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16 January 1941: Ferocious Luftwaffe Blitz Illustrious at Malta

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ILLUSTRIOUS BLITZ – THE PEOPLE REMEMBER CLICK HERE

“ON THAT DAY I LEARNED WHAT HELL IS LIKE” (1)

The Luftwaffe today launched their first concentrated and ferocious attack of the war in the Mediterranean.  Early this afternoon the sun burned away the morning cloud to leave a clear bright sky.  Suddenly out of the blue a formation of Stuka dive-bombers screamed across the skies over Grand Harbour and HMS Illustrious, berthed at Parlatorio Wharf.  Wave after wave of Luftwaffe aircraft followed in their wake – more than seventy of them, raining bombs on the Dockyard and surrounding areas.

Bombing of Illustrious strikes Three Cities (NWMA Malta)

Bombing of Illustrious strikes Three Cities (NWMA Malta)

“Hordes and hordes of dive-bombers came over in big waves for over an hour and dived from all angles in a suicidal manner to within a hundred feet of the harbour, where they let go their enormous bombs.

The anti-aircraft barrage was as terrific as it was awe-inspiring. Bofors guns banged and crashed at a determined height, above them burst pom-pom shells and the heavier shells, below them spluttered the rifle and machine gun bullets, till the whole sky was one mass of boiling bubbling explosions completely blotting out the blue canopy above.  The prolonged din merged with the continuous echo to produce an eerie mumble which rose and fell but never slackened(2)

Forty dockyard workers huddling in communal prayer in a shelter hewn from rock under heavy bastions could feel the impact of the bombing:  “The whole shelter seemed to be trembling and shuddering as if we were in the middle of a gigantic earthquake. Sometimes it felt as if express trains with a strange kind of echo were running at full speed under our feet.  Occasionally the sharp blasts of heavy gunfire would penetrate the shelter but would quickly be drowned out by the surrounding din.” (3)

Barely able to prepare for the onslaught, Malta’s few defending Hurricane and Fulmar aircraft took to the air to try and repel the raiders.  The valiant response succeeded in preventing all but one bomb from falling on Illustrious. The merchant ship Essex was hit by a heavy bomb, killing fifteen crew and seven Maltese dockyard workers.

“The show never seemed to end, but when the last plane had gone, and the thunder of guns changed into an echo and then, too, disappeared, a pall of white smoke covered the whole harbour area.” (2)

CITIES REDUCED TO RUBBLE – THOUSANDS HOMELESS

Dozens of bombs intended for Illustrious rained down on the surrounding ‘Three Cities’ of Senglea, Vittoriosa and Cospicua.  Malta’s oldest urban communities established and fortified in the 16th century by the Knights of Malta, are now reduced to rubble. It is estimated some 200 houses have been destroyed and another 500 damaged.  Casualties are reported to be high: with reported dead – men, women and children; most survivors have lost their homes and everything they own; hundreds are still believed trapped under collapsed buildings. The sacristy of the parish church of St Lawrence, Vittoriosa, suffered a direct hit, entombing 35 people who were sheltering in the crypt. 

The effect on the population has been devastating.  The majority had fled their homes to take refuge inland during the early raids of June 1940 but through the quieter autumn many have drifted back home to rejoin Dockyard workers who had stayed behind. 

Adjutant of the Special Constabulary, Philo Pullicino, hurried to Senglea after the raid:

Senglea after the raid

Senglea after the raid

“Pale people of all ages, carrying bundles of clothing; the dismal banging of doors and windows forced open by blast; the frequent shattering of glass and the continuous stream of dust and stones from demolished houses; all this greeted me and made me pause as I entered Senglea…

Approaching the top of the long broad stretch that was Victory Street with its gentle inviting slope, I beheld little else but stones, dust and debris blocking the entire roadway at different places.  As I walked down the street, climbing over high piles of shattered masonry littered with broken furniture, I glanced down the side streets and noticed with sullen anger and amazement that these too were blocked to a height of one storey…and all the while the sickly smell of gas touched my nostrils…  At the Wharf the scene was still bad. Great voids in blocks of houses marked the trail of the bombs.  The promenade was littered with balconies, broken dghajsas, shop signs and goods…” (2)

Valletta, too, was badly hit, sending its citizens scurrying for shelter.  “The noise in our Crypt was just terrible. There were about 250 people there huddled together, many of them crying, but many were very brave. The roar was like the loudest thunder one has ever heard, but absolutely continuous, and it was not possible really to distinguish the guns from the bombs, except when one fell close to us – about 70 yards. That brought down a block of flats and 5 people were killed. We sat, holding hands and praying aloud.” (4)

Bombs had struck five buildings in Old Mint Street, Valletta, including a six-storey block of flats. Men rushed to the rescue, saving three children and over a dozen adults from the ruins, but five lost their lives.

The call has gone out for demolition squads and volunteers who are urgently needed for rescue work across Valletta and the Three Cities. (5)

AIR RAIDS DAWN 16 JANUARY TO DAWN 17 JANUARY 1941

Weather  Heavy morning cloud; clear afternoon.

1047-1053 hrs  Air raid alert for enemy aircraft reported approaching Grand Harbour. Six Swordfish patrol across the Island in formation from north east to south west; three Fulmars are also airborne.  The raiders do not cross the coast.

1355-1530 hrs  Air raid alert for formations of German bombers approaching the Island. 15 JU 88s approach from the north over Tigne at 8-12000 feet, wheel east and dive-bomb Grand Harbour before turning away over Ricasoli and Zonqor. The raiders are met by an extremely heavy barrage from all the heavy and light guns of the Dockyard, Luqa and Birzebbuga.  Malta fighters are scrambled.

The first attack is followed in by several more large formations of JU 87 Stuka dive-bombers, totalling some 50 aircraft, which swoop down singly from 14000 feet to a very low altitude to launch their bombs. Again the guns respond with a massive barrage and Malta fighters engage in dogfights with enemy aircraft.

Bombs dropped from as little as a few hundred feet severely damage much civilian property and buildings across the Dockyard. No 2 boiler shop is badly damaged and part of No 2 dock destroyed.  A large crater is blown in Sawmills Wharf; flying debris and splinters damage surround windows.  MV Essex is hit in the engine room by a large bomb, killing 14 or 15 men and wounding another 15.  Her vital cargo of guns, ammunition, torpedoes and other service stores is undamaged. HMS Illustrious is hit in the quarterdeck by one bomb. HMS Perth suffers a near-miss and is damaged underwater. 

Several unexploded bombs are reported in the Dockyard and creeks.  Eleven raiders are confirmed shot down and another six damaged, some by fighter aircraft and the remainder by anti-aircraft fire.

1605-1640 hrs  Air raid alert for approaching enemy aircraft. One JU88 approaches from the east and is later seen flying away from the coast to the south west, pursued by Malta fighters; the raider is believed damaged.  No bombs are dropped.

Military casualties  Stoker 1st Class Harry Hague, HMS Triumph.

Civilian casualties Floriana  Robert Grech (21); Hamrun  Pawlu Gauci (25); Marsa  Dominic Vassallo (15); Senglea  Elicio Briccio (70), Nicola Buhagiar (70), Emanuel Caruana (50), Giovanna Cassar (20), Rita Cassar (18) and Tessie Cassar (8), Antonia Farrell (27) and William Farrell (38), Mary Farrugia (8), Jane Gatt (64), Vincenza Grima (50), Angelina Kamm (50), Michael Mallia (65), Rosina Remigio (35), Rev Canon Profs John Theuma (28), Carmela Theuma (30) and Bice Theuma (5), Emily Teuma (21), Evelyn Vella (17); Valletta Vincent Cachia (40), Mary Healey (66), Carmela Mamo (44), Teresa Mamo (80), Assunta Rapinett (43), Mary Rapinett (6), Emanuel Spiteri (48);  Vittoriosa  Mary Cardona, Erminia D’Agostino (12), Joseph D’Agostino (11), Josephine D’Agostino (41), Lawrence D’Agostino, Sosa Darmanin (50), Alfonso Degabriele (67), Joseph Degabriele (21), Lawrence Degabriele (56), Francis Falzon (16), Anna Galea (9), Carmela Gatt, Cettina Gatt, Dolores Gatt (24), Laurence Gatt,  Mary Gatt (23), Lorenza German (11), Anthony Hili, Emanuel Mallia, Francis Mallia, Laurence Mallia (55), Lora Mallia, Albert Mizzi, Anthony Mizzi, Francis Mizzi (32), Lorenza Pisani (32), Vincent Pisani, Lorenzo Zarb (44); Zeitun  Albert Brignoli (51); plus 6 unidentified females and 9 unidentified males. 

Enemy casualties  Oberleutnant LG1 Kurt Pickler, Pilot, JU 88 bomber.

OPERATIONS REPORTS THURSDAY 16 JANUARY 1941

ROYAL NAVY  Perth sailed after dark to the eastward.

LUQA  69 Squadron (431 Flight): 1 Maryland reconnaissance Taranto intercepted by two Macchi 200s.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB reported 2; dealt with 2 (Ack Ack shell and petrol tank).

MALTA SIGNAL COMPANY  Cables damaged by enemy action at Rocco, Ricasoli and Lascaris-Ghain Dwielli.

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  Some officers attended a demonstration of 25lb gun-hows and 6in Howitzers.

2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  Battalion commanders reconnaissance of new positions for machine gun posts at Tal Handaq and Luqa.

(1) Joseph Attard of Cospicua, son of a Dockyard worker, The Battle of Malta, Joseph Attard, Hamlyn Paperbacks 1980

(2) The Road to Rome, Philo Pullicino, MPI Publishing 2012

(3) Illustrious Blitz: Joseph Stephens Remembers

(4) Diary of Rev Reginald Nicholls, Chancellor of St Pauls Anglican Cathedral, courtesy of website: Malta Family History

(5) Main text from UXB Malta, S A M Hudson, History Press 2010/2012

 

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Posted by on January 16, 2016 in 1941, January 1941

 

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11 January 1941: Maltese Help Stricken Illustrious

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HMS Southampton sunk in dive-bombing attack

HMS Southampton sunk in enemy raid

CROWDS RUSH TO AID OF CARRIER

The moment Illustrious berthed last night, hordes of people rushed to her side: firemen with hoses to put out the still burning fires, doctors and ambulance men to attend to the wounded, stretcher bearers to carry them, seamen from other ships,, surveyors to see to the first needs of an impossible task of making the ship seaworthy, and others who in one way or another had a job to do. All of them worked their way in a forest of twisted, torn and blackened steel.  At first light this morning the Maltese dockyard workers took over.  Their specific orders were not to deal with the smashed deck and twisted alleyways, or anything else above the waterline, but to attend only to the bare essentials that would make it possible for the ship to go to sea and quickly.  Divers went down to examine the bottom, the fitters invaded the engine room, and the welders began to weld holes…  The dockyard workers worked like ants until late and only left when others came to take their place. (1)

OPERATION EXCESS MAIN FLEET SUFFERS FURTHER ATTACK

HMS Gallant damaged by a mine

HMS Gallant damaged by a mine

The Operation Excess convoy today endured further determined attacks from Luftwaffe aircraft.  With the departure of HMS Illustrious and its Fulmar squadron, the remainder of the convoy was left without defensive air cover.  12 JU 87 Stukas launched a further dive bombing attack on the convoy’s cruiser force. HMS Gloucester was hit by a bomb which failed to explode but Southampton suffered three major hits which started large fires. The crew fought in vain to control the blazes but late this evening the captain issued the order to abandon ship. Southampton was then sunk by torpedoes from Gloucester and Orion.  Casualties from Southampton totalled 80 dead and 87 wounded; Gloucester lost nine dead and 14 wounded.

CASUALTY LIST GLOUCESTER

CASUALTY LIST SOUTHAMPTON

As the convoy and escort passed through to Malta, the destroyer Gallant was mined, lost her bows, and had to be towed in to harbour with Bonaventure, Griffin and Mohawk.  Disembarked Bonaventure: 404 Searchlight Battery Royal Artillery officers 1, other ranks 57.

CASUALTY LIST GALLANT

AIR RAIDS DAWN 11 JANUARY TO DAWN 12 JANUARY 1941

Weather  Wind slight; high cloud.

0745-0848 hrs Air raid alert for six enemy aircraft reported approaching the Island. One SM 79 flies over the Island at 33000 feet on reconnaissance.  One Maryland is airborne with the task of shadowing any identified German aircraft, especially dive bombers, in order to track them back to their base.  Six Hurricanes are scrambled; one sees the raiders but they are too far away to intercept.  One Hurricane crashes in flames at Ta Qali, killing the pilot; the cause is unknown.

0837 hrs  A defence post of 2nd Bn Devonshire Regiment reports seeing a cruiser heading towards the Island with a damaged destroyer in tow.  

0838 hrs  Southern Infantry Brigade warns 2nd Bn Royal West Kent Regiment to expect 90 prisoners of war shortly, for which they are to provide a guard.  Only three prisoners were disembarked.

0933-0942 hrs  Air raid alert; raid does not materialise.

Military casualties  Leading Aircraftsman Leonard Amos Lewis, Royal Air Force, 819 Squadron; Sergeant William John Timms, Pilot, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve; Flight Sergeant Rene Duvauchelle, pilot Free French; Sergeant Jacques Mehouas, wireless operator/observer Free French, 230 Squadron.

OPERATIONS REPORTS SATURDAY 11 JANUARY 1941

AIR HQ  0445-1457 hrs Sunderland sweep ahead of eastbound convoy. 0530-1515 hrs Sunderland patrol western Ionian Sea.  0600 hrs  Maryland despatched to reconnoitre Taranto for shipping and Catania and Comiso aerodromes.  Pilot signalled at 0900 hrs information of ships at Brindisi, though not instructed to recce there.  The aircraft has so far failed to return.   

ROYAL NAVY  Bonaventure and Griffin arrived escorting Mohawk towing Gallant, the bows of the latter having been blown off.  Griffin sailed pm, leaving Bonaventure and Jaguar.  The last two were to have returned to the westward but were retained at Malta pending developments. 

LUQA  431 Flight: 1 Maryland reconnaissance Taranto – aircraft brought down by fighters, possibly near Catania, all crew missing.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  24 Fortress Company began building a light machine gun post at Lintorn Barracks. Bomb Disposal UXB reported 1; dealt with 1 (Ack Ack shell case).

(1) The Battle of Malta, Joseph Attard, Hamlyn Paperbacks 1980

 

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Posted by on January 11, 2016 in 1941, January 1941

 

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10 January 1941: Luftwaffe Swoops on Convoy – Illustrious an Inferno

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“ONE OF THE SEVEREST POUNDINGS EVER DELIVERED AGAINST A SINGLE SHIP” (1)

Fulmars on deck 2The convoy of four merchant ships plus escort which has been heading for Malta through the western Mediterranean suffered a series of heavy air attacks today. The supply convoy and escort were within 100 miles of Malta just after 11 this morning when a series of single Italian aircraft attempted to approach the ships.  At first they were driven off by five Fulmars from HMS Illustrious.  Then as the Fulmars returned to the deck to refuel, two Italian torpedo bombers swooped low over the Carrier, forcing her to make an emergency turn but causing no damage. 

At 1230 hrs, just as the Fulmars were declared ready, the Carrier’s radar detected a large group of enemy aircraft approaching from the north. In the time it took for the Fulmars to take off, the raiders reached her.  43 JU 87 dive bombers and 18 HE 111 bombers in four formations, escorted by ten Messerschmitt fighters launched a determined and highly skilled attack on the convoy. 

In a series of strikes by 30 Stuka dive bombers, six direct hits from 500kg armour-piercing bombs and three near misses disabled Illustrious.  The first bomb struck the Carrier at 1238 hrs, passing through the ship’s side before exploding in the water, peppering the hull with shrapnel.  Seconds later another bomb penetrated the flight deck and exploded in the paint store.  Then a 250kg anti-personnel bomb burst on the starboard pom-pom gun, killing its crew and four others from a nearby gun. 

One hit and one near miss on Illustrious (c) IWM A4161

One hit and one near miss on Illustrious (c) IWM A4161

At 1240 hrs a 500kg bomb struck a lift midway between the hangar and the flight deck, wiping out a Fulmar and its pilot, destroying gun turrets and setting fire to nine Swordfish and four other Fulmars. Fire crews leapt into action and managed to bring the blaze under control.  Meanwhile at 1242 hrs a 500kg bomb struck the same area, skidded into the hangar and exploded at the very heart of Illustrious, setting off ammunition stores and fuel tanks.  Ten seconds later another 500kg bomb burst open the Carrier’s bow and the fires became an inferno.

“I came off watch from the boiler-room at noon…within minutes, we were hit in the after-lift well.  Shortly after, a 500kg bomb pierced the 4″ armoured flight deck, through the hangar-deck and partially into the wardroom flat and ammunition conveyor, approximately 6 feet from where we were assembled.  I was fortunate to be blown through the bulkhead door, landing about 30 feet away…”  Ronald Lucking, Stoker, HMS Illustrious (2)

As the fourth and final enemy formation approached Illustrious, the Fulmars went on the attack, flying straight for the Stukas as they dived, in a desperate attempt to turn them away.  Five JU 87s were shot down in the counter attack and four others were unable to reach target.  The tenth got through and dropped its 500kg bomb on the centre of the flight deck which collapsed.  The bomb ripped through the hangar and exploded on the deck below.  100 men were trapped by fallen debris.  Within seven minutes of the start of the attack, Illustrious was almost sinking.

Admiral Cunningham later wrote: “There was no doubt we were watching complete experts. We could not but admire the skill and precision of it all. The attacks were pressed home to point-blank range, and as they pulled out of their dives, some of them were seen to fly along the flight deck of Illustrious below the level of her funnel.” Remarkably, the Carrier’s engines were barely damaged. Her Commanding Officer, Captain Denis Boyd, decided to head for Malta.  Within half an hour of the attack, with fires still raging throughout the ship and steering only through engine power, Illustrious was underway, screened by destroyers Hasty and Jaguar heading for Grand Harbour 85 miles away at a steady 18-21 knots.  Working in infernal conditions, her boiler-room crew managed to keep the ship stoked, while fire parties toiled for hours trying to keep the fires under control.

Another near miss (c) IWM A4162

Another near miss (c) IWM A4162

By 1600 hrs Illustrious was within 40 miles of Malta when the Luftwaffe struck again.  15 Stukas and five Messerchmitts dived on the vulnerable Carrier in three waves, only to be met again by determined Fulmar pilots, who despite being outnumbered four to one managed to shoot five Stukas down into the sea.  Only one dive-bomber got through, but he struck with a 500kg bomb which fell near the Carrier’s stern, where a temporary sick bay had been set up.  Between 20 and 30 of the ship’s company died instantly and fires were re-ignited.

Despite heroic efforts to control the blaze, by late afternoon the fires aft of the ship were dangerously out of control. Then the sheer weight of water poured onto the flames caused the ship to list heavily.  As the sun set, Illustrious was within 15 miles of Malta.  A radio message came through from Malta: enemy torpedo planes had been spotted heading for the Carrier.  Six Italian aircraft reached her five miles off the Island but were driven off by heavy anti-aircraft fire from the Carrier and her destroyer escort.  Finally, Illustrious limped into Grand Harbour, mooring at Parlatorio Wharf at 1015 hrs to the sound of cheers and rousing songs from the dockyard.  It took another five hours for her fires to be finally extinguished.  She had lost 126 dead and 91 wounded. (3)

HMS ILLUSTRIOUS CASUALTY LIST

CONVOY MW 5½ ARRIVES SAFELY

The supply convoy which left Alexandria three days ago arrived safely in Grand Harbour this morning after an uneventful passage through the eastern Mediterranean. The fast transport ship Breconshire and freighter Clan Macaulay docked at 0800hrs, having been escorted on their passage by anti-aircraft cruiser Calcutta and two destroyers, Defender and Diamond.

Once the supply ships had docked, Convoy ME 5½ made up of two empty freighters, Lanarkshire and Waiwera were escorted out of Malta by Calcutta and Diamond to join Operation Excess for onward passage to Alexandria.  A third convoy ME 6 comprising freighters Devis, Hoegh Hood, Rodi, Trocas and Volo, and the tankers Plumleaf and Pontfield also sailed from Malta today, escorted by three corvettes.

Late this evening the Malta freighter Essex arrived escorted by the destroyer Hero.  The freighter’s cargo included 4000 tons of ammunition, 12 cased Hurricane fighters and 3000 tons of seed potatoes for the island.  Also disembarked: 190 Heavy Ack Ack Battery RA officers 53, other ranks 3; Special Service Battalion officers 4, other ranks 59; RAOC officers 3 other ranks 75; 161 Field Ambulance RAMC officers 2 other ranks 19.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 10 JANUARY TO DAWN 11 JANUARY 1941

Weather  Cold.

0845-0855 hrs  Air raid alert for one Italian Breda 20 aircraft which approaches from the north, circles to the west, then flies over Valletta at 25000 feet, probably on reconnaissance. Six Hurricanes are scrambled; no raid materialises.

1145-1210 hrs  Air raid alert for a formation of enemy aircraft which approaches the Island from the north east but withdrew without making an attack. Six Hurricanes are scrambled; no interception.  As the Hurricanes head back to base some guns on the ground open fire before the aircraft are identified; no damage is done.    

1438-1445 hrs  Air raid alert for an approaching formation of six JU 87 dive bombers with fighter escort.   Six Hurricanes are scrambled; one engages the enemy but no result is observed.  The raiders turn north without making an attack.

1620 hrs  Heavy guns are heard firing out to sea to the west of the Island. One aircraft carrier and destroyers are engaging enemy aircraft to the south west.

1815-1825 hrs  Air raid alert for an approaching enemy formation spotted 17 miles west of Malta. One Hurricane is airborne and machine guns open fire from Zonqor Point.  Flashes are reported in the direction of Marsascala bay; four vessels are observed three miles to the east.

1900-1020 hrs  Air raid alert. Three Swordfish land at Hal Far.  No enemy aircraft are seen near the Island.

OPERATIONS REPORTS FRIDAY 10 JANUARY 1941

AIR HQ  0745-1200 hrs Glen Martin photoreconnaissance Palermo prior to evening attack by 830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm. On return journey sighted two JU 87s east of Pantelleria. 0835-1325 hrs Maryland photoreconnaissance Naples and Messina. Considerable interference by enemy fighters; chased by Macchi fighter over Naples and took evasive action. 0845-1350 hrs Maryland photoreconnaissance Taranto and Syracuse.  0550-1320 hrs  Sunderland recce western part of Ionian patrol.

ROYAL NAVY  The fleet was attacked by German dive-bombers and Illustrious suffered damage. Illustrious arrived at Malta after dark with the steering gear out of action, and was towed into berth at Parlatorio Wharf. HT Essex and convoy MW 5½ (comprising HT Clan Macaulay and HMS Breconshire) arrived safely.  Operations overnight by Swordfish of 830 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm against Palermo.

LUQA  431 Flight: 1 Maryland reconnaissance Palermo; 1 Maryland reconnaissance Naples and Messina encountered enemy fighters; 1 Maryland reconnaissance Taranto and Syracuse. 148 Squadron: 7 Wellingtons bombing raid on Messina.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS No1 Works Coy completed additional accommodation for 1st Bn Dorset Regt at Hompesch. Bomb Disposal UXB reported 1; dealt with 1 (Ack Ack shell case).

(1) Massey Anderson, Reuter’s Correspondent aboard Illustrious, from Malta Diary of a War, Michael Galea, PEG Ltd, 1992

(2) Malta: Blitzed but not Beaten, Philip Vella, Progress Press 1985

(3) Red Duster, White Ensign, Ian Cameron, First Future Publications 1975

 

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Posted by on January 10, 2016 in 1941, January 1941

 

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29 September 1940: Troop Convoy for Malta Attacked

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HMS Liverpool

HMS Liverpool

CONVOY UNDER ATTACK

HM cruisers Gloucester and Liverpool came under threat today as aircraft of the Regia Aeronautica launched an attack on the convoy as they headed for Malta. The attacks were fought off by ships’ guns and aircraft from the carrier Illustrious.

It has emerged that Italian naval command had also picked up reports of the movements of Operation MB5 and has ordered its fleet to put to sea. Five battleships and seven heavy cruisers and four light cruisers and 23 destroyers set sail from Taranto and Messina in an attempt to intercept the convoy.

SLEEPING IN CLOTHES IN CASE OF A RAID

From the diary of the Chancellor of St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in Valletta

“What is the most important commodity a shortage of which would be most felt? In the economic sphere wheat, of course. Meat is not provided in the island to any extent, but the Maltese do not eat much of it. We used to get our beef, alive, from Romania; I do not think that any has come for months, and if Romania gets swallowed up by Germany there will be none. From the military point of view, I suppose petrol for the planes (of which we now have a much larger number, including some bombers who use us as a base) and heavy oil for the Navy, whose ships come in surreptitiously to re-fuel occasionally. Ammunition for the army one supposes was provided long ago. The gas manager tells me that he has coal for about 18 months at the present rate of consumption. Electric batteries for torches ran out for a time but were replenished before Italy came in.

St Pauls Anglican Cathedral

St Pauls Anglican Cathedral

I cannot obtain the pleasant pale blue type-ribbon which we have used for so many years – but I suspect the carelessness of the agent, who once before forgot to order it. Paraffin, which is much used for cooking ran very short a year ago. It was a great nuisance, and I hope it will not happen again; the poor who have no gas suffered a good deal.

We waste a great deal of time! An air raid a day keeps concentration away. We sleep in the Crypt; eerie, but one need not get up to go below in case of an alarm. The full moons of June and July were highly unpleasant; but in August, by the grace of God our enemies did not bother us. Here the moon is so bright that one can see to read at midnight. She is waxing now; shall we have attacks? It is also very cool in the Crypt; and it has been a cool year – another thing to be thankful for. For a fortnight I slept in my clothes – a form of funk, I think. Perhaps I had an idea that I might be called out for casualties. Also I took an old hat and kept it down below! This and a couple of iron bars, doubtless with the thought of being buried under fallen stone.” (1)

AIR RAIDS DAWN 29 SEPTEMBER TO DAWN 30 SEPTEMBER 1940

Weather  Fine.

No air raids.

OPERATIONS REPORTS SUNDAY 29 SEPTEMBER 1940

KALAFRANA Two Sunderlands on twelve hour reconnaissance patrols.

(1) Diary of Reverend Reginald M. Nicholls courtesy of website: Malta Family History

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Posted by on September 29, 2015 in 1940, September 1940

 

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