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21 July 1941: Malta Supply Ships’ Captains Told ‘Convoy Must Go Through’

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‘OPERATION SUBSTANCE’ MAKES READY TO FACE A HOSTILE MEDITTERANEAN

The largest convoy ever mounted to carry supplies assembled at Gibraltar yesterday ready to begin its journey to Malta. The merchant ships City of Pretoria, Deucalion, Durham, Melbourne Star, Port Chalmers, Sydney Star and the small personnel ship Leinster were made ready, loaded and guided into the Mediterranean under the strictest security measures.

Admiral Sir James Somerville aboard Renown (c) IWM A3741

Admiral Sir James Somerville aboard Renown (c) IWM A3741

As they approached Gibraltar at noon yesterday, accompanying destroyers fired a rocket onto each merchant ships with a line attached. At the end was a message addressed personally to the Masters of each merchantman from the commander of Force H, Admiral Sir James Somerville, KCB DSO, which revealed their secret destination:

“For over twelve months Malta has resisted all attacks of the enemy. The gallantry displayed by the garrison and people of Malta has aroused admiration throughout the world.  To enable their defence to be continued, it is essential that your ships, with their valuable cargoes, should arrive safely in Grand Harbour. 

The Royal Navy will escort and assist you in this great mission; you on your part can assist the Royal Navy by giving strict attention to the following points:

  • Don’t make smoke. Don’t show any lights at night. Keep good station.  Don’t straggle.  If your ship is damaged, keep her going at the best possible speed.

Provided every officer and man realises that it is up to him to do his duty to the very best of his ability, I feel sure we shall succeed.

Remember that the watchword is THE CONVOY MUST GO THROUGH.”

The realisation of the importance of their voyage gave the Masters a feeling of determination but also warned them of the possible dangers to come.  The operation today began with the departure of the oiler Brown Ranger escorted by the destroyer HMS Beverley to provide refuelling within the Mediterranean for the destroyers escorting the convoy.  Unfortunately on sailing Leinster ran aground and was forced to leave the Operation.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 21 JULY TO DAWN 22 JULY 1941

Weather  Hot and sunny.

1010-1045 hrs  Air raid alert for one a single enemy aircraft crossing the Island on reconnaissance at 23000 feet with an escort of 20 fighters. The fighters split up into three formations.  Hurricane fighters are scrambled but do not engage as they do not gain sufficient height.

2130-2220 hrs  Air raid alert for four enemy aircraft which approach the Island from the direction of Catania. Two cross the coast and drop bombs on Marsa and between Luqa and Safi.  Searchlights do not illuminate the raiders and Hurricanes do not intercept.  

OPERATIONS REPORTS MONDAY 21 JULY 1941

ROYAL NAVY  830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm 4 Swordfish left at 1910 to attack convoy but failed to intercept.

AIR HQ Arrivals 8 Beaufighter, 1 Sunderland. Departures 1 Sunderland, 5 Wellington 148 Squadron. 69 Squadron Marylands reconnaissance Sicily and Gulf of Taranto; shadowing of convoy. 

KALAFRANA  The Inspector General of the Royal Air Force, Sir Edgar Ludlow-Hewitt, visited the Station.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 2; dealt with 2 (1 x 100kg HE, 1 x 500kg HE).

 

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Posted by on July 21, 2016 in 1941, July 1941

 

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23 March 1941: Newly Arrived Convoy Bombed in Grand Harbour

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SS Perthshire was set on fire

SS Perthshire was set on fire

SUPPLY SHIPS DAMAGED

Four freighters of convoy MW6 arrived safely at Malta today guided through the eastern Mediterranean under the Royal Navy operation MC 9. Three merchant ships City of Manchester, Clan Ferguson and Perthshire sailed from Haifa on Wednesday last escorted by destroyers Griffin and Hotspur. City of Lincoln also embarked from Alexandria escorted by the destroyer Greyhound. The ships made a successful rendezvous north of Alexandria and sailed close to western Crete which provided fighter cover.

The convoy was covered by the main Mediterranean Fleet, including battleships Barham, Valiant and Warspite, the carrier Formidable and nine destroyers sailed from Alexandria to cover the convoy which they came upon at noon on Friday, just as enemy aircraft were approaching for attack; no damage was caused.

By 1600 hrs six more cruisers and three more destroyers joined the escort, followed by three more cruisers and a destroyer later that evening. With this heavy protection the convoy approached Malta, which then detached last night under cover of darkness to complete the final leg of its journey to Grand Harbour with a small detachment as protection.  Having negotiated the approach to harbor through a channel cleared of mines, all vessels docked safely just after 0700 hrs this morning.

Within an hour an enemy JU 88 bomber with fighter protection flew over Grand Harbour on reconnaissance. The ships’ presence was reported back to enemy HQ and later this morning a 30 strong attack was launched on the convoy.  Malta’s gunners were ready and a heavy barrage, along with a 12 strong Hurricane fighter force, drove the raiders off before they could press home their attack.  Later this afternoon the raiders were back – their strength increased to 45 – and they launched a fierce dive-bombing attack on the warships and merchant vessels.  One bomb hit the bridge of City of Lincoln; SS Perthshire was hit by an incendiary bomb and set on fire. The cruiser Bonaventure and the destroyer Griffin were both damaged by bomb splinters.

Fourteen Hurricanes were scrambled and destroyed or damaged twelve JU 87s. Hurricane pilot Sgt Frederick Robertson, DFM, had a lucky escape when his aircraft was attacked by a JU 87; the fuel tank was hit, setting his plane on fire but he managed to bale out and landed safely. His aircraft crashed near Rabat.

FOOTBALL MATCH GOES AHEAD DURING AIR RAID

The Army Cup Final was in progress this afternoon when the air raid alert sounded.  The match between the Royal Engineers and 1st Bn Dorsetshire Regiment was well underway as enemy raiders approached the Island and the decision was taken to continue the game, unless the raid developed directly overhead.  Players struggled to concentrate as the bombers roared over Grand Harbour but the game carried on.  The Royal Engineers won the match by 3 goals to nil.

TROOPS MOVING TO GOZO

Infantry troops are in the process of moving to Gozo to provide defence for the Island in the light of the anticipated enemy invasion. The troop movements have been organised under the guise of a major exercise.  The code name ‘Picnic’ will be used to refer to troops in Gozo.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 23 MARCH TO DAWN 24 MARCH 1941

Weather  Fine.

0700 hrs  A convoy of four merchant vessels with escort arrives in Malta.

0750-0825 hrs Air raid alert for a formation of enemy fighters accompanying one JU 88 bomber which flies over Grand Harbour at 24000 feet, evidently on reconnaissance. Ten Hurricanes are scrambled and anti-aircraft guns engage; no claims.

1150-1220 hrs Air raid alert for a formation of 15 ME 109 fighters escorting 15 JU 87 Stukas which dive-bomb the newly-arrived convoy in Grand Harbour. The harbour barrage is put up: some JU 87s dive through the barrage but others release their bombs from above it.  One bomber is observed having difficulty coming out of its dive; it flies out over the coast and is later reported crashing out to sea.  12 Hurricanes are scrambled and take to the air in two formations.  One formation engages the JU 87s and are then attacked by ME 109s.  The bombing raid is not fully pressed home and the JU 87s turn away to sea immediately, with the ME 109s in close attendance.  Most of the bombs fall on land in the area of Corradino Civil Prison and to the east of the target; several people are reported injured.  The shelter of Rear HQ 1st Bn Dorset Regiment is hit by a heavy bomb; no casualties.  No ships are hit.  Ack Ack guns claim one enemy raider destroyed and two damaged.

1540-1620 hrs  Air raid alert for a force of 25 JU 87 Stukas and 20 ME 109 fighters which approach the Island and carry out a dive-bombing attack, dropping 500kg and 1000kg bombs on warships and merchant ships in Grand Harbour. Several land on the Dockyard area, damaging buildings.  One bomb in the grounds of Bighi Hospital causes a camouflet crater, another explodes on a boundary wall; a third fails to explode and is recovered from an officer’s garden.  There is some damage to merchant ships: the bridge of City of Lincoln is demolished by a direct hit.  One incendiary bomb lands in the hold of SS Perthshire; the fire is put out by a scratch firefighting crew collected by Captain K J Body, Staff Captain ‘Q’ and Commander Price, RN.  Some of the cargo is destroyed.  No warships are hit; there is some splinter damage to Bonaventure and Griffin A sergeant of 4th Bn The Buffs who was manning a Bofors gun position is killed, apparently by a delayed action bomb.  Thirteen enemy aircraft are shot down. 

Fourteen Hurricanes are scrambled in two formations, destroying nine JU 87s plus one probable and two damaged. One Hurricane is shot down; the pilot bales out and is rescued.  Anti-aircraft guns destroy four JU 87s and damage four.

Military casualties  Marine James Beazley, Royal Marines, HMS St.Angelo; Stoker 2nd Class Victor Campbell, HMS Bonaventure.

Civilian casualties Dingli  Joseph Zahra, age 27.

OPERATIONS REPORTS SUNDAY 23 MARCH 1941

ROYAL NAVY Convoy MW6 and escort arrived at dawn using the searched channel north of Hurd Bank. The escort left at dusk to proceed to Alexandria.  The convoy was apparently not sighted at sea, but enemy reconnaissance aircraft which came over the Island as they were berthing did locate them.  Severe dive-bombing attacks on Grand Harbour followed which damaged City of Lincoln and Perthshire and caused slight splinter damage to Bonaventure and Griffin.  

AIR HQ Departures 2 Sunderlands. Sunderland patrol of Ionian Sea.  Maryland reconnaissance northern Ionian Sea. 69 Squadron Sea patrol east to Corfu.  

KALAFRANA Two Sunderlands left for the Middle East with passengers and freight.

NORTHERN INFANTRY BRIGADE Troops continue move to Gozo for an exercise.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Royal Engineers won Army Cup Final defeating 1st Bn Dorset Regt by 3 goals to nil – the sappers are only team to win 3 seasons running. The game continued during a spectacular dive bombing attack on Grand Harbour. Bomb Disposal UXB reported 5; dealt with 1 (50kg).

 

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Posted by on March 23, 2016 in 1941, March 1941

 

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7 January 1941: Convoy Operation Second Wave Embarks

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ILLUSTRIOUS AND CONVOY MW 5½ HEADING FOR MALTA

Breconshire

Breconshire

The main Mediterranean Fleet sailed from Alexandria before dawn today. The aircraft carrier Illustrious plus two battleships and seven destroyers are heading for Souda Bay to refuel before heading for a rendezvous with eastern convoys heading for Malta.

This afternoon a second convoy consisting of the fast transport ship Breconshire and the freighter Clan Macauley sailed from Alexandria with supplies for Malta, escorted by the anti-aircraft cruiser Calcutta and destroyers Defender and Diamond.

DECOY MAIL TO MISLEAD ENEMY

Malta’s Governor and Commander in Chief has suggested a way to mislead enemy intelligence by setting up correspondence to fictitious military units on the Island. The Governor has been informed that on several occasions telegrams addressed to units by name in Malta have been sent in clear by wireless telegraph, including one addressed to: “1 Independent Tank Unit”. 

As the enemy may have intercepted these and learned of the arrival of new units, he has suggested to the War Office that a serious of bogus telegrams addressed to units not in Malta be despatched periodically in order to mislead them and possibly convey the impression that the garrison is larger than it actually is.

TROOPS NEED TO KNOW MAIL ARRIVES SAFELY IN UK

Troops in Malta have expressed concern through their commanding officers about the safe transmission of their letters home. Currently bags of mail despatched from Malta by the Army authorities are numbered and addressed to the General Post Office, London.  However, no confirmation of receipt arrives in Malta, leaving troops uncertain as to its safe arrival.  The War Office has been asked to arrange for notification of the receipt of mail to be sent by cable from the receiving postal authority. 

AIR RAIDS DAWN 7 JANUARY TO DAWN 8 JANUARY 1941

Weather  Cold and fine.

1455-1500 hrs  Air raid alert for enemy aircraft approaching the Island. Delimara Signal Station reports aircraft approaching at 8 miles east but they turn away before crossing the coast.

OPERATIONS REPORTS TUESDAY 7 JANUARY 1941

LUQA 431 Flight: 2 Marylands reconnaissance Catania and Tripoli prevented by bad weather.

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  A Bren Carrier course started at Ghain Tuffieha camp.

2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  A and D Companies Lyon light training.

 

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Posted by on January 7, 2016 in 1941, January 1941

 

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6 January 1941: New Convoy Bringing Reinforcements for Malta

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OPERATION ‘EXCESS’ GETS UNDERWAY WITH STEALTH MANOEUVRE

HMS Bonaventure

HMS Bonaventure

Allied Naval Commanders are adopting new tactics to bring the latest convoy safely through the western Mediterranean to Malta. In a carefully planned move, four merchant ships escorted by cruiser Bonaventure and four destroyers left Gibraltar before dark this evening and sailed westward from Gibraltar, clearly heading towards the Atlantic.

Then under cover of darkness the four merchantmen reversed course and passed back through the Straits of Gibraltar, where Force H, including battlecruiser Renown, battleship Malaya, carrier Ark Royal, cruiser Sheffield and eight destroyers lay ready to escort them towards Malta.

In a companion move, cruisers Gloucester and Southampton loaded with Army and RAF personnel for Malta sailed from Alexandria today with destroyers Ilex and Janus.  Personnel embarked include: 12 Ack Ack Defence HQ officers 2, other ranks 7; 12 Ack Ack gun operation room officers 7, other ranks 12; 484 Searchlight Battery Royal Artillery officer 9, other ranks 322; RAPC officers 3; RAMC officer 1; Ad Corps officers 2, other ranks 1. 

ROME RADIO FALSE CLAIMS

Rome radio today reported that Malta was attacked last night. Yet no enemy aircraft have approached the Island during the past 24 hours. 

ALLIES DROP PROPOGANDA LEAFLET

Allied aircraft today dropped leaflets onto areas where Italian soldiers are stationed giving details of recent RAF operations in Libya, with the intention of terrorising them into ceasing to fight. Allied propaganda leaflets also emphasise the ideological purpose of British soldiers who are guided by the love of freedom and the right of the oppressed peoples.

MALTA SIGNAL COMPANY OPERATIONAL

The Governor and Commander in Chief today reported that the officer establishment of the Malta Signal Company is now up to basic strength. Communications are now operational with 50 lines of multi-phone for Ack Ack searchlights and gunlayer sets.  However, the unit requires three more NCOs and two other ranks to reach full potential.  He has asked the War Office for clearance to enlist British ex-servicemen or Maltese to fill the posts.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 6 JANUARY TO DAWN 7 JANUARY 1941

Weather  Rain and strong winds.

No air raids.

OPERATIONS REPORTS MONDAY 6 JANUARY 1941

ROYAL NAVY  Unique arrived to join First Submarine Flotilla.

AIR HQ 0615-1055 hrs Glenn Martin photo reconnaissance for enemy shipping. Naples from 6000 ft: two battleships, one cruiser in dry dock; three destroyers, two merchant vessels 12000 tons, 18 merchant vessels to 8000 tons, 20 merchant vessels 2-4500 tons.  Intense but inaccurate Ack Ack; no aircraft.  Palermo: two 6in cruisers, two destroyers, four merchant vessels 5000 tons, five of 2000 tons.  Light inaccurate Ack ack; no aircraft. 0614-1059 hrs Glenn Martin photo reconnaissance Tripoli harbour: five possibly six destroyers, four of which lying alongside large merchant vessels north and centre of harbour; two auxiliaries, four merchant vessels 10000 tons, four of 6000 tons, 14 small merchant vessels, 20 barges, three seaplanes.  Intense, fairly accurate Ack Ack.  9000 pamphlets of Churchill’s speech dropped over Tripoli.  Pantelleria not photographed owing to heavy low cloud over the Island.  Operations by Wellingtons: 148 Squadron against Tripoli.  

LUQA 431 Flight: 1 Maryland reconnaissance Palermo and Naples; 1 Maryland reconnaissance Tripoli – pamphlets dropped. 148 Squadron: 6 Wellingtons bombing raid on Tripoli.

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  A raft, possibly from Hyperion, was found near a coastal defence post.

2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  General Donovan, US Army, toured posts. Billets taken over at Rinella for Nos 16 and 18 Platoons. 

 

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Posted by on January 6, 2016 in 1941, January 1941

 

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20 December 1940: Med Fleet Commander First Visit to Malta

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NAVY CHIEF ARRIVES WITH LATEST CONVOY

HMS Warspite

HMS Warspite

The Royal Navy Commander in Chief Mediterranean arrived in Grand Harbour today aboard his flagship Warspite on his first visit to the Island since the outbreak of war with Italy.   Admiral Cunningham is in Malta to discuss the supply situation with the Governor and Commander in Chief, Lt Gen Dobbie, and Vice-Admiral Malta Sir Wilbraham Ford.

HMS Warspite arrived with a large supply convoy, codenamed MW5, which set out from Egypt on Monday in two operations to make the 1000 mile journey through the Eastern Mediterranean to Malta.  Freighters Lanarkshire and Waiwera with their Royal Navy escort formed the first part of the supply convoy; the second included merchantmen Pontfield, Rodi and Volo plus Naval escort, joined later by freighters Devis and Hoegh Hood with escort.  Meanwhile, Warspite was on patrol with the Mediterranean Fleet providing distant cover for the passage of Convoy MW5 to Malta.

Large crowds turned out on the bastions overlooking Grand Harbour to welcome the arriving ships.  Although there were two air raid alerts during the day, no Italian aircraft approached close enough to the Island to disrupt the approach of the convoy.

With the arrival of MW5, a number of empty supply ships lying at Malta left Grand Harbour for Alexandria.  Merchantmen Breconshire, Clan Ferguson, Clan Macauley and Memnon sailed this afternoon escorted by the anti-aircraft cruiser Calcutta, destroyer Wryneck and three corvettes.  A second convoy also left Malta this afternoon for Gibraltar, including merchantmen Clan Forbes and Clan Fraser, accompanied by battleship Malaya and five destroyers.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 20 DECEMBER TO DAWN 21 DECEMBER 1940

Weather  Very cold and damp. 

1055-1150 hrs  Air raid alert; no air raid develops.

1600-1610 hrs  Air raid alert; no air raid develops. 

OPERATIONS REPORTS FRIDAY 20 DECEMBER 1940

ROYAL NAVY  Destroyers Griffin, Greyhound, Gallant, Dainty and Hasty dock for refuelling.  Aircraft carrier Illustrious launched two air attacks on Tripoli with fifteen aircraft each. 

ARMY HQ  1100 hrs Command exercise ended.

 

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Posted by on December 20, 2015 in 1940, December 1940

 

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16 December 1940: New Convoy Embarks for Malta

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SS Waiwera

SS Waiwera

CONVOY MW 5A & B UNDERWAY

Two freighters bound for Malta set sail from Alexandria this afternoon carrying fresh supplies.  Operating under the convoy code MW 5A,  Lanarkshire and Waiwera will be escorted through the eastern Mediterranean by the battleship Malaya and destroyers Defender, Diamond, Nubian and Wryneck.

Under a dual operation, the ships are intended to link up another supply convoy, codenamed MW 5B in two sections.  Setting sail from Port Said yesterday were three merchantmen, Pontfield, Rodi and Volo have been joined by HMS Ulster Prince.  The second section put out from Alexandria early today.  Freighters the Devis and the Norwegian Hoegh Hood are escorted by the anti aircraft cruiser Calcutta and destroyer HavockHM Submarine Parthian will also shadow the convoy. 

The two groups of ships are expected to rendezvous tomorrow to complete their journey.  The Mediterranean Fleet is already at sea, and standing by to provide cover for the entire operation.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 16 DECEMBER TO DAWN 17 DECEMBER 1940

Weather   Cold and overcast.

No air raids.

OPERATIONS REPORTS MONDAY 16 DECEMBER 1940

SOUTHERN INFANTRY BRIGADE  Brigade commanders conference.

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  There was an outgoing mail today.  

2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  Platoon Fitness Competition. 

 

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Posted by on December 16, 2015 in 1940, December 1940

 

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28 November 1940: Convoy Bombed as Ships Head for Harbour

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SS Clan Forbes

SS Clan Forbes

CROWDS COME OUT TO WELCOME ARRIVALS

After surviving a sea battle yesterday, Malta’s latest supply convoy was attacked by enemy aircraft as it neared its final destination. At around 2 o’clock this afternoon, a formation of ten bombers escorted by ten fighters approached the convoy from the east, split into two groups and unleashed two payloads of twelve high explosive bombs over the ships as they approached Grand Harbour. However, no damage was caused and Clan Forbes and Clan Fraser, with HMS Manchester and Southampton docked safely and began to unload stores, ammunition and personnel.

A buzz of excitement had spread through Valletta since early this morning, following rumours that ships have been sighted on the horizon. Just as the ships were spotted approaching the Harbour, air raid alert sounded and most of the population headed for cover. 

But as soon as the ‘all clear’ sounded, hundreds dashed to the Upper and Lower Barrakka gardens and the bastions overlooking the Harbour, ready to welcome the convoy as it steamed into port. The crowds sang and shouted, and waved handkerchiefs. (1)

AIR RAIDS DAWN 28 NOVEMBER TO DAWN 29 NOVEMBER 1940

Weather  Cool.

0906-0926 hrs  Air raid alert for eight to twelve Italian CR42 fighters which approach from the north at 23000 feet, circle Malta and then fly away to the north. Malta fighters are scrambled and a Hurricane shoots down one CR42 into the sea in flames, 20 miles north of the Island.  Four Wellington bombers take off during the raid.

1053-1111 hrs  Air raid alert for an unknown number of enemy raiders which approach the Island and drop several bombs in the sea to the north of Malta. They are engaged by Fleet Air Arm.  Three Blenheim aircraft approaching Malta during the raid land safely at Hal Far.

1329-1430 hrs  Air raid alert for six Italian CR42 fighters which approach from the north and spit into two formations over Valletta. One formation comes in over Delimara and is chased out by Malta fighters.  Another formation of ten bombers at 17000 feet escorted by ten fighters at 19000 feet then approaches from the east, splits up and bombs a convoy approaching Grand Harbour.  No ships are damaged.  Bombs are also dropped on land between San Rocco and Verdala Barracks.  Anti-aircraft guns launch a heavy counter attack and Malta fighters are scrambled.  Several dogfights follow: one CR42 and one enemy bomber are shot down into the sea by fighters.  A second CR42 is probably shot down by fighters. The Italian crew of the bomber are rescued and taken prisoner.  They confirm that their aircraft was a SM79 and was destroyed by a Malta fighter.

SS Clan Fraser

SS Clan Fraser

The convoy of two destroyers and two merchant vessels arrives safely in harbour.

2308-2320 hrs Air raid alert for a single enemy aircraft which approaches the east coast of the Island but when illuminated by searchlights it retreats immediately.

Enemy casualties  Sottotenente Gaio Del Cerro, pilot, and Sergente Luigi Conte, air gunner, of SM79 bomber, 194a Squadriglia, 30o Stormo, shot down and taken prisoner; Sergente Giovanni Lozzari, 2nd pilot, and Ovidio Venanzi, 194a Squadriglia, 30o Stormo, shot down and died.

OPERATIONS REPORTS THURSDAY 28 NOVEMBER 1940

ROYAL NAVY  Operation ‘Collar’ successfully completed. Decoy and Hotspur arrived for refit but were sent out to escort Gloxinia into harbour, as she had one engine broken down. Griffin arrived for repairs.  Hire transports Clan Forbes and Clan Fraser arrived with guns and military and naval stores. 

ROYAL ARMY ORDNANCE CORPS  Fourth convoy arrived with ammunition in large quantities. Unloading began.

(1) Malta Diary of a War, Michael Galea, PEG Ltd 1992

 

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Posted by on November 28, 2015 in 1940, November 1940

 

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