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21 September 1941: Malta is Centre for MI6/SOE Operations in North Africa

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Heinkel seaplane

Heinkel seaplane


Following the loss of a Malta-based Swordfish while transporting a secret agent to North Africa, the Island’s Governor and Commander in Chief has written to the War Office to express his concerns at the ad hoc arrangements currently in place for such missions:

Most Secret and Personal: The following is for Chiefs of Staff from the Governor of Malta:

The Defence Security Officer’s organisation covering MI6 and Special Operations Executive activities from Malta is and must continue to be largely ineffective unless and until much more satisfactory arrangements are made for the transport of agents. This applies especially at the present time to those sections concerned with Tunis and Tripoli, but it is to be emphasised that similar difficulties will arise with the infiltration of agents into the Balkans and Italy unless local arrangements are greatly improved.

At present the means of transport at the direct call of the Defence Security Officer are quite inadequate and he is largely dependent on such help as the Flag Officer in charge of Malta, or the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) Mediterranean, can give. Naval help is confined at the moment to an ex-Italian MAS [armed motor torpedo boat], which has definite limitations, and to submarines.  These latter of course can only be used when on their normal patrol.  I am informed seriously of the hope to send motor torpedo boats (MTB) with special engines here when a MTB flotilla is based on Malta but the date of this is still indefinite.  The Tunis and Tripoli problem is at present mainly an air matter and as such the RAF is the primary service which can provide the necessary assistance.  This however can only be done at the expense of other operations.

Valuable aircraft have already been lost, with highly trained crews. When, for local or technical reasons, Heinkel aircraft are unsuitable – or until aircraft resources available for the Defence Security Officer are adequate – the only way to land agents in most cases will depend on RAF or Fleet Air Arm (FAA) aircraft being made available by the AOC Mediterranean (with the consent of the Flag Officer Malta for FAA aircraft).  With the very limited number of Swordfish at his disposal, the AOC Mediterranean thus has to decide the relative importance of this work as opposed to his more normal operations of attacking ships.  It is obvious that a very clear instruction is needed which will guide him in deciding their relative importance.  Such an instruction is lacking at present.

The only aircraft resources available for the Defence Security Officer in Malta at present consists of one Heinkel seaplane together with such assistance as the Services can provide. Other Heinkels are expected later, but aircraft resources for the Defence Security Officer are at present entirely inadequate and will not be sufficient for some considerable time as at present envisaged.  (It is to be emphasised too that seaplanes have their limitations and effective results will depend on the availability of land planes and seaplanes or amphibians, fast MTBs and submarines, each in their proper sphere according to weather and local requirements.)  He cannot work effectively unless these facilities are adequate.  The present state of affairs means that vitally important work of this organisation, especially in Tunis and Tripoli, will not be effectively done for some months unless either

  • RAF or FAA aircraft are used as required at the expense of their proper work; in this connection it is emphasised that highly trained and specialised crews, also aircraft, are being hazarded when the task could well be done by other highly specialised operation crews and aircraft. There are very definite limits to this in FAA as the Swordfish is the only suitable type in Malta.
  • Suitable aircraft with crews are instantly sent out here expressly for this work.

I strongly favour alternative (b) but would point out that if the work of this organisation in Africa is to be effective and to give the expected help to the contemplated operation, then aircraft must be sent out immediately (repeat immediately). I am advised that the authorities in England responsible for this work have complete details of the type of aircraft which are needed to meet the special conditions for work in these areas.

I repeat that the business at present is on an extremely unsatisfactory footing and we need a clear guidance as to policy. I hope that this, and material assistance, will be forthcoming immediately.  Failing this the effectiveness of this important service cannot fail to be gravely prejudiced.  Flag Officer Malta, AOC Mediterranean and the DSO agree with this telegram.


Weather   Very cool.

No air raids.

Military casualties  Lieutenant Leslie F E Aldridge, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, HMS St Angelo.


AIR HQ  Departures 2 Wellington. 69 Squadron 1 Maryland reconnaissance Tripoli Harbour.  1 Maryland on search for convoy.  1 Maryland patrol of eastern Tunisian coast. 105/107 Squadrons 2 Blenheims attacked a convoy. 830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm 6 Swordfish attacked convoy within sight off Lampedusa.  Two torpedoes were fired in conditions of poor visibility, but the target proved to be Lampion Rock; the convoy was not located.  One Swordfish crashed on landing at Hal Far with its torpedo still on board. The missile exploded, killing the pilot Lt Aldridge and seriously injuring the wireless operator L/A Pimlott. 

TA QALI  A Blenheim force landed at the aerodrome having been damaged by enemy action. Three Swordfish landed at the aerodrome.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 1.


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Posted by on September 21, 2021 in 1941, September 1941


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