Tag Archives: Operation Excess

14 January 1941: Artillery and Ambulance Troops Arrive Malta

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HMS Orion enters Grand Harbour

HMS Orion enters Grand Harbour

Vice Admiral, Light Forces, Mediterranean, Sir H D Pridham-Wippell KCB CVO, arrived in Malta today with the light cruisers HMS Orion and HMAS Perth carrying military personnel.  The two light cruisers were part of ME6, a convoy of Operation Excess, from which they detached on Saturday to head for Malta. En route Orion was called into action following the bombing of HMS Southampton and was one of two cruisers ordered to sink the abandoned vessel with torpedoes.

On arrival at Malta, Orion and Perth disembarked reinforcements for the Island’s garrison, including 190 Heavy Ack Ack Battery Royal Artillery (RA) officers 3, other ranks 129; 484 Searchlight Battery RA officers 1, other ranks 43; RAOC officers 9; 161 Field Ambulance RAMC officers 9, other ranks 154; RASC officers 3 other ranks 37.

After a rapid unloading, Orion sailed at dusk with light cruiser Bonaventure and destroyer Jaguar sailed to rejoin the Mediterranean Fleet.  HMAS Perth remained in dock for repairs to her boilers.  After dark, Rover arrived from patrol with a defective battery.


From: Governor & Commander in Chief   To:  War Office

Your recent telegram confirms approval of third searchlights at Rocco and Sliema. No further information has been received.  The provision of these lights is still necessary.  Please say when they may be expected.


Weather  Thick cloud at 2500 feet.

No air raids.

Military casualties  Sergeant Geoffrey Charles Hall, Pilot, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 148 Squadron.


ROYAL NAVY Orion and Perth arrived with military personnel ex convoy Excess. Orion, Bonaventure and Jaguar sailed at dusk to join the Mediterranean Fleet, leaving Perth to repair her boilers.  After dark, HMS Submarine Rover arrived from patrol with a defective battery. 

AIR HQ  0620-1503 hrs Sunderland patrolled western Ionian Sea. 1609-1936 hrs Sunderland effected anti-convoy patrol between Malta and Tunis sighted Italian merchant vessels in French territorial waters.  They fired ineffectively at the Sunderland which was recalled due to a rising swell in Malta. 0651-1150 hrs Maryland photo-reconnaissance Palermo Harbour and aerodrome and Catania aerodrome; latter prevented by bad weather.  Intense Ack Ack fire from Palermo port – Maryland holded in tail plane by near burst.  At Palermo aerodrome one large camouflaged aircraft, three SM79s, 15 medium bombers (single-engined), 17 CR 42s, three Macchi fighters. 0745-1055 hrs Maryland reconnaissance Naples harbour and to take photographs as per secret telegram: bad weather prevented mission completion.  

KALAFRANA One Sunderland left for Middle East with passengers and mail.

LUQA 69 Squadron (431 Flight): 1 Maryland reconnaissance Palermo and Catania – weather bad; 1 Maryland special reconnaissance Naples unsuccessful.

1st Bn DORSETSHIRE REGIMENT  Four passed Classification of Signallers course.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS No 2 Works Company began work at Znuber on three gun positions including a building 1/2 mile off the road.


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Posted by on January 14, 2021 in 1941, January 1941


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

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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)



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.


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.


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, 2021 in 1941, January 1941


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6 January 1941: New Convoy Bringing Reinforcements for Malta

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


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.


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.


Weather  Rain and strong winds.

No air raids.


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, 2021 in 1941, January 1941


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