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2 October 1941: Raids on Italian Aerodromes Ground 50 Enemy Aircraft

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Elmas aerodrome

Elmas aerodrome

AXIS AIRFIELDS, PORTS, MILITARY TRANSPORTS AND CONVOYS BOMBED

British War Cabinet Report for Malta: week ending 2 October

An important convoy carrying personnel and stores from the United Kingdom passed through the Straits of Gibraltar and arrived at Malta on 28th. Strong naval forces provided escort and cover.  In the course of several attacks by enemy torpedo-bombers south of Sardinia on 27th, HMS Nelson was hit by a torpedo which reduced her speed but caused no casualties.  Later in the day one ship of the convoy, SS Imperial Star (12427 tons) was torpedoed in the Sicilian Channel and subsequently sunk by our ships after her passengers and crew had been taken off. 

On the morning of 28th, as a diversion, the island of Pantellaria was successfully bombarded and while these operations were in progress units of the Mediterranean Fleet carried out a sweep from Alexandria.  An enemy force of battleships, cruisers and destroyers was reported at sea operating between Sardinia and Sicily on 27th and 28th but retired to the north before our forces could bring it to action.  An air striking force flown off from HMS Ark Royal was unable to make contact owing to low visibility.  Several important merchant ships taking advantage of the cover of HM ships left Malta and arrived safely at Gibraltar.  A total of 14 enemy aircraft was destroyed by our Naval fighters and ships’ gunfire during the operations.  Our losses were three fighters; the crews of two were rescued.

Fighters and bombers from Malta carried out many offensive operations in Sicily and Libya and, together with reconnaissance aircraft, assisted materially in the successful Naval operations above. On 27th September, 37 Italian aircraft were severely damaged on the ground or at their moorings by cannon fire from Beaufighters during attacks on aerodromes and seaplane bases at Marsala and Borizzo (Sicily) and at Elmas (Sardinia).  Two bombers and a seaplane were attacked while landing and probably destroyed.  On 28th Hurricanes made three attacks totalling 54 sorties on Comiso aerodrome, dropping a total of two tons of bombs.  On 29th Beaufighters severely damaged nine more aircraft at Palermo and on the following day five Hurricanes again bombed Comiso.

On four days a force of Blenheims made sweeps over the Gulf of Sirte and over the Tripoli-Sirte road, and destroyed or damaged many vehicles containing troops, supplies or petrol. Store sheds were set on fire and a wireless station hit.  A merchant ship of 1000 tons was sunk, another of 3000 tons left on fire and others were damaged by hits or near misses.  A successful attack was made by eight Blenheims on industrial plants and on a power station at Porto Empedocle, 60 miles south-east of Marsala.  Seven bombs fell on the power station, and a silo, brickworks and a road bridge were also hit.  Two Blenheim fighters machine-gunned one of two E-boats off Pantellaria, killing or wounding all the crew.  A merchant ship of 3000 tons in the Gulf of Taranto was hit by three bombs and set on fire, and was last seen almost submerged.

A total of 18 Wellingtons made two night attacks on Palermo harbour; bombs fell on the power station and in the shipyard and dock area, where two ships were probably hit. On another night Swordfish mined the harbour, while a Wellington created a diversion by bombing the aerodrome.  Three successful night attacks were also made on motor transport parks at Tripoli and over 37 tons of high explosive bombs and incendiaries were dropped.  Many fires broke out and, during one of the attacks, ‘merged into one vast conflagration’.  Swordfish and Wellingtons also mined the harbour. 

Italian aircraft approached Malta during four nights of the week but dropped their bombs in the sea. Fighters twice approached the Island during the day but did not cross the coast.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 2 OCTOBER TO DAWN 3 OCTOBER 1941

Weather  Heavy thunderstorm overnight, with torrential rain.

No air raids.

OPERATIONS REPORTS THURSDAY 2 OCTOBER 1941

ROYAL NAVY  Trusty and Upholder returned from patrol off Cape Vito and Naples: enemy battle fleet was not sighted.

AIR HQ  Departures 2 Beaufighter. 69 Squadron Maryland patrol east Sicilian coast.

2nd Bn DEVONSHIRE REGIMENT  Demonstration of fire power of mortars in the area of Sannat.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 6.

 

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Posted by on October 2, 2016 in 1941, October 1941

 

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28 September 1941: Malta Convoy Arrival a ‘Marvellous Sight’

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Troops ready to disembark in Grand Harbour today (c) IWM A5771

Troops ready to disembark in Grand Harbour today (c) IWM A5771

IMMENSE CROWDS OUT TO WELCOME SHIPS

The remaining eight merchant ships of the convoy under ‘Operation Halberd’ entered Grand Harbour today bringing supplies and military reinforcements to Malta. SS City of Calcutta, Ajax, Rowallan Castle, Clan Ferguson, Clan Macdonald, Dunedin Star, City of Lincoln and HMS Breconshire docked this afternoon, the third major supply convoy to reach the Island this year.  Nearly 40 merchant ships have successfully landed their supplies; only one has been lost, the SS Imperial Star which was torpedoed yesterday.  The cost to the Royal Navy has been one cruiser and a destroyer sunk, and a battleship, carrier and two cruisers damaged.

After the enemy air attacks overnight, security measures on the convoy escort ships were on high alert. The cruiser Hermione launched an attack on Pantellaria to give the impression that the convoy was passing the island while it was well to the north.

No further enemy attacks on the convoy were launched and at dawn today fighters from Malta commenced continuous air cover. At 0830 hrs four ships of the Naval escort moved ahead of the convoy, arriving at Malta three hours later to a rousing welcome. Guards and bands paraded, to cheers from immense crowds ashore.  Reverend Reginald M. Nicholls, Chancellor of St.Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Valletta, noted the events in his diary:

“There were vague rumours of it; lightermen were summoned on the local Broadcast; a churchwarden rang up to say he would be unable to read the lessons on Sunday, and two faithful choirmen sent word that they would be detained in the Dockyard.  After Mattins we had our first Carol practice, and in the middle Clement called out from his seat in the loggia “Convoy!” We rushed out of the drawing room and there on the horizon, a marvellous sight. The biggest Convoy since the war. We counted about 15 ships…

They were twice attacked off Sicily, once by day – easily beaten off – and once by night, bombers again. Nelson was slightly damaged and lost some speed. One merchantman, Imperial Star, was hit on the propellers and steering gear, but in no danger of sinking. She was too big to tow, especially as she would not steer; and the necessary escort could not be spared. So we sank her by gunfire. But what a pity!

These ‘Star’ ships are all pretty new – only about 4 years – and they cost a million to build (for the Australian chilled meat trade). I wonder what her cargo was worth. A million at least, I should imagine…

One wonders whether they brought some of the things which we are so short of. Here are some of them (NB. NAAFI has monopoly, but we may not buy there.): torches, nails, wood, toilet paper – but even as I write I realise that we are short of practically everything. The chemists have practically nothing and one realises how much one relies upon them for one’s needs – aspirin, throat lozenges, and a dozen other things, including some of the patent foods such as Sanatogen which would be so useful at this time. Ordinary food is also difficult to get. A vast cargo of beef went down on the Imperial Star – some say as much as 3000 tons. This will be greatly missed.

The Army has vast stores – enough for six months, and they live very well. It is a different proposition for the poor civilian. Indeed the wives, whether rich or poor have a hard task at their daily marketing, poor dears. And most of them can talk of little else. Those who are connected to the NAAFI are better off, as that maligned institution has many things which the private shops do not possess. Some folk are not too particular about dealing there when legally they have no such right; and I fancy the Manager has extended the privilege to a few. But I would not wish to ask favours, though as a retired officer I should have a higher moral claim than some who are allowed to use it.” (1)

Total military reinforcements brought by the convoy include a 600 bed hospital, 36 officers, 507 other ranks. The supplies included 8093 tons of kerosene and 1131 tons of motor transport fuel.  Having disembarked their troops and stores, the Naval vessels sailed again at 1830 hrs.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 28 SEPTEMBER TO DAWN 29 SEPTEMBER 1941

Weather  Fine and warm.

1230 hrs  A convoy of eight merchant ships plus escort arrives at Malta.

1530-1555 hrs  Air raid alert for two Macchi 200 fighters which approach to within half a mile of the coast, follow the coast line southwards and turn south east at Grand Harbour. Two heavy anti-aircraft guns fire pointer rounds; no claims.  Eight Hurricanes are scrambled; no interceptions.

2221-2340 hrs  Air raid alert for five unidentified enemy bombers approaching the Island separately. Only two cross the coast at Kalafrana and Grand Harbour.  Searchlights illuminate one aircraft which  is barraged by heavy anti-aircraft guns.  The raiders drop bombs in the sea off Grand Harbour and off Tigne and retreat. 

Military casualties  Flight Sergeant Harry Crossley, Royal Air Force (RAF), 113 Squadron; Flight Sergeant Albert E Smith, RAF, 113 Squadron; Flight Sergeant John Swan, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 113 Squadron; Able Seaman James H Phillips, Merchant Navy, MV Dunedin Star.

OPERATIONS REPORTS SUNDAY 28 SEPTEMBER 1941

ROYAL NAVY  Operation Halberd successfully completed, with the exception of the loss of Imperial Star in the Skerki Channel; no casualties.

AIR HQ Departures 1 Wellington. 38 Squadron 12 Wellingtons attacked Palermo. 69 Squadron 1 Maryland on patrol, 1 Maryland photoreconnaissance Taranto.  Marylands reconnaissance Pantelleria and westwards, Messina, Naples; Marylands shadowing enemy fleet; one Maryland on patrol. 107 Squadron 1 Blenheim patrol eastern Sicily.  2 Blenheims search for damaged merchant ship.  1 Blenheim patrol Cape Passero.    113 Squadron  2 Blenheims at a time on two anti-submarine patrols.  2 Blenheims on anti e-boat patrol off Pantelleria; Sgt Crossley failed to return.  2 Blenheims anti e-boat patrol Trapani. 272 Squadron 2 Beaufighters attack 2 e-boats.  10 Beaufighters attacked a convoy escort. 

TA QALI  344 airmen arrived from home establishment by convoy. Palazzo Parisio, Naxxar, taken over and 15 airmen housed there.  50 airmen are housed in the Manchester Regiment barrack block at Imtarfa.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 1.

2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  140 other ranks and one officer billeted at the Poor House.

(1) Courtesy of website: Malta Family History

 

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Posted by on September 28, 2016 in 1941, September 1941

 

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27 September 1941: Malta Convoy Attacked Repeatedly

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SS Imperial Star

SS Imperial Star

‘OPERATION HALBERD’ LARGEST SUPPLY SHIP FOUNDERS

The largest supply ship in the latest Malta convoy was left foundering tonight after she was struck by torpedoes during a raid by Italian aircraft. SS Imperial Star is only ship to have been lost while on a large scale convoy to Malta since the beginning of the year. 

Air attacks on the convoy began at 1300 hrs when a formation of 12 Italian Cant and BR 20 bombers approached from the north at low altitude. Guns from the convoy ships and Fulmars from Ark Royal managed to destroy or drive off eight of the raiders; the remaining four attempted an attack without success. 

Then at 1330 hrs a second wave of raiders attacked out of the sun.  Six BR 20 bombers approached line abreast and despite heavy gunfire from the ships three managed to press home their attack, hitting the Nelson with a torpedo and reducing her speed to 15 knots; fortunately this was the convoy speed also so that she remained with the covering force. A third wave of enemy aircraft approached but did not make any attack

Then at 1430 hrs came a radio signal from Malta: two battleships, four cruisers and 16 destroyers of the Italian fleet were just 80 miles from the convoy and closing fast. Fleet commander Admiral Somerville prepared for an attack: Prince of Wales and Rodney, with cruisers Edinburgh and Sheffield escorted by six destroyers were sent out to intercept; Ark Royal also prepared an air strike. In rapidly deteriorating weather the two fleets missed each other.  With no prospect of engagement with the Italian fleet, the ships returned to the convoy and at 1900 hrs the main force of the Mediterranean Fleet turned west to return to Gibraltar as planned. 

The Malta convoy with its close escort of five cruisers and nine destroyers continued its passage eastwards, taking the same route as the last convoy, ‘Operation Substance’, through the Skerki Channel close to the Sicilian coast. As the night skies cleared, Italian bombers relaunched their attacks, singly and in pairs.  Approaching low and fast to launch their torpedoes they were difficult to see against the dark sky. Cossack, Kenya, Oribi and the merchantman Rowallan Castle suffered near-misses.  The convoy ships took evasive action; two collided trying to dodge a torpedo, but another merchant ship was hit. 

SS Imperial Star was carrying 300 passengers as well as a large volume of supplies – was badly damaged, her engines stopped and her steering gear destroyed. HMS Heythrop took off the 300 troops and crew and HMS Oribi took Imperial Star in tow.  However, the 12000 ton merchant ship was too heavy for the destroyer and was unable to make way. Imperial Star was now low in the water and drifting towards the coast of Sicily and the decision was made to sink her.  The remainder of the crew was taken off and Oribi laid depth charges to sink her.  However, despite this and repeated shelling the merchant ship remained afloat and had to be abandoned.  There were no casualties on Imperial Star but three Fleet Air Arm pilots were killed defending the convoy.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 27 SEPTEMBER TO DAWN 28 SEPTEMBER 1941

Weather  Cloudy.

No air raids.

OPERATIONS REPORTS SATURDAY 27 SEPTEMBER 1941

ROYAL NAVY  SS Port Chalmers and City of Pretoria sailed for Gibraltar at 1100 hrs.

AIR HQ 2 Blenheims on convoy escort; 1 Blenheim anti-submarine patrol. 69 Squadron Marylands reconnaissance Palermo, Cape Carbonara, Sicily, Sardinia, east Sicilian coast and special patrols and searches.  1 Blenheim on anti-submarine patrol. 105 Squadron 6 Blenheims sent to attack Porto Empedocle; 4 returned due to bad weather, the remaining two carried out the attack. 185 Squadron 6 Hurricane fighters and 6 Hurricane fighter-bombers attacked Comiso aerodrome three times, dropping 5140lbs of bombs and setting fire to several buildings and aircraft. 252 Squadron 2 Beaufighters attacked Marsala seaplane base. 272 Squadron 6 Beaufighters attacked the seaplane base at Cagliara.  2 Beaufighters attacked Borizzo aerodrome.  3 Beaufighters on patrol over Trapani against e-boats. 

TA QALI  Sergeants Mess in New Camp taken over.

4th Bn THE BUFFS (ROYAL EAST KENT REGIMENT)  Battalion route march; the column was headed by the Battalion drums.

 

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Posted by on September 27, 2016 in 1941, September 1941

 

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