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11 March 1941: Bombs on Sliema Kill 21 Civilians and Injure 16

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RFA Plumleaf (3)

RFA Plumleaf (3)

CIVILIANS PERISH TRYING TO ENTER BUSY SHELTER

21 civilians were killed and another 36 injured tonight when high explosive bombs struck St Rita Street in the residential district of Sliema. Many of the victims were caught in the narrow street as they desperately tried to enter an overcrowded shelter.  Ten houses were completely demolished and 25 others badly damaged in the blast.  Some 70 people were rendered homeless and had to be accommodated at the Sliema ARP Centre and the Blue Sisters Hospital. 

Young Charles Grech was talking with friends outside his local shelter: “…we heard a terrible screech.   ‘Falling bombs!’ somebody shouted and there was a general rush to the friary door and down to the shelter which was already full of people.  Somebody had tripped on the top of the stairs and fallen down and this added to the confusion.  When the explosion came, somebody panicked and tried to close the front door of the friary.   I found myself face down on the ground with the crowd treading over me.  The coat I was wearing was torn…More people who had remained at home started arriving when they heard the explosion but they could not enter the friary, as it was full up…” (1)

After the raid local residents rushed to St Rita Street. One described later what he saw:  “It all appeared to me to be a dream or rather a nightmare and all I could think of was the absolutely unreal inhumanity of it all. The bright moonlight bathed the scene of utter devastation, the acrid reek of explosive filled the cool night air.  The uncanny silence was broken only by muffled groans and long drawn sighs.” (2)

The bombing was part of an unusually heavy raid on the coast west of Marsamxett Harbour which has escaped attack in recent weeks. Residents became concerned earlier today when Plumleaf was towed into Sliema Creek, the first vessel to be berthed there since HMS Terror left for North Africa last November.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 11 MARCH TO DAWN 12 MARCH 1941

Weather  Fine.

1020-1100 hrs  Air raid alert for five enemy formations approaching the Island from the direction of Comiso. Identified as ME 109 fighters, they remain at 5 miles’ distance.  They are believed to be standing by to draw the fire of Hurricanes while reconnaissance is carried out.  Eight Hurricanes are scrambled; no engagement.

1220-1242 hrs  Air raid alert; for enemy aircraft approaching from the direction of Comiso. One JU 88 bomber crosses the Island at 23000 feet on reconnaissance.   Anti-aircraft guns engage; no claims.

1630 hrs Two enemy aircraft are picked up by RDF heading northwards some 20 miles from the coast of Malta. Their speed suggests JU 52 transport planes.  Seven Malta Hurricanes are despatched to intercept but the enemy turn away out of tracking range.

2210-2259 hrs  Air raid alert for seven to ten enemy aircraft which approach and carry out a concerted attack at various points. One high explosive bomb on Msida scores a direct hit on a torpedo depot, seriously damaging an entire block.  Another explodes near a defensive position at St George’s, causing some blast damage.  Bombs on Sliema demolish 10 houses and damage 25 others.  21 civilians are killed and 36 injured.  Bombs are also dropped in the sea off Delimara, Kalafrana, Hal Far, Tigne and St Julians, and on land north east of Ta Qali.  Searchlights illuminate one Heinkel HE 111. A Malta night fighter engages, damaging one raider.

0135-0155 hrs  Air raid alert; raid does not materialise.

Military casualties  Aircraftsman J Azzopardi, Royal Air Force (VR); Gunner Saviour Borg, 2AA Regiment, Royal Malta Artillery.

Civilian casualties  Sliema  Giovanni Borg, age 24; Saverio Borg, age 20; Giuseppe Borg, age 13; Emmanuel Buttigieg, age 40; Anthony Buttigiege, age 30; James Churchill, age 50; James Henry Churchill, age 9; Dorothy Churchill, age 4; George Churchill, age 6 weeks; Andrea Degiovanni, age 43; Doris (Dolores) Calleja, age 17; Annie Farrugia, age 67; Mary Grech, age 18; Alex Grech, age 15; Annie Grech, age 11; Teresa Grech, age 3; Aneglo Saliba, age 16; Nazarreno Scicluna, age 50; John Scicluna, age 44; Benedict Scicluna, age 17; Dolores (Doris) Zahra, age 60.

OPERATIONS REPORTS TUESDAY 11 MARCH 1941

ROYAL NAVY  830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm  Five Swordfish on anti-convoy patrol of Tripoli Harbour; all returned safely.

AIR HQ  Departures 2 Sunderlands.

KALAFRANA  One Sunderland left for Gibraltar with passengers and freight. One Sunderland left for Middle East with Air Officer Commanding and other passengers.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 1; dealt with 4 (1 x 200kg;3 x 500kg).

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  Evening stand-to altered to 1900-2000 hrs; morning stand-to altered to 0600-0700 hrs.

2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  A mine on the beach in the Rinella sector was exploded by the Royal Navy mine disposal unit.

(1) Raiders Passed, Charles B Grech (translated by Joseph Galea Debono) Midsea Books 1998

(2) When Malta Stood Alone, Joseph Micallef, Interprint 1981

(3) Royal Fleet Auxiliary Historical Society

 

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

 

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11 June 1940: Malta’s First Day at War

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GOVERNOR ADDRESSES THE ISLAND’S PEOPLE

Lt Gen Dobbie

Lt Gen Dobbie

“Whereas I have received information that War has broken out with Italy, I hereby announce to His Majesty’s Subjects in the Islands the outbreak of hostilities in humble trust in the guidance and protection of Divide Providence, and in assured confidence of the cordial support and tried fidelity and determination of the people of Malta.”  Lt Gen Dobbie, Acting Governor and Commander in Chief

At the first chimes of midnight last night, Malta’s churches announced the start of the second siege in the history of this fortress Island. Mussolini has declared the war on the side of the Axis.

“We woke at 06.45 to the scream of the air raid siren. It is not a scream really, but quite a melodious pair of notes – a major third, I think. But, since it rises from a low note to a high one, and then warbles up and down continuously in a chromatic scale, it give the impression of a shriek. Probably this is emphasised psychologically, by the fact that its warbling note means danger. Indeed when with its steady note it announces “Raiders passed” it has quite a pleasant sound.

… the siren practically synchronised with a furious outburst of anti-aircraft fire all around us. We hurried into dressing gowns, and ran to the Crypt collecting the two frightened maids as we went. The fire was severe; windows and doors rattling, and the crump of bombs falling.

There are three A.A. guns 600 yards away, clearly visible from our drawing-room windows, and indeed guns on all sides of us at about the same distance. I do not know how long the action lasted – perhaps 15 minutes. Ten planes, we are told, in two formations.

We had 8 raids [to]day, by far the worst being the last, when firing went on for about 30 minutes at about 7.30 p.m. It was a terrifying experience. I could hear bombs dropping. The sound is quite different from gunfire. It is a thick sound, and the word ‘crump’ just describes it.” (1)

Italian bombs fell near Fort Campbell, followed by near misses at St Georges and Tigne, and a direct hit on Fort St Elmo. Malta’s first military casualties were six members of the Royal Malta Artillery, would-be protectors of their Island.

Malta’s defences are minimal. The Island has fewer than 5000 ill-equipped troops, no operational fighter aircraft, only 14 coastal defence guns and food supplies sufficient for 6 weeks.

Sea Gladiator Faith

Sea Gladiator Faith

There are no air squadrons to call on – just four obsolete planes and a handful of volunteers barely trained to fly them. A fighter flight of three Sea Gladiators, historically named Faith, Hope and Charity, took to the air in a valiant effort to take on the Italian fighters. Flying Officer W J Woods found himself at about 15,000 feet, pursued by a Maachi 200:

“I suddenly heard machine-gun fire from behind me. I immediately went into a steep left-hand turn and saw a single-engine fighter diving and firing at me. For quite three minutes I circled as tightly as possible and got the enemy in my sight. I got in a good burst, full deflection shot, and he went down in a steep dive with black smoke pouring from his tail. I could not follow him down, but he appeared to go into the sea.”  (2)

Malta has claimed its first enemy fighter but not before the terror of air raids had struck the Island’s people.  More attacks soon followed causing civilian casualties across the Island, including six in one heavy bombing raid on Gzira.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 11 JUNE TO DAWN 12 JUNE 1940

0655-0751 hrs  Air raid alert.  Ten Italian SM79 bombers in two formations escorted by Macchi 200 fighters approach the Island at 14000 feet, crossing the coast over Kalafrana and Hal Far, and heading towards Grand Harbour.  Sixteen 250lb bombs are dropped on Hal Far, and another thirty between Fort Benghaisa and Birzebbugia.  Buses, a searchlight and vehicles on the aerodrome are damaged.  One aircraft carries out a low-flying attack on Fort St Elmo, dropping three bombs and killing six members of the Royal Malta Artillery.  Damage to the Dockyard is slight.  Enemy aircraft are engaged by fighters and two are reported shot down in the sea by Maltese gunners – one near Filfla and the second north of the Island.

At 0725 hrs a second attack of fifteen enemy bombers with fighter escort approaches from the same direction and attacks Corradino, Portes des Bombes, Pieta Creek, Sa Maison and St Luke’s Hospital.  Two bombs hit the Water and Electricity Department at Portes des Bombes, killing two Maltese workmen.  Another bomb hits St Luke’s Hospital, destroying a nearby house.  A bomb on Msida destroys a house, killing two civilians.  Another ten Italian bombers attack the seaplane base at Kalafrana.

0845-0920 hrs; 1005-1047 hrs; 1433-1452 hrs  Air raid alerts for aircraft which cross the Island on reconnaissance.

1721 hrs  Two groups of five raiders cross the Island at 15000 feet.  One is shot down by Ack Ack fire and another by Malta Gladiator aircraft.

1925-2050 hrs  Air raid alert.  25 Italian aircraft in formations of five approach the Island from several directions.  Bombs are dropped on Zabbar, Tarxien, Marsa and Verdala Barracks, Cospicua, and Gzira and Sliema, causing civilian casualties.  Bombs damage the Modern Imperial Hotel, Rudolph Street, and land on Parallel Street, in Sliema.  Bombs also damage property in Ponsonby Street, Gzira.

1945 hrs  One enemy airman is believed to have bailed out.  A patrol of 2nd Bn Royal Irish Fusiliers carries out a search in the Pembroke area but find nothing.  Motorboats spotted off Grand Harbour are identified as hostile and two are sunk.  The boats are later confirmed as friendly.  1st Bn Dorset Regiment rescue five of the crew.

Military casualties   Bombardier Joseph Galea, Gunners Michel’Angelo Saliba, Richard Micallef, Carmel Cordina and Paul Debono, Boy Philip Busuttil, Royal Malta Artillery. 

Civilians casualties  Birkirkara  Carmelo Galea, age 40; Cospicua  Joseph Ancilleri; Maria Fenech, age 6;  Doris Galea, age 5 mths; Gzira Michael Camenzuli (39), Lilian Doublet (7), Mary Doublet (46), Giuliano Micallef (65), Giovanni Trapani (48) and Rosina Vassallo (33); Mqabba  Giuseppe Ellul (36); Msida  Paolo Galea (37).

(1) Extract from diary of Reverend Reginald M. Nicholls, Chancellor of St.Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Valletta. Courtesy of website: Malta Family History

(2) Air Battle of Malta; Official Account RAF 1940-42

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in 1940, June 1940

 

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