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26 March 1942: Malta’s Most Intense Raid to Date – Floriana a Furnace

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“Never during the War years was I overtaken by fear more than on the night of the 26th March 1942” (1)

  • Massed air raids on shipping in Grand Harbour
  • Plumleaf, Talabot, Pampas hit as well as Sliema Ferry
  • Breconshire hit again – on fire amidships
  • Targets outside harbour badly damaged – Marsa HAA gun position hit
  • Four JU 88s and three JU 87s destroyed; many more damaged
Talabot is hit (NWMA Malta)

Talabot is hit (NWMA Malta)

LUFTWAFFE PINPOINT BOMBING DESTROYS SHIPS IN GRAND HARBOUR

For nearly six hours today, 120 enemy bombers accompanied by massed fighters attacked in wave after wave, dropping over 350 high explosive (HE) bombs of 250kg and 500kg on ships, docks and gun positions in Grand Harbour and 40 more on Breconshire in Marsaxlokk Bay.

“Unfortunately on this day the German Air Force achieved a degree of accuracy with their bombing which they had never attained either before or since.  Talabot, Pampas and Plumleaf were all hit in a single raid and in the evening Breconshire too was hit and set on fire.

By the evening with Legion sunk, Penelope badly damaged and a large part of the small craft in the harbour sunk or out of action from near misses it was felt that there was little further injury that the enemy could do…Talabot which caught fire and blazed furiously as a result of her hit, had to be scuttled to avoid her cargo of ammunition exploding.  All her holds were flooded and the ship was aground with her gunwale just above water…” (2)

FLORIANA IS A FURNACE

“The odds were that the Talabot with considerable ammunition in its holds would, at any time, explode and damage would have been terrific.  The tragic situation was communicated to us in Floriana with strict instructions to evacuate all in Floriana residing in …the part overlooking the Grand Harbour where the Talabot was anchored.

At sunset Floriana became immersed in a reddish glow, deepening into an inferno-like colour as night set in.  All the surrounding areas in the Grand Harbour assumed a reddish incandescence: the skies were red, the sea was red; red prevailed everywhere – such a scene was never witnessed before.  In the meantime flames were still belching from the Talabot, uncontrolled, and presaging doom.  Floriana looked like a furnace!

As soon as orders for evacuation reached us we [advised] the people to leave their houses and their shelters, move to the northern area and use what shelter space was available.  Many obeyed; others did not as they preferred to watch the flaming scene from vantage points without realising the danger they were exposing themselves to, should the ship explode and blow up vast areas in Valletta, Floriana, Marsa and the three cities.” (1)

“Pampas” ablaze (NWMA Malta)

Desperate attempts to unload the two merchant ships, Talabot and Pampas, were hampered by conditions in the harbour and the constant heavy bombing of ships, docks and salvage equipment.  By the end of today, of the convoy escort which accompanied the supply ships to Malta, HM Ships Legion and Southwold were sunk, Kingston further damaged by bombs and Penelope has serious structural damage from near misses.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 26 MARCH TO DAWN 27 MARCH 1942

Weather  Wind south; 100% low cloud.

0700 hrs  One aircraft approaches from the north east but recedes before crossing the coast.

1022-1610 hrs  68 enemy aircraft – JU 87s, JU 88s and ME 109s – attack Grand Harbour.  Fighters destroy two JU 87s and two JU 88s, and damage one JU 87 and three JU 88.  One JU 88 is shot down in south Comino Channel and four German prisoners are captured in Gozo.  Ack Ack destroy one JU 88.

1210 hrs  S/L Gracie leading six Spitfires from Luqa attacks a JU 88 and sees strikes.  He himself is them jumped and his aircraft is damaged.  P/O Ormerod in a Hurricane chases a JU 88 through the barrage; his aircraft is damaged and he returns to Luqa.

1230 hrs  Talabot is hit by a 500kg bomb which explodes in the engine room, which starts to fill with oil; a large fire breaks out.  Firefighters and crew of other ships join the efforts to control the blaze while enemy bombs continue to fall close to the ship.  Both pumps in No 2 fire float and one in No 1 float are put out of action by the near miss.

Plumleaf at Parlatorio receives a direct hit and is sunk.  Tug West Cocker at Boiler Wharf is damaged and starts taking water. Front walls and doors in B and C Yards, Marsa are demolished with some damage to lighters.

High explosive bombs hit dockyard buildings and wharves.  The verandah and structure of 10-14 Stores on Stores Wharf and No 2 Caisson are damaged; the south end of No 8 Store demolished.  The north end of Hamilton Wharf is badly shaken. No 3 Boiler Shop entrance doors and offices are smashed by blast. Crane No 623 and  2/3 Dock Pumping Station are damaged. Explosions cause a large crater in front of No 1 Boiler Shop and others on Canteen Wharf and the Scrap Ground.

1335 hrs  Four Spitfires are scrambled from Luqa.  Sgt Brennan damages a JU 88.

1400 hrs  A stick of bombs falls close to PampasLuqa Spitfire P/O McNair gets on its tail and despatches it.  F/L Johnston damages two JU 87s – both probably destroyed.  F/L Connell severely damages a JU 87 and a JU 88.  P/O McNair destroys a JU 88.

1430 hrs  A 500kg bomb falls down the funnel of Pampas and explodes, flooding the engine room and starting a fire amidships.

1550 hrs  The drowned body of German pilot Winkler is discovered by 3rd Bn Kings Own Malta Regiment, washed ashore near Wied Zurrieq.  They also find some naval garments washed ashore at Wied Zurrieq and Ghar Lapsi.

Six Hurricanes from Hal Far are airborne to intercept a formation of JU 88s and JU 87s.  Hurricanes attack the bombers over Kalafrana and later over Grand Harbour.  Sgt Steele (cannon) accounts for one JU 88.  Sgt Broad hits two JU 88s.  F/Sgt Fletcher scores hits on two JU 88s, one ME 109 and one JU 87.

1632 hrs  A raid in three waves:  50 JU 88s drop bombs on Grand Harbour: Penelope is near missed and flooded forward; tug Ancient is hit and beached; submarine P39’s back is broken;  Sokol is near missed; Legion sunk; Avonvale hit (damage not very serious).

10 JU 88s attack Breconshire in Marsaxlokk Bay.  The ship is hit, causing a fire on board.  Fighters and Ack Ack engage.  Heavy and Light Ack Ack destroy one JU 87 and two JU 88s, and damage others.

1725 hrs  F/L Connell (Ta Qali) damages a JU 88.  Sgt Brennan damages a JU 88.

1730 hrs  225 Light Ack Ack Battery (LAA) engage two JU 88s: one hit claimed.  Post SA4 of 1st Bn Dorsetshire Regt engages two JU 88s, expending two magazines.

1740 hrs  225 LAA engage three JU 88s: one gun claims four hits.  One gun and personnel transfers to the Nigret area.

1750 hrs  P/O McNair (Ta Qali) damages two JU 88s.

1808 hrs  Bombs land near Fort Ta Silch.

1815 hrs  Bombs are dropped near Hamria.

1915-1930 hrs  An enemy flying boat carries out rescue work to the north of the Island.

2230 hrs  Enemy boats are reported 12 miles south east of the Island.  Beach Companies are warned to keep a strict look-out.

Night 26/27th  No enemy aircraft activity although E Boats are plotted off E coast of the Island. The fire on Talabot is contained but the blaze on Breconshire is getting out of control.

Military casualties  Able Seaman Alfred Keylock, Mentioned in Despatches, HMS Avonvale; Able Seaman Albert Bowman, HMS Avondale; Able Seaman James Warwick, HMS Legion; Able Seaman Ernest Lynch, HMS Avonvale.

Civilian casualties  Balzan  Valent Sammut, age 33.  Mosta  Alfred St John, age 2.  Sliema  Carmel Coppola, age 50; Doris Coppola, age 17; Herman Mifsud, age 42.  St Paul’s Bay  Rita Vella, age 6.

Enemy casualties  Paul Winkler.

OPERATIONS REPORTS THURSDAY 26 MARCH 1942

ROYAL NAVY  Upholder  returned from patrol, having sunk a U boat and trawler off Brindisi and missed a battleship off Taranto owing to very heavy weather and zig-zag on firing.

AIR HQ  Departures  Five Beaufighters, two Blenheims, eight Wellingtons to 108 MU; one Wellington to Shalufa.

HAL FAR  828 and 830 Squadrons amalgamated as Naval Air Squadron, Malta on instructions from Vice Admiral Malta, pending Admiralty confirmation.  PM  One Albacore on shipping search.  Nothing sighted.

LUQA  0753-1545 hrs  One Maryland 69 Squadron special search.

TA QALI  No night operations. 

1ST BN THE DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY  A Company proceeds from Boschetto Gardens to camp at the Pumping Station between Rabat and Dingli.

2ND BN THE ROYAL IRISH FUSILIERS  CO attends funeral of SSO1.

8TH BN THE MANCHESTER REGIMENT  Working party at Ta Qali aerodrome.

2ND BN THE ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  A and B Companies changed over: A Company to Marsa, B Company to Luqa.  Private Ryan wounded at Luqa by enemy action.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB  Reported 22.

(1) Floriana in Wartime, Emanuel S Tonna, Malta 1969

(2)  War Diary, Vice Admiral Malta, March 1942

All written content © maltagc70 unless otherwise attributed. For conditions of use contact bdmalta@btinternet.com

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2017 in 1942, March 1942, Uncategorized

 

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25 March 1942: Battle to Save Stricken Supply Ship, Passengers and Cargo

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HMS Breconshire

HMS Breconshire

ROYAL NAVY, MERCHANT MARINE AND AIR FORCE IN DESPERATE BID TO RESCUE SHIP

Since noon on Wednesday bad weather has prevented the disabled supply ship Breconshire from being towed into the safety of Grand Harbour.  For 36 hours she has lain off Zonkor Point, her passengers and crew stranded and vulnerable to the continuous enemy air attacks.  Her precious cargo includes the only oil – 5000 tons – carried by the convoy but this, coupled with tons of ammunition and bombs, makes her a floating time bomb under fire.

Heavy raids on the airfields have made it impossible for Malta’s fighters get airborne and drive off enemy raiders.  Only the guns of destroyer Southwold, standing by to provide cover, could deter them.  But yesterday she struck a mine and then sank after further damage from an enemy bomb.  The heavy swell was driving Breconshire dangerously close to the same minefield and prevented the tug Ancient from attaching a secure towing line.

HMS Southwold

HMS Southwold

The trawler Beryl made three attempts to get alongside and take off the military personnel, but without success. Finally, in the early hours of this morning two tugs, Ancient and Robust, managed to secure a tow and ease the stricken merchantman towards Delimara Point.  With more help from the destroyer Eridge, Breconshire made the turn round Delimara into Marsaxlokk Harbour, where she reached mooring at noon today.

WAR DIARY, GENERAL STAFF, MALTA 24 MARCH 1942

Breconshire moved from Zonkor to No 1 Buoy, Kalafrana. Persistent raids by JU88 and Stukas against her and other shipping in Grand Harbour. Our fighters, HAA active. No hits on Breconshire.  Discharging cargo by lighter in Marsa Scirocco bay. W/T interception through approaching pilots gave indication of targets.  Other targets: direct hit on 3.7″ gun position St Julians and Fd Bty HQ Paola: four OR killed. Many bombs dropped in districts bordering Grand Harbour, Sliema, St Julians.  Maj P J D Johnson taking over duties of GSO1.  In order to deal with enemy attacks on Breconshire the following RA dispositions were made: four 18 pounder Delimara Peninsula and four 25 pounders Birzebuggia task direct fire Marsaxlokk Bay, four 3″ HAA guns Benghaisa Point, 12 Bofors to area Kalafrana-Marsaxlokk Bay under command 3 LAA Regt RMA. LO from ME (Maj C M L Andrews) arrived in Malta.”

AIR RAIDS DAWN 25 MARCH TO DAWN 26 MARCH 1942

Weather  Wind south; 80% cloud.

0855-1040 hrs  ME 109s patrol the Island.

1052 hrs  A delayed Action bomb explodes south of Safi village.

1107-1123 hrs  Air raid alert.  Raid does not materialise.

1241 hrs  Air raid alert for incoming enemy aircraft.

1339 hrs  JU 87s and JU 88s escorted by ME 109s attack Grand Harbour and Marsaxlokk Bay, where Breconshire is now tied up.  Bombs are dropped through the clouds as well as from a dive.

1530 hrs  Raiders passed.

1545 hrs  Ta Qali’s fighter squadrons operating from Luqa are scrambled to intercept incoming raiders and defend Breconshire.  S/L Grant shoots down one ME 109 and damages one JU 87.  They are joined by eight Hurricanes from Hal Far: 185 Squadron pilots Sgt Eastman, Sgt Horrocks, Sgt Wilson and Sgt Robb account for one JU 87 ‘probably destroyed’; P/O Ormrod and P/O Wigley share a ‘confirmed destroyed’; F/L Lloyd and Sgt Horrocks, P/O Milburn claim one damaged.

1603 hrs  JU 87s and JU 88s again attack Grand Harbour.  SS Essex is hit through the bows and sustains some damage in her engine room.  The Joiners Shop at the Naval Armament Depot is demolished.  King George V hospital is damaged.  Breconshire is attacked in Marsaxlokk Bay but most of the bombs fall in the sea off Fort St Lucian.

1610 hrs   Ta Qali’s fighter squadrons engage the enemy again.  P/O Peck damages one JU 87.  P/O Nash damages one JU 87.  F/O Lee damages one JU 87.  P/O Plagis damages two JU 87s.  P/O McLeod destroys one ME 109. Ack Ack destroy one JU 88 and damage two, as well as numerous JU 87s.

1625 hrs  Two bombs explode near the Quartermaster’s Stores in Paola and one by the Dockyard wall.  Capt Vassallo of 3rd Bn Kings Own Malta Regt is slightly hurt.

1630 hrs  One ME 109 is engaged by two guns of 225 Light Ack Ack Battery; no claim.

1700-1715 hrs  JU 88s drop bombs from above the clouds on Luqa airfield, damaging one Blenheim, and across the Zurrieq-Mqabba area. Four sticks land near Tal Hniena Church, one stick close to Mqabba, demolishing three houses, and one stick north of Kirkop.  Post L22 of 1st Bn Dorsetshire Regt fires one magazine at a JU 88: no claim.

Night 25/26th  Continuous raids on shipping and dock facilities in Grand Harbour. The enemy uses parachute flares to illuminate their targets. Bombs are also dropped on Breconshire in Marsaxlokk Bay. Bombs, including many delayed action, are dropped across the Island, including 24 high explosives on Gozo.

0325 hrs  Four enemy boats are reported 40 miles off the coast.  All Beach Companies are informed.

0355 hrs  A large number of incendiary bombs is dropped on the Officers’ Lines at Battalion Headquarters 1 Durham.  They are quickly extinguished.

Military casualties  Stoker J Paszek, Polish Submarine Sokol; Private Joseph Abela, King’s Own Malta Regiment; Gunner Percy Morris, Sergeant Joseph Davies, 26th Defence Regiment, Royal Artillery; Gunner Paul Vella, Gunner Pius Tedesco, Gunner Joseph Camilleri, 2nd Heavy Ack Ack Regiment, Royal Malta Artillery.

Civilian casualties  Floriana  Publio Mercieca, age 16. Gzira  Alfred Bellizzi, age 50.  Marsa  Felice Gatt, age 80.  Sliema  Mary Alvarese, age 88.

OPERATIONS REPORTS WEDNESDAY 25 MARCH 1942

ROYAL NAVY  One Albacore on shipping search east of Malta sighted nothing and crashed on landing: crew unhurt.  Poor visibility – moderate air attacks; no particular damage.  2000 hrs  Carlisle and four ‘Hunts’ sailed for Alexandria.

AIR HQ  Arrivals  Four Wellingtons from Gibraltar; one Wellington from LG 09.

TA QALI  Skeleton Orderly Room established on No 10 Cave.  F/L Gibson, Med, admitted to 90 General Hospital.  249 Squadron operating from Luqa.  No scrambles.  Aerodrome nearly serviceable.   Night operations from Luqa; no interceptions.

NORTHERN INFANTRY BRIGADE  1105 hrs  Storm conditions NORAH and KATE cancelled.

1st BN THE CHESHIRE REGIMENT  Petrol-less day.  Luqa working parties as usual: 2 Officers, 50 men.  68 ME 109s, JU 87s and JU 88s raid Grand Harbour.  Two ME 109s and three JU 87s destroyed.

1ST BN THE DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY  Breconshire was beached near Marsaxlokk and the remainder of A Company arrived at Battalion camp by 1300 hrs.

8TH BN THE MANCHESTER REGIMENT  Battalion supplied working party of two Officers and 100 Other Ranks to work at Ta Qali aerodrome.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS Bomb Disposal UXB  Reported 1.

 

All written content © maltagc70 unless otherwise attributed. For conditions of use contact bdmalta@btinternet.com

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2017 in 1942, March 1942

 

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