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28 July 1941: Malta Has New Night Fighter Unit

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MNFU Hurricanes will be painted black

MNFU Hurricanes will be painted black

EIGHT BLACK HURRICANES TO OPERATE FROM TA QALI

A new RAF unit dedicated to the defence of Malta at night is ready to begin operations. Led by former Battle of Britain flight commander Group Captain George Powell-Shedden, the Malta Night Fighter Unit will be based at Ta Qali. The unit has been formed to counter the frequent night raids by the Italian air force which have become increasingly intense in recent weeks. 

The MNFU will have a special fleet of eight Hurricanes which will be painted entirely in black. As soon as an air raid is plotted approaching the Island, the fighters will be scrambled and the runway briefly illuminated to allow them to take off.  They will work in conjunction with the Island’s searchlights which will illuminate the raiders to enable the camouflaged Hurricanes to close in unseen for attack.

ITALIAN MISSION ‘A PRETTY SUICIDAL JOB’ SAYS NAVY MINE DISPOSAL OFFICER

One of the surviving motor torpedo boats used on yesterday’s raids has been salvaged by the Royal Navy and examined for intelligence purposes. Leading the operation was Rendering Mines Safe Officer Lt Edward Dutton Woolley, GM, RN, who was called out on Saturday morning soon after the raid had been defeated.  The tug Justified took him to the Italian vessel which had been captured by the RAF seven miles offshore:

One of the prisoners captured, together with an interpreter, went with me as he had been persuaded into telling me how to render the thing safe when we found it. At least that was the idea.  When later on we came to the boat he just swore he didn’t know what it was, and that he’d never seen one before, so he wasn’t much use…

After about two hours steaming we came up to the derelict boat. Viewed through the glasses it was quite a small thing, about eighteen feet long and [looking just like] a racing motor boat…It appeared in good order but I could see a large steel case in the bows with a crimson flame painted on it which didn’t look very healthy, so I secured a line to the stem and got back to the ship without much hanging about, then took it in tow and started back for home.”

Commander Woolley chose a quiet sector of Manoel Island to beach the boat for further examination. The manoeuvre was a delicate one in view of the risk of explosion.  Finally he could examine the boat:

“When we got the deck cover off a most incredible contraption of pipes, wires and gadgets was disclosed, which was obviously the firing gear, so we lit cigarettes and pondered over it for a while. For a moment I had the same feeling again that I had when I saw my first mine – that I just couldn’t tackle it – and then again, just as before, the realisation that it had to be done by someone and it may as well be me.” 

After working into the evening, Commander Woolley had determined how the mechanisms worked. He returned to the boat this morning to finish the job:

“The next morning, Sunday, saw the end of the dismantling with the detonators and primers out and the whole thing reasonably safe. There was the main charge of 600 lbs, two primers, three three-ounce charges and over forty detonators.  One of the detonators blew when I was taking it out and ripped my arm but that was the only damage.  Later investigation however showed that we had been very lucky taking the primers out, as one of them unscrewed itself as it came out.  Had the other done the same, the striker pin would have been released and the main charge would have exploded…

The main idea was that the pilot should direct the boat at a ship and then jump overboard before it hit and went up. A pretty suicidal job I should think…” (1)

AIR RAIDS DAWN 28 JULY TO DAWN 29 JULY 1941

Weather  Hot and humid.

No air raids.

OPERATIONS REPORTS MONDAY 28 JULY 1941

ROYAL NAVY  Upright returned from patrol, having obtained 2 hits on a 500’ Floating Dock. HM submarine Upholder hit an Italian cruiser with two torpedoes.  Urge returned from patrol (Commanding Officer sick). 5 Swordfish left to intercept convoy, but turned back owing to high oil temperatures of engines. 830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm 5 Swordfish despatched to attack a southbound convoy off Pantelleria had to return due to overheated engines.

AIR HQ  Arrivals 13 Blenheim, 1 Sunderland, 3 Wellington. Departures 5 Blenheim, 2 Wellington.  The Commander in Chief Middle East, General Auchinleck, and the Air Commander in Chief Air Chief Marshal Tedder with their staffs left for the UK. 69 Squadron Marylands reconnaissance Sicily, Tripoli and search patrols. 110 Squadron 3 Blenheims searched for two merchant ships, not found but bombed a converted sailing ship. 252 Squadron 8 Beaufighters attacked Catania, Syracuse, Marsala with success, 2 attacking each target.  They destroyed a large number of aircraft and damaged many more, and killed 25 ground staff.  One Beaufighter navigator Sgt T Armstrong was wounded.  Hurricanes provided cover between Sicily and Malta.

1st Bn CHESHIRE REGIMENT  Arrangements were made to hand over the Sliema area to 11th Bn Lancashire Fusiliers.  C Company will receive personnel of 11th Lancs into their beach posts from tomorrow.  An area will be taken over by C Company from 2nd Bn Royal West Kent Regiment.  Training of 40 RAF personnel in the use of rifles began; there are 200 to be trained.

TA QALI  S/Ldr G H Powell-Sheddon posted from Hal Far as OC Malta Night Flying Unit.

(1) Mines Over Malta, Frederick R Galea, Wise Owl Publicatons

 

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

 

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25 June 1941: Malta Attacks to Stop Axis Convoy ‘At All Costs’

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  • Today seven enemy fighters were shot down by Hurricanes and one Italian bomber badly damaged
  • HM Submarine Osiris departed Gibraltar with 70 tons of fuel for Malta

COMBINED AIR AND SEA ATTACK LAUNCHED FROM MALTA

Malta’s Royal Navy and RAF commanders received urgent orders today to stop an enemy convoy ‘at all costs’. Intelligence reports had been received in London of a fast German troop convoy consisting of four large liners as well as merchant ships heading out of Naples for North Africa.  In a combined sea and air operation HM Submarines Urge, Unbeaten and Upholder were immediately sent to intercept while  830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm were also ordered in to the attack, followed by RAF Blenheim low-level torpedo bombers. 

Neptunia SS Italian

SS Neptunia

In view of recent Blenheim losses, 69 Squadron was also asked to assist in the attack. The Maryland reconnaissance squadron was given the task of dive-bombing the convoy to cause a distraction and enable the main attack to be pressed home.  Four Marylands spent this morning practising over Filfla; the aircraft of Flt/Lt Warburton was damaged in the exercise.

A group of Marylands took off from Malta this afternoon to shadow the convoy. The 13 Swordfish of 830 Squadron FAA followed at 6pm and used the Marylands to locate their target.  A second flight of four Marylands took off ahead of the Blenheims to launch the main night attack on the convoy. 

At dusk four Marylands launched their bombs on the liners Esperia, Marco Polo, Oceania, and Neptunia south of Messina.  Seven of the Swordfish followed in with torpedoes, scoring two hits on a merchant ship.  Escorting Axis ships launched a fierce barrage: one Swordfish and one Maryland are reported missing.  The submarines surfaced nearby in earshot of the engagement but visibility prevented them from closing for an attack.  One merchant vessel was seen burning amidships and the convoy turned away towards Taranto.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 25 JUNE TO DAWN 26 JUNE 1941

Weather  Hot and sunny.

0856-0927 hrs  Air raid alert for an Italian SM 79 bomber escorted by 15 Macchi 200 fighters which crosses the Island, apparently on reconnaissance, at 21000 feet.  Nine Hurricane fighters are scrambled and engage the raiders at great height, 20 miles south of Delimara.  The bomber is hit and damaged, its undercarriage drops and a stream of oil is seen from the aircraft.  Three Macchi 200s are shot down. The rest of the raiders are chased out almost to Cape Passero.  An SOS is picked up, stating “Macchi 200 fallen into the sea 11 miles south of Cape Religione; go immediately.”  Wreckage is seen in the sea 20 miles north-east of St Paul’s Bay.  One heavy anti-aircraft gun fires a pointer round; no claims.

1345-1349 hrs  Air raid alert for six enemy aircraft which approach to within 3 miles of Grand Harbour before turning away to the north.  Eight Hurricanes are scrambled but unable to intercept because the leader cannot reach the altitude of the enemy in his aircraft.

2210-2310 hrs  Air raid alert for a single enemy aircraft which approaches the Island from the north, unobserved by early warning systems. Bombs are dropped on San Pietru and in the sea north east of St Paul’s Bay. The air raid alert then sounds.  During the raid several Malta aircraft depart on offensive operations, their navigation lights on and landing lights on the aerodrome exposed.  Hurricane fighters are scrambled and engage the raider; no claims.

2321-2338 hrs  Air raid alert for a single enemy aircraft which drops bombs in the sea off St Thomas’ Bay before receding northwards.

0141-0158 hrs  Air raid alert for a single enemy aircraft which crosses the coast to the south east of Grand Harbour and drops 500lb high explosive bombs on Zeitun.

0238-0349 hrs Air raid alert for five enemy aircraft which approach singly from the north, on the same course as Wellington bombers of 148 Squadron flying in from the Middle East, two hours ahead of schedule.   100lb and 500lb high explosive bombs are dropped between Safi, on the road between Zurrieq and Qrendi, on Zabbar, and the sea 15 miles east of Grand Harbour, off Filfla and in St Thomas’ Bay.  The night Hurricanes are scrambled and engage on two occuasions; no claims.

Military casualties  Sub-Lieutenant D A R Holmes, pilot, 830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm, HMS St Angelo; Leading Airman J R Smith, 830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm, HMS St Angelo; Bombardier James T Skinner, 4th Coast Regiment, Royal Artillery.

OPERATIONS REPORTS WEDNESDAY 25 JUNE 1941

NAVY  Important transport convoy of four large liners departed Naples; sighted south of Messina and attacked at dusk by 4 Maryland aircraft with bombs and 2 Swordfish of 830 Squadron with torpedoes.  2 hits claimed; one merchant vessel was seen burning amidships, and the convoy turned towards Taranto. 1 Swordfish (crew S/Lt Holmes and L/A Smith) and 1 Maryland failed to return.

AIR HQ Departures 1 Sunderland. 69 Squadron 3 Marylands on reconnaissance; 1 Hurricane on photo-reconnaissance.  Photos of Castel Benito show 45 bombers, 22 fighters and 8 transport aircraft; at Mallaha 6 fighters and 2 bombers; at Palermo 14 fighters, 2 transport aircraft; at Trapani 18 fighters. 

TA QALI  Hurricane caught fire during refuelling (fire extinguished); cause so far unknown.

 

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Posted by on June 25, 2016 in 1941, June 1941

 

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