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23 August 1941: Malta’s Offensive Role in Mediterranean Exposed

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Sir Archibald Sinclair

Sir Archibald Sinclair

MALTA AIR OPERATIONS ‘MAGNIFICENT’ SAYS BRITISH SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR

An exchange of telegrams today between the British Secretary of State for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair, and Air Marshal H P Lloyd, Air Officer Commanding, RAF Mediterranean, acknowledges for the first time [openly] that Malta is not merely a fighter base but is being used for bombing operations. Hitherto, it has been generally understood that Malta, apart from being a Fleet Air Arm base, possessed only defensive aircraft.

The Secretary of State wrote:

“Heartiest congratulations to you and all ranks of squadrons operating under your command on the magnificent success of air operations from Malta. The brilliant defence of the Island by Hurricanes, the audacious attacks of Beaufighters on enemy air bases, the steady and deadly slogging of the Wellingtons at the enemy’s ports; the daring and dexterous reconnaissances of the Marylands, culminating in the tremendous onslaughts of Blenheims and Fleet Air Arm Swordfish on Axis shipping in the Mediterranean are watched with immense admiration by you comrades in the RAF and by our fellow-countrymen at home.  You are draining the enemy’s strength in the Mediterranean.  Good luck to you and good hunting.”

Showing continued caution, Malta Air Chief Air Marshal Lloyd replied in less explicit terms: “The hunting is certainly good and hounds are in excellent fettle.”

AIR RAIDS DAWN 23 AUGUST TO DAWN 24 AUGUST 1941

Weather  Sunny and hot.

2354-0020 hrs  Raid no 824  Air raid alert for two enemy aircraft which approach separately from the north. The first crosses the coast north east of Grand Harbour and large numbers of incendiary bombs on Corrodino.  The second drops incendiaries north east of Ta Silch, on Safi and on St George’s Barracks as well as in the sea.  A line of fires extends from Grand Harbour to Luqa aerodrome but they quickly burn out.  Five small incendiaries fall within Dockyard area; the resulting small fires are quickly extinguished and there is no appreciable damage. Two Hurricanes are scrambled but searchlights do not illuminate the raiders and there are no engagements.

OPERATIONS REPORTS SATURDAY 23 AUGUST 1941

ROYAL NAVY  Unique returned from patrol northwest of Tripoli, having sunk 14,000 ton Esperia.

AIR HQ  69 Squadron Maryland patrols south of Pantellaria and around Lampedusa. 38 Squadron 10 Wellingtons sent in three waves to attack the north west of Tripoli, causing several fires. 105 Squadron 5 Blenheims sent to attack a convoy scoring hits on ships scores hits on several smaller vessels.  

HAL FAR 830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm 5 Swordfish took off to attack a merchant ship off the Tunisian coast but all aircraft overheated and developed engine trouble and returned to base.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 9.

 

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Posted by on August 23, 2016 in 1941, August 1941

 

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22 August 1941: Malta Coastal Defences Are High Priority

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ISLAND ALLOCATED LATEST DETECTION EQUIPMENT

Malta is to be given high priority in the allocation of the latest detection equipment to defend its coastline. The Coastal Defence sets have recently been developed on the Home Front to direct coastal artillery.  The set can also be used for air defences, and to detect low-flying enemy aircraft approaching the Island’s coastline.  Malta’s Governor & Commander in Chief has been asked to estimate the number of sets required for the Island’s defences. 

The new Coastal Defence sets are currently undergoing final tests and personnel are being trained in their operation on the Home Front. Sets are expected to start coming off the production line at the end of the year and allocation to overseas theatres of war should follow soon afterwards.

P33 is a U-class submarine

P33 is a U-class submarine

SUB P33 IS MISSING

The whereabouts of Malta submarine P33 are a mystery, after she failed to return to base at 0700 hrs yesterday as expected.  The submarine, which has been engaged in offensive patrols in the Mediterranean, has now been reported by Vice Admiral Malta as officially overdue.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 22 AUGUST TO DAWN 23 AUGUST 1941

Weather  Sunny and hot.

No air raids.

OPERATIONS REPORTS FRIDAY 22 AUGUST 1941

ROYAL NAVY  P33 reported as overdue.

AIR HQ Arrivals 2 Blenheim. 69 Squadron Maryland patrols of Lampedusa and western Ionian Sea. 105 Squadron 5 Blenheims carried out a sweep off the coast between Misurata and Seurat for shipping found none and attacked military targets on land, destroying vehicles.   

 

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Posted by on August 22, 2016 in 1941, August 1941

 

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21 August 1941: Malta Attacks Sink 45000 Tons of Enemy Shipping

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WAR CABINET REVIEWS OFFENSIVE OPERATIONS FROM MALTA 14 TO 21 AUGUST

Destructive raids by our aircraft have caused serious casualties to enemy shipping in the Mediterranean. During the week Blenheim and Swordfish aircraft from Malta have sunk or seriously damaged 44600 tons of enemy shipping between Sicily and the African coast.  A destroyer which was escorting a convoy was torpedoed by Swordfish aircraft and probably sunk.

HMS Taku arrives Malta

HMS Taku arrives Malta

Blenheim and Swordfish aircraft from Malta have continued their day and night offensive against enemy shipping between Sicily and the African coast, with the following results:

  • Destroyer torpedoed, almost certainly sunk
  • 4000 ton tanker bombed and seen to explode
  • 4000 ton tanker bombed and left on fire
  • 800 ton schooner bombed and set on fire
  • 800 ton schooner bombed and left with a heavy list
  • 6000 ton merchant vessel torpedoed and almost certainly sunk
  • 3000 ton merchant vessel torpedoed and almost certainly sunk
  • 3000 ton merchant vessel torpedoed
  • 8000 ton merchant vessel sunk by bombs and torpedo
  • 9000 ton merchant vessel torpedoed, beached and subsequently set on fire by bombs
  • 6000 ton tanker torpedoed and left on fire

On one occasion enemy fighters successfully prevented a day attack on a convoy, but during the night a successful torpedo attack on the same target was made by Swordfish.

Three heavy night attacks were made on the harbour at Catania. The Central and Port railway stations were hit and a fire, apparently oil-fed, was visible 70 miles away.  Shipping was almost certainly damaged and photographs show a large burned out area among trucks and cargo on the Central Quay.  Barracks at Passero were also bombed and set on fire.  Fighters carried out high and low level sweeps over southern Sicily but no fighter opposition was encountered.  Seven seaplanes were destroyed or severely damaged at Syracuse, where oil cisterns were attacked with cannon fire and three balloons were shot down in flames.

Tripoli was attacked on two nights by a total of nine Wellingtons but, though bursts and fires were seen on the Spanish Mole, accurate observation was hampered by a smoke screen. A Maryland engaged in leaflet dropping over Tunisia was shot down by French fighters.

The enemy made a few ineffective night raids on Malta. On 19 August twelve enemy fighters approached the Island but were chased back to Sicily, where three of them were destroyed.  On 21 August at dawn three fighters with nine others as high cover attempted a low-flying attack on two aerodromes but caused no damage.  Malta fighters were unable to engage them due to poor visibility.

SUBSTANCE CONVOY SHIP LEAVES MALTA

One of the merchant ships from convoy Operation Substance left Malta tonight. The fast freighter SS Durham sailed to the westward under cover of darkness with no protective escort. Durham’s route will take her through Tunisian waters from where she will head for Gibraltar.  The freighter is expected to arrive on Sunday.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 21 AUGUST TO DAWN 22 AUGUST 1941

Weather  Very windy.

0602-0700 hrs Just before dawn there are a number of reports from ground stations of the report of an aircraft with navigation lights on. A formation of enemy raiders appears 20 miles north east of the Island.  Hurricanes are ordered to carry out a dawn patrol and are scrambled when a single aircraft appears 18 miles north of Malta.  Several enemy aircraft follow and 105 Squadron are scrambled.  Three raiders eventually make low-flying attacks on Hal Far and the Safi dispersal area.  Hurricane fighters are scrambled and engage the raiders in a dogfight over Luqa.  Bofors, light anti-aircraft guns and light machine guns engage the raiders vigorously.  A Bofors guns claims two hits on one Macchi.

Another formation of nine enemy aircraft appears 18 miles north and 126 Squadron are scrambled. The raiders circle 30 miles north of the Island before turning back towards Sicily.  The Hurricanes do not intercept.

Civilian casualties  Sliema  Annunziata Borg, age 60.

OPERATIONS REPORTS THURSDAY 21 AUGUST 1941

ROYAL NAVY Taku arrived from Alexandria en route to UK; discharged bulk kerosene. Unbeaten returned from patrol, having obtained 1 hit on convoy or escort, results unobserved owing to counter attack. P33 did not arrive at 0700 as ordered. SS Durham sailed independently for Gibraltar.

AIR HQ  Arrivals 5 Wellington. Departures 1 Beaufort. 69 Squadron Patrols Pantellaria to Marittimo Island and Tripoli.  Beaufort patrolled Tunisian coast. 38 Squadron 16 Wellingtons sent to attack Tripoli harbour damaged buildings and port facilities 

HAL FAR  830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm 9 Swordfish attacked three escorted troopships returning from Tripoli but attack hampered by poor visibility.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 2.

 

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Posted by on August 21, 2016 in 1941, August 1941

 

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20 August 1941: Malta’s Homes and Crops at Risk From Incendiaries

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Precious crops at risk from incendiaries

Precious crops at risk from incendiaries

INCENDIARY ALERT ACROSS MALTA

An alert has been issued to householders across Malta to remove any inflammable objects or temporary fittings from roofs. (1)  The warning by the Lt Governor’s office is necessary due to the very large numbers of incendiaries being dropped during the current campaign of night air raids by the Italian Regia Aeronautica.

Since 12 August, hundreds of 2kg incendiaries at a time have been scattered across Malta. Although small, the bombs contain fuel oil and can burn fiercely for up to ten minutes.  The Island’s stone buildings are not especially at risk, but in the dry summer heat any inflammable material is vulnerable to the bombs.  Precious food crops are also in danger of destruction. 

ITALIAN RADIO CLAIMS ‘DARING ATTACKS’ ON HAL FAR

A particularly audacious action was carried out on Malta. In the early hours of yesterday an Italian fighter formation escorted by another formation of fighters flew over Malta and from a very low level machine gunned the highly equipped air base of Hal Far, while another formation crossed the sky over the Island.  The daring attacks of our fighters although met with a furious anti-aircraft fire were crowned with success.  Two large twin-engined bombers were set on fire and destroyed, while another two bombers and two single-engined planes were hit and rendered unserviceable.  Furthermore several other aircraft to the south of the airfield were hit and, judging by the flames, they sustained extensive damage.  The enemy’s anti-aircraft batteries were likewise attacked with armaments from on board our aircraft.  British fighters flying over Malta did not engage our planes, all of which returned normally to their respective bases. 

AIR RAIDS DAWN 20 AUGUST TO DAWN 21 AUGUST 1941

Weather  Sunny and hot.

No air raids.

OPERATIONS REPORTS WEDNESDAY 20 AUGUST 1941

ROYAL NAVY  Otus arrived with petrol and stores from Alexandria. Urge returned from patrol having sighted convoy, but was prevented from attacking by counter attacks.

AIR HQ Arrivals 2 Blenheim. 69 Squadron Maryland patrols Lampedusa, eastern Ionian Sea, Trapani and Tripoli harbour. 126 Squadron 6 Hurricanes attacked barrage balloons, seaplanes and petrol tanks at Augusta. 

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB dealt with 2 (2kg incendiary).

8th Bn MANCHESTER REGIMENT  His Excellency the Governor visited Gozo. A guard of honour of 3 officers and 106 ranks was provided by the Battalion. 

(1) Malta Diary of a War, Michael Galea, BDL Publishing 2015

 

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Posted by on August 20, 2016 in 1941, August 1941, Uncategorized

 

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19 August 1941: Malta Dockyard Diver Awarded Empire Medal

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5 incendiaries near Xlejli Tower

5 incendiaries near Xlejli Tower

GIUSEPPE GAUCI DEFIED ENEMY BOMBERS

London Gazette 19 August 1941

Awarded the British Empire Medal (Civil Division): Giuseppe Gauci, Diver, HM Dockyard, Malta:

“Diver Gauci showed great coolness and devotion to duty when carrying out an underwater examination of a ship which had been damaged. Gauci knew that further bombing attacks were to be expected and that, if one came while he was in the water, there was little chance that he could be removed from the target area before the bombs dropped.  By his coolness he set an example to the diving boat’s crew which enabled the examination to be competed and the ship to sail.”

MALTA CABLE LINES GO UNDERGROUND

Malta’s naval wireless telegraph (W/T) receiving station is soon to be moved underground near War Headquarters at Lascaris Barracks. The existing Cable and Wireless station in St Angelo will also be moved there.  Local under-sea cables damaged by enemy action are currently in the process of repair. Buried land-lines are being laid to provide a securely protected communications system immune from enemy bomb attacks.  The War Office is anxious to ensure cable capacity is kept at a maximum, particularly to maintain a reliable route for the high volume of cable traffic between Malta and Alexandria.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 19 AUGUST TO DAWN 20 AUGUST 1941

Weather  Sunny and hot.

1034-1055 hrs  Air raid alert for twelve Macchi 200 fighters which approach to within six miles of Grand Harbour at 23000 feet before turning away northwards. Twelve Hurricane fighters are scrambled and have time to reach sufficient height to pursue the raiders towards the coast of Sicily.  F/Lt Lefevre shoots down one Macchi over land and is attacked as he turns away but evades damage.  P/O Burke shoots down one Macchi in flames over land and a second over the sea.  His own aircraft is slightly damaged but he is able to land safely.  The remaining nine Macchis turn away from the engagement.

2122-2200 hrs  Air raid alert for five enemy aircraft which approach the Island from the north at 17000 feet and drop hundreds of incendiary bombs on Zeitun and along a ridge Ghaxaq-Bir-id-Deheb-Luqa causing a string of fires, including a large one near Gudja. Two people are killed and five wounded in Zeitun.  Five fall near HQ of 1st Bn Hampshire Regiment at Xlejli Tower and ignite but are extinguished within three minutes.  One other rank is slightly injured.  A large number of high explosive bombs are dropped in the sea.  Two Hurricanes are scrambled.  Searchlights effect one illumination but there is no engagement.

Military casualties  Able Seaman Cyril W J Errington, Royal Navy, HM Submarine Upright; Leading Aircraftsman Alexander L S Tennent, Royal Air Force (Auxiliary Air Force).

Civilian casualties  Zeitun  Joseph Cutajar, age 19; Consiglia Farrugia, age 48.

OPERATIONS REPORTS TUESDAY 19 AUGUST 1941

AIR HQ Arrivals 3 Beaufort, 9 Wellington. 69 Squadron Maryland reconnaissance of Tripoli, Lampedusa, and several aerodromes in Sicily. 830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm Two Swordfish carried out shipping searches in the Pantellaria area.   

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB dealt with 10 (2kg incendiary).

 

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Posted by on August 19, 2016 in 1941, August 1941

 

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18 August 1941: Malta Submarine Sunk by Mystery Explosion

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Cant Z501 organised rescue

Cant Z501 organised rescue

P-32 LOST IN ATTACK ON ENEMY CONVOY

Malta-based submarine P-32 was sunk today as she closed in to attack an enemy convoy. At around 1530 hours this afternoon, the submarine was just beneath the surface off the coast of Tripoli when she spotted through her periscope a convoy of four enemy merchant vessels.  P-32 dived to 50 feet and moved rapidly to close on the nearest of the ships, a 6000 ton oil tanker.  As the submarine began to resurface there was a major explosion and she sank almost immediately to the seabed. 

Chlorine gas began to fill the submarine which was also flooding fast. Her Commanding Officer and two ratings attempted to escape through the conning tower but one of the ratings died in the attempt.

According to Italian sources, the explosion was witnessed by the crew of an Italian Cant Z501 which flew over the scene. They reported four men in the water, two alive and two dead.  The aircraft returned to signal to the survivors that help was on its way.  Lt David Abdy RN and his coxswain are reported to have been picked up by an Italian boat and taken prisoner.  The cause of the explosion is not known at this stage but is likely to have been a mine.

P32 Casualty List

AIR RAIDS DAWN 18 AUGUST TO DAWN 19 AUGUST 1941

Weather  Sunny and hot.

No air raids.

Military casualties  Gunner Evan Morris, 182 Battery, 4 HAA Regiment, Royal Artillery.

OPERATIONS REPORTS MONDAY 18 AUGUST 1941

ROYAL NAVY  Unbeaten and Urge sent out to intercept convoy north of Pantelleria.

AIR HQ Departures 2 Wellington. 69 Squadron Maryland patrols Tunisian coast and searches for convoy.  Patrols of western Ionian Sea, Messina, Reggio Calabria, Augusta and Syracuse. 38 Squadron 5 Wellingtons sent to attack Tripoli harboub, dropping bombs and incendiaries form 4-9000 feet. 105 Squadron 3 Blenheims set to attack shipping near Lampedusa.  

ROYAL ARMY ORDNANCE CORPS  99 other ranks ceased attachment to 24 Fortress Company RE and re-attached to RAOC.

 

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Posted by on August 18, 2016 in 1941, August 1941

 

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17 August 1941: Apathy Prevails in Italy, Says British Foreign Secretary

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Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden

Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden

ITALY TO BE HIT BY AIR AND SEA AT EVERY OPPORTUNITY

The War Cabinet in London today received a report from the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on the current state of Italian morale. Summing up his report, Anthony Eden wrote:  “apathy and weariness are the salient characteristics of the prevailing mood in Italy.” 

According to the report, by the end of Italy’s first year at war Mussolini had lost much prestige; the short war he had promised still dragged on. Mussolini has fallen out with several of his Generals.  For the Italian population, the glamour of early victories in the Mediterranean is already wearing off and the attack on the Soviet Union is seen as likely to prolong the war

The collapse of Italy’s empire in Africa and Germany’s perceived abandonment of Italy to the tender mercies of Allied navy and air forces in the Mediterranean have dented morale. Rations have seriously deteriorated and the cost of food is continually rising; the situation is now considered ‘serious’.

Some are reporting that among the general public a desire for peace seems universal. Many deny any Fascist sympathies and some in private openly criticise the Government.  Many Italians are at heart anti-German, whereas few are anti-British.  An American in Rome states: “Everyone we know listens to the English radio…including the police and carabinieri.” 

The Italian press has found it necessary to print warnings such as: ‘Every speech and every gesture which might disaffect the public spirit is criminal. There must be no speaking against the governing classes, nor spreading of false news, nor criticism of any sort.’

Morale among the armed forces is no better. According to an American information, feeling between the Italian and German armed forces is very bad and disagreement exists from commanders downwards.

Army morale is poor; the regular Army dislike interference from Mussolini and his political allies; there is a shortage of uniforms and equipment, as well as food. The Navy has lost all its former prestige, apart from the submarine service.  Morale has been undermined by the presence of German officers on every ship from destroyers upwards.  A reliable source describes the Italian Air Force as being in a ‘fairly poor state and adds that it is not unusual for pilots to request ground-based employment on the excuse of nervous breakdown.

However, the British Foreign Secretary warns against assuming an early capitulation: “The chances of knocking Italy out of the war (ie forcing her to a separate peace) can now be discounted, since the Germans would certainly forestall any such move in Italy by converting the present moral occupation into a physical occupation of the country. But the more depressed and restless the Italians become the less effective is the Fascist Government’s contribution to the German effort, and the greater do Germany’s policing responsibilities in Italy become.” 

The Foreign Secretary concludes: “The moral of this is that, even though we cannot now hope to knock Italy out, we should not relax efforts to hit metropolitan Italy by air and from the sea whenever opportunity offers.  Each blow against Italy is a blow against Germany.”

AIR RAIDS DAWN 17 AUGUST TO DAWN 18 AUGUST 1941

Weather  Sunny and fresh.

PM  Eleven Hurricanes are scrambled to intercept a formation of six enemy aircraft spotted 60 miles north of Malta. Four of the raiders turn back towards Sicily, followed later by the other two.  Five Hurricanes are ordered to land and three others develop various troubles and have to land.  The remaining three are ordered to intercept a single aircraft identified as a Caproni seaplane which is reported 10 miles east of Zonqor Point.  Two Hurricanes open fire and see black smoke emitting from the seaplane’s port wing; the aircraft then jettisons a large object, believed to be a mine.  Later reconnaissance of the area reveals a large patch of oil and some wreckage on the surface.   

OPERATIONS REPORTS SUNDAY 17 AUGUST 1941

AIR HQ Arrivals 1 Sunderland. Departures 1 Sunderland. 69 Squadron Marylands on shipping patrols.  Three Hurricanes sent to attack seaplanes in Syracuse Harbour, damaging several aircraft. 38 Squadron 4 Wellingtons attacked Tripoli Harbour, Spanish Quay and area. 105 Squadron 3 Blenheims sent to attack shipping south of Pantelleria. 

HAL FAR 830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm 7 Swordfish attacked a convoy of 6 merchant ships and 6 destroyers. One merchant ship was torpedoed and bombed, a second was hit and down by the bows, one tanker was struck by a torpedo and left on fire.  One Fulmar patrolled over Gerbini and Catania aerodromes dropping bombs on Gerbini.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Bomb Disposal UXB reported 8.

 

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Posted by on August 17, 2016 in 1941, August 1941

 

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