Malta – World War Two: to mark the 70th anniversary of the Island’s award of the George Cross on 15 April 1942, we recall events on this day 70 years ago, as a small island becomes the most bombed place on earth. (Map of Malta)
- Morale in the balance as heavy raids resume
- Convoy losses and air attacks taking their toll
- Civilian loss of life hits record levels
- Food rations cut by half
- Vital kerosene at half normal ration
TELEGRAM: IMMEDIATE NO.80 MOST SECRET 21st February 1942
From: Governor (Lt Gen Sir W Dobbie) To: Secretary of State for the Colonies
Repeated to the Commander in Chief Mediterranean GM 112
My telegram AA No 762 of 18th February to the War Office for the Chief of Staff. I am anxious that the effect of the recent measures of restriction on the civilian side should be fully realised in London. These measures are
- (a) Return to summer kerosene rations.
- (b) Prohibition of all bus traffic on Saturday and Sunday except for essential employees of the Government and the Services.
- (c) Curtailing of lengthy bus routes so that people will now have to walk considerable distances if necessary during raids to catch buses.
- (d) Further drastic reduction of already quite inadequate food rations.
(e) Reduction of sugar rations to 21 ounces per half month. It must be remembered that sugar is a more important article of diet in Malta than in England.
2. As you know our consumption of all commodities was already restricted to the minimum level which I thought acceptable on a long term basis. Some of the new cuts go below that level. Civil consumption of kerosene – after bread the most important commodity for civil use in Malta – is now just above half its normal level. Food consumption will be well under half normal. Motor transport petrol on the civil side will be little more than a quarter what it was in July 1941 when strict control was started and even then it was far below peace-time level.
3. You know our stock positions from my telegram under reference. I feel that we have reached a critical point in the maintenance of Malta. If the opportunity of the dark period in March is not taken to run in supplies, we shall have to wait until April when the lengthening days and possible intensification of the war may increase the risks at sea. Our supply position will then be such that the loss of the whole, or even of a substantial part, of a convoy would create a most dangerous situation here. The arrival in the meantime of small quantities of supplies by submarines or single ships would no doubt alleviate that situation to some extent but could not substantially change it. Even if after April our position could be remedied before it became too late, it would not be easy to build up our stocks again to a safe level, and we should be faced with a further period of acute difficulty.
4. Quite apart from the actual stock position the state of public morale is a most important factor. The necessity for the recent measures of restriction will no doubt be accepted by the public but they cannot fail to have their effect on the morale, especially if they have to be kept in force for any length of time. The spirit of the people throughout the heavier attacks of the recent weeks have been remarkably good, though loss of civilian life has been greater than during any other equal period. Nevertheless there is some evidence of a beginning of despondency beneath the surface. World events and particularly our set-back in Libya have their natural effect here but other causes nearer home operate more strongly. The people have always drawn their greatest encouragement from the success in the air over their island and the arrival of convoys. The consolation of the latter has not lain solely in securing food or other supplies. It has also been a demonstration of our control of the surrounding seas. The inferiority of our fighter aircraft to those of the enemy in performance has been a cause of marked depression. Steps are being taken to reverse that situation but in the meantime the lowering effects of the present position are joined to those of the failure of the recent convoy and of the increased restrictions which that failure has made necessary.
5. I have always maintained that this fortress stands on four legs: the three services and the civil population. If we are attacked, the duty of the latter will be to remain resolutely in their [homes] and I have no present reason to doubt that they would fail in that duty. It must be remembered however that about a third of the garrison consists of Maltese troops who are naturally affected by the spirit of their families at home. We have also to count, while preparing for attack, on some thousands of civilian workmen. Inevitably there has already been some deterioration in the morale. That deterioration is not yet alarming and it is naturally important to prevent it from becoming so.
6. For all these reasons I earnestly hope that an immediate decision will be taken to send us further supplies in adequate quantity by the quickest available means.
AIR RAIDS DAWN 21 FEBRUARY TO DAWN 22 FEBRUARY 1942
Daytime Total of 50 ME 109s and JU 88s. Bombs dropped on Kalafrana, Hal Far, Luqa, Ta Qali. Enemy aircraft engaged by Heavy and Light Ack Ack and by Hurricanes. One ME 109 destroyed and several JU 88 and other ME s damaged. Extensive damage to service property and installations. Casualties: two soldiers wounded.
0756-0832 hrs One JU 88 escorted by two ME 109s circles the Island and recedes. One aircraft drops bombs in Kalafrana Bay. Heavy Ack Ack engaged.
0856 hrs One JU 88 approaches from the north.
0917 hrs The JU 88 attacks Hal Far, dropping four bombs and causing superficial damage to buildings. One Swordfish is burned out; one Naval Rating killed. One RAF serviceman is seriously injured; four Army personnel and one Naval Rating injured. Heavy Ack Ack and fighters engage.
0920 hrs The JU 88 is engaged by guns of 225 Light Ack Ack Battery guns at 5500 feet; no damage claimed.
0938 hrs All clear.
1023-1058 hrs Four JU 88 escorted by ME 109s approach from the north. One JU 88 carries out reconnaissance at high altitude, while the other three drop bombs on Hal Far, Safi and Luqa. Five Wellingtons under repair are further damaged; two Hurricanes are damaged. One petrol bowser and the duty pilot’s tent are destroyed; the duty pilot is wounded. Heavy Ack Ack and Light Ack Ack engage. Four Hurricanes fire all their ammunition from short range. Many strikes are claimed on the engines, fuselage and tail of one JU 88: aircraft is believed unlikely to reach base.
1150-1235 hrs Three JU 88s escorted by fighters approach from the north and drop bombs on Luqa and the Safi landing strip. Heavy Ack Ack engage. Two ME 109s carry out a low flying attack against a Sunderland in Kalafrana Bay. They are engaged by Light Machine Guns of 1st Bn Dorset and 2nd Bn Devon Regiments.
1333-1412 hrs Four JU 88s escorted by fighters approach from the north and drop bombs in the Safi – Gudja areas, damaging living quarters, a sound locator and searchlight position at Gudja. Malta’s fighters up; no engagement. Heavy Ack Ack engage.
1505-1521 hrs Nine plus unidentified aircraft drop bombs in the sea 300 yards off Tigne from above the cloud. Heavy Ack Ack fire barrage.
1555-1605 hrs Two plus aircraft approach the north of Gozo, split up and recede north. Fighters are airborne but do not intercept.
1648-1720 hrs Twelve plus aircraft approach in three groups. Malta’s fighters are airborne and Heavy Ack Ack launch a barrage over Grand Harbour. Bombs are dropped on Island Bay from above the cloud.
1800-1944 hrs Twelve plus aircraft come in and drop bombs from above cloud, east of Grand Harbour. Ten plus ME 109s follow and patrol south east of the Island at 9000 feet. Heavy Ack Ack engage.
1950-2016 hrs A nuisance raid of aircraft believed to be aimed at the Libyan ferry service and a diversion near Gozo. No aircraft cross the coast.
Night 21/22 Almost continuous raids. Bombs in the sea and on land at Delimara, Mellieha, Ta Qali, Tarxien, Marfa Ridge, Ta Silch, Torri Qalet Marku, Wardia Ridge, Valletta and Gudia. Hal Far aerodrome is cratered; one Albacore slightly damaged. One Hurricane slightly damaged at Ta Qali. No casualties.
2045-2135 hrs Air raid alarm. No aircraft crossed the coast: bombs are dropped in the sea south of Hal Far and 25 miles east of the Island.
2153-2250 hrs One aircraft crosses the coast four times and is barraged five times. Bombs are dropped in the sea off Tigne, Manoel Island, Hal Far and Benghaisa, and on land at Delimara.
2257-0043 hrs One aircraft is barraged five times and drops bombs on land at Ta Qali, Mellieha, Valletta and in the sea near St Paul’s Bay, Comino, St Thomas’ Bay and Zonqor. Many of the bombs are incendiaries; some are reported as unexploded (ie delayed-action bombs).
0024 hrs One unexploded bomb is reported south of Tarxien (believed delayed-action).
0050-0527 hrs Four aircraft operating singly and in succession carry out patrols and occasionally cross the coast. One unexploded bomb is reported in French Creek (believed delayed-action); other bombs fall on Marfa Ridge (four), Hal Far (two), Ta Silch, the road house near Madliena, Torri Qalet Marku, Wardia Ridge, Ghallis Rocks and Gudia. There are also bombs in the sea to the north of the Island. Two low-flying ME 109s machine-gun an area in the vicinity of Wardia Battery. Heavy Ack Ack fire five barrages.
0547-0604 hrs One aircraft approaches Comino but does not cross the coast.
0639-0725 hrs Four bombers operate individually in succession; only two cross the coast. The first is barraged twice and drops bombs in the sea off Rocco. The second, a JU 88, drops one bomb near Selmun Palace.
Military casualties Lieutenant Frederick Bedford, HMS St.Angelo, Senior Observer, Fleet Air Arm, killed in action over St Paul’s Bay.
Civilian casualties Mqabba Anthony Ghigo (age 24).
OPERATIONS REPORTS: SATURDAY 21 FEBRUARY 1942
AIR HQ Arrivals One Sunderland, four Hudsons, one Flamingo from Gibraltar. Departures Three Wellingtons to Shallufa, three Wellingtons to LG 224; three Hudsons to LG 224.
HAL FAR Night 21/22nd Four Swordfish 830 Squadron despatched on search for enemy shipping. Area searched from Messina Straits on bearing 110 for 100 degrees. Two Albacores 828 Squadron Fleet Air Arm despatched to attack 4000 ton tanker off Tripoli. One torpedo hit the ship. Both aircraft returned safely. One Albacore 828 Squadron Fleet Air Arm despatched on search for enemy shipping crashed in the sea off St Paul’s Bay on the way out. Lt Bedford (Observer) is missing.
LUQA 69 Squadron One Maryland reconnaissance of Sicilian harbours; one Maryland photo-reconnaissance special task; one Maryland SF3 patrol.
21 Squadron One Blenheim despatched to attack shipping at Palermo; no attack made.
S/D Flight One Wellington special search.
2ND BN THE ROYAL IRISH FUSILIERS 2nd Bn Irish Fusiliers mount guard at the Governor’s Palace, St Anton.
11TH BN THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS Rain ceased overnight. Air raids resumed. Luqa working party resumed.