MALTA’s BLITZ – APRIL 1942

 

MALTA’s WAR  

THE APRIL BLITZ OF 1942

 

The ‘Battle for Malta’ in World War II commenced on June 10, 1940, once Mussolini declared war on France and Britain. Malta, then a British colony and a major military outpost in the Mediterranean, situated just 93 kilometres south of Sicily, became Mussolini’s most urgent target of choice. The morning following this declaration, at around 6.40 am, a squadron of bombers of the Regia Aeronautica took off from Sicily to reach Malta in just under 20 minutes to release their first bombs.

What happened on that day, was a prelude to the eventful months that followed. Throughout the war years a massive number of air raids, more than three thousand of them, were mounted from Comiso and Augusta with the intention of neutralising all possible military installations in Malta. These bellicose sorties were, as from December of the same year, upped by the German Luftwaffe’s Fliegerkorps X. During the attacks that followed many towns and villages in the Maltese islands were heavily bombarded. Hundreds of Maltese and British, both military personnel as well as civilians were to die. The civilian population was also to suffer from hunger.

cartoonvcxBy the end of 1941, there was a fresh resolve by the Axis powers to annihilate Malta’s military assets. The raison d’etre for these attacks was to eliminate the insidious interventions, especially by submarines and aircraft that harried Axis convoys that were delivering fuel and other supplies to Rommel’s army in North Africa. Thus, December of 1941 saw the start of a series of intensive attacks on Malta that continued almost uninterruptedly for some five months. The most ferociously punitive attacks occurred in the month of April, 1942.

The main areas that were targeted by the Axis forces were the Dockyard and the military airfields at Luqa, Kalafrana and Ta’ Qali. But there were many other localities especially those situated close by to military installations, that also suffered terribly from these bombardments.

Hereunder is (an almost) day to day diary of some of the most noteworthy events that took place throughout April of 1942.

—–

Wednesday, April 1.

–  SLIEMA: At 3.00 pm a unit of German bombers fly over Sliema and release their deadly weapons, striking various parts of this urban locality. The ensuing destruction in Sliema may or may not be regarded as collateral damage, as bombers attack Marsamxett and Manoel Island area, whereat most of the British submarines are based. During the attack the convent of the Franciscan Minors and the adjoining church of the Sacro Cuor are destroyed. A priest, Fr. George Scerri, three women and a child who happen to be in the church at the time for confession are killed. During the same raid, 22 other Sliema residents fall victims to the same airborne attack.

For further reading on various aspects of Maltese culture and history in English and Maltese please click here: https://kliemustorja.com

–    GRAND HARBOUR is also heavily bombed and Fort St Elmo, the Pinto Stores below the Floriana bastions, and Fort St Angelo are hit.

–     BALZAN:    Bombs are released over Ħal Balzan. Five persons in that locality die as a result.

Friday, April 3,

While on its way to Gozo, the schooner Anna Dacoutros receives a direct hit.

Saturday April 4,

–      VALETTA:     The church of St Augustine in Old Bakery street is hit.

–    ĦAMRUN:    Twelve houses in Qormi Road are destroyed, six people die and two others are injured.

–    BIRGU:    The historic and imposing clock tower, a centuries old landmark of the town, is partially damaged as a bomb explodes in its vicinity. On the 11th of the same month another part of the tower collapses. The coup de grace comes on April 27 when during another air raid, what remains of the tower is blasted almost completely.

Arlogg mfarrak u l monumnt

Sunday, April 5    (Easter Sunday)

 –       Intensive air attacks on Luqa and Ta’ Qali airfields.

–       FLORIANA:      2.30 pm: During an air raid over the town and Grand Harbour area, bombs knock down the Capuchin friary and adjacent church.

Monday, April 6

–      TARXIEN:     A bomb falls onto an air raid shelter in Triq Santa Maria. 17 people are killed instantly.

–      Also on this day, some of the largest and most vicious attacks are aimed on the airfields of Ta’ Qali and Luqa as well as the dockyards.

Tuesday, April 7   

 A total of 17 air raid alerts are sounded in the span of 24 hours. Some 300 sorties take off from Sicily to bomb Malta at will. During the afternoon air raid, German bombers seem intent on demolishing Valletta’s historic buildings.

WWII valletta police station–      VALLETTA:  17.49 pm      Numerous 156 JU 88s and Stukas attack the capital, dropping hundreds of explosives, demolishing the Market, the National Museum, then located in the Auberge D’Italie, (luckily all items had been evacuated earlier to Casa Leone in Santa Venera), the Auberge de Castille, which serves as the British military command headquarters. The Auberge of France, the University and the Royal Opera House are all severely damaged. Several other buildings in Old Bakery Street, St John’s Street and South Street are also destroyed.

–      On this day, the Luqa airfield is attacked once again, and collateral damage, albeit to a lesser extent than that of Valletta is inflicted on the nearby villages of Mqabba, Luqa, Gudja and Kirkop.

–    BIRŻEBBUĠA:  The small sea side town receives an aerial attack, probably as a collateral due to its proximity to Kalafrana Sea Plane base, situated just a few hundred metres outside the town. A total of 18 houses in St Philip Street are damaged to a greater or lesser degree. An air raid shelter is hit and 3 persons die as a result.

For further reading on various aspects of Maltese culture and history in English and Maltese please click here: https://kliemustorja.com

Thursday, April 9    

MOSTA:     At 16.40, during an air raid on Ta’ Qali airfield, a German pilot drops three bombs over the small town of Mosta which is now full to the seams with refugees from the Harbour towns. One of the bombs, a 500 kg (1,100 lb) bomb penetrates the church’s dome, ricochets onto one of the side walls and lands on the church’s pavement. Luckily, for the 300 strong congregation that had been attending a prayer session (known as L’Ora Santa or is-Siegħa in Maltese) the bomb does not explode. All of those attending had scurried off when the alarm was sounded to seek shelter underneath the massive walls of the church are unhurt.

–    LUQA:   A total of 75 enemy aircraft head towards Luqa airfield. Nine Stukas take a slightly different direction to bombard the nearby village of Luqa. Joseph Micallef, in his book, When Malta Stood Alone, states that the attack by the nine Stukas was purposefully conducted to blot out the village out of existence. Many houses are hit and the parish church is partially damaged. An air raid shelter in Pope Innocent Street is also hit and its ceiling collapses, killing 23 people sheltering inside.

–    KIRKOP:   During the same raid, this village which is located a couple of kilometres away, is also extensively bombed. So are the nearby villages of Gudja and Mqabba.

–     The DOCKYARD:      Attack on Dock no 3. HMS Lance is sunk.

Friday, April 10    

ŻABBAR:    Several houses are hit. Two persons are killed and eleven others injured. Two bakeries are destroyed.

Saturday, April 11,

–     Another attack on the Dockyard. HMS Kingston in Dock no 4 is hit. The dock is badly damaged and for some time will remain out of use.

Sunday, April 12,    

–     Some 80 bombers fly over Malta during the first raid of the day. The village of Luqa is once again on the receiving end of these airborne assaults.

In GOZO, the village of Xagħra is bombed, while an Italian bomber was shot down by an English pilot – it crash lands over Nadur. Only one of the five Italian crew survived the landing.

Monday, April 13,

–     The aircraft carrier, USS Wasp delivers 47 Spitfires to Malta. These are to complement some 25 others that had been delivered in March.

–    BIRKIRKARA:  Buildings along Msida Road are hit and extensively damaged. 15 people die and many others are injured by the falling structures that buried many beneath the rubble.

–     Off the coast of ŻURRIEQ:    Following a successful sortie, a British Beaufort bomber is returning to base when it is attacked by four ME 109s (Messerschmidts). As it is about to reach the coast off Wied Babu, the MEs down the airplane into the sea. The four crew members manage to escape with their lives and board a rubber dinghy; they are quickly rescued by several local fishermen who had seen the incident.

Wednesday, April 15

–    King George V bestows the George Cross to the Maltese. He also showers praise onto the nation with the following citation:

To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history’.

george crossdd

Sunday, April 19,

    GRAND HARBOUR:  Soon after midday, JUs (Junkers) dive-bombers escorted by ME 109s attack the Grand Harbour towns. A ship is set ablaze during the assault.

–     MQABBA:   The parish church receives a direct hit and its dome is destroyed. Several houses in the vicinity are also destroyed.

–     ĦAMRUN:    A home for the elderly is hit and 34 people die as they are engulfed by the falling structure which si turned to rubble.

Monday, April 20

     From 8 am until late into the night fierce air raids are conducted especially on Luqa and Ta’ Qali airfields. One of the first casualties is the Pampas, moored in the Grand Harbour, which is hit and set on fire. Floriana and Valletta’s Porta Reale are also hit.

10.00 am    The 23 Spitfires that were brought over from Gibraltar land safely at Ta’ Qali. At 11.00 another 23 Spitfires also land at the same airfield. Yet on that same day 47 Spitfires are bombed on the ground. Thus. the whole amount of Spitfires that are airworthy aircraft is now reduced to a mere 17. On May 9, another 64 Spitfires were delivered to aid the depleted force.

For further reading on various aspects of Maltese culture and history in English and Maltese please click here: https://kliemustorja.com

Tuesday, April 21   

    Air raids over Malta follow one after the other, almost uninterruptedly, from dawn until dusk.

Friday, April 24

–    PAOLA is heavily bombed. Two air raid shelters are hit, resulting in the death of 9 civilians and 22 others injured. During the same raid, five buses are set ablaze.

–    VALLETTA and FLORIANA: Various areas of these neighbouring towns are heavily bombed and a lot of houses destroyed. In the attack two children die and four persons injured.

–   GOZO: Two farmers on their way from Comino to Gozo’s Ħondoq ir-Rummien are machine-gunned by passing enemy aircraft.

Saturday April 25,

–     A wave of 20 bombers fly straight towards Sliema, but at one point they change route and head towards Pembroke barracks to drop bombs onto the military camp. The St. Patrick’s Hospital located within the grounds is hit, in spite of, or because of the building being clearly marked by a big red cross sign on its roof.  

Sunday, April 26

–    The power station at the foot of Crucifix Hill in Floriana is hit. The electricity outage caused is remedied by the emergency power house that is situated in a bomb proof tunnel close to Lascaris Wharf.

Tuesday, April 28  

Floriana St publius churh–   At 8 a.m. some 40 air planes appear on the horizon heading towards the Grand Harbour. Three of the bombers detach themselves from the rest and head towards the Valletta side; then tthey nose dive onto Floriana, possibly with the intent to bomb the granaries. Three bombs hit the parish church of St Publius, also a worthy target, because destroying a parish church causes a great psychological set back for the community in such a place as Catholic Malta. One of the bombs pierces its cupola which crashes down onto the main altar. The two other bombs also make similar hits to contribute to the total destruction of the sacred place. One of these bombs even smashes into the crypt below the church. Twelve people inside the church are killed.

Wednesday, April 29      Thursday, 30

–    During a meeting between Mussolini and Hitler at Berchtesgaden, a plan is approved to invade Malta. Later on Hitler reconsiders and procrastinates, as he is well aware of the losses the Germans incurred when invading Crete from the air. Eventually, the invasion plans are shelved, possibly to be activated in either July or August; the plan is eventually dropped altogether and the military invasion never occurs.

—-

Statistics for the month of April 1942:  

  • Air Raids over Malta: 284
  • Enemy sorties over the Maltese Islands: 9,500.
  • Bombs dropped over Malta: Over 6,000 tons.
  • People killed:  c. 300.
  • Injured: 875
  • Enemy airplanes downed: 101.
  • Buildings destroyed: 4,350; another 4,300 badly damaged.

The bigger picture of Malta’s War Years.

  • Population at the start of the War: 270,000
  • Air Raids registered throughout the War: 3,340 (totalling 26,000 sorties).
  • Military and Merchant Navy casualties:  7,500.
  • Civilians killed: 1,581.
  • Civilians injured: 3,780.
  • Tonnes of Axis shipping sunk by Malta based submarines: 390,660.
  • Enemy aircraft downed: 241 confirmed.
  • Convoys sent to aid Malta with supplies:  17.

A word of caution: Some of the figures quoted from the information at hand vary / contradict each other.

Martin Morana

April 9, 2021.

For further reading on various aspects of Maltese culture and history in English and Maltese please click here: https://kliemustorja.com

Bibliography 

The below list contains sources that I referred to when comping this article
on the events of April 1942.  

Bezzina Charles, When the Sirens Wailed - Memoirs of Wartime Gozo. Victoria,
2012.
Boffa Charles, The Second Great Siege - Malta 1940 1943. Progress Press. 
1992.
Bonavia Carmel, ‘George Cross awarded to Malta 70 years ago today’, 
The Sunday Times of Malta, April 15, 2012.
Bonnici Joseph & Cassar Michael, A Chronicle of Twentieth Century Malta. 
Books Distributors Ltd 2004.
Camilleri J.J., Malta li Għext Fih. Pubblikazzjoni SKS. 2014.
Debono Charles, ‘The Destruction never seemed to end’, Times of Malta, June
17, 2012.
Ganado Albert, Malta in World War II. Publishers Enterprises Group. 2005.
Galea Michael, Malta - Diary of a War 1940 - 1945, Publishers Enterprises 
Group, 1992.
Mizzi Laurence, Dħaħen Tal-Gwerra. Klabb Kotba Maltin. 1974.
Mizzi Laurence, The People’s War - MALTA: 1940 / 43. Progress Press. 1998.
Micallef Joseph, When Malta Stood Alone. Interprint. 1981.
Micallef Joseph, ‘Luqa at War’, Heritage, Vol V., p. 549-554.
Micallef Keith, ‘75 years from Easter Sunday bomb attack - April 1942 was
a devastating month for Malta’ Times of Malta, April 5, 2017. 
Wismayer Joe M., 'The war sentinel of the Mediterranean', The Sunday
Times of Malta, February 17, 2008.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Malta_(World_War_II)
https://maltagc70.wordpress.com/

 

https://sites.google.com/view/maltesehumoursbutseriously/home

 


			

1 Comment

  1. When the second world war started on June 11, 1940 I was a 15 year old apprentice at the Dockyard. Our house in Bormla was bombed out on the first day of the war. My family had moved to Hamrun a week before. After the war I emigrated to Canada.

    Liked by 1 person

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