The dockyard defence battery by Patrick Farrugia

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Information about The dockyard defence battery by Patrick Farrugia

Published on February 17, 2014

Author: ivanmconsiglio


The Dockyard Defence Battery by Patrick Farrugia 2011 1

As the dark war clouds were gathering over Europe, various preparations were taking place in Malta. In view of this, on 14th July 1939, H.R. Moore, on behalf the ViceAdmiral, H.M. Dockyard, Malta, issued a memorandum for the formation of the Dockyard Defence Battery. This battery was to be run on the same lines as the “Factory Battalions”, i.e. to safeguard and defend the men’s place of work. The following is the memorandum: 1. It has been decided to form a Dockyard Defence Battery, which will be manned by both English and Maltese personnel serving in H.M. Dockyard. 2. This battery will be employed to man the Anti-Aircraft guns allocated to defend H.M. Dockyard from attack by low flying aircraft. 3. Some points in regard to conditions of service still require to be settled, but the following general arrangements have been decided. (a) The peace time terms of service for men will be similar to those for Territorials in England, i.e. four years with the option of an extension. (b) During this time a limited number of drills will have to be attended, but these will be carried out during normal Dockyard working hours, without deduction of Dockyard pay and will not normally interfere in any way with the men’s leisure. (c) At the outset, the uniform will consist of a cap and overall suit, which will be provided by the Army Authorities. I am making application to His Excellency the Governor for the provision of a uniform for parade purposes which would also be supplied for the men free of charge (d) All men will be given full Military status whilst on Military duty in Malta. Men accepted in the Dockyard Defence Battery will not be discharged from the Dockyard during war except for purely Military reasons. (e) In war time it is anticipated that Military duty will be restricted to daylight hours one day in every three days, during which period the teams will be called upon to remain by their guns. Circumstances may arise which will necessitate variations of extensions of this routine. (f) Details regarding pay have not yet been settled, but it may be accepted that a man will not receive less than his usual Dockyard pay. 4. Another point on which I have approached His Excellency which is of particular importance is that adequate provision should be made for the dependents of any of those men who should be unfortunate enough to lose their lives in the defence of H.M. Dockyard. An announcement on this point will be made as soon as I can obtain a decision from the War Office and the Admiralty, but men may rest assured that their interest will be adequately safeguarded. 5. All personnel in H.M. Dockyard are asked to join this Defence Battery now, and to give their names to Departmental Officers as soon as possible. In calling for volunteers I wish to emphasise two very important points:(i) Today it is necessary for every one on us to do his utmost to serve the Empire to which we belong – the more we can do to defend all parts of it (in our case Malta) the less there is of us having war. (i) The Dockyard is our means of livelihood. If it were destroyed, there would be no more work for anyone – with no pay, our homes and our families would be 2

endangered. ….. By joining the Defence Battery, you are defending the Dockyard, your home, and your families. JOIN THIS DEFENCE BATTERY NOW, AND SHOW THAT THE SPIRIT WHICH HAS INSPIRED THE INHABITANTS OF THESE ISLANDS TO DEFEND THEIR HOMES AND FAMILIES IS AS STRONG AND DETERMINED TO-DAY AS IN THE PAST. H.R. Moore For Vice-Admiral Malta On 24th July 1939, the Dockyard and Imperial Workers’ Union joined H.R. Moore’s appeal, and issued the following appeal to the Dockyard workers: It is the duty of every British citizen to cooperate in the defence of the Empire. It is the duty of every patriotic Maltese to defend his Motherland. It is the duty of every Maltese and English employee of His Majesty’s Dockyard to assist in the Defence of his Dockyard and of his fellow-workers. The Dockyard and Imperial Workers’ Union welcomes the scheme whereby a Dockyard Defence Battery is to be formed and manned exclusively by volunteers enrolled from among the personnel of the Dockyard. Details of the scheme have already been published in the press, and the Managing Committee of the Dockyard and Imperial Workers’ Union feels sure that the response from its members and others will be generous and immediate. Members wishing to make any suggestions about the scheme for the formation of a Dockyard Defence Battery are requested to communicate with the General Secretary “in writing” immediately, and if found practical, their views will be communicated to Mr. L.G. Bolton, Superintending Electrical Engineer, who is taking a leading part in the organisation. Assist in the defence of your Dockyard, your fellow-workers and your families, by manning your own Dockyard defences. J. Olivieri Munroe President, Dockyard and Imperial Workers’ Union Dan. L. Camilleri General Secretary, Dockyard and Imperial Workers’ Union Over 5,000 men from every trade category answered to this call, and thus the D.D.B. was formed in September 1939, with the Headquarters established at the Anti-Gas School at Corradino. The Battery had double the usual strength, so that, when hostilities started, the men could alternate between manning their guns and doing their jobs. This arrangement functioned well and the men excelled themselves in both roles. 3

The Battery was officered by British Dockyard officials, who wore the Royal Artillery cap badge, and was commanded by Major L.G. Bolton MC, R.A. The men begun manning the guns during November 1939, so that on Tuesday 11th June 1940, following the declaration of war by the Duce, Benito Mussolini, saw the effective start of the Dockyard Defence Battery. The Battery’s task was to defend the Dockyard, with guns at Magazine Bastion, Bonded Stores Marsa, near Oil Fuel Tanks Kordin, Crucifix Bastion, Senglea Point, St. Paul’s Curtain, Salvatur, on hill adjoining Parlatorio Wharf, and Floriana ramparts. However further on during the course of the War, it served at the following sites: Luqa and Hal-Far aerodromes, Fort Delimara, Hompesch Gate, St. Peter’s, San Anard, Upper Barakka, Ta’ Cejlu and Tal-Borg. The Battery was equipped with Bofors, Pom-poms and multiple heavy machine guns. Cap Badge of the Royal Artillery Cap Badge of the Royal Malta Artillery For some time, the Dockyard Defence Battery formed part of the Royal Artillery. The issue of 16th April 1940 of the Times of Malta, reported “The formation at present known as the ‘Dockyard Defence Battery’ has been re-designated ‘30th Light AntiAircraft Battery, Royal Malta Artillery, (Territorial)”. An Identity Disc belonging to a member of the Dockyard Defence Battery On 27th July 1940, the First Lord of the Admiralty, Mr A.V. Alexander, and the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Dudley Pound sent a special message to Vice Admiral Sir Wilbraham Ford, in which they praised the work of the Dockyard Defence Battery: 4

“It is requested that you will express to all officers and men both of HM ships and of HM Dockyard, our admiration of the stout-hearted way in which they are facing the continued air attacks of the enemy. The gallant endurance of the Maltese personnel and of the citizens of Malta in general, ever since the outbreak of hostilities, command universal respect. The good work of the Volunteer Dockyard Battery must be as great a source of gratification to you as Vice-Admiral Malta as of pride to the officers and men forming the gun crews.” In his memoirs, Mons. Emmanuel Brincat, the Archpriest of Senglea, (who later on during the war was awarded the MBE) states that he considered these men as part of his flock; therefore he used to go round the gun posts to take care of the spiritual needs of the men, while also, sometimes distributing sweets. The Dockyard Defence Battery’s finest hour came during January 1941. In early January, Operation Excess was assembled, consisting of four merchant ships, three destined for Greece, while one was destined for Malta. This convoy was escorted with a large part of the Mediterranean Fleet, lead by HMS Illustrious, the Royal Navy’s newest armoured-deck aircraft carrier. In the meantime, the Luftwaffe was sent down to Sicily. As the convoy entered the Mediterranean, it was attacked by bombers from the Regia Aeronautica and the Luftwaffe. The Luftwaffe had singled out HMS Illustrious as their prime target. During these attacks, the carrier was seriously damaged after it was hit by six 1,000 kg bombs, and 126 of its officers and crew were killed and 91 wounded. HMS Illustrious limped into Grand Harbour on 10th January, and berthed at Parlatorio Wharf, below Corradino Heights. Dockyard workers and medical teams toiled tirelessly to save the ship and care for the wounded, as Malta prepared for the inevitable attack on the Illustrious. At about 2 o’clock in the afternoon of 16th January, 17 Junkers Ju88’s escorted by 20 Messerschmitt Bf110’s and 44 Junkers Ju87’s from the Luftwaffe, escorted by 10 Macchi Mc200’s and 10 Fiat Cr42 unleashed their first blitz over Malta, with HMS Illustrious as their target. Bombs rained down on the Dockyard and surrounding areas, but the carrier sustained superficial damage, as it received only one hit, with Birgu, Bormla and l-Isla bearing the brunt of these attacks. During these attacks, the Dockyard Defence Battery had three Bofors gun positions in l-Isla, one on the Macina bastion on the North West side over looking Dockyard Creek, another on the New Bastion facing Corradino Heights and a third on St. Michael’s Bastion over looking No. 3 Dock and close to the Dockyard Clock Tower. There was also an eight-barrel pom-pom gun sited in the garden at il-Ponta ta’ l-Isla facing towards the entrance to the Grand Harbour. 5

The attack on H.M.S. Illustrious on 14th January 1941 The attack on H.M.S. Illustrious on 14th January 1941 6

The Second Supplement of The London Gazette of 1st April 1941 7

The gun on St. Michael’s Bastion was in action against the enemy aircraft often, till its crew ran out of ammunition. Of special mention was the heroic stand on that fateful day on 16th January 1941. This gun was strafed, bombed and had very near misses on the morning of Sunday 19th January. Even when all ammunition ran out, the young men on that gun did not leave their post, but went on shooting with their rifles against low-flying enemy aircraft. It was during this blitz on the Illustrious, that three men of the Dockyard Defence Battery were decorated for bravery shown. These were gazetted in the 4 th April 1941 issue of the Second Supplement to The London Gazette of Tuesday 1 st April 1941. Lieutenant Francis William Angle RMA (T) was awarded the Military Cross. This officer of the Dockyard Defence Battery was in charge of a MkV1A multiple pom-pom gun which was situated in a most exposed position about 200 yards from the berth where HMS Illustrious was when subjected to intense dive-bombing. He stationed himself on the director tower, and by his excellent example and coolness in the face of heave bombing, encouraged his men to fire the gun with telling effect on the enemy. Sergeant Leone Apap RMA (T) (No. 8129) was awarded the Military Medal. In the temporary absence of his officer on duty elsewhere, as a member of the Dockyard Defence Battery, he displayed remarkable qualities of leadership, initiative and courage. During the intense dive-bombing attacks on HMS Illustrious, on 19th January 1941, his Mk V1A pom-pom developed a series of faults which eventually put the gun out of action. Instead of applying routine procedures, which would have kept the gun out of action for some considerable time, he sent his detachment, except for three, to a safer place, while he, with the assistance of the three, set about clearing the faults. This he was successful in doing in a short time, whereupon he reassembled his men, and once again went into action with considerable effect. This NCO has consistently displayed a devotion to duty, which deserves commendation. Bombardier Gerald Balzan RMA (T) (No. 8125) was also awarded the Military Medal. During the intense attacks on HMS Illustrious, many large calibre bombs fell within a few yards of the gun position, enveloping it in dust and smoke. Showers of debris fell all around, and the NCO in charge of the gun became a casualty, together with two other men. The citation states “…..Balzan, however, showed considerable courage and initiative, rallying the remaining three men.” By his action, Bdr. Balzan kept the gun in action until the end of the raid, when he attended to the three casualties. Later on during the war, during the period 22 nd to 28th March 1942, Sergeant Harry Andrews RMA (T) (No. 8126) was also awarded the Military Medal. During this period, him pom-pom gun position at Il-Ponta ta’ l-Isla, was subjected to heavy bombardment. Throughout the engagements, Sgt Andrews displayed exceptional coolness and courage. According to the citation this set ‘a fine example 8

and was an inspiration to the members of his gun crew’. His award was gazetted on 13th August 1942. The Military Cross The obverse of the Military Medal The reverse of the Military Medal The Military Cross was instituted by Royal Warrant on 28th December 1914. It is made out of silver and is in the form of a plain Greek cross with splayed ends, on each of which is the Imperial Crown. The centre of the obverse bears the monogram of the reigning monarch. The Military Cross was originally awarded to warrant officers and junior commissioned officers of the Army, including Colonial and Indian forces ‘for gallant and distinguished services in action’. The Military Medal was instituted by Royal Warrant on 25th March 1916. The obverse of the medal, which is made out of silver, bears the effigy and titles of the reigning monarch, while the reverse has the simple wording FOR / BRAVERY / IN THE FIELD beneath a crown and the royal cipher, all within a wreath. The Military Medal was awarded to Other Ranks of the Army, Colonial Forces and the Indian Army for acts of gallantry. The following members of the D.D.B. paid the ultimate sacrifice. Cachia Loreto (8269), son of Mr. and Mrs. R. Cachia of Zebbug, was killed on 15th June 1942, by an anti-personnel bomb on the road to Delimara. He is commemorated in the Pembroke Military Cemetery. 9

Cauchi Seraphim (8109), son of Nicolo Cauchi and Michelina nee’ Camilleri, died on 09th May 1942 at the age of 29, when a Spitfire piloted by Sgt Gordon Tweedale from 185 Squadron crashed in Saviour Street, Lija. He is buried in Coll. Grave E.23 at the Pieta Military Cemetery. Dalli Theodore (8411), son of Anthony and Karmela Dalli of Zejtun, was killed on 11th April 1942 at the age of 29, when a bomb fell on Fort San Pietru. He is interned in Coll. Grave L.15 at the Pieta Military Cemetery. Faella Joseph (8217), was also killed on 11th April 1942, when a bomb fell on Fort San Pietru. He is buried in Coll. Grave L.15 at the Pieta Military Cemetery. 10

Schembri Carmel (8096), son of Carmel and Angiolina Schembri of Marsa, died on 13th July 1942 at the age of 32, and is buried in Coll. Grave E.25 at the Pieta Military Cemetery. Spiteri Joseph (8116), son of Joseph and Giovanna Spiteri, husband of Ines Spiteri of Kalkara, died on 21st January 1942 at the age of 32, after he was hit by a car in Msida, while delivering messages. He is buried in Coll. Grave 5.6.8 at the Pembroke Military Cemetery. Spiteri Lawrence (8290), son of Rosario and Anne Spiteri, husband of Carmen Spiteri (nee’ Bailey), was killed on 11th April 1942 at the age of 30, when a bomb fell on Fort San Pietru. He is interned in Coll. Grave L.15 at the Pieta Military Cemetery. 11

The Dockyard Defence Battery was disbanded on 28th April 1941, when the members were given the option of joining as regular soldiers in the Royal Malta Artillery which took over the guns, or to return to their regular Dockyard jobs. The 30th LAA Bty RMA (T) was thus absorbed into the 3rd light Anti Aircraft Regiment, Royal Malta Artillery. On 14th July 1942 for the first time since Italy entered the war, the whole battery paraded together. Following an address by the Commanding Officer, a two minutes silence was observed, and after that, the Battery was dismissed. The Commanding Officer assisted by his officers then distributed each man with his discharge certificate, and every recipient on receiving the certificate, shook hands with the Commanding Officer and the other Officers. The men then went back to their Dockyard duties, where they helped the war effort in other spheres. Banner belonging to the Dockyard Defence Battery exhibited at the National War Museum It is a great pity that while we have all sorts of memorials commemorating events, personalities, etc., as far as I know, nobody has deemed fit to commemorate this small but valiant battery. 12

Acknowledgements: - for providing photographs of the graves and memorial. References: Dockyard Worker – July 1939 Malta at War – Volume 2 Malta’s George Cross and War Gallantry Awards by A.E.Abela The London Gazette – 1st April 1941 & 13th August 1942 Times of Malta – 19th July 1939, 25th July 1939, 16th April 1940, 27th July 1944 L-Istorja tat-Tarzna by Karmenu Ellul Galea Senglea During the Second World War 1940 – 1944 by Monsignor Emmanuel Brincat Commonwealth War Graves Commission website – Patrick Farrugia © 2011 13

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