- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Ernest Thomas Davies
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 14 July 2005
Sunset. 21st March 1942.
The busy day had finished for the boys, and even now, the night parties were making their way to the allotted places on the Tal Qali Drome. The rays of the setting sun, slowly setting beneath the horizon of the blue sea, lit the heavens with a gay display of colours. It was a marvellous, inspiring sight, tranquil and peaceful, after the mid-afternoon bombardment by Kessellrings much vaunted Kondors of Death. We were sitting around the gunpit all having a draw from a Woodbine. We had to share it between three of us, it was all we possessed. One of the lads remarked, “a grand sight, the loveliest sunset I have ever seen”. We agreed on that, somehow these things of the unknown always gave us a feeling, a quiet peaceful feeling. But it did not last very long. No, the Hun was shortly to give us the biggest pasting he had ever given us, yet, looking down from the bluff, to the airfield below, the wreckage of planes and hangars littered the field, and the few remaining serviceable aircraft lay at the far end of the landing strip, which was packed with bomb craters, huge holes tore in the ground by the heavy sticks of high explosive bombs the Junkers and Stukas had loosed upon us during the afternoon. Outside the posts, could be seen the drome defence platoons busy cleaning the machine guns and collecting spent cartridge cases, which littered the area in their thousands. Others were busily engaged in loading magazines ready for the next inevitable onslaught, due any moment.
Behind us on the hills, could be seen the blocks of hospital buildings, and among them ruins of former wards. To the right of the hospital of Imtarfa, one could see the domes and rooftops of Rabat, which so far had escaped any heavy demolition. These sights were ones we gazed at every day, until we knew every building and spire, the lads and I looked upon them with casual indifference, nothing of the traveller's or historian's views in our minds, only what was likely to be the next target. We could only guess, even then we turned out to be wrong.
Twilight was falling over the island, cool breezes blowing in from the direction of Sicily, a strange calm lay over all, a foreboding stillness prevailed, each and every one tensed and expectant for what was to come.
We were not kept in suspense very long, borne slowly on the Breeze, came the soul rending impact of the siren, giving it's ghostly warning to all, civilians and troops. Farm people in the fields below gazed aloft, no doubt wandering if they could finish their labour before the raid developed. Some stayed, others more cautious made their way to the rocky shelters burrowed into the hillside. The lads made their way to the gunpit, I to the Signal Hut to enquire the size of the pilot, “How many this time” I asked, “Not many” was the reply, “Plus six coming in over St Pauls Bay”. I ran to the gunpit and jumped in. “Plus Six North” I replied to the enquiring glances of the lads. “Humph that all.” Suddenly Fort Tarja opened up with its 4.5’s, a shattering salvo. High in the heavens, hardly discernable in the quickening dusk, rode six silver shapes making swiftly for the ‘drome , faster they came ignoring the bursts of flak around them, the leading plane swerved, and waggled it’s wings as if in answer to an order. Down they came, headed for the far end of the dispersal area, a roar of engines shook the countryside, then there came the well known dreaded whine of falling bombs. To our surprise they were all incendiaries, and for what purpose we did not know, for nothing of an inflammable nature lay in their path.
The 88’s kept up fairly high, too high for the nests of machine guns which lay waiting, but not too high for the 4.5’s, 3.7’s and Bofors which poured a curtain of steel up at them. They made off in the direction of Rabat, still maintaining their formation, good pilots they. As they slowly faded away in the distance, the gunfire slowly subsided, until all was peaceful again except for the fierce glare of the incendiaries which were still burning, lighting the ‘drome. No attempt was made to put them out, much to our surprise. “Didn’t stay long, did they” I remarked, “No! But have they done for the night?” I wondered! We could see no signs of any more planes, nor hear any, but the sirens did not give the “All clear”. “Must be hanging about”, said one of the lads, that was the only logical explanation we could think of.
CRACK!!!! The thunderous roar of Tarja again rent the stillness, pointers indicating the path of more approaching planes. Silence again. We listened intently, not a sound, nothing resembling
airplane motors, a few more minutes silence, and then faintly at first,gradually getting louder, the ‘Throb’ ‘Throb’ of the engines could be heard, slowly increasing in volume until it felt as though the heavens would split with the sound. We gazed in the direction of St Pauls Bay, and saw, in formation upon formation, hundreds of planes sweeping the island, a terrific sight. The sky was light with Ack Ack, flares, tracers and flaming onions, as the guns took up the challenge. The planes kept formation, none hit yet, they neared Mosta dome. We could see them plainly now, they broke formation, and in terrifying dives, swept for the ‘drome. The posts held their fire, the roar and vibration of the engines was suddenly drowned by the scream and whine of falling bombs, hundreds of them, like silver streaks they hurtled downwards. Crash!! After Crash!! As they landed on the pens and the runway, the earth shook and trembled, smoke billowed upwards, at times obscuring our vision, at times our ears felt as if they would burst, the sound reached an appalling crescendo as more and more planes swept in from the sea. The anti-aircraft guns kept a tremendous barrage going to blast the enemy, so far no hits had been observed, Heinkels, 88’s, 110’s and a few Dorniers swept over our heads, we gazed fascinated. They circled round and round, bombing and gunning. Everywhere fires raged on the ‘drome, thunderous roars shook the earth. Our posts opened fire at low level Stuka’s, tracers tore upwards in a game effort to break the formations, we could see the pilots of the planes illuminated by the fierceness and the height of the flames from the “drome, search-lights were useless, they were coming in far too low now, wave after wave in a never ending procession, it was an awe inspiring sight.
We held fire until one formation came at our position, bombing and strafing. Bombs and high caliber machine guns against our hard trying and proven twin-lewis, we held our fire, and as they swept overhead, let go at the underpart, strike after strike we could observe, rear gunners were silenced, pan after pan of ammunition we used, empty cases littered the pit, making it awkward to spin around in, we blazed away for forty minutes, until our ammo was expended. The left gun jammed and burst on its last pan. Apart from a few cuts we got away with it, red glows lit the surroundings, the earth shook, ton after ton of high explosive shook the ground in heart rending concussions, and still there came no end of them. The Luftwaffe in all its glory. But they paid the price, planes were loosing height, crippled by flak, to fall victims to the ground. Machine guns waiting. Yes, no quarter asked, none given. Balers were shot. They had attacked the hospital. It had been on for two hours now, and had not lessened in fury, in fact , the raid developed heavier, swarms of fighters were now making their appearance, giving protection to the receding bombers. Flak burst all over the sky in a great effort to smash the formations. Some did break, but the majority held theirs, the whole district reverberated with concussion from the bombing. Flames were quickly consuming the “spits”, until all were a mass of tangled, burnt out metal. Debris flew in all directions, for a brief few minutes our position was left alone, then fighter bombers came roaring in at roughly fifty feet, strafing all and everything. Having run out of ammo there was nothing to do but keep our heads down, we heard a stick leave one plane and glancing up, saw three silver streaks hurtling for our position. Spellbound, we watched them, Wheeee!!! Whumph!!! The first landed on the down slope 15 yards away, second hit the latrine, and incidently finished that, the third burst about five yards away. Showers of rock and splinters hurled through the air, shrapnel whistled, one of the lads’ tin hat was split, and fortunately, apart from a bruise and a fairly deep cut was o.k. It lasted about twenty minutes. A living hell of flying steel, rock and earth, it was a preview of death itself, mighty and awe inspiring. Slowly, ever so slowly, it seemed the darkness fell, blotting out the planes, huge billows of smoke had taken the place of the fires, receding aircraft roared overhead in formation, having a last look at their effort to blast us out of existence.
Casualties there were, but not as many as we first predicted, it did seem strange that any human being could have lived through the mallstrom of death and destruction. Gradually, as the pilots receded, quietness again descended over the island, broken at intervals by the explosions of ammo going up in the burning aircraft and of petrol bousers bursting, scattering their firy contents for yards around, telephone lines were broken, and until runners came in from the posts, we could not estimate our damage and losses.
It took a long time to pull our shaken nerves together, and to help we had a large bottle of wine, which, as it took effect, dulled our feelings, much to our satisfaction. The blitz had taken a terrible toll on the airfield, and the troops, after starving all night, managed
to get it into a semblance of its former self, but in the light of the dawn, the ‘drome was a sight to chill the marrow. The landing strip was cleared and the bomb craters filled in, but the surroundings were a mass of packed earth, craters and debris. Here and there, huge sinister bombs which had failed to explode, were blown up at intervals during the morning. Of the few ‘Spits’ that had been intact previous to the night befores’ blitz, not one remained. Chaos reigned supreme, trucks, planes, -enemy and friendly- lay scattered, buildings had gone, but in a short time, at 08.30hrs to be exact, the Luftwaffe paid us the first call of the day, and so it started all over again, ‘Sunset’, that is the title, the piece of fake security to the "Kondors of Death", before it was rudely shaken and blasted from the skies, by the new Spitfires a fortnight later.
Ernest Thomas Davies.
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