The Siege of Malta in WW2 - My Dad's Story

The Siege of Malta in WW2 - My Dad's Story

My Dad was on the island for 2 years during WW2 while it was under siege by the Italians and Germans. In 2 years they made 3,000 bombing runs over the island. My Dad and his buddies slept in caves which made perfect bomb shelters. But my Dad had trouble. He could sleep in the caves during the day, but at night he found it claustrophobic. So he came up with a simple solution. He volunteered for the night shift on the Ack Ack guns and then slept during the day.

The overnight shift was action packed. The gun was the Bofors 40mm anti aircraft gun. This was much bigger than the Vickers Machine gun, but still smaller than the heavy anti aircraft guns. It usually had a 7 man crew, 2 of which sat in small seats on the gun itself as it swiveled all over the place trying to hit the target. It fired shells that weighed just over 2 lbs each and it shot 2 shells per second. They were loaded in clips of 4, so once the gun was firing the loaders went frantic loading a clip every 2 seconds. Each shell produced a flash of light and smoke as it left the barrel. The barrel then recoiled and its recoil energy was used to eject the spent shell casing and load a new round. The casings bounced all over the place and had to be collected. To make it even more exciting firing was started with a foot pedal.

The gun was designed to fire in automatic mode. This was when a special box calculated range and direction and automatically swiveled the gun into position. But experienced gunners would take the gun out of automatic mode and fire it in manual mode. The reason was simple, it was more fun. Much of the fun came from the special shells the gun used. Every 4th shell was tracer shell. They had a small chamber at the back containing flare powder. Once the shell was in the air this power burned and showed the gunner exactly where his shells were going. It was like firing a stream of light bulbs. In manual mode the gunner could then swivel this stream anywhere he wanted. My Dad did this for 2 years. Some of his buddies were killed by the constant bombing, but he survived.

The Italians bombed Malta from very high altitude and were almost impossible to see. The German bombers came much lower and often their fighter escorts would go down to street level and strafe while flying just a few feet off the ground. When the plane ran out of ammunition the pilots would lean out of their cockpits and shoot at people with their hand guns. They were pretty serious about killing.

One time my Dad was gunning with his buddy in the second seat. A bomb dropped very close and blasted the gun with shrapnel. When the dust cleared my Dad looked at his buddy. He was still sitting, but had lost his head. I was a young boy when my Dad first told me the story and I remember asking if the man ever found his head.

Content written and posted by Ken Abbott