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Italian Raid on Grand Harbour
25/26th July 1941

The only boat to survive the assault on the Grand Harbour on 26th July 1941, was found abandoned about seven miles off shore.
Photo courtesy of Louis Henwood, Malta & taken from his website which contains many other
photos relating to this subject & Italian operations. Well worth a visit.
See Louis' site

This was what amounted to a suicide mission by the Italians. The plan was to enter Grand Harbour at night with human torpedoes. This attack commenced from Augusta, Sicily on July 25th. These would be dropped off at sea outside the harbour entrance by the Italian Naval auxilliary ship Diana. She dropped off 8 EMB's & 2 torpedo boats. One of these made for the submarine base on Manoel Island.
The Italians considered this to be a most 'precious secret weapon' & indeed they can claim the rights to inventing it. Behind the warhead at the front lay the engine amidships with the one man crew at the rear of the craft. The crew member would point his craft at a ship, arm his vehicle & speed towards the target, leaving the vehicle before it detonated against the hull of a ship.
One of these craft had targeted the submarine base at Manoel Island.
Three air raids were planned by Italian aircraft. One on Valletta at 0145 hours to guide the boats in. This raid did not however take place. The other two raids were late.
The attack by 17 - 18 craft was discovered in the early hours of July 26th as they entered Grand Harbour. The Maltese coastal batteries opened up on them. Consequently no craft or crew member survived the attack & no damage to ships in the Harbour resulted. The RAF were airborne at first light to intercept any seaplanes sent to recover surviving crews from what they hoped would be a successful mission.
It must be said that these Italian crew members must have been incredibly brave to try something like this. This was the only seaborne attack of this sort to be tried on Malta.
Michael Longyear witnessed the attack & said:-

'The attack came at Grand Harbour & Tigne Point.........the noise was amazing.........a real spectacle that only lasted for about 6 or 7 minutes.'

An official Italian account of the attack written presumably before the operation read:-

The remaining ships of a British convoy which had been attacked for three days & three nights, in the Central Mediterranean, took refuge in the Malta Harbour of Valletta, & were detected there.
The Italian Navy immediately decided to attack, with those tiny but powerful craft on which the designers had worked in silence for many years, to perfect one of the most precious secrets of the Italian war machine.
The men chosen for this task knew that retreat was impossible - knew that they must either be taken prisoner or killed - but despite the formidable nature of the British defences, none flinched before his task.


A double girder bridge once spanned this gap. The central pillar is all that can be seen now.
One of the bridges was destroyed in the raid. Photo taken from the Siege Bell.

Siege Malta 1940-43. Ernle Bradford (Book).
The Unconquered Isle - Malta. Ian Hay (Book).
Michael Longyear - Personal Correspondence

Links: Some photos here with a map & a little data. Some data here with the Decima Flotiglia emblem.