Nocturnal Raids

By July 1942, four phases could be put in action as need be for the bombing prone night-raids. 


Phase I      All guns at liberty to fire at any height over Malta.


Phase II     RAF take-off to be confined to south easterly direction, guns free to fire except in defined box covering this at heights up to 6,000 feet.


Phase III    RAF take-off to be north-easterly direction under a similar box but in addition no aircraft flying under 3,000 feet to be engaged unless illuminated and seen to be hostile.


Phase IV   With night fighters operating in strength over a wide area, all AA fire to be limited to a height of 10,000 feet (this was later raised to 14,000 feet) (Rollo, p. 270).

Firing at night was a different ordeal altogether. Besides the predictor and range finder, one needed something to spot and illuminate the target itself. A very large searchlight was used to pierce the night sky whenever enemy aircraft were detected by radar and ordered to engage. They were only switched on if the protective ‘blackout’ was breached. When this happened, night turned into day as carbon filaments shone brightly into the dark. By June 1942, eleven 150cm and forty-five 90 cm searchlights were placed around the island, some could even directed with radar. In some shape or form all had dedicated sheds and, in most sites, circular concrete platforms.

Searchlight beams in the night-sky over Floriana, Malta
A searchlight team in Malta

Oftentimes they were placed and used very close to another piece of equipment referred to as the ‘sound-locator’. This large device could amplify the drumming sound of incoming enemy aircraft and pin-point its direction. This method was introduced even before the war in Malta. The only sound mirror outside the U.K., locally known as ‘il-Widna’ or ‘Ear’, was built just below Gharghur in the North of Malta.  

Acoustic (sound) Locator in Malta, WW2, photo from 'The Fortifications of Malta' by Dr. Stephen C. Spiteri.

Occasionally the night-fighter, normally a Beaufighter equipped with radar, fired in the dark at the target and all we used to see was a line of tracer bullets and later a blaze in the sky. Otherwise it was just an ordinary shoot for us if the plane was caught in the searchlight beams. Most of us could immediately tell not only whether it was an enemy or friendly but also the type of plane by the sound of the aircraft’s engines.” (Agius, p. 69). 

A 3.7 inch gun fires into Malta's dark sky, Stanley Fraser Collection

An Italian bomber pilot interviewed on Italian radio described the problems encountered when bombing Malta at night with the words: “The searchlights blind us, the AA guns hammer us and ghost planes shoot at us”. (Agius, p. 111)


By Nikolai Debono, on behalf of Battlefront Malta