- Hill, Gordon
- Ship histories and stories, WWII operations, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Vendetta I
- June 2010 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
That tunnel was our home for four weeks while we worked on the ship.
The bombing started early on 11 June. Valetta, the harbour and surrounding towns were bombed eighty times, sometimes up to eight air raids a day up to the time when we left on 8 July with the engine refit not completed. The siege of Malta had begun. Many people left their homes to live in the catacombs, ancient tunnels and caves, and to cut air raid shelters in the soft limestone cliffs.
Faith, Hope and Charity
The only air defence was four Gloster Gladiators left behind by the navy. The Maltese people watched these planes gallantly take off each day to fight the Italian bombers. One of the navy planes was shot down and the people named the remaining three Faith, Hope and Charity. They gave a good account of themselves and shot down or disabled a number of bombers before they too met their fate. The plane christened Faith was not badly damaged and after the war was restored and is now in the museum in Valetta.
Frantic efforts to supply the Island with troops, supplies and equipment for the army and air force through Gibraltar in the west and Alexandria in the east, meant Malta Grand Harbour was once again full of ships and a target for the bombers. On one occasion one ammunition ship was on fire and another was sunk by navy divers attaching limpet mines to avoid it blowing up. Even though some supply ships were sunk, navy divers recovered stores from some sunken vessels. The harbour became a graveyard for a number of sailors, soldiers and dockyard workers unloading ships.
On one occasion I was assigned to a working party to load depth charges on to a truck and take them to Ranella wireless station. This was the main WT station on the Island. We set up the depth charges as demolition charges in a number of the tunnels that made up this vast underground complex. I don’t think I was much help in handling 350 pound depth charges, I only weighed 8½ stone and was sacked from a 6 inch gun crew at the training depot in Victoria because I could not lift a 112 pound shell off the deck and place it in the loading tray.
Soon after Italy came into the war an Italian passenger ship, the El Nil, was close to Sicily and trying to get to its home port when one of our aircraft spotted it and made it heave to. Vendetta was duty boat for the day and even in dry dock, had to provide a boat crew if required. We were given the job of providing a boarding party to take over the passenger ship and I with others was roused from our tunnel quarters, armed and despatched by a fast patrol boat to sea. We boarded El Nil, which was two days sailing out of Malta. My job was to guard the engine room crew. Others took over the wheel house, bridge and other positions. The crew and passengers did not appear to resent our presence or resist. In fact, that night when relieved of my watch I slept comfortably in a cabin and next day ate my meals in the dining room with the passengers. This was a real contrast from our flea infested tunnel and NAAFI meals.
The Italian air force decided to have an air raid just as we were entering harbour. Pandemonium broke out among the passengers and crew. They tried to lower the life boats, and really panicked. Fortunately we had only a short distance to go to secure the ship alongside a wharf. When the air raid was over we managed to get everyone ashore and the army took them away as POWs.
After several attempts to leave Malta with a convoy, including our captured ship El Nil, we finally dodged the lurking submarines and newly laid mines and proceeded to Alexandria which we reached on 13 July 1940. Upon our departure from Malta, our CO, Lt Cmdr Rhoades, received a message from the Vice Admiral Malta praising the work he and his crew had done in improving the Island’s defences. The message spoke of the astonishing results produced by the Vendetta’s crew who, in true Australian fashion, turned their hands to everything. The El Nil was turned into a hospital ship some time later. We spent the next two months escorting convoys of troop ships to Malta and screening ships of the covering cruisers and battleships.