Italian prisoners bombed by Germans

A Heinkel III bomber in flight, they began operating over North Afrika in early 1941.

The Luftwaffe was now making its presence increasingly felt in the Mediterranean. The new threat to shipping had become readily apparent with the bombing of HMS Illustrious and the the increasing attacks on Malta but they rapidly started making an impact on operations off the coast of Libya and Egypt. There attacks were not always of benefit to the Italians:

On the 31st January two German aircraft bombed and damaged the S.S. Sollum in the neighbourhood of Sidi Barrani. The ship, which was carrying Italian prisoners, drifted ashore and casualties among the prisoners were heavy. H.M. Minesweeper Huntley was bombed and sunk near Marsa Matruh on the same day by two Heinkel 111; one officer and 12 men were killed. The hospital ship Dorsetshire was bombed and damaged on the 1st February off the coast of Egypt.

From the Naval Situation report for the week see TNA CAB 66/14/48.

The New Zealand Official History describes how many of the Italians were rescued by New Zealand troops on the shore:

There was a strong wind with high seas, but men from the ship swam ashore with lines to the foot of the coastal escarpment. They were assisted through the breakers by Sergeant Cookson, who organised the rescue work after hawsers had been attached to some heavy trucks. Relays of men spent hours in the bitterly cold surf dragging the Italians to safety; others assisted them into slings and those on the escarpment hauled them to the crest. The wounded had to be brought ashore on Carley floats, so the last stages of their journey were extremely hazardous, but groups of volunteers brought them through the breakers and had everyone ashore by first light.

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