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FIRST GLADIATOR TO BE LOST IN COMBAT
The pilot of one of Malta’s three Gladiator fighters was badly burned today in a hard fought air battle. All three Gladiators were scrambled when a formation of seven enemy fighters escorting a single bomber was reported heading for the Island. Flying Officer Peter Hartley led Flg Off Woods and Flg Off Taylor into the attack which quickly developed into a dogfight at 18000 feet over Valletta.
One of the enemy fighters was quickly shot down and while two others held back to protect the bomber, the rest engaged the Gladiators in a fierce fight. Flg Off Hartley’s aircraft NN5519 (‘Charity’) was hit in the fuel tank and burst into flames. Despite suffering severe burns, he managed to bale out and parachuted down off Xrobb l’Ghagin. His Gladiator crashed into the sea off Fort St Leonardo.
Flg Off Hartley described the moment he was hit: “Suddenly the great radial engine in front of me erupted in flames as the forward fuel tank was hit. Fire soon enveloped the cockpit and, as I was wearing only shorts and shirt, I was quickly in such agony that I would have jumped even without a parachute.” Flg Off Hartley was picked up by the RAF Air Sea Rescue launch from Kalafrana and taken to Imtarfa Military Hospital. He is being treated for multiple burns to his extremities, face and neck.
With the loss of its first Gladiator in combat, Malta’s fighter flight is reduced again, to one serviceable Hurricane and two Gladiators. (1)
DOCKYARD WORKERS’ RESILIENCE PRAISED BY ROYAL NAVY
The consistently high morale of Dockyard workers through the hardships since the onset of attacks on Malta has been praised in a Royal Navy report. Despite heavy bombing raids and the effect on the men’s nerves of mass evacuation of families to the countryside, workmen are turning up as normal and working without complaint.
The first air raids and resulting damage to areas surrounding the dockyard forced entire communities to relocate further inland. As a result, for some days workmen were absent resettling their families, many finding it impossible to reach work due to a lack of transport. However, in the past two weeks attendance levels have returned to normal.
However, though the behaviour of the men in shelter during raids is praised, there are still some concerns about responses afterwards, when some workers are showing proving slow to move from shelters.
AIR RAIDS DAWN 31 JULY TO DAWN 1 AUGUST 1940
Weather Hot and humid with heavy, low cloud.
0943-1005 hrs Air raid alert for one enemy bomber escorted by seven fighters which approach from the east of Gozo. Three Gladiator fighters and Ack Ack guns engage. The bomber turns back. One enemy fighter is shot down in the sea by fighters five miles east of Grand Harbour. One of Malta’s Gladiators is shot down by enemy fighters and crashes just off the beach near Fort Leonardo. The pilot, F/Lt P W Hartley, is badly hurt but escapes by parachute. He is observed descending towards the sea off Delimara. A power boat is sent out from Kalafrana which rescues the pilot who is admitted to the station sick quarters suffering from burns and other injuries.
1530-1600 hrs Air raid alert for fourteen enemy aircraft which fly over the Island in two formations at too great a height to be identified. No bombs are dropped.
1830-1850 hrs Air raid alert for enemy aircraft which fly over the Island above the cloud and retreat without dropping any bombs.
Enemy casualties Capitano Antonio Chiodi, 75a Squadriglia, pilot of Fiat CR42 fighter, shot down and died when his aircraft crashed into the sea.
OPERATIONS REPORTS WEDNESDAY 31 JULY 1940
ROYAL NAVY Swordfish on special reconnaissance reported an enemy cruiser of Bande Nero class 85 miles south east of Delimara at 1840 hrs. An air striking force was despatched to make a dusk attack but failed to locate the enemy. Visibility reported as three to ten miles.
AIR HQ Aircraft casualties One Gladiator.
KALAFRANA During July 45 local recruits were posted to the Station for initial training and 34 were posted from here to other Units. A number of airmen were temporarily attached to Luqa to assist in the formation of that Station.
HARBOUR FIRE COMMAND During July the harbour defences were increased by two 4.7in. and two 4in. guns at Grand Harbour and by three 4in. guns at Marsamxetto Harbour. Strength: Other Ranks 925.
(1) Gladiators Over Malta, Brian Cull and Frederick Galea, Wise Owl Publications, 2008
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