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4 February 1941: ‘Hope’ is Lost – Gladiator a Write-off

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BOMBS ON HAL FAR DESTROY ‘HOPE’

Sea-Gladiator_FaithOne of Malta’s first trio of defensive aircraft, the Gladiator nicknamed ‘Hope’, was written off today. In a heavy air raid on Hal Far, bombs caused damage across the aerodrome, including to three aircraft – one of which was ‘Hope’.  Newly arrived pilot, P/O John Pain, described the aftermath of the raid:

“All the hangars [at Hal Far] had been hit, but there were a few aircraft in them and in one was ‘Hope’ of the famous Malta trio. She was in the throes of becoming a six-gun Gladiator, the only one in the RAF, but she received a bomb smack through the centre section and that was the finish of her.”

Work had just been completed on fitting the additional guns, a measure intented to make the Gladiator more effective against Stuka dive bombers. Only ‘Faith’ remains of the three valiant Gladiators.  ‘Charity’ was shot down in a dogfight last July. (1)

GERMAN RADIO SAYS ‘WE WILL TAKE MALTA IN A FORTNIGHT’

“Luqa aerodrome was the target [today] and got some battering, but no lives were lost. During that raid we had Commander Hale with us; and he was surprised at the great noise of the barrage. He led one of the squadrons at Taranto and was wearing his DSO ribbon, and also his new third stripe. We did not ask him many questions, as we feel that when men come here, they need to have their thoughts distracted rather than brought back to their doings.” (2)

MILITARY PROPERTY DAMAGED BY AIR RAIDS TO DATE

Luqa:  Officers’ Mess and quarters and one airmen’s barrack block destroyed; one Glenn Martin temporarily unserviceable

Hal Far:  one wing of sergeants’ quarters destroyed; sergeants’ mess and cinema badly damaged; one Swordfish and one Gladiator burned out; one Swordfish unserviceable one month, three Swordfish unserviceable one week. One hangar damaged but not destroyed.  One Hurricane hit by shrapnel written off but many parts salvaged.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 4 FEBRUARY TO DAWN 5 FEBRUARY 1941

Weather  Unsettled at first, becoming finer towards evening.

1407-1421 hrs  Air raid alert; raid does not materialise.

1750 hrs  Air raid alert for two formations of JU 88 bombers heading for the Island from the east. They cross the coast over Delimara and dive bomb Hal Far and Luqa aerodromes. Two bombs damage the runway and barrack rooms at Luqa; five fall on Hal Far.  Four Hurricanes are scrambled and Bofors guns on the airfield open fire. 

1801-1838 hrs  A second formation crosses the coast over Rinella and launches a second attack.  Two bombs land between Sans Souci and Marnisi.  Every gun on Luqa aerodrome is firing, putting up a fierce barrage.  Six more Hurricanes and two Fulmars are scrambled and engage raiders to the north of the Island.

OPERATIONS REPORTS TUESDAY 4 FEBRUARY 1941

2nd Bn ROYAL WEST KENT REGIMENT  Battalion commanders reconnaissance of Qrendi, Bubaqra, Siggiewi for possible move of troops to that area. A Company to take over the whole of Rinella. 

(1) Gladiators Over Malta, Brian Cull and Frederick Galea, Wise Owl 2008

(2) Extract from diary of Reverend Reginald M. Nicholls, Chancellor of St.Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Valletta.  Courtesy of website: Malta Family History 

 

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Posted by on February 4, 2016 in 1941, February 1941

 

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6 August 1940: New Air Squadron for Malta

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Gladiators to join new Squadron (NWMA)

Gladiators to join new Squadron (NWMA)

FIGHTERS JOIN FORCES

The two air forces engaged in the defence of Malta are to be amalgamated. 418 Flight and Fighter Flight will combine to form 261 Squadron. Included in the Squadron will be the surviving Gladiator aircraft which have defended the Island since the first air attacks in June.

MALTA TO BE A BASE FOR SEABORNE RAIDERS?

The War Office has written to military chiefs in Malta asking whether the Island could operate as a base for sea-borne attacks on enemy coasts. The message proposes the deployment of a self-contained company trained in coastal raiding tactics.

In his reply, the Governor and Commander in Chief welcomed the proposal, subject to certain provisos:

“Am strongly in favour of suggestion and consider that such offensive raids against Sicily or even Tripoli would have real value. But in order to make them feasible the necessary naval and air forces and equipment would have to be made available from outside sources. Vice Admiral Malta informs me that there are no suitable craft capable of transporting troops at necessary speed here – all these requirements would have to be brought in from outside. Similarly a much stronger force of reconnaissance aircraft would have to be provided. Further we have very little detailed information about suitable objectives…Any enterprise against Sicily or Tripoli will, of course, have to be carried out in conjunction with operations of the Mediterranean Fleet.”

AIR RAIDS DAWN 6 AUGUST TO DAWN 7 AUGUST 1940

Weather  Fine.

No air raids.

OPERATIONS REPORTS TUESDAY 6 AUGUST 1940

ROYAL NAVY  Pandora arrived with RAF stores.  

AIR HQ  1530 to 1730 hrs  Fleet Air Arm Skua reconnaissance of Messina, Catania, Augusta and Syracuse.   

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Posted by on August 6, 2015 in 1940, August 1940

 

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31 July 1940: Gladiator Pilot Burned in Dogfight

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FIRST GLADIATOR TO BE LOST IN COMBAT

Gladiator 'Charity' (1)

Gladiator ‘Charity’ (1)

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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Posted by on July 31, 2015 in 1940, July 1940

 

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19 July 1940: Only One Aircraft Left to Defend Malta

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MALTA FIGHTER FORCE DOWN TO A SINGLE GLADIATOR

Gladiator NN5520 'Faith'

Gladiator NN5520 ‘Faith’

Two Gladiators were damaged in air raids on Malta today, leaving only one serviceable aircraft to defend the Island.  The remaining Gladiator may have to face up enemy formations up to twenty strong.  Urgent work is in hand to repair two more Gladiators and one Hurricane from recent damage in combat.  Air HQ expects the all three will soon be airworthy.

MALTA WILL SOON HAVE MORE GUNS

Twelve heavy anti-aircraft guns with personnel to man them are being despatched immediately for Malta.  The reinforcements will travel the long sea route round the African Cape and are expected to arrive on the Island around 10 September.  At the same time, plans are under discussion to send another twelve guns through the western Mediterranean, with a smaller cohort of personnel.  If the latter ship succeeds in reaching Malta, the supplies brought by the Cape route will be retained in the Middle East.

At the same time it was announced that some of the guns currently installed for the defence of the Dockyard are to be moved to a position to defend the Island’s aerodromes.

AIR RAIDS DAWN 19 JULY TO DAWN 20 JULY 1940

Weather  Fine and warm. 

1235 hrs  A London flying boat and a Swordfish drop bombs on a submarine which is at a depth of eight fathoms four miles north east of Valletta.  Two 250lb bombs are dropped by the Swordfish and small patches of oil are visible. 

1255-1321 hrs  Air raid alert for six hostile fighters in two formations.  They approach over Madalena from the north and attack the London flying boat.  Malta fighters are scrambled and approach the enemy raiders while Ack Ack gunners also open fire.  The raiders turn away without dropping any bombs.  Two of Malta’s fighters are damaged on landing.  The submarine oil patch spreads quickly to 100 feet square.   

OPERATIONS REPORTS FRIDAY 19 JULY 1940

ROYAL NAVY  A flying boat claims to have sunk a submarine 1.8 miles off St Elmo. 

AIR HQ  Aircraft casualties  Two Gladiators damaged. 0345 hrs  London affected anti-submarine patrol in the Pantelleria area.  0515 hrs  Swordfish affected anti-submarine patrol and reported four ships 80 miles from the Island.  0945 hrs  Nine Swordfish were then despatched with bombs and torpedoes but failed to locate ships. 

KALAFRANA  Aircraft K5261 P/O Minchinton 202 Squadron on anti-submarine patrol is attacked by CR42 aircraft, one of which he shoots down.  He also bombs a submarine off Delimara Point – result unknown.

LUQA  Malta’s fighters went up on a practice flight and on landing one of the Gladiators damaged one of its wings.  Strength of Station: officers 18; airmen 92; civilians 4.

 

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Posted by on July 19, 2015 in 1940, July 1940

 

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16 June 1940: Four Gladiators Not Enough To Defend Malta

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Gladiators in Malta (NWMA)

Gladiators in Malta (NWMA)

FOUR GLADIATORS CANNOT HOLD OUT SAY MALTA AIR CHIEFS

Malta’s four operational Gladiator aircraft cannot be expected to last long under the current pressure from enemy attacks, according to Air chiefs.  The introduction of Macchi fighters to protect Italian bomber formations has placed the Island’s four defenders under severe threat.  Although the four Gladiators are being conserved as much as possible, they are not expected to last long under present conditions. 

Italian bombers are also using special tactics to isolate and pick off Malta’s Gladiators.  One bomber from a formation of five hangs back, then when attacked by a Gladiator it loses height.  It flies under the rest of the bombers who then attack the Gladiator from above with a down-firing moveable gun.  The straggling bomber is the only target the Gladiators normally have a chance to attack.

Air Chiefs praised the courage and commitment of the Gladiator pilots which had placed the enemy under sufficient pressure to make them deploy fighters and evasive manoeuvres.  However, the usual enemy tactic of a high approach followed by a shallow get-away dive is producing high speeds which make Gladiator interception difficult.  Attempts to optimise Gladiator performance are placing additional strain on already overworked aircraft engineers.

The situation makes it even more imperative that Hurricane fighters are deployed to Malta at the earliest opportunity.

SLIEMA THANKS BOMB DISPOSAL MEN

To the Editor, Times of Malta: Sir,

“I, on behalf of the People living in the area of St. Charles Street, and Rudolph Street, should like to thank through the medium of your paper, the Officers and men, also Police Sergeant Orr, for the excellent work carried out without thought for their own safety in not only removing the unexploded bomb from the said area, but also for the excellent morale instilled into the inhabitants under such trying conditions.

I should like to thank the Officers and men of the Royal Engineers concerned, for the work done under trying circumstances.  I cannot express myself in words, but I on behalf of the inhabitants of this area, once again thank them from the bottom of my heart.”

P G Mayo

AIR RAIDS DAWN 16 JUNE TO DAWN 17 JUNE 1940

Weather  Fine.

0810-0935 hrs  Air raid alert for thirteen enemy aircraft which cross the Island three formations, flying east to west at 15,000 feet.  The lead formation is reported as five Heinkel bombers.  The raiders are attacked by fighters.  They drop six high explosives and six incendiary bombs over Luqa and Kalafrana, where one 250lb bomb damages the north slipway and damages four vehicles.  Two fall on Kirkop; one fails to explode.  The power house is also damaged but still functioning.  The second formation, identified as five SM 79s, are also attacked by fighters and disperse.  The final three, probably Macchi 200 fighters, also disperse when engaged by Malta fighters.

1445 hrs  A message is received by 2nd Bn Royal West Kent Regt that the unexploded bomb at a Kirkop defence post will be dealt with in the next 30 minutes.

1450-1545 hrs  Air raid alert.  Three enemy bombers fly across the Island from south west to north east at 10000 feet and drop six bombs on Mosta, believed to be intended for Ta Qali.  Fighters engage the raiders without result.

2115 hrs  Infantry companies are informed that a destroyer is due in Grand Harbour at 2200hrs and will depart before daylight.

Civilian casualties  Cospicua  Emanuel Spiteri, age 65.  Zejtun  Saviour Mifsud, age 56.

OPERATIONS REPORTS SUNDAY 16 JUNE 1940

KALAFRANA  Pte Bartolo, Kings Own Malta Regiment and AC E Bonavia transferred to ADS Tarxien.

FORTRESS ROYAL ENGINEERS  Cpl Brewer and three Other Ranks working on unexploded bombs.

ROYAL ARMY ORDNANCE CORPS: Bomb Disposal UXB  Dealt with: 1 HE 250lb in Gzira was exploded, partially demolishing three houses.

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Posted by on June 16, 2015 in 1940, June 1940

 

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