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Squadron flies through adversity to the stars

  • Canberra PR Mk 7 aircraft of No. 13 (PR) Squadron flying over Comino.

    Canberra PR Mk 7 aircraft of No. 13 (PR) Squadron flying over Comino.

  • The last operational MR Lancaster of the RAF takes off from Luqa in 1954.

    The last operational MR Lancaster of the RAF takes off from Luqa in 1954.

  • The No. 13 PR Squadron standard.

    The No. 13 PR Squadron standard.

  • Felixstowe F5 flying-boat of No. 267 Squadron landing in Malta in 1921.

    Felixstowe F5 flying-boat of No. 267 Squadron landing in Malta in 1921.

  • Presentation of the Gloster Gladiator No. 5520, Faith, to the people of Malta by Air Vice-Marshal Sir Keith Park on September 3, 1943.

    Presentation of the Gloster Gladiator No. 5520, Faith, to the people of Malta by Air Vice-Marshal Sir Keith Park on September 3, 1943.

  • A Macchi C94 I-LIRI of Ala Littoria in the port of Ancona in the 1930s. The company used Ta’ Qali for flights to and from Sicily and Tripoli.

    A Macchi C94 I-LIRI of Ala Littoria in the port of Ancona in the 1930s. The company used Ta’ Qali for flights to and from Sicily and Tripoli.

This month marks the 95th anniversary of No. 267 Seaplane Squadron, which was stationed in Malta at RAF Kalafrana

Throughout its 60-year stay on the island, the Royal Air Force shared with the people of Malta “not only the happiness in peace, but the hardship, tragedy and final victory in war”.

That is what Air Commander Malta, Air Commodore H.D. Hall, had written in a souvenir programme published to mark the operational closure of the RAF in Malta in 1978.

A ceremony on that occasion included a fly-past by a number of aircraft – including Canberras, Harriers and Jaguars – culminating in a display by the Red Arrows.

The origins of the decision to use air power from Malta can be traced to the growing activity of German U-boats in the Mediterranean in 1915.

By the end of that year, about 15 German submarines were operating in the Mediterranean and, to counter this threat, it was decided to set up a seaplane base in Malta from where aircraft could be dispatched in search of U-boats.

A seaplane shed and a slipway were constructed at Kalafrana and, in June 1917, a dockyard construction unit was set up to assemble aircraft from components sent out from the UK.

The RAF Malta Group was set up in April 1918 and placed under the command of Colonel A.M. Longmore.

The formation, at Kalafrana, of No. 267 Seaplane Squadron, equipped with F2A flying boats, and No. 268 Seaplane Squadron, which had Short Sunbeam 320 float seaplanes, marked the beginning of the long association between the RAF and Malta.

In late summer 1918, a temporary landing ground and airbase was established for aircraft at Marsa racecourse.

Two DH 9 aircraft were based there. Their main purpose was to investigate submarine sightings on those days when rough seas made it impossible for a seaplane to take off.

A new aerodrome was opened at Ħal Far in January 1923 to be used as a shore base by carrier aircraft.

Until 1940, there were no RAF air defence aircraft at all in Malta and, therefore, an additional airfield was made available at Ta’ Qali.

This was mainly used by the Italian civil airline company, Ala Littoria, for flights to and from Sicily and Tripoli.

The airfield’s grass and earth surface was prone to deterioration in wet weather.

In October 1939, work began on an airfield designed to overcome the bad weather restrictions of RAF Ħal Far and Ta’ Qali and RAF Luqa became Malta’s first tarmac airfield 73 years ago this month.

No. 203 Nimrod and No. 13 (PR) Canberra were the last operational RAF squadrons to be based on the island.

The Nimrod squadron was disbanded on December 31, 1977, and No. 13’s departure for its new base in the UK at the beginning of October 1978 was the final link in the chain of RAF flying from Malta with its Latin motto Per Ardva ad Astra (through adversity to the stars).

Leading roles

Throughout the long history of RAF in Malta, many units played leading roles in various episodes:

• 840 SU communications unit at RAF Siġġiewi and Bengħajsa – the first shore-based station communicating with the UK from Rinella.

• No. 1151 marine craft unit at Marsaxlokk to tend to and refuel the seaplanes of Kalafrana.

• Two air sea rescue units, No. 204 at Kalafrana and No. 205 at St Paul’s Bay, which carried out the successful rescue of about 220 sailors and airmen, including about 52 belonging to the enemy.

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