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Aviation Museum on the hunt

The Heinkel 115 floatplane (BV185) at a hangar in Kalafrana shortly after its arrival in Malta on June 23, 1941.

The Heinkel 115 floatplane (BV185) at a hangar in Kalafrana shortly after its arrival in Malta on June 23, 1941.

The Malta Aviation Museum is trying to track down fishermen who, it is thought, left the old jetty at Marfa some time ago cluttered with debris which turned out to be aircraft wreckage.

The fishermen are being sought because their help is needed to pinpoint where the aircraft remains were found.

The remains were an unusual Christmas present for the members of the Malta Aviation Museum Foundation, for that is when the foundation was informed about the debris at the Marfa jetty.

Trawling fishermen, it is thought, had probably dragged up the wreckage in their nets, forcing them to call at the nearest jetty to get rid of it. It turned out that the wreckage was a strut which joins the fuselage of an aircraft to a float, and to have belonged to a Heinkel 115 floatplane.

There was the added possibility that the wreckage was part of a particular Heinkel floatplane, the BV185 which had been lost during the Second World War, 23 miles north of Malta. The wreckage from the Heinkel 115 may be viewed at the Aviation Museum, Ta' Qali.

The connection of the Heinkels with Malta came about during WWII when the floatplanes were used in a number of 'clandestine operations'. Most of these cloak-and-dagger activities involved the dropping of agents, or picking them up from, beyond enemy lines.

For some odd reason the British authorities had chosen to make use of several Heinkel 115 floatplanes that had originated in Norway.

During and after the fighting in Norway following the German invasion on April 9, 1940, four He115s of the Norwegian Naval Air Force escaped to Britain.

The first, serial no. F.52, arrived at Dornoch in Scotland on May 2, after fighting ceased in southern Norway. The other three came from northern Norway. Eventually all four aircraft were sold by the Norwegian government to the Royal Air Force.

BV185, BV186 and BV187 were specially modified for clandestine missions. Extra fuel tanks were installed, much of the glazed panelling of the cockpit sections was removed and as defensive armament eight 0.303" Browning machine-guns were installed in the wings, four firing aft.

The clandestine operations were carried out from Kalafrana with aircraft and personnel operating under the name of 'Z Flight', under the control of Colonel Bertram Ede, the Defence Security Officer at Malta.

During the night of June 23, 1941, the Heinkel 115 floatplane BV185, piloted by Norwegian Lieutenant Haakon Offerdal, arrived at Malta from the UK and was hurriedly parked in a hangar at Kalafrana, where it was kept under strict security. This was to be the first of the Heinkel 115s to come to Malta.

During the night of July 8 and 9, enemy bombs dropped on Kalafrana damaged the Heinkel, which sprang a petrol leak that necessitated repairs.

The Heinkel flew for the first time following repairs during the morning of September 3 but carried out its first operation on September18.

A few days later, on the night of September 21 and 22, the Heinkel was lost. A Fairey Swordfish biplane, flown by Flt Lt Moore, spotted the wreckage 23 miles north of Malta.

The Heinkel crew, made up of Flt Sgts Georges Blaize and R. Gatien, and Sub Lt Roy Drake FAA as observer were lost.

Frederick Galea, a member of the Aviation Museum has written extensively on clandestine operations from the former RAF Station Kalafrana, in his book CALL-OUT - a wartime diary of air/sea rescue operations at Malta.

www.digigate.net/aviation email: [email protected]

Ray Polidano is director general of the Malta Aviation Museum Foundation.

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