Gloster Gladiators and Fiat CR.42s over Malta 1940-42

Please observe that while the struggle for Malta was a hard and long one with lots of air combat, this calendar only includes combat with biplane fighters involved.
If someone is interested in the whole conflict, I can only warmly recommend the books I have used as sources (see below).


The first 36 Gloster Sea Gladiators (as opposed to modified Gloster Gladiator IIs), were serialed N5500- N5535. 801 Squadron, FAA received the first 12 of these (N5500-N5511) on 8/2/39, and the next 6 (N5512-N5517) on 21/3/39, while the next 18 (N5518-N5535) were delivered to 36 Maintenance Unit with the ultimate goal of delivering them to the Middle East for 802 Squadron, FAA.
Meanwhile, 801 Squadron was disbanded as a first-line fighter squadron to become 769 Squadron, FAA, to act as a second-line-training unit. It retained the first 12 Sea Gladiators (N5500-N5511) while it performed conversion training for the FAA fighter pilots with them and the newly delivered Blackburn Skua monoplane fighter-dive bombers. It was envisioned that 801 Squadron would be re-formed for HMS Courageous in the future with the new monoplane. These first 12 Sea Gladiators now dropped out of the Middle East picture until 1941, when having served in 804 Squadron, FAA, until the arrival of Gruman Martletts, they were sent to Alexandria as spares.
As the remaining six Sea Gladiators (N5512-N5517) were no longer needed for 801 Squadron, they were delivered to 36 Maintenance Unit to be shipped to the Middle East with the 18 planes of 802 Squadron. These 24 Gladiators were delivered by the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious to Malta in 1939. Of these 24, one (1) was lost pre-war, one (1) was lost prior to HMS Glorious’ departure from the Mediterranean, six (6) were delivered to Alexandria, nine (9) were on board HMS Glorious when she departed for Norway in April 1940, and seven (7) remained on Malta when war was declared by Italy on 10 June 1940.
The twenty-four arrived in Malta as follows:
N5512: 8/5/39; to Alexandria by 6/40; to HMS Eagle’s Fighter Flight 6/40; lost at sea 29/7/40.
N5513: 8/5/39; to Alexandria by 6/40; to HMS Eagle’s Fighter Flight 6/40; to 806 Sq. FAA (6F) 12/40; to Dekheila 2/41; to 805 Sq., FAA 3/41; to 33 Sq. 5/41; lost on Crete.
N5514: to Alexandria; disposition unknown other than was is in the Middle East (parts?).
N5515: 22/4/39; to Alexandria; disposition unknown (parts?); struck on charge 25/9/40.
N5516: 22/4/39; to Alexandria; disposition unknown (parts?); returned to UK by 12/39.
N5517: 8/5/39; 102 MU Abu Sueir 6/40; to HMS Eagel Fighter Flight 6/40; to 805 Sq. FAA 24/3/41; lost 15/5/41 on ferry flight from Maleme to Alexandria.
N5518: 19/4/39; 802 Sq. FAA 5/39-6/39; re-embarked in 802 Sq. on HMS Glorious 11/4/40; believed lost with her on 8/6/40.
N5519: 19/4/39; 802 Sq. FAA 6/39-9/39; Hal Far Fighter Flight 19/4/40-29/4/40; re-assigned Hal Far Fighter Flight from 3/5/40; "R" "Charity"; lost 31/7/40.
N5520: 19/4/39; 802 Sq. FAA 6/39-11/39; Hal Far Fighter Flight 19/4/40-29/4/40; re-assigned Hal Far Fighter Flight from 3/5/40; "Faith"; fuselage preserved on Malta.
N5521: 19/4/39; 802 Sq. FAA 5/39-10/39; Hal Far Fighter Flight 03/40-04/40; re-embarked in 802 Sq. on HMS Glorious 11/4/40; believed lost with her on 8/6/40.
N5522: 19/4/39; stored at Kalafrana 25/5/39; Hal Far Fighter Flight 5/40.
N5523: 19/4/39; stored at Kalafrana 25/5/39; to Alexandria; to HMS Eagle’s Fighter Flight by 10/40.
N5524: 19/4/39; to 802 Sq. FAA 17/5/39; Hal Far Fighter Flight 19/4/40-29/4/40; re-assigned Hal Far Fighter Flight from 3/5/40; wrecked after landing accident on 12/4/41.
N5525: 19/4/39; 802 Sq. FAA 6/39-10/39; Hal Far Fighter Flight 03/40-04/40; re-embarked in 802 Sq. on HMS Glorious 11/4/40; believed lost with her on 8/6/40.
N5526: 19/4/39; stored at Kalafrana 25/5/39; 802 Sq. FAA 12/39-1/40; re-embarked in 802 Sq. on HMS Glorious 11/4/40; believed lost with her on 8/6/40.
N5527: 19/4/39; stored at Kalafrana 25/5/39; 802 Sq. FAA 6/39-7/39; Hal Far Fighter Flight 03/40-04/40; re-embarked in 802 Sq. on HMS Glorious 11/4/40; believed lost with her on 8/6/40.
N5528: 19/4/39; stored at Kalafrana 25/5/39; 802 Sq. FAA 7/39-10/39; crashed into lake during training flight on 11/10/39.
N5529: 19/4/39; 802 Sq. FAA 25/5/39-11/39; Hal Far Fighter Flight from 5/40.
N5530: 19/4/39; 802 Sq. FAA 5/39-10/39; Hal Far Fighter Flight 03/40-04/40; re-embarked in 802 Sq. on HMS Glorious 11/4/40; believed lost with her on 8/6/40.
N5531: 19/4/39; 802 Sq. FAA 6/39-1/40; Hal Far Fighter Flight 19/4/40-29/4/40; re-assigned Hal Far Fighter Flight from 3/5/40; "Hope"; destroyed on the ground 4/2/41.
N5532: 19/4/39; stored at Kalafrana 25/5/39; re-embarked in 802 Sq. FAA on HMS Glorious 11/4/40; to 804 Sq. FAA.
N5533: 19/4/39; stored at Kalafrana 25/5/39; Hal Far Fighter Flight 03/40-04/40; re-embarked in 802 Sq. FAA on HMS Glorious 11/4/40; to 804 Sq. FAA.
N5534: 19/4/39; stored at Kalafrana 25/5/39; 802 Sq. FAA 5/39; crashed into the sea during a training flight on 19/5/39.
N5535: 19/4/39; stored at Kalafrana 25/5/39; re-embarked in 802 Sq. FAA on HMS Glorious 11/4/40; to 804 Sq. FAA; to Egypt; to 805 Sq. FAA; 33 Sq. RAF; to Egypt 11/5/41; to UK.

By January 1940, HMS Glorious had landed all of 802 Squadron’s aircraft in Malta, her Captain having elected not to carry her fighters during her cruises in the Red Sea and elsewhere. This left 21 of the original Sea Gladiators in Malta, two others having been lost and the last having been returned to the UK.

The picture is however not completely clear since it is known that Flight Lieutenant George Burges flew N5521 from Malta on a 45 minutes flying practise on 29 December 1939. This was followed by another 35 minutes flying practise with the same pilot and aircraft on 10 January 1940.

In March 1940, measures were taken to have the RAF Station Hal Far provided with a Station fighter Flight under the command of Wing Commander G. R. O’Sullivan. Nevertheless, Air Commodore F. H. Maynard, who in January 1940 had been appointed A.O.C. Malta, eventually was informed by Group Captain N. G. Gardner, Chief Administrative Officer, that apart from a few Swordfish (mostly floatplane version) in use by 3 A.A.C.U. (Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit) for target-towing duties, and a solitary radio-controlled de Havilland Queen Bee, the RAF had no other aircraft on the island! However, after consultation with his staff, Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, then Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, gave his permission to the RAF for the loan of six of the in Kalafrana stored Sea Gladiators. Among these were N5521, N5525, N5527, N5530 and N5533, which were taken in hand by flying officer Collins, Officer-in-Charge of the Aircraft Repair Section at Kalafrana. He had the biplanes assembled and delivered to Hal Far by early March. Furthermore Collins, who knew that his services would now be needed at Hal Far, volunteered to man a badly-needed maintenance crew, made up by eager British and Maltese servicemen.
Commodore Maynard knew that no trained fighter pilots were available on the island, but hardly had the word spread when volunteers began to gather. Flight Lieutenant George Burges, who had been Personal Assistant to Maynard was the first to volunteer. From Hal Far’s original staff came Squadron Leader Alan C. ‘Jock’ Martin, who was later picked to command the Flight. Two other members from the Hal Far Station Flight, Flying Officer William J. ‘Timber’ Woods and Flight Lieutenant Peter G. Keeble, enlisted as well. The other three volunteers were Flying Officer John L. Waters from 3 A.A.C.U, Flying Officer Peter W. Hartley also from 3 A.A.C.U and Flying Officer Peter Alexander who had previously been serving with an Experimental Flight, which had been operating the radio-controlled Queen Bee target drones. Sergeant L. F. Ashbury was also attached to the flight for a short time. Among these pilots it was only John Waters who had any previous experience with the Gladiators since he during March had been sent aboard HMS Glorious for one week (!) of fighter training with 802 Squadron from 5 to 13 March. During this period, he flew N5533, N5520, N5521, N5527, N5525, N5530 and N5521.

With the invasion of Norway on 9 April 1940, HMS Glorious was recalled to England with great haste. On 11 April 1940 when she left Malta, she had re-embarked 802 Squadron with 9 Sea Gladiators. Apparently (all of her records were lost when she sank) she embarked the nine indicated above (N5518, N5521, N5525, N5526, N5527, N5530, N5532, N5533 and N5535). She landed three of these just before her final voyage (N5532, N5533 and N5535), all of which were re-assigned to 804 Squadron, FAA. The remaining six (N5518, N5521, N5525, N5526, N5527 and N5530) were apparently the six aboard her when she sank. This means that the six Sea Gladiators (among them N5521, N5525, N5527, N5530 and N5533) “borrowed” to the RAF and the Hal Far Fighter Flight were re-possessed by the FAA, probably because they were already assembled and could be used quickly.

This left 12 Sea Gladiators at Malta. Of these, RAF “borrowed” four new (N5519 "Charity", N5520 "Faith", N5524, N5531 "Hope") which were assembled and formed into the Hal Far Fighter Unit on 19 April 1940. These were supplemented by two more (N5522, N5529) in May after one of the original four had been damaged when Squadron Leader Martin hit a large wooden packing case on the side when landing at Hal Far, flipping N5524 onto its side; Martin was unhurt. The damaged Gladiator was repaired and had been air tested by 6th June.
The Sea Gladiators on Malta were standard Fleet Air Arm pattern except that they were assembled without arrester hooks, dinghies, or sea markers. The assembled fighters were subsequently fitted with armour plate behind the pilots’ seats and with variable-pitch three-blade airscrews.
On 23 April R/T and armament training, as well as live bombing, was carried out in co-operation with 3 A.A.C.U. At least N5520 was flown by John Waters during this exercise.
However five days later the news that the Gladiators were to be withdrawn and shipped to the Middle East, shattered the morale of the small RAF unit. To further demoralise the group the fighters were dismantled. Rumours that HMS Eagle was expected to call at Kalafrana to collect the aircraft could not have come at a worse time. In actual fact some of the Sea Gladiators in storage were subsequently shipped to Alexandria (at least N5535 and two others).
On 29 April, the Hal Far Fighter Flight was disbanded. Nevertheless, with the packing procedure barely over, counter orders were received by Flying Officer Collins an on 3 May the unit was reformed to receive the return of the fighters (at least N5519, N5520 and N5531 was flown during May, i.e. both ‘Charity’, ‘Faith’ and ‘Hope’).
It will be seen therefore, that at least six Gladiators, not only the three famous Faith, Hope and Charity, aided in the defence of Malta.
Group Captain George Burges offers an explanation for the legend of the ‘immortal trio’:

”From time to time people refer to the story of ‘Faith, Hope and Charity’. Reference to Admiralty records proves that there were quite a few other Gladiators on the island when hostilities with Italy started. We were certainly given four aircraft to set up the Hal Far Flight, and there were certainly some others at Kalafrana in crates and from time to time aircraft with other ‘rudder numbers’ appeared to replace casualties. Whether these other aircraft had been completed in their crates I do not know. An enormous amount of improvisation had to go on to keep aircraft operational and a ‘new’ fuselage would have ‘second-hand’ wings or engine. As the ‘rudder number’ was on the fuselage this would seem to be yet another new aircraft.”
“Thus it was only during our training period, before the war started for us, and for only about the first week or ten days of the war period that the population ever saw three Gladiators in the air together – from then on it was two and sometimes only one. During this period none of us ever heard the aircraft referred to as ‘Faith, Hope and Charity’ and I do not know who first used the description. Nevertheless, the sentiment was appropriate because the civil population certainly prayed for us and displayed such photographs as they could get hold of. There is no doubt that the Gladiators did not ‘wreak death and destruction’ to many of the enemy, but equally they had a very profound effect on the morale of everybody in the island, and most likely stopped the Italians just using the island as a practice bombing range whenever they felt like it.”
All this means that the Fighter Flight not was a last minute panic organisation, but had been in existence and equipped for nearly three months before the outbreak of hostilities.

Left: Sea Gladiator (either N5519 or N5520) after being fitted with a Mercury VIII and Hamilton-D.H. propeller from a Blenheim Mk.I. The tail unit of another Sea Gladiator can be seen on the left.
Right: Sea Gladiator N5519 displays the remnants of its naval colour scheme and the aft arrester hook cradle. This aircraft is fitted with a Fairey Reed 3-blade propeller, whereas the aircraft beyond has a Watts 2-blade airscrew.

On the outbreak of war with Italy, Commander Charles Keighly-Peach Flight Commander of HMS Eagle had arranged for four Sea Gladiators (N5512, N5513, N5517 and N5567; the last aircraft added from an entirely different batch - see below) to be collected from Malta and sent to Alexandria. He also trained two Swordfish pilots (Lieutenant (A) K. L. Keith and Lieutenant (A) P. W. V. Massy) to fly these with him. HMS Eagle Fighter Flight was officially formed on 16 June 1940 and this trio of pilots provided the early fighter defence of the Mediterranean Fleet. Sea Gladiator N5523 was later transferred to HMS Eagle Fighter Flight to replace N5512 after it was lost on 29 July 1940. The exact date of this transfer is not known, but it and N5513 were on HMS Illustrious during the voyage to Taranto in November 1940.
This left two other Sea Gladiators unaccounted for, though whether at Malta or in Alexandria is unclear. One (N5515) had its papers discharged on 25 September 1940 so, for whatever reason, it was gone by then if not much sooner (spare parts?). The other (N5514) simply disappeared from all records (spare parts?).

Twelve other Sea Gladiators, enough for a squadron, were detailed to the 36 Maintenance Unit for shipment to the Middle East during the period before the Italian declaration of war on 10 June 1940. They were:
N5548: 21/3/39 for Malta; retained at Gibraltar into 1940.
N5549: 21/3/39 for Malta; retained at Gibraltar into 1940; arrived in Alexandria 7/40; 806 Sq. 11/40; to 775 Sq. at Dekheila 7/41.
N5565: 21/3/39 for Alexandria; retained in UK.
N5566: 21/3/39 for Alexandria; retained in UK; erected at Kasfareet 1/7/41.
N5567: 21/3/39 for Alexandria; allocated 8/5/39; to HMS Eagel Fighter Flight 6/40 as noted above; to Dekheila 12/40; to 805 Sq. (6C) 23/3/41; lost in Crete.
N5568: 21/3/39 for Alexandria; allocated 8/5/39; unknown until 805 Sq. 17/4/41.
N5569: 21/3/39 for Alexandria; allocated 8/5/39; disposition unknown.
N5570: 21/3/39 for Alexandria; retained in UK.
N5571: 21/3/39 for Alexandria; retained in UK.
N5572: 21/3/39 for Alexandria; retained in UK.
N5573: 21/3/39 for Alexandria; retained in UK.
N5574: 21/3/39 for Alexandria; retained in UK.

Finally, eleven other Sea Gladiators were shipped from the UK to the Middle East after the Italian declaration of war (most were ex-804 Squadron machines dispatched after it completed its conversion to Martlets). They were:
N5503: 775 Sq. at Dekheila 2/42.
N5505: 775 Sq. at Dekheila 1/42.
N5506: 775 Sq. at Dekheila when it crashed 7/11/41.
N5509: to 52 Maintenance Unit for shipment 28/7/40; at Dekheila 3/41; 805 Sq. 27/3/41.
N5510: 775 Sq. at Dekheila 10/42.
N5535: an original 802 Sq. machine, exact date unknown, at Dekheila 3/41; 805 Sq. 17/4/41.
N5538: to 52 Maintenance Unit for shipment 13/7/40, at Dekheila 3/41; 805 Sq. 27/3/41.
N5539: to 52 Maintenance Unit for shipment 21/2/41, erected at Kasfareet 1/7/41.
N5543: 775 Sq. at Dekheila 10/42.
N5544: at Aboukir in 1941.
N5547: 775 Sq. at Dekheila when it crashed 4/8/42.
Last of all, it is believed that one solitary RAF Gladiator II (N5563) was transferred to 805 Squadron, FAA in March 1941 and was lost in Crete with most of its other aircraft. All this finally sums up all the Sea Gladiator movements in the Mediterranean area in the early years of World War Two.

Italy declares war on France and Britain.
Malta’s reported strength this day were six Sea Gladiators, of which one was held in reserve at Hal Far and two were dispersed at Luqa. The seven pilots who by now had acquired at least knowledge of their aircraft’s limitations, had completed something like eighty hours’ Gladiator flying between them.
During the day Flying Officer John Waters flew one R/T practice sortie in Gladiator N5519, which lasted 1 hours.

First air raid on Malta.
Shortly before 07:00, three Gladiators (N5519, N5520 and N5531) were scrambled. Led by Flight Lieutenant George Burges (in N5531), Squadron Leader Alan 'Jock' Martin (N5519) and Flying Officer ’Timber’ Woods (N5520) were ordered up to meet the attackers. There were so many targets over Valetta and Hal Far that the Gladiators became split up.
Burges saw nine bombers turning in a wide circle south of the island, obviously preparing to head back to Sicily. Cutting across the circle, he and one of the other pilots (probably Squadron Leader A. C. Martin) gave chase, and he was able to fire most of his ammunition at one bomber without apparent result. These were some of 34o Stormo BT S.79s which had hit Hal Far, and the crews reported that the Gladiators fired from long range. One S.79 piloted by Capitano Rosario Di Blasi from 52o Gruppo was hit in the fuselage.
Five hours later a lone S.79 was sent out by the 34o Stormo to reconnoitre the result of the raid. Again, Gladiators were scrambled. This time two went up to intercept. Flying Officer John Waters in N5520 got within range and opened fire. He believed that he had shot down the Italian machine, but in fact, it was merely driven away, making for Sicily without being able to complete its mission.
At 19:25, the eighth and final raid came in and the Gladiators were scrambled. Flying Officer ’Timber’ Woods (N5520) first attacked two different S.79s without apparent result before being attacked by an escorting MC.200 from 79a Squadriglia flown by Tenente Giuseppe Pesola who blasted off 125 rounds at him without result. Woods immediately went into a steep left-hand turn. He circled with the enemy fighter for three minutes before he got it in his sight. He got in a good burst with full deflection. The Italian fighter went down in a steep dive with black smoke pouring from his tail. He couldn’t follow it but he taught it went into the sea. Woods was subsequently credited with an unconfirmed victory as the first victory for the defenders of Malta. In fact, Pesola’s aircraft hadn’t even been seriously damaged. Evasive action and the black exhaust smoke from the hastily opened throttle had obviously misled Woods.
During the day Waters flew another three more enemy interception sorties in Gladiators, two more in N5520 and one in N5519.

Flight Lieutenant George Burges flew one patrol sortie in Gladiator N5531 during the day.

Italian bombers appeared singly over Malta.
One S.79 of 60a Squadriglia, 33o Gruppo, 11o Stormo BT was engaged by a number of Gladiators, but escaped. This appears to have been the aircraft attacked by Flying Officer John Waters again in N5520. He again believed that he had shot down his quarry, which was not the case.
Still, the Italians suffered their first causalities over the island when a bomber crashed in bad weather, after aborting a raid, near Catina, Sicily, at dawn. All of the crew was killed.
During the day Waters flew another enemy interception sortie in Gladiator N5520.
Flight Lieutenant George Burges flew four sorties, first two patrols in N5531, both during which he suffered engine troubles and two patrols in N5520. During the first of these last two sorties, he attacked five S.79s and two MC.200s and during the last sortie, he attacked five more S.79s. Both engagements were inconclusive.
On the day, the first three Hurricanes landed at Malta but after a lunch and short rest they continued to Mersa Matruh on the Egyptian coast.

Flight Lieutenant George Burges flew one patrol sortie in Gladiator N5531 during the day.

Malta was attacked by ten 11o Stormo bombers with nine escorting MC200s. The Gladiators didn’t manage to intercept until the bombing was completed. Flying Officer Peter Hartley claimed damage to one bomber, reporting that it appeared to carry German markings – highly unlikely! The Italians reported damage to one machine, but attributed this to anti-aircraft, reporting that the Gladiators’ assault was ineffective.
During the day Flight Lieutenant George Burges flew one patrol sortie in Gladiator N5531 and Flying Officer John Waters flew two enemy interception sorties in N5519.

A S.79 of 41o Stormo was damaged by Gladiators over Malta, possibly by Flying Officer Peter Hartley.
Flight Lieutenant George Burges flew one patrol sortie in Gladiator N5531 (and suffered engine trouble).
During the day HMS Eagle Fighter Flight was officially formed with four Sea Gladiators (N5512, N5513, N5517 and N5567) under the command of Commander Charles Keighly-Peach.

Flying Officer John Waters (in N5519) attacked a formation of five S.79s from astern above Grand Harbour. One of the bombers detached itself from the rest of the formation and started to straggle some way behind the others. Taking advantage of the situation, Waters attacked. The straggler lost height and then flew beneath the other four bombers. Waters stuck to its tail and followed him down, whereupon the bombers above opened fire with their downward-firing, movable guns. The Gladiator was fortunate to escape with only superficial damage.
During the day Flight Lieutenant George Burges flew three patrols in Gladiator N5531. During the last one, he suffered engine troubles.

Flight Lieutenant George Burges flew one patrol in Gladiator N5522.

Flight Lieutenant George Burges flew one patrol in Gladiator N5522 and Flying Officer John Waters flew an enemy interception in N5531.

During the day, two Gladiators was damaged in accidents. This was a major setback to the fighter force strength on the island. During the morning, Squadron Leader Martin crashed one of the precious Gladiators (N5522) while taking off on a scramble, but survived unhurt. In the afternoon, as Flying Officer Hartley and Flying Officer Alexander took off from Hal Far in a scramble, Hartley’s aircraft (N5524) struck a packing case and lost a wheel, causing the Gladiator to overturn on landing. Hartley, though shaken was only slightly injured. Both aircraft were deemed non-repairable and one Gladiator had sustained damage to the front of the fuselage and the other was damaged at the rear. The Command Engineering Officer, Squadron Leader A. E. Louks, assessed the damage and considered one good aircraft could be constructed out of the two wrecks. He said: ”…a hybrid was born out of two corpses.” The aircraft that was repaired was N5524.
During the day Flying Officer John Waters flew one enemy interception sortie in N5531.
The first Hurricanes to be based on the island arrived during the day when P2645 flown by Flying Officer Eric Taylor and P2614 flown by Pilot Officer Tommy Balmforth landed at Luqa.

During the afternoon, a lone S.79 from the 216a Squadriglia, 53o Gruppo, 34o Stormo, approached the island on reconnaissance, flown by Tenente Francesco Solimene. George Burges (N5519) recalls:

’Timber’ Woods and I were on the 1600 hours to dusk watch when the alarm went off. We took off and climbed as hard as we could go, as was the custom. We did not attempt to maintain close formation because if one aircraft could climb faster than the other, then the additional height gained might be an advantage. Ground control as usual gave us the position and course of the enemy. The enemy turned out to be a single SM79 presumably on a photographic sortie. It came right down the centre of the island from Gozo, and on this occasion we were 2,000-3,000 feet above it. ’Timber’ went in first but I did not see any result. I managed to get right behind it and shot off the port engine. I was told this happened right over Sliema and Valetta and caused quite a stir in the population. The aircraft caught fire and crashed in the sea off Kalafrana.”
The pilot and the co-pilot Sottotenente Alfredo Balsamo managed to escape from the burning Savoia (MM22068). Unfortunately the rest of the crew were killed when the aircraft exploded right after that the pilots had bailed out. The Destroyer HMS Diamond picked up Solimene after an hour in the sea and the same vessel picked up Balsamo eight hours later, bringing them both back to become prisoners.

During the day, there was a raid by bombers from 11o Stormo BT with an escort of MC.200s. Two Gladiators flown by ’Timber’ Woods (N5531) and George Burges (N5519) were scrambled. The two Gladiators attacked the bombers (reportedly five S.79s escorted by three MC.200s) without obvious result, but Burges was then attacked by one of the escorting fighters, an aircraft of the 88a Squadriglia flown by Sergente Maggiore Lamberto Molinelli (alternatively he was from 71a Squadriglia). Burges whirled his fighter round and a ”real old W.W.I dogfight” began over the sea off Sliema. The faster Macchi had the initiative, but overshot the nimble Gladiator, allowing Burges to “belt him up the backside as he went past”. After four or five such passes the Macchi suddenly caught fire and Molinelli baled out into the sea. (The Italians later recorded that he had been shot down by “one round of A.A.”). Swiftly recovered from the water, Molinelli was taken to Imtarfa Hospital where Burges later visited him. He did not find his victim particularly friendly!
While landing after this action, ’Timber’ Woods collided with a Queen Bee target drone, causing damage to yet another of the invaluable Gladiators (N5531).
During the day, Flying Officer John Waters flew one enemy interception sortie in N5520.

End of June 1940
Reinforcements begin to arrive on the island in the form of Hurricanes at the end of June. The Hurricanes began to take part in defence in the beginning of July and this also marked the beginning of the end on the use of Gladiators as the major fighter in the defence of Malta but the Gladiators was to continue to service over the island for many months.

Flight Lieutenant George Burges flew three patrols in Gladiator N5519 and Flying Officer John Waters flew one enemy interception sortie in N5519.

Two S.79s of the 11o Stormo B.T. are intercepted by Flying Officer ’Timber’ Woods, who inflicted damage on an aircraft from the 33o Gruppo flown by Tenente Remo Maccagni. The pilot and two other members of the crew were wounded, while another crew member, 1e Aviere Motorista Angelo Alvisi, his sense reeling from the fumes from a punctured fuel tank, baled out into the sea and was lost. Woods received credit for the destruction of this bomber, but it managed to return back to base.
During the day, Flight Lieutenant George Burges flew one patrol in Gladiator N5519.

At the same time as the Gladiators role as the prime defensive fighter started to dwindle, the Italians started to use another biplane fighter in the attacks of the island. This was in the Fiat CR.42 of 73a, 96a and 97a Squadriglias, 9o Gruppo, 4o Stormo C.T. Eleven of these fighters undertook their first escort mission for the S.79s over Malta on this day.

Left: A CR.42 of 70a Sqadriglia, 23o Gruppo, seen during one of the operations against Malta from their Sicilian bases in early 1941. © Archive D'Amico-Valentini
Right: Two CR.42s of 17o Gruppo taxiing. The one in foreground is a night-fighter version assigned to 71a Squadriglia, clearly the one of this unit to accomplish such tasks. The striking difference of the two camouflages is clearly noticeable. © Archive D'Amico-Valentini
Photos kindly via Ferdinando D'Amico.
Click on the images to see them in full size.

The first Italian fighter claim for an aircraft shot down over Malta was made during the morning. Two S.79s approached the island on reconnaissance, escorted by nine CR.42s, three each from 73a, 96a and 97a Squadriglias, led by the Gruppo Commander, a Spanish Civil War veteran with an artificial leg, Maggiore Officer Ernesto Botto. Flying Officer John Waters flying one of the new Hurricanes (P2614), attacked the pair of bombers, which were from the 259a Squadriglia, 109o Gruppo, 36o Stormo B.T., which unit had just arrived in Sicily. The fire from the Hurricane’s eight guns proved devastating and the bomber fell into the sea five miles from Kalafran, breaking up as it went. Tenente Mario Squario’s crew of five baled out, but none were ever found. This was the first victory for Hurricanes over Malta. As Waters returned to land, he was set upon by the CR.42s and his aircraft was badly shot up. As a result he crashed on landing and the aircraft was written off, although Waters survived unhurt. Maggiore Botto was personally credited with the victory (initially this claim was recorded as a ‘Spitfire’).

At dawn on 4 July, 24 CR.42s led by Maggiore Ernesto Botto took off from Comiso and headed south-east. When they reached the 36th Parallel, they headed towards Malta, thus having the rising sun at their backs. Approaching Hal Far airfield, Botto, Sergente Guglielmo Biffani, Sergente Maggiore Sergio Stauble, Capitano Giuseppe Mauriello (97a Squadriglia), Tenente Riccardo Vaccari and Sergente Maggiore Massimo Salvatore dived to attack.
The escort was composed by six CR.42s of the 73a Squadriglia led by Tenente Vittorio Pezzè 600 meters above, six of the 97a Squadriglia led by Capitano Antonio Larsimont at 2000 meters and finally by six of the 96a Squadriglia led by Capitano Roberto Fassi at 4000 meters.
Botto and his pilots attacked Hal Far by grazing the ground, and strafed a bomber and seven Gladiators that however did not burn. Intense anti-aircraft fire damaged two aircraft of the 96a Squadriglai; Salvatore’s, which had the ailerons shot out of use and Vaccari’s, which was hit at the leading edge of left wing. Two British fighters were spotted at 2000 meters but these didn't attack the Italians. After the strafe, Botto’s flight hid in a cast of clouds and all the CR.42s returned home.
The Italian War Bulletin no. 25 reported:

"A formation of fighters, defying bad weather and intense AA fire, performed a brilliant strafing attack on the airfield of Hal Far (Malta), disabling eight aircraft parked there. All our aircraft came back home."
According RAF records the actual result from the attack was two damaged Swordfishes from 830 Squadron of which both were repairable.

During the day, Malta had one alert, early in the morning. Flight Lieutenant George Burges (P2645) and Flying Officer Barber (P2653) scrambled in Hurricanes to intercept. Climbing up into the sky, they were vectored by the controller onto a single S.79 of 192a Squadriglia, 87o Gruppo, 30o Stormo B.T., flown by Capitano Valerio Scarabellotto, with an escort of four 9o Gruppo CR.42s. The Savoia was undertaking the usual daily reconnaissance over the island. By pre-arrangement, Burges was to attack the bomber whilst Barber kept the fighter at bay for as long as possible. Thus while the latter made an attack on the leading fighter from astern, Burges swung P2645 towards the bomber for a quick attack. Before being attacked by three CR.42s, he got in a good burst of fire and believed that he had sent the S.79 down in flames to crash in the sea. Actually the crippled bomber, with pilot dead and one gunner mortally wounded, made the Sicilian coast where it made an emergency landing at Comiso. Meanwhile ‘Jock’ Barber, having made his initial attack and convinced that he had hit the leading CR.42, flick-rolled and spun down to prevent any of the others getting on his tail. He then recovered height to attack the fighters again until his ammunition was exhausted, whereupon he stuck the nose down and dived away to safety. One of the Hurricanes was found to have suffered slight damage, but that evening Radio Rome reported that one of two intercepting ‘Spitfires’ had been shot down in flames.

Flying Officer John Waters flew one interception sortie in Gladiator N5519.

Early on the morning, the British Mediterranean Fleet was again discovered by a reconnoitring Italian flyingboat. Immediately 2a Squadra Aerea sent out S.79s from the 30o, 34o and 41o Stormo and Z.506Bs from the 35o Stormo at Brindisi. These were joined in their attacks by Libyan-based S.79s of the 15o Stromo from Castel Benito and 33o Stormo from Bir el Bhera. Sixteen raids were made, one S.79 of the 195a Squadriglia, 90o Gruppo, 30o Stormo, claiming hits on a carrier. No hits were actually made. Interceptions by Fairey Fulmars together with Gladiators, were reported, but the defenders were in fact only HMS Eagle’s tiny handful of Sea Gladiators, flown by Swordfish pilots.
On this day Keighly-Peach in N5517 and Lieutenant (A) K. L. Keith in N5513 (the latter pilot a Canadian from Calgary) had been on patrol for about twenty minutes at 13,000 feet, when at 1415 they spotted a flight of five S.79s approaching 2,000 feet bellow. Keighly-Peach attacked the aircraft on the left of the formation, a 90o Gruppo machine from the 194a Squadriglia flown by Sottotentente Ciro Floreani, while Keith went for one on the right, both fighters diving vertically from above. Keighly-Peach made three dives, firing from 300 yards to 50 yards. The bomber dropped back and bellow the formation, emitting black smoke from the port wing. This soon turned to flames and the aircraft span into the sea, the crew being seen to bale out although they were never found. Return fire hit the Sea Gladiator, one bullet passing through the lower wing longeron to the starboard of the cockpit, going through the diagonal strut immediately above, and then braking up, one fragment entering Keighly-Peach’s thigh (it was finally recovered in 1976 when the old wound began to fester). Keith reported hits on his target, but did not see any result before anti-aircraft fire from the Fleet forced the fighters to break away.
During the day, Pilot Officer William R. C. ‘Dick’ Sugden flew one 20-minutes flying practise sortie in Gladiator N5524. Sugden was one of the newly arrived Hurricane pilots of the Hal Far Fighter Flight.

On 12 July the recently arrived 9o Gruppo C.T. was ordered to fly on to Libya, to operate in the desert. To replace the unit two new gruppi of fighter flew in, the autonomous 23o and the 17o from 1o Stormo C.T. Both units flew their first sorties over Malta on that same day, reporting an engagement with four British fighters. Tenente Gino Battaggion of the 23o Gruppo’s 70a Squadriglia claimed one shot down. He identified his victim as a Spitfire. During the same engagement pilots of the 17o Gruppo claimed one more. This aircraft was claimed as a shared between Maresciallo Magli and Sergente Abramo Lanzarini (both from 72a Squadriglia). No RAF losses are recorded.
During the day, Flying Officer Roger H. ‘Jock’ Hilton-Barber flew one gun-test sortie in Gladiator N5524. Barber was one of the newly arrived Hurricane pilots of the Hal Far Fighter Flight.

The skirmishes over the Mediterranean Fleet that started on the 11th July continued during the next two days and on the 13th the fleet again was shadowed and seven raids followed. Taking part were S.79s from the 34o Gruppo in the Aegean and the 15o Stormo in Libya, plus S.81s of the Aegean-based 39o Stormo. One aircraft from the latter unit, a machine of the 200a Squadriglia, 92o Gruppo, flown by Sottotenente Enrico Carapezza, was lost, although defending gunners in the bombers optimistically claimed three fighters shot down. Again it was HMS Eagle’s Sea Gladiator Flight involved. Commander Charles Keighly-Peach in N5517 making first contact at 0750 when he reported sighting a lone S.79 ahead of the fleet. Making three diving attacks from out of the sun, he reported that flames issued from the port wing and the aircraft span into the sea, none of the crew being seen to bale out. At 1115, to the south of Crete Keighly-Peach (in N5517) and Lieutenant (A) K. L. Keith (in N5513), saw three Savoias – identified again as S.79s – 5,000 feet below, approaching from the direction of Rhodes.Keith attacked first, firing on the left-hand aircraft, and this was then attacked by Keighly-Peach, who made three more attacks on the same bomber, which fell into the sea in flames. Two men baled out, one being picked up by HMS Hereward. Keith attacked the other two without obvious result. Finally at 1450 Keith (again in N5513) saw five S.79s at 8,000 feet, making a beam attack followed by a stern chase on one. This finally caught fire, turned on its back and spun into the sea, no one being seen to bale out. One of the latter victories was obviously the S.81, but the identity of the other two bombers claimed has not been ascertained.

Eleven CR.42 of 23o Gruppo led by the unit commander Maggiore Tito Falconi made a reconnaissance sortie over Malta’s principal ports. During the sortie the unit claimed two Hurricanes shot down. One was claimed by Capitano Guido Bobba and the other was claimed by Capitano Ottorino Fargnoli and Capitano Antonio Chiodi together with Sergente Maggiore Celso Zemella and Sergente Maggiore Renzo Bocconi. Their opponents at this occasion had in fact been a single Hurricane and Gladiator N5524 flown by Flight Lieutenant George Burges who had been on readiness when the order to scramble came at around 14:00. The Hurricane (P2653), flown by Pilot Officer Dick Sugden of the Hal Far Fighter Flight, was only damaged during the engagement. Sugden got a reprimand for engaging the Italian fighters with one of the valuable fighters and was then posted to 3 A.A.C.U to fly Swordfish on 20 July after only making three more sorties with the Fighter Flight (all on Gladiators; two on 19 July and one on 20 July).

Pilot Officer Tom Balmforth flew one interception sortie in Gladiator N5524. Balmforth was one of the newly arrived Hurricane pilots of the Hal Far Fighter Flight.

Pilot Officer Tom Balmforth flew one flying practise sortie in Gladiator N5524.

Shortly after 09:00, a dozen CR.42s of 23o Gruppo appeared over Malta on a reconnaissance mission. Flight Lieutenant Peter Gardner Keeble in a Hurricane Mk.I (P2623) and Flight Lieutenant George Burges in a Gladiator had been scrambled, and dived on this formation. Keeble attacking one CR.42, but being attacked himself by two more flown by Tenente Mario Pinna and Sottotenente Oscar Abello (both from 70a Squadriglia). After a long chase Keeble was hit and his aircraft dived out of control towards the south-east of the Island where it hit the ground near Wied il-Ghajn and blew up. It was immediately followed by a CR.42 flown by 24-year-old Tenente Mario Benedetti (MM4368) of the 74a Squadriglia, which crashed within 100 yards of the Hurricane. Keeble was killed outright but Benedetti survived the initial impact of his crash, but died soon afterwards at the civilian hospital at Vincenzo Bugeja without regaining conscious.
Burges made no claim on this occasion, and subsequently it was claimed that Benedetti’s aircraft was brought down with LMG fire by C Company headquarters, 1st Battalion The Dorsetshire Regiment. It is also possible Benedetti’s aircraft was the one attacked by Keeble.
Sergente Maggiore Renzo Bocconi claimed a second Hurricane, but this was not allowed by the 2a Squadra intelligence staff.
Keeble was the first of Malta's fighter pilots to lose his life in the defence of the island.

The tail of a CR.42 MM4368 of 74a Squadriglia in which Tenente Mario Benedetti was fatally injured after a crash-landing at Wied il-Ghajn on 16 July 1940.

Flying Officer John Waters (Gladiator N5519) and Pilot Officer Tom Balmforth (Gladiator N5529) were scrambled once but didn’t manage to intercept any intruders.

Flying Officer Roger H. ‘Jock’ Hilton-Barber flew two sorties. The first was a flying practise in Gladiator N5529. The later one (in Gladiator N5519) was a scramble together with Pilot Officer William R. C. ‘Dick’ Sugden (Gladiator N5529) against a reported 13 CR.42s but they didn’t manage to intercept them. The sortie lasted for 50 minutes.
Sugden flew a later 10-minutes flying practise sortie with N5520 during the day. Flight Lieutenant George Burges also flew a patrol in N5519 during the day.

Pilot Officer W. R. C. ‘Dick’ Sugden flew one sortie in Gladiator N5529. This was Sugden’s last fighter mission over Malta (see 13 July 1940).

During the morning of 21 July 1940, three S.79s of 34o Stormo B.T. and six escorting CR.42 appeared over Malta. One of the bombers was hit by anti-aircraft fire and came down in the sea 30 kilometres from Cap Passero off the Sicilian coast. Believing that this indeed was the case, the RAF sent out a Swordfish floatplane (K8369 flown by Flight Lieutenant Leslie Gregory) shortly after midday, but this failed to return. A second Swordfish, which followed, reported finding only a number of oily patches. Meanwhile however Saro London K5261 piloted by Pilot Officer E. C. Minchinton, a Canadian in RAF, had found the wreckage of the S.79 floating in the sea 35 miles north of Malta, and took photographs of this. The aircraft was then attacked by two CR.42s while flying at only 300 feet, the gunners claiming one of these shot down, before returning undamaged. No CR.42 was however reported missing.
The Italian version of events differs considerably. The crew of the S.79 were subsequently rescued, reporting that after landing in the sea they had been attacked by a Saro London. This aircraft had in turn been attacked by a CR.42 of 72o Squadriglia, 17o Gruppo, flown by Tenente Pietro Calistri, who shot it down with ease. The British pilot, reported by the Italians as a ‘Captain Leslye’, “survives – our prisoner”, was in fact the missing Swordfish pilot Flight Lieutenant Leslie Gregory, who was captured. His crew of Corporal V. A. Kemp and AC1 F. C. Williams were unfortunately lost.

Flying Officer R. H. ‘Jock’ Hilton-Barber of Hal Far Fighter Flight flew three interception sorties in Gladiator N5519.

Flying Officer R. H. ‘Jock’ Hilton-Barber of Hal Far Fighter Flight flew one sortie in Gladiator N5519 when he and Pilot Officer Tom Balmforth (Gladiator N5524) where scrambled to intercept ten CR.42s but there were no casualties on either side. The sortie lasted 1 hour.

Flight Lieutenant George Burges of Hal Far Fighter Flight flew one patrol in Gladiator N5519, Flying Officer R. H. ‘Jock’ Hilton-Barber flew one interception in Gladiator N5520 and Pilot Officer Tom Balmforth flew one interception in Gladiator N5529.

One of Malta’s Shorts Sunderlands flown by Flying Officer A. M. G. Lywood was attacked by two CR.42 but no damage was suffered.
Also during the day Flying Officer R. H. ‘Jock’ Hilton-Barber of Hal Far Fighter Flight flew one interception in Gladiator N5520, Flight Lieutenant George Burges flew one patrol in Gladiator N5524 and Pilot Officer Tom Balmforth flew one interception in Gladiator N5529.

HMS Eagle’s little band of fighters were again engaged on this day during a convoy sortie to Alexandria. Lieutenant (A) K. L. Keith and Lieutenant (A) P. W. V. Massy (N5512) were on patrol when two flights of three S.79s were seen at 15,000 feet. Keith attacked the left hand aircraft in one flight which broke formation at once and fled for home, apparently without dropping its bombs. He then attacked that on the right, this jettisoning its cargo and losing height rapidly to disappear in the clouds. Meanwhile Massy was after the right hand machine of the other flight. After five separate attacks it caught fire and dived into the sea, an explosion being seen in the rear fuselage just before it went into the water. Two members of the crew baled out, one of them was picked up alive by HMS Capetown. By now Massy was some way from the convoy and almost out of fuel. He was obliged to ditch near HMAS Stuart, one of the escorting destroyers, and was picked up safely. As a replacement for the lost N5512, Eagle’s fighter flight later received Sea Gladiator N5523.

Flying Officer John Waters of Hal Far Fighter Flight flew one interception sortie in Gladiator N5529.

Flying Officer R. H. ‘Jock’ Hilton-Barber of Hal Far Fighter Flight flew one interception in Gladiator N5520, Flight Lieutenant George Burges flew one patrol in Gladiator N5524 and Pilot Officer Tom Balmforth flew one interception in Gladiator N5529.

At 09:45 in the morning, nine 23o Gruppo CR.42s escorted a single reconnaissance S.79 over Malta. Hardly any Hurricanes were now serviceable on the island, and three Gladiators took off to intercept, flown by Flying Officers Peter Hartley (N5519), Fred F. 'Eric' Taylor (N5529) and William ’Timber’ Woods (N5520). As they attacked the formation, the bomber turned away, but a dogfight at once began between the opposing fighters. A burst of fire from the guns of Sergente Manlio Tarantino’s aircraft caused the fuel tank of Hartley’s Gladiator (N5519) to explode, and he baled out suffering from severe burns. Woods shot down the commander of the Italian formation, Capitano Antonio Chiodi of the 75a Squadriglia, his aircraft falling into the sea five miles east of Grand Harbour. Chiodi was subsequently awarded a posthumous Medaglia d’oro al valor militare.
The returning Italian pilots claimed that they had seen five Gladiators and two of them were claimed shot down. One by the above mentioned Tarantino and one by Capitano Luigi Filippi. Two more Gladiators were attacked by Tenente Mario Rigatti.
South African Flying Officer Roger ‘Jock’ Barber of the Island’s Fighter Flight witnessed the shooting down of Hartley and N5519 from the ground:

“Peter Hartley must have been hit in his centre tank because his Gladiator burnt just like a magnesium flare - an actually brilliant light in the sky, and it was a very lovely day: typical Malta summer day very hot, clear blue sky, no clouds.
He actually baled out after his aircraft caught fire and he fell into the sea. He was very badly burnt, particularly about the knees and arms and face. In those days, we, of course, flew in khaki shirts and shorts and stockings and it was, of course, the exposed portion of his body that got damaged. He spent a very long time in hospital and was eventually evacuated to UK, but I believe made a good recovery and flew again.”
According to at least one report, Gladiator N5519 fell just offshore, close to Ras il-Fenek, in south-east Malta. Hartley was rescued by a boat from Kalafrana and admitted to the Station Sick Quarters suffering from shock and third degree burns. Soon after, he was transferred to the military hospital at Mtarfa. He did indeed return to flying duties in the UK and the Middle East, but was eventually reassigned a ground role due to continuing problems with his injuries.

Flying Officer John Waters of Hal Far Fighter Flight flew one air test in Gladiator N5529.

At the end of July Flight Lieutenant George Burges was advised of the award to him of the Distinguished Flying Cross – Malta’s first decoration. The citation stated that he had shot down three Italian aircraft and probably three more.

Pilot Officer Tom Balmforth of Hal Far Fighter Flight flew two night-flying sorties in Gladiator N5529 and Flying Officer R. H. ‘Jock’ Hilton-Barber flew a third night sortie in the same aircraft.

Fourteen more Hurricanes arrived to Malta after having flown of HMS Argus.
During the day, Pilot Officer Tom Balmforth of Hal Far Fighter Flight flew one interception in Gladiator N5529. Flight Lieutenant George Burges flew another patrol in the same aircraft when he broke a wheel on landing, although the aircraft was repaired to be in the air again the next day.

During a patrol off the Sardinian coast a Swordfish of 818 Squadron was attacked by two biplanes identified as CR.32s. Lieutenant G.A.W. Goodwin managed to evade the attackers. His gunner N/A F.W. Dodd was fighting back determinedly and believed he disabled one of the enemy fighters (thereby earning the nickname ‘Killer’ from his fellow TAGs).

Flying Officer John Waters of Hal Far Fighter Flight flew one interception in Gladiator N5529. Flight Lieutenant George Burges flew another patrol (interception) in the same aircraft together with Pilot Officer Tom Balmforth in N5524.

Aware of the newly arrived Hurricanes on Malta, the Italians launched a heavy raid during the day, damaging Hurricanes P2614 and P3733 on the ground. Pilot Officer Tom Balmforth (Hurricane N2484) claimed an S.79 probably destroyed, while Flight Lieutenant George Burges (Hurricane N2716) reported being attacked by eight CR.42s.
Flight Lieutenant Burges of Hal Far Fighter Flight also made a night landing with Gladiator N5529.

The Hal Far Fighter Flight was incorporated with the newly arrived Hurricanes into the 261 Squadron under the command of Squadron Leader ‘Jock’ Martin, who during the day put together the initial squadron composition. The initial arrangement was as follow:

’A’ Flight
Flight Lieutenant Duncan W. Balden
Flight Lieutenant George Burges
Flying Officer R. H. ‘Jock’ Hilton-Barber
Sergeant R. J. Hyde
Sergeant E. N. Kelsey
Sergeant R. O’Donnell

’B’ Flight
Flight Lieutenant A. J. Trumble
Flight Lieutenant R. N. Lambert
Pilot Officer Tom Balmforth
Sergeant James Pickering
Sergeant D. K. Ashton
Sergeant Fred N. Robertson

’C’ Flight
Flight Lieutenant J. Greenhalgh
Flying Officer F. F. Taylor
Pilot Officer A. G. McAdam
Sergeant O. R. Bowerman
Sergeant Harry W. Ayre
Sergeant W. J. Timmis

Flying Officer H. F. R. Bradbury, Flying Officer John Waters and Flying Officer ’Timber’ Woods were held as reserve. At this stage Flying Officer Peter Bruce Alexander (RAF no. 40196) left the unit for other duties. He had been one of the original members of the Hal Far Fighter Flight. Later during the 1940 he was sent to Malta were he joined 202 Squadron. He was killed in a flying accident on 21 January 1942 as a Flight Lieutenant.

Pilot Officer Tom Balmforth of 261 Squadron flew one sortie in Gladiator N5524.

Ten S.79s of 60o Gruppo, 41o Stormo in two equal formations approached Hal Far, escorted by eighteen CR.42s of the 17o Gruppo and one from the 23o Gruppo. Four Hurricanes of 261 Squadron attempted to intercept, but were engaged by the escort. Tenente Sartirana of the 72a Squadriglia, 17o Gruppo, succeeded in shooting down Hurricane N2716 into the sea, the pilot – Sergeant Roy O’Donnell (RAF no. 740193) – being lost; his body was not recovered. Flight Lieutenant Balden (in N2672) with Sergeant Kelsey on his wing chased one straggling CR.42, which they had spotted, to the north of the island. Balden fired one long burst whereupon the biplane looped and was lost to sight; it was claimed as damaged.

During the month, the Mediterranean Fleet had carried out a raid on the port of Bardia, Libya. As the vessels headed back towards Alexandria on 17 August a series of bombing attacks were launched against them by the Regia Aeronautica. HMS Eagle’s Fighter Flight of three Sea Gladiators had been flown to Sidi Barrani airfield in Libya, and from here patrolled over the Fleet. At 1040 five S.79s were seen at 12,000 feet, heading in from the north-east, and the fighters climbed to cut them of. Commander Charles Keighly-Peach in N5517 became separated, and realising the futility of chasing the fleeing bombers alone, headed back over the Fleet in time to see to more formations attacking (totally 25 SM.79s were counted). He made three attacks on one bomber, seeing numerous pieces fall off and it went into a shallow dive. One man baled out, but as the aircraft lost height rapidly, it disappeared into cloud. He attacked another twice but without result. The other two Sea Gladiators flown by Lieutenant (A) Kenneth Keith (N5513) and Lieutenant A. N. Young (N5567) attacked several formations. Young attacked one in company with a 112 Squadron Gladiator (believed flown by either Flight Lieutenant Lloyd Schwab or Pilot Officer Peter Wickham). Keith joined the attack and the port wing of the bomber burst into flames, two members of the crew bailing out before the Savoia crashed into the sea. Other RAF fighter pilots claimed five more, although actual Italian losses amounted to only four S.79s shot down and eight damaged.

Early on the day, six S.79s from the newly arrived 105o Gruppo Autonomo B.T., escorted by sixteen CR.42s from the 23o Gruppo, raided Malta’s airfields, four Hurricanes being despatched to intercept. The result was indecisive, but the formation was broken up and Sergeant Fred Robertson, on his first Malta sortie in N2715, was able to claim a CR.42 damaged, the first of many claims over Malta by this pilot. Pilots of the 23o Gruppo claimed one Hurricane probably shot down.

Six S.79s of 192a and 193a Squadriglia, 87o Gruppo, 30o Stormo B.T., led by Tenente Colonello Schiaretta and Capitano Verrascina, again raided Hal Far and Kalafrana, escorted by 17 CR.42s of the 23o Gruppo. Four Hurricanes of 261 Squadron was once more scrambled led by Flight Lieutenant George Burges (P3731), who attacked three of the bombers. He saw a few bits fly from one of these, which headed for Sicily losing height rapidly. He was then set upon by CR.42s and his aircraft was hit by fire from Tenente Mario Rigatti of the 75a Squadriglia. Visibility was poor and Burges managed to escape, but on landing, the undercarriage of his Hurricane collapsed (due to combat damage?). Of the British pilots, Flying Officer Frederick Taylor claimed one CR.42 shot down and Pilot Officer Thomas Balmforth a second as a probable. Sergente Maggiore Renzo Bocconi of the 75a Squadriglia baled out of his stricken CR.42 and was rescued from the sea to become a prisoner of war. Taylor probably shot him down. Tenente Rigatti was also hit after attacking Burges’s Hurricane, returning to Comiso seriously wounded and with his aircraft (MM4382) badly damaged, claiming one British fighter shot down. He was later awarded the Medaglia d’Oro. It seems almost certain that he had been flying the aircraft attacked by Balmforth.
The returning Italian pilots claimed three more victories in this combat. One was claimed by Maresciallo Luigi Pasquetti, one by the shot down Sergente Maggiore Renzo Bocconi and finally one shared between Tenente Ezio Monti and Sergente Leo Mannucci.

Ten newly-arrived Cant Z.1007bis trimotor bombers of the 106o Gruppo Autonomo B.T. raided Luqa from high level, escorted by eighteen CR.42s of 23o Gruppo and seven from 157o Gruppo, 1o Stormo C.T. Four Hurricanes reached altitude too late to catch the bombers, but were bounced from above by half a dozen of the CR.42s without result. However one Z.1007bis and one CR.42 were struck by single shell splinters from the anti-aircraft barrage.

The Mediterranean Fleet put out to sea again on 22 August to support a new convoy and to look for the Italian Fleet. Nine days out on 31 August, Commander Charles Keighly-Peach was scrambled from HMS Eagle in N5517, with Lieutenant (A) R. H. H. L. Oliphant in N5567, to intercept a ‘shadower’. They found a Z.506B at 6,000 feet flying in the direction of Kythera Island. Keighly-Peach continues:

“Again off Crete I came across a Cant Z.506B – I think the crew must have been asleep as I was offered no opposition and felt almost committing murder – it was to easy. The Cant ditched off the coast off Crete and I saw the crew descending via parachutes and they must have landed close enough to land to be able to swim ashore.”
This was the fifth confirmed claim to be credited to Commander Charles Keighly-Peach, all gained whilst flying Sea Gladiator N5517.

Flight Lieutenant George Burges of 261 Squadron flew a patrol in Gladiator N5524.

In the end of August the new armoured aircraft carrier HMS Illoustrious joined HMS Eagle to strengthen the Mediterranean Fleet. Both carriers headed eastwards to launch a dawn air strike with aircraft from both carriers against Italian airfields on the occupied Aegean island of Rhodes. As dawn broke on 4 September, Swordfish from HMS Illoustrious’s’ 815 and 819 Squadrons hit Calato. However HMS Eagle’s’ 813 and 824 Squadrons had been delayed in take off and the 13 Swordfish arrived over Maritza to find the defence alerted. The 163a Squadriglia Autonoma was based here and scrambled a motley collection of CR.32s, CR.42s and Meridionali biplanes. One CR.32 and one CR.42 collided during take off and were destroyed, and another CR.32 flown by Sergente Aristodemo Morri failed to return. The rest however shot down four of the Swordfish (E4C, E4H, E4K and E4M), one falling to the commanding officer Capitano D’Ajello. Two of the bombers came down in the sea, from where one was recovered, with its crew, by an Italian submarine. Another (K8403 ‘E4M’) force-landed on Scarpanto island. Of the twelve Naval aircrew lost, four were killed including Lieutenant D.R.H. Drummond and his crew, and the remainder taken prisoner. On the ground at Gadurra airfield considerable damage was done by the thirty high-explosive and twenty incendiary bombs dropped. Two S.79s of 39o Stormo were destroyed and three were damaged, together with two Cant Z.1007bis, an S.81 and an S.82 transport. Four men were badly wounded and twenty slightly hurt, while a quantity of fuel, oil and bombs were destroyed.

During the morning, eight S.79s of the 34o Stormo appeared over Malta, escorted by ten 23o Gruppo CR.42s. Hurricanes intercepted the raid and claimed three CR.42s shot down, one being reported to have been seen crashing into the sea five miles off Grand Harbour. It is believed that Flight Lieutenant Greenhalgh, Pilot Officer Allan McAdam and Sergeant Reg Hyde made these claims. Sergeant Ayre also attacked a formation of CR.42s and fired one burst before diving away. His engine then ‘blew up’ and he force-landed at Luqa covered in oil; he was credited with one CR.42 probably destroyed. The Maltese newspaper ‘Times of Malta’ noted that one Italian pilot landed in a ditch and was taken prisoner, while a second was seen to crash into the sea by eyewitnesses. No Italian fighters were in fact reported lost on this day.

Sergeant Fred N. Robertson of 261 Squadron flew two interception patrols in Gladiator N5520 and Sergeant Reg 'Jack' Hyde flew two in N5529.

The Italians returned on 7 September around midday, ten S.79s from the 36o Stormo with seventeen CR.42s of the 23o Gruppo raiding Valetta. Three Hurricanes and three Gladiators were up on this occasion, Flight Lieutenants Greenhalgh and Lambert, and Flying Officer Barber jointly shooting down a 258a Squadriglia, 109o Gruppo S.79; a second was claimed probably damaged by the A.A.. The unit commander Tenente Colonello Tito Falconi and Tenente Oscar Abello of the 23o Gruppo attacked two of the Hurricanes, claiming one shot down each, but both British aircraft escaped with only minor damage.

Flying Officer John Waters of 261 Squadron flew one night interception sortie for 1:35hrs in Gladiator N5524.

Sergeant Fred N. Robertson of 261 Squadron flew one interception patrol in Gladiator N5529.

Flying Officer R. H. ‘Jock’ Hilton-Barber of 261 Squadron flew one interception in Gladiator N5529.

Flight Lieutenant George Burges took part in an exercise with Gladiator N5529.

Sergeant Harry W. Ayre of 261 Squadron flew one interception in Gladiator N5520 and Flight Lieutenant George Burges flew a patrol in Gladiator N5529.

Sergeant James Pickering of 261 Squadron took off in a scramble in Gladiator N5524 and Sergeant Fred N. Robertson flew an interception patrol in Gladiator N5529. Sergeant Reg 'Jack' Hyde flew a second interception in N5529.

Sergeant James Pickering of 261 Squadron took off in a scramble in Gladiator N5524, spending 45 minutes in the air.

Twelve Ju 87s from 96o Gruppo Autonomo Ba. T. approached Malta, seven from the 236a Squadriglia and five from the 237a Squadriglia targeting Luqa where a Wellington and a Hurricane were burnt out. 21 CR.42s from 23o Gruppo and six 6o Gruppo MC200 gave escort. Three or four Hurricanes scrambled to intercept. During the ensuing dogfight one Italian Ju 87 was claimed by Flying Officer ‘Jock’ Barber and Flying Officer ’Timber’ Woods shot down a CR.42 from the 70a Squadriglia. The pilot Sottoten Francesco Cavalli baled out and landed a few hundred metres north of Fort Bingemma, while his burning aircraft dived into a field near Mgarr and exploded, the wreckage continuing to smoulder for hours afterwards. The pilot was taken prisoner. An eyewitness reported:

“The end for the machine came quickly. It suddenly looped the loop and the pilot was seen struggling to free himself from the cockpit. Just as the machine started to nose-dive at a sharp angle, the pilot baled out, and his parachute opened not a second too soon, for no sooner was he clear than flames burst out. The aircraft crashed into a field and buried its nose some five feet deep into the red earth. A big explosion followed and flames leapt up two storeys high; it continued smouldering right into the night. Meanwhile the pilot was floating in the air, swinging dangerously. It took him six minutes to land…everyone was still undecided whether it was a British or enemy pilot and as he landed there was a rush to the spot. There were some angry cries when some of the villagers discovered that he was an enemy, but the man was lying helpless on his back. He asked for a glass of water which was quickly brought to him; he asked whether his mother would be informed he was alive. He was placed on a stretcher and carried to the village where he was taken charge of by military personnel.” (‘Times of Malta’ No. 1587).
The Italian pilot stated during interrogation that neither AA nor a fighter had hit his aircraft, but that the oil feed had burst and that he had bailed out fearing a fire at any moment. Notwithstanding this statement the victory was credited to Woods.
During this raid the Italian dive-bombers claimed two Gladiators, but none of the surviving Gladiators took any part in this combat.

Sergeant Fred N. Robertson of 261 Squadron led an interception mission in Gladiator N5529 (probably not the interception mentioned above). Three enemy reconnaissance aircraft with escort fighters were sighted but no attack were made.

Sergeant Reg 'Jack' Hyde of 261 Squadron flew an interception in N5524 (possibly the mission led by Sergeant Robertson).

Sergeant Harry W. Ayre of 261 Squadron flew one interception in Gladiator N5524 and Flying Officer R. H. ‘Jock’ Hilton-Barber flew an interception in Gladiator N5529.

Three Hurricanes and two Gladiators were scrambled after an incoming raid. They meet nine MC200 fighters from the 6o Gruppo, who were over Malta on a reconnaissance. The Hurricanes shot down one of the Italian fighters and damaged two of them, one of them heavily.
Flying Officer R. H. ‘Jock’ Hilton-Barber flew one interception in Gladiator N5529.

Sergeant Fred N. Robertson of 261 Squadron flew one interception patrol in Gladiator N5529.

Flying Officer John Waters of 261 Squadron flew one interception in Gladiator N5524 and Sergeant Harry W. Ayre flew another interception in Gladiator N5529.

Sergeant James Pickering of 261 Squadron took off in two scrambles in Gladiator N5529.

Sergeant Fred N. Robertson of 261 Squadron flew one interception patrol in Gladiator N5524.

Flight Lieutenant George Burges of 261 Squadron made one practise scramble of 10 minutes in Gladiator N5529.

Flight Lieutenant George Burges of 261 Squadron flew a patrol in Gladiator N5524 and Sergeant Harry W. Ayre flew a interception in Gladiator N5529.

At 13:30 on 13th one of HMS Eagle’s’ Sea Gladiators (N5567) flown by Lieutenant (A) R. H. H. L. Oliphant engaged a single S.79 while on patrol, catching the plane after a twelve minute chase. After a first attack the bomber’s port engine was hit and the bomber lost height rapidly. It was last seen very low over the water when the British pilot was forced to break away due to shortage of ammunition.

Flight Lieutenant George Burges of 261 Squadron flew a patrol in Gladiator N5520 and Sergeant James Pickering took off in two scrambles in Gladiator N5524.

Sergeant James Pickering of 261 Squadron took off in a scramble in Gladiator N5524 and Flight Lieutenant George Burges flew one patrol in Gladiator N5520 and one patrol in Gladiator N5524.

Flight Lieutenant George Burges of 261 Squadron flew one patrol in Gladiator N5524 and Sergeant Harry W. Ayre flew an interception in Gladiator N5529.

Sergeant Reg 'Jack' Hyde of 261 Squadron flew an interception in N5524.

At 10:55 six Hurricanes and two Gladiators of 261 Squadrons were scrambled from Malta to intercept nine Italian MC200s from 6o Gruppo. During the ensuing dogfight, one of the Italian fighters was so badly damaged that although the pilot managed to bring back his fighter home, he had to abandon it over his own airfield and bale out. The Gladiator pilots involved were probably Flight Lieutenant George Burges who flew two patrols in Gladiator N5524 and Sergeant Harry W. Ayre who made two interceptions in N5520.

Sergeant Harry W. Ayre of 261 Squadron flew one interception in Gladiator N5524.

During the afternoon when Short Sunderland L5806 ‘Q’ was returning from a long reconnaissance sortie searching for a missing Wellington bomber, it was intercepted by Italian fighters only 32 miles short of Malta. Two 6o Gruppo Macchi MC200s and a CR.42, flown by Tenente Ezio Monti of 23o Gruppo, attacked the big flyingboat. They were however unable to shoot it down, having to content themselves with a claim for a ‘damaged’. The Sunderland, flown by Flight Lieutenant E. M. Ware of 228 Squadron, had indeed been hit hard; two of the crew were wounded, while mattresses, flares and other combustibles were set alight, and had to be hastily jettisoned. Despite severe damaged, including a number of bullet holes in the fuselage and hull, Ware was able to land back at Kalafrana safely. No sign of the Wellington or its crew had been found. Ware later received the DFC for this and other sorties, whilst one of the air gunners, L.A.C. Barton received the DFM. Although wounded in the leg, Barton had continued to man his gun throughout.

In the morning, one of Malta’s precious reconnaissance Marylands was intercepted by three CR.42s and a flyingboat of some description during a long-range mission over Taranto and Brindisi. They reported that they damaged one of the fighters before themselves being hit, forcing them to return to Malta.

At about 12:20, Italian aircraft were reported high to the north of Malta. This was 20 S.79s of the 34o Stormo under a fairly strong fighter escort. Eleven MC.200s from the 71a and 72a Squadriglie led by Maggiore Bruno Brambilla (top cover), and five CR.42s of the 80a Squadriglia led by Capitano Luigi Corsini (close escort) undertook the mission, these squadriglie forming the 17o Gruppo of the 1o Stormo C.T. They reported being involved in a big dogfight with five Hurricanes, Maresciallo Leonida Carozzo claiming one shot down while Sergente Abramo Lanzarini of the 72a Squadriglia was killed when his MC.200 crashed on the island at Zeitun.
261 Squadron had in fact scrambled six Hurricanes of 'B' Flight led by Flying Officer John Waters (Hurricane P3730) and two Gladiators including N5520 in the capable hands of George Burges. It is possible that Sergente Lanzarini was shot down by Pilot Officer Allan McAdam, who claimed a Macchi shot down, while Burges attacked a formation which he identified as compromising eight CR.42s. He thought he had shot one of these down but did not see it crash. He also claimed a second damaged. A second MC.200 was claimed probably destroyed by an unknown pilot from 261 Squadron. It is possible that John Waters claimed a MC.200 in this combat since it's known that he made a claim around this date and this combat is the one that most fits this claim. Thus the second claim should be a 'confirmed'. AA gunners believed they had shot down a bomber.
Bombs fell on Luqa, where an empty hangar received a direct hit, and on Zabbar where four houses were demolished, fortunately without inflicting any casualties.
After the attack a reconnaissance part of from the 2nd Battalion The Devonshire Regiment was dispatched to the crash site of the Italian aircraft at Buleben il-Kbir between Zeitun and Fgura, arriving to find "the whole village...out in the streets". The unit's War Diary also noted that Lanzarini "was quite dead and the Italian equipment was very poor indeed". Lanzarini had baled out of his stricken aircraft only to plummet to his death when the parachute failed to deploy.

Flight Lieutenant George Burges of 261 Squadron made two test flights in Gladiator N5520, the latter one included air firing.

Flight Lieutenant George Burges of 261 Squadron flew one patrol in Gladiator N5524.

Flying Officer R. H. ‘Jock’ Hilton-Barber of 261 Squadron flew one interception in Gladiator N5520 and Sergeant James Pickering took off in a scramble in Gladiator N5524.

On this day, a lone CR.42, believed to have come from the 23o Gruppo, made a surprise strafing attack on one of 228 Squadron’s Sunderlands riding at anchor in Marsaxlokk Bay, succeeding in damaging it.
During the day, Flight Lieutenant George Burges of 261 Squadron flew two 30-minutes patrols in Gladiator N5524 and Sergeant Harry W. Ayre flew two more interceptions in Gladiator N5520.

Sergeant Fred N. Robertson of 261 Squadron made an engine test with Gladiator N5529 and a test landing at Ta'Qali. N5529 was at the occasion fitted with a variable pitch propeller. He then returned to Luqa in Gladiator N5520.

On 6 November, two convoys sailed for Malta. One from Gibraltar and one from Alexandria, the later with codename MB.8. To provide cover for MB.8 directly and for the other vessels indirectly, four Mediterranean Fleet battleships, two cruisers, HMS Illustrious and thirteen destroyers put to sea. Because considerable aerial action was expected, the carrier also embarked two or three of HMS Eagle’s Sea Gladiators (at least N5513 (6F) and N5523) as reinforcements for 806 Squadron’s Fulmars on this occasion. First action came on 8 November, and it was two of the Sea Gladiators that made the first “kill”. At 12.30, Lieutenant Nicolls (N5549) and Sub Lieutenant Jack Sewell catched and shot down a Cant Z.501 of the 186a Squadriglia R.M. flown by Tenente Paolo Primatesta, which had left its base at Augusta at 09.00. A contemporary British report noted:

“It struck the water and two members of the crew of five were unable to extricate themselves; they were drowned. The other three, a Naval sottotenente, a sergente maggiore and a wireless operator, managed to scramble into the Cant’s dinghy. The chance of survival was exceedingly remote as their dinghy quickly developed a leak. A Sunderland flyingboat on patrol spotted the tiny boat, and as it was far from land decided to investigate. Although there was a nasty swell at the time, the Sunderland alighted on the sea and rescued them.”

Flying Officer R. H. ‘Jock’ Hilton-Barber of 261 Squadron flew interception sortie in Gladiator N5524 and Sergeant Reg 'Jack' Hyde flew an interception in N5529.

Flying Officer R. H. ‘Jock’ Hilton-Barber of 261 Squadron flew interception sortie in Gladiator N5524 and Flight Lieutenant George Burges flew a patrol in the same Gladiator.

Sergeant Reg 'Jack' Hyde from 261 Squadron flew Gladiator N5520 from Luqa to Ta' Qali.

Sergeant Fred N. Robertson of 261 Squadron flew Gladiator N5520 from Luqa to Ta'Qali and Flying Officer John Waters flew an interception in Gladiator N5529.

Sergeant Reg 'Jack' Hyde from 261 Squadron flew Gladiator N5529 from Luqa to Ta' Qali.

Flight Lieutenant George Burges of 261 Squadron flew one patrol in Gladiator N5524.

Five Hurricanes off 261 Squadron scrambled to meet two S.79s and eight escorting CR.42s north of Gozo. Flying Officer ‘Jock’ Hilton-Barber’s Hurricane suffered an overheated engine and he became separated from the others. Flying alone he saw the incoming Italian formation below him and made several diving attacks, claiming one CR.42 probably destroyed. The Italians recorded no combat on this occasion.

Flying Officer R. H. ‘Jock’ Hilton-Barber of 261 Squadron flew Gladiator N5529 from Luqa to Ta' Qali.

Flying Officer R. H. ‘Jock’ Hilton-Barber of 261 Squadron flew Gladiator N5524 from Luqa to Ta' Qali.

Flight Lieutenant George Burges of 261 Squadron flew one patrol in Gladiator N5529. This was George Burges last Gladiator flight over Malta. Sergeant Harry W. Ayre flew an interception in Gladiator N5524.

Sergeant Harry W. Ayre of 261 Squadron flew one interception in Gladiator N5524.

Newly arrived reinforcement of Hurricanes allowed a strong reception of a raid during the morning. Ten 34o Stormo S.79s escorted by eighteen CR.42s of 23o Gruppo raided Ta Kali and eight Hurricanes scrambled to intercept the raid as it came over Fifla at 16,000 feet. George Burges in Hurricane V7548 attacked five of the bombers in company with a couple of fighters. He thought he hit one “pretty hard”, and saw it going down, although he did not see it crash. He then shot pieces of another. Sergeant Robertson in V7474 (which had arrived on the island on the 17th November) also tried to attack the bombers, but was attacked himself by six CR.42s. He took evasive action, and fired at four, reporting that his fire tore the fabric from the top wing of one, which went into cloud. He claimed this as a probable, but it was only credited as a damaged. Meanwhile the Italian pilots were after the Hurricanes, Capitano Guido Bobba, Tenente Claudio Solaro and Sergente Pardini each claiming one shot down, while all the pilots of the 75a Squadriglia claimed a fourth between them. Flight Lieutenant H. F. R. Bradbury’s aircraft was hit badly and he force-landed at Luqa. All the Italian fighters returned safely to their base.

In the morning, Tenente Ezio Monti and Sergente Germano Gasperoni claimed a Wellington intercepted when flying alone 40-50 kilometres from Malta. The machine seemed possibly a bomber from 38 Squadron that during the day was transferring its “B” Flight in Egypt while “A” Flight was arriving from England but the British unit’s records don’t report any engagement with enemy fighters.

At sunset, six CR.42s of the 23o Gruppo C.T. from Comiso attacked the airfield of Luqa (called Mikabba by the Italians) on Malta. The pilots participating in the attack had been selected among the best of the unit (Maggiore Tito Falconi (Gruppo CO), Tenente Claudio Solaro, Capitano Guido Bobba (CO 74a Squadriglia), Capitano Ottorino Fargnoli (CO 70a Squadriglia), Tenente Ezio Maria Monti and Sottotenente Domenico Tessera). They strafed from very low altitude, claiming one plane in flames for sure and additional damage. Back at base, the Italian War Bulletin credited them of three ground victories. They had in fact managed to burn Wellington “F” of 38 Squadron (the machine of Pilot Officer Timmins) in transit from Marham to Egypt, and according to post war British studies, they had possibly destroyed an additional machine of 148 Squadron. During the return journey, Tenente Monti became disoriented while escaping the attentions of a British night fighter and used all its fuel before reaching Comiso, being obliged to bale out over Stagnone di Marsala.
Pilot Officer Timmins was immediately sent back to England to collect a replacement machine.

23o Gruppo appeared over the island again on this day, when three CR.42s appeared over Malta on a reconnaissance. They were intercepted by two Hurricanes and Sergeant Dennis Ashton, who had been informed the previous day that he had just become a father, shot down the CR.42 flown by Tenente Giuseppe Beccaria in flames. At once his own aircraft, N2701, was attacked by Capitano Guido Bobba, and fell into the sea south of the island. Ashton did not survive and he was the third RAF pilot killed in combat over Malta. Beccaria’s body was recovered from the sea and buried in St. Andrews’s Cemetery.

Following the recently highly successful attack on the Italian Taranto fleet base, a further convoy into the Mediterranean had been swiftly organised by the British called Operation MB 9. It was escorted by Force H, consisting of HMS Ark Royal, HMS Renown, HMS Sheffield, HMS Despatch, HMS Manchester and HMS Southampton with ten destroyers. With the British ships close to their rendezvous point and the convoys reaching Malta, 27 November became a day of heavy operations.
At around midday the opposing fleets clashed (as often quite inconclusively) in what was later called the Battle of Cape Spartivento. Eleven Swordfishes from 810 Squadron led by Lieutenant Commander M. Johnstone attacked at around 12:40, claiming a hit on the battleship Vittorio Veneto (in fact, they all missed).
In the early afternoon, nine Swordfishes from 820 Squadron led by Lieutenant Commander J. A. Stuart-Moore attacked the Italian cruisers, claiming two hits (none achieved). Three CR.42s of 154a Squadriglia piloted by Capitano Tovazzi, Tenente Giannini and Sergente Maggiore Bortolani intercepted a British plane identified as a “Blackburn” during a cruise over the Italian fleet and Giannini claimed it shot down. Ten SM 79s of the 32o Stormo, escorted by CR.42s of the 3o Gruppo Autonomo then arrived over Force H and seven Fulmars of 808 Squadron, which were up, intercepted at 14:30 claiming two or three victories without being able to stop them. Green Section’s Lieutenant Rupert Tillard claimed one SM 79 shot down but then he and the men of his section were bounced by the CR.42s. A formation of five CR.42s of the 153a Squadriglia led by Capitano Giorgio Tugnoli and including Tenente Alfonso Mattei, Sottotenente Ciapetti (154a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Visconti and Sergente Lucato (154a Squadriglia) reported a combat against seven British fighters probably “Hurricanes” over the sea 200 km south-west of Cagliari. They claimed five victories with the use of 1080 rounds, one of the victories was claimed individually by Ciapetti while Lucato failed to return. In fact, unable to fight back because low on ammunitions and after having mistaken the Fiats for Sea Gladiators, Fulmar N1941 (pilot Sub Lieutenant Richard Maurice Scott Martin and TAG 23-years-old L/A Alexander Laird Milne Noble (FAA/FX 79397)) was shot down into the sea with the loss of the crew. The FAA pilots were unable to claim anything and the missing CR.42 probably run out of fuel after the combat and disappeared in the sea with its pilot.
All the SM 79s from the 32o Stormo returned to base, even if eight out of ten were damaged by the Fulmars and the AA, two of them seriously. However, during the course of the air battle, a Vichy French four-engined civil Farman 223.4 transport aircraft (F-AROA ’Le Verrier’) carrying the newly-appointed Vichy High Commissioner to Lebanon and Syria, M. Jean Chiappe, strayed into the battle zone. The radio operator just had time to send out an SOS, stating that the aircraft was being machine-gunned, before it was shot down off Cape Spartivento. All on board – five crew and two passengers – were lost. It would appear that it had been shot down by one or more of the Fulmars.

Sergeant Harry W. Ayre of 261 Squadron flew Gladiator N5520 from Ta' Qali to Hal Far.

The British ships of Operation MB 9 arrived off Malta and this brought a response from the Regia Aeronautica.
The first recorded mission was a visual reconnaissance carried out by two S.79s of 34o Stormo in the Sicilian narrows.
Later during the morning, eight CR.42s of 23o Gruppo took off to reconnoitre the harbours of Malta in search of the British ships. Sergente Maggiore Arnaldo Sala of 74a Squadriglia was hit by AA when over the island and he tried to nurse home his damaged fighter, finally falling over open sea, 40 kilometres from Sicily. He and his plane were never found. Italian sources are quite clear in excluding any involvement of enemy fighters in the action but it is however possible that two machines of 261 Squadron were present, directed by the radar against a group of CR.42s that they attacked at 09:30. The reconnaissance however revealed the presence of enemy ships in harbour and consequently offensive missions were planned.
Six Ju 87Rs of the 97o Gruppo B.a’T. (a unit which had recently replaced the 96o Gruppo in Sicily) (four crews from the 238a Squadriglia and two from the 239a Squadriglia, among them Giuseppe Cenni) headed out towards Malta and the ships. The dive-bombers were covered by sixteen CR.42s of the 23o Gruppo under the command of the units Commander Tenente Colonnello Tito Falconi.
The Stukas attacked a Royal Navy formation off Malta, reporting that they were intercepted by Hurricanes, which were immediately counterattacked and dispersed by the escort and that while the first “kette” didn’t obtain hits the second probably hit the enemy’s ships. In fact, they had attacked the cruiser HMS Glasgow without success and were all back home without losses at 12:55.
The intercepting “Hurricanes” were in fact a group of six Fulmars from the HMs Illustrious’ squadrons, three planes from 805 Squadron and three from 806 Squadron. The two Fulmar sections attacked but the operational inexperienced 805 Squadron trio were unable to make contact. Even though the leader Sub Lieutenant R. F. Bryant expended some 3200 rounds in four bursts, he found the Fiats far too manoeuvrable to gain any hits. His observer, Lieutenant John Shuttleworth, recalls:

“During the engagement I fired ‘smoke puffs’ from the rear cockpit whenever CR.42s got on our tail…I certainly saw one if not two parachutes floating down.”
In fact, the 806 Squadron was achieving good results. The experienced Sub Lieutenant S. G. Orr claiming one CR.42 while Sub Lieutenant G. R. Golden and Sub Lieutenant W. H. Clisby claimed damage to two more. Clisby’s Fulmar (N1935) was hit in the fight, his TAG, Leading Aircraftman H. Phillips being wounded in the leg, hand and face by an explosive bullet, although not seriously hurt.
The CR.42s claimed four Hurricanes shot down, two confirmed and two probables. Six pilots of the 70a Squadriglia claimed the former jointly, while the other was claimed by Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Marzocca of the 74a Squadriglia, the two probables being credited to Capitano Guido Bobba and Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni of this unit. The Fiats returned without losses.

Early afternoon nine S.79s from the 30o Stormo attacked the British ships, this time escorted by twelve CR.42s of the 23o Gruppo, again under the command Tito Falconi while ten MC.200s of the 6o Gruppo made a sweep in the same area. For once Malta’s Hurricanes were up in time and were able to dive from 5,000 feet above through the Italian fighter escort on to the bombers of which one was shoot down (by Sergeant Robertson) and another damaged. It is also believed that Flight Lieutenant John Greenhalgh claimed a CR.42 shoot down during this combat, while two more were claimed damaged by other 261 Squadron pilots, though possibly the first claim related to Sergente Maggiore Arnaldo Sala’s aircraft on the earlier sortie. On this occasion only one Hurricane was claimed shot down by the 23o Gruppo, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Marzocca of the 74a Squadriglia making the claim, while a second was claimed by the gunners of the 30o Stormo’s bombers. Two more Hurricanes were claimed as ‘probables’ by the pilots of the 23o Gruppo jointly. It seems that no British fighters were actually lost or damaged on this occasion. The 23o Gruppo suffered no losses in this occasion while the 30o Stormo lost the plane of Sottotenente Gaio Del Cerro (crew: Sergente Giovanni Lazzari, Primo Aviere Motorista Vasco Ventura, Primo Aviere Marconista Italo De Rui, Aviere Scelto Armiere Luigi Conti, Aviere Scelto Armiere Ovidio Venanzi – the body of Venanzi was found later and buried in St. Andrew’s Cemetery), clearly the victim of Robertson, and another plane was obliged to force-land on the volcanic island of Linosa (and presumably written off after landing).

During the day, three Wellingtons of 148 Squadron were led by Squadron Leader A. Golding to attack coastal areas near Tripoli, while three more led by Squadron Leader P. S. Foss attacked Mellaha airfield, to the east of the city. A further five Wellingtons followed at 15 minute intervals to bomb Castel Benito airfield in an attempt to prevent interceptors taking off. However at least one CR.42 got into the air, attacking and damaging Foss’s aircraft, and wounding the rear gunner, Sergeant A. Hollingsworth. On the return to Luqa with the starboard wing and the tailplane damaged, the aircraft suffered a burst tyre and swung off the runway. Flying Officer P. W. de B. Forsyth’s T2838 was also badly hit by the fighter and force-landed on return.

A lone CR.42 appeared over Malta on Christmas Day, dropping a small metal cylinder. When retrieved and opened this proved to be a Christmas ‘Greeting’ to “…the boys of Hal Far and Kalafrana”. It showed a brawny pilot in a CR.42 reaching out from his cockpit to knock down several Hurricanes with his fists, one giant hand clutching the throat of the pilot of one of these. In the background a crowd of sad-looking RAF pilots queued at the ‘Pearly Gates’ waiting for St. Peter to let them in! It is believed that it was dropped by a pilot of the 72a Squadriglia, 17o Gruppo, since this was the squadriglia number carried on the fuselage of the Fiat in the cartoon.

Taranto and Brindisi were again the targets for reconnaissance on the last day of the year. A Maryland flown by Flying Officer John Boys-Stone, a newly arrived member of 431 Flight, was chased by two CR.42s and an MC.200, but escaped. This was the last encounter of 1940.

Thus ended 1940. During the year RAF had lost three pilots during the combats over Malta. All three of them were having been killed in combat with Fiat CR.42s. Regia Aeronautica admitted losses of twelve fighters (both CR.42s and MC.200s). These losses were admitted to both British fighters and anti-aircraft fire. RAF had claimed 20 victories with the Gladiator and Regia Aeronautica had claimed 27 victories over and around Malta. These losses contain as usual with victory ‘lists’ lots of overclaiming and are more to regard as a measure of the insensitivity of the air combats. As the year ended 261 Squadron had 4 available Gladiators (and 16 Hurricanes) plus some still in crates as spares.
1940 had in many ways been a test period for the air assault on Malta. The years to come should prove to be tougher, even if the involvement of biplane fighters of course would be reduced. As Flight Lieutenant John Greenhalgh remembered of his time with the 261 Squadron:

“During the summer of 1940 there was an evening telephone call between our Intelligence staff and the Italians in Sicily to enquire about casualties and survivors. This would cease with the arrival of the Germans – the whole tempo then changed.”
In the end of December, 23o Gruppo Autonomo CT left Sicily, ordered to Libya where Wavell’s First Libyan Offensive had the Italians – Regia Aeronautica included – in grave trouble.


In early January 1941, the first German units started to arrive on Sicily to take part in the attacks on Malta. The first priority to the Germans was to neutralise Malta and the British Fleet, thereby safeguarding the sea-lanes to Libya.

The first appearance of enemy biplanes over Malta in 1941 came during the day when Kalafrana was raided. The raid was carried out by nine Ju 87s of 96o Gruppo escorted by ten CR.42s of the ‘Nueclo’ 23o Gruppo (the residue of the unit still in Sciliy).

On 10 January 1941, HMS Illustrious was damaged by a Stuka and had to seek harbour at Malta. The vessel was docked in French Creek, across the Grand Harbour from Valetta. During the day the carrier was attacked by a force compromising 17 Ju 88s escorted by 20 Bf 110s, and 44 Ju 87s escorted by ten MC.200 and ten CR.42s. The carrier was hit by two more direct hits during the raid.

The raids on HMS Illustrious and Grand Harbour continued. Six Hurricanes, one Fulmar (from 806 Sq. who usually operated from the damage carrier but now operated from Malta in the defence of their ship) and one Gladiator operated, most pilots flying at least four times between dawn and dusk. Major raids were made by Ju 87s and Ju 88s escorted by Bf 110s, MC.200s and CR.42s.
At 1005 Sergeant Fred Robertson of 261 Sq. (Hurricane V7474) claimed a CR.42 as a probable. At 1255 he was off again on his fourth sortie of the day in Hurricane P3731. Over St. Pauls Bay he engaged a Stuka at 3,000 feet but was at once attacked by the escorting CR.42s and had to take evasive action. He turned after two Fiats and shot one down in flames, putting a solid into the second as well. The pilot of the first aircraft baled out, while the second went down towards the sea, smoking. He had no time to observe what happened with the second because of other enemy fighters presence but he was credited with one destroyed and one probable. He had probably been engaged with aircraft of the 23o Gruppo ‘Nucleo’ since ten aircraft from this unit together with eight 6o Gruppo MC.200s lost one of their aircraft during a fight. It was Sergente Maggiore Ezio Iacone of the 70a Squadriglia, who baled out of his CR.42 north of Valetta.

23o Gruppo ‘Nucleo’ was formed into the 156o Gruppo Autonomo CT under Capitano Luigi Filippi compromising the 379a and 380a Squadriglias with nine CR.42 based at Comiso, Sicily.

End of January 1941
At the end of the month A.H.Q. Malta reported following fighter strength on Malta:
261 Squadron:
28 Hurricanes (5 unserviceable)
4 Gladiators
806 Squadron:
3 Fulmars (1 unserviceable)
Jointly between these two squadrons there was 43 fighter pilots.
During the next few days the remaining Gladiators were transferred to 806 Squadron, where they were used mainly for meteorological reconnaissance duties.

Flight Lieutenant James A. F. MacLachlan of 261 Squadron flew one local sortie in Gladiator N5524 to get experience on the type.

During the day Sub Lieutenant Jack Sewell was up in one of 806 Squadrons Gladiators on a meteorological flight when he noticed a string of tracers passing his starboard wings, followed a moment later by a Ju 88 diving towards Hal Far. Sewell followed the intruder down and reportedly shot it down off the coast. Lieutenant Vincent-Jones, who witnessed the action, added:

“From the ground it gave the impression of a terrier yapping at the heels of a mastiff!”
It is possible that this was an Ju 88 (L1+HM) of 4./LG1 flown by Unteroffizier Gustav Ulrich who failed to return from a sortie to Malta during this day.

In another encounter during the day a single S.79 on a photo-reconnaissance sortie, with an escort of four CR.42 were intercepted by two 261 Squadron Hurricanes but no result from the interception was reported.

A scramble from Hal Far was recorded during the day by two Fulmars and three Gladiators but they didn’t make any contact with enemy aircraft.

At noon a lone S.79 from 193a Squadriglia at Sciacca with a fighter escort of four (five was reported by RAF) CR.42s from 156o Gruppo came in over Gozo on the daily reconnaissance flight. Three Hurricanes from 261 Squadron flown by Flying Officer C. D. Whittingham (Pink 1) and Sergeants Fred Robertson (Pink 2)(Hurricane V7116) and Davies took of at 11.40 to intercept. Robertson attacked the bomber at once and followed it down for about 15 seconds before the fighters were upon him. Turning into these, he gave one a good deflection burst and it turned away and fell into a spin. He saw it recover partially, lose height and then go in a spiral dive into the sea at Gharghur.
Fred Robertson later reported:

“I was Pink 2 and on patrol with Pink 1 when we sighted the enemy formation coming in over Gozo at about 19,000 feet. Pink 1 peeled off and attacked the S.79 leading the formation - I followed him down about 15 seconds later but was attacked by the CR.42s which were above and behind the S.79. I gave one a good deflection burst as he was turning and caused him co spin. I watched him partially recover but he continued to lose height in a spiral dive until I finally lost sight of him just before he crashed.”
According to the War Diary of 2nd Battalion the Royal Irish Fusiliers, one enemy plane was reported to have crashed in the south-west corner of St Andrew’s camp (just over a mile east of Gharghur).
Whittingham and Davies gave chase to the fighters as they headed back towards Sicily, catching one 15 miles out to sea. Davies attacked first, but the fighter evaded his approach. Whittingham then attacked and claimed that he had shot the fighter down into the sea. 156o Gruppo reported meeting eight or nine Hurricanes, and suffered one loss, Sergente Maggiore Andrea Baudoni being killed. The S.79 returned very badly damaged with 100 bullet holes in it. Two of the crew were wounded and one engine stopped.

During a dusk raid on Hal Far a Gladiator and a Swordfish were destroyed and a further Swordfish was damaged. Probably two more Gladiators were also damaged in this raid leaving 806 Squadron with only one operational Gladiator.

Remains of the Gladiator destroyed in the raid on Hal Far on 4 February 1941. This is believed to be N5531, ‘Hope’, the ‘Six-gun’ Gladiator.

On this day, A. H. Q. Malta drew a balance of successes gained by the island fighters for the period 11 October 1940 to 10 February 1941 and among the successes were reported 6 destroyed, 2 probable and 4 damaged CR.42. The total CR.42 claims for the period 11 June 1940 to 10 February 1941 were 13 destroyed, 4 probable and 6 damaged.

Around 1300, Luqa was attacked by one of the biggest raids to date, the attacking force comprising thirty-eight Ju 87s, twelve Ju 88s, ten Do 17s or Do215s and ten He 111s. These aircraft were escorted by twenty to thirty fighters including Bf 109Es of 7/JG26, MC.200s of 6o Gruppo and 12 CR.42s of 156o Gruppo. Capitano Luigi Filippi led the later unit. Eight Hurricanes of 261 Squadron led by Flying Officer F. F. ‘Eric’ Taylor intercepted. In the ensuing confusing combat the German Bf 109s claimed four Hurricanes destroyed (two of them by Oberleutnan Joachim Müncheberg) while the CR.42s of 156o Gruppo claimed two more Hurricanes destroyed and two probables. The Italian claims were made jointly by all the pilots of the unit. Actual British losses were four or five Hurricanes and three pilots among them Flying Officer F. F. ‘Eric’ Taylor. The British fighters claimed one destroyed Ju 87, two probable Ju 87s, one probable Do215 and one damaged Bf 109. Additional claims were made by the British A.A crews who claimed one Ju 88 destroyed, five Ju 87s destroyed, four probable Ju 87s and one damaged Ju 87. Actual German losses in the raid were three Ju 87s lost and two more Ju 87s damaged.

Early of March 1941
806 Squadron left Malta for Egypt in their three remaining Fulmars in the beginning of March, leaving the remaining Gladiator(s) behind. The remaining Gladiator(s) were still used for meteorological duties.

During the day, a flight of 261 Squadron Hurricanes were scrambled from the island to intercept Italian fighters. Pilot Officer Johan Pain (flying P3731) reported:

“This was a brawl with some 15 CR.42s in which the entire flight got mixed up some miles out to sea at about 18,000 feet between St. Paul’s Bay and Sliema. This was the usual madhouse performance the Italians always seemed to put on – a real World War I-style dogfight. I got my first into the sea close off Sliema and the second was on the way out some miles further out and he went in without a top wing. The last one was not confirmed, but Whittingham, I think, confirmed the first.”
There seems not to be any more claims from the Hurricane pilots in this combat. These claims can not be verified by Italian sources but their opponents are believed to have been aircraft on the 23o Gruppo CT, which had just returned from Libya. On arrival the 156o Gruppo Autonomo was disbanded to reinforce this unit.

Relative strong forces of axis aircraft approached Malta during the morning, apparently as cover for a Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft. Twelve MC.200s of the 17o Gruppo under the command of Maggiore Bruno Brambilla, covered by six CR.42s from the 23o Gruppo led by Tenente Colonello Tito Falconi took part together with Bf 109s of 7/JG26. Hurricanes were scrambled and during the ensuing air-combats two CR.42s were claimed as probably destroyed together with two Bf 109s damaged. No Italian aircraft were lost, the pilots seeing three Hurricanes but not engaging them. They strafed one of the airfields, claiming one bomber destroyed and several damaged. This is not confirmed with British sources.

On this day, nine CR.42s of 23o Gruppo and fifteen MC.200s of 17o Gruppo escorted three S.79s of the 87o Gruppo BT over Valetta. They were intercepted by two 261 Hurricane MK.IIs led by Flying Officer Charles Laubscher with Pilot Officer John ‘Tiger’ Pain (in Hurricane Mk.II Z3032) on his wing, who flew top cover for the rest of the squadron. Laubscher reported:

“ I think we had reached about 11,000 feet when the barrage opened up over Valetta and, against the white puffs, I saw seven biplanes heading directly towards us in a shallow vic formation. CR.42s! This was literally Manna from Heaven! For once we had height advantage, possibly only 300 or 400 feet, but sufficient, I believe, for their top mainplanes to conceal us from their pilot’s sight. I wheeled left towards them and called ‘Tiger’ on the R/T to take the outside man on their port flank while I took the leader. We closed rapidly and I opened fire at about 800 yards sighting a little high at first to allow for the distance and then dropping my bead to centre on the machine. Things happen fast in a head-on attack and two or three seconds we had passed directly over them. I immediately went into a steep turn to port to attack them again. I saw to my great satisfaction that the centre of the vic was empty and there were only planes on their left, which probably meant that ‘Tiger’s’ target had also gone down. At the same moment two Bf 109s which had obviously stationed themselves too high to catch us in our initial attack, flashed past in a steep dive and the I was within range of the remaining Italian pilots again.
The five survivors in the CR.42 formation were swinging to their right towards and bellow me, which made it difficult to attack the three planes nearest me, so I chose the outer of the planes on their left, laid off a deflection and opened fire again. My tracer passed in line with the machine but behind it, and rather than stop firing, I pulled back steadily on my control column until the tracers crept along the rear of the machine and into the cockpit. I knew immediately that the pilot was finished and stopped firing. The CR.42 hung on its side for a moment and then slipped gently into a dive. I did not watch him all the way but looked for another target. The sky now seemed clear except for a CR.42 going down in a spin ahead of me. I gave him a full deflection burst for good measure and then my ammunition ran out. It was time to return home so I jerked the machine into a spiral dive, just in case the remaining CR.42s or the two Bf 109s were still in the vicinity, flattened out at about 800 feet and jinked my way back to Takali. It was a wonderful feeling to put up an affirmative two fingers as the mechanics helped me taxi in. That night Operations confirmed my claim for two CR.42 shot down. ‘Tiger’ also had his victory confirmed and the A.A. batteries claimed another – four out of seven destroyed – not a bad effort, we felt, particularly since the squadron had spent their time in a defensive circle!”
These were Laubscher’s two first victories (he ended the war with 4 and 2 shared destroyed). John Pain was credited with one CR.42 confirmed (victory number 5 of a total of 7) and one unconfirmed during this combat. Italian records shows only one CR.42 missing on this date and it was Sergente Sanguettoli of the 74a Squadriglia who was seen leaving his aircraft in parachute over the sea. He was however never found.
The pilots of the 23o Gruppo claimed one Hurricane shot down between them. The Bf 109s mentioned by both Laubscher and Pain were probably the MC.200s of 17o Gruppo of which one of the pilots claimed a damaged Hurricane.

In the beginning of May 1941, a convoy of five fast freighters steamed for Alexandria (Operation Tiger) together with Force H from Gibraltar. To meet this convoy the Mediterranean Fleet left Alexandria on 6 May to rendezvous with it south of Malta. The Tiger convoy escaped discovery until 8 May due to bad weather and poor visibility but was then on to became the focus for the air battles for the next four days.
The first incoming raid was reported at about 13:45, still 32 miles from the ships. HMS Ark Royal of Force H had embarked a second squadron of Fulmars to replace the low-performance Skuas of 800 Squadron. This was 807 Squadron under Lieutenant Commander J. Sholto Douglas who was to assist the resident Fulmars of 808 Squadron under Lieutenant Commander Rupert Tillard. Only twelve aircraft were serviceable this morning but two sections (four aircraft) of 807 Squadron were scrambled to join the four Fulmars of 808 Squadron on patrol.
At 12:45, five torpedo bombers (SM 79s) of the 280o Squadriglia (led by Capitano Dante Magagnoli) attacked the convoy, escorted by 15 CR.42s of 3o Gruppo C.T. The four Fulmars of 808 Squadron intercepted them, but as Lieutenant Commander Tillard led the attack they were themselves attacked by the dozen escorting CR.42s of the 3o Gruppo. Almost immediately Tillard’s Fulmar was shoot down after having ignored the advice he had been given to not get involved in a turning ‘dogfight’ with the CR.42s. He and his observer, Lieutenant Mark Somerville, were killed. The three other Fulmars were also hit, the aircraft of both Lieutenant G. C. McE. Guthrie and Pilot Officer (A) R. E. Dubber sustaining damage to their tail units, while in Lieutenant Taylour’s aircraft the TAG, Pilot Officer (A) L. G. J. Howard received a severe leg wound, an explosive bullet shattering both tibia and fibula. One CR.42 overshot their aircraft and Taylour managed to score hits on it, forcing it into a spin from which he considered it would not be able to recover. Having evaded the other CR.42s, Taylour headed for the carrier with his wounded TAG, where only prompt and skilful action by HMS Ark Royal’s surgeon prevented the loss of Howard’s leg.
The 280o Squadriglia reported that Sottotenente Marini’s aircraft was hit and crashed near La Galite (a French flying boat took the crew to Tunisia, which later was repatriated). Sottotenente Cappa, hit by cannon fire, launched a torpedo against a large ship from close range, and then disappeared into the water with the loss of all the crew. He was awarded a posthumous Medaglia d’oro al valor militare. Both 278o and 281o Squadriglie were also involved in this attack.
The Italian pilots claimed five Fulmars shot down, one of these being credited to Capitano Giorgio Tugnoli. This was the only combat with biplane fighters over the convoy during the day but the battle continued all day (16 SM 79s of 38o Gruppo from Sardinia, attacked the Tiger convoy in small groups from 15:20 to 17:00). The protecting Fulmars nevertheless managed to protect the fleet and no ships were sunk.
34-year-old Lieutenant Commander Rupert Tillard was credited with 6 and 1 shared destroyed enemy aircraft at the time of his death.

To reduce Axis activity over the ‘Tiger’ convoy, nine 252 Squadron Beaufighters made a low-level attack on Catania and Comiso airfield on Sicily with some effect. At Catania Italian records show that an MC.200, a Savoia S.82 transport, a Caproni Ca133 and a Ca164 were damaged, while at Comiso two Ju 52/3ms were destroyed, two 23o Gruppo CR.42s badly damaged, one MC.200, one S.81 and one Bf 110 damaged. Six Italian servicemen, three Germans and three civilian workmen were killed.

Middle of May 1941
In the middle of the month the Regia Aeronautica had reclaimed much of the airfields on Sicily from the Luftwaffe, which was in the process of regrouping for the forthcoming invasion of Russia (Operation Barbarossa). In the middle of month following units operated CR.42s from the island:
1o Stormo CT
6o Gruppo – 6 CR.42s (and 20 MC.200s)
17o Gruppo – 7 CR.42s (and 21 MC.200s)
23o Gruppo Autonomo – 15 CR.42s (and 4 Re.2000s)

Reparto Volocaccia (Fighter Flight) was also equipped with 1 CR.42.

End of May 1941
When 249 Squadron arrived to Malta in the end of March, 261 Squadron left for Egypt. The unit was soon to re-acquaintance themselves with the Gladiator (and Hurricanes) when they took part in the occupation of Iranian oilfields in August.

Five Blenheims from Malta were out at midday after a convoy of six ships that had been sighted by a Sunderland. Two CR.42s and a Z.501 were seen over the convoy, but the Blenheims kept their distance until the Italian aircraft appeared to leave the area. Probably they ships’ crews assumed that the Blenheims were friendly since daylight attack by RAF had not yet become common. At 14.45 the Blenheims attacked, but one went into the sea during the run-in. It seems this may have fallen to a pair of CR.42 pilots of the 70a Squadriglia, 23o Gruppo CT. Tenente Marco Marinone and Tenente Antonio Bizio reported seeing a lone Blenheim to the north-west of Lampedusa while they were escorting a convoy off the Italian coast, and they claimed this shot down between them. The attack by the other four Blenheims was successful. The steamer Montello, which was carrying ammunition, blew up and sank, whilst the Beatrice Costa, carrying a cargo of petrol in drums, caught fire. Her crew abandoned her, and her escort sent her to the bottom.

After a full year of war, the RAF had claimed 16 confirmed destroyed CR.42s over Malta. 7 additional were claimed as probables and 6 were claimed as damaged. Totally RAF had made claims for 106 confirmed, 47 probables and 38 damaged over Malta.

Fighters from 54o Stormo escorted a reconnaissance S.79 from 30o Stormo on a sortie over Malta. They were intercepted and a Hurricane managed to avoid the escorting fighters and shot down the S.79. Sergente
Domenico Facchini shot down a Hurricane during this combat and thus claimed 76a Squadriglia’s first victory. Tenente Armando Cibin from 86a Squadriglia claimed a second Hurricane.
This was newly arrived 46 Squadrons first clash with the Regia Aeronautica over Malta and one Hurricane was lost when Flight Lieutenant Norman Whitmore Burnett (RAF No. 70101) in Hurricane Z2480 was shot down and killed. While not a biplane action (although Facchini had at least one shared biplane victory) this combat is interesting since Burnett had claimed a probable CR.42 on 11 November 1940 in the raids made by Regia Aeronautica in the late part of Battle of Britain. 26-year-old Burnett was from Sussex and he is commemorated on the Malta Memorial. His brother Walter Henry also died on service.

In the early afternoon, an air-sea rescue Cant Z.506B floatplane (MM45292) of the 612a Squadriglia, marked with Red Crosses, left Syracuse seaplane base for the second time that day to repeat a search for Sottotenente Umberto Curcio of the 7o Gruppo. Curcio, in MC.200 (MM5354), had failed to return from a sortie over Malta in morning. The floatplane was escorted by two CR.42s from the 23o Gruppo flown by Sottotenente Vittorio Bertoccini (MM7046) of 74a Squadriglia and Maresciallo Germano Gasperoni. Hurricanes of 46 Squadron were scrambled for the second time of the day, intercepting the Cant and a reported three CR.42s 45 miles from Grand Harbour at an altitude of 200 feet. Squadron Leader ‘Sandy’ Rabagliati (in Hurricane Z2491) and Sergeant Hackston both fired at the Cant, but broke away when they saw the Red Crosses. Sergeant Main followed and got in three short bursts, which set the port engine ablaze, only seeing the markings as the aircraft, landed burning on the sea. He then climbed to 2,000 feet where he made a beam astern attack on a CR.42, firing a three second burst which caused the engine to pour flames and the pilots to bale out as the Fiat dived into the sea. He then reported seeing a second CR.42 being shot down. Rabagliati meanwhile had got one burst at one CR.42 and then attacked another head-on, firing until he saw it fall to pieces in the air. Looking round he saw two other Italian aircraft shooting down a Hurricane, and then saw a CR.42 and an unidentified aircraft orbiting over the Cant, which was burning furiously on the water. Hackston, after his initial attack, was able only to watch as a CR.42, attacked by one of the others, went diving into the sea. Five minutes later he became involved in a dogfight with MC.200s of which he claimed one destroyed. The larger amount of Italian fighters and Hackstons reported presence of Macchis has not been verified by Italian sources. Italian records show that only Bertoccini was shot down, while Gasperoni’s CR.42 was damaged during this combat although he returned safely to base. The Hurricane that was seen by Rabagliati being brought down was claimed by Gasperoni. This aircraft was flown by Sergeant Norman Walker, who curiously had claimed a shared destroyed BR.20 in the raids made by Regia Aeronautica in the late part of Battle of Britain.
Another Italian rescue aircraft was also sent out when the first Cant and the CR.42 of Bertoccini failed to return. This was a Z.506B carrying the civilian registration I-POLA, set off escorted by nine CR.42s from the 23o, while 15 MC.200s from the 7o Gruppo gave indirect support and nine more 17o Gruppo fighters flew a sweep in the general area. This Cant was also shot down by Hurricanes (this time from 249 Squadron), but no biplane combat is reported.

During the day six Blenheims of 82 Squadron attacked a convoy off Lampedusa, which turned out to have an escort of CR.42s. Flak from the ships was fierce and Squadron Leader J. Harrison-Broadly was shot down (Blenheim Z6422) and he and his crew became POW’s although they managed to hit one of the ships in the convoy. Flight Lieutenant T. J. Watkins attacked a 6,000 ton merchant ship in UX-B (Z9545), but his aircraft was also hit when he pressed home his bombing run, and he was badly wounded in the legs. Despite this, hits were gained on the target vessel, but the Blenheim came under attack by one of the fighters. Watkins manoeuvred to give Sergeant E. F. Chandler, the gunner, the best possible field of fire, and as the CR.42 closed in he claimed to have shot it down. Watkins then lapsed into unconsciousness due to his wounds as the aircraft headed for home. The observer, Sergeant J. S. Sargent, removed him from his seat and took over the controls. Watkins recovered consciousness momentarily several times, but on finding that the aircraft was over Malta insisted on taking over again, and despite pain and great weakness due to loss of blood, he made a successful landing. Subsequently Watkins was awarded a DSO, Harrison-Broadley a DFC, while Chandler and Sergeant got a DFM each.

In the early morning, a Maryland from 69 Squadron flew a reconnaissance sortie over the Tripoli area. When they returned to Malta the pilot Flying Officer Drew reported that he and the crew had been intercepted by a CR.42 over the target area. They engaged the fighter, which was last seen falling away steeply.

During the night, Malta-based bombers carried out a raid on Naples. Two CR.42s from the 356a Squadriglia, 21o Gruppo, were sent off in an attempt to intercept, but the night sky was not only dark, but foggy too. Nothing was seen, and on return Sottentente Marcelo Torreggiano crashed to his death near Marcianise, Caserta, when he got lost and ran out of fuel.

During the day, a force of Blenheims from 110 Squadron was out from Malta to attack cargo ships in Trapani harbour. One Blenheim returned early but the other three pressed home their attack, claiming to have destroyed vessels of 7,000 and 3,000 tons respectively. An airfield between Trapani and Marsala was also bombed and strafed. The airfield strafe destroyed a Z.501 flyingboat of the 144a Squadriglia, moored by the shore. However the leading Blenheim, Z7409 flown by Sergeant N. A. C. Cathles, was seen to hit the water twice close to the coastline, and then crash into the ground. It seems that it was under attack by a CR.42 of the 23o Gruppo, which had scrambled with two MC.200s. The Fiat pilot claimed the Blenheim shot down, the three crew being killed.

On 21 July, a new convoy sailed for Malta (codename ‘Substance’) and by late afternoon on the 23rd the ships were coming within range of aircraft from Sicily and Malta. Five of 272 Squadron’s Beufighters were sent off to give escort at 16:20, followed by six more at 17:03, joining the convoy near Bizerta. Meanwhile from Sicily S.79sil torpedo-bombers of the 278a Squadriglia, escorted by 23o Gruppo CR.42s were on their way, followed by S.79 bombers of the10o and 30o Stormo, and Ju 87s of the 101o Gruppo Tuff, plus 27 escorting MC200s from 54o Stormo. The bombers gained one hit on the destroyer HMS Firedrake, which was damaged, but it seems that the Beaufighters on patrol attacked both the bombers and the torpedo-bombers. The CR.42 pilots reported that aircraft identified as Blenheims attacked the 278a Squadriglia aircraft near the Califfe islands, and one of these was claimed shot down by Tenente Giorgio Solaroli and Sottenente Carlo Brigante Colonna. This was almost certain the Beaufighter flown by Sergeant W. M. Deakin and Sergeant C. F. Jenkins, which failed to return from the mission.

On the afternoon, 272 Squadron Beaufighters were sent out in pairs from Malta escorted by Hurricanes. Their mission was to strafe airfields on the Sicilian coast. During these attacks three CR.42s were damaged together with eleven MC.200s and three BR20Ms at Catania airfield. Eleven men were also wounded. At Borizzo (Chinisia) two CR.42s (of 4o Stormo CT) were damaged together with six S.79s and a Ca164. Squadron Leader A. W. Fletcher claimed the CR.42s here.

During the afternoon two CR.42s of the 23o Gruppo took off from Pantelleria to provide escort to a convoy. The pilots reported that three Wellingtons attempted to attack the ships. Sergente Francesco Cuscuna attacked one which dived into the sea after he had hit the engines, while Sottotenente Wisdor Pederzoli claimed a second in flames. The third was claimed as a probable between them. On this day a Wellington (W5559) of the Overseas Delivery unit, flying from Gibraltar to Malta was shot down eight miles south of Lampedusa, presumably the victim of 23o Gruppo.

Flight Lieutenant Charles Gordon St. David ‘Porky’ Jeffries of 185 Squadron flew an air test in Gladiator N5520. Jeffries was a veteran from the early fighting over France were he had claimed 1 and 1 shared victory. He arrived from HMS Ark Royal to Malta in the end of April to serve at 261 Squadron and became ‘A’ Flight Commander when 185 Squadron was formed on 12 May. He ended the war as a Squadron Leader in the Pacific.

At daybreak eight Blenheims from 105 Squadron led by Squadron Leader Smithers attacked the 6479-ton Italian ship Caffaro between Pantelleria and Lampedusa. She was part of a convoy who had left Naples on the 10th bound for Triploi. Previous night the convoy had been attacked by 830 Squadron Swordfishes and the Caffaro had been hit. In the morning the ship was still afloat but the British low-level attack left her ablaze. Three MC200s and three CR.42s of 23o Gruppo then appeared, promptly shooting down three of the Blenheims (Z7357, Z7423 and Z7504). One of the Blenheims was seen falling in flames, while another ditched some twelve miles from the convoy, the crew luckily being picked up by a submarine, but on the return to Luqa the crews of Squadron Leader F. R. Charney, Sergeant F. B. Brandwood and Sergeant Q. E. Mortimer were posted missing. Squadron Leader Smithers’ aircraft had also been badly hit but he managed to nurse it back to the island.

Flight Lieutenant Charles Gordon St. David ‘Porky’ Jeffries of 185 Squadron flew a metrological flight in Gladiator N5520.

Flight Lieutenant Charles Gordon St. David ‘Porky’ Jeffries of 185 Squadron flew a metrological flight in Gladiator N5520.

During the day, the convoy ‘Halberd’ with nine merchant ships escorted by Force ‘H’ came within range of Sardinian-based aircraft. At least 25 S.79s and S.84s from 36o Stormo and 130o Gruppo Autonomo attacked the convoy escorted by eight CR.42s from 24o Gruppo Aut. The escorting CR.42 were involved in combat with HMS Ark Royal’s Fulmars from 807 and 808 Squadron but no claims for fighters were claimed by either. However the Fulmars claimed 4 enemy aircraft and the A.A. claimed 5 more. During the attacks one CR.42 flown by Sergente Luigi Valotti was shot down when he attempted to divert the A.A. gunners away from the bombers. The aircraft was shot down into the sea and the pilot perished. The 36o Stormo lost six of its eleven aircraft during this attack and only managed to seriously damage HMS Nelson. The only claim that the CR.42 were able to do was damage to one of HMS Ark Royal’s Swordfishs – 2H – which blundered into seven CR.42s while returning from a reconnaissance mission and was shot up and badly damaged, but the pilot succeeded in reaching the carrier safely with an uninjured crew.

Also during the day, while on convoy escort duties, a CR.42 of 23o Gruppo flown by Capitano Pietro Serini was shot down by the destroyer Fusiliere by mistake! The pilot however was rescued from the sea at once.

During the previous day, CR.42s from the 386a Squadriglia, 21o Gruppo had been despatched to Sardinia on temporary duty from Caopdichino, Italy. On the 28th they reportedly intercepted three strafing Blenheims over Elmas. Capitano
Bruno Mondini claiming one shot down. This was probably Beaufighters from 272 Squadron, which had strafed Cagliari airfield, Sardinia. No losses were reported by the British formation.

171o Gruppo Caccia Notturno Autonomo arrived to Sicily during the day. This Gruppo consisted of 301a and 302a Squadriglias equipped with Fiat CR.42CNs and was Regia Aeronauticas first night fighter unit to form. The mission was to counter RAF night bomber raids. Maggiore Giovanni Buffa commanded the unit and they were based at Gela. The unit lacked modern equipment and facilities, which limited the usefulness of the unit, and it was disbanded when the Germans took over the base in November

Flight Lieutenant Charles Gordon St. David ‘Porky’ Jeffries of 185 Squadron flew a metrological flight in Gladiator N5520.

Late in the day, eight Blenheims from 107 Squadron were sent out to attack a 6,000-ton merchant vessel reported off the Tripolitanian coast. They could not find the target ship so they selected Zuara airfield as an alternative instead. As they approached they were met by intense Flak from destroyers in the harbour and from the shore, while four CR.42s were seen in the air. One of these followed the Blenheims 50 miles out to sea, gaining hits on Sergeant D. E. Hamlyn’s aircraft and causing him to carry out a force landing in the water near Tripoli. Two other bombers were damaged, but the gunners claimed to have damaged the fighter in return. Hamlyn and his crew were picked up when they were found floating in their dinghy near Djerba a few days later.

Flight Lieutenant Charles Gordon St. David ‘Porky’ Jeffries of 185 Squadron flew a metrological flight in Gladiator N5520.

During the day, a CR.42 flown by Sergente Guelfo Grancich failed to return. The pilot was reported missing.

Also during the day, six Blenheims of 107 Squadron bombed an airfield near the Zuara-Sirte road in Trioplitana and one CR.42 was claimed destroyed and others damaged. A dozen more CR.42s were seen on El Zuaia airfield and these were also strafed.

Flight Lieutenant Charles Gordon St. David ‘Porky’ Jeffries of 185 Squadron flew a metrological flight in Gladiator N5520. Shortly after this Jeffries tour ended and he was posted to the Middle East.

Four CR.42s from 23o Gruppo were sent off during the day so search for survivors from a German aircraft of which four were found and rescued. Later six more CR.42s escorted Ju 52/3ms flying between Pantelleria and Africa.

Two Hurricanes of 185 Squadron encountered five CR.42s near Lampedusa while on patrol during the day. They, however, managed to evade them.

Six Albacores from 828 Squadron, operating from Hal Far, attacked Comiso airfield and destroyed one CR.42 and damaged three more. One of the Albacores was shot down by anti-aircraft fire.

CR.42s presumably from Pantelleria (23o Gruppo) attempted to intercept a pair of Fulmars from 800X Squadron flown by Sub Lieutenant Hurle-Hobbs and Sub Lieutenant Tritton. The pair was on patrol to cover the Kuriat-Pantelleria-Lampedusa area and the Italian fighters were spotted in time and evaded and the Fulmars returned to Hal Far.

The Italian CR.42s from presumably Pantelleria (23o Gruppo) attempted to intercept a pair of Fulmars from 800X Squadron again during the day but this time they were spotted by P.O. (A) Sabey and evaded again.

In the morning of 12 November 1941, four Hurricanes from 249 Squadron strafed Gela airfield on Sicily. This raid was soon followed by eleven bomb-carrying Hurricanes out for the same airfield. Six of the Hurricanes were drawn from 249 Squadron, the other five from 126 Squadron, while an additional four and six respectively provided escort. As the twenty-one Hurricanes approached they were met by three MC.202s of the 9o Gruppo, which had been scrambled from Comiso during the previous raid. Tenente Jacopo Frigerio attacked one Hurricane without result, but this was then attacked by Sottotenente Giovanni Deanna and Sergente Maggiore Massimo Salvatore who shot it down into the sea near the coast. This was one of the Hurribombers (Z3158/HA-K), flown by Australian Sergeant Peter Simpson of 126 Squadron.
Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan of the 90a Squadriglia, 10o Gruppo took off in a CR.42 to search for the downed pilot, who he spotted, and who was then picked up by a launch and taken prisoner.
During the raid one MC.202 was claimed shot down by Flight Lieutenant J. M. V. Carpenter, but no Italian loss was recorded.

Early on the day, five CR.42s of 23o Gruppo from Pantelleria were engaged in escorting some Ju 52/3m transports when they spotted three delivery Wellingtons of the OADU. The Italian fighters attacked and Sottotenente Gino Martini shot down Wellington Z8989 in flames south-west of the island. In the same combat claimed Sergente Giuseppe Saracino a second Wellington as a probable. However only one aircraft was lost, the crew surviving and subsequently being picked up by a floatplane from Kalafrana.

Later on the same day more Pantelleria-based CR.42s from 23o Gruppo intercepted a passing Blenheim, Maresciallo Germano Gasperoni, Sergente Luigi Sacchi and Sergente Francesco Cuscuna claiming to have obtained hits on this. The damaged OADU Blenheim crash-landed on arrival at Luqa.

Pilot Officer George Charles Calder Palliser of 249 Squadron flew metrological flight in Gladiator N5520. Palliser had served with 249 Squadron during the Battle of Britain.

December 1941
Sometimes during this month Gladiator N5520 sustained heavy damage after ground looping while landing on Hal Far airfield. Pilot on this occasion was Flight Sergeant A. W. Jolly of 185 Squadron, who had been on a meteorological flight. LAC Kenneth Cox of 185 Squadron recalled:

“At the time of the crash I was waiting on the runway ready to refuel N5520, painted silver all over, Flight Sergeant Jolly came out of it in one piece. We then righted the aircraft by lifting the tail up as low as possible, and pulling it over with a length of rope that already been attached. The Gladiator was in a sorry state. Both wings sagging down to the ground we had quite a job pushing it the 200 yards or so to a place between two damaged hangars. The engine fitted to N5520 then was a Blenheim’s Mercury, with a three bladed variable-pitch propeller.”
N5520 was repaired but this ended the Gladiator flying from Malta during 1941. Interesting to note however is that during 1941 the O.K.W. credited the Luftwaffe with shooting down two Gladiators over Malta during 1941.

During the night between 5th and 6th December 1941, twenty Wellingtons from 40 and 104 Squadrons attacked the Royal Arsenal at Naples. Maresciallo
Vincenzo Patriarca from 356a Squadriglia, 21o Gruppo took off from Capodichino airfield to intercept the incoming bombers. At 21:35 he spotted Wellington R1066 of 40 Squadron, flown by Pilot Officer D. F. Hutt, and engaged it in a long fight, firing 408 rounds of 12.7 mm ammunition before he finally shot it down. Two members of the Wellington crew baled out near the port, Hutt included, but four others were killed.
Patriarca landed at Capua almost out of fuel, and with the tail of his fighter damaged by return fire.

Flight Sergeant Fred Sheppard of 185 Squadron flew a metrological flight with Gladiator N5520.

Blenheims were out from Malta on 11 December, three of them attacking a 5,000 ton vessel in Argostoli harbour. The aircraft of Flight Lieutenant E. G. Edmunds of 18 Squadron failed to return, and it would seem that this fell foul of two 23o Gruppo CR.42s flown by Maresciallo Germano Gasperoni and Sergente Leonzio Bicego. They had taken off during the morning to escort some S.82 transport aircraft to Tripoli, and claimed a Blenheim shot down between them. Gasperoni returned with his aircraft damaged and a wound in his left arm.

From Malta Flight Lieutenant ‘Ginger’ Neil of 249 Squadron was sent off to escort a Wellington, which was reported to be under attack whilst on its way to Malta from Gibraltar, carrying aboard his replacement, Flight Lieutenant Sidney Brandt. The bomber had been intercepted by three 23o Gruppo CR.42s scrambled from Pantelleria, the pilots of which reported attacking four Wellingtons. One of these was claimed shot down into the sea by Sergente Luigi Sacchi, while Maresciallo Diego Fiorentini (of 75a Squadriglia) and Sergente Giuseppe Saracino attacked two others. Fiorentini was shot down by one of the rear gunners and he baled out of his stricken fighter but his parachute did not open.
It seems that two of the Wellingtons were lost, R1246 and R1250, both in transit from Gibraltar to the Middle East.

Flight Sergeant Fred Sheppard of 185 Squadron flew a metrological flight with Gladiator N5520.

Flight Sergeant Fred Sheppard of 185 Squadron flew a metrological flight with Gladiator N5520.

At the end of the month the 23o Gruppo was rested and sent to Torino Mirafiori for re-equipment with more modern fighters.

Flight Sergeant Fred Sheppard of 185 Squadron flew a metrological flight with Gladiator N5520.


At 13.45 Oberleutnant Helmut Belser of 6./JG53 claimed a Gladiator over Malta for his 16th victory (totally 32). This was probably a Fairey Albacore from 828 Squadron or a Fairey Swordfish from 830 Squadron. The sooner was shot down over a convoy off Malta during the day and the latter was damaged over Hal Far.

During a night attack on Tripoli by Malta-based Wellingtons, two CR.42s were seen, but these failed to intercept and all the bombers returned safely.

At daylight, Blenheims of 21 Squadron were sent off to search for an enemy convoy, Squadron Leader C. A. White leading a sweep from east of the Gulf of Gabes, to Zuara. Some 20 miles off Zaezis, a freighter of an estimated 5000 tons was located, escorted by a destroyer and three CR.42s of 160o Gruppo Autonomo C.T. As White manoeuvred his formation, seeking an opportunity to strike, one of the patrolling fighters, flown by Sergente Antonio Crabbia, broke away and latched onto two of the Blenheims, forcing the formation to scatter and, hence, the leader to call off the attack. Both Pilot Officer Booth’s Z7288/S and Sergeant G. R. Cameron’s Z7341/X were hit; the latter aircraft had its cupola shot away, Sergeant George Hancock, the Welsh air gunner, narrowly escaping injury.

On 22 February on British submarine, P38, was depth-charged by the Italian torpedo-boat Circe and forced to the surface, where she was attacked by a destroyed - Usodimare - and was then bombed and strafed by a Fiat CR.42; 20 minutes later he bows lifted high out of the water and she sank with the loss of all hands.

The first Spitfires arrived to Malta during the day.

On 8 April, the cruiser HMS Penelope made a dash from Malta to Gibraltar. She was chased and attacked by Axis aircraft. As the ship came within range of Sardinian based aircraft on 9 April, a Z.506B was sent to locate it, followed by 14 CR.42s of 24o Gruppo, half of them armed with pairs of 100kg bombs, but they failed to find her.
After several attacks HMS Penelope reached Gibraltar at 16:00 on 10 April.

During Operation “Harpoon” between 12 to 17 June 1942 a British convoy sailed from Gibraltar with supplies for Malta. This convoy was heavily escorted by British Naval units including two carriers – HMS Eagle and HMS Argus.
The convoy became heavily attacked by German and Italian air and sea units including 24o Gruppo C.T.
At 10.20 on 14 June 19 CR.42s from 24o Gruppo C.T. took off from Sardinia together with MC.200s from 7o and 16o Gruppi to escort Italian bombers attacking the convoy for the second time of the day.
Over the convoy the escort became involved in combat with British carrier based fighters and Sottotenente Giorgio Moretti claimed one Hurricane while Tenente Italo Marchi and Sergente Renato Casalini claimed a shared. Marchi and Casalini was also credited with a shared probable. Sergente Maggiore Ferruccio Corti and Sergente Angelo Rizzardo were also credited with one probable each.
The Italian fighter totally claimed three Hurricanes destroyed and three probables and one Defiant (probably a Fulmar) while the bombers claimed 14 Hurricanes shot down and six probables! It seems that two Fulmars from 807 Squadron was lost and one Sea Hurricane from 801 Squadron was lost and one was damaged.
The cruiser HMS Liverpool were damaged and the Dutch freighter Tanimbar was sunk during the attack.
807 Squadron claimed two S.79s while 801 Squadron claimed one S.79 shot down, one probable and four damaged. They also claimed two MC.200s and one CR.42 (MM7594). AA fire on the ships claimed five bombers. It seems that two MC.200s, one CR.42, two S.79, six S.84s and one Z.1007bis were lost while three S.79s were damaged.

In the evening the CR.42 were out again to attack the cruiser HMS Liverpool. The cruiser was escorted by a Gibraltar based Catalina (Z2146/B) from 240 Squadron flown by Flying Officer K. J. Riddy, which had been diverted from its anti-submarine duties and ordered to escort the damaged cruiser.
At 17.05 the Catalina was attacked by four CR.42s but Riddy skillfully maneuvered his lumbering flyingboat, enabling his gunners to repel repeated attacks. Nonetheless, Sergente Renato Casalini carried out a number of determined attacks, gaining strikes on the ‘boat’s hull and slightly wounding the W/T operator.

N5520 as it looks today in Malta.
Left photo courtesy of Mikael Olrog
Right photo courtesy of Vladimir Cereba

to be continued…

Known claims with the Gloster Gladiator over Malta
Known claims with the Fiat CR.42 Falco over Malta

3o Stormo, storia fotografica - Dai biplani agli aviogetti - C. Lucchini and E. Leproni, 1990 Gino Rossato Editore kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala with translations kindly provided by Birgitta Hallberg-Lombardi
Aces High - Christopher Shores and Clive Williams, 1994 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
Aces High Volume 2 - Christopher Shores, 1999, Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-03-9
Adriano Visconti Asso di Guerra - Giuseppe Pesce and Giovanni Massimello, 1997 kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala.
Aerei Modellismo no. 2 1997 kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala
Battle over Malta - Anthony Rogers, 2000 Sutton Publishing Limited, Gloucestershire, ISBN 0-7509-2392-X
Courage Alone - Chris Dunning, 1998 Hikoki Publications, Aldershot, ISBN 1-902109-02-3
Fleet Air Arm Aircraft, 1939-1945 - Ray Sturtivant, kindly provided by Mark E. Horan
Galleria degli Assi, 1998 Aerofan nr. 64 gen-marzo 1998, kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala.
Gladiators at Malta (Malta Flypast - Issue 2) - Alfred Coldman, 1998
Gladiators over Malta: The Story of Faith, Hope and Charity – Brian Cull and Frederick Galea, 2008 Wise Owl Publications, ISBN 978-99932-92-78-4
Hurricanes over Malta - Brian Cull and Frederick Galea, 2001 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-91-8
La caccia notturna Italiana 1940-1942 - Giancarlo Garello, 1996 Aerofan nr. 57 apr-giu 1996 kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala
Light Blue 'Stringbags' - The Fairey Swordfish in RAF service - 1998 Air Enthusiast no. 78 nov/dec 1998 kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala
Luftwaffe Claims Lists - Tony Wood
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Malta: The Spitfire Year 1942 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1991 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-16-X
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Shark Squadron - The history of 112 Squadron 1917-1975 - Robin Brown, 1994 Crécy Books, ISBN 0-947554-33-5
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The Gloster Gladiator - Francis K. Mason, 1964
Additional information kindly provided by Liana Balsamo, Bruce Buchanan, Antonio Maraziti and Stefano Lazzaro.

Last modified 30 July 2013