HELP THE 2005 MALTA SPITFIRE  FUND

In 1942 the people of Malta paid for two Spitfires to defend these islands

In 2005 the Defenders are coming home with your help!

See how you can help at the bottom of this page

MALTA'S FIRST SPITFIRES

Robin Brooks outlines the Spitfires presented by the people of Malta

Public donations to help fund the purchase of aircraft for the RAF, witnessed a major resurgence upon the outbreak of World War Two. The idea dated from World War One, many civilians felt that their contributions would help finance aircraft in the hope that this would bring about the end of the war that much sooner.

With the commencement of the Battle of Britain, the amount of money given increased dramatically and mainly centred on one particular aircraft, the Supermarine Spitfire. Funds were set up all over Britain by individuals, groups and companies. If enough money was available, entire squadrons would he purchased and the name of the contributing country, county; city or town would be included in the squadron title and in some cases, emblazoned on the aircraft fuselage.

All of this activity inspired one particular outpost of the British Empire to follow suit... Malta.

During 1940 and 1941, the Maltese islands were constantly under siege. Day after day the Italians, and later the Germans, pounded Malta in the hope that it would fall to the Axis powers. It did nut, though it came very close to surrendering. 

Close to starvation and suffering heavy air raids by day and night, the people were still determined to help the war effort in any way they could. Since the beginning of the onslaught, the islands had been defended by three obsolete Sea Gladiators which became known as Faith, Hope and Charity.

By the summer of 1941, Hurricanes - had arrived to help in the defence of the islands. On March 7, 1942, 15 Spitfire VBs were flown off the aircraft carriers Eagle and Argus, the first of many.

SPITFIRES AS GIFTS

Long before the Eagle and the Argus steamed towards the beleaguered island, the name Spitfire had inspired the population of Malta to give generously to their own ‘Spitfire Fund’. Eventually two presentation Spitfire VBs, W32 10, named Malta, and W3212, Ghawdex (the alternative name for the island of Gozo) were purchased as a gift from the generous Maltese people.

  Click here for a larger image...   Click here for a larger image...  
  “Malta” W3210   “Ghawdex” W3212  
 

Both National War Museum Association, Malta

 

Malta and Ghawdex had been assembled by Supermarine at Eastleigh, Hampshire. They were first flown on May 13 and 14, 1941, respectively. It almost certainly will have been there that the aircraft were named and posed for publicity photos.

Both were taken on charge by 8 Maintenance Unit at Little Rissington in Gloucestershire on May 14 and 16 respectively. They were released to 74 (Trinidad) Squadron on May 18, 1941, and began their careers at Gravesend, Kent, five days later.

  Click here for a larger image...   Click here for a larger image...  
  Detail views of the names “Malta” on W3210 and “Ghawdex” on W3212  
  E & V Casser  

Malta was first flown by 74 Squadron at 11:45 on May 23, 1941, when it undertook a five-minute flight from Gravesend to West Malling, piloted by Sgt Dykes. It undertook air- firing duties on the 26th.

Its first convoy patrol took place on June 7 at 05:00 when it was flown by Pilot Officer Krol. This proved to be uneventful, but on the 9th, during an offensive sweep over France with other aircraft from the squadron, Pilot Officer W J Sandman in Malta bagged a probable Messerschmitt Bf 109.

The rest of June saw the aircraft carrying out bomber escorts known as ‘Ramrods’ and offensive patrols and fighter sweeps known as ‘Rodeos’. Malta was usually flown by either Pit Offs Krol or Sandman and it was during a ‘Rodeo’ on June 27, 1941, that Pilot Officer Sandman RNLAF and Malta were reported missing.

Taking off from Gravesend at 20:50 on the evening of the 2 74 Squadron carried out a ‘Rodeo’ over north-eastern France. Engaged by the enemy somewhere between Amiens and Abbeville, three Spitfires of 74 came to grief, one of them being Malta (the others being W3252 and X4668). Pilot Officer Sandman managed to bale out and was taken prisoner. Malta, however, buried itself in the French soil. It was 45 days old.

CHEQUERED CAREER

Ghawdex, on the other hand, had a more chequered career. Like Malta, it was delivered to 74 Squadron at Gravesend and its first recorded flight was 12:00 on May 24 with Sergeant Doerr flying it to West Mailing. Air-firing and convoy patrols followed throughout the rest of May and into June, and on the 16th, during a Blenheim escort operation, Pilot Officer Sandman claimed a probable when a Bf 109F was seen diving to earth after he attacked it.

During the rest of the month, Ghawdex carried out further Blenheim escorts and a lot of ‘Rodeos’. Its last recorded flight with 74 was on July 6, a sweep flown by Sgt Lockhart. 

After overhaul by Air Service Training (AST), very likely at Hamble, Hants, W32 12 was transferred to 92 (East India) Squadron on then operating from Biggin Hill on September 17. On September 24 the squadron moved to Gravesend and remained there until October 20, when it moved to Digby, Lincs.

Over the next few months Ghawdex undertook convoy patrols, air-firing practice and even formation flying. When 92 left for the Middle East in February 1 942, the Spitfire was allocated to 417 (City of Windsor) Squadron, RCAF on the 6th. It saw no operational service with 417, hut four days later while it was being flown by Sgt Hazel from Digby to Colerne, Wilts, it ran out of fuel due to a faulty gauge over Bath and force- landed at Charmy Down in Somerset.

NAVY CALL-UP

Though only slightly damaged, Ghawdex was sent to 9 Maintenance Unit, Cosford, Shropshire, on May 26, 1942, where it was stored. On February F, 1943, it was transferred to AST at Hamble who undertook repair and conversion to Seafire lB status for carrier-borne operations. The serial number was changed to NX88 I and at this point, if not before, the name Ghawdex will have disappeared from below the cockpit.

NX883 entered Fleet Air Arm service with 897 Squadron at Lee-on Solent, Hants, on April 23, 1943. Beyond that it flew with 748 Squadron at St Merryn, Cornwall, to August 1941; 761 Squadron at Henstridge, Somerset to October 1944; 759 Squadron at Yeovilton, Somerset, to March 1945.

In the spring of 1945, Seafire lB NX883 was issued to 768 Squadron and embarked upon the escort carrier HMS Ravager until at least May 1945. The exact fate of NXS8 I, once Spitfire V Ghawdex, is unknown.

Sadly the Maltese presentation Spitfires never saw service in the islands. A letter in The Times of Malta dated January 15, 1941, bemoaning this fact read: “Sonic Maltese people are very anxious to know what has become of the money collected in Malta for the fighter planes, namely Malta and Ghawdex. “They were supposed to arrive in Malta by the end of the year. Nothing has been heard about them lately. Will the government please note this serious matter that concerns every Maltese citizen as it concerns me.”

In reply it was stated that the Spitfire fund had been overtaken by other purchases made possible by the generosity of the Maltese people. These included ambulances, the Maltese Relief Fund, Malta Mobile Canteens and many others. The reader was assured that two Spitfires had been purchased and were now in squadron service in the UK and that they were greatly contributing to the eventual defeat of the enemy.

Malta and Ghawdex did indeed play their part in the eventual victory. In memory of the very generous gift by the people of Malta and Gozo, a commemorative plaque was presented by the Ministry of aircraft Production to the Anglo-Maltese league. This and the two Spitfires themselves cemented a bond between people of Malta and Britain that is as strong today as it was then.

Taken from Robin's article in the August 2003 edition of FlyPast

If you would like to donate to the 2005 Spitfire fund and you are in Malta, please send cheques (payable to Merlins Over Malta) or cash to:

The Spitfire Fund
Malta Aviation Museum Foundation
Ta'Qali RBT 13
 
If you are in the UK please have a look at the donation page of this website.
 
Thank you!

 

 

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