Air defence of Malta during the Second World War is popularised by a story of the Sea Gladiator biplanes nicknamed Faith, Hope and Charity. Their fight against odds with Italian bombers in June and July 1940 is one of the most famous episodes of the war. Malta a small island named “Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier” by Sir Winston Churchill was a vital strongpoint to break Axis supplies routes to Africa. It was also the place of the tropical Hurricane baptism of fire. One of the first to fight there was Hurricane P3831/J.
Hurricane Mk I Trop, 418 Flight, Operation Hurry, 2 August 1940 . Artwork by Marcin Górecki.
When Italy joined Germany in the invasion of France on 10th June 1941, it was only a matter of time, when the fight in Africa began. Italian possessions in Libya and Ethiopia were close neighbours to UK colonies in Sudan and Kenya as well as Egypt (See a story on Hurricanes in Ethiopia link). Malta was a key to Italian operations in Africa. Air and naval forces based on the island may affect badly Italian supply routes.
From the first day of the siege of Malta Italian Air Force launched several air raids daily. Tens of bombers with fighter escort tried to destroy airfields and harbour of the island. A few Sea Gladiator biplane fighters were found in crates and assembled to form ad hoc organised fighter unit. First Hurricanes arrived on late June evacuated from France, but only five of them remained in Malta while rest left to Egypt. Hurricane Mk I P3731/J come with a group of twelve Hurricanes from 418 Flight on August and formed a backbone of air defence for following months.
Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 bombers from 193a Squadriglia (see aerila victories list at the end of article), photo: CC BY-SA 3.0
418 flight was organised in great secrecy at the end of July 1940. Several RAF fighter pilots experienced with carrier operations were ordered to RAF Uxbridge when Battle of Britain started. They were embarked on an old aircraft carrier HMS Argus and dispatched to Gibraltar with 12 new Hurricanes and two Blackburn Skuas. They joined naval Force H that left Gibraltar heading to Malta on 31st July. On 2nd August HMS Ark Royal launched an air strike on Cagliari harbour in Sardinia. It was a diversion to distract enemy attention from HMS Argus and Hurricanes flying to Malta. Twelve of them were launched in two groups of six each led by Skua bomber. All arrived at Malta undetected, but one Hurricane and one Skua crash landed. Ground personnel trained in Hurricane service came on board of two submarines, HMS Pandora and HMS Proteus.
Hurricane Mk I trop Operation Hurry colours
Two Hurricane Mk I trop on the flight deck of HMS Argus carrier, “Operation Hurry”, July-August 1940. Aeroplane to the right with desert camouflage. Aeroplane to the left probably in temperatew land scheme with unpainted Vokes filter. Photo Tony O’Toole collection.
Tropical Hurricanes send to Malta were already fitted with Vokes air filter. Aeroplanes were painted with general RAF camouflage scheme of Dark Green/Dark Earth blotches. A number of them were repainted with desert camouflage. P3731/J has green blotches overpainted with a new colour then named Mid Stone.
Hurricane Mk I Trop nr P3731/J on airfiled in Malcie. Photo Tony O’Toole collection.
Under surfaces were not painted with tropical colour. Neither Sky Blue nor Azure Blue was used. The right half of under surfaces was painted black, the left side was painted white. It was the recognition scheme to help Observer Corps posts to spot friendly aeroplanes. It was used until IFF were operational in the area. Overseas bases received such modern equipment later during the war. An excellent example is Buffalo fighters still painted black/white in Singapore in 1941-42. Some Vokes filters were left in natural metal colour.
Two examples of Hurricane Mk I trop with black-white under surfaces. To the left is aeroplane from 261 squadron RAF in Malta, to the right aeroplane from unknown unit in North Africa. Photos Tony O’Toole Collection
Hurricanes delivered during Operation Hurry joined reformed 261 Squadron in mid-August 1940. Unit defended Malta in the following months with success. Hurricanes were delivered by HMS Argus several times. When German Forces in Africa built up in spring 1941 unit was hard pressed by Bf-109E fighters. In May 1941 262 Squadron was disbanded, and its pilots and aeroplanes joined new 185 Squadron that just arrived at Malta.
Colour profile of the Hurricane Mk I Trop P3731, Artwork by Zbyszek Malicki.
Hurricane P3731 Aerial Victories
There is a list of the Hurricane P3731/J aerial victories in defence of Malta:
- 17 September 1940 F/SGT H. W Ayre shot down Ju-87
- On night 18/19 November 1940 F/SGT F. Robertson shot down „night intruder”, S.79 bomber from 193a Squadriglia piloted by Tenente Giulio Molteni, all aircrew perished.
- 18 January 1941 F/L G. Burges shot down Ju-87
- 19 January 1941 F/SG T F. Robertson shot down CR-42 and another one CR-42 probable
- 1 February 1941 P/O Pain damaged Ju-88 (crashed on Sicily)
- 12 February 1941 P/O Pain shot down Bf-109E
- 5 March 1941 H. W Ayre shot down 1/3 Bf-110
- 5 March 1941 H. W Ayre shot down Ju-88
- 18 March 1941 P/O Pain shot down CR-42 and second CR-42 probable
Hurricane P3731 was then transferred to 127 Squadron RAF and shot down by Vichy fighter Dewoitine D520 in July 1941 over French Syria.
Many thanks to Mr Tony O’Toole for help with research and providing photos from his collection
- Hurricanes Over Malta: June 1940 – April 1942, by Brian Cull, Frederick Galea, Grub Street Publishing 2002
- Hawker Hurricane and Sea Hurricane, by Tony O’Toole, Pen & Sword Books Ltd 2014
- Hurricane Aces of World War 2 (Osprey Aircraft of the Aces) by Tony Holmes, Osprey Publishing 1998
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