Hal Far Airfield 1923 - 1945
 
 The beginning


The first permanent airfield to be constructed in the Maltese Islands was the Hal Far airfield, a site that gained in its popularity throughout the decades from the British Royal Navy air crews. Its strategic importance provided a base for a number of flying units that disembarked from carriers carrying different important missions besides providing armament training by squadrons on their arrival. But to understand the importance of Hal Far airfield one has to understand how all this started from the outbreak of the First World War, where naval aviation was still in its infancy.

July 1914, the Royal Navy Air Services had been created at Eastchurch, Britain, as an aerial spotting arm of the Royal Navy which was also a separate entity from the Armyís Royal Flying Corps. When the Gallipoli campaign started on 25th April 1915, the Royal Navy Air Services started operating from France and Britain. This included air support from seaplanes which operated from HMS Ark Royal as well as landplanes.

The presence of German submarines first in the Aegean Sea and later in the Mediterranean prompted the Admiralty in London to build a seaplane base in Malta, which was already an important naval base. By July 1916, a seaplane hangar and slipway was constructed at Kalafrana-Marsaxlokk. By the end of July 1916, five Curtiss America flying boats were despatched from Felixstowe to Kalafrana together with seven pilots, two Warrant Officers and mechanics. Their mission was to patrol the area, occasionally attacking submarines and to detect enemy vessels and mines to convoys.

Without doubt the Felixstowe F2A which was an improved version of the Curtiss America became the most useful aircraft in submarine detection. This produced a great demand for these seaplanes. It was Commodore Murray Sueter who was in charge of the Kalafrana base in Malta proposed that the machines should be built at the Malta Drydocks because there was little that the dockyard could not do. This was approved by the Admiralty in June 1917 and by November of the same year the first boat out of a series of twelve was flying.

It was in this period that the Kalafrana base passed through a continuous phase of expansion. In 1st April 1918 the Royal Navy Air Services lost its separate identity and became part of the new Royal Air Force (RAF). The objective was to centralize operations to control combat aviation and to bring to an end the competing claims between the Royal Navy Air Services and the Royal Flying Corps. The story of the British naval aviation was not a happy one for the next twenty years. The carrier-borne component of the Royal Air Force which was referred to as the Fleet Air Arm passed through apathy and neglect at the Air Ministryís hands.

Kalfrana thus became an RAF seaplane base under the command of Colonel C R J Randall. This was made up of 267 Squadron comprising of Felixstowe F2A and F3 flying boats whereas the 268 Squadron was comprised of Short 184 and 320 floatplanes. In the summer of 1918 two DH-9ís were flown from the Marsa Sports Ground to search for submarines when the state of the sea made it impossible to take-off. The DH-9ís were the first shore-based operational aircraft to be based in Malta.