During that period bombing took place to three to four times
daily. The Italian bombers were not particularly protected and turned tail to
the first site of opposition. The objective of the British at that time was to
find ships that were transporting supplies and cargo to Sicily and Rommel’s
forces in North Africa. The Maltese population took it quite well and business
was usual until supplies started to become scarce. The Maltese eventually
learned to live with the constant air raids.
Subsequent Italian raids were faced with Gladiators from the
Fighter flight which brought down an Italian aircraft. A legend was created
around these Sea Gladiators of Faith, Hope and Charity even though they served
for 10 days alone until the Hawker Hurricane reinforcements arrived on 21st
Also in June 1940 twelve of the Swordfish which formed part of
No. 767 Naval Air Squadron from HMS Furious were transferred from Tunisia. The
newly formed No. 830 Naval Air Squadron carried out several raids on enemy
targets until several of the aircraft were damaged by various Italian raids
making the squadron ineffective.
The Fighter Flight was upgraded to 261 Squadron on 1st August
1940 as more Hurricanes joined forces from No. 418 Flight. This helped to
neutralize much of the Italian attacks, although some Italian bombers still
managed to get through. By November 1940, the squadron functioned from Ta’ Qali
as this became equipped with more Hurricanes.
The Maltese show no signs of giving in and British anti-aircraft
fire wears down Mussolini’s pilots. British submarines and seaplanes emerge
around Malta and constantly torpedo axis supply vessels. This activity is
becoming a torn in the side of the Germans and an embarrassment to the
Italians. On 15th September 1940, twenty Junkers 87s with Fiat CR 42s and
Macchi 200s managed to get through to drop delayed-action bombs at Hal Far. The
blitz on the Maltese Islands intensified in early 1941 as Luftwaffe Junkers 87
and Junkers 88 units were called back from the Russian front and stationed in
nearby Sicily. Field Marshall Kesserling is given control of 2000 top rate
aircraft. Kesserling’s mission is to get control of the air and sea between
South Sicily and North Africa.
The German Air Force were by far more determined. They achieved
complete superiority on the Island at one time. The bombing was concentrated on
four main areas, the port area and the three airfields. So everything adjacent
to the port which was a highly populated area was flattened and everything
around the airfields were flattened.
After the HMS Illustrious was severely hit while escorting a
convoy, the Axis made a tremendous effort to damage the carrier in the harbour.
But the Anti-Aircraft defences were so effective that the Axis managed to
seriously hit the Illustrious only once. The HMS Illustrious left the Island
repaired in just 12 days. The remaining flying units of 815 and 819 Naval Air
Squadron Swordfish remained at Hal Far. These famous flying units were the ones
that raided the Taranto harbour raid with success.