Gloster Sea-Gladiator N5520 ‘Faith’

‘Faith’ is the sole survivor of the Gladiator biplanes that formed the Fighter Flight at Hal Far at the start of hostilities. This was one of the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm biplanes in storage at Kalafrana which had been left behind by HMS Glorious before sailing for the Norwegian campaign during early 1940. A number of these biplanes were loaned to the Royal Air Force by the Admiralty with which to improvise a temporary fighter aircraft unit, as the RAF did not have a single aircraft to resist the formidable Regia Aeronautica when Italy entered the War, as from midnight on 10th June 1940.

In later years these same Sea-Gladiators were to receive a tremendous amount of publicity. The story of ‘Faith’, ‘Hope’ and ‘Charity’ with their pilots flying them against overwhelming odds caught the imagination of many. Actually the Malta Gladiators’ single-handed defence of the Island lasted only a few days; nevertheless, despite their shortcomings they served a notable purpose. Regia Aeronautica pilots were led to believe that there were more of the biplanes than there actually were. Furthermore, the destruction of the first enemy aircraft of the war over Malta was credited to a Gladiator pilot.

N5519 ‘Charity’ was completely destroyed when it was shot down on 31st July 1940, whilst N5531 ‘Hope’ was wrecked in a bombing raid on Hal Far on 4th February 1941. It is recorded that ‘Faith’ was still flying Meteorological Flights in January 1942. Sometime later the fuselage skeleton was placed in a disused quarry at Kalafrana from where it was recovered and lightly repaired and decorated. On 3rd September 1943, in a ceremony which was held on the Palace Square, Valletta, Air Vice-Marshal Sir Keith Park, on behalf of the Royal Air Force, presented the aircraft to Chief Justice Sir George Borg, who received it on behalf of the People of Malta.

For the next twenty-two years ‘Faith’ was displayed in the Palace Armoury at Valletta being refurbished in 1961 by No.103 Maintenance Unit. Further restoration and refurbishment was carried out during 1973 at RAF Luqa. The legendary veteran made its last sortie, this time to the War Museum at Fort St Elmo, Valletta, in 1974.

Since the formation of the Malta Aviation Museum Foundation in 1994, further developments have taken place. A successful search for surviving wing parts from overseas sources has yielded parts from two sets of wings. The RAF Museum in Hendon has provided parts from their stores in Cardington, of Gladiators found in the 1970s at the bottom of Lake Lesjaskog, in Norway, whilst the Finnish Aviation Museum in Vantaa, Finland, has provided parts from another Gladiator wreck. The Malta Aviation Museum Foundation is confident that the reconstruction of a complete set of wings for N5520 is now possible.

Hawker Hurricane MkIIa Z3055

Just ten days after the breakout of hostilities in the Mediterranean Hurricanes staging through Luqa on transit to the Middle East were kept at Malta as reinforcements. Early in August 418 Flight, consisting of twelve Hurricanes, was ferried to Malta via aircraft-carrier HMS Argus and was amalgamated to Fighter Flight Malta to form No.261 Squadron, with Hurricanes as its main strength. This reinforcement of Hurricanes to Malta by aircraft-carriers was the first of thirteen operations which saw the safe arrival of 323 Hurricanes out of the 346 launched.

On 4th July 1941 Sgt Tom Hackston of No.126 Squadron (formerly No.46 Squadron) took-off from Safi in Hurricane IIa Z3055 at 03.45am for a dawn patrol; he failed to return. His aircraft was recovered on 19th September 1995 from the seabed off the Blue Grotto, close to Wied iz-Zurrieq. The aircraft lay at a depth of 43 metres and fishing nets often got caught on the wreckage. Following its recovery and identification the cleaning process began in earnest and the reason for its ditching soon became clear as the Merlin engine showed signs of overheating on one of its cylinder banks. This must have resulted in an engine seizure thus not permitting Hackston to return to base.

The reconstruction of the aircraft is currently underway, initially being sponsored by Mr Frank Salt of Frank Salt Real Estate Ltd, in memory of his father, Flt Lt J H Salt and the groundcrews that he served with during the Second World War in Malta. From overseas, Hawker Restorations Ltd, have provided exchange and missing parts, whilst the reconstruction is in the capable hands of David Polidano, with the help of some MAMF members. The aircraft will be restored to its wartime configuration and taxiing condition. The Hackston family has been contacted and relatives of his have since visited the project to see for themselves the re-birth of Tom’s former mount.

Hurricane IIa Z3055 was constructed as part of the fifth production batch of 1,000 aircraft built by Hawker Aircraft at Kingston or Weybridge between 14/01/41 and 28/07/41, in a batch of 49 aircraft with serials Z3050 to Z3099 and fitted with a Merlin XX engine. Details from Form AM 78 reveal that the aircraft was delivered from the factory to 48MU at Hawarden on 27/02/41 and prepared for squadron service. It was transferred to Abbotsinch on 17/03/41 but only stayed until it was transferred to 5MU at Kemble on 26/03/41, and was delivered back to Abbotsinch on 18/05/41 for shipment to Malta. It was taken on charge at Malta in July 1941.

Vickers Armstrong Spitfire MkIX EN199

First flown at Eastleigh on 28th November 1942, En199 reached the North African front at the end of January 1943. Wing Commander Ronald Berry DFC chose EN199 as his personal mount and had his initials RB applied to the fuselage. Berry claimed enemy aircraft destroyed whilst flying this aircraft which was later flown by Squadron Leader Colin F Gray. From North Africa En199 moved to Ta’ Qali, Malta, where with No.154 Squadron it took part in the invasion of Sicily when further enemy aircraft were claimed destroyed. EN199 moved to the Italian mainland taking part in operations with No.1435 Squadron in 1944 and later with No.225 Squadron in 1945. Later that year in October EN199 was back on Malta at Hal Far taking part in Meteorological Flights and the following January it moved over to Luqa joining No.73 Squadron. On 23rd December 1946 it was blown into a quarry during a gale and was struck off charge on 30th January 1947.

Following repairs EN199 was presented to the Air Scouts, within the Boy Scout Movement and placed at their Island Headquarters in Floriana. Sadly, within a short while the Spitfire fell into a very sorry state and was considered to be dangerous to the young scouts. The aircraft was then passed onto the Civil Defence Corps at the ‘Gharghur Enclosure’. Here it was used in the several rescue training courses that were held during 1955. A further move to the new Rescue and Training Wing at Targa Battery, Mosta, took place in April 1956. The aircraft was left purposely in a dismantled state to simulate as realistically as possible an air crash in open countryside. When its services were no longer required the Spitfire lay dismembered for several years exposed to the elements and vandals which took their toll leaving very little remains.

The National War Museum Association collected the parts in 1974, however little progress was made and these were sent to a scrap yard. By a stroke of luck EN199’s remains survived under tons of scrap and in 1992 Ray Polidano extricated them and started its reconstruction in earnest. Sponsorship for the project was forthcoming from Mid-Med Bank plc (main sponsor), the Museums Dept and the National War Museum Association. A number of aviation-minded friends, some from overseas, helped all along the reconstruction process until the aircraft was completed to static condition in time for the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of VE-Day, when it was displayed to the public on the Palace Square in Valletta on 5th May 1995. It now has pride of place in the Aviation Museum at Ta’ Qali.

Fairey Swordfish MkII HS491

Although obsolete by wartime standards, the Swordfish, affectionately known as ‘Stringbag’ among RN Fleet Air Arm pilots, played a notable role during the Second World War as a torpedo bomber. It distinguished itself initially in April 1940 during the Norwegian campaign, later on in November by sinking and damaging units of the Italian Battle Fleet in Taranto harbour and later still by crippling the German battleship Bismarck. Swordfish were also in action in convoy protection both in the Mediterranean and Atlantic zones.

Swordfish biplanes operated from Hal-Far, Malta, in attacks against North African, Sicilian and Italian ports and installations, in addition to strikes against shipping carrying supplies to Rommel’s Afrika Korps. It was a Swordfish pilot who made an emergency landing on the Italian island of Lampedusa, and in return, almost comically, received the surrender of the same island.

As no example of a wartime Swordfish aircraft survived on Malta, one had to be sourced from overseas. This was made possible during 2004 when Canadian Bob Spence offered a substantial kit-of-parts for sale to our museum. Funding was provided generously by friends of our museum. Although missing several items, including the engine, it is believed that at the end of a long term restoration a most satisfactory result will be obtained.

de Havilland Tiger Moth DH82 DE730

A basic trainer with the RAF since 1932, the Tiger Moth was still in use more than fifteen years later and is one of the well-loved aeroplanes ever built. Many examples were built in the United Kingdom and many more in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Most Royal Air Force pilots trained in Tiger Moths including some Americans.

Our Tiger Moth, with civil registration G-ANFW, was purchased from the United Kingdom.

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