The Airfields 


LUQA, originally a grass landing field, in 1938 had four paved runways under construction in order to overcome the bad weather restrictions of the other two airfields. This made Luqa modern by the standards of the day and a trial landing was made by Flt Lt George Burges in June 1939. When completed, Luqa was also used as Malta’s civilian airport, in fact the Italian airline Ala Littoria moved its operations there from Ta’ Qali which was subject to waterlogging. In preparation for war, Luqa became a RAF Station on 1st April 1940 and was to become the principal RAF Station on Malta. The three main runways were further extended during 1940 and 1941 and tarmaced in order to be able to handle the bombers; taxi-tracks, extensive dispersal areas and aircraft pens were also provided. On 19th September 1940 No.431 (General Reconnaissance) Flight, later to become No.69 Squadron, was the first operating unit at Luqa, this was followed by the arrival of Wellingtons on 30th October, which became No.148 Squadron on 1st December. Luqa was subjected to very heavy bombing in wartime, particularly in March and April 1941 and March and April 1942. A special visitor on 20th June 1943 was King George VI, when he visited Luqa aerodrome where he was received by Air Vice-Marshal Sir Keith Park, Air Officer Commanding, Malta and Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Mediterranean Air Command. Sir Keith Park received the accolade of knighthood from the King that same day.

HAL FAR, a grass airfield was the first to be built on Malta. Its origins stemmed from the need for an airfield on the Island at which to disembark the Fleet Air Arm carrier-based wheel-fitted aircraft, which were replacing floatplanes at this time. Initially attached to the Malta Naval Air Station at Kalafrana, the airfield was opened by the Governor and C-in-C, Field Marshal Lord Plumer, on 16th January, 1923; the first official flight of Service aircraft taking place on 19th February, 1924. As on 19th March 1929, Hal Far was upgraded to become a RAF Station in its own right. The first Station Commander, Wing Commander C W Nutting OBE DSC, did not, however, arrive from the UK until 10th May. The airfield’s stony surface was liable to become waterlogged during wet weather and later four flight paths were made available in 1940 and the following two years saw extensions to all flight paths especially to one in particular to be suitable for use by the bombers. A Station Fighter Flight consisting of four Sea-Gladiators was set-up shortly before the outbreak of war. Hal Far was to experience heavy bombing resulting in much damage to the station’s buildings and barracks.

TA’ QALI airfield had been laid down on the bed of an ancient lake. In pre-war times it had been used by civil airlines, its main customer being the Italian Ala Littoria. Its grassy surface, like Hal Far, deteriorated quickly in bad weather whilst in summer it turned to baked earth. By the time Italy entered hostilities in June 1940 obstructions were positioned around the airfield to prevent airborne landings. On 30th October instructions were received at Hal Far from HQ Mediterranean Command for Wing Commander J R O’Sullivan to proceed to the airport with a small HQ staff, with the task of forming a one-squadron fighter station there. On 8th November 1940 the airport became RAF Station Ta’ Qali, with No.261 Squadron moving in from Luqa on 20th November. Wing Commander J Warfield took over as Station Commander on 16th May 1941. A few days later No.249 Squadron arrived from the UK to replace No.261. No.249 Squadron was to become the top-scoring squadron on Malta, claiming also the 1000th enemy aircraft to fall to the Malta defences. Ta’ Qali airfield was subjected to heavy bombing during the course of the war.

SAFI was a dispersal strip between Luqa and Hal Far, with long taxi-ways and numerous aircraft pens. These pens were to prove vital for to the survival of the aircraft in the severe bombing of 1942. By January 1941 the construction of a paved runway had started. This was completed in February 1943 and was followed by a second runway, work on which commenced on 1st March. RAF Safi was formed on 20th March 1943 with Wing Commander Innes B Westmacott as Station Commander. Prior to the invasion of Sicily a number of VIP’s visited the airfield; these included General Montgomery on 4th July, Field Marshal Alexander on 7th July and General Eisenhower on 11th July. Later, Luftwaffe Bf109G-2, Black 13 of 2/JG.27 captured in Sicily and a Macchi C.202 were later brought to Safi as trophies.

QRENDI Construction work on the airfield was begun in 1940. This consisted of two tarmaced runways which were completed in 1942. The aerodrome was opened on 10th November by Air Vice-Marshal Park who ‘beat up’ the aerodrome in his personal Hurricane, coded OK2. The first squadron to move there was No.249 from Ta’ Qali, followed by No.229 Squadron in December. January 1943 saw the arrival of No.185 Squadron from Hal Far. At this time offensive sweeps over Sicily were the order of the day. These sweeps were kept up until the invasion of Sicily in July, after which the usefulness of the airfield diminished.

XEWKIJA airfield was constructed by the US Army Corps of Engineers in June 1943. The need for this aerodrome was in preparation for Operation ‘Husky’, the invasion of Sicily. The Allied Commanders anticipated that there was need for further Spitfire reinforcements to support General Patton’s Seventh Army before, during and after the initial stages of the invasion. As it was considered that the aerodromes on Malta would not be able to accommodate all the aircraft required for that undertaking the airfield was sited on the sister island of Gozo. Xewkija’s assigned unit was the USAAF 31st Fighter Group which comprised the 307th, 308th and 309th Fighter Squadrons. The airfield, consisting of two strips which had been laid in the incredibly short time of ten days, had a very short life and soon after the invasion forces had left the island, the land reverted to its former owners, the local farmers. One sad casualty was the historic Gourgion fortified house.

KALAFRANA SEAPLANE BASE Following a survey by the Admiralty to find a suitable site for a ‘seaplane shed’ work was authorised to start at the end of January 1916 at Kalafrana, within Marsaxlokk Bay. The base opened in July 1916. At the end of July five Curtiss H4 Small America flyingboats were flown out from Felixstowe to patrol the approaches to Malta and report the presence of enemy submarines. On 1st April 1918 Kalafrana became a RAF Seaplane base under the command of Colonel C J R Randall. Following a reorganisation of the RAF in Malta, Kalafrana became a self-accounting unit on 1st August 1923 and throughout the 1930s the Station, known at this stage as RAF Base Kalafrana, handled many visiting seaplanes and flyingboats. The base received its first bombs of the war in June 1940. The RAF Air Sea Rescue Unit and the Marine Craft Section operated their High Speed Launches and Seaplane Tenders from this base saving the lives of many downed aircrew.

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