AHQ Malta

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Air Headquarters Malta
Active 28 December 1941- 30 June 1968
Country United Kingdom
Branch Royal Air Force
Type Command
Part of RAF Middle East Command (1939)
Headquarters Valletta (1945)
Motto Accidet Nemo Impune
Royal Air Force Ensign Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg
The importance of defending AHQ Malta, the lone Allied bastion in the Mediterranean theater in 1942, is emphasized by this map of the Italian Mare Nostrum.

Air Headquarters Malta (AHQ Malta or Air H.Q. Malta) was an overseas command of the Royal Air Force (RAF) established on December 28, 1941 by renaming RAF Mediterranean under Air Vice Marshal Hugh Lloyd.[1] Lloyd had previously been named Air Officer Commanding in Malta on 1 June 1941.[2]

RAF Mediterranean had been based in Malta under one designation or another seemingly throughout the interwar period, spending some time known as 'Mediterranean Group.' No. 267 Squadron RAF and No. 268 Squadron RAF, both with seaplanes, were both formed at RAF Kalafrana in August 1918.[3] During 1940 Malta's air defence force had been built up from Faith, Hope, and Charity, the three famous Sea Gladiators of the Hal Far Fighter Flight.

Initially during the early stage of the Siege of Malta (World War II), Malta was not much of an offensive threat early in the North African Campaign. However it was considered an essential Allied stronghold as exemplified by Operation Pedestal and the other, often very costly, efforts to resupply the island.

On April 20, 1942, the USS Wasp delivered 47 Spitfires to Malta and the German Luftwaffe promptly destroyed 30 of them on the same day. Nonetheless, as these and other aircraft reached the island during the summer of 1942, the defensive and offensive capabilities of AHQ Malta rose.[4] On July 1, 1942, AHQ Malta had approximately 200 aircraft, about half of which were Spitfires.[5] Air Vice Marshal Sir Keith Park took over command of AHQ Malta On July 15, 1942.[1]

At this time, the island provided critical operational air bases for the Allies with proximity to Axis shipping lanes and the battlefields of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Pantelleria, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, and mainland Italy during World War II. There were three main airfields on Malta known as RAF Hal Far, RAF Luqa, and RAF Ta' Kali with an intermediate landing area known as the Safi Dispersal Strip.[6]

During the month of October, 1942 when the Second Battle of El Alamein was being waged, Allied forces were credited with the destruction of 59% of the German tonnage and 45% of the Italian tonnage shipped to Rommel's Axis forces in North Africa. In large part the result of AHQ Malta and the British and American heavy bombers of No. 205 Group, this attrition was a significant aspect of Rommel's defeat.[4]

In February 1943, AHQ Malta became a major sub-command of the Mediterranean Air Command (MAC) established at the Casablanca Conference in January.[7]

Order of battle July 1943[edit]

An Avro York of No. 246 Squadron RAF being loaded at RAF Luqa. Date not certain but between 1943 and 1945.

When the Allies invaded Sicily (Operation Husky) on July 10, 1943, AHQ Malta directed the units below.[5]

No. 248 Wing RAF Spitfire units Other units
No. 69 Squadron RAF Martin Baltimore No. 40 Squadron SAAF[8] No. 23 Squadron RAF, de Havilland Mosquito
No. 108 Squadron RAF, Bristol Beaufighter No. 126 Squadron RAF No. 73 Squadron RAF Det., Hurricane
No. 221 Squadron RAF, Vickers Wellington No. 185 Squadron RAF No. 256 Squadron RAF Det., Mosquito
No. 272 Squadron RAF, Beaufighter No. 229 Squadron RAF No. 600 Squadron RAF, Beaufighter
No. 683 Squadron RAF, Spitfire No. 249 Squadron RAF 815 Naval Air Squadron Det. (FAA), Fairey Albacore
826 Naval Air Squadron (FAA) No. 1435 Flight RAF No. 983 Balloon Squadron

Notes: SAAF=South African Air Force; Det.=Detachment. Some other squadrons and flights from the Northwest African Tactical and Coastal Air Forces were detached to Malta prior to the invasion of Sicily including Nos. 92 and 93 Squadrons and the 31st FIghter Group with Spitfires, 47th Bombardment Group with A-20s, and the 57th and 79th Fighter Groups with P-40s.

Some famous Aces stationed on Malta were Rhodesian Johnny Plagis and the Canadian fighter pilots George "Screwball" Beurling and Wally McLeod.[4]

After 1944, until British withdrawal[edit]

Air Vice Marshal R. M. Foster took over command of AHQ Malta on March 26, 1944 and Air Vice Marshal K. B. Lloyd took over on October 19, 1944. He commanded through the remainder of World War II and into June 1947. At this time the headquarters was located in Valletta. In mid 1945 the only flying units under the control of AHQ Malta were two air-sea rescue squadrons, No. 283 Squadron RAF flying Warwicks and Walruses from Hal Far, No. 284 Squadron RAF with the same types of aircraft from Elmas in Sardinia, 22 Squadron SAAF flying Venturas at Gibraltar, and 782 Naval Air Squadron, with Fulmars and Defiants at Hal Far. 782 NAS was administered by the local naval commander.[9] During 1946 the remaining installations in Algeria and Tunisia were handed back to the French Armed Forces, but this left AHQ Malta still commanding units in Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, and Maison Blanche in Algeria. Withdrawal from these locations took a few more months.

1946 also saw the arrival of No. 38 Squadron RAF, a maritime reconnaissance unit flying Warwicks and Wellingtons, and No. 73 Squadron RAF, flying Spitfire IXs. 73 Squadron initially flew from Hal Far, but was moved to Takali which allowed Hal Far to be handed over to Royal Navy carrier squadron usage6.[10] On 1 July 1947, AHQ Malta took over El Adem, Benina, and Castel Benito in Libya from No. 205 Group RAF in the Canal Zone. The AOC at the time, Air Vice Marshal C R Steele CB DFC, had these stations added just before the RAF presence at Elmas in Sardinia closed down, which took place on 10 December 1947.

Air Vice Marshal N.H. D'Aeth, the Air Officer Commanding until 1952, held the title of Fortress Commander during his term of office in Malta.

No. 37 Squadron RAF, which had arrived from Palestine in 1948, left Luqa for RAF Khormaksar in Aden in July 1957. While four Avro Shackleton aircraft and the squadron's identity were transferred to Aden, two aircraft were left to join No. 38 Squadron RAF, still at Luqa.[11] In 1965, Air Vice-Marshal Robert Deacon-Elliott arrived at Gibraltar to serve as both commander RAF Gibraltar and AOC AHQ Malta. His appointment also carried the responsibility of Deputy Commander-in-Chief (Air), Allied Forces Mediterranean.[12] 38 Squadron was disbanded early in 1967, and in 1968 the station at Takali also closed. AHQ Malta then disbanded on June 30, 1968. Air Vice Marshal Deacon-Elliott flew home the following day.

The remaining units were only Nos 13 and 39 Squadrons, both at Luqa flying photo-reconnaissance Canberras. The organisation and administration of the remaining units was passed to RAF Luqa, where an Air Commodore with the title of Air Commander Malta was installed, while overall control passed to Near East Air Force in Cyprus.[13] Air Commander Malta assumed direct command of RAF units assigned to Malta. On 1 February 1969 No. 203 Squadron RAF was transferred from RAF Ballykelly to Hal Far, though it soon moved to Luqa. Reequipment of the squadron from Shackletons to BAe Nimrods soon began. Thereafter 39 Squadron was moved back to Wyton in the UK in October 1970.[14]

203 Squadron was disbanded on 31 December 1977, and 13 Squadron flew home to Wyton in October 1978.[15] The post of Air Commander Malta ceased to exist with British withdrawal from Malta on 31 March 1979.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b http://www.rafweb.org/Cmd_O2.htm RAF Web Mediterranean Commands
  2. ^ Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation - Air Chf Marshal Sir Hugh Lloyd
  3. ^ Lee, 160
  4. ^ a b c Dick, Ron and Dan Patterson, Aviation Century World War II, Boston Mills Press, 2004.
  5. ^ a b Richards, D. and H. Saunders, The Royal Air Force 1939-1945 (Volume 2, HMSO, 1953).
  6. ^ The Air Battle of Malta. The Official Account of the R.A.F. in Malta, June 1940 to November 1942; Prepared for the Air Ministry by the Ministry of Information, London, UK, His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1944.
  7. ^ Craven, Wesley F. and James L. Cate. The Army Air Forces in World War II, Volume 2, Chicago, Illinois: Chicago University Press, 1949 (Reprinted 1983, ISBN 0-912799-03-X).
  8. ^ A reconnaissance unit
  9. ^ Lee, 162
  10. ^ Lee, 162-3
  11. ^ Lee, Wings in the Sun, 1989, 207.
  12. ^ Obituary: Air Vice-Marshal Robert Deacon-Elliott, Daily Telegraph, 18 June 1997.
  13. ^ Lee, Wings in the Sun, 1989, 213.
  14. ^ Lee, 213
  15. ^ Lee, 217-8

References[edit]

  • Craven, Wesley F. and James L. Cate. The Army Air Forces in World War II, Volume 2, Chicago, Illinois: Chicago University Press, 1949 (Reprinted 1983, ISBN 0-912799-03-X).
  • Richards, D. and H. Saunders, The Royal Air Force 1939-1945 (Volume 2, HMSO, 1953).
  • Howe, George F., Northwest Africa: Seizing the Initiative in the West, Center of Military History, Washington, DC., 1991.
  • Army Air Forces Historical Office Headquarters, Participation of the Ninth & Twelfth Air Forces in the Sicilian Campaign, Army Air Forces Historical Study No. 37, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, 1945.
  • The Air Battle of Malta. The Official Account of the R.A.F. in Malta, June 1940 to November 1942; Prepared for the Air Ministry by the Ministry of Information, London, UK, His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1944.

Further reading[edit]

  • Sir David Lee, Wings in the sun: a history of the Royal Air Force in the Mediterranean, 1945–1986, Air Force Dept. Air Historical Branch, Great Britain. Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1989.

External links[edit]