The R.A.F's fighter defence aircraft saving Malta

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by helmitsmit, Mar 11, 2008.

  1. helmitsmit

    helmitsmit Member

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    I was wondering how did the RAF's aircraft compare as fighters to their opponents over Malta?

    How did the Sea Gladiators do so well? How come they weren't shot out of the sky?

    How did the Hurricane mk 1 do against the Macchi 200 and 202 and Me 109 E/F? What was it's strengths and weaknesses and how did it servive? Did the cannon mk 2 change things?

    When the Spitfire mk V came along did they kick arse like everyone on Malta expected? How did they compare?

    Basically, I am reading "A band of Eagles" and it is set in Malta with those RAF Pilots. That got me interested!
     
  2. Jerry W. Loper

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    ...based on what I know of the aircraft:

    (1) the Gladiators did well against Italian bombers and maybe Italian biplane fighters but would have been outclassed by modern monoplane fighters; (2) the Hurricane Mk. I would have been superior to the Macchi MC-200, and with a competent pilot would have been able to handle the Me-109E, but would have been outclassed by the MC-202 and the Me-109F, and (3) the Spitfire Mk. V would have been roughly equal to the Me-109F and MC-202 and would have outclassed all the other Axis fighters mentioned.
     
  3. helmitsmit

    helmitsmit Member

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    yet thegladiators shot down lots of fighters too. And I thought the hurricanes were equal to the Machi 200 because of the volkes filter certainly no better.
     
  4. Njaco

    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
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    One equation that I believe made the difference - very dedicated RAF pilots!
     
  5. helmitsmit

    helmitsmit Member

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    Yeah true. I think this was a greater achievement the BoB! Because short supplies much more out numbered and bigger apparent disadvantage of aircraft performance fighter-fighter.
     
  6. merlin

    merlin Member

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    You mustn't forget the Commanders too!

    With his success in Malta it made the score:

    Park Two - Kesselring Nil
     
  7. Célérité

    Célérité Member

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    It's not very famous but Malta was an important air battle.I invite you to read George Beurling if you don't know him. He was an hero of the battle of Malta.
     
  8. Watanbe

    Watanbe Member

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    I have always found Beurling to be an interesting and strange character! He was certaintly a brilliant ace with nerves of steel, but was despised by his fellow comrades. His disregard for his own safety and that of his formation made him an unpopular figure.
     
  9. pbfoot

    pbfoot Active Member

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    popular myth Buerling was more comfortable in the company of the guys who maintained the aircraft he maintained his own weapons this irked the the RAF types as it wasn't done. He did not drink nor smoke these things alone made him different then 99.9% of other aircrew . He was well respected by his fellow pilots and was eager to teach them the art of deflection shooting . He did not respect authority
    http://www.ww2aircraft.net/forum/st...ing-leading-canadian-ace-2281.html#post267704
     
  10. peter benn

    peter benn New Member

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    Regarding Hurricanes and Spitfires at Malta, three very good scholarly hardcovers are "Malta: the Hurricane Years" (Shores/Cull), "Malta: the Spitfire Year" (Shores/Cull), and "249 At War" (Cull).

    Most economically bought used on sites like abebooks, etc., these resources enable you to pinpoint the scrambles on a certain day and often by the clock (the two "Malta" volumes deal with all squadrons on the island), and see all the combat claims for 249 chronologically, with aircraft i.d.'s (249 At War).

    A bonus is that the bibliographies in these volumes list just about every other important book on Malta.
     
  11. kool kitty89

    kool kitty89 Well-Known Member

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    Also performance of the Gladiators would be improved as many had been refitted with 3-blade variable-pitch props and with 100 octane gasoline the Mercury could make nearly 1000 hp up to ~9,000 ft.
     
  12. Guns'n'Props

    Guns'n'Props Member

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    I'm reading "Band of Eagles ..." at the moment. I've got to the last chapter. Essentially it's a good read / primer to 41-42 in Malta. The author obviously does take his license but there are some incidents that can be readily identified with the real history.

    As stated by Peter Benn "Malta: the Hurricane Years" (Shores/Cull), "Malta: the Spitfire Year" (Shores/Cull), and "249 At War" (Cull)" are probably as good as they get. More recently Cull et al have issued "hurricanes over Malta", "Spitfires over Malta" and "Spitfires over Sicily". These are essentially updated / improved versions of the Hurricane Years / Spitfire Year. It seems that over the years research has uncovered little incidents that may require some stories to be re-told.

    There are lots of other books typically memoirs like "One man's window" - Denis Barnham, "Onward to Malta" - T.F Neil and "Thorn in Rommel's side" by P.B. "Laddie" Lucas.

    Overall life as a pilot in Malta was not easy. Initially the Gladiators could mount a spirited if token defence against the Italians until Hurricanes were flown in. When the Germans moved into Sicily in late '40 early '41 Munchenberg (hope I got the spelling right) of JG26 made life hell for the Hurris with a hefty number of kills to NO losses (except flying accidents). Luckily Barbarossa kicked off and the RAF could regroup and hold the Italians at bay. Hurri vs Macchi 200 were quite even. The 202 was obviously better but things really fouled up when the Luftwaffe returned in Winter'41. Unlike Band of Eagles the RAF in Malta were still flying vee/vic formations in early '42 until the arrival of Stan Turner RCAF - one of Bader's men. He brought with him "finger 4 " or as they called it later "the Malta form". In March'42 the first Spitfires were flown in. Being very secret no one was prepared and within 24hrs most were non-operational. Further fly ins were more successful until eventually a decent strength of Spits was built up.The Spit was well matched with the 109F but the Germans usually had the advantage of numbers. Life in the air remained fraught with danger until around Oct'42 when the Luftwaffe wound down their attacks.
     
  13. lesofprimus

    lesofprimus Active Member

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    Here is a IL2 music video I put together featuring Malta and Beurling...

    Video is all about George "Buzz" Beurling, whose Canadian ass was flyin Spifires over Malta with Squadron 249 on October 14th, 1942...

    In this Historical Mission Portrayal, Beurling snared one Ju-88 and two Bf-109s... But he forgot about his own tail, while going after his next victim... His Spit got peppered with cannon shells, being wounded in the chest, leg and heel.... Semiconscious, he managed to bail out of his holed Spitfire MkVc before a hoard of 109's....

    http://www.ww2aircraft.net/forum/at...esofprimus-il2-video-clips-09-dans-escape.wmv

    [​IMG]
     
  14. Guns'n'Props

    Guns'n'Props Member

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    Hi Les I'm impressed!!

    I'm a local - where/how did you get the Maltese islands back ground for IL2 ?

    I actually met his boss Sqdr Ldr P. B."Laddie" Lucas a number of times before he passed away.
    It seems when Buzz arrived in Malta with other replacement pilots his reputation preceded him. When the local SqrLeaders went to choose their new "team" members none were too keen to get Buzz's but Laddie(being the typical English gentleman) decided to give him a chance.

    In those days of May / June 42 pairs and fours were key to survival in the air. If you've ever sat in a Spitfire (or most other single engined WW2 plane) backward visibility is next to zero. On the other hand Beurling had great situational awareness, apart from flying skill,superb eyesight and aim - essentially he didn't need a wingman - at least not as much as the others. The fact that the enemy would come over regularly in clear skies and in great numbers made Malta his ideal hunting ground. Like Marseille of JG27 he was master of deflection shooting.

    Couple of points if I may:
    1.) the 4 cannon Spit V was used in Malta but not very popular due to its slower rate of roll.Most had 2 cannon taken out. Laddie told me this himself.
    2.) As the sun in Malta rises in the South East moving gradually towards the SW the RAF would usually gain height in that direction and try to attack out of the sun.
     
  15. NZTyphoon

    NZTyphoon Member

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    Some comments by Wing Commander A.E Louks (Command Engineering Officer on Malta 1940-41)
    Flt Lt Pickering (Sergeant Pilot with 261 Squadron, August 1940 - April 41)

    The first Hurricanes were flown to Malta via France and Tunisia. They were the first Hurricanes to be fitted with long-range fuel tanks - a single 49 gallon fuel tank under each wing; these were not drop tanks because they could not be jettisoned, except in dire emergency - and the Vokes tropical filter. Eight Hurricanes had reached Malta by June 22 1940, the Gladiators achieved their first successful combat.
     
  16. Nikademus

    Nikademus Member

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    Hi,

    During the first year, prior to the Luftwaffe's arrival, UK Hurricanes compared favorably to their Italian opponents. The MC-200 was considered slightly better than the Hurricane but teething problems led to them being grounded for a time. Initial primary opponents were CR-42's. The Hurricane pilots found these to be tougher opponents than the biplane-monoplane comparison might typically suggest. The Italian pilots were respected by the British and they utilized their planes great maneuverability to offset to a degree the advantages of the Hurricanes. The Gladiators did much the same before the Hurricanes arrived in force. The Gladiator - Cr-42 matchup was pretty much even.

    Thing to remember is that Italian raids tended to consist of very small bomber contingents escorted by larger swaths of fighters. (Sometimes very large contingents). However the Italian escorts did not all have radios so coordination between all the various units was limited. On average the Malta defenders tended to scramble half a dozen planes when a raid was detected and despite the often great disperity in numbers, the UK pilots could peck at isolated elements of an incoming raid and then get out of dodge. Greatest challenge was getting up to altitude in time. Italians (and Germans) came in at higher altitudes and despite the presence of radar equipped early warning stations, the UK scramblers would often have to do so and go in a southernly direction, then turning north towards an incoming raid while clawing for altitude. It was a rarity when the defenders could get enough altitude to institute a bounce. Even when they did the priority target was always the bombers.

    Once the Luftwaffe arrived, things went downhill fast. Due to a variety of factors, including the high experience and advantages of the 109 in speed and vertical maneuvering, The Germans shot down many Hurricanes for few losses. One German Staffel (7/JG-26 IIRC) shot down 35 Hurricanes in a 5 month period in early 41 suffering no losses at all, mainly using "Freie Jagd" tactics in Rotte sized forces. (2 planes)

    Arrival of Spitfires did help, but the Germans remained tough opponents requiring the British to conduct multiple replenishment sorties using carriers to fly in more Spitfires.
     
  17. Guns'n'Props

    Guns'n'Props Member

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    Hi helmitsmit
    re "When the Spitfire mk V came along did they kick arse like everyone on Malta expected? How did they compare? "

    Essentially plane vs plane the Spit V and 109F were fairly matched each having its particular qualities that sort of canceled out the other's advantage. The problem was that it took quite a few months and fly ins to build up enough strength to seriously challenge the German attacks. April '42 was considered the worst month of the war in Malta. Some raids went unchallenged because there weren't enough serviceable Spits / Hurris. According to "Spitfire Year 1942" by Shores / Cull / Malizia pg 227 : at least 22 Spits and 19 Hurris were destroyed on the ground and 6727 tons of bombs dropped. Compared to Feb 993 tons and Mar 2147 it was an incredible amount for such a small place.

    The Germans were also generally more experienced although the RAF learnt fast. As I mentioned earlier in some post by the time the Spits arrived in March they had learned to fly finger 4 and pairs. More experienced ground controllers were posted to Malta i.e. Group Capt. A. B. Woodhall helped to improve tactics.

    The 2nd Spitfire fly in (Op. Calendar Apr 20) was not well co-ordinated and within 48hrs only 7 Spits were serviceable from 46 that arrived. Operation Bowery May 9 brought a further 64. This was well organised with each plane refueled and armed within minutes of arrival. The turning point was said have been reached on May18 with Operation LB flying in another 16.

    Between Jun3 and Oct29 HMS Furious and Eagle (sunk Aug 11) would fly a further 213

    On 14July '42 AVM Keith Park took over as AOC and the fighters gradually started taking a more offensive stance such that by Nov'42 they were conducting fighter / bomber operations over Sicily.
     
  18. Glider

    Glider Well-Known Member

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    #18 Glider, Oct 1, 2009
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2009
    Using the same source "Spitfire Year 1942" by Shores / Cull / Malizia pg 227, it works out that during April, each airfield received on average approx 27 tons of bombs each and every day for the month, no exceptions. In conditions like that the RAF did wonders to mount any operations.

    An aside, if you have an interest in the Malta Battles then the two books quoted Malta the Spitfire Year 1942 and Malta The Hurricane Years are first class references and well worth it. I admit they can be pricy but I was able to find second hand ones on the web which helped
     
  19. Guns'n'Props

    Guns'n'Props Member

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    And if you've ever been here, the place isn't that big and neither were the airfields. Hence the many blast pens. Dispersal was key.

    Malta the Spitfire Year 1942 and Malta The Hurricane Years have been "re-done" as "Spitfires over Malta" and "Hurricanes over Malta" over the last 10 years circa. There's also a follow up "Spitfires over Sicily" which covers 1943 and the invasion of Sicily Operation Husky. All three are by B Cull with N Malizia and Frederick Galea (local historian and Secretary of the War Museum).

    There are lots of books on the subject: the Osprey Aircraft of the Aces series #83 Malta Spitfire Aces gives a pretty decent overview that won't break the bank:). Many Malta veterans wrote their memoirs (or were subject of works by other authors )etc and many of these are available in paperback.
     
  20. Juha

    Juha Well-Known Member

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    Being in hurry I'll simply cut and paste my 2½ years old answer

    Some facts on the last LW effort to neutralize Malta.

    If we compared the failed LW and RA bombing campaign against Malta during the first part of Oct. 42 and the Tunisia campaign, it seems to me that the Axis problem was the weak defensive power of their bombers which their fighter pilots could not effectively compensate if they operated against well integrated fighter defence. I don't have time to read the Shores' et al Malta the Spitfire Year (1991) but have to rely on Playfair's et al The Mediterranean and Middle East IV (1966) but Shores' article The Long Struggle for Malta in his Duel for the Sky (1985) is in agreement with the first book. Axis flew 2400 sorties against Malta in 9 days and the defending fighters flew 1115 sorties.Playfair p. 195 "...At first Axis used formations as big as 80 Ju 88s escorted by nearly double that number of fighters, but by 15th Oct. as few as 14 bombers were being escorted by nearly 100 fighters. By 18th Oct, after heavy losses in bombers, the enemy had given up using his Ju 88s altogether in favour of Me 109 fighter bombers...The British lost 30 Spitfires in the air ... and only 2 a/c - one Beaufighter and one Spitfire - on the ground. German records disclose the loss of 9 fighters and 35 bombers, some of which fell to the guns" and Italian losses were unknown. Later in same page"...so effective were the air defences of Malta that strikes against Axis shipping were carried out every night exept one, on which no enemy ship came within range of the island."

    Shores, on the article p. 92 "...Again and again the formations of Ju 88s, protected by swarms of Messerschmitts and Macchis, attempted to fight their way through to their targets. And again and again they were thwarted."

    On losses, on same page "...at least 30 Ju 88s were lost and 13 more damaged seriously, some of them to written-off levels...at least a dozen Bf 109s and MC 202s being shot down and another 10 or so badly damaged...27 Spitfires being shot down during seven days and more than 20 more crash-landing or suffering heavy damage..."

    IMHO Bf 109F-4 was the best air-superiority fighter when it came to service, but it suffered a lack of fire power as an interceptor, Spit V had appr. a twice the firepower than Bf 109F-4 and the fact that Spit's firepower wasn't so concentrated didn't matter much in attacks against bombers. Bf 109F-4 was maybe too optimized for fighter vs fighter combat and that made the stopping of Allied bombers (excluding Bisleys) difficult. On the other hand Spit Vs had enough firepower to hurt the German bombers if they got to firing position and if the British had a good fighter control system as on Malta they usually got there even if the German and Italian fighters could make them pay a price but British fighter pilots based on Malta had the guts to force their way to bombers in the extent that the were able to force the bombers away from their targets.

    Juha
     
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