Saturday, 12 August 2017

Spitfires for Malta


HMS Eagle
 
In my recent book I wrote that the reputation of Mitchell’s fighter was further enhanced by the eventual lifting of the siege of Malta. In early 1941, the Luftwaffe had had to take over the action from the Italians and so reinforcements of Spitfires had to be flown in from H.M.S. Eagle (they did not have the range to go directly from Gibraltar). Eventually, sufficient numbers of Spitfires, better organized ground support and the deployment of many experienced pilots, led by the October of 1942 to the lifting of the siege and even to a developing offensive strategy from the island. The Spitfire was once again seen as the significant factor in another British ‘backs-to-the-wall’ campaign.

 Since completing this book, I have come across the following anecdote which gives an insight into the sort of desperate measures that wartime emergencies often required and which lay behind the successful lifting of the seige of Malta:

 “Ronnie [Fl Lt Ronnie West DFC & bar] had arrived on Malta after flying off with the first batch of Spitfires, from the carrier HMS Eagle, joining 249 Squadron. He told us that as the Spitfires only had flaps which were either fully up or fully down – no half or partial flaps as with bombers – they had to overcome the problem of really needing partial flap when taking off from a carrier. They achieved this by selecting flaps ‘down’ prior to take-off, then inserting bits of wood which were held in position whilst flaps were selected ‘up’. Thus partial flap was achieved. Once height was made, flaps were selected ‘down’, which released the bits of wood, then ‘up’ again before flying on to Malta.” (From Spitfire Offensive by Wing Commander R.W.F. Sampson, OBE, DFC & bar and N.Franks).

[On 11 Aug, 1942, Eagle was hit by four torpedoes from U-73 while escorting a convoy to Malta; 169 crew were lost; 927 were rescued]   

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For reference sources, see my Blogpost: “Source Material and References" – an extended bibliography is included in my R.J.Mitchell at Supermarine; Schneider Trophy to Spitfire which also provides material for wider reading, grouped according to specific areas of interest.
   

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