Spitfire Ace shot down over Malta

Supermarine Spitfire Mark VB(T), EP257, being operated by No. 126 Squadron RAF, taxies along the dusty perimeter track at Luqa, Malta, for a sortie. A member of the groundcrew runs alongside to warn the pilot of obstacles ahead. There was considerable interchange of aircraft between squadrons on Malta at this time, and EP257 shows evidence of hastily painted-out identification letters.

Canadian pilot George Beurling had made quite an impact since his arrival on Malta in June. He was completely in his element flying the Spitfire against the Italian and German fighters and bombers that appeared over Malta on a daily basis. His most spectacular success had been on 27th July. He had already been awarded the DFM, in September he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross:

Since being awarded a Bar to the D.F.M., this officer has shot down a further three hostile aircraft, bringing his total victories to twenty. One day in September (1942) he and another pilot engaged four enemy fighters. In ensuing combat Pilot Officer Beurling destroyed two of them. A relentless fighter whose determination and will has won the admiration of his colleagues, this officer has set an example in keeping with the highest traditions of the RAF.

On the 14th he was in the thick of the battle once again and nearly a chapter of his vivid autobiography is devoted to what proved to be his last dogfight during his time on Malta. He had just gone to the assistance of another pilot:

Maybe I saved Willie’s bacon, but in doing it I sure singed my own – fell right into the trap that everybody walks into sooner or later, no matter how much he coaches himself not to. There’s a simple axiom for it: “Always look behind you before you go in to attack.” Well, I didn’t. I’d been so damned intent on the guy in my sights and on Willie’s tail that I’d forgotten I had a tail of my own. I soon had reason to remember it.

Just as I shot Willie’s pal down, another Me nailed me from behind. He got me right in the belly of the Spit. A chunk of cannon shell smashed into my right heel. Another went between my left arm and body, nicking me in the elbow and ribs. Shrapnel spattered into my left leg. The controls were blasted to bits. The throttle was jammed wide open and there I was in a full-power spin, on my way down from somewhere around 18,000 feet.

I threw the hood away and tried to get out, but the spin was forcing me back into the seat. “This is it,” I said to myself. “This is what it’s like when you know you’re going to die.” I didn’t panic. If anything, I was resigned to it. It had been a good show, all things added up. I’d proved my point, here over Malta. I’d lived. I could die if I had to. What the hell!

This was the way I`d always wanted to go, when the time came. Looking back from here it seems as if there was a definite space, spinning in that cockpit, in which I had completely resigned myself to the big smack that was just a matter of instants ahead. Then I snapped out of it and began to struggle again.

The engine was streaming flame by this time, but somehow I managed to wriggle my way out of the cockpit and out onto the port wing, from which I could bale into the inside of the spin. By the time I got out onto the wing I was down to 2,000 feet. At about 1,000 I managed to slip off. Before I dared pull the ripcord I must have been around 500. The chute opened with a crack like a cannon shell and I found myself floating gently down in the breeze, the damnedest experience in contrasts I shall ever have in this life.

I caught my breath, then pulled off a glove and dropped it, to get some idea of the distance between me and the sea. A breeze caught it and the glove went up past my face. I heard myself laugh like a fool. I tugged off my flying boots and dropped them. Just as I did I hit the water.

See George F. Beurling: Malta Spitfire: The Diary of an Ace Fighter Pilot.

Flight-Sergeant G F “Screwball” Beurling of No. 249 Squadron RAF, standing by a sandbag revetment at Ta Kali, Malta, with the rudder and unit emblem cut from a crash-landed Macchi MC.202 of the Regia Aeronautica, one of four enemy aircraft which he shot down over Gozo on 27 July 1942.

Ground crew of No. 249 Squadron RAF take a break from maintaining their Supermarine Spitfire Mark VCs at Ta Kali, Malta, to observe the activity on the airfield.

A section of three Supermarine Spitfire Mark VC(T)s of No. 249 Squadron RAF waits at readiness by the main runway at Ta Kali, Malta, as a Bristol Beaufighter comes in to land.

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