The heroic defence of Malta’s airfields

The remains of a Gloster Sea Gladiator, which formerly flew with the Malta Fighter Flight and No. 261 Squadron RAF, lies by the side of the airfield at Ta Kali, Malta. In the background is a parked Hawker Hurricane Mark I, W9133, of No. 261 Squadron.

Thirty-five year old Leading Aircraftsman Matthew Osborne was awarded the George Cross for his part in the defence of Malta

Early in the war the King had instituted the George Cross to rank alongside the Victoria Cross for ‘acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger’ where the action was not ‘in the face of the enemy’.

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the GEORGE CROSS to: –

1058637 Leading Aircraftman Albert Matthew Osborne, Royal Air Force.

During a period of fierce enemy air attacks on Malta, Leading Aircraftman Osborne has displayed unsurpassed courage and devotion to duty. In circumstances of the greatest danger he was always first at hand to deal with emergencies, whether in fire fighting operations or in rescue work. The following are examples of his promptitude and gallantry: –

Rendered safe the torpedo of a burning torpedo aircraft, working 3 feet from the main petrol tank for ten minutes.  

Extinguished a burning aircraft during a heavy bombing attack.

Attempted to save a burning aircraft and subsequently removed torpedoes from the vicinity.

Assisted in saving the pilot of a burning aircraft and extinguishing the fire. 

Saved an aircraft from destruction by fire. 

Attempted for six hours to extricate airmen from a bombed shelter, despite continued heavy bombing and . danger, from – falling stone-work.

Fought fires in two aircraft, his efforts resulting in the saving of one.

Freed the parachute of a burning flare caught in an aircraft, enabling the pilot to taxy clear.

Checked the fire in a burning aircraft, the greater part of which was undamaged.

The last three incidents occurred on the same day. Leading Aircraftman Osborne was unfortunately killed on 2nd April, 1942.  During an intense, air attack he led a party to extinguish the flames of a burning aircraft. A petrol tank exploded and he was injured and affected by the fumes. On recovery, he returned to fight the fire and was killed by the explosion of an air vessel while attempting to pour water over torpedoes which were in danger of exploding. 

This airman’s fearless courage and great leadership on all occasions have been beyond praise. The Air Officer Commanding, Royal Air Force Mediterranean, has stated that he was ” one of the bravest airmen it has been my privilege to meet “.

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