Malta – ‘you never have time to be scared’

Vertical aerial photograph of Ta Kali airfield, Malta, following the heavy enemy bombing raids of April 1942.

Army and RAF personnel refuelling and a Spitfire Mk V, Malta, 17 June 1942.

Canadian pilot George Beurling arrived on Malta on the the 8th June 1942, having made the three and a half hour flight from HMS Eagle in the western Mediterranean. He was to go on to make quite a name for himself on the island. But his first impressions when he flew into Ta Kali airfield were that he had arrived in the ‘middle of general hell’.The Spitfires already on Malta had been scrambled to cover them, and were engaged in combat as they came into land . He was told by the ground crew as he arrived “One thing about it here – you never have time to be scared!”.

Bombs were liable to come whistling around your ears any minute. If you looked up you’d see Spits and Me’s split-assing all over the sky and every once in a while some poor devil who hadn’t kept his tail clean would come spinning down in flames.

Flak went up in flowerbeds and parachutes came drifting down. From the ground the constant din of ack-ack batteries . . . Up high the clatter of machine-gun and cannon bursts and the roar of full-engined Spitfires, Me’s and Macchis diving … Erks scurrying about the drome, patching bomb craters… Engineers detonating time bombs …. Rescue launches rushing to sea to pick up floating parachutists …

The Maltese population trying to carry on the day’s chores between headlong dives for the shelter and protection of walls, cracked-up houses, or wrinkles in the rocks … Cats and dogs fighting in the streets in keeping with the tempo of the place … Never a dull moment, day or night.

That was Malta in the blitzes. Before you had been there a day you got the idea Jerry had decided to either sink the damned island or blow it away – and you weren’t far wrong.

If you’d had any remaining doubts they’d have been removed by Wing Commander Gracey’s brief talk when he welcomed his new pilots to Takali. It went something like this:

“By now you fellows know what you’re up against, You haven’t come to a picnic and this is no place for slackers. There isn’t any tea in bed any more. You’ve come to the place where the air fighting is tougher than in any other corner of the war. You’ve seen our fellows up there fighting and you’ve seen some of them shot down while they were protecting you, coming in. Tomorrow you may be up there and you may get it. Day after tomorrow some of you may be attending your own funerals if you don’t keep your eyes peeled. That’s all. Good luck and good hunting!”

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

View of a 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun position overlooking Grand Harbour, Malta, 10 June 1942.

A 4.5-inch anti-aircraft gun opens fire during an air raid on Malta, 10 June 1942.

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