The Maltese Falcon

The Spitfires Mk. Vb/Vc had their most

glorious time during the battles for the small,

but strategically important, island of Malta.

One of the most successful Spitfires to fight

there was the Mk.Vc serial number BR301.

The aircraft came from a consignment

of Spitfires taking off on May 9, 1942,

from the carrier USS Wasp (CV-7) during

Operation Bowery. Like most Spitfires

from the Bowery delivery, BR301 had Dark

Mediterranean Blue color applied to the

upper surfaces while still on the aircraft

carrier’s deck. But the original desert

color scheme was slightly visible under

this new paint. The lower surfaces were

repainted in Sky Blue. This aircraft had also

the national roundels overpainted with this

color. The original four-cannon armament

was reduced to two cannons, mounted in

inner position in the armament bay and

two inner machine guns. Codenamed

UF-S, BR301 served first with No. 601 Sqn.,

but its pilots achieved most of their success

with it in July 1942 after transferring to No.

249 Sqn. There it became the “aircraft of the


P/O John McElroy (10 victories plus three

shared in total) claimed one MC.202 with

BR301 on July 7, one Ju 88 shared on July 9

and one Bf 109 on July 13, damaging another

one in the process. No. 249 Squadron

Leader Richard Mitchell (5 + 3) shot down

a Ju 88 on July 23, while F/Sgt John

Rae (11 + 2) shot down a Bf 109 probably

and a Ju 88, in addition to damaging


INFO Eduard

a Re.2001 and a Ju 88 on July 27 and

28. The greatest success with the BR301

was achieved by Canadian pilot in the

ranks of the RAF Sgt. George Beurling,

who destroyed four opponents during one

mission (two MC.202 and two Bf 109) and

added one Bf 109 on July 27 two days later.

For our boxart, created by Piotr

Forkasiewicz, we chose to depict Beurling’s

first kill. His victim, a Macchi MC.202, is very

well documented both photographically

(after the crash landing) and also by combat

reports of the two combatants. Thanks

to that, we know how it all went down:

At 0855 hours on July 27, 1942, No. 249

Sqn. sent out six Spitfires to join other

six patrolling Spitfires from Nos. 126 and

185 Sqn. A formation of seven Ju 88s,

accompanied by more than forty fighters

was approaching Malta, flying at 25,000

feet (7,600 m). Beurling was the first to

spot the enemy and radioed to warn the

others: “Enemy aircraft at four o’clock,

slightly below us!” He immediately

launched an attack. The enemy fighters

noticed Beurling’s action and went into

a left climbing turn. Beurling then got on the

starboard side of one MC.202 and fired his

characteristic short burst.

Beurling later recalled: “I saw four Macchis

flying in a row and I focused on number 4.

I fired a short burst that went into its engine

and radiator.” The pilot of MC.202 Sergente

Magg Falerio Gelli of 378-11 Squadriglia

turned his aircraft towards home base,

Text: Michal Krechowski

Illustration: Piotr Forkasiewicz

but immediately realized that the smoking

engine would not last long enough. He

therefore chose a place and belly-landed

in a field outside Victoria on the island of

Gozo. Later, when questioned, he said:

“I saw a Spitfire firing at me, but I didn’t

feel any impacts. I was performing evasive

maneuvers and noticed that the engine

temperature was rising rapidly. In an

attempt to reach my base, I turned north,

but soon realized I couldn’t make it as

the oil tank and radiator had been hit. So,

I turned back and landed at Gozo”.

Some pilots and ground staff went to see

Gelli’s Macchi. The aircraft was relatively

intact, and the battle damage was consistent

with Beurling’s report. The rudder was

removed and the emblem of the 51° Stormo

unit was also cut out of the fuselage as

a war trophy. Beurling later posed with the

trophies for photographs.

During the five months of fighting in Malta,

Sgt. George “Screwball” Beurling scored

a total of 28 kills (including one shared) of

Axis aircraft, becoming the most successful

Allied pilot of the Battle of Malta. These

achievements earned him another unofficial

nickname: “Falcon of Malta”. It was meant to

characterize his straightforward predatory

instinct in combat.

Spitfire BR301 was irreparably damaged

on July 29 and decommissioned with

54 flying hours.

March 2023