Spitfire Vb Trop, AB264, F/O Robert W. McNair, No. 249 Squadron, RAF Ta Kali, Malta, March 1942
The first three Spitfire Mk.Vb deliveries
to Malta were conducted under the code names Spotter and Picket/Picket II.
Spitfires that arrived in Malta during the Operations Spotter and Picket were
camouflaged in Dark Earth and Middle Stone on the upper surfaces, the lower
surfaces were painted in Sky or Azure Blue. The lower surfaces color depended
either on the manufacturing factory Supermarine, which used Sky, or Aircraft
Servicing Units (ASU) which used Azure Blue color. Upon arrival in Malta the
Middle Stone camouflage pattern was overpainted in Extra Dark Sea Grey. Spitfire
AB263 was ferried to Malta by P/O Peter Nash on March 7, 1942, during the
Operation Spotter. On March 20, 1942, a Canadian pilot, Robert Wendell “Buck”
McNair shot down a Ju 88, another Ju 88 probably and damaged another one. On
March 25, Nash shot down a Ju 87 and in November Sgt. Thomas Kebbell shot down
a Ju 88. Spitfire AB264 was one of 16 aircraft in of the first Spitfires
delivery to Malta which survived the campaign and had a long service life. It
served with No. 249, No. 185, No. 1435 and No. 229 Squadron. In May 1943 it was
overhauled and handed over to the USAAF. It finished its career in the Middle
Spitfire Vb Trop, EP122, Sgt. Claude
Weaver III, No. 185 Squadron, RAF Ta Kali, Malta, July 1942
Spitfire EP122 arrived in Malta from HMS Eagle on July 15, 1942, during the Operation Pinpoint and was immediately assigned to the combat duty with the No. 185 Squadron. It became a regular mount of Sgt. Claude Weaver III who scored five kills (4x Bf 109 and 1x Ju 88). He became the youngest Allied ace during the conflict. Later EP122 became the personal mount of the Wing Commander J. M. Thompson who had the aircraft marked with his name initials JM-T. In October Thompson at its controls shot down a Bf 109 and Ju 88 and damaged another two Bf 109s. In the beginning of 1943 EP122 was ordered to the No. 1435 Squadron where it flew carrying the code letter L. On March 27, 1943, it made an emergency landing at the edge of the cliff in Dwejra Bay on Gozo island. EP122 was afterward dumped over the edge of the cliff into the bay. EP122 wreck, lying in 10 m depth, was discovered by scuba divers from the RAF Sub Aqua Club on the Gozo shore in 1969. In the middle of 1970, the wreck was recovered. The initial restoration work was done by Steve Vizard in Hampshire followed by the Airfram Assemblies in Sandown, Surrey. The airframe was transferred to Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar for the completion. The first flight from Biggin Hill took place in May 2016. The naval camouflage and markings are authentic however the typical tropical air filter is missing.
Spitfire Vb Trop, EP706, P/O George F.
Beurling, No. 249 Squadron, RAF Ta Kali, Malta, August - October 1942
A brilliant pilot and sharpshooter but rather mysterious personality, Canadian George Frederick Beurling achieved unbelievable successes during the fierce fighting for Malta in 1942 where in the course of a half year he scored 28 confirmed kills. Beurling’s Spitfire EP706 arrived in Malta off the HMS Furious deck on August 11, 1942 during the Operation Bellows. The original desert camouflage was repainted at the Malta Maintenance Command probably with Deep Sky or Extra Dark Sea Grey color. According to the period pictures, the wing upper surfaces around the weapon wells were rather worn and the original desert camouflage was showing through. P/O “Screwball” Beurling had his kill markings painted on the fuel tank cover of his Spitfire flown regularly between August 20 and October 9. He flew 27 combat missions with it and scored four out of his total 28 kills achieved in Malta.
Spitfire Vb, EP829, S/Ldr John J. Lynch,
No. 249 Squadron, RAF Qrendi, Malta, February - May 1943
Spitfire EP829 was flown by S/Ldr Lynch from February to May 1943 with No. 249 Squadron and was part of the delivery during the Operation Train which was the last Spitfire delivery to reinforce Malta from the aircraft carriers. Spitfires were finished in the standard Malta camouflage scheme with the upper surfaces in Deep Sky and Dark Slate Grey. EP829 initially flew with clipped wings, later was operated with the full wingspan. The squadron commander insignia and five kill markings, achieved by April 25, 1943, were painted on the fuselage fuel tank. Three days later, Lynch shot down two Ju 52 and scored 1,000th victory for the Malta defenders. To commemorate this anniversary kill he had painted “Malta’s 1000” in white under the windshield. John Lynch was born on February 3, 1918, in Alhambra, California. In 1941 he joined RAF and in September 1941 he completed his pilot training at No. 56 OTU. His first assignment was at No. 232 Squadron. The following month he joined the No. 121 “Eagle” Squadron and No. 71 “Eagle” Squadron where, on April 17, 1942, he shared a victory over a Ju 88. In November 1942 he was transferred to Malta and assigned to No. 249 Squadron with which he flew combat in the area. In the beginning of 1943, he was promoted to the squadron commander and achieved many successes against the Axis transportation aircraft which supplied the German and Italian troops in Tunisia. In July 1943 he was ordered to the USAAF but did not fly combat. He returned to the United States where after the war end continued his service with the USAF. In 1956 he became an operations officer with the 49th Fighter-bomber Wing on Okinawa but shortly after, on March 9 he was killed in the aircraft crash in F-84G near Naha airport. During his wartime career Lynch claimed in total 17 kills (10 individual and 7 in cooperation), one probable and two enemy aircraft damaged.
Spitfire Vb, ER647, S/Ldr John R.
Urwin-Mann, No. 126 Squadron, RAF Luqa, Malta, spring 1943
ER647 represents yet another of the camouflage schemes used in Malta where the factory applied Middle Stone was repainted with Dark Slate Grey. A Mk.Vb painted in similar way is documented in the color photographs by AVM Keith Park. The depicted ER647 was flown by the No. 126 Squadron commander, a Battle of Britain ace S/Ldr Urwin-Mann, who on January 28, 1943, shot down a Me 210 flying this aircraft. In February 1944, ER647 was handed over to the USAAF and in 1945 finished its career with the French AF. During his wartime career, John Roland “Jack” Urwin-Mann scored 10 kills, two of them shared.
Spitfire Vb Trop, ER187, Maj. Frank A.
Hill, 309th FS, 31st FG, Xewkija, Gozo - Malta, beginning
of July 1943
In the middle of 1943, Malta became a fundamental “springboard” for the Operation Husky, an Allied invasion of Sicily. The island became a key post mainly due to its support of the air operations. There were five operational airfields on Malta, all of them occupied by the large numbers of the British airplanes which impaired the operations of the USAAF units. The only solution was to turn the attention to Gozo, mountainous land which is the part of the Malta archipelago. The area in Xewkija turned out to be the best solution despite the negotiations with the local farmers. Xewkija airport, also known as Ta’ Lambert, was built as the principal USAAF airbase during the Operation Husky in the very short time of 12 days of the construction only to cease the operations after mere six months of the intense traffic. In June 1944 the land on which the airport was built was returned to the original landlords and turned back to the fertile soil. One of the Spitfires flying out of the airfield Xewkija in the beginning of July 1943 was ER187, a personal aircraft of the commander and the most successful pilot of the 309th FS, Maj. Frank Hill. His Spitfire is known to carry two different designs of the national insignia, with a yellow outline and also with the “wings” with the red outline which fell into the period of their official application, from June 28 to the end of July 1943. A question remains if the new insignia were painted for that ten days stay on Gozo or in Sicily, where the 31st FG was transferred on July 13, 1943. During his wartime carrier Maj. Frank Hill shot down in total eight enemy aircraft including two shared victories, two probable and he also damaged five enemy aircraft.
Spitfire Vb Trop, ER187, Maj. Frank A.
Hill, 309th FS, 31st FG, Xewkija, Gozo - Malta, beginning
of July 1943
Maj. Frank Hill’s Spitfire is known to carry two different designs of the national insignia, with a yellow outline and with the “wings” with the red outline which fell into the period of the official application, from June 28 to the end of July 1943. A question remains if the new insignia were painted for the ten days stay on Gozo or in Sicily where the 31st FG was transferred on July 13, 1943.
Spitfire Vc Trop, BR190, F/Sgt Virgil P.
Brennan, No. 249 Squadron, RAF Ta Kali, Malta, May 1942
Spitfire BR190 arrived in Malta on April 20, 1942, during the Operation Calendar. It carried the naval camouflage which was on the board of USS Wasp (CV-7) partially overpainted with so-called Malta blue. On May 5, at the controls of this unusually camouflaged Spitfire, F/Sgt Paul Brennan shot down a Bf 109. Spitfire BR190 flying career however was very short. On May 14 it was destroyed during the bombing of the airport Ta Kali. Virgil Paul Brennan was born in Warwick in Queensland on March 6, 1920, and before the war practiced law. In November 1940 he joined RAAF and was sent to Canada for an advanced training. In August he was ordered to the Great Britain where he continued his training with No. 53 OTU. In October he was assigned to the No. 64 Squadron but in the beginning of March he was transferred to Malta. On March 17 he flew off the HMS Eagle deck to the island together with the first Spitfires delivery. After the landing he was attached to the No. 249 Squadron. Between March 17 and June 7 he scored seven kills. In July he completed his tour of duty with the No. 249 Squadron and flew back to the Great Britain. Here he served as an instructor with the No. 52 OTU until January 1943 and after that he set sail for home, Australia. On May 1 he was assigned to the No. 79 Squadron RAAF in Laverton, unfortunately he did not fly there for long. On June 13, 1943, he was mortally wounded in a crash near Garbutt.
Spitfire Vc Trop, BP975, F/Lt Denis
Barnham, No. 601 Squadron, RAF Luqa, Malta, April - May 1942
After the outbreak of the war, Dennis Barnham joined RAF in April 1941. Initially he served with the No. 65 Squadron, in July he was ordered to the No. 609 Squadron and on December 30 he was transferred to the No. 154 Squadron. In April 1942 he was promoted and assigned to the No. 601 Squadron as a flight leader. At that time the unit was preparing for the deployment to Malta. On April 20, 1942, during the operation code-named Calendar, he flew off the American aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-7) for the island. During April and May Barnham scored five aerial victories, all of them flying Spitfire BP975. On board of USS Wasp (CV-7), over its original desert camouflage his Spitfire was painted in the US Navy Non Specular Blue Gray used on the USS Wasp escort F4F Wildcats. Denis Barnham was an artist as well and he often painted and drew sketches. Some of his drawings were included in the book One Man’s Window (William Kimber, 1956) he wrote after the war about his experiences from Malta.
Spitfire Vc Trop, BR126, P/O Jerrold A.
Smith, No. 126 Squadron, USS Wasp (CV-7), May 1942
On May 9, 1942, after he took off in his Spitfire BR126 X-3, the Canadian pilot, P/O Jerrold Alpine “Jerry” Smith found out that his drop tank was inoperable, and he was not able to reach the airfield on Malta. He jettisoned his tank and received order to bail out of his Spitfire. Instead, Jerry inquired about the attempt to save the aircraft by landing it on the aircraft carrier deck. After the captain approved, he indeed tried to do it. His first approach was too high and too fast however his second attempt was successful, and he safely landed his Spitfire mere six feet from the end of the flight deck. He managed, as the first in world, to land a Spitfire on the aircraft carrier and without an arresting hook! For his deed P/O “Jerry” Smith was unofficially awarded the American Navy Wings from the flight deck officer David McCampbell, the future most successful USN fighter pilot who, as a LSO (Landing Signal Officer) directed the whole operation. Jerry ultimately made it to Malta couple of days later on May 19 with another batch of Spitfires during the Operation LB. In Malta, he met his brother Rod at the No. 126 Squadron and on July 18 they together shot down a Ju 88. On August 10, 1942, he took off in the order to search for some targeted minelayers. He was seen for the last time pursuing a Ju 88 on the course towards Sicily. Neither aircraft made it back to the home base. His brother Rod was searching hours for him but did not find any sign of neither the body nor his Spitfire. Jerry’s name is engraved on the Malta’s memorial. During the Malta fighting he scored four individual kills and shared one.
Spitfire Vc Trop, BR311, F/Lt Roderick I.
A. Smith, No. 126 Squadron, RAF Luqa, Malta, October 1942
Spitfire BR311 arrived in Malta during the Operation Style on June 3, 1942 and successfully participated in the battle for the island. On August 14, flying this aircraft, S/Ldr W. J. Johnson shot down two Macchi MC.202. Between October 12 and 25, P/O Nigel Park at its controls shot down three Ju 88 and three Bf 109 and on October 25 F/Lt “Rod” Smith shot down a Bf 109, which was his last victory in Malta. During the defense of Malta, he shot down in total six aircraft. Rod Smith was a brother of Jerry Smith, and they fought together in the ranks of the No. 126 Squadron. BR311 coloration matched the recommended Malta scheme in Dark Mediterranean Blue on the upper surfaces and Sky Blue on the lower surfaces. The original markings on the fuselage, applied on board of USS Wasp, were overpainted with Light Mediterranean Blue and assigned the code letters MK-L. On October 5, 1944, Rod Smith became the first Allied pilot who shot down a Me 262 jet. During his wartime carrier Rod Smith scored 14 kills.
Spitfire Vc Trop, BR321, F/Lt John A.
Plagis, No. 185 Squadron, RAF Hal Far, Malta, June 1942
Spitfire BR321 arrived in Malta on June 9 during the operation Salient. It became a personal mount of F/Lt John Plagis who scored three aerial victories in it. John Plagis was born on March 10, 1919, in Hartley, South Rhodesia. After the outbreak of war, he volunteered for the Rhodesian AF but was rejected since he was still officially a Greek citizen. Therefore in 1940 he volunteered for RAF. In May 1941 he started his pilot training at the No. 58 OTU in Grangemouth. In the end of June, he was initially attached to the No. 65 Squadron, then he was transferred to the No. 266 Squadron. In all his flight evaluations he was graded as above average. In the end of January 1942, he was ordered to the Near East and on March 7 he was one of the first pilots who flew their Spitfires to Malta from HMS Eagle during the Operation Spotter. Initially he flew with the No. 249 Squadron where between March and May he shot down nine enemy aircraft, including two shared victories. In the end of May he was dispatched to Gibraltar to help fly over a new batch of Spitfires during the Operation Style on June 3. After the arrival he was transferred to the No. 185 Squadron as a flight A leader and until the end of June he shot down another three opponents. In the beginning of July, he returned to the Great Britain. In August he was ordered to the No. 53 OTU where he was graded as exceptional. In April 1943 he returned to the combat flying at the No. 64 Squadron. In July 1944 he assumed command of the No. 126 Squadron and during the Normandy landing he scored another three victories. In December the unit was re-equipped with Mustangs and Johnny Plagis was promoted to the Wing Commander. On March 27, 1945, he flew cover for the bomber Mosquitos raiding the Gestapo HQ in Copenhagen. After the war he commanded the No. 234 Squadron and the No. 266 Squadron flying the jet Meteors Mk.III. In May 1948 he retired from RAF and returned to Rhodesia. During his wartime carrier John Plagis shot down 15 aircraft individually, two in the cooperation and became the most successful Greek pilot of WWII.
Spitfire Vc Trop, BR387, P/O John W.
Yarra, No. 185 Squadron, RAF Hal Far, Malta, June 1942
John William “Slim” Yarra was born in Stanthorpe in Queensland on August 24, 1921 and before joining RAAF in October 1940 he made living as a printing apprentice. He completed his training in Canada between May and August 1941 and then he was dispatched to the Great Britain where he was attached to the No. 55 OTU. In October he was transferred to Gibraltar. Consequently, he took part in two attempts to fly Spitfires to Malta. On March 7, during the Operation Spotter, as a replacement pilot, he had to return to his aircraft carrier and back to Gibraltar. On March 21, during the Operation Picket I he flew Spitfire AB333 and after landing on Malta he was attached to the No. 249 Squadron. After several successful combat missions, he was ordered to the No. 185 Squadron which was short of pilots. In its ranks, he became one of the most successful pilots in the defense of Malta. In the course of three months he shot down 12 enemy aircraft, out of which five while at the controls of his personal Spitfire BR387. Yarra’s personal Spitfire BR387 landed in Malta on June 9 during the Operation Salient. BR387 camouflage complied with the recommended Malta scheme in Dark Mediterranean Blue on the upper surfaces and Sky Blue color on the lower surfaces. On July 14, Yarra logged his last flight over Malta and after that flew back to the Great Britain. After some rest he was assigned as a flight B leader to the No. 453 Squadron RAAF. On December 10, 1942, he led his flight in the attack on the convoy at the Dutch coast, north of Vlissingen, but his Spitfire was hit by the enemy AA fire and crashed into the sea. His brother became a fighter pilot as well and same as brother “Slim” was killed in action.
Spitfire Vc, BR498, W/Cdr Peter P. Hanks,
Luqa Wing, Malta, August 1942 – February 1943
Spitfire BR498 was delivered to Malta on August 17, 1942, during the Operation Baritone in the new camouflage scheme required by AHQ Malta dated June 1942. It resulted in the adoption of the disruptive pattern of two shades for the upper surfaces, Deep Sky and Dark Slate Grey and Light Mediterranean Blue for the lower surfaces. W/Cdr Peter Prosser Hanks, Luqa Wing commanding officer chose this airplane as his personal mount. At the controls of BR498, W/Cdr Hanks scored four confirmed kills, two probables and damaged four aircraft. Another pilot who was successful in BR498 was the No. 126 Squadron member, F/Lt William “Bill” Rolls who, during the month of October 1942, shot down five Axis airplanes (three Ju 88 and two MC.202). BR498 served from the middle of February 1943 at the No. 185 Squadron carrying GL-K code letters and was equipped with the Vokes desert air filter. In this configuration it was most frequently flown by the No. 185 Squadron commander, S/Ldr H. A. Grafts. Peter Prosser Hanks was born on July 29, 1917 and in 1935 joined RAF. After he completed his pilot training at No. 6 FTS, in September he was assigned to the No. 1 Squadron. During the Battle of France and Britain he shot down seven aircraft. Consequently, he flew with the No. 257 and No. 56 Squadrons. From February to July 1942, he commanded a Spitfire Wing at Coltishall. In August he was transferred to Malta where he assumed command of a Spitfire Wing at the airport Luqa. Until the end of war, and afterwards, he held several service posts. In 1964 he retired from RAF.
Spitfire Vc Trop, JK715, S/Ldr Evan D.
Mackie, No. 243 Squadron, RAF Hal Far, Malta, June – July 1943
In the middle of 1943, when the air battle for Malta was won, the island became a key base for the supporting air operations. On June 11, the No. 243 Squadron was transferred from Tunisia to the Hal Far airport. The unit, under the leadership of one of the most successful pilots in the Mediterranean, S/Ldr Evan Mackie, during the following month supported the Allied landing on Sicily during the Operation Husky. With the change of the strategic environment, the special Malta camouflages were not necessary anymore and became history. The incoming No. 243 Squadron however was an exemption as the unit altered coloration of its Spitfires. According to the memoires of its pilot in his book Spitfire Leader, before the arrival to Malta his new personal Spitfire Mk.Vc JK715, which until then sported the classic “desert“ camouflage, was repainted in olive green color on the upper surfaces which matched Dark Slate Grey frequently used on Malta. During his tenure at the No. 243 Squadron, Mackie at the controls of his JK715 flying out of the Hal Far airport, shot down five enemy aircraft. Makie’s original occupation was a mechanic, so he was always interested in the maintenance of his Spitfire. He obtained a set of exhausts from Spitfire Mk.IX and was pleased with the improved performance. For the first time those exhausts had been installed on his previous Spitfire ES347. After it crash landed, Mackie removed the priceless exhausts and installed them on his new JK715. He finished his war career with a score of 23 kills including 3 shared victories, 2 probables and 11 aircraft damaged.