Traces of World War 2 
RAAF - Malta Defence Flight / No. 261 Squadron
10/05/1940 - 30/06/1940

      home - latest update 15 February 2008

Malta Defence Flight / 261 SQUADRON - Fighter, Gloster Sea Gladiator I

History | Operations and losses | Sources | Links | Books | Questions and/or remarks

Gladiators also served in the Middle East theatre, but are most remembered for their part in the defence of Malta between April and June, 1940. Malta was a perfect stepping-stone into Africa for German forces.

At the start of the Axis onslaught against the island of Malta, there were few fighters available for its defence, but some crated Sea Gladiators were found, which were assembled and formed into the Malta Defence Flight. For ten days, 11 - 21 June, 1940, the unit had to rely on the only serviceable fighter aircraft, these being the modified Sea Gladiators 'Faith' (N5519), 'Hope' (N5520) and 'Charity' (N5531)4.

The three were what was left of five crates dropped off in Malta by HMS Glorious weeks beforehand. Many aircraft were shipped in crates, one of the reasons why pilots used to call them 'old crates'

The Sea Gladiators used by the Malta Defence Flight were modified, having their arrester hooks and dinghy fairings removed, and armour plate was fitted to the cockpit bulkhead. The Italian Air Force staged bombing raids against the island, but there were only three occasions that the island was actually threatened. The Italian aircraft were dated biplanes and bombers, so the Gladiators were more than a match for them.

Flt Lt George Burge and Flying Officer Bill 'Timber' Woods claimed several Italian aircraft during this period and went on to further their tallies when their squadron was later equipped with Hurricanes:

'Timber' went in first but I did not see any results. I managed to get right behind the Itlaian and shoot off the port engine. I was told this happened right over Sliema and Valletta and caused quite a stir with the population. The aircraft caught fire and crashed into the sea off Kalafrana. -Flt Lt G. Burge, 22 June, 1940

On 2 August 1940, the Malta Fighter Flight was redesignated No 261 Squadron and its Hurricanes and Gladiators formed the air defence of Malta until 21 May 1941, when it disbanded.

back up

Operations and losses 10/05/1940 - 30/06/1940
Not all operations listed; those with fatal losses are.

11/06/1940: Intercept, Malta
23/06/1940: Intercept, Malta
28/06/1940: Intercept, Malta
See: Gloster Gladiators and Fiat CR.42s over Malta 1940-1942 for more operations flown from Malta.

back up

11/06/1940: Intercept, Malta

During the first air raid on Malta shortly before 07.00 on 11 June 1940 three Gladiators (N5519, N5520 and N5531) were scrambled. Led by Flight Lieutenant George Burges (in N5531), Squadron Leader A. C. Martin and Flying Officer 'Timber' Woods were ordered up to meet the attackers. There were so many targets over Valetta and Hal Far that the Gladiators became split up.

Burges saw nine bombers turning in a wide circle south of the island, obviously preparing to head back to Sicily. Cutting across the circle, he and one of the other pilots (probably Squadron Leader A. C. Martin) gave chase, and he was able to fire most of his ammunition at one bomber without apparent result. These were some of 34o Stormo BT S.79s which had hit Hal Far, and the crews reported that the Gladiators fired from long range. One S.79 piloted by Capitano Rosario Di Blasi from 52o Gruppo was hit in the fuselage.

Commonwealth Biplane Fighter Aces - George Burges
Commonwealth Biplane Fighter Aces - 'Timber' Woods

back up

23/06/1940: Intercept, Malta

On 23 June there was a raid by bombers from 11o Stormo BT with an escort of MC.200s. Two Gladiators flown by 'Timber' Woods (N5531) and George Burges (N5519) were scrambled. The two Gladiators attacked the bombers without obvious result, but Burges was then attacked by one of the escorting fighters, an aircraft of the 88a Squadriglia flown by Sergente Maggiore Lamberto Molinelli (alternatively he was from 71a Squadriglia).

Burges whirled his fighter round and a 'real old W.W.I dogfight' began over the sea off Sliema. The faster Macchi had the initiative, but overshot the nimble Gladiator, allowing Burges to 'belt him up the backside as he went past'. After four or five such passes the Macchi suddenly caught fire and Molinelli baled out into the sea. (The Italians later recorded that he had been shot down by 'one round of A.A.'). Swiftly recovered from the water, Molinelli was taken to Imtarfa Hospital where Burges later visited him. He did not find his victim particularly friendly.

While landing after this action, Woods collided with a Queen Bee target drone, causing damage to yet another of the invaluable Gladiators (N5531).

Commonwealth Biplane Fighter Aces - George Burges
Commonwealth Biplane Fighter Aces - 'Timber' Woods

back up

28/06/1940: Intercept, Malta

On 28 June two S.79s of the 11o Stormo B.T. was intercepted by 'Timber' Woods. He inflicted damage on an aircraft from the 33o Gruppo flown by Tenente Remo Maccagni. The pilot and two other members of the crew were wounded, while another crew member, 1e Aviere Motorista Angelo Alvisi, his sense reeling from the fumes from a punctured fuel tank, baled out into the sea and was lost. He received credit for the destruction of this bomber, but it managed to return back to base.

Commonwealth Biplane Fighter Aces - George Burges
Commonwealth Biplane Fighter Aces - 'Timber' Woods

back up


Air of Authority - 261 Squadron
Air Force POWs 1939-1945
Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database
Australian War Memorial
Bail-outs for 1940
BBC - Maltese Falcon
Canadian Virtual War Memorial
Commonwealth Biplane Fighter Aces - George Burges
Commonwealth Biplane Fighter Aces - 'Timber' Woods
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Gloster Gladiators and Fiat CR.42s over Malta 1940-1942
Middle East - the opening rounds (from the RAF 1939-1945)
New Zealanders in the Royal Air Force (Vol III) - Africa and Middle East
Prisoners of War captured in Europe 1940
Royal Air Force - 261 Squadron
RAF against odds (Time, USA, 27/05/1940)
RAF - Campaign Diary - The Battle of France (May-June 1940)
RAF Museum: British Military Aviation in 1940
RAF Order of Battle, France, 10th May 1940
Royal Air Force History Section
The Royal Air Force, 1939-1945
The Second World War - a day by day account

The War in France and Flanders, 1939-1940, by Major L.F. Ellis, 1954

back up


Peter D. Cornwell, The Battle of France, Then and Now, 2008

back up


Discussion Groups
Luftwaffe and Allied Air Forces Discussion Forum
RAF Commands Forum

Abbreviations used in the Royal Air Force
Code Names & RAF Vocabulary

Air Aces
Airwar over Denmark
Allied World War II Casualties in the Netherlands
Armée de l'Air - Order of Battle, 10th May 1940
Australian Wargraves
Axis History Factbook
De Belgen in Engeland 1940-1945 (in Dutch)
Belgian Aviation History Association Archaeological Team
British Aircraft Directory
British Aviation Archaeological Council - Books and research links
Canada's Air Force History
HMS Cavalier
Ciel de Gloire (in French) RAF Squadrons
CWGC Cemeteries Germany
CWGC Cemeteries Netherlands
Czechoslovak airmen in the RAF 1940-1945
Danish WW2 Pilots

Dutch Pilots in RAF Squadrons
Eagles Squadrons (American pilots in the RAF)
Foreign Aircraft Landings in Ireland 1939-1946
Håkans aviation page (from Sweden, in English)
'High flight', poem by John Gillespie Magee
An Irish Airman Foresees His Death, poem by W.B. Yeats
Jagdgeschwader 27 (in German)
Luchtoorlog ('Arial War', in Dutch, with many photos)
Land Forces of Britain, the Empire and Commonwealth
The Luftwaffe, 1933-1945
Luftwaffe and Allied Air Forces Discussion Forum
The National Ex-Prisoners of War Association
Nordic Aviation during WW2 aircraft of WW2
Polish Air Force 1940-1947 Operations Record Books
RAF Battle of Britain
RAF Upwood
De Slag om de Grebbeberg
Warbird Alley
War over Holland
World War II Aircraft wrecksites in Norway

Aircraft crashes on the North Yorkshire Moors, England
The Lancastershire Aircraft Investigation Team
Luftfahrt-Archäologie in Schleswig Holstein (in German)
North East Diary 1939-1945
Wartime Leicester and Leicestershire

The Aerodrome - Aces and Aircraft of World War 1
WW1 Cemeteries

back up

This page is dedicated to the men of the Malta Defence Force / 261 Squadron.

© Bart FM Droog / Rottend Staal Online 2008. Permission granted for use of the data gathered here for non commercial purposes, if this source is mentioned with a link to