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Spitfires over Malta

Seventy-five years ago in March 1942, the strategically important island of Malta stood alone against constant bombing raids by the German and Italian Air Forces, its nearest allies being over 1,000 miles to both the east and west.

In England a plan was drawn up to send Spitfires to replace the Hurricanes, which, outclassed by the Me109 fighters, suffered heavy losses as they struggled to defend the beleaguered islanders. Operation Spotter sent by ship 16-crated Spitfires, along with their pilots, to Gibraltar, where the aircraft were erected on the quay under the cover of darkness, away from the prying eyes of those loyal to the axis forces. The assembled aircraft were then lifted onto the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle. The carrier sailed the Spitfires to within 600 miles of Malta, where they were flown off, by pilots who had never before flown off an aircraft carrier, the Spitfire had also never previously taken off from a carrier, and these were making there first untested flight having just been assembled. 

The first attempt ended in failure, as the additional external fuel tanks beneath the aircrafts fuselage were found not to be providing the extra fuel that was required for such a long flight. A return was made to Gibraltar to await experts to be sent from England to resolve the problem. It was said that one man who was sent left in such a hurry that he was still wearing evening dress underneath his flying suit when he arrived. The problem resolved, the operation was on again and 15 Spitfires, (one had been cannibalised to provide spare parts) completed the daring flight. All landed safely at Takali airfield.

Two of those first pilots, Plt Off Paul Brennan and Plt Off Ray Hesselyn, were later encouraged to record their personal experiences, a detailed and exciting story which was first published in 1943 as Spitfires Over Malta.

The original much sought after book Spitfires Over Malta has been out of print since the war. Paul Lovell has now reprinted it in its entirety, with additional information provided about Operation Spotter, which could not be released during the wartime period. The 370-page paperback also includes extracts from the diary of Plt Off Peter Nash until he was shot down and killed. In addition there are profiles of the sixteen pilots from first hand accounts, official and family records, including many photographs not previously published.

Out of the 16 Operation Spotter pilots, six were killed on Malta and three others died before the final victory was won, including Paul Brennan. An account of the Pedestal Convoy in August 1942, which finally provided the island with sufficient food supplies to prevent it having to surrender through starvation, completes the heroic story.

The 16 Operation Spotter Pilots Profiled

    • Sqd Ldr Stanley Grant
    • Flt Lt Philip Heppell
    • Flt Lt Norman Macqueen
    • Flt Sgt David Ferraby
    • Flt Sgt Ian Cormack
    • Flt Sgt Paul Brennan
    • Flg Off Norman Lee
    • Plt Off Peter Nash
    • Plt Off Kenric Murray
    • Plt Off James Guerin
    • Plt Off John Plagis
    • Plt Off Douglas Leggo
    • Sgt John Tayleur
    • Sgt Raymond Hesselyn
    • Sgt Robert Sim
    • Flt Lt John Yarra

The book Isbn:9780955364655 is printed on silk art paper in B5 format (240mm x 170mm). With a stunning cover image from the aviation artist Robert Taylor and includes 100 black and white images. Retail Price: £15.99. Contact: David Morgan [email protected]

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