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Faith (serial number N5520), a Gloster Sea Gladiator Mk I, on the ground at an airfield in Malta, in about September 1940. N5520 is the only surviving Gladiator from the Hal Far Fighter Flight, and was presented to the people of Malta in 1943.

The Hal Far Fighter Flight was a British fighter unit formed during the siege of Malta in 1940. For several weeks, the island of Malta was protected by a small force of Gloster Sea Gladiator biplane fighters, based at the Royal Air Force's Hal Far airfield, which was also known as the Fleet Air Arm station HMS Falcon. The flight is the source of the myth that only three aircraft, named Faith, Hope and Charity formed the entire fighter cover of the island.[1] [2] In fact, more than three aircraft were operational, though not always at the same time; others were used for spare parts.[3] The names Faith, Hope and Charity were applied to the aircraft many months later, by a Maltese newspaper.[4]

Background[edit | edit source]

Crates containing 18 Mark I Sea Gladiators (serial numbers N5518 - N5535) from 802 Naval Air Squadron, were left at Malta in early 1940, by the squadron's ship, HMS Glorious. Three of these airframes were later shipped to Britain to take part in the Norwegian campaign (N5532, N5533 and N5534) and another three were sent to Egypt. In March, although Malta was not facing attack, it was decided that six Gladiators would be assembled, to form an air defence unit. The Hal Far Fighter Flight was to include both FAA and Royal Air Force personnel. Five planes were eventually assembled. These were N5525, N5527, N5530 and N5533. However, a few days later they were dismantled again.

In April, it was decided that Malta had a need for fighter protection, and although the Gladiators were obsolete, they could hold their own in air combat against the bombers used at the time. N5519, N5520, N5522 and N5531 were assembled and test-flown. Two of these were to be used for normal operations, one was kept for spares and the other was kept in reserve. (Another source states that the aircraft assembled in April were N5519, N5520, N5523, N5524, N5529 and N5531; N5518, N5521, N5522 and N5525-28 and N5530 were to be the spares.) In May, two more Gladiators, N5524 and N5529, were assembled. Other crated aircraft were to be used as spares. On 11 June 1940, when the air battle for Malta began, Malta's airborne defence consisted of four Gladiator aircraft, two of which maintained a continuous stand-by during daylight hours.[5]

N5520, better known as Faith, was fitted with an engine salvaged from a Bristol Blenheim bomber, which also used the Mercury engine. It was also fitted with the Blenheim's three-bladed Hamilton propeller, rather than the standard two-blade propeller.

Air raids begin[edit | edit source]

By June, two of the Gladiators had crashed and an additional two were assembled.[6] On June 10, Italy entered the war. That same day 10 Cant Z.1007 bombers belonging to the Regia Aeronautica attacked Grand Harbour and Hal Far. In early raids, the Italian crews bombed from around 5,500 metres (17,000 feet); they later reduced their bombing altitude to 3,000 metres (9,000 ft), to improve their accuracy. However, journalist Mabel Strickland claimed that: "the Italians decided they didn't like [the Gladiators and AA guns], so they dropped their bombs [30 km] off Malta and went back."

Four Hawker Hurricanes joined the Sea Gladiators at the end of June and the flight became part of No. 261 Squadron RAF.

Charity was shot down on 29 July 1940 and its pilot, F/O P. W. Hartley, was badly burned. Hope was destroyed in an air raid on 4 February 1941. Faith survived the war. The fate of at least five more Gladiators that saw action over Malta is not as well documented.

Another two of the Sea Gladiators, N5513 and N5535, were taken over by No. 33 Squadron RAF, in May 1941, suggesting that the serial number usually allocated to Hope is incorrect.[7]

The fuselage of Faith is on display at the Malta War Museum, Fort St Elmo, Valletta.[8]

No. 1435 Flight RAF took over the defence of Malta from 4 December 1941, flying the Spitfire. Today 1435 Flight defends the Falkland Islands. The Phantom aircraft assigned to the defence of the Falklands in 1988 wore a Maltese Cross on their fins and bore the names Faith, Hope and Charity with an additional aircraft - Desperation. The tradition was continued by the Tornado and, later, Typhoon aircraft which replaced them, although the Typhoons do not carry the names.[Note 1]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Their tailcodes (H, F, C & D) match their names.

References[edit | edit source]

  • Crawford, Alex. Gloster Gladiator. Redbourn, UK: Mushroom Model Publications, 2002. ISBN 83-916327-0-9.
  • Mason, Francis K. The Gloster Gladiator. London: Macdonald, 1964.
  • Mason, Francis K. The Gloster Gladiator. Leatherhead, UK: Profile Publications, 1966.
  • Mason, Francis K. British Fighters of World War Two, Volume One. Windsor, Berkshire, UK: Hilton Lacy Publishers Ltd., 1969. ISBN 0-85064-012-1.
  • Ministry of Information. The Air Battle of Malta, The Official Account of the RAF in Malta, June 1940 to November 1942. London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1944.
  • Poolman, Kenneth. Faith, Hope and Charity: Three Biplanes Against an Air Force. London: William Kimber and Co. Ltd., 1954. (First pocket edition in 1958, republished 2005 by Cerberus Publishing, ISBN 1-84145-056-1.)

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