(Air Headquarters Malta or Air H.Q. Malta)
AHQ Malta (Air Headquarters Malta or Air H.Q. Malta) was an overseas command of the Royal Air Force (RAF) established on December 28, 1941 by renaming RAF Mediterranean under Air Vice Marshal Hugh Lloyd.
Initially blockaded by the Axis, Malta was not much of an offensive threat early in the North African Campaign, but was considered an essential Allied stronghold as exemplified by Operation Pedestal and the eventual assignment of Keith Park to defend the island.
On April 20, 1942, the USS Wasp delivered 47 Spitfires to Malta and the German Luftwaffe promptly destroyed 30 of them on the same day. Nonetheless, as these and other aircraft reached the island during the summer of 1942, the defensive and offensive capabilities of AHQ Malta were significantly fortified. On July 1, 1942, AHQ Malta had approximately 200 aircraft, about half of which were Spitfires. Air Vice Marshal Sir Keith Park took over command of AHQ Malta On July 15, 1942.
At this time, the island provided critical operational air bases for the Allies with proximity to Axis shipping lanes and the battlefields of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Pantelleria, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, and mainland Italy during World War II. There were three main airfields on Malta known as RAF Hal Far, RAF Luqa, and RAF Ta' Kali with an intermediate landing area known as the Safi Dispersal Strip.
During the month of October, 1942 when the Second Battle of El Alamein was being waged, Allied forces were credited with the destruction of 59% of the German tonnage and 45% of the Italian tonnage shipped to Rommel's Axis forces in North Africa. In large part the result of AHQ Malta and the British and American heavy bombers of No. 205 Group, this attrition was a significant aspect of Rommel's defeat.
In February of 1943, AHQ Malta became a major sub-command of the Mediterranean Air Command (MAC) established at the Casablanca Conference in January. The Northwest African Air Forces and Middle East Command were the other major sub-commands of MAC.
Order of battle
When the Allies invaded Sicily (Operation Husky) on July 10, 1943, AHQ Malta consisted of the units indicated below.
No. 248 Wing RAF Spitfire units Other units No. 69 Squadron RAF Martin Baltimore No. 40 Squadron SAAF No. 23 Squadron RAF, de Havilland Mosquito No. 108 Squadron RAF, Bristol Beaufighter No. 126 Squadron RAF No. 73 Squadron RAF Det., Hurricane No. 221 Squadron RAF, Vickers Wellington No. 185 Squadron RAF No. 256 Squadron RAF Det., Mosquito No. 272 Squadron RAF, Beaufighter No. 229 Squadron RAF No. 600 Squadron RAF, Beaufighter No. 683 Squadron RAF, Spitfire No. 249 Squadron RAF 815 Naval Air Squadron Det. (FAA), Fairey Albacore No. 1435 Flight RAF
Notes: SAAF = South African Air Force; Det. = Detachment.
Some famous Aces stationed on Malta were Rhodesian Johnny Plagis and the Canadian fighter pilots George 'Screwball' Beurling and Wally McLeod.
Air Vice Marshal R. M. Foster took over command of AHQ Malta on March 26, 1944 and Air Vice Marshal K. B. Lloyd took over on October 19, 1944, commanding through the remainder of World War II and into June of 1947. AHQ Malta had ten other commanders until it was disbanded on June 30, 1968 and its units were absorbed by Air Commander Malta.
Web Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AHQ_Malta
RAF Luqa was an airbase of the Royal Air Force on the island of Malta during World War II. Particularly from 1941 to 1943, RAF Luqa was a very important base for British Commonwealth forces fighting against Italy and Germany for naval control of the Mediterranean and for ground control of North Africa. Air combat over and near Malta was some of the most ferocious of the war, and a series of airfields were built on the small, rocky island: at Luqa, TaQali, and HalFar, plus satellite fields at Safi, Qrendi and on Malta's second island of Gozo.
After the war, Luqa remained an important RAF base, serving during the Suez Crisis of 1956, but also served as Malta's main civilian airport. Nowadays, the location has been developed into the main entry point of the modern, independent country of Malta, under the name Malta International Airport. It is sometimes still referred to as 'Luqa Airport' or 'Valletta Airport'.
The RAF left in 1979 following a British government decision not to renew the lease on the station from the Maltese. The payments demanded were several times the previous payments under the previous lease. It is also possible that the Avro Vulcan crash over the village of Żabbar led to the Maltese decision to effectively get the RAF to leave by raising the proposed lease payments to what was known to be a level unacceptable to the British.
RAF Hal Far ‘HMS Falcon’
The RAF Hal Far airfield in Malta, titled HMS Falcon during the Royal Navy base, was constructed and opened on 1 April 1929, and was used by Royal Navy air crews. It was the first permanent airfield to be built in Malta. It was transferred to the Maltese Government and redeveloped as from January 1979. It is now closed and one of its runways is used by drag racing enthusiasts. The second runway is now a road leading to an industrial estate which was developed recently.
This airfield consisted of two runways, namely Runway 13/31 which was 6,000ft (2,000 yards) long and Runway 9/27, which was 4,800ft (1,600 yards) long. Runway 13/31 was resurfaced between 20 April and 26 May 1959 while the resurfacing of Runway 9/27 was carried out between 12 June and 28 July 1959. Its location on Malta was of great strategic importance in the Mediterranean, since it provided a base for aircraft carrier units on route to the rest of the British Empire. Compared to other airstrips on the island, Hal Far had better approaches over the sea and was the preferred diversionary base. It also provided excellent range facilities, making it the ideal location for armament training by the squadrons.
Hal Far airfield provided various facilities, including an armoury, explosives area, workshops, a compass base and a control tower. It had also a radar test base and a number of hangars. It also included living quarters for H.Q. Staff, Officers and other ranks, and a sick bay, for medical purposes.
World War II
During the Second World War, Hal Far airfield was one of the main targets for the Luftwaffe and the Regia Aeronautica and suffered several bombings during the blitz. On July and August 1940 in the beginning of the Siege of Malta, the Italian air-raids managed to damage several squadron aircraft. As the raids intensified intensified during 1942 more damage was inflicted on the airfield and the squadrons, present on the airfield. On one particular attack on Hal Far by Junkers Ju 88s, a Fairey Swordfish was badly damaged. Further raids during January 1942 resulted in the destruction at Hal Far of two other Swordfish and a Blackburn Skua, and damaged 15 Hurricanes, three other Swordfish and a Fairey Fulmar. Further damage to aircraft, airfield buildings and loss of personnel resulted during attacks in 1942 and 1943, with the last bombing being recorded on 21 May 1943.
Hal Far had been the first Maltese airfield to be bombed on 11 June 1940. During this period, 2,300 tons of bombs were dropped on the airfield, nevertheless it was never made unservicable, due to the great competence of the airfield repair parties. On the airfield itself the ground crew casualties numbered 30 killed and 84 injured. Various officers and Maltese civilian employees were awarded the George Cross, George Medal and other awards for their courage and bravery in the face of enemy action. With enemy air raids practically at an end, and as aircraft became heavier and traffic had increased significantly, paved runways and taxiways were added to the airfield, together with the completion of runways 13/31 and 9/27.
The Air Sea Rescue and Communications Flight, which had originally formed at Hal Far in March 1943, but which moved to Ta' Qali the following September, returned to Hal Far in March 1944. By 1944 Malta had therefore returned to normal and new aircraft were appearing all over the Island. The influx of large numbers of aircraft needed an expansion of dispersal areas and more huts, an undertaking carried out in October 1944. Further accommodation areas were added when FAA squadrons started arriving regularly at Hal Far for training periods.
A different kind of event occurred in January 1945, when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to Malta in anticipation of the Malta Conference with Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. To deter any possible enemy attack, nine Spitfire IXs of N° 1435 Squadron, and six Mosquito night fighters of N° 256 Squadron, deployed to Hal Far from Grottaglie and Foggia respectively, two of the Mosquitos escorting the Prime Minister's Avro York transport aircraft outside Malta and into Luqa airfield on 29 January. All aircraft remained at Hal Far into early February until all VIPs had left.
After the evolution from piston to jet engines in the 1950s, the airfield had to be closed for three weeks for the resurfacing of the runways. The airfield started housing various training camps by the UK-based Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) Air Divisions. Training including live depth charges dropping, live armament practice and rocket firing on the uninhabited islet of Filfla, and hide and seek exercises with RN submarines in which aircraft sought out and shadowed the underwater 'raiders' and finally carried out mock attacks if they managed to find them. Several units used HMS Falcon for these annual summer camps, which started in 1950, stopped in 1951, and continued from 1952 to 1956.
During 1957, the airfield also served as a civilian airport while the runways at Luqa were being resurfaced. During 1958 Hal Far was the proving base for the world's first assault helicopter squadron.
After being used by the Royal Navy, the Hal Far airfield was returned to the RAF for a short period of time in the mid and 1960s, and the last squadron was disbanded on 31 August 1967. This brought to an end 43 very active years of Malta's oldest and most historical airfield. It was subsequently placed on a 'care and maintenance' basis and served as a satellite for RAF Luqa. Between March 1967 and September 1978 the airfield served as a base for the American aircraft maintenance company M.I.A.Co.
During the resurfacing of Luqa's runways, all civilian and military flying was transferred to Hal Far until Luqa became operational again.
With the transfer of the airfield to the Maltese Government, who planned to convert Hal Far airfield into an industrial area, MIACO was asked to vacate its hangars and offices by September 1978. Both runways have been dug up and further development of the area reduced the airfield to a scar on the land. Runway 13/31 is currently being used by the Malta Drag Racing Association as a quarter mile dragstrip. Runway 9/27 is now a public road linking the various sections of the industrial area. Its scar can still be clearly seen on Google Maps when using the satellite image function. The control tower and the officer's quarters are still intact, together with a few Nissen huts. The kitchens and mess halls, the electricians and radio section cabin are still standing, but in a dilapidated state.
Editor for Asisbiz: Matthew Laird Acred
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