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Nations at war
Cull, Brian and Frederick Galea. Hurricanes over Malta, June 1940 - April 1942. London: Grub Street, 2002.
Acknowledgements; Foreword; Preamble; photos; map; Chapter Footnotes; Bibliography; Index
Appendices: Roll of Honour; Combat Claims & Credits; Hurricanes for Malta; 418 Flight; The Takoradi Route; The Reconstruction of Hurricane IIA Z3055
In 1987 Grub Street published Malta: The Hurricane Years, 1940-41 by Christopher Shores, Brian Cull, and Nicola Malizia with detailed, day-by-day accounts of the aerial action from the perspectives of pilots with the RAF, the Regia Aeronautica, and the Luftwaffe as well as an over-arching narrative to tie together the accounts, resolve the conflicting claims, and offer a broader view of the proceedings. The Hurricane Years was one of about ten highly-praised books produced in this fashion by Shores and a cadre of collaborators and it remains in print today.
Since 1987, as might be expected, fresh accounts of those years have turned up. Brian Cull and Frederick Galea have consolidated those newly discovered first-hand sources in what Grub Street calls "a fully revised and updated" successor to the original book. Comparing the two, however, shows that Hurricanes over Malta is less of a revision of Malta: The Hurricane Years and more of a companion volume which adds a great deal of new material without substantially repeating the original.
Both books begin with June 1940 and on the British side the action initially involves Gladiators rather than Hurricanes. The original proceeds in a deliberate, day-by-day manner. The new book, while still very chronological in nature, does not quite lock itself into such a rigid format: while Cull and Galea discuss daily events, their account tends to amble a bit more to cover related material even if it did not occur on the same day. This is reflected in the headings within chapters in each book as well. In the original, each heading represents one day. In the new book, each heading represents a month or more.
Both books rely to a great extent on wartime diaries, letters, and other personal documents of the fighter pilots who took part in the campaign. That's especially true in the new volume since most of the basic factual outline has already been sketched in the original. Here's an example:
...we were just approaching Kalafrana when the first Stukas dropped like stones from the clouds toward Breconshire, now lying in Kalafrana Bay. We all shrieked joyous Tally-ho's and dashed to the counter attack. Oh, what joyous moments followed - perhaps the happiest in my life; no, couldn't be happier than moments I've had with the hounds, but particularly happy all the same. Several Stukas pulled out of their dives across my front. I chose one and stuck to it. I was determined to destroy one without doubt. I kept him as my target, having once fired at him, in spite of other 87s passing between us. I opened fire with a burst from about 250 yards, which may have killed the gunner as I experienced no return fire. I closed the range. The e/a tried to evade my fire by diving and zooming. I sat behind him, giving bursts from astern, whenever he altered course in front of me. Pieces were falling from the e/a and his engine was smoking. Then another Hurricane appeared from below; inverted, it almost entered my fire and then fell away. This later proved to be Wigley finishing an attack on my Stuka from below.
I continued after my Stuka which waddled away north-eastwards. As I came still closer, it ceased to take evasive action and went on in a steady glide pouring out white smoke. I closed in to about 15 yards or less then broke away to starboard. I climbed up again to attack afresh with a coup de grace and looked for my Stuka. Wondered where it had gone and then found it on my tail. It had moved so slowly that I'd pulled up again in front of it. I then pulled away and I flew across it, watching it going down to the sea below me. I knew it was finished. I saw another and decided to attack it, but first I looked back to see my first Stuka hit the water, but it must have already done so, for the white trail of smoke had stopped abruptly at sea level. I now turned my attention to this next Stuka. I gave it a full beam attack with a short burst which hit the engine, which also gave out white glycol smoke. I finished my last few rounds from astern and left the e/a also to glide towards the sea. I returned to base. Can only claim these two as a very probable and a probable as I did not actually see them strike the sea. Hope some shore batteries saw them go in, so that I shall get them confirmed.
Cull and Galea also include other fresh material, such as previously unquoted passages from squadron war diaries. Here's an example:
Early this morning the Squadron was scrambled and an aircraft was sighted flying low just off Delimara Point. Anti-aircraft bursts were seen in the vicinity of this aircraft, and led by P/O Hamilton the boys gave chase. For 20 minutes, having pulled everything in sight to try to get an extra mile per hour, the chase continued. After nearly 100 miles very little progress had been made and the leader gave it up. Sgt Wynne, however, with great gusto continued the chase single-handed and eventually closed to firing range. After putting all his ammunition into what he supposed to be a Ju88 he returned to land and reported he had damaged the aircraft in question.
All well and good - one probable Ju88 to the credit of the Squadron - but more to come! Some little time later an irate Glenn Martin crew arrived, looking for the Hurricane who had chased them halfway to Crete! After a good deal of explaining and apologies, everything was settled and a party ensued during which everyone concerned became very light-hearted about the whole issue. The evening ended with handshakes all round and a promise from the Glenn Martin crew to enter in their logbook - 'Affiliation exercises with Hurricanes'! Needless to say, not one hole was shot anywhere in the Glenn Martin!
As in the first book, all this material adds up to a thorough, multi-dimensional view of the battle. Of course, there's always more to be learned, and the new book takes the thoroughness of the original volume even further. Here's what Shores, Cull, and Malizia had to say about 22 December 1941:
A further O.K.W. report for 22nd. recorded two further victories by German fighters, again one by Maj. von Maltzahn. At least one of these was claimed when Bf1O9s were engaged in shooting up fishing boats off Grand Harbour. Plt.Off. Matthews of 249 Squadron was involved in attempting to intercept these when, according to Howard Coffin: "...another German was hard on his own tail, chasing him towards the shore... Matthews was hit, and crashed into the sea wall at Valetta, where his aircraft exploded and started to burn." Sgt. Copp's aircraft was also damaged but he got down safely. The fighter units noted four alerts during the day, but were unable to make any claims. During one of these raids a Ju88C, R4+KK of 2/NJG 2 flown by Fw. Ernst Ziebarth, failed to return from a sortie over Malta, he and his crew being reported missing. It is assumed that their aircraft was hit by A.A. fire. A Blenheim of 18 Squadron also failed to return from a sea reconnaissance, F/Sgt. S.C. Griffiths and his crew later being reported killed; this may have been the second aircraft credited to Luftwaffe pilots on this date.
During the day a Sunderland (T9071) of 230 Squadron which was on its way to Kalafrana from Aboukir Bay, Egypt, carrying aboard Plt.Off. Easton, the 40 Squadron New Zealand pilot who had been shot down during the night of 13 December. The flying boat, flown by another New Zealander, Flt.Lt. S.W.R. Hughes, was intercepted by two Bf11Os of III ZG 26 (one of which is believed to have been flown by Ofw. Helmut Haugk) when 50 miles north-east of Benghazi. During the fight one of the Zerstorer was claimed probably shot down by Sgt. Jacques Dupont, R.A.A.F., after two of the gunners had been wounded, but the Sunderland was badly damaged, both starboard engines being shot out of action. Hughes force-landed on the sea, coming to rest after two bounces. The crew had to spread themselves on the undamaged wing to keep the remaining float in the water, that on the starboard side having been smashed in the landing. In this way the aircraft drifted tail-first until it struck a reef just offshore at Ras Amt, and stuck there, beginning to break up as it was battered by heavy seas....
...meanwhile, both the Blenheims and Marylands were out during the day. Flg.Off. Roger Drew of 69 Squadron made a morning reconnaissance over Tripolitania. Over Chaddahia two Bf1O9s attacked, but one of these was seen to break away and dive towards the coast, leaving a trail of black smoke; Drew's gunner, Sgt. Moren, was credited with a probable. Six 107 Squadron Blenheims went out in pairs to attack the road west of Sirte, in the same general area. Transport and other such targets were attacked but after the bombing Sgt. R.F.J. Henley's aircraft was seen to turn away and crash into the sea.
Cull and Galea have come up with even more data for that day in December:
The Germans were back again next day (22 December). In the afternoon Hurricanes from both 126 and 249 Squadrons were scrambled when reports were received that enemy fighters - apparently both Messerschmitts and Macchis - were shooting up fishing boats off Grand Harbour. Plt Off Bob Matthews of 249 Squadron went after one of the strafers. Plt Off Coffin of 126 Squadron wrote:
"Matthews got the Messerschmitt as it climbed from the sea for new altitude, but another German was hard on his own tail chasing him towards shore. Matthews was hit and crashed into the sea wall at Valetta, where his aircraft exploded and started to burn."
This account is not strictly correct, however. It would seem that Matthews pursued and damaged an aircraft, thought to have been a Macchi, before being engaged by Messerschmitts. His aircraft (BV156/GN-Q) did not crash into the sea wall at Valetta, as suggested by Coffin, but was shot down from about 20,000 feet, as testified by on-the-spot witnesses including Plt Off Ormrod:
"This morning an 88 made an attack on the neighbourhood of Valetta. It was a good surprise attack, making use of the sun, but in the face of some ack-ack he did not seem to press it home. The weather today is excellent. Sunny, with very few clouds, but not too hot. Was wandering from 1.00pm to 4.45pm. I saw part of a dogfight between Hurricanes and enemy fighters. Only saw aircraft when they flashed in the sun. Saw one come down in flames. Dived straight in, no parachute was seen. Am afraid it looked like a Hurricane. 249 were up."
Another was Plt Off McKay, who wrote:
"This afternoon there was a terrific dogfight directly over us and we saw a Hurricane go straight in. Apparently he was shot up at about 20,000 feet and the pilot must have been killed and fallen over the stick for he didn't get out and the aircraft came down nearly vertically. It must have been going about 600mph when it went in. It also exploded. We are beginning to think we will be staying here now seeing Jerry is getting busy again and they need some replacements for the squadrons that are here. I don't care much what we do so long as we get doing something."
In fact, Plt Off Robert Matthews' Hurricane crashed near Defence Post M33 just west of Addolorata Cemetery, on the outskirts of Paola, the victim of either 2/JG53's Oblt Klaus Quaet-Faslem, who claimed a Hurricane at 1436 (his 10th), or Lt Heinrich von Schwerdtner who claimed one 14 minutes later (his 6th). The other Hurricane was that flown by Sgt Ted Copp of 126 Squadron, who landed safely despite having been shot up. I/NJG2 lost another of its aircraft when R4+KK of 2 Staffel, flown by Fw Ernst Ziebarth, failed to return from a sortie over Malta with the crew being reported missing, presumably the victim of AA fire.
Cull and Galea also provide quite a few new photos andsomething not in the original booknumerous footnotes. The new edition does not have as much order of battle material nor as many appendices, but it does offer an updated list of Hurricane pilots lost in the battle, a comprehensive list of combat claims and credits, and new supplementary material such as information about the trans-Africa Takoradi air route.
For anyone who enjoys this style of air historyand it is, rightfully, a very popular genreHurricanes over Malta will prove to be a delightful read and a fine acquisition. That's true even for those who have read and own Malta: The Hurricane Years. Although they cover the same topic throughout the same months in the same style, the new book does not replace its companion. Instead it complements, enhances, and in some cases corrects the original.
Definitely recommended to anyone interested in WWII air warfare.
Note also that Hurricanes over Malta is part of a series from Grub Street with Cull as the lead author, including Hurricanes over Tobruk, Spitfires over Sicily, and the forthcoming Hurricanes over Singapore.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Grub Street.
Thanks to Grub Street for providing this review copy.
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Reviewed 3 March 2002
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone