Thursday, June 20, 2024 Airfields & Airlines » Hal-Far Airfield  


On this page, the history of the previous HMS Falcon, Hal-Far airfield, is reviewed. It is a combination of two articles, which appeared in the Luqa Aviation Yearbook 1985 written by Carmel Attard, and a two-part history of Hal-Far, which appeared in Malta Flypast, issues 3 & 4, written by Charles Stafrace, well as additional notes by myself.

At one point during the Second World War, Malta boasted three airfields with tarmaced runways, Hal-Far, Ta’ Qali and Luqa, and two landing strips, one at Qrendi, the other at Safi. For the invasion of Sicily, US engineers also built a landing strip on the Sister Island of Gozo. This however, was dismantled after the war.

Hal-Far – The First Airfield

Hal Far airfield, one of the most popular foreign posts for British Royal Navy air crews throughout the decades, was the first permanent airfield to be constructed in Malta, and its location on the Island gave it a position of great strategic importance in the Mediterranean, providing a base for all units disembarked from carriers on the important route to the rest of the Empire. Because of better approaches over the sea than Malta's other airfields, Hal Far became the preferred diversionary base, while excellent range facilities rendered it the ideal place from where intensive armament training could be undertaken by squadrons on their arrival. At times, especially in the late 1920s/mid-1930s, and again in the 1950s as HMS Falcon, Hal Far was one of the busiest airfields in the entire Fleet Air Arm; indeed, for a time between 1958 and 1962 Hal Far was of particular importance to the FAA as its only remaining overseas land station after the closure of Sembawang in Singapore. But to understand the growth of the base's importance one has to start the story from the beginning and go back in time to the period at the outbreak of the First World War, at the dawn of practical naval aviation.

The beginning

In July 1914 the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) had been created at Eastchurch, Britain, as an aerial spotting arm of the Royal Navy and as a separate entity from the Army's Royal Flying Corps (RFC). By the end of the year, RNAS aircraft were operating successfully from shore bases in France and Britain and when the Gallipoli Campaign opened on 25 April 1915, all air support was provided by the RNAS employing seaplanes (floatplanes were called seaplanes at that time) operating from HMS Ark Royal and shore-based land planes. The Ark was then a seaplane carrier with accommodation for eight of these aircraft which she could fly off on trolleys from a large launching platform on her bows.

Also on 25 April 1915 the German submarine U-21 left its base on the River Ems, near Emden, passed through the Straits of Gibraltar on 6 May, refitted for a week at Cattaro and, to the consternation of the Royal Navy, sank the battleships HMS Triumph and Majestic off the Dardanelles. By the end of 1915 there were 13 German submarines lurking first in the Aegean Sea and later plundering shipping the length of the Mediterranean. To counter this threat, the Admiralty at London gave permission for a seaplane base to be built in Malta, which was already an important naval base, and in July 1916 a sea-plane hangar and a slipway had been constructed on the western shore of Marsaxlokk Bay at Calafrana. (The name of the area was spelt this way at the time, in rather Italianised Maltese: it was only in December 1936 that it became Kalafrana). At the end of July 1916 five Curtiss America flying boats were despatched from Felixstowe to Calafrana together with seven pilots, two Warrant Officers and the requisite number of mechanics, under the overall command of Flight Commander J D Maude. The aircraft patrolled the approaches to Malta, occasionally attacking submarines with rather inconclusive results, but proving nonetheless their value in reporting the presence of enemy surface vessels, submarines and mines to convoys.

This article supersedes the previous one about this airfield with far more detailed material. Additional information about the International Fire & Safety School – Malta, International Safety Training Centre Malta Ltd and aircraft movements from my own notes.

In March 1917 three Short 184 seaplanes were sent out to Malta as replacement of the three remaining Curtiss aircraft. Four more Short 184, two Short 320 and five Italian-built FBA flying boats arrived later in the year, partly to make up for losses. In April, Calafrana seaplane base and another which had been built at Otranto, on the heel of Italy, came under the command of Commodore Murray F. Sueter, who had played such a vital part in the creation of the RNAS. It was obvious that the most useful aircraft for submarine detection had been the large Curtiss America, from which the British had produced the Felixstowe F2A with an improved hull design. But nearly all output of the F2A from Britain and of the America in the USA was required on the Home Station. Commodore Sueter proposed that the machines should be built at the Malta Dockyard and when Admiralty approval was granted in June 1917, work on 12 boats was started. By November the first boat was flying.

Throughout 1917 the German submarine effort in the Mediterranean had increased to an alarming extent and when Wing Captain A M Longmore (one of the four original British naval aviators) was sent to Malta to review air requirements on the Station, he recommended expansion of the Calafrana seaplane base, the building of more flying boats at the Dockyard, and the deployment of four seaplane carriers to the Mediterranean. Nevertheless, it was a Short 320 which, on 8 February 1918 after taking of from Calafrana, dropped one 230-lb delayed-action bomb on a U-boat which was about to attack a French warship. Although bubbles, oil and wreckage came to the surface, it is not known whether the U-boat was destroyed. On 25 February 1918, Wing Captain Longmore was appointed Senior Air Service Officer on the Staff of the C-in-C, Mediterranean (the first Captain [Air] Med.) and the seaplane carriers HMS Engadine, Riviera, and Vindex were sent to join HMS Manxman. On land, more hangars and other facilities were added to Calafrana.

It was on 1 April 1918 that the RNAS lost its separate identity and became part of the new Royal Air Force (RAF). For some months past in London the need had been felt for a central establishment to control combat aviation, if only to bring to an end the bickering and the competing claims of the two flying services, the RFC and the RNAS. On that date, therefore, the Royal Navy ceased to have an air arm of its own and no less than 2,949 aircraft, seaplanes and flying boats, 103 airships, 126 air stations and 67,000 officers and men passed hands from the navy to the RAF. RNAS squadrons, too, lost their identity number, which then started from 201 instead of from 1, and became RAF units. For the next 20 years the story of British naval aviation was not a happy one. The carrier-borne component of the RAF, not until April 1924 gaining the name of Fleet Air Arm (FM), suffered from apathy and neglect at the Air Ministry's hands. In 1923, it was found that the RAF squadron organisational set-up was too cumbersome for use on aircraft carriers, and embarked units were re-organised into flights of six aircraft each to give a more flexible control in the air. The flights were numbered in the 400 range, according to the unit aircraft's role. It was only in 1933 that flights were again given squadron status, their number starting from 800 onwards.

Back to 1 April 1918, Calafrana thus became an RAF seaplane base under the command of Colonel C R J Randall. The following September the Felixstowe F2A and F3 flying boats were taken over by the newly-formed N° 267 Squadron while the Short 184 and 320 floatplanes were formed into an also new N° 268 Squadron. During the summer of that year, two DH-9s were flown from the Marsa Sports Ground to search for submarines when the state of the sea made it impossible for seaplanes to take-off and alight. These were the first shore-based operational aircraft to be based in Malta.

The Inter-war years

The end of the war brought a gradual run-down at Calafrana and during 1919, the seaplane carriers returned to Britain leaving only HMS Engadine in the Mediterranean. No 268 Squadron was disbanded in October 1919 but N° 267 lingered on until August 1923. Although the FAA became an officially designated part of the RAF in 1924, the specialised needs of naval aviation were accorded a very low priority during the inter-war years.

In 1920 HMS Ark Royal relieved HMS Engadine for a short stay and HMS Pegasus, which had been operating in the Baltic, returned to Malta for the spring and summer cruises. But very little flying was achieved in that and the following year. In the autumn of 1922 when the Dardanelles crisis was reopened, the carriers HMS Argus and Ark Royal joined the Pegasus. Argus was a steamer converted while still in construction to have an unrestricted flight deck from bow to stern, in fact the first ship in the world to which can be ascribed the designation of aircraft carrier as we know them today. The prospect of further carrier operations in the Mediterranean gave impetus to the need for a permanent landing ground in Malta and on 16 January 1923 the first aerodrome on the Island was opened at Hal Far, a grassy plain overlooking Calafrana, and to which a connecting road was constructed. The inauguration was made by the Governor and Commander-in-Chief, Lord Plumer, in the presence of the Premier and Ministers of the Legislative Assembly, who also witnessed a short flying display by aircraft from Calafrana. This was probably the first organised airshow to be held on the Island, and was the forerunner of an annual flying event which was to be held each year at Hal Far, except for the war years, until the airfield was ceded to the RAF in 1965.

The year 1924 marks the real beginning of carrier operations in the Mediterranean. By then the Royal Navy was abandoning the cumbersome seaplane carriers and naval aviation came to consist largely of a new generation of carrier-borne, wheeled undercarriage aircraft flying off vessels resembling HMS Argus. In January 1924 the first of many crated Fairey Flycatcher shipboard fighters was shipped to Malta and erected; by February the Governor was able to enjoy a demonstration of aerobatics by these aircraft at Hal Far. The following 7 June HMS Eagle arrived with four Flights: N° 402 with six Fairey Flycatcher Fleet Fighters, N° 422 with six Blackburn Blackburn Fleet Spotters, N° 440 with Supermarine Seagull Fleet Reconnaissance amphibians, and N° 460 with Blackburn Dart Torpedo Bombers. The units disembarked at Hal Far, periodically sailed in the Eagle for Fleet exercises, practised air attacks on Malta and generally set the precedent for the future functioning of Hal Far. On 28 November the first torpedo attack exercise from Hal Far was held when Eagle's Darts carried out mock runs on the battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth. In December Eagle was joined by HMS Hermes which, like Eagle, was the first ship to be designed from her original conception as an aircraft carrier, and it seems they looked a quite curious type of ship then. The London Times correspondent, on commenting on the Royal Review of the Fleet of 26 July 1924 in which both Hermes and Eagle were present, said that there were "craft strange to eyes inexpert, like aeroplane carriers, which seemed all deck and mighty little super-structure”. Throughout 1925 the pattern at Hal Far continued, the carrier-based aircraft taking part in a great variety of exercises involving torpedo attacks, torpedo trials, gunnery spotting, range finding, aerial photography, reconnaissance, W/T exercises, and so on.

In April 1925 the First Sea Lord of the Admiralty included Hal Far in his inspection of the Mediterranean Fleet and watched a fly-past of FAA aircraft during the Naval Review. In October, when the Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Sir Roger V C Keyes, flew with his Fleet Aviation Officer from Hal Far to HMS Eagle to inspect her under sea-going conditions, his Blackburn Dart Fleet Spotter crashed into the sea; fortunately both passenger and pilot were rescued with only minor abrasions. The same happened with the Archbishop and his Chaplain in January 1927 when two floatplanes carried them to Siracuse in Sicily. On the return flight one aircraft crashed into rough sea and the other, having alighted alongside and performing a difficult rescue, found itself unable to rise from the water and had to be humbly towed into the Grand Harbour. No wonder church officials came to prefer the longer choppy way by ship for many years later!

While Hal-Far initially originated as an airfield extension to Calafrana seaplane base, by the end of the 1920s it had attained a status of its own, and Calafrana became rather a sort of satellite for flying boats. On 18 June 1929, after six years of continuous activity, Hal Far was at last upgraded to an RAF Station with effect from 1 April 1929, but continued to function as a shore base for carrier aircraft in the Mediterranean. On the same day a Station Flight - then referred to as a Base Miscellaneous Flight - of Fairey IIIFs was formed. The following 25 November, Hal Far was the departing point for a Fairey Flycatcher flown by Lt Owen Cathcart-Jones who effected the first landing of a fighter aircraft on an aircraft carrier at night. The carrier, HMS Courageous, at the time was anchored in the Grand Harbour. The same pattern of activity of the 1920s continued into the 1930s. The RN's presence in the Mediterranean, hitherto practically unchallenged, was augmented as the Italian fascist regime revived the ancient Roman slogan of Mare Nostrum, our sea. Malta's importance to the RN not only as a port of call but also as a base for air operations grew. Aircraft carrier activity around Malta increased correspondingly, and HMS Eagle, Glorious, Courageous, Furious and Hermes were familiar sights in Grand Harbour, while Hal Far became the second home for their aircraft. The carriers would normally disembark their air complement to Hal Far before entering port, and Blackburn Ripons and Baffins, Fairey IIIFs, Flycatchers and Seals, Hawker Nimrods and Ospreys were normal visitors to the airfield, in spite of waterlogging problems in winter. This growing use of the base was accompanied by a corresponding improvement in the support facilities, including married quarters for locally-based staff, barracks, NAAFI stores, and more hangars, most installations being concentrated in the northern corner. In early February 1935, when the three carriers HMS Courageous, Eagle and Furious happened to be in port simultaneously, Hal Far was so overcrowded with aircraft that a problem was created. As a matter of interest, the RN at the time had only six carriers, and the fact that three of them were in Malta together was further confirmation of the significance the Island was gaining in the Mediterranean.

Record-breaking Flights

A number of record-breaking flights originating abroad made stops at Kalafrana or Hal Far during the inter-war period. On his round-Africa flight Sir Alan Cobham's Short Singapore flying boat alighted at St. Paul's Bay on the evening of 21 November 1927 and the following morning flew in to Marsaxlokk Bay where heavy seas ripped off one of the aircraft's floats. The Singapore was towed to Kalafrana on 29 November where repairs were carried out enabling the flight to resume successfully on 21 January 1928. Sir Alan was again in Malta in 1933 when his Airspeed Courier with which he was attempting a non-stop flight from Portsmouth to India using aerial refuelling (of which he was the pioneer) had to effect a forced wheels up landing at Hal Far.

Australian airman Herbert Hinkler flew in his Avro Avian to Hal Far as one of the planned stops on his record-breaking solo flight from Croydon, London, to Australia on 8 February 1928 and left the next day. Another long distance flight, though a pleasure cruise rather than a record-breaking one, and which used Malta as a staging post was made by Lady Mary Bailey who, on 15 March 1928 landed her de Havilland Cirrus Moth aircraft at Hal Far, also resuming her flight the next morning escorted by three Fairey IIIDs of N° 481 Flight, a gesture which seems to have been a custom for departing civil aircraft from Hal Far at the time. Both Hinkler's and Lady Mary's flights are narrated in detail in Malta Flypast issue 2.

War Looming

The Abyssinian Crisis of late 1935 threatened the possibility of war with Italy and all FAA aircraft available at Hal Far were embarked on HMS Glorious which sailed to the eastern Mediterranean. To fill the temporary vacuum, two RAF squadrons, N° 74 with Hawker Demons and N° 22 with Vickers Vildebeest, were flown in to Hal Far for the defence of Malta in October. With the crisis over, both units returned to Britain, in July and August 1936 respectively. On 27 July 1936 N° 825 NAS brought over its Fairey IIIFs to Hal Far in order to convert to Swordfish Is and remained there for its working up period until it embarked on HMS Glorious by the end of October for deck landing trials. Returning to Hal Far the following month, N° 825 again operated from the Maltese base until 4 January 1937 when it rejoined Glorious on the carrier's way back to her home port. It was in one of the earlier periods that N° 825 NAS adopted the Maltese Cross as the main emblem of its official coat-of-arms. The Squadron was to return on other occasions to Hal Far before the outbreak of war while still embarked on Glorious, spending four periods in 1938 and another four in 1939, with still one other in January/February 1940. On 17 January 1940 it re-embarked on the carrier which withdrew from the Mediterranean for operations in the North Sea, leaving eighteen crated Gloster Sea Gladiators in storage at Kalafrana.

Like N° 825, N° 823 NAS had already been a frequent visitor to Malta since its formation in 1933 when disembarking from its carrier. The unit re-equipped with Swordfish Is in November 1936 while on a spell at Hal Far, after which it embarked on HMS Glorious on 30 January 1937. It was back at Hal Far three times that year, four times in 1938 and five in 1939 until, as stated above, the carrier was recalled to home waters.

The Second World War

Malta's position in the middle of the Mediterranean and her consistently good weather conditions permitted all year training for the RN fleet, and the main purpose of carrier aircraft disembarking at Hal Far was in fact their possibility of indulging themselves in various exercises. Throughout the 1930s until the outbreak of war, carrier-borne aircraft deployed to Hal Far also practised torpedo attacks on defended harbours and stationary ships, and Malta's Grand Harbour echoed the drone of low flying Swordfish engaged on such practice. In April 1936 N° 2 Gun Co-operation Flight with Swordfish target aircraft and a radio-controlled Queen Bee drone transferred from Alexandria, Egypt, to Hal Far, the unit growing in status in March 1937 when it was re-designated N° 3 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit (AACU), its ‘A’ Flight remaining at Hal Far and a 'B' Flight operating from Kalafrana with the same types of aircraft but in floatplane versions.

In the meantime, the Admiralty had at last won its battle to regain control of naval aircraft and in the summer of 1937 the FM passed anew to the Navy. It was envisaged that the transition period of handing over would be two years, during which all personnel would revert to naval ranks and the FAA be permitted to operate its shore bases. In spite of the importance accorded to Malta by the RN Fleet and FAA, little thought was given by the RAF for its air defence in the event of war. A mere 60 miles (100 km) to the north lay Sicily, within easy range for Italian bombers based there to make the round trip to Malta inside the hour should Italy declare war against Britain. A school of thought within the Army and Air Force circles in the British Defence Ministry in fact considered Malta as indefensible in the face of a determined Italian onslaught. As a consequence of this the Fleet was now much more in Alexandria and the central Mediterranean saw less of it, even though warships continued using the Malta docking facilities while these remained available.

Thus the outbreak of war on 3 September 1939 found no operational defence aircraft in Malta, and this dangerous situation existed well into 1940. N° 3 MCU had been declared an operational unit in anticipation of war on 28 August 1939, and carried out maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine patrols, absorbing also Hal Far's Station Flight aircraft. But danger failed to materialise and the unit resumed its training role on 3 October. War in Western Europe in the meantime was passing its 'phoney' stage and entered into a real shooting phase, when Germany invaded Holland and Belgium, and outflanked the Maginot Line to invade also France in April 1940. Italian dictator Mussolini's rhetoric became more belligerent and it became clear that Italy's entry into the war on Germany's side was a matter of weeks. RAF losses in France, and the awaited battle for Britain, made it impossible to provide for the air defence of Malta and on 18 April 1940 N° 3 MCU was again put on an operational basis, though how its Swordfish and unpiloted Queen Bee were expected to stem Italian bomber waves remains a mystery. Desperate as the situation had become, somebody remembered the crated Sea Gladiators left at Kalafrana by HMS Glorious before her departure from the Mediterranean. The Admiralty agreed to loan six of the aircraft to the RAF and five aircraft were erected in early March on charge of Hal Far Station Flight. Their full story is narrated in the excellent article Gladiators in Malta in Malta Flypast N° 2 issued in 1998. Here it suffices to say that their operations from Hal Far defending the Island in the face of overwhelming numbers of faster and more modern Italian bombers only two Sea Gladiators were kept airborne at anyone time - created a legend of heroism, even though their lone stand lasted only 10 days until Hawker Hurricane reinforcements arrived. Nevertheless they caught the imagination of the public and their subsequent sobriquet of Faith, Hope and Charity became household names. It is most fitting that the fuselage of one of the Sea Gladiators (N5520) which actually saw combat service had been retained and is now expected to be completed with wings and all other accessories for exhibition at the Malta Aviation Museum within the next couple of years.

As France was faltering, Italy declared its entry into the war on Germany's side on 10 June 1940, and the following morning Hal Far was raided by 10 Italian bombers causing little material damage. An afternoon raid was met by the Gladiators, which had been formed into Fighter Flight, with inconclusive results. Gladiators did, however, manage to shoot down a recce S.79 and a Macchi MC.200 on 22 and 23 June respectively, although their numbers were so decimated by accidents and battle damage that more crates had to be loaned from the RN and erected. Fortunately on 21 June, four Hurricanes joined the Fighter Flight, greatly alleviating the overworked Gladiators and their pilots.

Also in June 1940 N° 767 NAS, a Deck Landing Training unit based in the United Kingdom, was transferred to HMS Furious with eighteen Swordfish, twelve of these flying to Malta from Medjaz al-Bab, Tunisia. The Malta detachment was re-numbered N° 830 NAS on 1 July and carried out raids on enemy targets. Used mainly as dive-bombers, the aircraft carried out an attack on a U-Boat on the 19th of the month and another attack on oil storage tanks at Augusta in Sicily in August. These forays were followed by similar raids on targets on the Italian island and on Libya throughout the rest of the year but Italian raids on Hal Far during July and August, however, managed to damage several of the squadron's aircraft, reducing its effectiveness.

With the receipt of more Hurricane Is from N° 418 Flight from Britain, the Fighter Flight was upgraded to become N° 261 Squadron on 1 August. The odds of interception of Italian bombers and the neutralisation of their fighter escorts became more even, though some bombers still managed to get through. The squadron, now wholly equipped with Hurricanes, moved to Ta' Qali on 20 November 1940.

Early in 1941 the blitz on Malta was intensified by the arrival of units of Luftwaffe in Sicily. Junkers Ju 87 and Ju 88 augmented the attacks and the air battles became desperate. When HMS Illustrious limped into Grand Harbour after severe bomb damage (six direct hits) while escorting a convoy, the Axis made an all-out effort which created awful havoc in the built-up area around the harbour, but such was the efficiency of the AA defences that she was seriously hit only once and was able to leave Malta for major repairs in 12 days, leaving at Hal Far what remained of its N° 815 and 819 NAS Swordfish of the Taranto harbour raid fame. Meanwhile, in December 1940, N° 821 NAS, land based in the UK, had detached six Swordfish from its complement and embarked them as N° 821 X Flight on HMS Argus, the latter transferring them then to HMS Ark Royal at Gibraltar for the Malta passage. On 14 January 1941, N° 821X Flight combined with the remnants of HMS Illustrious' N° 815 and 819 NAS to form a new N° 815 NAS at Hal Far.

In April 1941 the RAF was reinforced by the arrival of three batches of Hurricane IIs which enabled the formation of N° 185 Squadron on 12 May at Hal Far. A lull in bombing raids brought a brief respite when the Luftwaffe left Sicily to return to the Russian Front. The FAA in the meantime, disembarked N° 800X NAS from HMS Furious, and its nine Fairey Fulmar I fighters operated from Hal Far in the air defence role from 21 May to 13 November 1941. Naval air strength was further increased by the arrival of N° 828 NAS from HMS Ark Royal with Fairey Albacores. N° 828 NAS, formed at Lee-an-Solent in September 1940, had embarked for Malta in September 1941 with fourteen Albacores, arriving on the Island on HMS Ark Royal in October. For the next eighteen months, N° 828's aircraft joined N° 830's Swordfish and undertook day and night intruder raids from Hal Far on Sicilian airfields and installations, adding mine-laying and torpedo attacks to their repertoire. By replacing the Swordfish's third crew member by an extra storage tank - as many Swordfish in other theatres of war were doing - the aircraft's range was considerably increased, while by May 1941 the squadron leader's Swordfish had been fitted with an ASV radar. Attacks on shipping en route to North Africa were intensified by the joint strength of N° 828 and 830 NAS, playing a significant role in the eventual defeat of Rommel and the Afrika Korps. But the two units were depleting their forces to such an extent that from 26 March 1942 they combined for operational purposes (though still retaining their individual squadron identities) and became known as Royal Naval Air Squadron Malta. By the end of 1942, N° 830's Swordfish strength was again so low that its remaining aircraft were transferred to N° 828, N° 830 continuing to exist only on paper until its disbandment in March 1943. During their period of operations, the two squadrons were collectively credited with the sinking of 30 enemy ships and damaging 50 others.

The Spitfire Makes an Appearance

As the 1941/42 winter crept in, the Luftwaffe returned to Sicily and the last stage of the struggle for Malta com-menced. Raids on the Island intensified and one particular attack on Hal Far by Ju 88s badly damaged a Swordfish. Further raids during January 1942 resulted in the destruction at Hal Far of two other Swordfish, a Hurricane and a Skua (which had arrived as escort with the April 1941 Hurricanes), and damaged 15 Hurricanes, three Swordfish and a Fulmar. Further damage to aircraft, airfield buildings and loss of personnel resulted during attacks in February through to April, the Malta Hurricanes being out-classed by the German Messerschmitt Bf 109s. A ray of hope came on 9 May when the first Spitfires for N° 185 Squadron were flown off the carrier USS Wasp to Hal Far, giving a much-needed psychological boost and material relief not only to the airfield but to Malta as a whole. The furious air battle raged throughout 1942, but by the end of the year - a much needed convoy managed to get through in August - the tide was turning in favour of the defenders. On 30 November N° 821 NAS with Albacores, which had been working with the Army at El Alamein, arrived at Hal Far from Berka and started mine laying operations of Tunisian and Sicilian harbours as well as co-operating with the Fleet in naval bombardments, notably of Pantelleria.

In April 1943, an Air Sea Rescue and Communications Flight was formed at Hal Far with one Supermarine Walrus flown by a FAA crew. This was later augmented by a Bristol Beaufort, two Vickers Wellingtons and the last remaining Swordfish of N° 830 NAS. This Swordfish was apparently involved in a strange episode. The aircraft, the story goes, found itself short of fuel while on patrol and its crew had reluctantly decided to land at the Italian island of Lampedusa, risking being taken prisoners. Yet the civilian inhabitants had completely other thoughts and as the Swordfish touched down they ran to the pilot and explained to him that they were ready to hand over the island to the British. The pilot, Sgt Cohen, of course was not in a position to do this, as his rank was not high enough to enable him to receive the surrender of the island. However, after refuelling, the Swordfish returned to Hal Far and the necessary arrangements were made with higher authorities.

On 21 May 1943, Hal Far was bombed for the last time. The raid was carried out by Focke Wulf Fw 190 fighter bombers escorted by Bf 109 and Fw 190 fighters, 36 fast aircraft in all, inflicting little airfield damage but destroying three Albacores and a Spitfire on the ground for the loss of one Fw 190 to ground fire. Hal Far had been the first Maltese airfield to be bombed on 11 June 1940. In the intervening period 2,300 tons of bombs were dropped on the airfield, but such was the competence of the airfield repair parties, drawn mainly from ‘A’ Company of the Devon Regiment, that it was rarely unserviceable. On the airfield itself the ground crew casualties numbered 30 killed and 84 injured. The George Cross was awarded to LAC A M Osborne, who went to certain death in attempting to put out a fire when the torpedo shop was hit. CPO G M Bull of N° 828 NAS was awarded the George Medal for consistent bravery. The Maltese civilian employees on the airfield showed great courage in sticking to their job in the face of enemy action: Mr Arthur Sciberrras, Clerk of Works, was awarded the BEM.

Until then, Hal Far was a vast expanse of grass with four possible flight paths: north-south, east-west, NE-SW and NW-SE. These, in particularly rainy seasons, were liable to be waterlogged. With enemy air raids practically come to an end, and as aircraft became heavier and traffic had increased significantly, it was decided to build paved runways and taxiways. By end-June 1943 a 6,000-ft by 150-ft runway (13/31) had been completed over the NW-SE path and extending from it, while work was started on another 4,800-ft by 150-ft runway (09/27) over the east-west path. The opportunity was taken to link runways and taxiways to newly built pens for dispersal.

As the Malta siege was finally lifted, and with the imminent collapse of the Italians, organisational changes affected the various Malta-based units. Of those at Hal Far, N° 821 NAS moved to Tunisia on 4 June 1943, N° 185 Squadron transferred to nearby Qrendi strip next day, while on 8 June, N° 828 NAS moved to Ta' Qali. Their place was taken by a new RAF wing, N° 324, which comprised N° 43, 72, 93 and 243 Squadrons with Spitfire VBs, VCs and IXs, all aircraft arriving at Hal Far from Mateur by 12 June. The fighters carried out offensive sweeps over Sicily in anticipation of Allied landings there. Their stay at Hal Far was short-lived, however, since they all moved to the newly-captured airfield of Comiso, in Sicily, in mid-July together with the Wing's fifth squadron, N° 111, which had been based at Safi. The successful invasion of Sicily in fact brought over to Maltese airfields a large number of RAF and USAAF squadrons in transit, awaiting further airfields to be secured in Sicily and southern Italy, after which they transferred there. The tempo of activity and turnover was therefore hectic, but by September, Hal Far was calm again, Italy having by then surrendered on the 8th. Later in the month the three Spitfire squadrons at Qrendi, N° 185, 229 and 249, moved to the more spacious Hal Far but the latter unit moved over to Grottaglie, in Italy, one month later. N° 229 left for Catania, Sicily, in January 1944 while N° 185 went to Grottaglie the following month.

The Post War Years – Busy as ever

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. For SAR duties the unit employed Wellington Xs while two Avro Ansons were used for communications, mainly with Sicily. The next month the unit was re-designated AHQ, Malta Communications Flight, its SAR duties and aircraft being taken over by N° 283 Squadron which arrived from Borgo, in Corsica. Re-equipping with Warwick Is, N° 283 operated from Hal Far until August 1945, when it moved to Maison Blanche on the Algerian coast.

By 1944 Malta had therefore returned to normal and new aircraft were appearing all over the Island. From 16 August, a South African Air Force squadron, N° 27, with Lockheed Ventura V maritime patrol aircraft, started convoy escort and anti-submarine searches from Hal Far, and was later joined by US Navy Consolidated Catalina flying boats at Kalafrana flown by Free French crews. In March 1945, the carriers HMS Vengeance and HMS Venerable disembarked five squadrons of Fairey Barracudas (N° 812 and 814), Chance Vought Corsairs (N° 1850 and 1851) and Supermarine Seafires (N° 736B) for two months at Hal Far. Likewise, N° 1831 NAS with Corsairs from HMS Glory arrived at Hal Far in May. In September, N° 1702 NAS with Sea Otter amphibians, arrived for mine spotting duties, and on 4 January 1946 N° 892 and 1792 NAS, both equipped with Fairey Firefly NF.1 night fighters from HMS Ocean, disembarked at Hal Far and remained until 18 February.

The influx of large numbers of aircraft pointed to the need for an expan-sion of dispersal areas and more Nissen 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, resuming the pre-war pattern and setting the scene for the post-war activity of the airfield.

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 Yalta Conference with Soviet Premier Josef 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.

Throughout 1944 and early 1945 Dark Blue uniforms had been gradually achieving numerical superiority over their RAF Blue cousins at Hal Far and at sunset on 14 April 1946 the RAF Ensign was lowered. At sunrise of the next day the airfield became Royal Naval Air Station Hal Far and was named HMS Falcon.

On its commissioning as a naval air station, Hal Far housed two permanent flying units: an RAF squadron, N° 73 with Spitfire IXs, transferred from Brindisi, Italy, and which became a lodger unit at Hal Far in July 1945, and N° 765 NAS, which had moved with its Wellington Xs and XIs from Lee-on-Solent in October 1945. The latter disbanded that same April 1946, and its place at Hal Far was taken on 5 May by N° 728 NAS which had been operating first from Ta' Qali and then from Luqa, and was destined to remain at Hal Far until its disbandment in 1967. A Fleet Requirements Unit (FRU), N° 728 liaised closely with a newly formed Station Flight, and it appears that both units shared the same pilots. In addition to its FRU tasks, N° 728 had already in October 1945, whilst still at Ta' Qali, taken over radio calibration duties from N° 255 Squadron when this left for Gianaclis, Egypt, in January 1946. It was also at this period, in June 1946, that the Royal Navy acquired control of Kalafrana seaplane base from the RAF. For the next 21 years, 19 of which operating as HMS Falcon, Hal Far was to witness the sad decline of British military and naval aviation in general and in the Mediterranean in particular. The days of the Empire had ended with VJ Day and a New World order of collective responsibility under the UN did not leave space for continued imperialism. Thus, Britain's overseas commitments decreased rapidly, exacerbated no doubt by ever-decreasing defence budgets which made way for the soaring costs of domestic social changes. The deterioration was gradual, however, and the early post-war years represented perhaps the most interesting and varied period in Hal Far's life.

During 1947-49 Hal Far was therefore a busy FAA airfield reverting to its old role of shore base for carrier-borne aircraft. Among the visitors one may note N° 802 NAS, normally based at RNAS Abbotsinch (HMS Sanderling), which brought over its Seafire XVs for a spell in November 1947; HMS Ocean's N° 812 NAS whose Firefly FR.5s spent the summer of 1949 June to September - ashore at Hal Far, only to return later in the month for another spell; Ocean's N° 804 NAS, this unit's Sea Fury FB.11 s staying ashore no less than five months starting from July 1949 before re-embarking on HMS Glory.

Fasron 201 Special

When the Korean War flared up in June 1950 the bustle declined but Kalafrana was very active as a hold-unit for spare Sea Furies and Fireflies. At the end of 1950, the Americans first appeared for short stays at Hal Far when the United States Navy squadron VP-20 with PB4Y Privateer maritime patrol bombers flew in from Port Lyautey, emulated in January 1951 by the similarly equipped VP-23.

But in late 1953 a permanent establishment of the USN was set up when FASRON 201 Special made Hal Far its home. A naval aircraft servicing unit, FASRON 201, brought with it two types of aircraft - Lockheed WV-2 Warning Stars of VW-2 squadron, and Fairchild R4Qs (Navy's version of C-118*) of VR-35 *. The establishment's presence, moreover, attracted many other types of visiting USN aircraft, including P2V Neptunes and shipboard types as F4U Corsairs and F2H Banshees, to name but a few.

The US Navy were guests on the Fleet Air Arm, and as such did not pay a "rent" for the use of HMS Falcon. But the US Navy shared in the maintenance costs, which were based on the number of landings and take-offs of those aircraft allocated to FASRON and other visiting individual aircraft. Naval Patrol squadrons, that were on detachment to Hal Far, from time to time, were themselves responsible for the costs incurred in operating their aircraft.

As a Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron base, Hal Far was used by several squadrons of the US Navy for training exercises. In addition to this, US aircraft carriers used to deploy their aircraft for some days at Hal Far, as happened on February 26 1951. On this day, twenty Vought Corsairs from USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, landed at Hal Far in batches of four, having left their carrier, which had been anchored at Marsaxlokk Bay since February 24.

Two squadrons were permanently based at FASRON, namely VW-2 * with Super Constellations for AEW and ASW duties and the Marine Squadron MAG-VR-35 * operating Flying Boxcars for logistics support duties. Other squadrons, namely VP-11, VP-21, VP-23 and VA(HM)-13 (which later changed to VP-24) were frequent visitors, with some of them writing a page in their respective histories during their stay at Hal Far. VP-11, while on its third visit to Hal Far in 1956, broke a new US Fleet record when its aircraft flew over 1000 hours of ASW training missions in each of two consecutive months, The record earned VP-11 the coveted US Navy 'E' award for battle proficiency excellence, and this 'E' was eventually sported on each of its Neptune aircraft. Another squadron, VP-24, was re-designated VA(HM)-13 at Hal Far on July 3, 1956. Also worth mentioning is VP-23, which during its five-month deployment in Malta from January to May 1959 had three Neptunes (one of them serial number 145905/U), sporting a factory-sponsored two-tone finish (white top and black undersides) for testing purposes. It was learned that the white top fuselage reduced the temperature inside the Neptune by 16 degrees Celsius when compared with the all-black ones.

The US Navy carried out several constructional works. The most notable were the Control Tower, the six ammunition storage buildings, several huts and the buildings at the end of both runways (south), the latter erected in 1958. Five months prior to FASRON disbandment, Hal Far had its runways re-surfaced. Runway 13/31 (6000 ft long) was re-surfaced between April 20th and May 26th, 1959. The other runway, 09/27 (4500 ft long) was given a new surface between June 12 and July 28, 1959. Hal Far was closed to all air traffic during the last phase of works, between May 27th and June 11th, 1959.

In 1958, FASRON 201 Special received a citation from the Commander Naval Air Force US Atlantic Fleet (ComAirLant), Vice Admiral W.L. Rees. The citation was awarded to FASRON as it had completed three years (1956 - 58) of accident free air operations.

By now, Hal-Far airfield had been developed to its maximum capacity, and no further room for expansion was available. In September 1959, the Stars and Stripes was lowered for the last time, as the US Navy moved to NAS Sigonella, in Sicily. The last squadron to leave Malta was VA(HM)-13, that same month.

* See Addendum below.


I have received the following information from AKCS J. D. "Jim" Hill Sr., U. S. Navy (Retired), and who served at Hal-Far.

Discovered your website today, and enjoyed the read – a trip down memory lane for an old Seadog! However, as an ex-FASRON ship’s company (Feb 57 thru Sept 59 decommissioning) felt compelled to suggest a couple of needed corrections.

The USMC transport bird was a Fairchild R4Q-2 Packet (later C-119 & also known as the Flying Boxcar) operated by VMR-252. (Webmaster's note: Listed as a C-118 (military version of the DC-6) was a typo caused by the scanner's OCR software mistaking '9' for '8'.)

(These things I know firsthand. As a young PO2, one of my duties was to unload/load aircraft engines coming from or for transport back to CONUS. Loved those Marine Loadmasters & their “Flying Boxcars! Compared to the skill required to forklift load an aircraft engine on a VR-24 R5D Skymaster, the R4Q was a walk in the park!)

Squadron VR-35. In all my time on Malta all reciprocating engines (i.e. piston-engines) & cargo transported by the Marines, went onto C-119 Packets belonging to VMR-252. Can't recall any belonging to VR-35 (Navy). VR-24 hauled the majority of our support on their R5D's (US Navy's version of the C-54), and they were based out of NAF Port Lyautey, French Morocco, during the mid-to-late '50's.

Also, the AEW Super “Connies” (Willie Victor 2’s) operating from RNAS Hal-Far belonged to VW-2 Det-2.

The parent squadron was based at NAS Pax River, MD. I'm guessing the parent controlled at least a dozen birds, and rotated a couple to Malta for AEW coverage in that part of the world. Could be wrong, but I believe they flew under the OpCon of what was then known as COMFAIRNELM (Commander, Fleet Air Eastern Atlantic & Mediterranean), whose HQ was adjacent to NATO's AF South (Allied Forces Southern Europe, Naples).

FASRON-201 aircraft. FASRON's bird was always an R4D-8 (C-117D); BuNo 17165 & 17248 come to mind. {I made a few single engine approaches to Hal-Far's strip in these birds, with ADC (AP) John Slickleman at the controls - rash of sheared (faulty) crankshafts out of NARF Nor VA}. The R1820 crank problem would later kill Chief "Slick", CAPT Tom Hillis, and 1st Mech Red Ryder, when one snapped on takeoff from NAF Capodichino (Naples). Another aircraft type was an SNB-5 (C-45) Twin Beechcraft, that handled the light, short haul stuff, but I can't recall the BuNo.

Most of the VP squadrons flew P2V-5's (SP-2E) or P2V-7's (SP-2H), and homebase was usually NAS Brunswick, ME. VAHM-13 (Heavy Attack, Mining - out of Chincoteague, VA) was an exception that I recall. They made one deployment in the "mining" role, flying P2V-5's, and were to have received P6M Seamasters before their next deployment. Unfortunately, the P6M didn't make operational status in the Med.

The Jet Engine

During the early 1950s the second evolution in the naval aircraft concept took place as jet aircraft replaced the piston-engined types. World War 1I had shown that, contrary to what had been taken as granted pre-1939, shipboard fighters and strike aircraft had to be on a par with their land-based counterparts. Gradually, units flying Seafires, Sea Furies and Fireflies re-equipped with Sea Vampires, Sea Venoms, Sea Hawks and Attackers, and the majority of carriers worked up within diversion distance of Hal Far. When Queen Elizabeth II arrived in Malta in her Royal Yacht in May 1954, 56 of these aircraft flew past to welcome her to the Island, a truly spectacular sight. One consequence of these changes was the need to resurface the runways at Hal-Far, a job carried out in 1954-55 during which the airfield had to close for three weeks in 1954.

Another feature of those years was the annual migration of UK-based Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) Air Divisions to Hal Far for periods of intensive flying, taking advantage of the ideal weather and the willing co-operation of the ships of the Mediterranean fleet. The Divisions usually stayed for a fortnight during which they carried out a varied programme of 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, after which the RNVR squadrons were dis¬banded on 10 March 1957 as part of the defence cuts.

The table below gives details of those camps, which took place between 1950 to 1956.

30 July to 10 August 1950 1830 Firefly FR.1 RNAS Abbotsinch Scottish Air
19 to 30 May 1952 1831 Sea Fury FB.11 RNAS Stretton Northern Air
7 to 12 June 1952 1832 Sea Fury FB.11 RNAS Culham Southern Air
23 August to 4 September 1953 1843 Firefly FR.5 RNAS Abbotsinch Scottish Air
24 August to 5 September 1953 1830 Firefly FR.5 RNAS Abbotsinch Scottish Air
8 to 22 May 1954 1842 Firefly AS.6 RNAS Ford Channel Air
9 to 23 May 1954 1840 Firefly AS.6 RNAS Ford Channel Air
20 August to 3 September 1954 1831 Sea Fury FB.11 RNAS Stretton Northern Air
22 August to 5 September 1954 1841 Firefly FR.1 RNAS Stretton Northern Air
4 to 17 September 1954 1844 Firefly FR.5 RNAS Bramcote Midland Air
4 to 18 September 1954 1833 Sea Fury FB.11 RNAS Bramcote Midland Air
31 May to 10 June 1955 1841 Firefly AS.6 RNAS Stretton Northern Air
22 August to 2 September 1955 1844 Firefly FR.5 RNAS Bramcote Midland Air
29 July to 10 August 1956 1844 Avenger AS.5 RNAS Bramcote Midland Air

Apart from the annual camps, operational squadrons disembarked from RN carriers made constant use of Hal Far so that 1956 saw the busiest flying period on record at the airfield with up to ten front line squadrons at a time. Their regular practice firing on Delimara and Filfla served them in good stead when they fired in anger during the Suez Campaign later in the same year. During Operation Musketeer - the invasion of Suez - all operational FAA squadrons moved out of Hal Far and were replaced by three squadrons of RAF Canberra B.6 bombers (N° 9, 12 and 101) of the Binbrook Wing, who flew night bombing sorties over the Canal Zone of Egypt, remaining at Hal Far from September to December 1956. During the campaign Hal Far also became a staging point for replacement carrier aircraft which were ferried to the eastern Mediterranean by the resident N° 728 NAS. In 1957 Hal Far returned to normal, but in the summer there were no carriers operating in the Mediterranean. Accommodation blocks were extensively rebuilt during the year and the airfield also served as a civilian airport while the runways at Luqa were being resurfaced, the normal commercial traffic accepting the traditional Navy hospitality.

The Helicopter

The helicopter had been developed as an operational aircraft, and its use for warfare as a shipborne weapon had matured by the mid-1950s. Indeed, the very helicopter to land in Malta did so on 4 December 1947 when a US Navy utility helicopter - probably a Sikorsky H03S-1 (S-51) - from the aircraft carrier USS Midway touched down at Hal Far to pick up mail. The Royal Navy was rather slow to follow, and the service's machines were initially all Sikorsky designs built by Westland. The service's very first ASW helicopter squadron, N° 845 NAS, arrived at Hal Far via HMS Perseus on 3 May 1954 after having become operation the previous 15 March. These helicopters, eight Westland Whirlwind HAS.22s, were fitted with the then novel dipping sonar, known as 'dipping asdic' by the British and 'dunking sonar' by the Americans. N° 845's task at Hal Far was to evaluate the equipment and formulate operational techniques, sending detachments for trials on board HMS Albion, Centaur and Triumph. The squadron embarked on HMS Eagle on 19 August 1955 and departed for Home waters.

During 1958 Hal Far was to become the proving base for the world's first assault helicopter squadron. N° 728C NAS (Amphibious Warfare Trials Unit) had been formed at Lee-on-Solent in January 1958 for the purpose of assessing and developing the technique of transporting Royal Marine commandos from ship to shore in large scale invasion of beachheads. Equipped with four ex-ASW Whirlwind HAS.22s, the unit was ferried to Malta on HMS Eagle and Ark Royal the following month and set up headquarters at HMS Falcon. Having their asdic gear removed and drawing on experience gained during the Suez Campaign, the Whirlwinds were equipped with 2-inch rocket projectiles, fixed forward-firing guns and twin trainable machine guns in the main cabin, and carried out a number of exercises with the 3rd Commando Brigade of the Royal Marines ashore and aboard. By October, by which time its complement of Whirlwinds had increased, the unit was declared fully operational and re-designated N° 848 NAS at Hal Far, the first Commando Helicopter squadron of the Royal Navy and earmarked to embark on the RN's first commando carrier, HMS Bulwark. It is a tribute to Hal Far that today's naval and army assault helicopters owe their origins to the development trials carried out from HMS Falcon.

Naval Units

On 12 to 14 October 1959, the Observer School moved from RNAS Culdrose to Hal Far with N° 750 NAS and conducted observer training there with nine Percival Sea Prince T.1 flying classrooms. The major task of the school was to provide a basic training to both Supplementary and General List officers before they progressed to their specialist operational flying schools at various RN stations in the UK. Observer School students were expected to achieve 100 hours in the Sea Prince and by the end of the course they would have attained a high standard in Air Navigation, Simple Radar Operating and Communications. In July 1960, the unit added Sea Venom FAW.21 sand, from August 1962, FAW.22s for some FRU work but mainly for high level navigation, on which the students accumulated some 30 hours basic experience in jet all-weather fighting, while Sea Vampire T.22s were also brought on strength. Until its departure to RNAS Lossiemouth on 23 June 1965, navigational exercises often took the unit's aircraft to such places at Idris in Libya, Palma in Majorca, Naples, Rome and Sigonella.

Another off-beat naval unit to operate from Hal Far was N° 728B NAS. Formed at RNAS Stretton on 13 January 1958 as a pilotless drone target unit with six red-and-cream painted Firefly U.9s (ex-Firefly Mk.5s), the unit transferred to Hal Far on 17-26 February and officially set up residence there on 1 March, being the only Navy or RAF unit equipped with radio-controlled aircraft (the L1andbedr unit in Wales was a Ministry of Supply organisation). The main task of N° 728B was to provide live radio-controlled targets for RN ship AA guns and Firestreak air-to-air missiles which were being introduced on FAA Sea Venoms and Scimitar fighters.

The Firefly strength was increased to nine aircraft in October but by 1959 the first Meteor U.15s and U.16s started to arrive, and from 25 May 1961 the first of six Canberra U.14s were on strength. The ‘U’ designation was eventually changed to ‘D’ and the Canberras came to be known as D.14s. They were mainly used in connection with the Armstrong Whitworth Seaslug and Seacat air defence missiles fired from the trials ship HMS Girdle Ness. With the trials over, N° 728B disbanded at Hal Far on 2 December 1961, the designation N° 728B Flight being later applied to the Hal Far SAR Flight until this was absorbed into N° 728 NAS in March 1963. Also in 1958 Hal Far saw 'A' Flight of N° 751 NAS whose Sea Venom ECM.21s carried out electronic counter measures trials with the Fleet from 19 February to 20 March. Declared operational, the unit was re-designated N° 831 NAS on 1 May 1958 at RNAS Culdrose, as an Electronic Warfare Squadron with Avenger AS.6s, Sea Venom ECM.21s and, later, Fairey Gannet AS.1s. and ECMAs. At various periods during 1959 and 1960 all the unit's types were detached to Hal Far, embarking from time to time for exercises with the Fleet.

Meanwhile N° 728 NAS, the other permanent resident naval squadron at HMS Falcon, and which had been present in Malta as an Fleet Requirements Unit since 1943 and at Hal Far since 1946, had been improving on its equipment. The miscellany of postwar types ranging from Boulton & Paul Defiants to Fairey Swordfish and Bristol Beaufighters reflected the varied tasks taken up by the squadron. In time, having become the Fleet Requirements and Communications Unit for the Mediterranean, it settled for Mosquito TT.39s in 1949 and Seafire XVs and XVIIs, which enabled it to provide gunnery practice and fighter exercises. At this time, two Beech Expediters were used for liaison and light cargo, later replaced by two Sea Devon C.20s, and ranged far and wide across the Mediterranean in connection with NATO commitments. The first Sea Vampire F.20 jet fighters replaced the Seafires from 1951 while five Sea Hornet FR.20s were received in 1952. Short Sturgeon TT.2s replaced the Mosquitos from 1951 also, while Sturgeon TT.3s arrived in 1954. These piston types were in turn replaced by jet Meteor T.7s and TT.20s in 1958. The latter, equipped with ML winching units above the starboard wing root linked with target containers beneath the rear fuselage, towed sleeve or flag targets at high speed. A helicopter SAR element was added by the arrival of Whirlwind HAR.3s in 1957 and HAS.22s in 1963.

Return of the Royal Air Force

The rundown of the Navy in Malta in the mid- and late-Sixties, and the planned return of Hal Far to the RAF did not mean the end of the FAA in Malta, though it did mean the end of HMS Falcon. In October 1965, N° 38 Squadron with Shackleton MR.2s moved from Luqa to Hal Far, and operated from there until the unit's disbandment on 31 March 1967. The Observer School with N° 750 NAS moved to RNAS Lossiemouth on 5 July 1965, but N° 728 NAS, the last naval air squadron to be based in Malta, remained at Hal Far for almost two more years. As a station, Hal Far was to be handed to the RAF, and the activity seen when under the Royal Navy was not to be experienced again. During August 1965, the RAF khaki gradually replaced the Navy's white, and at sunset on 31 August, the White Ensign was lowered for the last time and next morning the RAF ensign flew at the mast. Only N° 728 remained to bear witness to the old times, but the end was near, too. On 7 April 1967 the squadron's aircraft flew operationally for the last time, its Meteor TT.20s and T.7 making a farewell flypast over Malta, a farewell not only from the squadron itself but also from naval aviation in Malta.

N° 728 NAS officially disbanded on 31 May 1967 and, as mentioned, N° 38 Squadron followed suit on 31 August 1967, bringing to an end 43 very active years of Malta's oldest and, perhaps the most interesting of her airfields. Hal Far was subsequently placed on a 'care and maintenance' basis and served as a satellite for RAF Luqa.

But as far as flying activity was concerned, Hal-Far wasn’t dead yet. In March of the same year (1967), an American aircraft maintenance company, M.I.A.CO., set-up base at the airfield, and would remain there until September 1978. Between December 1968 and March 1969, resurfacing of Luqa’s runways meant that all civilian and military flying had to be transferred to Hal-Far. Once Luqa became operational again, flying activity would again fall dramatically. Apart from MIACO aircraft, the only flying was by participants of the International Air Rally of Malta participants, an annual event which started off in October 1969, and continued until 1978, when the event was transferred to Luqa Airport starting with the 1979 event.

End of an era

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. In the meantime, the airfield would serve as a temporary base for the Helicopter Flight of the Armed Forces of Malta, which arrived from St. Patrick's Barracks during the first week of September 1978. The Flight stayed at Hal Far until March 1979, when it moved to its present base at Luqa. During this period, the Flight received three Allouette IIIs from the Libyan Arab Air Force, which were brought on board two C-130 Hercules of the same air force, and which landed at Hal Far in August 1978.

With the departure of M.I.A.CO., fixed-wing flying came to an abrupt end, as the company transferred its operations to its new base at Safi. Rotary-winged flying, in the shape of the Helicopter Flight, lingered on until March 1979, when the flight took up residence at the former 13 Squadron’s base at Park 7, Luqa Airport. This effectively curtailed flying activity at Hal-Far, and although occasionally used by helicopters of the Armed Forces of Malta and the Italian Military Mission for winch training, no airworthy aircraft would make use of Hal-Far again.

This changed during 1987, although none of the aircraft were destined to fly. That year, the International Fire and Safety School – Malta was set up. Intended to teach all aspects of fire fighting and training, including aircraft, the school acquired the afore-mentioned DC-6, N90703, Beech 18 N495F (a different one, from a scrap-yard) and three DC-3s, which in the past had seen maintenance at M.I.A.CO.

First to arrive on March 19 1987 was C-FITH, followed a few weeks later by N535M and N565, both in faded Conoco titles. These three aircraft had remained at Safi since their arrival, and were transported by road.

N535M and N565, along with DC-6 N90703, would eventually be destroyed by constantly being put on fire. C-FITH and N495F, were lucky enough to escape the fireman’s torch, and find a new home inside the hangar of the Malta Aviation Museum Foundation at Ta’ Qali, where they are undergoing restoration.

Although IFSS – Malta no longer operate from Malta, another company, International Safety Training Centre Malta Ltd, has taken over the facilities, with a BAC 1-11 in Al-Barka titles being the sole aircraft on site. (This was one of three in storage at Med-Avia at Safi. It was towed into park 9, then lifted over the perimeter fence by means of a crane, being towed by road to Hal-Far. A DHC-4A Caribou, N84897, also spent months at Hal-Far, but was taken to Ta’ Qali sometime in 2008/09.)

As a base for flying activity, Hal-Far's history spans fifty-five years. Today, as one looks back at the airfield's role in Maltese aviation history, it is with sadness that one realises that, with a little effort, attempts could have been made to preserve part of it.

Whilst preserving Hal-Far as an airfield would have been a waste of such valuable land, better use could have been made of its facilities. The main 13/31 runway could have been retained, allowing its use in an emergency. But the runways have been dug-up, and it is far too late to make amends.

It is indeed a testimony to the changes and alterations that have taken place, that no longer do the air traffic controllers advise pilots of “disused runway, Hal-Far, two miles on the approach of runway three-two. Approach lights and VASI’s at Luqa are on!”
Hal-Far Airfield Luqa Airport Marsa Field Air Malta
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