Hal Far Airfield

Click to enlarge photoHal Far opened on the 16th January 1923 used for Operational/Royal Navy 14-4-1946 (HSM Falcon)/RAF 1-9-1965/C & M 15-9-1967 and transferred to the Maltese Government and redeveloped as from January 1979.

Four thousand years ago, the south of Malta was enchanced by several dwellings of early inhabitants. A 'menhir', known as Chieftains's Stone, was found in the area, now called Hal Far. This stone dates back to a time known in history as the Copper Age. The name Hal Far was given to a piece of land many, many years later. This area was infested by rats in the 16th century, and the locals bred falcons to get rid of these pests. Before 1918, nobody ever thought that this site in southern Malta would be writing pages in history in golden letters, by being the first flat land from where man's 'birds' would land and take off, filling the air with unusual noise.

With the advent of landplanes, the Air Ministry was interested in establishing an airfield in Malta. In January 1921, Capt. Blandy from the Civil Aviation Department was in Malta to inspect suitable aerodrome sites. Work on the selected site at Hal Far began in Spring of 1922. Malta's first new airfield was inaugurated on 16th January, 1923 by the Governor of Malta, Lord H. Plumer. The aerodrome was named 'Malta', and being the first and only airfield on the Island, Hal Far complemented RAF Calafrana. It was only a year later that the first aircraft arrived. Until the 1930s, Hal Far served as a landing site for all the civil and military landplanes.

In 1928 Hal Far underwent extension work, plans have been made for accommodation for flying boats and the construction of hangers and workshops on an extensive scale and so it was enlarged and improved. Buildings near the present Control Tower were erected under Admiralty supervision. The airfield became an RAF take-over, a Station Flight were Fairey IIIFs was formed. The Fleet Air Arm, on the other hand, continued to use Hal Far as the shore-base for its carrier-borne aircraft. The Abyssinian War declared by Italy on the 27th September 1935, showed the strategic importance of Hal Far, and eventually, Malta.

On 23rd November 1936, a whirlwind, still vividly remembered by Maltese veterans, hit Hal Far aerodrome, causing irrepairable damage to hangars and many aircraft, including some from HMS Hermes and HMS Eagle. The outbreak of World War II saw Hal Far literally void of good aircraft that could withstand enemy attacks. The Sea Gladiators and the Swordfish aircraft were extensively used in the defence of Malta.

Hal Far, a grass field at an altitude of 250 ft adjoining the RAF station at Kalafrana, had been first used on the 1920s by carrier-based aircraft as a shore base. In 1929 it was officially opened as Royal Air Force Station Hal Far. A Station Flight was created, aircraft being Fairey 3Fs and Flycathers augmented from time to time by carrier aircraft. With the Abyssinian crisis of 1935, Hawker Demons and Wildebeeste aircraft arrived but when Air Commodore Maynard took charge in January 1940 he found the total strength consisted of four Swordfish aircraft and a radio-controlled Queen-Bee. The stony surface at Hal Far was liable to become waterlogged during wet weather.

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Four flight paths were possible:-
N-S 1,800 ft
E-W 1,950 ft
NE-SW 1,800 ft
NW-SE 3,600 ft

The E-W flight path was extended by January 1941 to 2,700 ft. A year later the NE-SW runway had been increased to 3,300 X 600 ft, and extensions were under way for the N-S and E-W flight paths to be completed by October 1941. Widths varied from 450 to 600 ft. Instruction had been given in October 1941 to further increase the NW-SE strip to 6000 ft as the airfield was still unsuitable for use by bombers. All installations were listed on the northern corner. These were barracks, offices and quarters, wireless and direction finding stations, flight shed, Bellman Hangar and a transportable hangar. Later a torpedo store was located on the noth-west corner together with petrol storage for 12,000 gallons. The bomb store was at the southern end of the NE/SW strip.

Click to enlarge photoSome of the present-day installations on the northern corner of Hal Far aerodrome, built on the cliff-top in the south-eastern corner of Malta.

Due to strategic importance, the airfield was the target of many italians and later German air attacks. Hal Far was dive-bombed ny no less than twenty Junkers Ju 87 Stukas on September 15th, 1940. The new year saw Hal Far getting more lethal bombs.

 

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Remains of the Sea Gladiator destroyed in the raid on Hal Far on 4 February 1941. This is believed to be N5531, ‘Hope’, the ‘Six-Gun’ Gladiator.

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Sea Gladiator (either N5519 or N5520) after being fitted with a Mercury VIII and Hamilton-D.H. propeller from a Blenheim Mk.1.

Throughout 1941, Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires operated incessantly from the airfield against enemy aircraft and shipping. Several runways underwent extensions, and work was completed early in 1942. On May 21st, 1943, RAF Hal Far suffered the last attack, the figure amounting to 2300 tons of bombs dropped on the airfield, killing 30 persons and injuring 84 others. In summer, then, the airfield served as a staging post for a great number of Spitfires and Curtiss Kittyhawks of various squadrons, in preparation to the Alied landings in Sicily. The Spitfires continued to be the backbone of Hal Far aircraft srenght, but in 1944, planes from the Fleet Air Arm resumed coming in great numbers with aircraft-carriers deploying their Flights to Hal Far. Such was the influs of FAA's aircraft, that the RAF Hal Far was decommissioned and on April 14th, Hal Far became officially known as HMS Falcon.

Malta had its share in air displays as well, during the 1920s. During the decade, no less than five air displays were held, one of which was marred by an accident. The increasing number of air crashes around Malta, brought about the need of a SAR (search-and-rescue) flight which was formed in 1943, operating at first a Supermarine Walrus, but later adding a Bristol Beaufort, two Vickers Wellingtons and the last remaining Swordfish of No. 830 Squadron, coded 'P'.

The increase in air traffic brought with it the inevitable accidents. The accident in 1920s involved mainly military aircraft. During the decade, only one collision was reported in the papers, that between a Fairey Flycatcher and a Seaplane, between Benghisa and Delimara on 2nd February, 1927. In this accident, four airmen died, three recovered and one counted as lost although SAR was made for him. On 18th January, 1927 two out of three RAF airmen died after their Avro Bison of 423 Flight crashed over Ghar Hasan in mystery circumstances.

Interesting Old Aircraft Movements:-

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Three Fairey Albacore torpedo-bombers are seen here just taking off from RAF Hal Far in 1941. The airfield is on the extreme left.

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X Target Tug Fairey IIIF. Malta 1935. 74SQ fly over Hal-Far Airfield.

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Target Tug Beaufighter taxiing at Hal Far Airfield.

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Sturgeon on approach to land at Hal Far Airfield.

RAF Hal Far, took a new role in 1969 when in October, it hosted for the first time, the First International Air Rally of Malta. Hal Far was handed over the Maltese Goverment in January 1979. In the meantime the airfield served as a temporary base for the Helicopter Flight of the AFM.

Click to enlarge photoAerial photo of Hal Far taken in the Summer of 1982 showing construction work on the foundry building erected on the threshold of runway 09 as part of the new industrial estate. Other factory buildings and foundations can be made out along runway 09 and its adjacent taxiway.

The airfield remained closed for some years, as in the mean time a new industrial estate was under construction. Looking back at the airfield's glorious part in the Maltese aviation history, one will only remain sad at the present derelict state of Malta's first airstrip. In 1981, vandals made their way to the airfield from the surrounding perimeter fence. Although watchmen were installed, they coudn't cope with such a vast site. Vandal acts have made their toll of the once very well-kept airfield, the pride of the Fleet Air Arm, the Royal Air Force and the US Navy.

Click to enlarge photoHal Far's runways, spoiled by a trench dug right through the tarmac, are used by car maniacs to test their engine's acceleration.

The airfield, rich and unique in its glorious history, now rests in peace, proud of the honoured place it gained among the great airstrips of the British Services around the world, as well as in the anals of Maltese modern history.

Photo of Hal Far tower taken on 3rd August 2002.

 

Sources:-
- Luqa Aviation Yearbook 1985 : Carmel Attard
- Luqa Aviation Yearbook 1987 : Carmel Attard


Last Updated: Sunday, April 11, 2004 - 15:00 PM
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