249 At Malta...

...RAF's Top Scoring Fighter Squadron, from Fonthill Media

Title: 249 At Malta
Author: Brian Cull and Frederick Galea

Publisher: Fonthill Media
ISBN: 978-1-78155-596-5

This is a new, updated version of a book first published in Malta back in 2004.  It tells the story of 249 squadron, following on from a successful role in the Battle of Britain when they were one of the highest scoring Hurricane equipped units and when they became the only Fighter Command unit to have a pilot awarded the VC  during WW2.  This is the story of the squadron when it was then moved to the Middle East and the pilots had to be trained as they were told to expect to have to fly their Hurricanes off the deck of an aircraft carrier.  In fact they were bound for Malta.  Ferried out to Gibraltar their aircraft were transferred to the Ark Royal and taken closer to Malta before they flew off the deck and were led by Royal Navy Fulmar aircraft so that all reached the island safely.

Following their arrival, the book then tells the story of the time 249 squadron spent on the Mediterranean island.  With more pilots than fighters any losses were significant.  The stories of the pilots and the aircraft use the records of what happened when but are brought to life by many personal accounts of events, the successes and the losses.  It is good I think that where it covers the downing of both German and Italian aircraft it does often name the enemy aircrew and tell us what happened to them.  In February 1942249s Hurricanes were transferred to 126 squadron and a number of pilots also transferred out but not only were replacements brought in but so were the first Spitfires, flown in from HMS Eagle and 249 was reformed.  So chapter 2, 'Spitfires Into Action' continues the story at a time when enemy attacks were at their worst.  Chapter 3 covers the period from May - June 1942, Battle for Survival.  At the end of this the Italians decided to reinforce their attacks on the island along with additional German reinforcements for II. Fliegerkorps based in Sicily.  That then leads into chapter 4, 'Bloody July'.  Again, the personal accounts which fill the pages bring a real feel of what it was like to be involved with this vital period for not only the RAF personnel but what it meant for Malta as well. 

Chapter 5 is 'The Final Blitz: the Battle is Won' covers the period from August-October 1942 and this in turn is followed by 'The Turning Tide'' dealing with the time from November 1942 to October 1943.  It comes to an end when 249 were finally flew out of Malta as they moved on to the Italian mainland.

There is a section of archive photos in the middle of the book showing not only the aircraft but also portraits of a number of the pilot's whose stories are related in the text.  Additional information is given in 9 Appendices, which provide 249 Squadron Roll of Honour; Combat Claims; Officers Commanding; Awards; Squadron Bases; Aircraft Flown; 'Mediterranean Odyssey' by Unterofficier Dr Felix Sauer; 'Shot Down over Malta' by Tenente Remo Cazzolli; and 'On the Run' by Sgt Willie Wendt RCAF.

The story is one I found fascinating to read.  The air war on Malta is a story I knew only the basics about for many years but a holiday on the island while attending my eldest daughter's wedding back in 2014 got me drawn in to more of the history of that period of Malta's long history.  Rather than just sitting on a beach is not the kind of holiday I can cope with, searching out the history of a place and getting a feeling for a place you have never been before is a real draw.  For anyone who has visited the lovely island of Malta and with any interest in RAF aircraft of WW2 I am sure you will find this book brings to life not only the historical story but also have the context of the surroundings in which it all took place.

Robin