Unit History: RAF Hal Far
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 British 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.
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 of 1940 in the beginning of the Siege of Malta (World War II), 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 Ju 88s, a Swordfish was badly damaged. Further raids during January 1942 resulted in the destruction at Hal Far of two other Swordfish and a Skua, and damaged 15 Hurricane, three other Swordfish and a 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 the 21st 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 come to 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 the 31st August 1967. This brought to an end 43 very active years of Malta’s oldest and most historical airfield.