Malta Spitfire
By Etienne Galea Musu


Introduction

 

Building the Malta Spitfire is more complicated than it can seem. Not from a construction point of view but from the scheme’s point of view. In order to fully appreciate the difficulties a history of the Malta Spitfire is a must.



Prelude


In 1940 Malta entered WW2 when Italy declared war on Britain. During the opening phase of the Malta Air War, the air defense over Malta consisted of 3 obsolete Gloster Gladiators. And this remained from some time mainly because the RAF was reluctant to bolster the air defenses in Malta due to the fact that equipping Malta was very dangerous and practically impossible, for Malta was totally surrounded by the AXIS forces. However, the Royal
Navy and Winston Churchill opposed this line and concluded that Malta must be defended at all costs. Hence the cards were laid down for one of the most bloody and fought see battles of WW2 over an extended period of time.

In the meantime the AXIS powers where stepping up the tempo of the attacks and clearly the 3 Gladiators were totally helpless. Back in Britain, HQ was reluctant to deploy the precious Spitfires overseas; hence the decision fell on the Hurricanes. These were shipped to the dangerous seas of the Mediterranean. They were made to take off at extreme range to avoid the Italian Navy and the AXIS U and E-BOATS. The arrival of a more modern fighter and in greater numbers proved to be a good decision in that Malta was breathing again but not only that. It has been observed that when Malta was gaining the upper hand, the British troops in North Africa where gaining the upper hand as well. For, with the arrival of the Hurricanes and a “safer” Malta, bombers started to poor into Malta and hitting hard Rommel’s supplies. But things were yet to change. The Germans realized the Malta was a thorn in Rommel’s side, so they decided to enter this theater with the new BF109-F. The Hurricane resulted to be no match for this version of the BF109 and soon the Hurricane was decimated and the bombers were forced to leave Malta, resulting in a slump in the North Africa campaign by the British.


Spitfires at last

HQ Malta plainly put it on paper, addressed to HQ in Britain : unless Malta does not have Spitfires the Island would fall. By this time HQ in Britain finally realized the value of Malta and decided that Spitfires must be delivered to Malta, thus making the Spitfire MK5 the first ever Spitfire to serve outside Britain. But the delivery was a problematic one, for the Spitfire was designed for home defense and hence short range. The aircraft carriers were too precious to risk them in the Mediterranean, and supplies were coming in trickle.


1942 – The Spitfire Year

 

Notwithstanding the dangerous Mediterranean waters, the Royal Navy and The US Navy committed aircraft carriers and managed to deliver the Spitfires on many occasions, thus making the Malta Spitfire the very first Spitfire to operationally take off from a moving deck.

1942 saw one of the most bloody air battle to be fought in the Mediterranean theatre. The AXIS forces threw everything they had at the Island and the Spitfires, the Spits being on most occasions outnumbered 10 to 1. This forced HQ Malta to put forward another request to HQ in Britain : The Malta air war is no place for beginners. Seasoned or fighter aces are needed.

Indeed HQ Britain sent a swarm of Battle of Britain veterans. But Malta did not only receive aces, it also made aces. For pilots like George Buerling soon gained the ace statues as targets of opportunity certainly were in abundance.

By the end of 1942 the Spitfire managed to turn the tide valorizing the tremendous efforts made by the Merchant Navy, Royal Navy, US Navy, and the inhabitants of the Island. For, the Navy had suffered tremendous losses both in men and vessels.

The Malta Spitfire Scheme

 

In the past it was thought that the Malta Spitfire had the North African colour scheme, that of Dark Earth and Mid Stone. In order to explain the scheme it is very important to read the historical milestones of the Malta Spitfire.

 

In the first batch of Spitfires delivered to Malta, the scheme was truly the North African scheme. However, the fighter pilots

in Malta, some of them being seasoned pilots, complained that much of the dogfights being fought were on the seas around Malta, hence the colour scheme of the Spitfire was deemed as too conspicuous. HQ Malta reported this to HQ in Britain, only to have the next batch of Spitfires delivered in the classic Battle of Britain scheme. This was also deemed as not appropriate. At the same time it was decided to paint the current Spitfires in Malta with Grey. However the Grey available in Malta at the time was the Royal Navy’s Grey, and it was in short supply. Therefore it was heavily thinned, resulting in various hues. Furthermore the heavy thinning of the paint resulted in heavy chipping of the same paint work. Also, there is the possibility that the Grey has been mixed with other colours, such as blue, to gain in the volume of paint.

During the said period, another batch of Spitfires was enroute to Malta. The larger part of this Spitfire flotilla was on the US carrier Wasp. Receiving the signal to repaint the Spitfires in Grey, the Navy immediately repainted the Spitfires with what Grey they had. And the US Grey differed from the British Grey. Hence another hue of Grey.

When applying the scheme of the Spitfire this is very important information. First off, the re-painting of the Spitfire to Grey seems to be unquestionable since in the past some opposed this. But the official letter to HQ in Britain seems to confirm this, as well as pictures depicting the dark schemes of the Malta Spitfire as opposed to the brighter North African scheme. Secondly, based on the Spitfire serial number (BR???) you can get a good idea of what to apply. In the Spitfire I built I cross reference three books, to get as much as possible to the real thing, and still have my doubts. Some of the first Spitfires had the midstone areas only repainted in Grey whilst others had a total repaint. There is also the fact that fast and heavy degrading of this paint occurred, resulting in the fast abrasion of the field applied grey. Hence the midstone started to slowly re-emerge. The serial number I chose was from the first batch of the Spitfires, hence I deemed it a good compromise to spray the kit with the classic North African scheme, apply grey over the midstone areas, and after letting it to dry up, I lightly sanded the grey to make the midstone re-emerge, only that much to leave the grey still visible. Even the nose of the propeller was somewhat a mystery. Some Spits had their nose repainted in grey as well, whilst some retained the red nose. At this point only black and white photos of the actual thing will help, keeping a watch full eye on the difference of the hues between the fuselage and the nose. If the hues do not defer, then there is a strong possibility that the Grey has been applied to the nose as well.

As a result I used the the colours RAF Dark Earth, Midstone, Azzure Blue, and for the grey I used 20% Royal Navy Grey and 80% Azzure Blue, as blue seemed to be in ample supply in Malta in those days. If the serial number of the Spitfire being constructed was delivered by a US carrier, use the US Navy Grey!

The Kit

 

The kit is the Tamiya 1/48 scale. The fit is excellent as in Tamiya’s tradition. Only minor filling and sanding was required. Detailing is also superb. The only downside of this kit is the decals. They are very thin and break up easily. However I cannot really put the blame onto Tamiya as it is not clear if it is dur to storage problem or a supplier problem. Either way, the codes T N still had to be handmade (spray) since the fonts on the Malta Spitfire varied as even these were sometimes field applied/modified.



Conclusion

 

I really enjoyed building this kit. Not only because the kit fitted in nicely, but because the Malta Spitfire is truly a treasure of information. As already detailed out, getting the right scheme is not a straight forward job, and most probably you will never get it right. But at least you get close! In the end, it all depends on the serial number of the aircraft. That will determine the time when it was delivered and from which carrier, hence determining a close match of the grey hue.

 

I hope that you found this article interesting and useful. Happy modelling, and researching!