The first permanent airfield to be constructed in the Maltese
Islands was the Hal Far airfield, a site that gained in its popularity
throughout the decades from the British Royal Navy air crews. Its strategic
importance provided a base for a number of flying units that disembarked from
carriers carrying different important missions besides providing armament
training by squadrons on their arrival. But to understand the importance of Hal
Far airfield one has to understand how all this started from the outbreak of
the First World War, where naval aviation was still in its infancy.
July 1914, the Royal Navy Air Services had been created at
Eastchurch, Britain, as an aerial spotting arm of the Royal Navy which was also
a separate entity from the Armyís Royal Flying Corps. When the Gallipoli
campaign started on 25th April 1915, the Royal Navy Air Services started
operating from France and Britain. This included air support from seaplanes
which operated from HMS Ark Royal as well as landplanes.
The presence of German submarines first in the Aegean Sea and
later in the Mediterranean prompted the Admiralty in London to build a seaplane
base in Malta, which was already an important naval base. By July 1916, a
seaplane hangar and slipway was constructed at Kalafrana-Marsaxlokk. By the end
of July 1916, five Curtiss America flying boats were despatched from Felixstowe
to Kalafrana together with seven pilots, two Warrant Officers and mechanics.
Their mission was to patrol the area, occasionally attacking submarines and to
detect enemy vessels and mines to convoys.
Without doubt the Felixstowe F2A which was an improved version
of the Curtiss America became the most useful aircraft in submarine detection.
This produced a great demand for these seaplanes. It was Commodore Murray
Sueter who was in charge of the Kalafrana base in Malta proposed that the
machines should be built at the Malta Drydocks because there was little that
the dockyard could not do. This was approved by the Admiralty in June 1917 and
by November of the same year the first boat out of a series of twelve was
It was in this period that the Kalafrana base passed through a
continuous phase of expansion. In 1st April 1918 the Royal Navy Air Services
lost its separate identity and became part of the new Royal Air Force (RAF).
The objective was to centralize operations to control combat aviation and to
bring to an end the competing claims between the Royal Navy Air Services and
the Royal Flying Corps. The story of the British naval aviation was not a happy
one for the next twenty years. The carrier-borne component of the Royal Air
Force which was referred to as the Fleet Air Arm passed through apathy and
neglect at the Air Ministryís hands.
Kalfrana thus became an RAF seaplane base under the command of Colonel C R J
Randall. This was made up of 267 Squadron comprising of Felixstowe F2A and F3
flying boats whereas the 268 Squadron was comprised of Short 184 and 320
floatplanes. In the summer of 1918 two DH-9ís were flown from the Marsa Sports
Ground to search for submarines when the state of the sea made it impossible to
take-off. The DH-9ís were the first shore-based operational aircraft to be
based in Malta.