Michael E Haskew profiles the RAF ’s last biplane fighter – an aircraft with a surprisingly enviable combat record
Just after 7am on June 11, 1940, three RAF pilots climbed into their fighters and rose into Mediterranean skies, above the tiny islands collectively called Malta. It was the first day of war with Fascist Italy.
Benito Mussolini had followed his Axis partner, Hitler, in declaring war on Britain and France. At first, Mussolini hesitated, but when he committed Italy to the growing conflagration, the primar y goal was the re-establishment of the glory of the Roman Empire, dominating the Mediterranean Basin and extending his nation’s territorial holdings to Nor th Africa and beyond.
In the midst of the Mediterranean lay Malta, a British possession since the Napoleonic era and a crown colony since 1813. Mussolini intended to subdue Malta to ensure the passage of convoys to Africa and the domination of shipping lanes across the Med. His Regia Aeronautica was unleashed to strike the first blow, intending to bomb the island into submission.