The Martin Baltimore was an American design ordered by the French in May 1940, just as the Battle of France took shape. The French armistice with Nazi Germany forced the Glen L. Martin Company to look for another buyer. They found a willing customer in the Royal Air Force.
The RAF only used these aircraft operationally in North Africa and the Mediterranean. They were used as light attack bombers with the Desert Air Force, which later became part of the Northwest African Tactical Air Force for campaigns in Tunisia and Sicily. By this time, the Tactical Air Force included more advanced bombers like the Douglas Boston. Nevertheless, three squadrons (one of which was South African) continued to operate the Baltimore. These units were a common sight above the British 8th Army, attacking Axis lines of communication, artillery, and troop concentrations.
The Baltimore also served as a maritime reconnaissance, search and rescue, and anti-submarine aircraft. Two squadrons, one with the Northwest African Coastal Air Force and another with Air Headquarters Malta, served in maritime aviation roles during Operation Husky.
Specifications (Baltimore V)
Type: four-seat light bomber
Powerplant: two 1268kW (1700hp) Wright GR-2600-A5B geared radial engines
Performance: maximum speed 488km/h (305mph); range 1577km (980 miles)
Armament: four wing-mounted 7.62mm (0.30in) fixed, forward-firing machine guns in the leading edges of the wing, two to four 7.7mm (0.303in) trainable rearward-firing machine guns in the dorsal turret, two 7.7mm (0.303in) machine guns in the ventral positions, plus an internal bomb load of 910kg (2000lb)
The following Mediterranean Air Command units flew the Martin Baltimore during Operation HUSKY:
I’m only a small part of what is sure to be a wonderful event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily in the Second World War. The Royal Canadian Regiment landed in Pachino, Sicily on 10 July 1943 as part of the spearhead of the liberation of Europe.
Guests will hear from dignitaries, including:
Major-General (Ret.) Ivan Fenton, Colonel of the Royal Canadian Regiment
Flight Lieutenant (Ret.) Tom Hennessy, RAF veteran of Operation Husky
Captain (Ret.) Sheridan Atkinson, RCR veteran of Operation Husky
Gordon Joice (son of veteran Lieutenant J.E. Joice, who served in the RCR during Operation Husky)
All are invited for the book signing and to preview the museum’s Second World War section of the permanent gallery. The museum is hard at work revamping this gallery, and guests at this event will get a sneak peak of what is in store.
The Supermarine Walrus owes its existence to R.J. Mitchell, the same aeronautical engineer who designed the Spitfire in its early stages.
In the early days of the Second World War in the Mediterranean, the Royal Air Force’s air-sea rescue (ASR) capabilities were small. The air fighting above Malta was serviced by motor launches, while most of the air fighting in the Western Desert occurred over land. That all changed with Operation Torch and Operation Husky.
In February 1943, No. 283 Squadron became the first RAF ASR squadron in the western Mediterranean. In anticipation of the invasion of Sicily, No. 284 Squadron formed in the United Kingdom and transited to Malta just in time for the assault. Both units flew the Walrus. With Allied aircraft flying to targets in Sicily, Sardinia, and Italy from North Africa, Malta, and Pantelleria, these ASR crews would be busy during the campaign.
In fact, according to Beyond Courage, aviation historian Norman Franks’s book on Walrus squadrons in the Mediterranean, these squadrons made 36 rescues (of Allied and Axis aircrews) between the end of fighting in North African and the end of fighting in Sicily. It must have given Allied aircrews some confidence to know that if they went down over water there was a chance of rescue.
Type: 3-4 seat amphibious reconnaissance aircraft
Powerplant: one 510kW (680hp) Bristol Pegasus VI radial engine
Performance: maximum speed 215km/h (135mph) at 1450m (4750ft); range 965km (600 miles); service ceiling 5650m (18,500ft); rate of climb 318 meters per minute (1050ft per minute)
Weights: empty 2220kg (4900lb); maximum take-off 3650kg (8050lb)
Wingspan: 14m (45ft 10in)
Length: 11.45m (36ft 7in)
Height: 4.6m (15ft 3in)
Armament: two or three 7.7mm (0.303in) Vickers K machine guns, plus 600lbs of wing-mounted equipment.
The following Northwest African Coastal Air Forceunits used the Supermarine Walrus in the invasion of Sicily:
The Hawker Hurricane, famous for its service in 1940 during the Battle of Britain, was obsolescent by 1943. Another famous use of this aircraft was as a fighter-bomber with the Desert Air Force in 1941-1942. The Hurricane IIC had a four 20mm cannons, but this was not enough firepower to destroy enemy tanks. The Hurricane IID swapped its 20mm cannons for a pair of 40mm cannons. This new “Hurribomber” quickly earned a reputation as a tank buster; the first IID-equipped squadron became known as the “Flying Can Openers”.
For Operation HUSKY, the Hawker Hurricane saw very limited action. Most Hurricane squadrons would eventually swap these aircraft for Supermarine Spitfires. One notable use of the Hurricane in support of the Sicilian invasion was in the intruder role. A detachment of Hurricanes at Malta flew around the coast of Sicily at night shooting out Axis searchlights in support of Allied night bombers and the airborne landings. Some Hurricanes also remained in service as fast courier aircraft.
Specifications (Hawker Hurricane IID)
Type: single-seat tank buster
Powerplant: one 1088.5kW (1460hp) Rolls-Royce Merlin XX 12-cylinder Vee engine
Performance: maximum speed 518km/h (322mph); climb to 6095m (20,000ft) in 12 minutes 24 seconds; service ceiling of 9785m (32,100ft); range 1448km (900 miles)
Weights: empty 2586kg (5700lb); normal take-off 3493kg (7700lb); maximum take-off 3674kg (8100lb)
Wingspan: 12.19m (40ft)
Length: 9.81m (32ft 3in)
Height: 3.98m (13ft 1in)
Armament: two 40mm (1.57in) fixed forward-firing cannon under the wing, and two 7.7mm (0.303in) fixed forward-firing machine guns in the leading edges of the wing typically armed with tracer ammunition
The following Mediterranean Air Command units flew the Hawker Hurricane:
The Douglas A-20 Havoc (or Boston for Commonwealth aircrews) was a light bomber that served with the Northwest African Tactical Air Force’s tactical bomber force. Targets for these aircraft included Axis gun positions, lines of communication, and troop concentrations. In particular, these tactical bombers. On rare occasions, Boston crews with night flying training and experience served as pathfinders for USAAF medium bomber crews who had limited experience operating at night.
Specifications (A-20B Havoc/DB-7B Boston III)
Type: four-seat light attack bomber
Powerplant: two 1193kW (1600hp) Wright GR-2600-A5B Double Cyclone radial engines
Performance: maximum speed 515km/h (320mph); initial climb rate 609m (2000ft) per minute; service ceiling 7470m (24,500ft); range 1996km (1240 miles) with reduced bomb load
Weights: empty 5534kg (12,200lb); normal take-off 8959kg (19,750lb); maximum take-off 9789kg (21,580lb)
Wingspan: 18.69m (61 ft 4in)
Length: 14.48m (47ft 6in)
Height: 6.36m (17ft 7in)
Armament: four 7.7mm (0.303in) fixed forward-firing machine guns on the sides of the forward fuselage, two 7.7mm (0.303in) trainable machine guns in the dorsal position and one 7.7mm (0.303in) trainable machine guns in the ventral position, plus an internal bomb load of 907kg (2000lb)
The following Mediterranean Air Command units flew the Havoc/Boston light bomber. Notice the South African Air Force (SAAF) squadrons:
The room was thick with pipe smoke as the men sat around the dinner table at a villa in Algiers. Lieutenant General Carl A. Spaatz was hosting the commanders of the Allied air forces in the Mediterranean as they put the final touches on a new command structure for the theatre. As staff removed empty dishes and refilled glasses, the senior officer present and the overall commander of Mediterranean Air Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, addressed his officers:
You know, we British are intensely proud of our Air Force. We think it is the very best in the world, and that it saved England and the world–all of us. We have our own ways of doing things and I suppose we feel we are justified in keeping these ways. But we also know that you Americans are equally proud of your splendid Air Force, of your magnificent aeroplanes and as well you are. However, it will be the fusion of us, the British, with you, the Americans, that is going to make the very best Air Force in the world. (Arthur Tedder, With Prejudice, 398)
The Mediterranean Air Command was the combined result of Operation TORCH and the westward advance of the Desert Air Force after the Second Battle of El Alamein in autumn 1942. The United States Army Twelfth Air Force supported the Anglo-American invasion of North Africa and established bases in Morocco and Algeria. Commanders needed to coordinate the operations of these two air forces. Spaatz’s Northwest African Air Force combined three major combat commands: the Coastal Air Force, the Strategic Air Force, and the Tactical Air Force. The Northwest African Air Force (NAAF) also included an Air Service Command (NAASC), a Training Command (NATC), a Troop Carrier Command (NATCC), and a Photographic Reconnaissance Wing (NAPRW).
The Northwest African Coastal Air Force (NACAF) included a mix of day fighters, night fighters, antisubmarine warfare bombers, and maritime reconnaissance and strike aircraft. Air Vice Marshal Sir Hugh Lloyd, former Air Officer Commanding in Malta between 1941 and 1942, led NACAF.
The Northwest African Tactical Air Force (NATAF) included the fighters and fighter-bombers of the Desert Air Force and US XII Air Support Command. It also included a Tactical Bomber Force combining American and British light and medium bombers. Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, the former commander of the Desert Air Force, led NATAF. He later went on to command the RAF Second Tactical Air Force for the victory campaign in Northwest Europe. His deputy (at least until the end of the Tunisian Campaign) was Brigadier General Laurence S. Kuter, whose career made him one of the key architects of American air power in its formative years.
The Northwest African Strategic Air Force (NASAF) included American medium and heavy day bombers in addition to British medium night bombers. The force also contained P-38s, the only long-range Allied escort fighter in the theatre. Major General James H. Doolittle, of Tokyo raid fame, led NASAF. He later went on to command the US Army Eighth Air Force out of the United Kingdom in 1944 and 1945.
Each of these formations reported to Spaatz, who later commanded the US Strategic Air Forces in Europe in 1944 and 1945. In turn, Spaatz reported to Tedder at Mediterranean Air Command, streamlining communications. Tedder commanded all Allied air forces resources in the Mediterranean. This included the remaining commands in the region (Air Headquarters Malta, Middle East Command, and RAF Gibraltar). The idea was to have one command to coordinate all Allied air power in the Mediterranean. Tedder reported to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander. The pair later went on to become Deputy Supreme Allied Commander and Supreme Allied Commander respectively for the victory campaign in Northwest Europe.
The Mediterranean Air Command stood up on 18 February 1943. These command relationships served the Allies for the remainder of the Tunisian Campaign, Operation HUSKY in Sicily, Operation BAYTOWN in Calabria, Operation AVALANCHE at Salerno, and Operation SLAPSTICK at Taranto. Although Mediterranean Air Command was renamed the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces in December 1943, the functional tri-force model of tactical, strategic, and coastal commands remained.
Tedder, Spaatz, and their senior airmen fleshed out all these details. It would not be a perfect marriage. There would be stumbles along the way. Sometime later, in an effort to formalize the organization, Tedder ruffled Spaatz’s feathers. Drawing up a detailed structure led to questions about ranks, seniority, and a return to national prejudices. Tedder told Spaatz bluntly:
If you want a divorce, you can have one here and now, repeat now! (Tedder, 399)
The pair agreed to cancel all attempts to formalize the organization and the marriage remained healthy.
Back in Spaatz’s villa, Tedder completed his speech:
And now, gentlemen, this is the last time I shall ever speak of “us”, the British, and “you”, the Americans. From now on it is “we” together who will function as Allies, even better than either of us alone. (Tedder, 398)
The Allied air forces employed the Bristol Beaufighter in two roles during Operation Husky. First, the Northwest African Coastal Air Force used the Beaufighter Mk VIC in an anti-shipping attack fighter role. These aircraft were equipped with cannons, rockets, torpedos, or bombs to take on the surface fleet of the Regia Marina or the supply ships of the Italian and German merchant navies. The Beaufighter Mk VIF was a night fighter variant used by Air Headquarters Malta and the Coastal Air Force in air defence and intruder roles.
Specifications (Mk VIF)
Type: two-seat night fighter
Powerplant: Two 1219kW (1635hp) Bristol Hercules VI 14-cylinder two-row radial engines
Performance: maximum speed 536km/h (333mph); climb rate 586m/m (1923 ft/m); service ceiling 8083m (26519ft); range 2381km (1479 miles)
Weights: empty 6631kg (14619lb), maximum take-off 9810kg (21627lb)
Wingspan: 17.65m (57ft 10in)
Length: 12.6m (41ft 4in)
Height: 4.84m (15ft 10in)
Armament: four 20mm (0.79in) fixed forward-firing cannon in the underside of the forward fuselage and six 7.7mm (0.303in) forward-firing machine guns in the wings, plus an external torpedo, bomb, and rocket load of 1111kg (2450lb)
Sensors: one Air Interception Mk VIII series radar system in the nose
The following units in Mediterranean Air Command flew Beaufighters: