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Dogfight over Malta

When Malta came under attack midway through the Second World War, the battle to protect it was waged in the skies.

One of the pilots who flew to defend the Mediterranean island was Allan Scott DFM. He describes what it was like to be involved in a dogfight.

Downed German aircraft during the Siege of MaltaThe burning remains of a German Junkers Ju88 bomber which crashed close to the RAF airfield at Ta Kali after being shot down during a raid on 31 December 1942. (UK Crown Copyright / MOD. Courtesy of Air Historical Branch, RAF)

"The sky would be filled with aircraft, all of them twisting and diving, my head jerking with them, eyes flitting from one flick of a movement to another. All actions became instinctive and so rapid, from brain to body to manoeuvring the aircraft, that it is hard to imagine them separately.

"Ultimately, the machine became an extension of the mind, one pilot-machine against an enemy pilot-machine, each trying to outwit the other, each determined not to be defeated. The manoeuvrability of an aircraft was vital, and it was here that the Spitfire had the advantage. It was up to the pilot to use it skilfully.

"Called to scramble, the squadron would climb at full throttle to gain as much height as possible as quickly as possible, in order to be above the approaching bombers. We knew, and accepted, that the escorting 109s would always be above us. Nevertheless on sighting the bombers we would individually pick our targets and dive to attack.

"The firepower I had was eight machine guns and two cannons each firing 20 rounds per second which, in a three-second burst, would deliver 600 rounds, usually sufficient to destroy the bomber.

"I had to close in from between 250 to 300 yards to get my cone of fire on target and in those brief three seconds it all became one movement - fire and break left. It was in the break that I could pick out an Me109 attacking, at which point the dogfight would start.

Allan ScottRAF veteran Allan Scott

"Another of their tactics was the head-on attack. This was the most dangerous of all. With the cannon firing directly ahead through the nose cone, he could open fire sooner than the Spitfire, which had to be within 300 yards to be effective.

"With each aircraft flying at 400 mph (a closing speed of 800mph) that was impossible. Whenever a 109 headed straight at me, I would instinctively side-slip to the left believing that a yawing target would be difficult to hit.

"These encounters happened in a flash and were far too close for comfort. Not only did the hair stand up on end, there was always the risk that a new pair of trousers would be needed on landing – as well as a cigarette or two.

"Malta was an incredible experience. I had been through the most intense and dangerous of times and without even a scratch of paint off my aircraft. The memories were extraordinary and the relief unbelievable. Someone had been watching over me. I had survived."

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