Faith, Hope and Charity

by Kenneth Poolman

In the summer of 1940, three Gloster Sea Gladiators, flown by six RAF pilots, defended Malta against the entire Italian air force. Their improvisation, skill and courage made the Battle of Britain seem like a routine air review.

When Italy entered World War II that June, Benito Mussolini’s desire for dominion over what ancient Romans called Mare Nostrum, or “Our Sea,” depended on wresting Malta from the British. But when Italian bombers struck Malta, their astonished crews found themselves opposed by the pilots of three biplanes, soon known among the Maltese as Faith, Hope and Charity.

Although the RAF had no fighters stationed on Malta, crews discovered eight dismantled Sea Gladiators packed in cases, intended as spares for an aircraft carrier. In a rare example of interservice cooperation, the Royal Navy allowed the RAF to take four of them. Three were made operational, with the fourth reserved for spare parts. Of six pilots on the island, only one had ever flown a Gladiator before. The ad hoc unit was known as the RAF Station Fighter Flight. First published in 1954, Faith, Hope and Charity tells how the pilots of those three obsolete planes and the men who worked to keep them flying defied the Italian air force and encouraged the Maltese people to hang on in the face of daunting odds.

Admittedly, Kenneth Poolman’s prose tends to be a bit florid, as in: “The Regia Aeronautica tried everything they knew to destroy Faith, Hope and Charity. The Three Graces would find themselves engaging…formations of thirty or forty aircraft. CR 42s and Macchi 200s would come hunting for them in packs, but somehow the little biplanes would outmaneuver them, slippery and elusive as fishes.” But given the subject matter and the fact that the book was written not long after the war, its author can be forgiven for going a bit over the top at times. All in all, this is a rousing account of one of the most heroic episodes of WWII.

 

Originally published in the November 2012 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.