"I spent two and a half years on Malta. Survived without being hurt, fortunately."
My name is David Roberts. I'm a Canadian who joined the Royal Air Force in England. My family moved to England just before the war, from Canada, and when the war started, I joined up and trained with the Royal Air Force as an engine mechanic, specializing in, it turned out, on the Rolls Royce Merlin engine, which was in the Spitfire and the Hurricane fighters, and was in the Lancaster bomber.
After serving about a year in England, I got posted overseas. I ended up on the island of Malta, and I was on a Hurricane fighter squadron there. We had a pretty hectic time there, because when the Germans moved down into Sicily, the Italians had been bombing us, but things really warmed up when the German Air Force took over and really started attacking us, and we had to undergo months of bombardment. The Maltese suffered heavily, as well as the troops, because of this intensive daylight and night time bombing.
I was on Hurricanes first, and then they managed to get Spitfires onto the island, by bringing them on Aircraft Carriers – part way, anyway. I later was on the bombers – the Wellington Bombers (we called them 'Wimpys') – to bomb their airfields and harbours, and try to fight back.
Malta was right in the way of supplies going from Sicily south to Tripoli in North Africa, which was occupied by the German Army and the Italian Army, and General Rommel was in charge of the German Army, and all his supplies had to go more or less past the island of Malta. It was more or less our job to sink as many ships as we could, and this of course brought down retribution from the German Air Force [Luftwaffe], so we had a very bad time. I spent two and a half years on Malta. Survived without being hurt, fortunately. I brought back a 13 mm machine gun shell from a cartridge from a Messerschmitt 109 that strafed me one day on the flight line, and there were bullets flying everywhere. They managed to miss me, but they hit a few planes.
I managed to survive that and get back to England, when I sent to a different type of work altogether, on a squadron of Halifax's. Handley Page Halifax – four engine bombers. They weren't doing bombing operations; they were dropping supplies over occupied Europe – mostly over France. In the bomb bay there would be big containers of supplies and guns, and vital things like boots, clothing, food… I don't know what went into it – it was secret – but that was our job, to supply the Maquis and the [French Resistance] Underground forces. Our secondary job was towing gliders. We had these two different types of troop-carrying and tank-carrying gliders. One was called the Hamilcar and one was called the Horsa. We practiced for months with these to get ready for D-Day. When D-Day came, we had them all lined up on the airfield with gliders all loaded. I think about forty aircraft, one for each glider. And away they all went at dawn on June the 6th, 1944.