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Memories of Malta
I was an AT3 of FASRON (Fleet Air Service Squadron) 9 stationed at NAS Cecil Field, Florida when I received orders to Malta. The official name of my new duty squadron was FASRON (SP) 201, 'cause it was "special". The Navy thoughtfully provided me a typed summary of what I could expect to find on Malta in terms of facilities, weather, schools, etc. I still have it.

I crossed the Atlantic as far as Gibraltar on the Iowa-class battleship USS Wisconsin out of Norfolk, VA. What a fantastic ship! I was assigned to Navigation division while aboard, and had nothing to do except stay out of the way. Those of us who left the ship at Gib boarded R5D aircraft of VR-24 (the "Biggest Little Airline In The World", they called themselves), and we flew to NAS Port Lyautey, French Morocco. A couple of weeks later we flew on to Malta, where I reported in on April 22nd, 1957.

It's just a big rock! There are low hills. There are bushes and cacti, but virtually no trees. The island is rock, covered with a thin layer of soil, some of which has been - so help me - imported. Rocks taken from the fields have been used to build walls between the fields. In the spring, fields of beautiful red poppies can be seen.

Virtually all buildings on the island are constructed with soft buttery yellow limestone cut from quarries. After a building has been up for a year or so, the stone hardens. Doors are left open for ventilation, but wrought iron gates prevent the goats from entering.

I was the newbie scum in the electronics shop, so about May 1, 1957 I was sent with an R5D-load of guys on temporary duty to the NATO base at Souda Bay, Crete. I helped support VP squadron ops there for almost two weeks. An LST, the USS Alameda County, put her bow on the beach down in the bay a few miles away, and provided us trucks, a mobile control tower and radios, fuel, chow, and additional personnel. The sky was wonderfully transparent on Crete, and quite by accident I discovered the comet Arend-Roland hanging there like a jewel one black star-filled night. Snow-covered mountains, olive groves, clear turquoise water, fields of red poppies... what a beautiful place Crete was!

The US base was located at the Hal Far, Malta air field. The Brit Royal Navy actually owned the whole base, and called it HMS Falcon. They owned the control tower, several hangars, some Nissen huts for support services, some relatively modern brick barracks, and a pretty snazzy NAAFI canteen. We got on well with the Brit sailors, and we even took one of them on liberty with us a time or two.

By contrast with the Brits, the US Navy had upper and lower camps, most of which were Nissen hut shells filled out with Maltese yellow limestone ends. Lower camp, located northeast of the runway, consisted of a chow hall, chapel, movie theater, heads, and barracks huts. Nine enlisted lived in each small hut. The ranking enlisted in each was "hut mother", and was responsible for discipline. Upper camp was to the southwest of the runway, and consisted of our one maintenance hangar plus numerous Nissen huts for administration and services. Counting trips to noon chow, while traveling between lower and upper camp we had to cross the runway four times each day on foot. Sometimes we got the green light from tower immediately, and sometimes they were asleep up there, and we had to wait a long time. If it was dark and we saw no airplanes coming, we didn't wait for a green light.

Security was pretty much nonexistent. Lower camp was surrounded by a low stone wall typical of those which cover Malta. Anyone could have walked into the area and into our huts. In fact, local small children frequently came by herding their grungy-looking goats, and wandered amongst the huts. We all knew the "Goat Girl", a very young and dirty waif whom we thought might steal anything left out.

Summers were unbearably hot. Naturally there was neither air conditioning nor fans in the huts. If you worked a night shift and had to sleep during the day, you could watch the little lizards crawling across the ceiling. Flies were active, too. At certain times of the year we got the Xirok, the hot dusty wind up from Africa. Grit covered everything. While it never froze nor snowed, it got REALLY cold and wet in the winter. The huts were heated with kerosene stoves, but fuel was limited.

Because early-on we hadn't much in the way of a Naval Exchange on Malta, there were frequent shopping flights to NAS Naples and Wheelus AFB in Tripoli, Libya. We flew in the squadron aircraft, a tail-dragger Navy R4D we called "The Chicken-legged Bomber". The plane was primitive, but a pretty nice aircraft nonetheless. It got us there and back, and it hauled the goods.

The Navy guys told this tale, which is probably not true: "When the Air Force builds a new base, the first building they construct is the Enlisted Men's Club. When the Navy builds a new base, the first building they construct is the brig." Typical troop humor.

We had this contingent of Seabees on the base. They maintained the buildings and systems, and used tanker trucks to keep the water tanks on the roof of the heads fairly full - most of the time. When they slipped up and didn't, the heads wouldn't flush. And that was really gross.

Also gross was the base laundry, which was run by the Maltese. You HAD to take your laundry to their shop in lower camp, because there were no other laundry facilities. And water was on short supply on Malta - it all comes from rainwater, which is held in huge underground cisterns. When the reservoir got low, seawater began intruding, and the water got salty. Our uniforms never seemed to be washed thoroughly, and even a freshly "laundered" set of uniform dungarees could smell pretty rank on a hot summer day.

There was a Nissen hut made into a modest barber shop manned by Maltese barbers. I think haircuts cost 50 cents.

The Navy cooks did a good job with chow. Besides nutritious and reasonably tasty hot meals on weekdays, we had a long brunch every Sunday with eggs to order, pancakes, bacon, sausage, and all the other traditional stuff. Sometime during the week of each sailor's birthday, he got a steak dinner and shared a birthday cake with the other birthday guys. (By the way, there were no female sailors on Malta, though we'd gone through electronics A-school in Memphis, TN with female sailors and marines. I can't say why they were absent - we would have welcomed them.) The only really bad thing I remember from the mess hall was a peculiar fibrous drink they made from unjelled Jello. People claimed to hate the SOS, of which there was two kinds - creamed chipped beef on toast and a chili-like ground beef on toast. Actually, they were both quite good.

One of our favorite cooks was this black guy. He was always laughing and saying, "Bear 'round now, bear 'round!". I think his name was Jerry Haney. Unfortunately, he had a heart attack and died one day, the only Navy death I know of on Malta. They laid him out in the base chapel before they flew him home.

Later the Seabees built a pretty nice Naval Exchange and commissary in lower camp, and you could buy cookies or cameras or chili. I heated the chili in the electronics shop coffee pot when I had Duty Tech, and had to sleep over there. It tasted pretty good as chili, but I doubt it did much for the coffee.

They also fitted out a Nissen hut as a base library, and it wasn't bad, considering. It was run by a Maltese girl named Susie. I spent a lot of time there, mostly looking for science fiction, and I checked out a lot of books.

Seabees also fitted out a Nissen hut as a hobby shop and photo lab. I spent quite a bit of time there developing film and making prints, most of which were of Maltese cats found everywhere, Maltese kids kicking soccer balls, nuns kicking soccer balls, Grand Harbor, etc.

The Brits ran a church bus down the hill to Kalafrana every Sunday morning, and on the way it would stop at our gate and we'd board. The RN bus was a beautiful thing, all polished and dark blue with a stick shift and a real suspension. But it always smelled like smoked kippers and tobacco. Later, the Maltese priest Father Grech came aboard our base to celebrate Mass in the small chapel. The Catholic RN guys - most of whom were Maltese sailors - would come aboard our part of the base then.

Sometime in '57 or '58 we were visited by Cardinal Spellman (if memory serves), in whose diocese we were considered to be. He held Mass in our outdoor movie theater. Unless it rained or was cold, that outdoor theater with its hard wooden bench seats worked pretty well until they built the indoor one.

We took correspondence courses, completed our practical factors, and took our competitive advancement exams just like everyone else in the fleet. I made AT2 on May 16, 1957. I made AT1 on May 16, 1958. I was one of the few "slick-sleeve" first class PO's anyone around there had seen, and I'd like to say I got it through personal excellence. Truth is, it was more likely the Navy's urgent need for electronics techs that got me the promotion.

Petty officers frequently had to stand Shore Patrol. We'd put on our dress blues and arm brassards, and drive a Bedford van down to the capital city of Valletta, where we'd check in with the Maltese police department. Then we'd spend most of the night on foot patrol in the Gut, which is what everyone called Strait Street. The Gut parallels the main shopping street of Kingsway, one block away. The Gut, which was probably known at the time by every real sailor in the world, consisted of one sleazy bar after another, and each was wide open to the cold weather in winter. The Gut was narrow and dark, and smelled of strange, unpleasant foods and cooking fuel. There were normally more British sailors in the Gut than Americans, except when a large US ship put into Grand Harbor for liberty. Fortunately we didn't have to worry about the Brit sailors - they had their own SP's.

On duty nights when we didn't stand shore patrol, we were typically sent to upper camp to meet, unload, and load aircraft from VR-24. Many times the planes would be late, and we'd have to wait there until the wee hours. When the bird finally taxied in, off would come diplomatic couriers and personnel reporting for duty or just passing through. Then we'd have to unload spare R3350 engines for the P2V's, radar consoles, tires, and all other kinds of cargo. I still don't understand how we humped those engines on and off those aircraft through their small side doors, and I don't know how those R5D's took off with those heavy loads.

On other duty days, we might receive a partial shipload of Naval Exchange products, and we'd have to unload trucks sent up from the harbor and load the heavy stuff into storage Nissen huts. Cases of Clorox, canned goods, and suchlike... those were some long tiring hours.

Up to some point, we of FASRON 201 supported only P2V Neptune squadrons. Then we got a squadron of about three or four WV Constellations, with their big guppy belly radar domes. These planes flew anti-sub missions in the Med, but they also flew booze runs to Wheelus AFB in Tripoli, Libya. I know for sure, 'cause I got myself onto one of those flights, and that's where I bought my Rolleiflex 3.5G camera. Geez, what a post exchange those Air Force guys had!

What did we FASRON guys do to support the squadrons? We owned the maintenance shops and the spares. For example, in the electronics shop, we had test benches all set up for each piece of electronic equipment on the P2V Neptune. If a radar sychronizer unit went out on a P2V, the flight crew would bring it into our shop and put it on our test bench. They could fire up our FASRON radar right there in the shop with their faulty synchronizer on line, and they had good access to its guts and all our test equipment and tech manuals to fix it. If they lacked the skill, we'd help them, though they seldom asked. And if they gave up entirely, they'd trade in their faulty gear for our new stuff, and then WE got to fix what they'd given up on.

While the US Navy was flying P2V Neptunes, WV Constellations, our squadron R4D, and the odd SNB, the Brits at Hal Far flew Hawker Sea Hawks, Armstrong Whitworth Meteors, deHavilland Sea Venoms, Fairey Gannets, and the odd deHavilland Dove or Westland Wyvern. RAF Avro Lincolns and Lancasters would constantly fly over on approach to Luqa air field nearby, making it look like WWII all over again.

Our electronics shop was also responsible for showing the movies and maintaining the projectors. That meant we had a spare projector. So when we had the duty in the shop and couldn't go to the movies in lower camp, we just borrowed a few reels of film and perhaps the Cinemascope lens and showed our own - even made popcorn in the coffee pot. Sometimes the duty officer would come over and watch with us, unless it was this one particular newbie officer who told us we couldn't show movies - but he wouldn't say why. It didn't make sense, so we waited until he went away and then showed them anyway.

Dick Perieth and myself were sometimes ordered for our sins by the shop chief to the sonobuoy hut to prep newly-received sonobuoys for issue to the P2V squadrons we supported. For those who may not know, a sonobuoy is an aluminum tube about 4 feet long filled with electronics and a battery. In use they are dropped from dispenser tubes in the belly of an aircraft, and are laid in a pattern around the suspected position of a submarine. When the sonobuoy leaves the dispenser tube, an aluminum paravane deploys to slow the sonobuoy prior to water entry. When it strikes the water, the buoy activates: the paravane folds or is discarded, the battery senses sea water and powers up, making the electronics come alive, and a hydrophone descends to the length of a long hanging wire. Sonobuoys come in various radio-frequency channels, and the sonobuoy operator in the aircraft switches between dropped buoys, monitoring the fainter or stronger sound of the submarine. Since he knows where the buoys have been dropped, he can tell approximately where the submarine is. The aircraft then flies low over the presumed location of the submarine, confirms the location with it's MAD (Magnetic Anomaly Detection) gear, and drops a bomb to kill the submarine. But sonobuoys arrive in the fleet without batteries, so we got to install them before they were issued. And as we worked, our clean dungarees and hands tinted bright red from dye marker leaking from the buoys, we sang this song to the tune of Sonny Boy:

Climb upon my knee, sonobuoy,
Though you're channel three, sonobuoy.
You've no way of knowing, where it is you're going,
Til they drop you in the sea, sonobuoy!
Though you're yellow and red, dear,
Don't you lose your head, dear,
It will come off in time, sonobuoy.

Ironically, now that I live in retirement in Florida, the nearby Sparton Electronics Corporation manufactures... sonobuoys!

Another sailor (probably Tom Clayton) and I were on liberty, walking the back streets of Valletta in Malta one sunny day. As we passed under one balcony overhanging the street, I noticed a girl toddler playing on the balcony. We continued on, and about the time we reached the intersection, we heard a loud "Pop!". We immediately assumed gunfire, and began looking for the source. Within seconds a weeping Maltese gentleman ran by us with the toddler in his arms; she had fallen from the balcony somehow, and the sound we heard was probably her skull hitting the paving blocks. The Maltese gentleman likely had no idea whatsoever where he was going, but in his grief he could think of nothing but to snatch up the child and run for help. This placed, of course, a heavy damper on our day, and we always wondered what became of the child. I doubt the outcome was any but fatal. Had she but fallen a few seconds earlier, we might have caught her or at least broken her fall. For months thereafter, when I would hear a loud report in a movie or elsewhere, I was immediately flashed back to that child's accident.

The U.S. Navy flew Lockheed P2V Neptune submarine hunter aircraft. Each plane had two large rotary propellor engines, two small jet engines, and a very powerful search radar. By comparison, the Brits flew Fairey Gannet submarine hunter aircraft. Each plane had one turbo-prop engine, a single contra-rotating propellor, and a relatively weak search radar. And to top it off, the Gannet used a pyrotechnic cartridge to start the engine. When one of those things went off, the airplane, the ground crew, and everything in the immediate area was obscured by thick black smoke. It was spectacular, and not to be missed, better than a circus.

The Maltese government closed the large civil Luqa airfield for construction, and temporarily commenced civil operations from Hal Far airfield, strictly military to that point. So all night every night, civil airliners, primarily twin-engine triple-tail Airspeed Ambassadors, would land and taxi up to the side of the FASRON 201 electronics shop where passengers stood, talking and waiting. This would not have been a problem, except the duty electronic technician was required to sleep in the FASRON 201 electronic shop, so constant arrivals and departures kept him (me) awake all night long for the month or so of the "invasion".

On weekends, the Navy ran a bus down the hill to Octopus Creek, a small bay suitable for swimming. The water was beautifully blue and clear, and you could see small fish among the rocks. The long walk back to the base took us right past the WREN's quarters, but that didn't seem to do us any good.

With time on their hands, some of the guys got involved with good works - Maltese orphans under the care of Catholic nuns. We'd pile into an ancient open Willys Knight (vintage 1929, I think it was) owned by one or two of the sailors, and we'd drive to St. Paul's Bay or to an orphanage. There we'd meet a bunch of kids, perhaps take them some candy or balloons, perhaps do a swim party, and generally entertain them.

Actually, Malta was quite interesting. The Rock was 17 miles long and 9 miles wide, so you were never that far from where you wanted to go. You could hop a Maltese bus right outside the gate. Busses were color coded according to the town from which their runs originated, and all the runs converged on the capital city, Valletta. Buses were also gaudily decorated with chrome horns and bumpers, colorful icons and saint's pictures, hand striping, and suchlike. The rigidly sprung bus would rattle off over the rough road, with you sitting on a hard unpadded wooden seat. A conductor would collect something like sixpence from you for the trip. It was common practice to stand to give an older woman a seat, and one time a Maltese girl about 16 years old stood and insisted I take her seat - it embarrassed me to death.

When you got to Valletta, you might visit Grand Harbor to see the ships and the dockyard, or if you were starved for the sight of green, you might visit some of the parks or gardens. But usually you headed for Kingsway, the main drag. It was lined with shops, many of which sold hand-crafted lace or gold and silver filigree jewelry. There were one or two places to buy photographic stuff, and we generally hit those. We might stop in a bar for a cold Coke. We seldom ate out - it was usually too weird... carrots boiled until they were transparent, for example - nothing left but the cellulose.

On Saturday night they closed off Kingsway to auto traffic, and people got all dressed up, came from all over Malta, and promenaded. The street was absolutely full of people.

Almost every night there was a church saint's day festival in some town on Malta. Those were always fun places to go, 'cause you could watch fireworks, you could tour the church with all of its treasured scarlet and gold tapestries hung, and the gold and silver candelabras set out and the crystal chandeliers hung. People only donated pennies to their churches, but after hundreds of years the pennies add up. There was lots to photograph.

On Malta there were no TV stations, nor any commercial radio stations, at least none that we knew of. Instead there was a hard-wired audio subscription service known as rediffusion distributed throughout the island. The U.S. Navy, taking pity on us poor enlisted, had rediffusion installed in each of our Nissen (Quonset) huts. There was a speaker and a switch box. Rediffusion came in two flavors: Radio 1 and Radio 2. Elvis Presley was at or near the height of his popularity. His music, which grated upon the ear at the time, seems calm and melodic now by comparison to the head-banging stuff currently popular with the younger set. You could even understand the lyrics much of the time. So there would be lots of Elvis Presley, I remember Debbie Reynolds in "Tammy", and I recall that every evening at 7 p.m. came the announcement of time in Maltese, which sounded to my American ear something like "Dak oo seba".

One day whilst on liberty I observed a merchant pushing a small cart from door to door. At one point a housewife came to the curb to purchase something. The merchant removed a fresh live sea urchin, all round, dark purple and spiny, from the box, chopped off a segment, and offered the urchin to her. She commenced to eat the raw live urchin from the spiny shell with a spoon. Yuck!!

Maltese men spent long hot days working in the rocky fields. Rather than go home for lunch, many carried their lunch with them. This typically consisted of a loaf of Maltese bread (gray and thickly crusted on the outside from the oven, creamy soft and delicious on the inside) which had been hollowed out and tomato paste poured therein. This was typically carried in a red and white checkered cloth, pulled up and tied at the corners into a hobo-type sack. That and a bottle of Maltese wine made lunch.

Myself and another sailor had occasion to visit an aged British pensioner, who told this story. He'd paid a visit to a Maltese wine shop, and spied a barrel of wine with copper rods hanging on the edge of the barrel. He inquired why, and was told that Maltese grapes make only white wine. To satisfy the demand for red wine, the winemakers hang these copper rods into the wine, where they are attacked by the acidic wine, and color the white wine red.

You can imagine the effect upon the kidneys and liver! True? I don't know, but I'll never drink Maltese red wine.

Approximately July 1, 1958 - the Lebanon Crisis. Swarms of R4Q Flying Boxcars full of marines began arriving at all hours. A plane would land, taxi to the parking area where we waited for it, and we'd stand with our mouths hanging open as squads of deadly-serious marines swarmed from the plane to deploy their machine guns about 50 yards out - practicing, I guess. Then they'd take a bus down to lower camp for chow, come back, and fly off to Lebanon. We wished them well.

Sometime in 1958 they built a snack bar in the upper camp Nissen hut we grandly called the air terminal building. We couldn't believe it - you could get an American hamburger! And they had an ice cream machine - you could get a milk shake or a huge cup of strawberry ice cream! We thought we'd died and gone to heaven.

One night sometime in 1958 we were on shore patrol and were standing in front of the police station, which was located in the middle of a stone bridge which crossed over Kingsway. We looked down onto Kingsway and saw this large crowd of apparently angry Maltese coming with what appeared to be torches. There was great civil unrest at the time, and we figured they were going to storm the police station. It just wasn't appropriate business for the US Navy, so we bugged out. A few days later our squadron skipper, Captain Hillis, had to escort some of the married folks and their dependents to their homes off-base, because the Maltese had set up road blocks. This was about the time Dom Mintoff and the Labor party came to power.

In late October of 1958, I ordered a red MGA coupe from the factory in Oxford, England for $2,150. Tom Clayton ordered a Porsche from the factory in Stuttgart for about $3,000 and a VW from Wolfsburg for about $1,050. Len Bettwy and I flew to London and picked up the MG, while Tom and Paul Heinevetter flew to Germany to get the Porsche. We met by prearrangement in Paris, toured a bit, and drove down through the Alps to Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo, Genoa, Pisa, Rome, and Naples, where we turned the MGA and the Porsche over to the Navy. The Navy's MSTS shipped them back to the States for us... thanks, guys! (I have no idea how the VW got back.)

About December 5, 1958 I was detached from FASRON (SP) 201, and boarded a VR-24 R5D for Norfolk and discharge. Finally, headed for CONUS - I felt liberated!

Just a few months later, FASRON's R4D aircraft lost an engine on takeoff from Sicily, and crashed. The aircraft was destroyed, but what was much more important, we lost our squadron commanding officer, his CPO co-pilot, and the whitehat plane captain. Dependents aboard survived, I heard, and that's good. But the plane allegedly struck and killed a local donkey cart driver and his donkey.

Shortly after I left Malta, FASRON (SP) 201 relocated to a new base at Sigonella, Catania, Sicily. In 1964 Malta became independent, and in 1979 the last British forces left Malta. My wife and I have taken a few recreational cruises, and have cruised the Med. We went back to Malta, but everything to do with the Navy was gone. Lower camp and all the Nissen huts have been razed, and some kind of a concrete plant occupies Lower camp. The runway has been cut, and the western end of it is now being used as a drag strip. An industrial estate occupies what was the hangar area. Trash and clutter are everywhere. It was empty and sad, like museum ships and museum aircraft, or some other old duty stations I've visited. Don't go back; best to remember it as it was.


Apologies to those whose names I've forgotten completely, or whose name I may have gotten wrong. Listed in no particular order:

Richard Perieth, AT1 - disappeared from the face of the earth!

Richard Macaluso, AT3 - current location unknown, possibly Newark, NJ, possibly deceased

Carlton, AT3 - current location unknown

Ralph Kuhnley, AT2 - probable location St. Cloud, FL

Alexander Cecere, AD3 - current location unknown

Thomas Clayton, AT2 - location Arlington, TX

Paul Heinevetter, AE3 - possible location Tehachapi, CA

Leonard Bettwy, AE3 - probable location Altoona, PA

Pete - current location unknown

Ken Novak, AD3 - current location unknown, possibly Milwaukee, WI, possibly deceased

Lt. Harry Roach, Electronics Officer - current location unknown

CWO Carpenter - current location unknown

Capt. Hillis, Commanding Officer - deceased, air crash

Chuck - current location unknown

Fred Flatow, Civilian Tech Rep - probable location Bethesda, MD

Fr. Grech, Maltese priest and civilian Catholic chaplain for USN - probable location Mosta, Malta

Lt. Peter Bakker, USN Protestant chaplain - probable location Bremerton, WA; possibly deceased

Barry Chaisson, AE3 - location Sanger, CA

Dr. R J Malagodi, LT - Dentist - possible location Southbridge, MA


Not all of the photos seen here are mine. I have unashamedly copped a few from others whose names I don't have and therefore can't credit. I hope they won't mind.

Send me your photos of the Malta Navy experience, and if they're of general interest, I'll scan and post them with credits, then return them undamaged. Also, send me your recollections of the Malta Navy experience, and if the contribution is relevant and I have room, I'll post them.

First, a few shipmates.

Young Bill Gusky Bill Gusky, AT3 Tom Clayton Leonard Bettwy Carlton and HeinevetterBarry Chaisson
Left to right: Bill Gusky, AT3; Bill Gusky, Technician; Tom Clayton; Leonard Bettwy; Carlton (I've forgotten
his first name) and Paul Heinevetter; and Barry Chaisson. Click on any small image to see a larger image.

Young Bill Gusky Chicken-leg Bomber Crashed R4D Memorial Service Program
Shortly after I left Malta, the Chicken-legger suffered an engine failure on takeoff from Napoli-Capodichino Airport (NAP) enroute to Malta/Luqa Airport, and crashed.
FASRON 201 Captain Hillis, his CPO co-pilot, and the plane captain were killed. Left to right: Captain TW Hillis; the Chicken-leg Bomber; after the crash;
and the memorial program. Click on any small image to see a larger image.

Lower Camp Entrance American chow hall P2V in hangar Cardinal Spellman Steak and cake for birthday Plank owner rock
A few photos of American Navy Malta life - left to right, top to bottom: lower camp entrance; American Navy
chow hall; a P2V undergoing hangar maintenance; Cardinal Spellman visiting; steak and cake to celebrate
birthdays; and this (plank-owner's?) rock - where was it? Click on any small image to see a larger image.

Nissan huts Hal Far aerial view Hal Far map Malta map
From left to right: a view of Nissen huts (I don't recognize the location); an aerial view of the Hal Far airfield (you can see the WV Connies and the P2V
Neptunes); a map of the Hal Far airfield; and a map of Malta showing the location of Hal Far airfield. Click on any small image to see a larger image.

Malta orphan Grand Harbor, Valletta Kalafrana bus Nun, Upper Baracca Gardens Joe's Bar
From left to right, top to bottom: a Maltese orphan; boats on Grand Harbor in Valletta; the Kalafrana bus; a nun
and kids playing ball in Upper Baracca Gardens; and Joe's Bar. Click on any small image to see a larger image.

Spense Rohrlick, AT(N)3 Making Music The puppy, Bear
From left to right: Spense Rohrlick, AT(N)3; Barry Chaisson, making music with hut companions;
and Barry Chaisson with his puppy, Bear. Click on any small image to see a larger image.

Aircraft carrier JF Kennedy
And this is the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy on June 26, 2004, warping into
the pier in Grand Harbor, Valletta. Click on the small image to see a larger view.


I was a base radio operator there and we worked the VP and WV units along with the VP-24 planes that flew around the area. They would call us when they left Port Lyautey. When the "Chicken-legger" was out they would always be in contact when they left and again before they returned. I was working the circuit one day and I think it was Ralph (Kuhnley) who sent me a very "fast-urgent" message that they had lost an engine somewhere near Greece and tried to send me the name of the town they were near. It was a real long word with about 20 or so letters and he was in one heck of a hurry to send it and I wasn't getting it properly. Finally he gave up and logged off as they needed the radio for another frequency to notify someone else. I kidded him when he got back that "he must have got a little excited when he thought he was going to die".

Some of the other guys in the radio shack were Jim Lane, who had arrived in Malta with me, Chuck Streeter, Vic Roth, Ens. Floyd Yost was a communications officer along with commander Leonard Curtis. I can't remember the rest of the gang for the moment. Jim Lane was married and his wife, Marilyn came over and they had a baby girl named, Sherry. On Christmas eve in 1958 he and I were scheduled to work the mid-watch and I told him to stay home with his wife and family. I was the supervisor of the watch and could handle it. About midnight the people at the British base in Malta who handled all our teletype traffic and our radio transmitters called me and sang "Silent Night". I still get a lump in my throat when I hear and try to sing "Silent Night".

We were all RMs in the radio shack and there were 10-15 of us. There were 2 or 3 on a watch section and we had 4 sections I believe. We stood 3 afternoon watches, had 24 hours off, 3 mid watches, had 24 hours off, 3 day watches and had 72 hours off. Every 3 days we were on a different shift. We didn't pull any other duty as we were working pretty long hours and really a swing shift. I remembered a couple more of the radiomen. John Kohler and Bill Sweich. Bill was from Rhode Island and I think John was from New York. They both maried Maltese girls. The radio shack was located behind the terminal and near the dentists office. We were near the apron where the P2Vs parked because when they started up in the middle of the night to go on patrol sometimes they would turn on their spotlight and it would shine in the window of the radio shack. I think the post office was sort of between us and the apron also. The ordinance guys were close too. I guess they had what they called "duty bomb truck driver". They would go to the head of the chow line because they were on duty and couldn't wait or that is what they said. We sent out all the messages from the officer who ordered all the aircraft parts. Sometimes we had a lot of orders to send out. We sent those by teletype landline to the British communication center in Valletta. We always had coffee on 24 hours a day so you may have stopped in and had coffee if you were on watch in the middle of the night. If there were 3 on watch we would drink 3 pots of coffee plus whatever we gave to anyone visiting. Pilots coming through would sometimes stop in for coffee also in the middle of the night. Our radio gang had probably the best reputation of answering planes in the Mediterranean area. A plane would leave Port Lyautey and call them with a message. Many times they couldn't raise them and we would call and take their traffic. They basically sent a message notifying the base they were leaving that "they were leaving", also to the commander of the sixth fleet and to the base they were headed and maybe another address or 2. Usually the planes went on the Naples from Malta or came in to Malta from Naples. We handled all the incoming messages for the base and there were a lot of messages. We had a crypto room and a crew that handled the encoded messages. On my TAD to Sardinia one night I was trying to raise "NHY" Port Lyautey and kept calling and calling them although I was probably only 400 miles away. Guam answered me from the other side of the world and took my traffic that night. It is strange how radio waves behaved at times. We copied Russian Tass press and UPI news to hone our code copying skills. They broadcast at around 24 to 36 words a minute. All our radio traffic was in international morse code. It was sad to learn that in the past 12 months the Navy has phased out the use of morse code. I don't think I remember Tom Clayton.

I do remember the "geep girls". They tended the animals that were a cross between a goat and a sheep. Some of them took in laundry also and did a better job than the base laundry. We used to go to "Shorty's bar" in Birzebuggia and rent cars from "Chico". I dated a British Wren while I was there by the name of Leading Wren Ann Webster. Most of the roads had stone fences on both sides and no shoulder to pull off. They were very crooked and it wasn't a good idea to drink and drive there because first of all you drove on the left side of the road and that took some getting used to.

The WREN's barracks where my lady friend stayed was called Whitehall Mansion in Sliema. When you went to pick them up they would announce, "Leading Wren Webster, you have a visitor". You had to have them back at midnight. One night we went out and parked in the boondocks and played the radio. It got time to go back and I went to start the car and the battery was dead. We were able to push it and get it started or she would have been late and been in trouble with "WREN superior". I know there was another WREN's barracks we used to pass on the way to where we went swimming in Marsaxlokk Bay sort of across the bay from from Birzebuggia. (Webmaster comment: Octopus Creek, near the Wren's barracks, was a favorite swimming hole.)

I remember the riots the Maltese had against the British and we were restricted to base because Capt. Hillis didn't want us being mistaken for British service people and get hurt. Several of them had been beaten quite badly by the rioters. We had been restricted about 10 days and couldn't take it any longer so several of us took a cab to Valletta and got out of the cab about 2 blocks off Kingsway in Valletta. We walked there and as we rounded the corner and started onKingsway we saw a huge crowd of angry people. We kept walking and could hear through the crowd as we walked up Kingsway, "Yanks", "Yanks", "Yanks". I sure was glad I was an American that night. They didn't bother us. We went to the Britannia bar, a very popular bar that was just off Kingsway I believed. The WRENS and airline stewardesses used to go there.

One very important element of our group was about the special dog, "Nothin's" or "Nuts", who was the squadron mascot. He would get on the bus and ride from lower camp to upper camp, stay for awhile and then get back on the bus and go back. He would chase and fetch rocks thrown by the guys all day long. (Webmaster comment: If you were one of many present, and Nuts brought you a slobbery rock to throw, then you felt special.)

Then in early July at the time the Marines were coming through on their way to Beirut to help end the uprising there I was on a mid watch and was following their progress from Cherry Point, North Carolina on across the water to Port Lyautey. There were 24 plane loads I believe that were scattered out coming across. I had made the statement that if there was any TAD I would like to go. I got off watch, had chow then went to bed. About 9:30 someone came in the hut and said "Schmidt, pack your seabag. You're going TAD". I asked where to and they didn't know but to get on down to the terminal. I boarded the next plane load of Marines and they dropped me off on the island of Crete at a NATO base in the boondocks at 2:00 in the morning and there wasn't a soul around. I found a cot that had been partially torn up and laid with my top half on the cot but my feet angling down to the floor. I didn't get much sleep that way. At 7:30 they came for me with a 6x6 and took me to Souda Bay to board the USS Tallahachie County that had been converted to an AVB ship like the USS Alameda County. The Marines continued on to Beirut from Crete and I spent 6 weeks there with the bow of the LST on the beach like you mentioned about your stay aboard the USS Alameda County. We didn't swim there as there had been sharks spotted off the fantail of the ship but we had cold beer every night. They had a cattle watering tank filled with ice and beer that was much appreciated. A native barber set up shop on the bow ramp of the ship and cut hair with hand operated clippers (no electricity) and I got a haircut from him.

Also during my time there on Malta I was on watch one night when a thumder storm was going through. Lightening struck the radio shack and I was hit in the back. I had little holes where it went in across my back where I had been leaning up against the telephone which sat in an opening in the wall so it could be answered from either room. It came out my right arm and struck a guy who was standing in the doorway. It came out my left arm and hit the teletype and knocked it out. It took 3 days to get the telepype fixed. I was pretty "jumpy" for awhile afterwards. The guys would come up behind me when I was working at a desk or sitting copying code and drop a metal waste basket on the floor behind me. I would come up out of my chair.


There was a time when everything you owned had to fit in your seabag. Remember those nasty rascals? Fully packed, one of those suckers weighed more than the poor devil hauling it.

The damn things weighed a ton and some idiot with an off-center sense of humor sewed a "carry" handle on it to help you haul it. Hell, you could bolt a handle on a Greyhound bus but it wouldn't make the damn thing portable.

The Army, Marines and Air Force got footlockers and we got a big ole' canvas bag.

After you warped your spine jackassing the goofy thing through a bus or train station, sat on it waiting for connecting transportation and made folks mad because it was too damn big to fit in any overhead rack on any bus, train and airplane ever made, the contents looked like hell. All your gear appeared to have come from bums who slept on park benches.

Traveling with a seabag was something left over from the "Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum" sailing ship days. Sailors used to sleep in hammocks. So you stowed your "issue" in a big canvas bag and lashed your hammock to it, hoisted it on your shoulder and in effect moved your entire home and complete inventory of earthly possessions from ship to ship. I wouldn't say you traveled light because with one strap it was a one-shoulder load that could torque your skeletal frame and bust your ankles. It was like hauling a dead linebacker.

They wasted a lot of time in boot camp telling you how to pack one of the suckers. There was an officially sanctioned method of organization that you forgot after ten minutes on the other side of the gate at Great Lakes or San Diego . You got rid of a lot of issue gear when you went to the SHIP. Did you ever know a tin-can sailor who had a raincoat? A flat hat? One of those nut hugger knit swimsuits? How bout those roll your own neckerchiefs... the ones the girls in a good Naval tailor shop would cut down and sew into a 'greasy snake' for two bucks?

Within six months, every fleet sailor was down to one set of dress blues, port and starboard undress blues and whites, a couple of white hats, boots, shoes, assorted skivvies, a peacoat and three sets of bleached out dungarees. The rest of your original issue was either in the pea coat locker, lucky bag or had been reduced to wipedown rags in the engineroom. Underway ships were not ships that allowed a vast accumulation of private gear. Hobos who lived in discarded refrigerator crates could amass greater loads of pack rat crap than fleet sailors. The confines of a canvas-back rack, side locker and a couple of bunk bags did not allow one to live a Donald Trump existence. Space and the going pay scale combined to make us envy the lifestyle of a mud hut Ethiopian. We were the global equivalents of nomadic Mongols without ponies to haul our stuff.

And after the rigid routine of boot camp we learned the skill of random compressed packing... Known by mothers world-wide as 'cramming'. It is amazing what you can jam into a space no bigger than a breadbox if you pull a watch cap over a boot and push it in with your foot. Of course it looks kinda weird when you pull it out but they never hold fashion shows at sea and wrinkles added character to a salty appearance. There was a four-hundred mile gap between the images on recruiting posters and the actual appearance of sailors at sea. It was not without justifiable reason that we were called the tin-can Navy.

We operated on the premise that if 'Cleanliness was next to Godliness', we must be next to the other end of that spectrum... We looked like our clothing had been pressed with a waffle iron and packed by a bulldozer.

But what the hell did they expect from a bunch of jerks who lived in the crew's hole of a 2250 Gearing/Fletcher can. After a while you got used to it... you got used to everything you owned picking up and retaining that "distinctive" aroma... You got used to old ladies on busses taking a couple of wrinkled nose sniffs of your peacoat then getting up and finding another seat...

Do they still issue seabags? Can you still make five bucks sitting up half the night drawing a ships picture on the side of one of the damn things with black and white marking pens that drive old masters-at-arms into a 'rig for heart attack' frenzy? Make their faces red... The veins on their neck bulge out... and yell," What in God's name is that all over your seabag?" "Artwork, Chief... It's like the work of Michelangelo... My ship... Great huh?" "Looks like some damn comic book..."

Here was a man with cobras tattooed on his arms... A skull with a dagger through one eye and a ribbon reading 'DEATH BEFORE SHORE DUTY' on his shoulder... Crossed anchors with 'Subic Bay 1945' on the other shoulder... An eagle on his chest and a full blown Chinese dragon peeking out between the cheeks of his butt. If anyone was an authority on stuff that looked like a comic book, it had to be this Chief.

Sometimes I look at all the crap stacked in my garage, close my eyes and smile, remembering a time when everything I owned could be crammed into a canvas bag.

The following photos are courtesy of Joe Mallia of Dearborn, MI. Joe worked first at the terminal, then later at the parachute loft on the British section of the base.

1958 New Years party Grand Harbor ship hut party squadron P2V Sandy GarrettMallia and Storm
Left to right: Joe Mallia, Sonny Smith, Bob Cost, Guido DiFilippo; ship in Grand Harbor; hut party;squadron
P2V; Sandy Garrett; and Joe Mallia and Jim Storm . Click on any small image to see a larger image.

1957 New Years party our hut saddle shoes In Eddie's bar Joe's carPublic Works
Left to right: Mallia, Barton, Irene, Garrett; Garrett, Mallia and Smitty at home; Flippo, Scarsella and Cost - dig those shoes!; Mallia, Carroll,
Garrett - March of 1958 in Eddie's bar; Joe's car; and the Public Works hut (see the Seabee emblem?) Click on any small image to see a larger image.


My wife & I re-visited Malta (during the mid-90's) and it was a fun trip, although what's left of our old squadron spaces is/was saddening.

FWIW, (Malta '57) I was already a "brown-bagger", with wife (Treonne) and our three (3) small toddler sons residing in Balzan (just around the corner from Skipper Hillis & XO CDR Fitzgerald). MN2 "Snuffy" Tallman (sp?) & family lived next door. Earlier, we had lived next door to AT1 Rich Pierth, and across the street from SH2 Jim Spickler, and CS1 Art Langevin, in another part of Balzan. Our closest friends (in 57-58) were Art & Clara Langevin and AD2 Glen "Bud" & Fran Powe, both couples being childless, they just adopted ours as their own! We would all remain lifelong friends, and serve together at several other duty stations, until the late '60's - mid '70's.

I'm certain you, too, can remember Bud Powe - he was the biggest dude in the squadron, @ 6'4" & 240 lbs - just a big teddy bear. Uncertain of Rich's or Jim Spickler's status, but both Art & Clara passed on - Norman OK, earlier this century. Bud's also deceased ('89), but widow Fran still resides in their hometown of OP, AL. She & Treonne are on the phone, almost daily, and we've visited her a couple of times, since our '02 retirement (civil service).

If you'd care to swap "Rock" tales / sea stories, I can probably send a few your way. Once, during the Maltese band's break, your buddy AE3 Leonard Bettwy (Editor comment: unfortunately, deceased in 2010),"Bud" Powe, and myself "took over" their instruments (at the "roadhouse" in Bousquette Gardens). We played for hours, while the Brits filled the dance floor, and cheered us on! We finally surrendered their piano, drums, & guitar, but only after the Maltese band members were about to be "fired"! Or, maybe it was 'cause we had developed an overwhelming "thirst" for the drinks the Brits were still piling up on our table!

Guess you knew Bettwy played a mean honky-tonk/rock & roll piano. Bud knew some classy drummer stuff, too. They tell me I twanged a respectable guitar back in the day, but that may be open for debate.

Here's a couple of names you can add to your list. Do you remember AD1's Jack Harris & John Hess? Simultaneously, Hess & I bought new '58 Karmann-Ghia's - he got a yellow over green & mine was black over red. We lost track of John & Tilley Hess, sometime after they retired to a lakefront home near Mt Home, AR. The PR1 was McClintick (sp) My first SUPO was Lcdr Sam Farr (behind his back, he was "Smilin Sam" Farr from Hal Far, because of his expansive smile). Farr was relieved by Lcdr Hardy S. Taylor; ASUPO's were LT R. V. Schmidt - relieved by LT Charles Bond Chapman III. How about our phenominal Corpsman, "Doc" Bennett? He stitched up some "childhood wounds" for my sons, and a couple of mine, too! Great guy, and I'm thinkin' he was medically smarter than some of our more edu Flight Surgeons, too. Supply had an AKC Dempster, SKC Cartee, AK1's Jim Reimer, Pascretti (sp?). I seem to remember an AK2 Bernard "Bernie" LaForrest, plus the faces of several dozen others, that I can't seem to put a name on.

...I noticed an error on the website (not sure who's), but I'd hope it could be corrected, for the historical record. e.g., The Chicken-Legged Bomber DID NOT CRASH ON SICILY! The crash occurred at Capodichino, Naples. FWIW, my now deceased older brother, Robert (MCPO) was a member of the accident investigation board.

Speaking of rocks, do you remember the Squadron's mascot, a mongrel dog named "Nuthin's", and how he'd chase after thrown rocks? Haywood "Mitch" Mitchell, the JO2 editor of FASRON's weekly newspaper (The Eagle & Falcon), even named an opinion column after him, "Nuthin's To The Right"! It was painful, hearing that stupid mutt crunch sailor-thrown rocks!

Left to right: AK2 Jim Hill, Treonne, Jim Jr., Mark, and Monty, awaiting a VR-24 flight;
Jim and Treonne in 2006, long after Malta.
Click on any small image to see a larger image.


(editor comment: Carl submitted 5 pages of recollections, so I've had to be rather selective in using them here. Carl served on Malta from October, 1955 to October, 1956, meaning he predated me by about six months.)

What is unusual is that he was NOT part of FASRON 201. Instead, he and his shipmates were guests of the Royal Navy, assigned to a Naval Ordnance Detachment supplying mines and MK43 torpedoes to both US and Brit antisub squadrons. In supplying the Brits, he became intimately familiar with the Fairey Gannet and it's double-Mamba engines swinging contra-rotating propellors.

Mystery #1: Smith and his shipmates were instructed never to wear uniforms on Malta other than dungarees. Why? We wore dress blues on Shore Patrol.

Mystery #2: Smith knew of the impending shutdown of FASRON 201 upon transfer of operations to the new base at Sigonella, Sicily, already under construction. But I don't recall EVER hearing of it, even two years after he left. Why?

Mystery #3: If a move to Sigonella was known to the brass and was impending, why did they approve SeaBee construction of the new indoor movie theater, the new commisary, and the new snack bar at the air terminal?

Below is a current aerial photo of Lower Camp, showing what was the chow hall at upper right and what was the movie theater at left center. Smith advises that his detachment used the large Nissen hut at left for an office, diesel generator placement, and possibly weapon storage. (Detonators were kept at Luqa.) As you can see, the current use of Lower Camp is by a Maltese cement company, and looks like nothing more than a train wreck. Don't go back. It's pretty sad.

This is an attempt at publishing the list of Smith's 21 shipmates. His memory is far better than mine: Lt. Butt - CO; Lt. Aulic - Exec & AUW officer; Ens. Asher - AUW officer; MNC Anderson - Mine Chief; MN1 McGinn; MN2 Cambell; MN3 McKain; MN3 Rice; MN3 Rousau; MN3 Baird; MN3 Price; MNSN Black; TM1 Torrance; TM2 Harrington; TM3 Suja; SN Lane; SN Realford; ETN3 Smith (replaced Suja); AO3 Engelhart; AOAN Adams; GM1 Imholte. The British counterpart with whom Smith worked was Oren Hollister. (Sorry, don't know his rank.)

Since their detachment predated the Maltese laundry, the Goat Girl did laundry and cleaned huts.

Lower camp as it appears today on Google Earth.
All that remains are the larger buildings.
Click on any small image to see a larger image.

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