Friday, September 28, 2018
The Maltese Phantom
On September 5 Unknown left a comment on my May 1, 2017 post regarding Royal Navy Phantoms and the delightful game of zapping. The comment adds a few drops of scintillating color to an otherwise drab and workaday canvas.
Regarding the image of a Marine F-4B sporting a vertical stab and rudder painted in 892 Squadron colours.
Unknown commented thusly:
Actually this aircraft went u/s aboard HMS Ark Royal and could not be repaired before the Ark visited Malta. As the Maltese were not on good terms with the US at the time and US Phantoms did not fold enough to fit on the Ark's deck lift, to be hidden below deck, it had it's tail painted to be less conspicuous on the deck amoungst the RN aircraft. The only RN carrier capable of operating Phantoms was Ark Royal, although some initial trails were done from HMS Eagle, it did not have the required cooling of its deck and blast deflector to cope with the heat of the Spey engines in full afterburner for launch. The higher nose attitude of RN Phantoms caused significant heating of the deck, requiring additional water cooling. Prior to Ark being ready to operate RN Phantoms several operated from USS Saratoga and actually damaged the deck area around the catapult.
I find this tidbit quite interesting. I had no idea that the U.S. (and U.S. Navy) were in bad odour with the Maltese at the time. Why was this so?
Turns out it was Cold War politics. Malta gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1964. According to whackopaedia, "The British Parliament passed the Malta Independence Act in 1964, giving Malta independence from the United Kingdom as the State of Malta, with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and queen."
In 1971 the Maltese elected a Labour government and began to distance itself from the U.K./U.S. Cold War political line. Indeed, the tiny country took the path many small nations were taking at the time, attempting to chart a course of neutrality and aligning militarily neither with NATO and the West nor with the Soviets and Warsaw Pact. They requested that NATO subheadquartes on their island be closed, and it was. Predictably, the U.S. Sixth Fleet discontinued port visits to Malta. This bit of give-and-take is most likely the cause for repainting the tail of that Phantom, which I suspect provided enough of a fig leaf that Ark Royal could enter Grand Harbour and the Malta Dockyard without causing overly twisted panties.
Until I looked for an explanation I had exactly zero knowledge of U.S.-Maltese relations and almost zero knowledge of Malta itself. Something cool happened there during The War. Submarines, bombing raids, holding out, etc. It was a place where "we" won against the Nazis, at the usual frightful cost.
Had the younger, naval me known of this back in my serving days, I'd have likely said, "Fine then, you're either with us or against us." Which would have been stupid and shortsighted. But if you look up "stupid and shortsighted" in the dictionary, you'll find a picture of me.
The world isn't as simple as that, and although our governments were cross with each other, the Maltese were far, far, far from against us. They were exercising their independence and pursuing Life, Liberty and Happiness by embracing business and capitalism in the way that seemed most appropriate to the Maltese people, who had -- as a Republic --freely elected their government. You simply can't be much more "against" communism and the Soviets than that! I can't fault them for not wanting to be vassals of the U.S. They'd have been nothing more than an island Belgium in that case, and the world has a surfeit of Belgiums. (Stupid and shortsighted?)
So I've managed to learn something new and interesting, and I've been able to do some fun pondering while examining the solidity (or lack thereof) of my foundational principles.
Here are a few pics from the USS Forrestal 72-73 cruisebook.