The tiny island of Malta, situated between Sicily and the coast of north Africa, was a British bastion in the heart of the Mediterranean. The British island provided a base of operations for the Royal Navy (RN) and the Royal Air Force (RAF). From Malta, the RN and RAF conducted several raids against the convoys that supplied the German and Italian armies in north Africa. In October 1941, RN and RAF units based in Malta had destroyed over 60 per cent of the Axis (German-Italian) traffic bound for the north African ports of Tunis and Tripoli. As a result, the Germans assembled a force of 600 fighters and bombers in Sicily, 80 miles (105 kilometres) north of Malta. Their objective was to destroy the RN base and RAF airfields on the island.
Although no Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons were based in Malta, 25 per cent of the pilots in Malta's RAF fighter and bomber squadrons were Canadians. Mark "Hilly" Brown, the youngest wing commander in the RAF, was sent to Malta in the summer of 1941 to direct all fighter operations. Other veteran Canadian pilots followed, including Squadron Leaders Robert Barton and Stan Turner.
A new group of veteran Canadian pilots arrived in Malta on 9 June 1942. They included Flight Commanders "Laddie" Lucas and R.W. "Buck" McNair and Flight Officers F.E. Jones, Al Yates, "Mac" MacLean, Chuck Ramsay, John Williams, C.S.G. de Nancrede, Basil Butler, Bob Middlemiss, "Rip" Mutch, Jean Paradis, Wally MacLeod, R.C. Fumerton, Pat Bing, and George "Buzz" Beurling.
Both Bing and Fumerton would win the Distinguished Flying Cross while in Malta. MacLeod downed 13 enemy planes in 18 weeks. Beurling scored 30 victories in the battles that raged over Malta during the summer and autumn of 1942. While the RAF fighters fended off repeated German attacks on Malta, RAF bombers took a heavy toll on the German and Italian convoys bound for the north African ports of Tunis and Tripoli.