The Falcon of Malta

Stand for Israel  |  December 6, 2019

George Beurling, 1943
George Beurling, 1943

In the past, we’ve told you the stories of many of Israel’s most famous and accomplished pilots…

The first Israeli astronaut in space.

The pilot who became President of Israel.

The hero of two wars who went from tanks to fighter jets.

And the Israeli Air Force’s “Ace of Aces”

But today we’re sharing the story of a Christian fighter pilot from Canada who died while on his way to help Israel gain her independence, thus making him one of the first casualties to fall in service to the modern Jewish state.

Raised in a Christian family in Montreal, Beurling dropped out of school at a young age to work and follow his dream of flying. But when World War II began, his lack of education kept him from joining the Royal Canadian Air Force. George’s parents kept him from his next plan — running off to Finland to join the Finnish Air Force in its Winter War against Stalin’s Soviet regime. Beurling then sailed for England to join the Royal Air Force…trouble was, he forgot his birth certificate back in Canada.

After at last arriving in England and joining the Royal Air Force, George threw himself into training as a pilot. His skill at shooting, combined with his perfect eyesight, made George a natural fighter pilot. Alas, his aggressive nature made him unpopular with the British pilots with whom he was living and flying. Punished for his aggressive tendencies, George offered to go anywhere else. Without knowing its destination, he boarded a ship to Malta, which is where he would make his name.

Stationed on the Mediterranean island country, George quickly became known as “Screwball” to his fellow pilots, as it was a slang term he often used. And on Malta, which was under siege by the Nazis, his aggression was appreciated. During his tour there, George shot down 27 enemy planes, placing fear in the hearts of Nazi pilots, placing Beurling in the upper echelon of Allied fighter aces, and replacing his silly nickname with two more respectable monikers: the “Knight of Malta” and the “Falcon of Malta.”

Citations the Maltese hero received, including the Distinguished Flying Medal, noted that he “has displayed great skill and courage in the face of the enemy,” and that those attributes “are a source of inspiration to all.”

However, George Beurling’s actions after the war ended are especially inspirational to us here at Stand for Israel. A committed and teetotaling Christian, George jumped at the opportunity to fly fighter planes for the nascent Israeli Air Force and to the Jewish people fight for their independence.

Sadly, as he made his way to the Holy Land on May 20, 1948, Beurling’s plane crashed upon landing in Rome…only six days after Israel had declared her independence.

At first, Beurling’s widow had his body buried between the two famed Romantic poets, Keats and Shelley. But then, over two years after his death, George Beurling received the honors he deserved from the state of Israel. His body was flown to Haifa, draped in the flag of Israel, and buried in the Israeli military cemetery at the foot of Mount Carmel, a fitting place for one of the first casualties in Israel’s fight to exist.