SUPPLY OF MALTA BY
the desperate condition of Malta that it was decided to explore the
possibility of supplying the island by means of clandestine passage by
unescorted merchant ships. This scheme was theoretically possible due to the
considerable traffic by older, small, vessels of the tramp type along the North
African coast; shore communications were limited and of poor quality and sea
transport was (indeed still is) a major factor. Unescorted passage was also
resorted to to recover some of the ships remaining at
Malta from incoming convoys. Usually, although unescorted,
such passages took place during succeeding operations, in which case they are
so recorded; however certain vessels made the return passage without benefit of
cover from other events, they are listed in chronological sequence in this
TEMPLE - Accordingly, the first attempt
was made by the steamer PARRACOMBE which sailed on 17.4.41 from the UK in convoy OG 59. She had been
repainted in peace time colouration and left the convoy early in its passage
and proceeded as a single ship escorted by the
corvettes COLUMBINE and GARDENIA to pass through the Strait during the night of
the 28/29.4.41, under the designation Operation TEMPLE. Patrols had explicit orders
neither to approach nor challenge the ship, whose escort was to detach off
was loaded with 21 cased Hurricane fighters and their associated spares, 68 UP
(unrotated projectile) rocket projectors and
ammunition for them, and various other military stores.
through the Straits she wore the Spanish ensign, assuming French colours when
well to the eastward, off the Algerian coast. Her orders were to pass close to
Cape Bon, and then to break for Malta during the dark hours to arrive
within 50 miles of Malta at dawn to receive fighter cover.
heard from her after clearing the Straits until it became apparent that she had
fallen foul of minefields laid in the vicinity of Cape Bon. She sank on 2.5, 18 of her crew of
47 making shore and being interned by the French. The field had been laid by
enemy forces and apparently commenced at or very close to the limit of
Operation PROPELLER - A second, similar, attempt was
made under the title Operation PROPELLER by the freighter EMPIRE GUILLEMOT, but
this time the ship was loaded with fodder. In explanation it must be
appreciated that civilian transport in Malta now relied solely upon horse or
donkey, as did work on the land, and that these animals also provided a food
reserve. Even in normal times, much fodder was imported, in siege conditions
little could be grown as cultivable land was devoted to food production for the
GUILLEMOT came out from the UK in convoy OG 73, also suitable
disguised to pass as a local French or Spanish freighter. She left the convoy
and passed through the Straits, escorted by corvettes GENTIAN and JASMINE,
during the night of 13/14.9.41 with Spanish markings.
her disguise to French on 15.9 until her arrival off Bizerta
when she became Italian and followed the route northward for Sicily; on the final run to Malta she wore British colours and
Malta early on 19.9.
part of her passage was hair raising as she became
involved with an Italian convoy which was attacked by Swordfish aircraft.
Fortunately, the naval aircrew had strict orders not to attack any single ships
that night, orders which were strictly observed even in the circumstances of a
CLAN MACDONALD - CLAN MACDONALD sailed
independently from Malta on 16.10, although located and
attacked by torpedo carrying aircraft on 17.10, she successfully evaded the
attack and arrived at
Gibraltar on 19.10.41.
EMPIRE GUILLEMOT - EMPIRE GUILLEMOT should have returned during Operation
HALBERD but unfortunately could not sail due to engine defects. She eventually
Malta independently on 22.10.41 during
darkness but was identified by an Italian torpedo bomber on 24.10 and sunk off
La Galita Island, one officer being killed. The
remaining 38 crew and 6 gunners got away in two boats, unfortunately one was
wrecked in surf when landing on the African coast and 9 more men were lost, 33
survivors were interned by the French.
LINCOLN and DUNEDIN STAR also sailed on
22.10 and proceeded separately, both arrived safely at
FERGUSON - CLAN FERGUSON was sailed from
Malta on 24.10.41 as the final unit in
this attempt to clear the harbour of empty freighters. Shortly after sailing
she was intercepted and attacked by aircraft off Malta, as her passage was compromised at
so early a point she was recalled to the island, eventually to leave in an
eastward convoy, ME 8, to Alexandria.
Operation ASTROLOGER - The next attempt from the
westward was by two ships, EMPIRE DEFENDER and EMPIRE PELICAN, in Operation
Astrologer. The two ships passed westward through the Strait independently on
12 and 14.11.41, and followed the same pattern as EMPIRE GUILLEMOT.
Unfortunately, it would seem that the scheme was compromised, probably from
awareness of PARRACOMBE's attempt after her crew had
been taken prisoner in
North Africa and observation from the Spanish coast of the vessels'
PELICAN on 14.11 and EMPIRE DEFENDER on 15.11 were attacked by aircraft off
Galita Island and sunk, the former with the loss
of one man and the latter four. This setback concluded the attempts from the
west for a full year.
EMPIRE PATROL - At Alexandria, the presence of an ex Italian
vessel taken in prize, the EMPIRE PATROL ex-RODI, encouraged an attempt to pass
stores from the eastward. In late 1942 the fuel situation in Malta became crucial due to the heavy
expenditure to be incurred by the island's aircraft supporting Operation TORCH.. Accordingly, EMPIRE PATROL was commissioned as an HM Ship
and sailed on 1.11.42 loaded with 1200 tons of aviation petrol and 300 tons of
benzine, all in cans, to attempt an unescorted passage to
were to pass east of Cyprus into Turkish waters wearing Turkish colours, then
to turn westward under Italian colours as if she were an Italian freighter
bound from the Dardanelles to Southern Italy, a commonly used route. The
Commanding Officer, a Lieutenant RNR, had total discretion to abandon the
attempt if he was convinced that his disguise had been compromised.
was plagued with electrical and diesel defects and, during the afternoon of
2.11, was closely examined by a German reconnaissance aircraft. In consequence
the attempt was abandoned and EMPIRE PATROL entered Famagusta on 3.11. The decision to abort the
operation was supported by the Commander-in-Chief.
Operation CRUPPER - One final attempt was made, to
take advantage of the confusion of the North African invasion, Operation TORCH.
Two ships, ARDEOLA and TADORNA, were sent out in the stores convoy for the
invasion, KMS 1, but were detached west of Gibraltar. Both passed the Straits with the
usual disguises and proceeded along the North African coast to Cape Bon.
one of the assumptions of Operation TORCH was that there would be little if any
opposition by the French In fact, French resistance was considerable and, in
Tunisia, reached the point of active
cooperation with Axis forces. In consequence, when both ships were fired on and
ordered to stop by shore batteries off Cape Bon, neither Master scuttled their
ship, on the assumption that they could "explain" and be allowed to
proceed. Both ships were in fact captured and taken in to Bizerta
where they were unloaded, the cargoes seized and the ships handed over to the
were placed under Italian colours, as ADERNO and BALZAC respectively, and were
later torpedoed and sunk by British submarines, on 23.7.43 and 7.3.43.
THE SUPPLY OF AIRCRAFT TO MALTA BY SEA
It will be
well known that political parsimony and faulty strategic judgment by air
commanders resulted in Malta being almost bereft of fighter
aircraft in June 1940. But for the fortuitous discovery of four crated Sea
Gladiators in store at Malta which became operational 3.5.40,
the four Hurricanes flown out via France and Tunis, arriving on 28. 6.40 would have
been the total air defence for the island.
subsequent story of fighter defence of Malta is one of neglect by the Government
and Air Staff; despite the Battle of Britain victory and the subsequent very
large build up of modern aircraft in
Southern England, only early marks of Hurricane were
Malta and the Middle East until late in the period under
of single seat, short ranged, fighters to Malta (and also the Naval
torpedo bombers used for offensive purposes) depended entirely upon the Royal
Navy in the absence of a land route. Such aircraft were unable to reach the
island from bases in Egypt and rarely did the Army succeed in
advancing far enough west (or for long enough) to gain the necessary airstrips
to do so. The Royal Navy was therefore obliged to freight aircraft from Britain
in carriers such as ARGUS and FURIOUS, or in merchant ships, and either
transfer them at Gibraltar to ARK ROYAL and EAGLE, or carry out the flying off
operation themselves. These carriers were then hazarded close to enemy air
bases, with only very limited aerial defence due to the presence onboard of the
aircraft being ferried to Malta. The inexperience of RAF fighter
pilots over open sea and the very limited nature of navigational aids in the
Hurricane required the presence of guide aircraft, usually either RAF Blenheim
bombers or RN Fulmars or Skuas, to lead the fighter
presence of the carrier was inevitably known to the enemy, and simple plotting
would reveal the probable time of launch and, therefore, of arrival over Malta,
it was quite usual for the enemy to attempt the destruction of the incoming
fighters prior to landing, arming and fuelling (they were not usually
ammunitioned on take off from the carrier, all weight being
reserved for fuel). A very fast turn-round by the RAF ground crews at Malta was required coupled with the
organisation of arrival prior to probable predictions, to avoid the new asset
being lost. It is to the immense credit of the ground crews and Army assistant
labour that such a result was usually achieved.
is the listing of the numerous operations to supply Malta with aircraft.
Operation by HMS ARGUS - Shortly after the outbreak of war
in the Mediterranean, ARGUS carried out the first sea reinforcement of Malta by
flying off 12 Swordfish aircraft of 830 Naval Squadron to Malta to provide a
torpedo striking force for the island, a role that the RN continued to provide
throughout the siege.
Operation HURRY - On 20.7. ARGUS, having landed her own
aircraft, embarked 12 Hurricanes in the Clyde and sailed for Malta escorted by the destroyers
ENCOUNTER, GALLANT, GREYHOUND and HOTSPUR. The force was met by the battleships
RESOLUTION and VALIANT, cruiser ARETHUSA and destroyers ESCAPADE and VELOX. The
combined force then proceeded to the launch point west of Malta where the Hurricanes were flown off
on 2.8, led by two Skuas from ARGUS which then
returned to Gibraltar.
aircraft arrived, one Hurricane crashing on landing. The two Skuas, intended to return to ARGUS, were retained in Malta for further use. The crashed Hurricane
was restored to operational efficiency by the Malta ground crews using spares on hand.
ground crews for these aircraft were taken to Malta in the submarines PANDORA and
PROTEUS, as a forerunner of the later supply of the island by this means.
operation the battlecruiser HOOD, carrier ARK ROYAL and destroyers FAULKNOR,
FORESTER, FORESIGHT and FOXHOUND made an air strike on Cagliari as a diversion, while the cruiser
ENTERPRISE detached and searched for a French
vessel thought to be in the area.
Operation COAT - Not in fact in connection with
the support of Malta, it is worthy of note that during this operation in 11.40,
ARK ROYAL flew three Fulmar aircraft in to Malta from where, after fuelling,
the aircraft continued eastward to land on ILLUSTRIOUS of the Mediterranean
Fleet as an addition to the fighter defence.
Operation WHITE - ARGUS was again required to
replace the attrition of aircraft in Malta and, after loading twelve Hurricanes
and two Skua guide aircraft, sailed from the Clyde
11.11 escorted by the cruiser DESPATCH and destroyers DUNCAN, FURY and WISHART.
Met by Force H west of Gibraltar, battlecruiser RENOWN, carrier ARK ROYAL,
cruiser SHEFFIELD and destroyers FAULKNOR, FIREDRAKE, FORESTER, FORTUNE and
FOXHOUND, she proceeded to the launch point where two flights took off on
Due to the
reported presence of strong Italian forces, the launch point was further west
than that of HURRY, and that plus other factors, led to eight Hurricanes
ditching through lack of fuel while one of the Skua
guide aircraft lost its way, strayed over Sicily and was shot down. Sunderland and Glenn Martin aircraft, also
intended as guides, did not meet the force and proceeded independently to Malta.
Swordfish aircraft from HMS ARK ROYAL - Six assembled Swordfish having
been taken out to Gibraltar in one of the earlier ferry trips from the UK, five
were embarked in ARK ROYAL (one being unserviceable) on 9.1 when the carrier
sailed for Operation Excess. During this operation, which is recorded fully in
the Convoy section, all five aircraft were flown off and arrived safely in
Operation WINCH - In the months following WHITE
attrition continued at a high rate, despite the delivery of twelve Hurricanes
via forward bases in Libya from Egypt. The RN was therefore called upon
to carry out a further replenishment from the UK.
In mid 3.41
ARGUS therefore loaded the standard 12 Hurricanes (this time Mk II) accompanied
on this occasion by three Skuas, and sailed from the
Clyde 21.3 escorted by the cruiser SHEFFIELD and destroyers GARLAND, NAPIER,
NIZAM and OTTAWA, being screened also by Force H, battlecruiser RENOWN, carrier
ARK ROYAL and destroyers FORESIGHT, FORESTER and FORTUNE from 25.3 to her
arrival at Gibraltar on 29.3.
Here all aircraft
were transferred to ARK ROYAL by 2.4 on which day she sailed screened by
RENOWN, SHEFFIELD and destroyers FAULKNOR, FEARLESS,
FORESIGHT, FORTUNE and FURY.
On 3.4 the
Hurricanes and Skuas were flown off. ARK ROYAL also
dispatched nine Fulmars of 800X Naval Squadron to reinforce the Malta garrison. All the
Hurricanes arrived, one crashing on landing. The guiding
Skuas were intended to return to their carrier, but adverse
weather conditions on their return flight caused them to ditch.
Operation DUNLOP - The ferry carrier from the Clyde
on this occasion was again ARGUS which loaded a mixed batch of 24 Mk I and II
Hurricane aircraft on the Clyde sailing 17.4 accompanied by the cruiser LONDON,
and arriving at Gibraltar on 24.4 with a local escort of the cruiser SHEFFIELD
and destroyers FAULKNOR, FORESTER and WRESTLER. Here she transferred 23
Hurricanes (one remained unserviceable in ARGUS due to damage incurred) to ARK
ROYAL which sailed 25.4 for the launching position escorted by the
battlecruiser RENOWN, cruiser SHEFFIELD and destroyers FAULKNOR, FEARLESS,
FORESIGHT, FORTUNE and FURY. 23 out of the 24 Hurricanes were launched on 27.4,
led by three Skuas, and all arrived safely at Malta.
operation a number of warships were passed through to Malta under the title Operation SALIENT,
referred to in the appropriate section of the narrative.
Operation SPLICE - FURIOUS was required to carry out
a further delivery passage in 5.41, embarking 64 Mk II Hurricanes at Liverpool and then sailing to the Clyde to join the cruiser LONDON, both ships sailing for Gibraltar on 12.5 escrxted
by BRILLIANT, LEGION, MASHONA and TARTAR from the Clyde until 15.5, relieved later by
HAVELOCK and WRESTLER. FURIOUS and LONDON arrived at Gibraltar 18.5, LONDON having 575 Service passengers
FURIOUS berthed stern to stern with ARK ROYAL and transferred 20 Hurricanes and
5 of her own Fulmars over a timber ramp erected between the two ships round
downs. Both ships then sailed on 19.5 screened by battlecruiser RENOWN, cruiser
SHEFFIELD and destroyers BRILLIANT, FAULKNOR,
FORESTER, FOXHOUND, FURY and HESPERUS. After launching 48 Hurricanes and 5
Fulmars all ships returned to
Gibraltar arriving 22.5.
Martin aircraft from Malta were sent out as leaders for the fighters, 46
Hurricanes arrived at Malta, one crashed off Cape Bon and one is logged as
"missing"; 16 further aircraft remained at Gibraltar.
operation the destroyer FORESIGHT made her return from
Operation ROCKET - ARGUS meanwhile was loading 29
cased Hurricanes on the Clyde, and sailed with the cruiser EXETER to join
convoy WS 8B on 22.5, arriving at Gibraltar on 31.5 having been met by the
destroyer FORESIGHT. FURIOUS, after a fast passage to the UK and turn round,
arrived on 1.6 with 48 Mk II aircraft, loading some into ARK ROYAL immediately
on arrival. ARGUS made a stern to stern transfer of her aircraft to FURIOUS at
the same time the ultimate stowage being 20 Hurricanes in FURIOUS and 24 in ARK
ROYAL, the balance were landed at
Gibraltar for erection there.
and FURIOUS, escorted by battlecruiser RENOWN, cruiser SHEFFIELD and destroyers
FAULKNOR, FEARLESS, FORESIGHT, FORESTER, FOXHOUND and FURY sailed 4.6 and
launched 44 Hurricanes on 6.6. One Hurricane returned with defects, the
remaining 43, escorted by 8 Blenheims from Gibraltar, arrived safely.
squadron returned to Gibraltar, arriving 7.6, when FURIOUS sailed for the UK to
load more aircraft, joining ARGUS at sea en route, both carriers arrived in the
Clyde 14.6 accompanied by the liner NEA HELLAS and escorted by the destroyers
COSSACK, MAORI and SIKH. FURIOUS was escorted from Gibraltar by Force H which transferred to
escort VICTORIOUS on meeting ARGUS and her escort.
Operation TRACER - A new "ferry" now
enters the scene. The new fleet carrier VICTORIOUS had been intended to freight
Hurricanes to West Africa but disembarked them so that she could take part in
the Bismarck operation; she now re-Ioaded 48 Mk I
aircraft on 29.5 and sailed on 31.5 with convoy WS 8X escorted by the cruisers
NEPTUNE and ORION and destroyer WESSEX. VICTORIOUS and NEPTUNE left WS 8X on
5.6 to arrive off Gibraltar on 9.6 having been met by RENOWN, ARK ROYAL and 6
destroyers. Initially this force remained at sea to the west while NEPTUNE entered Gibraltar, but later entered harbour to delay
in the operation.
26 Hurricanes were transferred to ARK ROYAL and 22 retained in VICTORIOUS, and
both ships sailed on 13.6 escorted by the battlecruiser RENOWN and destroyers
FAULKNOR, FEARLESS, FORESIGHT, FORESTER, FOXHOUND, HESPERUS and WISHART.
Hurricanes were launched, to make a rendezvous with 4
Hudsons from Gibraltar; 2 crashed on landing, one ditched
and one went missing during the flight, landing in North Africa. The carriers and escorts returned
to Gibraltar on 15.6 from where VICTORIOUS
returned to the
arriving there on 21.6 having been met on 19.6 by the destroyers COSSACK and
Operation RAILWAY I - FURIOUS having returned to the
Clyde from ROCKET, then
loaded her largest cargo so far - 64 Hurricanes and 9 Swordfish. Sailing from the
Clyde 22.6 escorted by
the cruiser HERMIONE and destroyers LANCE, LEGION. VANQUISHER and WINCHELSEA were local
UK escort, Later FAULKNOR, FEARLESS, FORESTER, FOXHOUND and
FURY joined from
Gibraltar, where FURIOUS arrived 25.6.
aircraft were transferred to ARK ROYAL which sailed 26.6 escorted by RENOWN,
HERMIONE and FAULKNOR, FORESTER, FURY LANCE and LEGION to fly off the aircraft
on 27.6 escorted by Blenheims from Gibraltar. Only
one Hurricane failed to complete the delivery flight, while ARK ROYAL and her
escort returned to
Gibraltar on 28.6.
Operation RAILWAY II - On the return of ARK ROYAL to
Gibraltar, FURIOUS transferred a further 26 aircraft retaining 16 and both
carriers then sailed on 29.6 for a further flying off, being escorted by the
battlecruiser RENOWN, cruiser HERMIONE and destroyers FAULKNOR, FEARLESS,
FORESTER, FOXHOUND, FURY, LANCE and LEGION.
off on 30.6, FURIOUS had a serious flight deck accident when the tenth aircraft
to take off hit the island, consequently when both ships returned to Gibraltar
6 Hurricanes remained onboard, their pilots having become casualties in the
accident, and were landed at Gibraltar. All the 35 aircraft successfully
launched arrived at Malta, being led in by six Blenheim
subsequently sailed for the UK on 4.7 escorting CAMERONIA and SCYTHIA,
accompanied by the destroyers LANCE, LEGION, FURY and WISHART with the cruiser
EDINBURGH joining later until 9.7. On 9.7, the battleship ROYAL SOVEREIGN and
destroyer PIORUN relieved the earlier escort and proceeded with the convoy to
the Clyde arriving there 12.7.
Operation SUBSTANCE - In fact a supply convoy
operation, and described in that section, ARK ROYAL took the opportunity of
escorting the convoy to fly off to Malta 6 Swordfish aircraft on 25.7 to
reinforce the torpedo bomber force in the island; all the aircraft arrived safely.
Operation STATUS I - On completion of Operation
SUBSTANCE, the fighter strength of Malta stood at 85 serviceable aircraft,
principally Mk II Hurricanes, and it was arranged that on completion of
Norway and North Russia further ferry trips would be
undertaken. Accordingly FURIOUS sailed from the Clyde on 31.8 with 61 Hurricanes embarked
additional to her own aircraft. She was obliged to put in to Bangor, Co Down
with defects, but sailed again 1.9 to join convoy WS 11, escorted by the AA cruiser
CAIRO to 2.9, the cruiser SHEFFIELD and destroyers BLANKNEY, GARLAND(to 3.9),
LIVELY and PIORUN (to 3.9), arriving at Gibraltar 7.9 to transfer 26 aircraft
to ARK ROYAL.
sailed on 8.9 escorted by the cruiser HERMIONE and destroyers FORESTER.
GURKHA, LANCE and LIVELY. Only one of the guide
Blenheims made the rendezvous on 9.9, so only 14 Hurricanes
were flown off, all aircraft arriving at Malta. The carrier returned to Gibraltar on 10.9 to make a fast
turnround for the second stage of STATUS.
Operation STATUS II - Making a fast turnaround at
Gibraltar, ARK ROYAL with 26 Hurricanes and FURIOUS with 20 sailed on the 10.9,
as two separate forces which joined in the early on 11.9 the combined escort
being the battleship NELSON, cruiser HERMIONE and destroyers FORESIGHT,
FORESTER, GURKHA, LANCE, LEGION, LIVELY and ZULU. 46 Hurricanes took off on
13.9 of which one, the third launched, crashed on take off, and met 7 Blenheim
guides, all aircraft arriving safely. The ships returned to Gibraltar on 14.9. FURIOUS sailed again on
18.9 for passage to
Bermuda, escorted locally by FORESTER, FORESIGHT, FURY and LEGION, thence to
USA for refit.
Operation CALLBOY - The next supply operation was to
replenish and strengthen the abilities of the torpedo bomber force in Malta. ARGUS embarked 828 Naval Squadron
(12 Albacore aircraft with long range tanks) in the Clyde and sailed in convoy
WS 12 on 1.10, detaching to Gibraltar escorted by the destroyer COSSACK, SIKH
and ZULU, arriving there 8.10.
at Gibraltar, these aircraft were loaded in ARK
ROYAL which sailed for the flying off position on 16.10 escorted by the
battleship RODNEY, cruiser HERMIONE and destroyers COSSACK, FORESTER,
FORESIGHT, FURY, LEGION, SIKH and ZULU. On 18.10 11 Albacores and 2 Swordfish
were flown off, all but 1 Swordfish arriving; the squadron returning to Gibraltar on 19.10.
During this operation, the cruisers AURORA, PENELOPE and destroyers
LANCE and LIVELY also made passage to Malta to form Force K.
EAGLE, escorted by the destroyers FORESTER, FORESIGHT and FURY to the Clyde plus SIKH and ZULU as additional
local escort, sailed from
Gibraltar 21.10 and arrived in the
Operation PERPETUAL - ARGUS and the aircraft transport
ATHENE transported 62 Hurricanes from the Clyde on 1.11 (23 in ARGUS and 39 in
ATHENE) escorted by the destroyer LAFOREY to Gibraltar, arriving there 8.11 having been
joined en route by GURKHA, ISAAC SWEERS, LIGHTNING and ZULU. On arrival 26
aircraft were transferred to ARK ROYAL, ARGUS retained 11 and the
remainder (probably still crated) were landed for assembly at Gibraltar.
ARGUS and ARK ROYAL sailed escorted by the battleship MALAYA, cruiser HERMIONE
and destroyers ISAAC SWEERS, LAFOREY, LEGION, LIGHTNING, GURKHA, SIKH and ZULU.
37 Hurricanes were flown off 12.11 to be met by Blenheims
from Gibraltar to be led to Malta, three Hurricanes failed to arrive.
return of the squadron to Gibraltar ARK ROYAL was torpedoed by U 81 and sank in
tow within sight of her base on 13.11, thus causing the cancellation of a
proposed PERPETUAL II which would have flown in the remaining 25 Hurricanes.
These were re-Ioaded into ATHENE the following month
and she sailed 23.12 escorted by CROOME and EXMOOR to Takoradi
where the aircraft were to be flown to Egypt via the trans-Africa route.
Aircraft Supply Summary - By the beginning of 1942, the
Luftwaffe had returned in force to the Mediterranean from the Russian campaign, and
Malta was under increasing pressure. By
mid 2.42, there were very few serviceable Hurricanes remaining in the island,
and ARGUS, the only carrier now available in the Mediterranean, was sent back to Britain to load reinforcements.
Operation SPOTTER - ARGUS loaded 15 Spitfire Mk VB,
the first for the island, indeed the first to go overseas, and sailed in convoy
WS 16 on 16.2 to detach to
Gibraltar where she arrived 24.2. In addition the freighter CAPE
HAWKE had sailed from the UK on 10.2 with 16 crated Spitfires, 13 officers and
131 ground crews escorted by the destroyer WHITEHALL and corvettes ASPHODEL and
HYDRANGEA. Her aircraft were assembled at
Gibraltar after her arrival on 23.2.
Spitfires from ARGUS were transferred to EAGLE while ARGUS embarked Fulmars for
fleet protection. Sailing on 27.2 with EAGLE, defects were discovered in the
Spitfire's fuel tanks and the operation was aborted, the ships arriving back in
port on 28.2.
Operation SPOTTER II - With only 32 Hurricanes airworthy
in Malta, another attempt was imperative, so that as soon as work to rectify
the defects was completed with an expert being flown out from Britain and the
cannibalisation of one of the Spitfires for spares, the ships sailed again on
6.3 with ARGUS and EAGLE escorted by the battleship MALAYA, cruiser HERMIONE and
destroyers ACTIVE, ANTHONY, BLANKNEY, CROOME, EXMOOR, LAFOREY, LIGHTNING,
WHITEHALL and WISHART.
Spitfires were flown off on 7.3 and were guided in to Malta by 7 Blenheim bomber
reinforcements, all arriving safely, while the squadron returned to Gibraltar, arriving 8.3.
Operation PICKET I
- Further reinforcement being imperative, EAGLE loaded 9 Spitfires from
crated aircraft sent out in the freighter QUEEN VICTORIA, which had been
escorted by the destroyer AIREDALE and corvette PETUNIA to Gibraltar arriving
on 13.3, the aircraft being assembled onboard EAGLE, while ARGUS embarked Sea
Hurricanes for protection. Both carriers sailed on 20.3 with the battleship
MALAYA, cruiser HERMIONE and destroyers
ACTIVE, ANTHONY, BLANKNEY, CROOME,
EXMOOR, LAFOREY, LIGHTNING,
WHITEHALL and WISHART as escort. The tug
SALVONIA, escorted by ML 121 and 168, operated as a rescue tug. Aircraft were
flown off on 21.3 and all the 9 Spitfires arrived safely, while the squadron
arrived back at Gibraltar on 23.3.
Operation PICKET II - A further operation under the
PICKET title was planned, with EAGLE embarking 8 Spitfires (the balance from
HAWKE and QUEEN VICTORIA shipments), and the two carriers
(ARGUS?!) sailed on 27.3. On 29.3, 7 Spitfires were flown off and met 2
Beaufort torpedo bombers and 3 Blenheims from Gibraltar, all arriving safely.
Unfortunately, 6 Albacores to reinforce 828 Squadron were unable to fly off and
returned to Gibraltar in ARGUS. The escort screen
comprised the battleship MALAYA, cruiser HERMIONE and destroyers ACTIVE, ANTHONY, BLANKNEY,
EXMOOR, LAFOREY, LIGHTNING and WISHART, with SALVONIA escorted by ML 174
operating as a rescue tug.
closing stages of this operation 10 Hurricane IIC aircraft were flown in from
North Africa on 27.3.42, followed by 8 on 6.4.42
and a final 6 on 19.4.42, one of the rare occasions when airfields in Libya were available for the
reinforcement of the island. Unfortunately they were totally outclassed by the
newer Luftwaffe aircraft and rapidly suffered very heavy loss of both aircraft
and pilots in the days following their arrival.
Operation CALENDAR - By 4.42 the situation in Malta had reached desperate proportions,
both in stocks of essential supplies, depletion of the offensive forces, and
particularly of the fighter defence force. By the middle of April, the latter
had fallen to minute numbers and reinforcement was essential if the island was
not to fall.
carriers were available for further ferry trips so, an appeal was made to the
USA for assistance. The US carrier WASP was therefore made
available and after landing all her aircraft at Hatson
except for 20 fighters, she embarked 47 Spitfire VC on the Clyde, leaving that port on 14.4.
escorted by the battlecruiser RENOWN, destroyers ECHO,
INGLEFIELD, ITHURIEL and PARTRIDGE and US destroyers LANG and MADISON. The
destroyers ANTELOPE, VIDETTE, WESTCOTT, WISHART and WRESTLER relieved the
destroyer screen at dusk 17.4 to fuel at Gibraltar. The original screen plus the
CAIRO and CHARYBDIS rejoined the main force at daylight on 19
Gibraltar escort, less VIDETTE, returned to
base to fuel while WASP and her escorts went through without pause at Gibraltar to the flying off position and flew
off the Spitfires at 0530 on 20.4. Despite the absence of guides, 46 of them
reached the Malta airfields, only to be reduced to 6
in four days fighting!
force returned towards
Gibraltar, being met en route by ANTELOPE, WESTCOTT, WISHART and
WRESTLER during the forenoon of 20.4. The whole force passed through the
CAIRO, ECHO, INGLEFIELD, LANG and
MADISON fuelling at Gibraltar. WASP flew on 812 Squadron for
passage to the UK, its personnel and stores having
been embarked in
CAIRO. RENOWN, CHARYBDIS, ANTELOPE, ITHURIEL, PARTRIDGE,
VIDETTE, WESTCOTT, WISHART and WRESTLER detached to
Gibraltar am 21.4 with WASP and her escort
returning to the UK.
Operation BOWERY - Faced with such an extreme
situation, there was no option but to mount another, immediate, operation and
WASP was again lent to the RN for this purpose. Having arrived at Scapa Flow on 26.4 she returned to the Clyde on 29.4 and this time loaded 50
Spitfires, a very tight stowage. WASP sailed for Gibraltar on 3.5 escorted by the destroyers
ECHO and INTREPID and US destroyers LANG and STERETT. This
escort was relieved in 39.13N, 14.20E by the destroyers ANTELOPE, WESTCOTT,
WISHART and WRESTLER pm 7.5. On 8.5 the force was met by the carrier EAGLE
which had loaded 17 Spitfires from stock at Gibraltar, battlecruiser RENOWN,
cruiser CHARYBDIS and the destroyers ECHO, GEORGETOWN, INTREPID, ITHURIEL,
PARTRIDGE, VIDETTE, SALISBURY and US destroyers LANG and STERRETT.
On 9.5 WASP
flew off 47 Spitfires and EAGLE 17, three crashed during the passage (one in
the sea on take off, one crash landed onto WASP and one off Malta, a fourth
lost its way and arrived in North Africa) but 60 Spitfires were in action
within thirty five minutes of landing AND prior to the main German attack;
planning on the British side having outwitted the estimated time of arrival
made by the enemy. Thirty German aircraft were destroyed in this action for the
loss of only three Spitfires. All ships returned, EAGLE to load further
Spitfires and WASP to return to
Scapa Flow escorted by RENOWN, ECHO, INTREPID, LANG,
SALISBURY and STERETT, the destroyers
fuelling at Gibraltar, arriving at Scapa Flow on 15.5. ITHURIEL provided
additional escort from Gibraltar until detaching 12.5 to meet
passage, WASP flew off RAF personnel and spare gear on 10 May using 6 Swordfish
aircraft flown out from
Gibraltar for the purpose
Operation LB - Matters in Malta having been eased by the preceding
operation the opportunity was taken to maximise upon that, so EAGLE loaded 17
Spitfires (15 of these remaining from PICKET II) and the 6 Albacores left at
Gibraltar by ARGUS on a previous occasion.
with ARGUS with Fulmars for Fleet defence, both carriers sailed on 17.5
escorted by the cruiser CHARYBDIS and destroyers ANTELOPE, ITHURIEL, PARTRIDGE,
WESTCOTT, WISHART and WRESTLER. The destroyer VIDETTE, delayed at Gibraltar with defects, joined 18.5 but was
later obliged to return to
Gibraltar with further defects.
were flown off on 19.5, unfortunately the Albacores had to return, and were
taken back to Gibraltar for a second time.
operation, Vichy French fighters attacked a patrolling Catalina and downed it,
also a Fulmar sent to protect the ITHURIEL who rescued the Catalina crew.
squadron returned to
Gibraltar on 20.5.
Operation STYLE - The freighter EMPIRE CONRAD
sailed from Milford Haven on 20.5 in company with 29th ML Flotilla all escorted
by the corvette SPIRAEA, loaded with 32 cased Spitfires and the necessary
ground crew (13 officers and over 100 NCOs and men) to assemble them. Arriving
at Gibraltar 27.5 having been met by the
minesweepers HYTHE and
RYE, the aircraft were assembled in the carrier EAGLE
which sailed on 2.6 for
Malta escorted by the cruiser CHARYBDIS,
and destroyers ANTELOPE, ITHURIEL, PARTRIDGE, WESTCOTT and WISHART.
were flown off on 3.6, of which 4 were shot down in transit; this delivery
brought EAGLE's total to 136 aircraft flown off to
Operation SALIENT - The decision, forced by
Malta, to run two convoys (from east and
Malta necessitated a further supply of
fighters. The freighter HOPETARN sailed from Milford Haven on 26.5, escorted by
the frigate ROTHER and corvette ARMERIA, with 32 cased Spitfires, 13 officers
and 106 NCOs and airmen to assemble them at Gibraltar after arrival on 2.6.
embarked these aircraft on completion and sailed on 8.6 escorted by the
CAIRO and CHARYBDIS and destroyers ANTELOPE, ITHURIEL, PARTRIDGE,
WESTCOTT, WISHART and WRESTLER. Aircraft were flown off on 9.6 and all reached
Malta safely, while the ships returned to
Gibraltar to prepare for the supply convoy.
Operation PINPOINT - The aircraft for this operation,
32 Spitfires, were brought out from the UK in convoy OG 85 sailing 13.6 and
arriving 25.6, by the freighters EMPIRE SHACKLETON (18 aircraft), GUIDO (12
aircraft) and LUBLIN (2 aircraft), plus ground crews and pilots, and assembled
at North Front air strip at Gibraltar.
embarked in EAGLE, she sailed on 14.7 escorted by the cruisers CAIRO and CHARYBDIS and destroyers
ANTELOPE, ITHURIEL, VANSITTART, WESTCOTT and WRESTLER to the flying off
position on 15.7. All but one of the fighters, which had provided cover for the
WELSHMAN during their flight, arrived while the squadron returned to Gibraltar
Operation INSECT - Thirty two further Spitfires were
Britain, unfortunately several damaged in
transit, in the freighters EMPIRE DARWIN (22 aircraft), EMPIRE KESTREL (4
aircraft) and EMPIRE TERN (2 aircraft) in convoy OG 86 which sailed 2.7 and
arrived 14.7. It is presumed that the figures quoted for each freighter are the
undamaged aircraft. 31 Spitfires and 4 Swordfish from Gibraltar plus 6 Sea Hurricanes were embarked
in EAGLE and sailed on 20.7, with the CAIRO, CHARYBDIS, ANTELOPE, ITHURIEL,
VANSITTART, WESTCOTT and WRESTLER, to fly off the aircraft on 21.7, after
having been unsuccessfully attacked by the submarine DANDOLO.
Spitfires took off, one remaining onboard unserviceable, one developed fuel
tank defects and ditched the remaining 28 arriving safely, and the ships
returned to Gibraltar to prepare for Operation PEDESTAL,
detailed in the convoy section.
Operation BELLOWS - This operation is, in fact, an
integral part of PEDESTAL, the famous convoy action to supply Malta. The carrier FURIOUS, in a
subsidiary operation under the code name BELLOWS, loaded 39 Spitfires on the
Clyde and sailed on 4.8 with the cruiser MANCHESTER and destroyers BLYSKAWICA
and SARDONYX, the latter escorting until the night of 5/6.8. The FURIOUS and
MANCHESTER joined convoy WS 21S on 7.8 and the
entire force and convoy passed the Straits on 10.8. On 11.8 FURIOUS, escorted
by the destroyers LAFOREY and LOOKOUT detached from the main body and flew off
all but one of her Spitfires, one was forced to land hurriedly on INDOMITABLE
while the remaining 37 made Malta. FURIOUS, having completed her part of the
operation, turned back for
Gibraltar escorted by the destroyers KEPPEL, VENOMOUS, WOLVERINE and
WRESTLER, which had come out from
Gibraltar to cover the return passage. WOLVERINE rammed and
sank the submarine DAGABUR during the passage, leaving FURIOUS and the
remaining destroyers to proceed to
Operation BARITONE - FURIOUS had arrived in Gibraltar
on 12.8 and at once loaded both Hurricanes from ARGUS and 32 Spitfires shipped
out in the freighter EMPIRE CLIVE and assembled ashore; she sailed again on
16.8 escorted by the cruiser CHARYBDIS and destroyers ANTELOPE, BICESTER,
DERWENT, ESKIMO, KEPPEL, LAFOREY, LOOKOUT, LIGHTNING, MALCOLM, SOMALI, VENOMOUS
and WISHART. 32 Spitfires were flown off on 17.8 of which 29 arrived, the ships
returning to Gibraltar on 18.8. FURIOUS subsequently
sailed for Scapa on 20.8 escorted by the battleship NELSON, cruiser KENYA and
destroyers BICESTER, ESKIMO, FURY, KEPPEL, MALCOLM, SOMALI, TARTAR and
VENOMOUS; the carrier ARGUS accompanied the convoy which arrived 25.8.
Operation TRAIN - One final operation took place
when FURIOUS returned to
Gibraltar having embarked 31 Spitfires in the
Clyde. Sailing from there on 20.10
escorted by the destroyers ESCAPADE, MARNE and ISAAC SWEERS, she arrived at
Gibraltar 25.10. Sailing on 28.10 escorted by
the cruisers AURORA and CHARYBDIS and destroyers ACHATES, BLYSKAWICA, BRAMHAM,
COWDRAY, VANOC, VERITY, WESTCOTT and WISHART she flew off 29 Spitfires (2
remained onboard with defects) on 29.10 all of which arrived in Malta, while
FURIOUS and the escort returned to Gibraltar on 30.10 to prepare for Operation
TORCH, the assault on North Africa.
Aircraft Supply Summary - In all these operations the Royal
Navy lost one irreplaceable carrier, ARK ROYAL, and transported 756 aircraft,
of which 719 ( a little over 95%) arrived in Malta.
It is also
pertinent to note that, throughout these operations, the Royal Navy was limited
in its operation of fighter aircraft to at best, the
MK I Hurricane converted for carrier operations!