Friday, September 14, 2007

The threat to Malta in early 1942

An Axis invasion of Malta looked like a real possibility in early 1942. Not only was the Italian fleet resurgent, but the air balance of power was shifting towards the Axis air forces. The Chiefs of Staff ordered General Auchinleck to send equipment and troops to defend Malta from a sea born assault. This involved sending one light AA regiment, one squadron of infantry tanks (Matilda or Valentine) and two battalions of British infantry. Early in January, the fast Glengyle was dispatched to Malta from Alexandria and the Breconshire sailed from Malta. One of the two infantry battalions had to be left behind in Egypt due to the lack of a second ship to send. Another convoy sailed from Alexandria on 16 January 1942, but this ran into trouble. The Tribal class destroyer Gurkha was sunk by U-133. The Dutch destroyer Isaac Sweers rescued most of the crew. Three cruisers and three more destroyer joined the escort on 18 January. One of the merchant ships had steering trouble, so the Carlisle and two destroyers escorted her towards Benghazi. The reduced Force K from Malta, the cruiser Penelope and five destroyers joined right after this. On 19 January, the merchant ship heading for Benghazi was bombed and sunk. The three surviving merchant ships in the convoy arrived at Malta on 20 January. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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