Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Air exploits in July 1942

Two events of note associated with aviators took place in July 1942. In one case, six Bristol Bombays were loaded with 1500 gallons of fuel and 60 gallons of oil. On the night of 9/10 July, they flew to an abandoned landing field near Fort Maddalena. Ten Fleet Air Arm Fairey Albacores flew in and fueled up for a mission. They intended to attack an Axis convoy near Crete. Sadly, they didn't sink any ships, but it was a good attempt.

In another incident, a Beaufort had to make a forced landing behind enemy lines. They were taken prisoner and were being flown to Italy. However, they were able to takeover the seaplane they were on and fly it to Malta. The seaplane was later used in service from Malta. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Effects of the retreat on land

The army's retreat to the east in June to July 1942 put great pressure on the navy and air force. The withdrawal of the fleet from Alexandria only made matters worse. Benghazi and even Tobruk were difficult to raid from the air. Benghazi could only be hit by B-24 Liberators, which had a great range with a good bomb load. The convoys in June and August had diverted the submarine force away from attacking Axis shipping in order to support the convoy operations. With the loss of the submarine tender Medway, the submarines ended up being based in Beirut, which had been a French submarine base. The navy had requested more submarines and destroyers, but only the submarines were available. The submarines previously based on Gibraltar were moved east to Beirut. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

More about Malta

After the Pedestal convoy, the main concern on Malta was food for the populace. In a rather desperate measure, they slaughtered the entire of Malta's livestock, for meat and so they did not have to be fed. This was obviously only a short term measure, and the island's livestock would have to eventually be replaced. Lack of fuel for aircraft was a major issue, as well. The island relied upon risky missions by submarines and the minelayer Welshman for the aviation fuel. Fighter aircraft were always being lost, so the aircraft carrier Furious ferried another 29 Spitfires to Malta. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Phases in the effort to keep Malta supplied

As the nature of the war changed over time, there were distinct phases in the effort to resupply Malta. The first phase was the 6-1/2 months between Italy's declaration of war and the end of 1940. 21 ships arrived at Malta without loss during this period. Once the German air forces arrived on the scene, the dynamics changed radically. From January 1941 to August 1942, 82 ships were sent towards Malta, while 49 actually arrived. The remaining 23 were sunk in transit. The fast minelayer Welshman made three trips from May 1942 to July 1942. Submarines also carried supplies to Malta on 31 occasions. Operations to ferry aircraft to Malta from August 1940 to August 1942 succeeded in bringing in 670 Hurricanes and Spitfires. They were ferried on aircraft carriers to within range and then flown off to Malta. The period from the defeat at Gazala to August was one of the most difficult of the war in North Africa. The lack of airbases within range in North Africa forced the dispatch of a large naval force for Pedestal that took heavy losses. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Axis forces that attacked the Pedestal convoy

The British could take some solace from the fact that very strong Axis forces had opposed them in the Pedestal convoy. The Axis forces had inflicted almost devastating losses. Some 400 Italian and 200 German aircraft had been positioned to strike the convoy. Crete and North Africa had been stripped of aircraft so that a large force could attack the convoy. Twenty submarines, including 3 German and 17 Italian, were spread between the Balearic Islands and Algeria and in front of the Skerki Channel. A minefield was laid off Cape Bon. 4 German and 19 Italian motor torpedo boats were placed south of Cape Bon. Events had started to go wrong when the Italian submarine Axum had hit the two fighter direction ships. After that, as the convoy was spread over a greater distance, the motor torpedo boats had been very successful in the night. The next day, the Axis aircraft were dominant. The convoy was fortunate to be spared attack by Italian cruisers. This great effort on the Axis side was the final serious opposition to convoys. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The merchant ships of the Pedestal convoy

The Pedestal convoy commander, Admiral Syfert had special praise for the men who manned the merchant ships in the convoy. Five merchant ships actually arrived at Malta, and the oiler Ohio had to be brought in by the destroyers Penn (P-class), Bramham (Hunt type 2), and Ledbury (also Hunt type 2) and the minesweeper Rye (turbine-engined Bangor class). Captain D. W. Mason, master of the Ohio, "received the George Cross for his outstanding services". The merchant ship Brisbane Star had sailed independently after being damaged and had arrived at Malta safely. The other merchant ships, the Port Chalmers, Melbourne Star, and Rochester Star, had arrived with the naval escort. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

After Pedestal

Despite making a massive effort to support the Pedestal convoy, the Royal Navy took heavy losses, perhaps due to the inadequate AA armament of ships in mid-1942. The Fleet Air Arm took the greatest losses on the British side. They lost 13 aircraft in combat and 16 with the loss of the Eagle. The RAF lost but 5 aircraft while the Axis air forces lost 35 aircraft during the operation. On the run back to Gibraltar, the two merchant ships from Malta arrived without incident. The warships, on the other hand, were heavily attacked, but took no more damage. They arrived at Gibraltar on 15 June 1942. They had to fight their way through the same motor torpedo boats, submarines, and aircraft as on the way to Malta. A diversion run from the east towards Malta was not disturbed by the enemy. The merchantmen were disappointed to not be making the difficult run to Malta. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Pedestal convoy: the morning of 13 August 1942

After 7:30am on 13 August 1942, the captain of the cruiser Manchester decided to scuttle the ship after she had been severely damaged by a torpedo fired by a motor torpedo boat. In the daytime, the air attacks recommenced while the motor torpedo boat threat subsided. At one point in the night, four Italian cruisers seemed to be a threat, but they turned to the east. After 8am, with long range Spitfires and Beaufighters providing air cover, the attacks started. The merchantman "Waimarama was hit and blew up". The tanker Ohio took engine damage during more attacks. By 11:30am, the convoy was 80 miles from Malta. They were now within range of short range Spitfires from Malta. Three merchant ships, the Port Chalmers, the Melbourne Star, and Rochester Castle arrived at Malta, escorted by minesweepers. The tanker Ohio arrived in Malta on 15 August with two destroyers tied alongside to provide steering and power. The Brisbane Star had been boarded by the French near Tunisia, but had arrived at Malta on 14 August. The other ship that had been straggling, the Dorset, had been sunk by further attacks. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Heavy attacks on Pedestal in the night of 12-13 August 1942

The Pedestal convoy steered south of Zembra Island to avoid the minefields in the Sicilian Narrows. The ships in the convoy were scattered over a large distance, making defence much harder. After Midnight, the motor torpedo boat attacks started. They had an immediate success when they torpedoed the cruiser Manchester. Five of the merchant ships were also hit in the attacks. The attacks on the merchant ships all happened between 3:15am and 4:30am. The Rochester Castle was the only survivor, but was still able to make 13 knots. By 5:30am, the cruiser Charybdis and destroyers Eskimo and Somali had joined the main force. They had been sent as reinforcements as the escort had been damaged. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Pedestal convoy takes damage on 12 August 1942

After 7pm on 12 August 1942, after the air attack from Sicily had ended, the cruiser Nigeria, the AA cruiser Cairo, and the oil tanker Ohio all took hits from torpedoes fired by the Italian submarine Axum. The Nigeria was sent back to Gibraltar, the Cairo had to be sunk, and the Ohio continued towards Malta. This was followed by another air attack that caused considerable damage: the Empire Hope was bombed and had to be scuttled, the Clan Ferguson blew up after being hit by a torpedo, the Brisbane Star was also torpedoed but could continue towards Malta. After this air attack, an Italian submarine torpedoed the cruiser Kenya, which was able to continue with the convoy. The attacks would only increase in intensity and effectiveness. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The last half of 11 July 1942: the Pedestal convoy

In the last of the midday air attacks on 11 July 1942, an Italian bomber dropped an armour-piercing bomb on the aircraft carrier Victorious. The bomb broke up on hitting the armoured flight deck and the ship was undamaged. After passing north of Galita Island, the convoy fought off a series of submarine attacks. The destroyer Ithuriel sank the Italian submarine Cobalto during this time. By 6:30pm, air attacks recommenced, this time from aircraft based on Sicily. Two casualties happened within the half hour of attacks. The destroyer Foresight was disabled and had to be sunk. The other casualty was the aircraft carrier Indomitable, which took three bomb hits on her flight deck, which became unusable. Her aircraft had to land on the Victorious. Force Z turned away at 7pm and Force X was left to take the convoy in to Malta. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, March 01, 2010

The first air attacks on the Pedestal convoy

At sunset on 11 July 1942, the Pedestal convoy was about 200 miles west of Sardinia. The Germans launched an attack with 36 aircraft on the convoy. The attack seems to have been timed to occur at sunset. The attackers were difficult to see, but were beaten off with no damage to the convoy. During the night, the Sardinian airfields were attacked by Liberators and Beaufighters. A morning attack on 12 July did no harm. The main attack of the day came at the middle of the day. The attackers came from Sardinia and were 70 strong, escorted by fighters. The first wave consisted of 10 Italian torpedo bombers, probably SM-79s, armed with circling torpedoes. Several more waves followed. The only damage was to the merchant ship Deucalion. She was ordered to hug the Tunisian coast with her escort. After beating off one attack, a second of Italian torpedo bombers hit her and caused her to explode. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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