Friday, November 23, 2007

The new condition from May 1942

On 15 May 1942, Lord Gort as appointed as "Supreme Commander of the Fighting Services and of the Civil Administration" of Malta. The Malta Defence Committee was concerned that an airborne invasion of Malta was planned. There were indications from Sicily that airfields that were suitable for gliders were being prepared. The authorities in Britain disagreed, as they had no intelligence that an invasion was planned. More Spitfires were going to be sent by the USS Wasp and the aircraft carrier Eagle which was available again. The minelayer Welshman, capable of very high speeds and with a great amount of internal volume, would arrive on 10 May with 340 tons of supplies. Dispersal pens were readied for the arriving Spitfires and every preparation was made to prevent them from being caught unprotected on the ground. The Welshman was bringing more AA ammunition that would allow freer fire from the ground. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Malta saved

Just when the situation on Malta had been grimmest, after 28 April 1942, the Axis bombing slowed considerably. Primarily, this was because German air attacks had slowed greatly. The Italians continued attacks, but with smaller numbers of aircraft. In recognition of the sacrifices made by the people of the island, King George VI awarded the island the George Cross. Such awards to a locality had been made right after the Great War to Dunkirk, Verdun, and Ypres. The island leadership was changed at this time and Lord Gort was appointed to command and to be governor. He served as governor from 1942 until 1944. He previously had been governor of Gibraltar and at the start of the war in 1939, he commanded the BEF. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The naval situatuation outside the Mediterranean Sea in late Spring 1942

The overall British naval situation looked bleak in the late Spring of 1942. The Germans were having a successful war against Allied shipping in the Atlantic. The German battleship Tirpitz and other major warships were positioned in Norway and posed a double threat against both the convoys to Russia and in the Atlantic. The threat from German naval forces above and below were causing convoys to not sail, out of fear of unacceptable losses. The British were feeling intense pressure to provide arms to Russia, but had experienced some disasters in the northern waters. The United States had sent reinforcements to the Home Fleet, but that just allowed other ships to be shifted to the Indian Ocean. An operation was underway to put forces into Diego Suarez and the ships involved were just now rounding the Cape of Good Hope. The Japanese still looked to be very dangerous in the southwestern Pacific, so there were many worries for the planners and policy makers. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Plans for Malta in May 1942

The lack of warships and commitments elsewhere had meant that no convoys could be run to Malta in May 1942. The best that could be done would be to send more Spitfires and to run AA ammunition by fast minelayer (the Manxman class ships) and by submarines. The British commanders in Britain pinned their hopes on General Auchinleck's planned offensive in June. They were already planning for success and hoped that German air strength would be drawn back to southern Russia. If the situation in the Indian Ocean seemed favorable, they would run a convoy from Alexandria with a minimum of 12 fast supply ships escorted by the battleship Warspite. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The grim situation in April 1942 in the Mediterranean Sea

After the Spitfires were flown into Malta from the USS Wasp, the island was heavily bombed by Fliegerkorps II, based on airfields in Sicily. By as soon as 23 April, "17 British fighters had been destroyed on the ground and 29 had been damaged". Very quickly, there were only six operational fighters left. That situation soured the Chiefs of Staff on any more attempts to fly in fighter aircraft to Malta. What was needed was to start bombing the Sicily airfields. The Chiefs of Staff, however, refused to divert sufficient bombers from the assault on Germany at night to be effective. The commanders in the Middle East wanted to dispatch convoys to Malta from both east and west in May, but Chiefs of Staff overruled them. They were more interested in sending major warships to the Indian Ocean and running convoys to Russia. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Malta in mid-April 1942

The Axis had about 160 fighters and 250 bombers operating from six airfields on Sicily. They could keep 70 fighters up when needed. In early to mid-April 1942, they only attacked Malta with concentrated attacks, as they were not sure what the fighter strength on the island was. The British fighters were being conserved until more Spitfires could be sent. They intercepted some attacks, but not all. The British hoped to be able to start using 8 Wellingtons to bomb the airfields on Sicily, but they could not be effective in that strength, since they had to bomb at night. A convoy needed to be sent in May, but the Royal Navy would not be able to send one until there was greater fighter strength on the island. The solution was to send the USS Wasp with 47 Spitfires into the Mediterranean. The Wasp launched the Spitfires from about 45 miles northeast of Algiers. 46 of them arrived on Malta. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The changes in naval command and Malta

Admiral Cunningham flew out on 3 April 1942, heading to Washington. Admiral Pridham-Whippel was temporary commander until Admiral Sir Henry Harwood, the commander in the Battle of the River Plate, could arrive. Admiral Cunningham's replacement was kept secret, he could not visit the men before his departure. He left farewell messages, thanking everyone for their service. He thanked the people of Malta and talked about their offensive successes as being the reason that they were receiving the heavy air attacks.

Malta had become untenable for surface warships and the buildings and installations were being gradually reduced to rubble. One of the last ships to leave was the damaged cruiser Penelope. The Penelope was repaired enough to allow the ship to escape on the evening of 8 April. Penelope arrived at Gibraltar on 10 April, after a perilous journey. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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